It is often best to view a film as a collection of layers. There is the story latyer, the visual layer, the audio layer, the acting layer, and so on. I'm one of those who really believes that these layers end up bleeding into one another for various reasons, mostly because filmmakers understand that audiences are, at their best, synthesizers taking in stimulous and spitting out emotional and intellectial response. While I was re-watching Remembance, I realised that the layers here are deeply dependent, closely tied, and artfully arranged within themselves.
MacKenzie and Reece are twins. and Reece's partner Conner is, well, he's a piece of work. An incident, an algorithm, a reconning. These are the elements of the story layer, but it is how they play with the visual layer that hammers everything home.
Stylishly shot, Remembrance emphasizes a sort-of empowered charactization by giving us a combination of beautifully jarring images along with an editing style that allows for the audience to play those images against one another. There is a touch of Fincher mixed with the best of Shaymalan in the way the editing and cinematography put the story together as much as the acting does. That is a difficult trick in a genre film, and Remembrance pulls it off without making us feel as if we're being pulled; we are being shown the path, and we make the journey ourselves.
The acting is strong, and it plays within the shooting most strongly, while also not being overly showy. This is a piece in which some areas seem subtle, sly, while never feeling deadened. A difficult trick, for sure. The way a simple gesture like a welcome home kiss becomes an opening for something much darker, more important to the layers of story, of character, of meaning.
I really enjoyed this film, and as one of the few films in the Student program that I've managed to see (I only work with the primary shorts program), I have to say that it looks like they're off to their usually fantasic start!
You can see Remembrance as a part of Shorts Program 9b - Student Shorts at Century 20 Redwood City on Wed, Mar 8 9:00 PM, Fri, Mar 10 10:15 PM, and Sat, Mar 11 3:50 PM
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.
The sniper's life is a strange one. It is the holding of a human life in your hands, and then being able to remember that you were the one who ended them.
Limbo tis the kind of film that understands that, and it shows the ways in which a sniper will go the extra distance.
This is intense beyond all measure. It is not the kind of film that you want to experience with knowledge of what you are seeing, and thus I am dancing around many points, but I also want to tell all of you that this is a film that does not give up, it presses forward and leaves marks as permanent as the tattoos our main character collects of the names those he felled.
Limbo shows as a part of Short Program 1 - The Highest Peak at Century 20 Redwood City Wed, Mar 1 6:40 PM, Sun, Mar 5 10:30 AM, and Tue, Mar 7 3:15 PM, and in Downtown San Jose at Hammer Theatre SJ Thu, Mar 2 1:30 PM
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
One of my favorite Disney shorts, it provides an amazing point of consideration for the development of animation's role in the Hollywood landscape.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.