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The Holiday Season: A View From The Front

The Holiday Season: A View From The Front

All of those promises to blog, oh so long ago. Sigh.

I forgive myself for not writing more, and frankly this time, no excuses aside from the general holiday madness. I have been running around like the chicken from Caché! (Insert rim shot). Let me get you up to speed, in case you are a person who truly cares why I haven’t been a good blogger this month.

I flew home to Michigan for Thanksgiving and, after a lovely dinner with the family and with J, drove back to NYC with a car. I loaded up the car, and J and I drove down to Florida in a single 19 hour stretch. It was really fun, listened to the entirety of Freakanomics on my iPod, and in the interest of time, skipped South Of The Border* and drove on through to Sarasota.

After arriving in Sarasota, I got unpacked and moved into my new digs: an office/apartment directly above the Film Festival offices. It’s actually a nice set up and, once I got cable installed, is a pretty good place to cook, sleep, work and hang out, which is all I can really ask of gratis housing. Two days after arriving in Sarasota, J headed back to NYC and I headed off to Los Angeles for a week of film festival meetings with Jody, the SFF’s Executive Director. It was a very successful trip and though I can’t yet discuss details, I left L.A. energized for a great festival.

The past couple of weeks since that trip have been a constant series of phone calls, emails, film tracking updates, confirmations (yay!), declines (boo!) and in between, trying to get to the gym and to the stores to buy gifts. I have totally failed in all social/familial areas. In light of the time crunch, who has time for movies and blogging? Ok, well, I do. But only a little bit. I have become a big fan of the 10:00pm week night screening; the teenagers are home, the cell phones are silent and all is well. That said, I can understand the issues people have with going to the movies; the theater itself is an unprofessional place, full of underpaid workers who don’t want to confront problems. Long lines, obnoxious behavior? Oh, yeah. 20 minutes of commercials? Check. That said, there is a great art house here in Sarasota and they do a nice job of keeping it simple, but the screen size, the sound system, the seats, etc. are not up to the standard of the multiplex. Its a battle of comfort vs. quality. That is why theaters that can provide both can be a real boon to the exhibitor industry, I feel. I’ll stop complaining now; here are some quick thoughts on what I’ve been up to.

1. The Sundance Channel is kicking ass lately. Is it just me? I saw Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz the other night (my new cable box has a DVR; dear lord, how did I survive before this?), and despite grumblings from recently migrated curmudgeons, I am a fan of Iconoclasts, which is very interesting. I have only seen Mario Batali on Michael Stipe and Renée Zellweger on Christiane Amanpour, but both shows feature an aspect I really love; watching two famous people totally mark out for one another. It’s interesting to not only see artists from different worlds meeting and talking, but it is fun to watch the vulnerability of someone who is outside their element; Stipe in the kitchen and Zellweger confronting tragedy (although both acquit themselves nicely). Anyway, I’m a fan.

2. King Kong: I liked a lot of it and was put off by the hokey bits, but one thing I really liked about the film was the lack of a single perspective; the film always shifts between Anne, Kong, and Denham and there is no narration/voice over/exposition. It is much to the film’s benefit that there are none of the old shorthand tricks; a cop never looks up and says “He’s headed for the Empire State Building!” or an airforce plane scrambling scene; we are always with the characters, and this only intensifies our empathy because as the challenges arrive, they are surprising to the characters and to us. But there are problems as well; do we need the Coke comerical on the Central Park pond (oh, that cute furry guy!)? And finally, Peter Jackson, your film apparantly cost over $200 million dollars… can you please find a new camera effect to replace your low budget “drop the frame rate/ faux slo-mo” trick that you have now used to death? I hate this effect in every film I see it, it is a hack technique, so it is a shock to see something so technically accomplished as the Brontosaurus stampede coupled with the attack of the ‘natives’ scene, which looks right out of a cheap cable thriller.

3. Syriana: I was underwhelmed by this film, more so because of the structural/stylistic deja-vu I felt watching it (it is oh so Traffic) than because of any real deficiencies in the film itself. The real problem here is that there are too many subplots that don’t get enough time and the film feels like two movies; a thriller about a CIA agent who loses a rocket to a terrorist and is scapegoated for a failed assassination attempt, and a corporate espionage procedural about an oil merger and its political ramifications. The stories certainly overlap and come together, but the details you really want to see are glossed over for more and more scenes that drive home the film’s obvious political points. The film doesn’t say anything new, but conveys familiar ideas well.

4.Walk The Line: Great singing, great acting. Again, biopic shorthand is utilized to great effect and that is fine, but personally, I am waiting for the film that re-invents the biopic genre. I preferred Capote for its intense focus on a short period of time, but Walk The Line at least knows it is a love story and delivers on the archetype. Fair enough. The film could use a trim and there are lots of indulgent closeups that seem to linger (thus “showing us the soul”– feh) but I have to say, just as I started to squirm a little, a song would begin and I’d be smiling and tapping my toes.

That is really all. I will be posting a list of the Top Films of 2005 soon, so stay tuned, and until then, Happy Holidays!**

* Is it just me, or is this concept more than a little dated and, let’s be honset, racist? If I were South Carolina, I might try to change my image a little. Yeesh.

**That’s right, Happy Holidays! Who the fuck is going to start a culture war based on a friendly greeting? Ah, religious right, you continually find ways to sicken me…

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