As you can probably see, it’s been over a year since I reviewed my last play (Annex’s “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy”). Frankly, I don’t miss it. In fact, I wish I quit when I was fired from The Baltimore Guardian, but a job is a job.
The one thing that covering the MFF earlier this month taught me is: keeping this blog going is a waste of my time and ultimately yours with very little payoff for either of us. While I hate the prospect of letting this blog die, in my mind (and, more importantly, on my resume) it’s been dead since my move in December.
I’ll probably start a new blog aimed more at cultural events here in Central Florida, but I haven’t chosen a suitable name yet. Maybe I’ll just do something productive with my time like volunteering (though the options in the immediate Orlando area are surprisingly limited) as job prospects for “people like you” (how they are classifying me is never actually specified) are somewhat limited.
This is my final post on this blog. Servus.
There’s a lot to like about Brad Bird’s visual opus on optimism, but George Clooney isn’t one of them as he clearly doesn’t care about the boring dialogue he is given to read, and Hugh Laurie is largely wasted as the sneering Governor Nix. This leaves the entire movie on the slightly less than capable shoulders of Brit Robinson (far too old to be believable as a teenager) and Raffey Cassidy (whose character, Athena, works far better in flashbacks than she does in present day).
The problem is Bird’s script and his terrible sense of pacing, bouncing from one drawn out set piece to another leaving story holes large enough to fly a CGI rocket through (something he actually does about halfway through the film) whether it’s lifting the jetpack scene directly from Big Hero 6, recreating the implausible conspiracies of Nic Cage’s National Treasure series to ultra-violent fight scenes (remember this film is presumably aimed at KIDS) that drag on longer than they need to. All of this leading to a flat, preachy and overly feel good ending that is neither earned nor explained (even though that’s the movie’s framing device).
Let’s not forget the prominent full length commercials for Greyhound, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, and of course Disneyland itself (with a few obviously backlot nods to “Houston” and “Cape Canaveral”) which is ironic since neither of the two Disney attractions featured most prominently in this film (“It’s a Small World” and “The Carousel of Progress”) are not actually in Tomorrowland (as “Carousel” closed in 1998 to make room for the also shuttered “Innoventions”).
As I said above, there IS a lot to like about Tomorrowland, but there is a lot more to dislike about it. I’m not sure if it’s because Bird lost sight of his target audience or if he was just blinded by the promise of a “great big beautiful tomorrow” – the very one he failed to deliver on.
**½ out of 5
“For the Plasma” is a three character drama about Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux) who is hired by a reclusive fire watcher named Helen (Rosalie Lowe) to fix “irregularities” in the feed that she sends off to a mysterious client who uses them to make stock predictions and the somewhat creepy lighthouse keeper (Tom Llyod) whose job description is as vague as Charlie’s.
Like the other films in this post, the landscape Charlie is sent to “explore” is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, it’s the universally wooden – and unintentionally hilarious – “acting” that makes the otherwise decent (if slightly stilted) script sound like it was redubbed by a computer during post-production and seriously had me questioning how the first time co-directors could release this with a straight face.
Yes, this film has its problems, but I could see the good film trapped inside this movie: one with decent actors and competent direction to match its awesome (if overly loud) score. Unfortunately, I can only judge the film I saw and while it was one of the better films I’ve seen at MFF, it was still only average at best.
*** out of 5
“Tired Moonlight” is director Britni West’s love letter to her hometown of Kalispell, Montana to the point that if it was a half hour shorter the state’s tourism bureau could run it as an extended infomercial (as there are plenty of scenes of bucolic fields, riverside swimming holes and the ever popular county fair).
Normally in my reviews, I try to summarize the plot while avoiding any major spoilers but that is literally impossible here as NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS FILM! I get it that the film follows various characters (played mostly by townsfolk essentially playing versions of themselves), but they are given absolutely nothing interesting to DO (West’s idea of “directing” was apparently to set up her camera and shout “Action”). Seriously, one scene shows a woman (Liz Randall) cleaning a motel bathroom, another woman is shown listing puzzle books on eBay and a man (Alex Karpovsky, one of the three or four “real” actors hired for the film) has a reluctant conversation with his mother in Russian. All interspersed with a man (Paul Dickinson) narrating poetry about small town life that is supposed to tie the film together, but doesn’t.
In summary, there is: no plot, no character development, or anything remotely resembling a cohesive – let alone interesting – film. Forget the moonlight, the entire movie is “tired,” but at least it makes Montana look pretty.
** out of 5
“Sailing a Sinking Sea” is a documentary about the nomadic seafaring Moken (sometimes spelled “Mawken”) people who travel between the islands of the Andaman Sea between Thailand and Myanmar with director Olivia Wyatt focusing on their folklore and religious mythology.
As one would expect, the visuals of the film are spectacular – and they’d look even better as a 45 minute IMAX presentation. Unfortunately, the film presented here wasn’t in IMAX, but it was originally an 8 minute short… and it shows. I agree with “test audiences” that 8 minutes isn’t long enough to do the people or their folklore justice, but, honestly, I learned more about the Moken people from the synopsis in the film guide than I did from Wyatt’s 64 minute movie.
“Two Shots Fired” starts with a long series of scenes of our protagonist Mariano (Rafael Federman) dancing at a Buenos Aires nightclub followed by him finding a gun while looking for duct tape to fix the extension cord he accidently ran over with the lawn mower just so he can narrate “I went to a nightclub, and the next day I found a gun in the toolshed” (a trend he continues sporadically throughout the film).
This is followed by a meaningless series of sub-plots in which his brother Ezequile (Benjamin Coehlo) tries to hook up with a pretty girl (Camila Fabbri) he meets at a local Barnes & Noble and the boys’ unraveling mother (Susana Pampin) whose shrink recommends she take a “holiday” to the beach to the point that Mariano doesn’t appear in the entire second half of his own movie (except in a clichéd narration just before the credits).
For a comedy, this film isn’t funny relying on the same tired jokes over and over again throughout the film, but it IS well shot, well-acted and, aside from a few pacing issues, well directed as well. In short, the comedy may be hit or miss, but you may as well give this film a shot.
**½ out of 5
The Maryland Film Festival has revealed its next 15 films to be included in this year’s festival – including this year’s “John Water’s Pick:” Killer Joe (2011). Honestly, I’m not that excited about any of the announced films on today’s list, but because this blog needs content, I have chosen three films from the list to highlight anyway.
6 Years – The director of MFF 2013’s A Teacher returns with the story of Mel (Taissa Farmiga), whose future becomes unsettled when her long-term boyfriend Dan (Ben Rosenfield)’s career aspirations pose a threat to the stability of their relationship. Co-starring Lindsay Burdge and Joshua Leonard… this poignant drama boasts real relationship insights and resonant, true-to-life performances.
For the Plasma – A young woman joins a friend in a sleepy town in Maine, where they use computers and digital cameras to observe a nearby forest, collecting abstruse data used to make stock-market predictions. This challenging, idiosyncratic piece of cinema-as-puzzle finds a film language all its own; shot on Super 16mm, it also boasts an evocative score by experimental composer Keiichi Suzuki.
Rebels of the Neon God (1992) – Over the last three decades, Tsai Ming-liang has produced one of the most impressive and distinct filmographies of our time, each starring unique presence Lee Kang-sheng. This is where it all began: Tsai’s first feature film, set amidst the streets, malls, and arcades of Taipei youth culture in the early 1990s. Newly restored, and enjoying its first release on the U.S. big screen.
The Maryland Film Festival has revealed its second 10 films to be included in this year’s festival. Because this blog needs content, I have chosen three films I would likely see should tickets and scheduling permit. Note: a listing here does not necessarily guarantee a review.
BEATS OF THE ANTONOV – War reporter and documentary filmmaker Hajooj Kuka takes viewers into the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions of South Sudan, where we meet displaced South Sudanese who live under the constant threat of bombardment from the Sudanese military via Antonov cargo planes. But defying familiar victim narratives, Kuka’s camera finds resilient people that summon strength and positivity from music, laughter, and a determination to maintain their culture against any odds.
Commentary: The way this list is going so far, I may end up doing capsules of just Anthropology films this year.
GOD BLESS THE CHILD – Four brothers spend a day on their own in Davis, California, with their thirteen year-old sister forced to look after them as best she can in the absence of their troubled and unreliable mother. This visually stunning experimental drama, which premiered at SXSW, turns an unflinching eye on the behavior of children in the absence of adults, with results at turns hilarious, awkward, poignant, and unnerving.
Commentary: The first thing I thought of when I read this was their sold out screening of Prince Avalanche in 2013 – at MICA’s Brown Center no less – and hopefully it will end up being just as good.
TWO SHOTS FIRED – Veteran Argentine filmmaker Martin Rejtman brings his unique deadpan sensibility to the story of a sixteen-year-old who finds a gun in his house. He shoots himself out of boredom—but, after a near-miss with death, finds that the major change in his life is an annoying whistle in his chest, sabotaging the music he makes with an amateur recorder quartet. A disloyal dog, a strange vacation, and a bizarre cast of characters add up to a quietly anarchic comedy that… refuses to play by conventional narrative rules.
Commentary: Like Funny Bunny, this Latin American comedy sounds like it could be hit or miss, but I’m willing to give it a shot anyway.
The Maryland Film Festival has revealed its first 10 films to be included in this year’s festival (May 6-10th). Because this blog needs content, I have chosen three films I would likely see should tickets and scheduling permit. Note: a listing here does not necessarily guarantee a review.
“Funny Bunny” – The writer/director of “The Dish & the Spoon” returns with this offbeat, infectious mix of comedy and drama. Kentucker Audley stars as an obesity-awareness canvasser who strikes up a friendship with a wealthy, emancipated 19-year-old named Titty (Olly Alexander) and the animal-rights-activist object of Titty’s desire, Ginger (Joslyn Jensen). Co-starring Josephine Decker, Louis Cancelmi, and Anna Margaret Hollyman.
Commentary: judging by the description alone, this could either be very funny…or very stupid. I’m leaning towards the latter, but I wanted three films for this post. It might make a good “alternate” if I can’t get into anything else.
“Sailing a Sinking Sea” – This experimental documentary, which premiered at SXSW, looks at the traditional lifestyle of the Moken people, a seafaring community of Burma and Thailand. Olivia Wyatt’s gorgeous and immersive film transports viewers deep into the turquoise sea and onto thirteen different islands, giving us intimate access to a culture where shamans, mermaids, and sea gods collide with present-day practices.
Commentary: I’m a HUGE fan of both Nat-Geo and The Travel Channel, and I really love the anthropological films/shows they produce. Obviously, there is no substitute for first hand field work, but realistically, this is about as close as I’ll probably ever get to that part of the world.
A Wonderful Cloud – When his ex-girlfriend visits him in Los Angeles to resolve some lingering business entanglements, Eugene seeks to revisit old feelings, and introduces her to an LA populated by a wild cast of artists, scenesters, and eccentrics.
Commentary: I spent my last year at college covering art, movies and theatre for The Miami Hurricane. Granted, Miami is not Los Angeles (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and, thankfully, neither is Baltimore. However, the world of Art is never boring (the actual “art” itself not withstanding).