What does it mean to feel pain?
I'm not talking in the emotional sense, but as in "OH MY GHOD I'M FUCKING BLEEDING" sense that I have encountered so often. Painless explores that question beautifully, but there's far more to it than a single question, in fact I see something underneath the surface that I find both lovely and troubling - is it possible to form any sort of connection with someone who doesn't experience pain of all kinds.
Stick with me, this is going to get deep...
Henry was born without the ability to feel pain. He deals with the practical problem of living without the ability to detect injury by basically shutting himself off from the world, physically and emotionally. He's attempting to fix his problem by delving into science, but at the same time, he's finding the problems of being a human who has to deal with different paths of development.
The performances here are the drive, but the clean direction, and specifically the precision editing, is what makes Painless into something really special. The performances are allowed exactly enough space to develop, and at the same time, it provides a focus, putting our eyes exactly where we need them to be. The sound design should also be called out. There is layering here that feels natural, but at the same time, when I went back and re-examined the sound, it was so developed. If you look at a coffee shop scene, you can see how a gentle music that exists in the space merges with the conversation to give a sensation, a reality, that brings us in because we understand the space, we get the setting. The way it is shot, and the way the actors present themselves to the camera, are then placed into a stylized reality of the frame, which then allows connection.
Henry is played by Joey Klein, and he's got a rough path. He has to play the distance without seeming cold, or maybe he has to play the cold without seeming distant. Evalena Marie as Shani is one of those roles that seems far simpler on the surface than it does in the analysis. The fact is she's the open heart of the film, and it is through her that we experience Henry in transition. I've been a big fan of Evalena since her remarkable turn in Withdrawl and have to say that she gives a performance that should cement her in my pantheon of actresses to watch!
Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of Painless. It's stylish, yet not overwhelming; it is subtle without being coy. It presents a story which may be science fiction without actually being genre, which is a zone of film that I really love.
There is a kind of film I call the Walkin' Around flick. It's fun, and the point of the film is not the progress of the characters through the setting or their encounters, but the way the characters interact with themselves. The road trip movie is the automated form of this sort of thing; the motorcycle to to bike, in essense. The British film Forgotten Man is of that ilk, and it's great fun!
The basic story is a guy who is a part of a theatre company for the homeless, Carl, meets Meredith, and they spend the day and night together walking, talking, encountering, and basically enjoying one another. Carl is dressed nice, because that's his role in the play, and Meredith comes from money.
The real thing here is the acting. Each and every performance is the kind of thing you'd tell folks about. The leads, Obi Abili and Eleanor McLoughlin, are phenomenal, and have all the chemistry you need to pull off a film like this. The stunning black-and-white cinematography allows the subtleties to play across their faces in a way that never intrudes on the bigger picture. I got the feeling that this film would work in Glorious Colour, but as it stood, it was so much more monumental due to the impact each tiny gesture made upon the entirety of the shots.
McLoughlin is magnetic, and Abili has a difficult role to play that he hits perfectly. I've seen other actors walk into this kind of role and go ill off-course into the weeds. Instead, he plays it with a combination of realism and a sense of direction without purpose. That may not make sense when you read it on-screen, but when you see it play out, it totally works. Meredith is a different animal, and she nails it by allowing every event to wash over her and giving into it as if it is a normal reality instead of an unusual occurance. That's another difficult pass, but she makes it happen, and damn well.
Forgotten Man shows twice more at Cinequest, on the 9th at Santana Row in San Jose at 1:30, and at the Century Theatre in Redwood City on Saturday the 11th at 9pm. YOu should go and see it, because it really hits it out of the park... or an appropriately British version of that cliche.
I have an issue - housing. Growing up in the Bay Area, and living here nearly my entire life, I have seen it go from a place where low-income families could own a home, to where even well-employed workers have a hard time affording rent. I've seen prices skyrocket, families that have been here for generations forced out, and the quality of life for those that have remained decrease.
And the wonderfully stylish and well-acted With Children let me know that it is nothing new, and in fact, may have been far worse the year I was born.
The story is Cecelia and her work towards buying a house in San Francisco in 1974. She's had a kid, is unmarried, and her job, and an ex, are jerking her around. She's determined to make herself a home-owner She works hard, so very very hard, and she fights for that dream of giving her daughter a better future away from the shelter she's in.
Lissette Feliciano is fantastic, and this film seems to sing in her voice. Her performance as Cecilia is precise, intelligent, heart-felt, and moving. Her script is so strong, with nearly perfect pacing and a strong sense of purpose to every interaction between characters. The direction is wonderful. Combined with strong shooting and editing, and a very smart use of music that never feels over-powering and it not used, as it is so often, to set the period of the film. Instead, the music is an accent, and one that is applied to the character and emotional status of the film, not to the setting or timeframe, which I found refreshing. The acting over-all is wonderful, but I also have to give a shout-out to what always catches my attention in a film - title design. The opening and closing credits are wonderful, and they set the tone, the timeframe, and the closing credits, an attachment to the time period that is heart-warming. This is a film that is constructed to bring us closer to our main character and her struggle, and to the problematic world of housing law and the realities of housing practices. I love the way that this feels as if we are able to connect with a character who is both of her time, and of our time simultaneously, dealing with issues that we saw, see, and will certainly continue to see.
This is a film that addresses the issues of the present using the issues of the past, issues that are still present and with us in different levels, different directions. The story is the same; there are those who can get the dream, and those who can not. The struggle to live in this area, in San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, in many if not most of the major cities of the US, is real, and there are always stumbling blocks placed in front of those of us who are seen as outside the desirable categories. It is a story that I can say I witnessed first-hand in the 1980s with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, in the 1990s with my friends. In With Children, it is a single Latina mother who throws herself into a life of near all-day work who is kept from her dream of home ownership. Today, it is pretty much anyone who is not a tech worker making 100K+ a year, and even more difficult for minority populations to achieve any sort of housing in these parts. Then, it was the desire to have families filling housing, today it is the desire for rich-kid tech-worker singles who toil in the office 15 hours-a-day. The song is the same; the chorus and the verse simply seem to have traded places.
I love this film's message, and more importantly, I love this film.
With Children shows with The Listen Project at the Hammer Theatre in Downtown SJ on Wed, Mar 8 7:15 PM, and at Century 20 Redwood City - Screen 3 Fri, Mar 10 4:15 PM, Sat, Mar 11 1:15 PM, and Sun, Mar 12 3:40 PM
When I watch movies, I have an agenda. It's not fair to the filmmakers, I know, but if I didn't have an agenda, I'd never be able to program film festivals, I'd never be able to write a single review. I watch for pleasure, sure, that's always under the surface, but almost always I am watching with an endgame in mind. In the case of the science fiction film Prodigy, the plan was not specifically defined beyond 'watch, write a review' and then 'promote', because I am always the one who champions Cinequest's science fiction offerings, but what I got was much more than I expected, much more than I would be able to easily talk about.
Let me start with the image on the screen. Science Fiction exists in two worlds - one is full of colors either muted or over-saturated, giving us a sense of a reality that we can find around us every day. The other is black and white, greyscale, The classic scifi of the 1950s that didn't have the budget to go colour made the most of it, infusing the cinematography with contrast, the scripts with fascinating dialogue and a style of acting that was both broad and full of subtlety. In Prodigy, we return to the latter, especially with regards to the acting, and a form of restraint in both script and performance.
The story is simple - a psychologist, Fonda, is called in to evaluate a young telepahthic girl, Ellie. She's a psychopath, and is being held by the a vague-but-menacing government agency, and they've got a dark plan for her.
Really, that's all you need to know about the story, because what starts to unfold is a deep set of personal interactions that examine the boundaries of what we can expect when we are presented with a potential end-game we do not approve of, as well as how our pasts are exploitable, and not only by those that would do us harm.
Almost the entirety of this film is about the interactions between Ellie and Fonda (played by the excellent Richard Neil who also is in the wonderful short film EXO which we're showing as a part of Mindbenders) in a single room. They have limited physical space while being given room to explore their characters. In a scene where they play chess, they work towards a result that we are certainly aware will come, but the way they work together, the way the chess game becomes darker and more deeply layered, it infuses everything from that point forward with a sense that this is a two-player game where we do not fully understand who is playing on what side.
The performances are all strong, especially the way that Savannah Liles plays Ellie. She hits her emotional marks perfectly, but also puts out the hooks for Richard Neil to hang his performance on, and for the emotional reservoir that every other character draws from. She is stunningly tied-in with her performance, and the direction of every scene is exceptional. The acting here is flawless.
The shooting of Prodigy is gorgeous, sumptuous. The kind of black-and-white contrast-y lensing that I am drawn to, not only because it gives that sort of space to the acting, but because it also allows us to dig into the idea that there is a black-and-white world that these characters live in, and all the attempts to find middle-ground result in loss, in muddled thinking. It seems that everyone understands that there is an outcome that they approve of, and one they do not, and there is no potential for anything in-between. The one who is trying the hardest to come up with the middle ground is also the one whop truly understands that they're almost certainly never going to be able to achieve it. That sort of paranoia/determinalist sensation is perfectly heightened by the shooting, and the effects chosen, and how they are handled, never stick out. That is something that even my old buddy Robert Wise would have appreciated. The acting is remarkable, the script is smart, but what really hit as the film went on, was the way it was laid out.
The pacing is phenomenal. As the film moves along, at first largely measured, but they begins to find purchase within the discussions, and then we are moved through things with greater alacrity. We are never shoved, nor are we ever so firmly downshifted that we lose the thread or momentum. There is a thoughtful pacing, and such strong writing and characterization.
I had an agenda; I would write a review, look at it through the lens of science fiction fan and festival lover. What I got was a feature film that moved me and carried me to a place that reminded me of why I love science fiction film, why I love high-contrast cinematography, why I love movies.
Stunningly beauty. Those are words I found more than once in my research into Tiphany Adams. Having seen the film Tiphany several times before I started researching this preview piece, I can not at all disagree. I can also say that the shooting of this documentary on Tiphany meets that beauty and provides a remarkable setting for her to inhabit.
Tiphany was involved in a car accident in 2000 at the age of 17, and after many surgeries, required the use of a wheelchair. This did not stop her at all, it seems, as she became a fitness model and actress in the years following the accident. We see her shoot with photographer Kai York, who is an amazing photographer of both fashion and fitness. The work with Tiphany shown here is phenomenal, but the lensing is the fluid version of York's shooting. Precise, detailed, at points utterly compacted and at other points, so very expansive it feels as if it will lift off the screen. Director Justin Ferrato, along with producer York, have crafted a film with the power and detail of one of York's compositions, while erasing the distance that so much model photography imposes on the viewer. This is one of the things that most impressed me on my first viewing - there is both elevation and invitation, which is a difficult two-fer to manage.
This film rewards each viewing. It is lovely, it is powerful, it is inspirational, and it is sexy, something that goes against the frequently presented idea that those with spinal cord injuries who use wheelchairs are not desirable. Inspirational is allowed, of course, but here both her story and her absolutely stunning beauty and her work with York are put on equal footing, which makes it feel neither manipulative nor opportunistic, a curse held by many docs of this style. I love this movie, and am so glad we get to show it at Cinequest!
Tiphany screens as a part of DocuNation on March 1st at 415, March 5th at 615, and March 12 at 415 at the Century Theatres in Redwood City, and on March 7th at 345 at the Hammer Theatre in Downtown San Jose.
Kate Nichols knows she's innocent. She knows she's only in for a limited time before they realise the mistake they made. She didn't murder her husband. She couldn't have. She has agreed to be a part of an annual video diary as a part of her incarceration, and she talks directly to the camera. We see her evolve over the course of the interviews, and that is all we are given.
This is a bottle picture: entirely in one location, one single camera position, one actor, talking directly to the camera. Played by director.writer Nicole Fairbrother, Kate is many things, beginning with scared, and ending with... well, not scared. Her performance here is inspired. She gives so much to the screen, to the lens directly, and then we are hit full force with her. It is an amazing trick of acting, and one that rewards even after you know the road this all takes.
The film is tough and powerful, and smart. It is as if she is speaking directly to you, and you're asking entire way through. There's a central metaphor at play; are we our demons? The answer to that question is what Fairbrother is answering here, and she does an amazing job at it.
Monster shows as a part of Program 5 - Mindbenders at Century 20 Redwood City Fri, Mar 3 9:45 PM Tue, Mar 7 6:00 PM and Fri, Mar 10 4:45 PM and at the Hammer Theatre in Downtown San Jose Sun, Mar 5 9:15 PM and Thu, Mar 9 3:45 PM
There are few documentarians who excite my love of the form as much as Jilli Rose does. Her work Stixky was a masterpiece of the animated documentary form. There was no question that we were going to program Bright Spots when we saw that she had submitted it, and when I watched it, I knew it was exactly the film we needed.
The focus of this piece is the work of the legendary Nick Holmes. He's one of the folks who is working to prevent extinctions on islands. Rats are, in many places, villains, destroying so many island ecosystems. The work that Nick does to save species in critical danger is so important.
The film, as an animated work, is lovely, impressionistic, and absolutely beautiful. The way the animation plays with the interview, and the music, really turns it into a singular work of art instead of an academic piece. It gives weight to the environmental aspect without losing sight of the artistic aspect. That is a difficult line to walk, and Bright Spots is so good at it, they seem to be running on it!
Bright Spots screens as a part of DocuNation on March 1st at 415, March 5th at 615, and March 12 at 415 at the Century Theatres in Redwood City, and on March 7th at 345 at the Hammer Theatre in Downtown San Jose.
H.P. Lovecraft is the perfect source for comedy, right?
Nick Spooner has created a hilariously bizarre short comedy with The Call of Charlie. It's a simple story - a dinner party, and then a set-up to get their single friend (CTHULHU or Charlie) happens as an unexpected friend stops by.
Let me say this the simple way - it's freakin' hilarious. Seriously, everything, even the cinematography, manages to make the comedy even more comedy! The way it was cut, smart and clear and without an overly-showy sense of flash, it lets the acting and script and the general absurdity of CTHULHU coming to dinner play with the audience's expectations. Horror Comedy is not usually played like this, in fact, I can't think of another one that goes this way other than Cinequest 2014 favorite A Night at the Office. This makes it all the more impressive, because there is no template, and you can tell that it works at every step!
The Call of Charlie plays as a part of Shorts Program 7 - Comedy Favorites and shows at the Hammer Theatre Downtown SJ on Fri, Mar 3 9:30 PM and at the Century 20 Redwood City on Sun, Mar 5 3:50 PM, Mon, Mar 6 4:30 PM and Thu, Mar 9 8:30 PM
The danger of making a sea crossing while fleeing danger in your home country is real, and can be so heavy. In the case of the film Irregulars, we are told the story of a journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the perils it constitutes. The story, if that's all we had been given, would be enough. It's the kind of painful memory that draws in viewers. My wife, when we watched it at home, gasped at the last spoken words, which is an excellent example of the effective power of the sound design.
Also, the visuals are absolutely stunning.
Instead of directly presenting us with the shots of the voyage, or in fact of any voyage, we are presented a factory in which mannequins are made. The process is shown, and it becomes apparent that the building of these faux people are given great care, there are practically nursed to life, treated incredibly well. But what of those who cross? The visuals are so perfectly constructed, and I found myself piecing together a philosophy based on the treatment of these inanimate objects and how we view those who cross into 'our' country. It's also a painful view of the state of the world, and it plays even more powerfully when you factor in the last few weeks to that equation.
Irregulars screens as a part of DocuNation on March 1st at 415, March 5th at 615, and March 12 at 415 at the Century Theatres in Redwood City, and on March 7th at 345 at the Hammer Theatre in Downtown San Jose.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.