Update - Seems the festival actually has the entire (glossy) program guide online in pdf format. It's a big download but worth it for the larger descriptions of each film until it's possible to buy a physical copy. It doesn't seem to be the final version as screening dates aren't included with each film - but those are straightforward to look-up on the main website. I'm surprised to find it online but it's very cool surprise.
Now the festival has posted the actual schedule. Meaning I can check what films I can theoretically see - as I purchased a pass for just the second half of the festival (having to work can be such a bummer). One of the things that particularly drew me to Palm Springs this year was the focus they have on screening almost all of the 60+ films submitted for the foreign film Academy awards. There's no guarantee - but the odds generally go up that you're going to watch something reasonable when a country has chosen a single film to represent them (though don't get me started about how silly it is to put all non US films into a "foreign" ghetto).
Apparently there may have been a memo I missed saying "come for the first week if you want to see any of the foreign academy award submissions." And maybe also indicated that all the Jewish themed stuff will play in the second week? I probably wouldn't have noticed the second part if the first wasn't so blatantly obvious (and in truth there may be a continual Jewish themed section throughout the entire festival) . Even odder is that almost all the films submitted as foreign academy award submissions are in a 3 day window. From what I can tell roughly 80% of the submissions will have all screenings before I get there - a super big bummer... I really hope it's not because of the need for Academy members to have their votes in by the 12th. That would just seem a bit unfair as I'd think members have other opportunities to see these films.
I'm also struck by how many Holocaust themed films are playing the festival's second week. I know there's a Palm Springs attendee demographic they're shooting for - and I'm all for that (being of that demographic myself - if a bit younger). I'm just wondering if there are really so many worthy contenders on this one topic this year - or if the standards are a bit lowered. Hopefully, it's just a strong year in terms of creative output in this area.
OK - enough of my whining. Here's the good news - I noticed two films I've seen which were missed on my first pass through the listings. These are (with links to the original notes I took):
- Shall we Kiss - My memory was a little foggy on this so I had to go back to my original posting. To quote myself, "This wasn't the type of film that had me rolling in the aisles with laughter - but I went through it with a smile on my face. Mildly recommend if you're in the mood for something French, sort of romantic (but not always in a good way) and light." I think that means I liked it - and if you're easily taken in my French romantic stuff you may be too. But it's not the sort of thing that seared itself as "must see" into my synapses.
- Love and Other Crimes - Again taking the easy way out and reading my earlier notes - "It was pretty decent but not really giving me anything special beyond the character's (reasonable) desire to get out of her surroundings." But my memory is actually a little bit more positive on the experience than what I wrote at the time. If you haven't seen a film from Serbia recently you might want to add this one to your list. Plus they almost deserve a full house just for the title alone.
I'm a bit dubious as the main film cited as being used in the study and influencing viewers' perception of relationships was Serendipity. My recollection of that film is that it mainly reminded me that both John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale had been in better roles. And the dessert place of the title looked worth checking out. Not that it's horrible - but I am a sucker for those types of films.
In summary the claim is that fans of romantic comedies can develop unrealistic expectations of love that can hurt real world relationships. Left unanswered is what expectations fans of David Lynch films have of the universe. Either way it seems I'm screwed...
The basics for theatrical films are below. In the male category I've got some pretty good coverage only having missed the performance in Frost/Nixon. So glad that folks didn't forget Richard Jenkins just because his film was released early in the year. In the female lead category I've got more catching up to do only having seen the performance in Frozen River. Otherwise I've seen a good selection of the films - except for the ones just coming out.
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
RICHARD JENKINS / Walter Vale - "THE VISITOR" (Overture Films)
FRANK LANGELLA / Richard Nixon - "FROST/NIXON" (Universal Pictures)
SEAN PENN / Harvey Milk - "MILK" (Focus Features)
BRAD PITT / Benjamin Button - "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON" (Paramount Pictures)
MICKEY ROURKE / Randy - "THE WRESTLER" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANNE HATHAWAY / Kym - "RACHEL GETTING MARRIED" (Sony Pictures Classics)
ANGELINA JOLIE / Christine Collins - "CHANGELING" (Universal Pictures)
MELISSA LEO / Ray Eddy - "FROZEN RIVER" (Sony Pictures Classics)
MERYL STREEP / Sister Aloysius Beauvier - "DOUBT" (Miramax Films)
KATE WINSLET / April Wheeler - "REVOLUTIONARY ROAD" (Paramount Vantage)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
JOSH BROLIN / Dan White - "MILK" (Focus Features)
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. / Kirk Lazarus - "TROPIC THUNDER" (Paramount Pictures)
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN / Father Brendan Flynn - "DOUBT" (Miramax Films)
HEATH LEDGER / Joker - "THE DARK KNIGHT" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
DEV PATEL / Older Jamal - "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS / Sister James - "DOUBT" (Miramax Flms)
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Maria Elena - "VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA" (The Weinstein Company)
VIOLA DAVIS / Mrs. Miller - "DOUBT" (Miramax Films)
TARAJI P. HENSON / Queenie - "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON" (Paramount Pictures)
KATE WINSLET / Hanna Schmitz - "THE READER" (The Weinstein Company)
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (Paramount Pictures)
FROST/NIXON (Universal Pictures)
MILK (Focus Features)
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Premiere Status - Number of Films
North America: 16
US : 47
Total Premiers: 14
I dug in to get a list of the "world premiere" films. Surprisingly, they're all from the US
- Alien Trespass
- American Primitive
- Baghdad, Texas
- Bedford: The Town They Left Behind
- Dark and Stormy Night
- Frank the Rat
- Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner
- Like Dandelion Dust
- ShowGirls, Provincetown, MA
- Tales from the Script
- The Inheritance of War
- The Least Among You
Section - Number of Films
World Cinema Now - 95
Awards Buzz-Best Foreign Language Film -50
True Stories - 33
New Voices/New Visions - 12
Modern Masters - 8
Archival Treasures - 3
PSIFF @ Schools - 2
The Gay! La - 1
Closing Night Gala Screening and Wrap Party - 1
20th Anniversary Celebration - 1
Gala - 1
Opening Night Gala Screening and Reception - 1
Special Presentations - 1
First off - I went through to see what they're screening that I've already seen this year. Sadly for festival-goers, Sita Sings the Blues is not on the list. But I've seen 16/209 or just under 8% - so lot's of great possibilities still to see. In case you're curious what I've seen and would recommend the list is below. Longer reviews are easily accessible by searching the blog. In alphabetical ...
- Captain Abu Raed- a fave of a lot of folks. I thought it was pretty good, but not quite as amazing as some reports would have had me believe.
- Cherry Blossoms - Absolutely amazing - I have not met a single person who has seen and not really loved this film. Do not miss it!
- Em - Walked out. Wasn't for me - but your mileage may vary (ie. could have just been a bad day)
- Female Agents - lot of fun. If the description calls out to you I'd recommend checking it out.
- Jolene - In a word - 'eh' - in a few more - strong performance by the female lead, but just didn't really pull me in.
- Mermaid - Pretty good - beautiful to watch magical realism type flick. It's Russian, so don't be shocked if it's not a prettily wrapped up everyone lives happily ever after type thing. But I do recommend.
- O’Horten - Very strong film - one of my favorites from Vancouver '08.
- Revanche - Solid film. Nothing wrong with it - just didn't ring my bells as significantly as some other films this year. I know folks who loved it (and who I generally agree with) - so I wouldn't skip it to go home early. :-)
- Snow - well done movie about the after affects of war in Bosnia.
- The Blue Tooth Virgin - Talky movie about screenwriters. If that's your job you're not going to want to miss it. Otherwise it's a sort of a coin flip type of thing as to whether you'll like it. My recollection is OK - not great.
- The Song of Sparrows - Now this one is pretty great. Plus it involves a man chasing an ostrich. Never a bad sign.
- The Witch of the West Is Dead - a bit sappy for some folks, but I really fell for this Japanese story of a girl learning about life from her grandmother in the countryside
- Three Monkeys - Dark, slow, but beautiful sepia toned film about various themes including the corrupting influence of money in a family. Depends on your mood or how serious a film buff you consider yourself.
- Tricks - very good story about a boy searching for his father and coming of age, etc.
- Under the Bombs - Couldn't get into the story, and I think not just because of the over the top propaganda feel. Shot in Lebanon after the most recent war with Israel - the realistic look into the war's aftermath does bring something unique to this film.
- Waltz with Bashir - One of the must see visual experiences of the year. Another example of how mature storytelling truly can use animation to enhance.
At least that's one way to look at it. Perhaps best to back up a bit for more context.
In Clint Eastwood's new film the story opens as we meet his character Walt in the process of burying his wife. A retired auto worker and Korea war veteran we immediately sense his discomfort with the Catholic church and his children (and most everything else if we're being fair). He glowers at all involved in only the way Eastwood can. Truth be told though - his kids are pretty insensitive. An early example involves bringing his grandkids along in what can only be called disrespectful attire for their grandmother's funeral.
At home he suffers through mourners invading his house, clearly waiting for everyone to head out so he can be alone with his thoughts (and his academy award winning level adorable canine companion). The various "helpful" family members offering advice on retirement communities and the like don't help. Overall an uncomfortable scene.
We learn that most of the white residents have left the neighborhood as more Hmong immigrants have moved in. Along with the general demographic shift have come gangs that match the new ethnic makeup. Eastwood's neighbors are Hmong - and initially he doesn't hold back his racist scorn - starting with how they (don't) keep up their lawn and growing from there. The young son of the family (Thao) is a bit lost and seems to be drifting into a gang. As his initiation he's tasked with stealing Eastwood's prized car of the film's title (which he'd put together on the Ford line in 1972). Interrupted by Eastwood during the attempted robbery their lives both take dramatic turns. The younger Thao getting life changing influences of a kinder, gentler and more racist Dirty Harry father figure. While Walt becoming the unlikely hero of the neighborhood for standing up to the gang.
The rest of the film moves along in a pattern that won't be a tremendous surprise to most folks. There are a few unexpected touches - but in my view this isn't one to watch for the twists and turns. I did enjoy the experience as I was watching it so I would definitely recommend it. The "straight shooting" Eastwood is a pleasure to watch most of the time, even as he makes you squirm a bit. As I've alluded to there's a lot of the "lovable racist" caricature mixed in. Meaning that he calls everyone nasty names but his impression of people can evolve once he sees them standing up for themselves or helping others. It's not always especially comfortable to watch.
Eastwood nicely plays upon his past roles to take the audience in one direction before doubling back to something a little different. There's enough humor, drama, tragedy mixed with a sense of everyday life to recommend the work. It's not always comfortable at times but held together well. Definitely one of the stronger American films of the year, though we'll have to see where it lands on my year's top 10. Which I'm starting to work on this week. :-)
If you're landing here I'd love a comment about your plans to see one of the films you were searching for or even better your own thoughts after you saw it.
Other than that I did watch two films this weekend via the superb Netflix on X-Box 360 streaming video feature (if you have a xbox and haven't tried this you really should). Tried Grande Ecole and Water Lilies. Couldn't quite get into the first (not helped by hard to read subtitles) and generally liked the second. No strong recommendations on either, but it beat going out to the video store. And given that it was free - the price was right. The selection of Netflix's watch instantly is really pretty darn good - especially if you have a device that lets you watch on the TV instead of the computer.
I'm not saying you have to go out and buy this (but you should). But I am saying that if you haven't tried it you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Accessible via Netflix or your favorite rental facility as well (most of the seasons are already out). The entire boxed series becomes available 12/9.
Yes - I've already placed my order. :-)
And yes, I did bring this same evil camera phone into the screening and was able to repress the urge to bootleg the movie. ;-)
Man is born as a baby but with all the afflictions and appearance of old age. He grows in size as if growing up but otherwise ages backward. Until some point in his late teens when he seems to shrink again towards infancy. Much like Forest Gump (written by the same person) he lives an unusual life buffeted a bit by world affairs. Though - though not with the Zelig like proximity to these events as the other film. Also as in Gump the story is mostly revealed in flashback from the current day, in this case via Button's diary. Oh yeah - and it also is based from the South so everyone gets to have a little accent and some characters get to use words like "Lordie!" whenever they'd like. As you'd imagine aging backwards poses some suspension of disbelief challenges even in a magical universe where folks are accepting of the situation vs. calling the medical authorities or the National Enquirer.
Button meets a girl as a boy (but of course everyone thinks he's an old man) and follows that relationship along for most of his life. It's sort of strange though - at the beginning the girl is a likable character, but at some point one starts to really hope he doesn't quite end up with her. Being a movie I suppose they need to produce some dramatic tension in order to end you with a long film - but that segment of the film I didn't really love. Some of the best scenes in the film come in his days as a tugboat's crew. There's a lot of interesting things to look at and as I mentioned at the start I did enjoy the watching. But even though there's a set of very strong themes such as
- Live because you don't know what's around the corner
- It's never too late to start over
- People aren't always what they seem
- You enter the world alone and you die alone
- Life is like a box of chocolates (OK - I made that one up)
So sort of a mixed bag - no strong recommendation either way. Only thing I'm sure of is that once again Brad Pitt plays a character where it's a little hard to get a sense as to what's going on in his head. It's possible that if I hadn't seen a pretty decent set of other films recently I'd have a more positive take on the whole thing.
Proud to say I'm not the only one with the Mork & Mindy reference. If you're unfamiliar there's a handy side by side comparison guide between the two works here.
The screening turned out to be sponsored by the folks from the Seattle Jewish Film Festival. Which seems a good match given the subject matter. Thankfully the audience held their thoughts inside until the appropriate time to talk, aka the director Q&A. I was pretty tired and headed out after hearing the initial remarks. A bit more thoughtful from the director than most - a shame I had to call it a night, probably one of the times where the after film discussion would have complemented the experience.
One of the lesser told stories of WWII - specifically that of Jews fighting back and surviving the Holocaust. Set in Poland mostly in the Belarussian forest where a group of brothers retreat to after the Nazis begin killing the local community, including their parents. They're fairly familiar with living in the forest (there's some brief mention of past experience hiding from the authorities) and begin to meet others, many of them less able to cope in that environment. They begin to develop a community, providing physical protection for the group. The story follows this evolution and the paths the different brothers take.
Daniel Craig (yes the guy from the Bond films) plays the hero of the story as the brother who expands his definition of family to cover everyone they meet - not necessarily an easy decision as their likelihood of survival would seem to decrease with the larger group. As the camp grows both the obvious external threat as well as internal rivalries (over food, women, equality of the differing roles, and what level of violence to bring to bear against the towns around them, etc.) take a toll on everyone. This is based on a true story and it's hard not to marvel at the group's accomplishments. The story isn't entirely sugar coated for Hollywood, even the heroes are shown as imperfect. Though it's hard not to guess that the level of violence is less intense than the reality. That said I feel the director made a reasonable balance in making an accessible film that tells a less remembered part of the history of the Holocaust.
I wouldn't say that this is a "must see" amongst all films on this topic. But I would recommend it as a movie that gives a well dramatized view of an incredibly impressive resistance effort. Overall a very solid effort - and actually fairly entertaining as a movie.
Over time you develop a set of things to do to amuse yourself while waiting. For a while yesterday while waiting to see Defiance I didn't have to try very hard to figure out what to do. Instead I could just marvel along with everyone else in Pacific Place as to why exactly it was snowing inside the mall. Which actually seemed a lot more natural to me than the blaring, intrusive "holiday" music.
I took a quick snapshot with my phone to try to capture the spirit. If I'm there again tonight and get caught in the snowstorm again I might try to capture a video. Just thought I'd throw this update on the site before I get a chance to writeup the actual movie.