Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Children's House, and Kibbutz

On Monday January 29, 2007 The Washington DC Jewish Community Center presented a program in its Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater “Screening Room” that it called “End of a Myth: Two Documentary Films on the Israeli Kibbutz Experience.” The link is this: http://washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/film/

The first firm was called “The Children’s House,” directed by Tamir Feingold. The 52-minute film documents the communal education of children in the kibbutz. The raising of a modern day Children’s House is shown, but the most interesting footage is black-and-white footage of such a low-rise house in the 1950s, where the kids slept, four beds to a room, and were told even to sleep in certain positions. In the kibbutz, most of the responsibility for raising children was taken from the nuclear family and given to a common function. The film has nothing to do with the notorious drama of a few decades ago, "The Children's Hour."

The second film is called simply “Kibbutz” and is directed by Racheli Schwartz. It shows how a Kibbutz in modern times falls under economic competitive pressures and has to privatize or sell off businesses (providing services to “members”) as younger people move away to the cities (like Tel Aviv).

Both films, each running about 52 minutes, were shot in 4:3 minimal aspect ratio and appear to be in simple digital video. They appear to have been funded in part by Israeli television.

After the films there was a panel discussion, in which panelists expressed the idea that children raised in this communal style often turned out well, and that the House film presented the topic in a one-sided manner.

Monday, January 29, 2007

SAG awards

You will find the SAG awards in multiple media outlets. Here is a summary.

Best performance by a cast (that is, best picture): Little Miss Sunshine
Best performance by a leading male actor: Forest Whitaker: The Last King of Scotland
Best performance by a leading female actress: Helen Mirren: The Queen
Best male supporting actor: Eddie Murphy: Dreamgirls
Best female supporting actress: Jennifer Hudson: Dreamgirls

SAG is the Screen Actors Guild. Visitors will want to study "Global Rule One" under the Agents link.
Independent Film Producers will want to study the sagindie site.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Academy Award Nominees

Of course, you can get these from lots of places, but there they are"

Best Picture

Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

Best Actor, Leading

Leonardo Di Caprio, in Blood Diamond
Forest Whitaken, in The Last King of Scotland
Ryan Gossling, in Half Nelson
Will Smith, in The Pursuit of Happyness
Peter O'Toole, in Venus

Best Actress, Leading

Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children

Best Achievement in Directing

Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Paul Greengrass, United 93
Guilmerro del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Best original Screenplay

Guillermo Arriaga: Babel
Iris Yamashita, Paul Haggis: Letters from Iwo Jima
Michael Arnt: Little Miss Sunshine
Guillermo del Toro: Pan's Labyrinth
Peter Morgan: The Queen

Saturday, January 20, 2007

MPAA ratings board agrees to loosen things up

Perhaps because of the attention of This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), The MPAA Ratings Board has agreed to some reforms, including revealing more information about ratings, and increasing the size of the appeals board, and allowing filmmakers to cite precedent. The Hollywood Reporter story appeared in The Washington Post today at this link.

The COPA (Child Online Protection Act) trial in Philadelphia in October 2006 had made some reference to move ratings as a concept that could be applied to Internet content. That fits into the idea of voluntary content labelings.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Golden Globes: Babel wins Best Drama, Dreamgirls wins best musical/comedy

Yes, you can go to imdb to see the full list right now.

Babel (Paramount Vantage, dir. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu) with its layered story linking characters around the world, like dots to be connected, wins best picture. This is a big and fulfilling film from Mexico, that goes to Morocco and Japan, with stunning photography in what looks like VistaVision.

Best musical or comedy was Dreamgirls (Dreamworks, dir Bill Condon), an appropriate musical for Martin Luther King day.

The Queen gave Helen Mirren best actress in a drama.

Forest Whitaker took the dramatic award for actor for his riveting performance of the butcher Idi Amin, in The Last King of Scotland.

Sacha Baron Cohen gave a scatalogical speech after accepting best actor in a comedy for Borat. Jake Gyllenhaal did a preview in drag (not too radical), and Justin Timberlake actually did the first presentation (in a business suit; no disfiguring tattoos as in "Alpha Dog").

Best song was "Song of the Heart" fron Happy Feet.

Picture: a silver globe (diving bell) at the Washington Navy Yard.

Flags of our Fathers; Letters from Iwo Jima: a two-part masterpiece from Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood has given us two major films in quick succession in lake 2006, about the battle for Iwo Jima. They are Flags of our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima. They are not quite like the usual commercial movie franchise (with a film “2”); rather, they tell the story of the taking of Mount Suribachi from American (leading to the raising of the flag and the famous memorial in Arlington VA, near US 50 and Rosslyn) and Japanese side, a desperate struggle for survival among caves, dwindling into a kind of random despair at the end.

Both were produced by Dreamworks SKG LLC and Amblin and distributed by Warner Brothers (rather than Paramount). Both are in full wide-screen anamorphic format, with razor-detailed photography well suited for Digital DLP theaters and a muted color scheme, where the landscapes (and caves) look almost like black-and-white, giving a moonscape look to the blasted slopes of the mountain, and a curious other-worldly look to the ocean and American fleet. Both movies have flashbacks and subplots, especially the first film. Together, the two films complement each other the way Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony complements Das Lied von der Erde. Clint Eastwood wrote his own original music for the first film, and Kyle (his son?) and Michael Stevens wrote the music for the second film, where the music is more “modern” and complex, somewhat resembling late Mahler at times.

Although requiring full studio resources, the second film is being marketed as an arthouse film, opening in New York and LA right at the end of 2006, and in only one theater in many cities Jan 12, 2007 (in DC, at Landmark’s Bethesda Row, which caters to the art film market). It is, for all effects, like a foreign film, in Japanese with subtitles, delving deep into Japanese culture during this period, and this idea of male honor that requires procreation and then self-sacrifice—for comparison to our own ideas of social morality today.

The films could be compared with Sands of Iwo Jima, 1949, dir. Allan Dwan, from Republic Pictures (DVD from Artisan, now LionsGate). The film, starring John Wayne, seems silly in the beginning but picks up steam as it builds toward the raising of the flag on the mount, with the reading of a letter by the fallen sergeant to his son, whom other men in the unit would be expected to look after. That film is 4:3 and in black and white, and I wonder what the Eastwood films would seem like in pure black and white.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Movies that deal with writing: Freedom Writers, I Remember Mama, Little Women

I hope that movie buffs, school teachers and administrators, and writers will all, out of self-interest, check out the film Freedom Writers, distrubuted by Paramount, produced by MTV (the music television cable network), written and directed by Richard La Gravenese, a true story about Erin Gruwell, an English teacher in a high school in troubled East Los Angeles in the early 1990s after the Rodney King riots.

She has students writing journals about their inner city life, and eventually these get published in a book, The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them (Broadway Books, 1999), foreword by Zlata Filipovic, Amazon link here.

One thing that is a bit dicey here is writing and publishing about your own world, including your own family, as this might have an effect on them (hopefully here, a positive one). That controversy had been taken up in the 1948 classic from George Stevens and RKO Radio Pictures (remember that studio? I think it got assumed by Columbia/Sony, but I'm not sure) I Remember Mama, in which the daughter writes a story about her mother, first considered rude, but she gets it published and can actually advance the fortunes of her 1910-era (post 1906 San Francisco earthquake) family. To some extent, Louisa May Alcott's novel and film adaptation Little Women (RKO again, George Cukor) took this up in the movies in 1933 (there have been remakes, the latest in 1994), and Alcott herself dealt with whether her writing was "selfish" when she became a nurse during the Civil War, a point made in the discussion on Turner Classic Movies Christmas Eve.

My other links: Detailed review of Freedom Writers
Reviews of Little Women, I Remember Mama.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Movie names often duplicate each other

It's not unusual for unrelated films to have the same titles or very similar titles. Generally, titles themselves cannot be copyrighted, and they can become trademarked generally only when they become multiple movie (or multiple book) franchises.

For example, I noticed that Universal's 2006 release "The Good Shepherd" about the history of the CIA, has a namesake from Sony Home entertainment in 2004, also called "The Good Shepherd", about a troubled priest; the film has an alternate title in Netflix called "The Confessor." It is common to find alternate titles and working titles on imdb. (In fact, "Working Title" is a well known production company.) Another good example is the football movie "Invincible" (2006, from Walt Disney) about the oldest NFL rookie ever, and another film by the same name (dir. Werner Herzog, from Fine Line -- now Picturehouse) about a Jewish performer masquerading in pre-WWII Nazi Germarny.

I noticed the issue with my proposed script American Epic, and then a 2007 film in production from 20th Century Fox called "Epic Movie" (in the "Scary Movie" vein -- perhaps Dr. Phil and all) that his nothing to do with it.

The picture is of a king of beasts.