Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back

by Jeffery Bui  

imagesAround twenty years ago, almost every child’s dream was to become a Pokémon Master. The fantasy created by the Pokémon franchise acted as a safe haven for children—allowing them to both catch a break from the hectic life of long division as well as catch Pokémon while they were at it. When the franchise finally announced the 1998 release of their first feature-film Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, the Y2K scare was put on hold as Pokémon fanatics could not contain their excitement to see a ten-year old boy and his furry yellow mouse at their local movie theater.

Although marketing to the hearts of eight-year olds, the movie did not disappoint. The plot begins with the backstory of a laboratory experiment gone wrong, Mewtwo. What Mewtwo does is exactly what you would expect in a children’s movie that explicitly includes “Mewtwo Strikes Back” in its title: it strikes back—getting revenge on the dastardly group of scientists at the expense of the entire Pokémon world. As a result, the stars somehow align and the naïve yet courageous protagonist, Ash Ketchum, is put in the position to save the Pokémon world from devastation and prevent Mewtwo from obliterating everything the Pokémon world knows and loves.

MV5BMjE3OTcxNDA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDI2MDE3._V1_SX640_SY720_Of course, being a children’s movie, it is suited for the resolution to be nothing less than rainbows and butterflies. However, the beauty of Pokémon: The First Movie is not found in the “what happens,” but the “how it happens.” The idea of how Ash is able to be the underdog and halt what seems to be the most powerful being exposed to the Pokémon world seems almost impossible; Yet, it happens—and in quite tear-jerking fashion. Pokémon: The First Movie takes the juvenile concept of Pokémon and alters it into something a little more tenderhearted. Shinji Miyazaki’s choice in music paired with the cinematography of Hisao Shirai caused for elicited emotions that one would expect watching something along the lines of Titanic or Marley & Me, not Pokémon.  

Pokemon.The.First.Movie.1998.DVDR.NTSC.R4.LATiNO-18-20130128-18211911The most notable aspect to the movie that sets it apart from being an ordinary animation is Takeshi Shudo’s creation of multiple layers within the characters. In just 96 minutes, Shudo is able to develop the character of Mewtwo as a hostile psychopath while still causing the audience to sympathize for it and almost justify its actions. Intended to simply empower and glorify the scientists who made it, Mewtwo is tasked with issues everyone faces, whether it be during confusing teenage years or a mid-life crisis: self-worth and self-identity. As a result, Mewtwo, just like many of us, channels the confusion into frustration towards those around it.  

There are only two plausible reasons that come to mind as to why I would not recommend this movie to anyone: I either strongly dislike them or they saw it right before I could recommend it to them. It may be the nostalgic toddler in me speaking, but the movie was a masterpiece. The fact that I have such firm support in Pokémon: The First Movie 17 years after its release means that the Pokémon franchise did its job. Even at a box office standpoint, the Pokémon franchise’s ability to net a revenue of $130 million in a 1998-valued economy speaks for itself.  

pokemon1sub_4The positive message entailed in Pokémon: The First Movie is both universal and eternal as it contributes to the progressive world we live in today. Regardless of the Pokémon’s origin, purebred or artificial, they come to an understanding that we can use in our daily lives: “Maybe if we start looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different, well, who knows?”

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Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is Phenomenal

by Erik Harty

Birdman-1Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a phenomenal film.  Written and directed by the lesser-known Alejandro González Iñárittu, it finds its life very much in the technical magic behind the scenes.  It is made to look like it is one continuous shot until the end of the movie, where some obvious hard cuts take place. But was it actually one continuous shot?  Absolutely not.  There are dramatic shifts in setting and time, not to mention the insanity of trying to choreograph every single moving part for nearly two straight hours.  So no, the film is not one single shot. Rather, it is a magical tapestry, woven together by the magic of clever cinematography, solid editing, and polished visual effects.

As an aspiring editor, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the inner-workings of the post-production process.  I love hearing editors, colorists, sound mixers, and visual effects artists discuss their work and the very specific decisions they made during their time with a particular film.  In the case of Birdman, the editors have actually kept a lot of their “secrets” to themselves, but that doesn’t mean their work can’t be dissected from the outside.  


When examining the film to find its edits, one of the things that immediately struck me were the interior/exterior transitions.  At many places throughout the film, a character will be moving from indoors to outdoors, or from one room to another through a doorway.  Often times, the camera pushes in to fill the frame with the character’s back or the area around the doorway is so dark that the frame is briefly entirely dark.  Assuming that lighting and color are consistent, a cut can be placed unnoticeably at the point where the frame is completely dark.  This particular method is very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), where he attempted to make a continuously shot film, but was limited by the amount of film that a camera could hold.  To hide the cuts, he had the camera push in to fill the frame with someone’s back.  Fortunately for Iñárittu, technology has progressed enormously since Hitchcock’s time.  The other two methods of hiding Birdman’s cuts require a little more post-production magic.

birdman_movie_stillThe first of these two methods is dramatically simpler than the second.  Known as “whip” or “swish” pans, these cuts find their strength in movement.  They work by cutting on the action, where the action is blurred because of fast camera movement.  The effect is further improved by using a frame rate near the cinematic standard of 24 frames per second.  Often times, a well-executed whip pan can even provide an unnoticeable transition between two completely different settings, so a discreet transition between two shots in the same setting is very feasible.  Birdman utilizes this technique all over the place, which actually helps add some energy to the film, in addition to its function as a transition.

birdman-emma-stone-changing-room-xlargeThe final technique used to mask transitions in Birdman is really more of a category than it is a specific technique.  “Visual effects” is a broad term than can mean a whole lot of things, but in the context of the cuts in this film, it refers to a method of smoothing transitions.  In some cases, such as the small number of exterior shots that showcase the transition from night to day, the effects are more akin to a very complex dissolve.  In other cases, they may add some extra blur to a whip pan to make it more believable.  Depending on the situation, they may even be a reanimation of some aspect of a cut that makes it almost unnoticeable.  Some might consider this category cheating, since it wasn’t how the film was originally shot, but it certainly rounds out the continuous feel of the movie.

Birdman-5Ultimately, I love Birdman because the unique way that it was shot and edited contributes significantly to the film.  It isn’t made to look like a continuous shot just for the sake of being different.  Rather, the continuous, almost dreamlike flow of the framing assists in characterizing this chapter of Riggan Thomson’s life as confused, dazed, and lost.  Birdman is a film worth viewing for its success in accomplishing a technical feat, but more importantly, for how its technical feat contributes to the overall character of the movie.


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A Red Letter Film – A Review of The Martian

by Jonathan Davidson

97-frontHow to transfer vast amounts of information in the smallest package—that’s the holy grail of communication.  Several weeks before hearing about The Martian film, I was buying books on Amazon and saw a suggestion for a book called The Martian.  I’d never heard of the book, but it had nearly 10,000 five-star reviews.  John Grisham, James Patterson, and even Stephen King rarely command such a mass of raving reviewers on one of their novels.

And then I saw the cover of the book: An astronaut wearing the brilliant white of a modern American spacesuit, his feet ripped from the Martian soil by fierce wind, his body—twisted in an odd, helpless angle—obscured by reddish-brown dust.  That’s all I needed to see.  Indeed, some graphic designer sitting in some cubical at Broadway Books had stumbled upon the holy grail of communication, marrying simplicity to enormous meaning.  The faceless fear of that astronaut reached out and gripped my science-fiction-loving heart with icy talons.  I clicked, “Buy Now with One-Click®,” and started reading the book the moment it arrived. Every page exceeded my expectations.


And then I heard they were making a movie. Since movies always have a hard time living up to great books, I tried to approach this one as a standalone piece of art, something wholly separate from its paperback father.  Yet I found it impossible to prevent myself from making comparisons.  The movie promised disappointment in the first nano-second I heard about it.  Instead of the terrifying and moving image of an astronaut fighting against the elements of Mars (a battle even more symbolic when one remembers that, in Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war), the movie poster showed an extreme close-up of Matt Damon’s spacesuit-protected face, one eyebrow slightly raised, his lips pursed as if he’s trying to look suave. Apparently the graphic designer in some cubical at Twentieth Century Fox doesn’t know his trade like the designer in some cubical at Broadway Books. Thus, even on Sol 1 (a Martian day) it appeared that the movie might not live up to the book.

The-Martian-TrailerTrying to keep an open mind, I went to see the film.  As I had suspected, it was very hard to live up to such a gripping masterpiece of science fiction literature.  However, viewed as a separate piece of art, The Martian does what any good film should—carry the viewer into a new and spectacular world where an immersive and emotional experience awaits. This new and spectacular world attracted considerable talent.  Ridley Scott, director of dozens of projects including Blade Runner, Gladiator, and American Gangster, directed.  Drew Goddard, writer of Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods, and many episodes for shows such as Lost, Alias, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, adapted the screenplay.  Matt Damon, who needs no introduction unless you haven’t been to the theater since the 1980s, played the role of the protagonist Mark Watney.  Other prominent actors such as Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, and Sean Bean, played roles as other astronauts or administrators and staff at NASA and JPL.


The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut whose sub-specialty happens to be botany who travels to Mars with several crew mates on the third manned mission to the red planet.  On Sol 6, a storm blows into the landing zone with such intensity that the mission must be aborted.  In the scramble to reach the evacuation shuttle, Mark Watney gets hit by flying debris.  Unable to delay the launch any longer and getting no readings from Watney’s bio-monitor, the crew decides to blast off.  Hours later, Watney awakes to discover that not only is he alive, but he’s profoundly alone, unable to communicate with NASA or his crew mates, and completely undersupplied to live until the next manned mission to mars which will arrive more than two years later.  Determined to live, Watney sets out to use every scrap of his training and creativity to survive, unaware of exactly how inhospitable Mars will turn out to be.

martian-gallery5-gallery-imageTo Goddard’s credit, he did a great job adapting the screenplay.  The book, written mostly in the form of Mark Watney’s journal entries, derives most of its charms from what’s in the head of the hilariously inappropriate yet scientifically genius protagonist.  By having Watney record a video journal and overlapping his recordings with b-roll of the events described, Goddard managed to tell the story in the same manner of the book while making use of the visual storytelling techniques that makes film so compelling.  Also, Goddard must be commended for sticking to the storyline of the book.  While he had to drop dozens of events in order to keep the film under two and a half hours, those he did portray were lifted almost verbatim from the novel.

Another strength of this film is in the cinematography, beautifully captured by Dariusz Wolski.  Sweeping panoramas of the Martian landscape and lots of aerial shots revealed just how alone Mark Watney was on the treacherous planet.  Such long shots were balanced out with lots of extreme close-ups, allowing Damon to convey Watney’s unique personality.  What’s more, I noticed a tasteful number of unconventional shots, with the camera attached to odd objects or from Dutch angles.  Wolski also effectively used lighting to convey the inherent themes of the film.  The sun hardly dimmed by the thin Martian atmosphere, casts stark shadows, accentuating the planet’s unfeeling harshness.  Dark lighting at JPL underscored how the technicians felt as they labored under the heavy burden of knowing that Mark Watney’s survival depended on them.  My only major criticism of the cinematography deals with the aerial shots.  Apparently their perspective algorithms weren’t finally turned, leading to slight distortions in reality when objects slide past each other.  For instance, as distant mountains changed position relative to close objects, they didn’t seem to interact realistically. Perhaps this is nitpicking, but it bothered me enough that I noticed exactly what was happening.


My greatest criticism of the film in general is aimed at Ridley Scott.  With a cast that lesser directors would sacrifice their children for, one would assume that Scott would command an incredible symphony of acting.  Yet with the possible exception of Damon, all the actors seemed somewhat listless and sedate.  Even in the most critical moments of the film, the actors were fairly reserved, hardly ever raising their voices or acting as if people’s lives and billions of dollars were on the line.  I have to assume that Scott directed the actors to behave this way on purpose.  Perhaps NASA trains their people to behave with great restraint even in the most dire of circumstances.  Even still, I felt a palpable lack of enthusiasm from most of the cast.  The same could be said for the pacing in general.  It lacked an energy and immediateness that I expected.  The novel was a very gripping read, so perhaps it set up unfair expectations.  Other films such as Gravity might have also set an unrealistically high bar for excitement in space stories, or perhaps Scott directed the film in a slightly lower-key manner in order to avoid the appearance that he copied Gravity.


Despite these objections, The Martian was a great experience. Matt Damon followed well in Tom Hanks’s shoes as a cast away, his strong acting allowing me to feel with Watney the steep and alternating peaks of desperation, fear, and hope. The desolate yet beautiful Martian world transported me to a new and raw place where anything could happen. Watney’s humor and intelligence made him a pleasure to spend almost two and a half hours observing. Perhaps this film didn’t live up to the book, but it made a very enjoyable movie.

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Why the New Star Wars Trilogy Might Not Suck

by A. A. Matin

SW-E7-TFAWhat was the most mind blowing moment in the original Star Wars Trilogy?  Was it the first time we saw a light saber  Was it Vader killing the Emperor?  Was it Luke training with Yoda?  Was it Leia in a metal bikini?  No, it was none of these.  When I tell you what I think – I doubt you will disagree.  But first let me give a little backstory.  Star Wars was inspired by Saturday Morning Serials.  These would be a short feature, typically about 20 minutes, that was a chapter of a longer story.  They screened once a week on Saturday mornings in a local movie theater.  The entire story would be about 10-15 Chapters.
Lucas said that you would inevitably come in the middle of a serial and not know what happened before.  That is part of the reason why the first movie is “Episode IV.”  When thinking about serials, he remembered two types.  One was the space opera type – which became Star Wars.  The other was the swashbuckler adventure type.  This became the Indiana Jones films.  Now I will go on a slight diversion about Indiana Jones (don’t worry, it is all pertinent).  I have always been a film geek.  Even in elementary school I had consciously thought, “You know Spielberg and Lucas make similar films.  They should work together.”  I didn’t know that they were already friends.
11875118_1007880092596925_2204135516599208531_oThen one day I was watching TV.  White text over black saying “Jaws. 1975” appeared on screen and grows.  Then “Star Wars. 1977”.  Followed by “Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977”, and “Empire Strikes Back 1980”.  The narrator says that the two biggest names in Motion Pictures are teaming up. I thought, “Awesome!”  What followed was a lot of fast cutting of the action beats in Raiders.  At one point I thought, “Hey, is that Harrison Ford?” but it was moving so fast I couldn’t tell.  Then the trailer ended with a classic shot from the Truck Chase.  Looking down the hood of the truck, Indy is holding on to the Mercedes Benz hood ornament.  It slowly bends backwards and then breaks off and Indy falls out of frame.  At that point the commercial cut to black and was over.
At that moment my mind exploded.  Grey matter was splattered all over my parents’ living room.  I squealed, “OH MY GOD!  I HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!”  I had to see how Indiana Jones got out of that predicament.  It was a perfect example of the Cliffhanger that was the lifeblood of the serials that inspired the film.  Each chapter of a Serial would end with a Cliffhanger.  We all know what they are. But think about the term.  The hero would be hanging off the edge a Cliff about to die (or some other similar peril).  And you had to come back next week to see how he would get out of it.
rp5z2dwjyl7utj8wdphqAnd that was the greatest moment in the original Star Wars Trilogy.  The end of The Empire Strikes Back when Vader says, “No, I am your father!”  That is when collectively all of our minds exploded all over movie theaters around the world.  It was and still is one of the greatest shocks and twists in movie history.  The great part of that age was that people were respectful of it.  No one was blogging about the secrets the next day.  I saw Empire Strikes Back after it had been in theaters for a month.  No one told me about the end or even hinted at it.  And the question of whether Vader was being honest was buffeted by the fact that Han Solo was frozen in Carbonite.  You just knew that his friends were going to have to rescue him. But how?
To me that was the reason why the prequel trilogy sucked. It wasn’t the wooden acting. It wasn’t the digital sets.  We all would have forgiven them if we had that one moment where our minds were truly blown away and we were given a reason to want to come back and see the continuation of the story.  The last set of films forgot their roots in the serials. Episode I ended in a neat little bow.  Episode II did have some questions.  Like who was Master Sipho-Dyas that commissioned the Kaminoans to create the Clone Army and where did he get the money.  But this felt more like bad screenwriting than a question that demanded an answer. (and ultimately was never answered).  George got lazy because he knew he had a built in audience who would come back for Parts II and III.
luke_skywalkerThe reason I have hope is because J.J. Abrams comes from Television.  TV is the evolution of the Saturday Morning Serials.  Most TV shows are a serialized dramatic story told in 12-23 episodes.  Usually, the end of an episode will dangle a carrot or end on a cliffhanger moment to get you to tune in next week.  I hope Abrams brought some of this mentality to the movie.  Business decisions are often made from a place of fear.  It feels less risky to spend money on a concept or formula that has already shown itself to be successful.  Movies that truly shock and surprise us are few and far between. We are so used to seeing the same tropes recycled time and again that when a film really pulls the rug out from under us – people always enjoy it.  Citizen Kane, Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back, Pulp Fiction, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were all films that shocked us out of complacency.  There is a reason they are considered classics. And if we are lucky we will be able to say the same about Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
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2015 Portland Film Festival – a Fun Place to Be and to See

by Carrie Specht

130827-205234-0514The third annual Portland Film Festival starts Tuesday, September 1 and runs through Monday, September 7.  By all accounts the festival has established itself (within just a few short years) as a strong national presence, known for eclectic films and unique events.  Even the esteemed Moviemaker Magazine recently named the festival “one of the coolest film festivals in the world.”  This is strong praise indeed when you consider how many festivals are out there each vying to establish some kind of relevant international profile.  And this year’s lineup is stronger than ever.

DSC_0395It may surprise some that Portland is celebrating just its third year as host to a film fest.  I mean, it is a pretty mighty metropolis on the Pacific seaboard, and doesn’t just about every major city have a film festival in its gazilliunth year?  Well, it may be late to the party, but Portland is going strong and doing things right as a leader in the celebration of cinema and those who make it.  Fans of the fledgling event will find plenty to feast on with a variety of screenings and events including the highly anticipated ZOMBIE DAY.  This will be a free live (mostly – get it?) event that will be attempting to make a new Guinness Book World Record.  The goal is to utilize two thousand festival-goers as extras in the short film, “Zombie Day Apocalypse”.  I have to say that’s a pretty unique lure that promises to be entertaining even of they don’t make the record.  After all, when will you ever get another chance to play a zombie in a movie?

Culture_Film_FilmFest_PIFF_hollywood_courtesy_PIFFAlso on the schedule is a tribute to WILL VINTON, Portland’s Academy Award-winning stop motion pioneer.  He’ll receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for Innovation in Filmmaking.  WENDY FROUD, the acclaimed creature sculptor and puppet maker will also be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work as a fabricator on Yoda for “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (awesome!).  In the same week there will be over seventy workshops led by top industry pros, the obligatory After Parties with live musical performance, and a chance to meet and network with over three hundred and fifty visiting filmmakers (assuming everyone makes their flights).


This year’s film slate includes a diverse selection of competition films, world premieres, spotlights on music themed documentaries and local filmmakers.  The talent appearing in films being shown includes James Franco in Yosemite, Jane Seymour in Bereave, Cloris Leachman and Judd Nelson in This is Happening, wrestler Jake The Snake in The Resurrection of Jake The Snake, Patton Oswald in Dude Bro Party Massacre III (the title entices me to check out I and II), and docs on rock the bands Morphine and Twisted Sister.  And that’s just a smattering of what’s in store.  Full the full festival lineup and info to purchase passes and tickets go to: www.portlandfilmfestival. com

The nonprofit Portland Film Festival was founded by filmmaker and Executive Director Josh Leake in 2013, and is made possible by the generous donation of time and skills by over 300 volunteers each year. Last year the festival drew 23,000 ticket holders (no way of counting the crashers), 240 visiting filmmakers (many from outside the U.S.) and more than a thousand industry members, making it one of Oregon’s most popular cultural events. That’s actually saying a lot considering Portland still stands as one of the meccas of the music industry. With credentials like that, there’s no doubt the Portland Film Festival will continue to raise among the “must” festivals for filmmakers and attendees alike. I encourage going now while the event is still young and playful. It may always remain so, but why take a chance?




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Cartel Land

by Timothy Kennelly

maxresdefaultThe recent recipient of the Sundance Jury Prize for Documentary Directing is one of the most powerful and gripping docs I’ve seen in many years. Director Matthew Heineman’s up-close look at the drug cartel’s impact on Mexico opens with a nighttime scene of masked men offloading chemicals from a truck and doing a large-scale meth cook in a secret location in the Michocoan mountains.  Is that up-close enough for you? The movie follows parallel stories of citizen vigilantes, militias formed in the absence of government support, or in the presence of government corruption.

Cartel-LandA pickup truck drives along a dusty road bordering the fence between Arizona and Mexico, with both the road and the fence fading into the infinity of the desert.  A voiceover says, “There’s a line between good and evil—maybe imaginary, but I believe it’s real—and I see myself as guardian of that line, protecting the good people from evil.”  The words spoken by Arizona resident Timothy Nailer, leader of a self-organized militia trying to keep Mexican meth smugglers from bringing drugs into the U.S.  Like many big city liberals, I tend to associate border-guarding militiamen with gun-happy racists.  Yet Nailer is empathetic and earnest as a local man whose life was almost ruined by drugs, and turned his near-ruin into redemption, organizing patrols to capture drug smugglers and turning them over to Border Police.  He makes it clear he’s not after innocent migrant families who pose no security threat.  He and his fellow militiamen (most from the region, and ex-military) are dedicated to capturing criminals and staunching the flow of poison into the US, and money back to Mexico.  The filmmaker is smart to focus on Nailer, as when the camera picks up the chatter of some of his cohorts, a bit more unfocused racism seeps through the cracks of their casual conversation.  Still, Nailer is an inspiring and eloquent leader, glad to have the help from others, whatever their political views, and he puts his life on the line for the cause he believes in.  After hearing the body count of the cartel wars (80,000 killed and 20,000 missing since 2007,) it’s impossible to not reevaluate my own preconceptions about these militiamen, who are in their own way “Watchers on the Wall, Guardians of the realms of Men.”

#3 - Dr. Jose Mireles (center), in CARTEL LAND, a film by Matthew HeinemanAcross the border, we’re dropped in middle of a small Mexican town’s funeral for victims of a massacre by the local drug gang—including many children.  There’s no short supply of harrowing tales in Cartel Land.  I had to close my eyes for some scenes, not wanting to read any more subtitles of survivors’ tales, and they were the lucky ones.  Terrorized by the biggest gang, sickeningly ironically named “Knights Templar” (an ancient Catholic order), and abandoned by their corrupt government, the citizens finally declare a war against the cartel.  Men old and young respond to the call, and are given T-shirts, training and weaponry, and a true “folk militia” is born.  In an early scene, they move into a neighboring town, taking over the central square and declare it “liberated”. Soon the army shows up (any government body as we soon learn is completely in the pocket of drug gangs).  The way the small town citizens surround the military and make them back downis one of the high points of this film.  A bullied population suddenly sensing and seizing their moment of power is electric and unforgettable.  One wonders how many small towns around the globe are only one spark away from similar explosion of repressed righteous anger.


During the rise of the vigilante defense force, we see the predictable stages such as the government minister calling them “hoodlums with no respect for the proper authorities”, an assassination attempt on the leader, the jockeying between power-seeking lieutenants, and of course the government’s attempt to eventually co-opt them by offering to make them an official government militia.  We also witness the ethical transgressions of its leader, almost inevitable in a man of such charisma and hubris.  There are more external factors behind the transfiguration of the Civilian Defense Force (Autodefensas), but I won’t ruin it because you should see it yourself unfolding in the movie.

The “no man’s land” of Timothy Nailer’s Arizona/ Mexico desert is a physical metaphor of the moral landscape.  Proactive self-defense is survival, where lines of morality disappear in the desert sand, and traditional authorities are nowhere on the horizon.  Justice is often a mirage that disappears as one approaches.  Perhaps the saddest manifestation of this, is the slow change of the Mexican Autodefensas from liberators to harassers to oppressors. We have a front row seat to this including a car chase and firefight so intense the filmmakers have to leap out of the SUV and run down an alley for their lives, still filming. Citizen Defenders capture what they believe to be a member of a drug gang, who may have just been an innocent man driving down the wrong street.  They pull him away from his screaming child and wife to interrogate him in the back of their SUV.  The temptation to bully the handcuffed man is too great, and the camera, inside the claustrophobic car, captures all this intimately, as if to remind us indelibly, “This is the way of the world—the devil hands the victim the whip and whispers to him use it on his tormentor.”  In the next scene he’s at the “questioning/processing center” in a line of handcuffed, fearful men, hearing the screams of the current interviewee behind the wall.  No overt statement is needed to conjure the image of Abu Gharib and America losing its moral compass down the blind alley of the War on Terror.


In a movie full of moments tearing away the veil, I found this unmasking to be the most haunting, that the victimized can turn into hero, only to be seduced by power into becoming the victimizer.  In many ways it’s the oldest and saddest tale of human history. It’s the journey from 9/11 Ground Zero to Rumsfeld’s Gitmo, it’s Israel walling Palestinians inside a West Bank ghetto, it’s Tamora of the Goths in “Titus Andronicus” turning from Titus’ prisoner to Titus’ destroyer after she becomes Roman queen. Shakespeare 400 years ago, casting his lens back 1600 years further, vividly showing us that the seductive siren song of Retribution is the force pulls all Progress inexorably back down into the History’s whirlpool of perpetual violence.  “I do believe the cycles can be broken”….said the filmmaker Heinemann in his Q&A. “The population is approaching the tipping point of tolerance.. The recent murder of 43 university students inspired hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets and demand an end to this catastrophe.”  Let’s hope that this documentary can open even more eyes and help bring real-world changes.


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About Time and Meaning

abouttimeby Jonathan Davidson

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably not an eagle.  So when my wife said that she wanted to see the romantic comedy About Time, I agreed to go, expecting a shallow yet cute film that would hopefully make me laugh.  Later, I saw the trailer and profoundly regretted my decision.  Not only was it a romantic comedy—which real men can handle, enjoy even—but a time traveling romantic comedy. What at first appeared to be a noble, healthy duck from a good bloodline now looked like a crippled duck with laryngitis, quacking into the void of Hollywood creativity.

Faced with watching Ender’s Game by myself or a potential train wreck of genre mixing with my gorgeous wife, I capitulated.  And far from cringing at a train wreck, I smiled often, laughed frequently, learned a life lesson that I still think about every day, and to my complete astonishment, cried more than at any other time in my life.

Richard Curtis, responsible for Love Actually, Notting Hill, and many other successful stories, wrote and directed About Time.  Such a record of success has allowed him to join the privileged ranks of filmmakers who are able to write and direct their own work. Thankfully, there seems to be a trend toward allowing talented writers to oversee the entire creative development of their stories.  Richard Curtis, Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuarón, James Cameron, and select others have gained this level of trust from the studios and have released a string of runaway successes.  Perhaps this single-author control leads to better stories, preventing the mission creep and mangling that can occur when producers, directors, lead actors and executives tinker with the material.  Indeed, About Time feels as if it were crafted by someone who cared deeply about every detail of the story, no matter how inconsequential.


About Time starts by establishing the flat-line life of twenty-one-year-old, gangly, redheaded Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson).  Shortly after a New Year’s Eve party, Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) pulls him aside and explains that men in the family have always had the ability to travel through time. Of course, Tim thinks his father has gone mad.  Yet after successfully time traveling, Tim wants to learn more.  The film quickly distinguishes itself from lesser time traveling stories by building unique restraints around Tim’s ability.  This avoids so many of the clichés that could have swiftly ruined the film.  For instance, Tim’s father explains that he can only travel back through his own lifetime.  Thus, Tim can’t go back and marry Helen of Troy or assassinate Hitler or do any of the other neat yet predictable things that come to mind.  Naturally, Tim wants to use the power for money, but his father quickly dispels this notion by pointing out how fabulous wealth ruined various ancestors.  Clichés dealt with, Tim’s father shares his advice: use this power to do what truly makes you happy.  And what would make an average, gangly, redhead truly happy?  Love, of course.


Pleasantly awkward and insecure, yet emboldened by his ability to step back in time and try a different tact, Tim thoroughly embarrasses himself in pursuit of a girlfriend, leading to a lot of the comedy one might expect from the premise. At first, I feared the film would fall apart at this juncture, descending into a ridiculous parade of sexual exploits. Yet in the same way that this film distinguishes itself from other time traveling stories by striving for originality, it surprised me with Tim’s gentlemanly attempts to charm women.  Tim finally meets his equal in Mary (Rachel McAdams), a shy, geeky yet beautiful woman who hates parties and shares Tim’s discomfort when dealing with strangers. Immediately smitten and thoroughly determined to win her affection, Tim uses the fullness of his time travel ability to make sure everything goes just right. Together they fall into a truly authentic, humorous and touching romance.

abouttime01About Time further distinguishes its originality by celebrating normal introverts. Most movies have a “hero,” which by definition suggests one who passes through the world with a charming, skillful ease. Such stories often portray introverts as boring hermits to be pitied and laughed at, or at best for their geeky usefulness when the world is at stake and the only person who can save the day is a quirky programmer. About Time accurately depicts introverts as those who tire of crowds, parties and strangers, but who come alive as creative, humorous, kind and thoughtful people when together with close friends, family, or one on one.  While all these qualities make About Time an unusually good film, what makes it truly soar is Richard Curtis’s grasp of a very undervalued storytelling technique. Of all the advice given to aspiring writers, perhaps the most frequent is, “Good stories arise from conflict.” Thus, novice storytellers detail epic battles, chase scenes and constant arguments, chasing down as much conflict and as high of stakes as possible in an attempt to craft exciting stories. Yet veteran storytellers know that there’s another story element that’s equally if not more important than conflict: connection. We certainly deal with conflict in our lives and we’re wired to be fascinated by watching others fight through its ravages. Yet we feel even stronger vicarious emotions when characters connect to each other in surprising and inspiring ways. Consider Les Misérables. Certainly, it has its share of conflict, but its most memorable moments arise from connection, such as when Bishop Myriel forgives Jean Valjean for stealing his silverware, a gesture that has more impact on Jean Valjean than the vastly disproportionate amount of conflict he has endured.

About Time

In the same way, About Time has several such startlingly poignant moments of connection. The quality of one such moment—the one that reduced me to crying harder than I ever have in my life—shocked me with its tenderness and made me long for the ability to step back in time. I experienced in real life the tragedy that befalls Tim, yet here I am, drawn along by the unstoppable pull of time, vibrantly unable to do anything about it. But even if loss has largely passed you by, there’s little doubt this moment of profound human connection will leave you unaffected.  The film ends by imparting a lesson so simple yet profound that I have thought about it almost every day since seeing the film. I can’t tell you what it is, for that would ruin the experience of realizing it for yourself. But don’t worry. You won’t miss it. And if applied, every day of your life will be significantly richer.  Obviously, I was completely taken by this film. And, as always, my wife was right (why do I ever question her?) Sometime when your heart is open and you want to enjoy a thoughtful journey through love, time, and meaning, watch this film.


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Penelope: A Tale of Discovering Self Worth


by Sarah Leong

Penelope is a story of discovering and creating one’s identity. The plot follows Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), a young woman who’s born with a curse upon her wealthy family—that the next girl to the line would be born with the nose of a pig. The only way for the curse to be lifted is by “one of their own” to accept her, which her parents interpreted as someone of Wilhern descent accepting her hand in marriage. The movie follows her story of trying to find a suitor in order to lift the curse and involves multiple interactions with people from the outside world.


The characters followed suit of a fairy-tale story, with a sheltered female protagonist, parents with old values, a charming romantic interest with deep, dark secrets, a meddling villain, and a happy ending. Penelope grew up hidden from the world because her parents didn’t want other people to see her pig-nose and make fun of her for it and make Penelope insecure. As a result, when Penelope was old enough, the parents set up private meetings for suitors to visit their home and meet Penelope. The suitors would freak out and try to make a run for it, but the family forced them to sign a contract of secrecy. Lemon (Peter Dinklage), a nosy reporter, hears about Penelope through a suitor that had seen Penelope and escaped the castle before signing the contract. As a result of desiring a juicy story, Lemon tracks down Max Campion (James McAvoy), who was discovered as a descendant of a wealthy family. Max was a son cut off from the family because of his gambling problem, so Lemon knew he would be able to hook Max into going through with his plan.

eli477_3Through an animated narrative voice-over thanks to Penelope herself, we get a great idea of the intelligent, curious, and thoughtful girl that she is. The viewer cannot help but to empathize with her desire to be free of her parents’ adamancy (primarily her mother) of getting the curse lifted. Ricci does a brilliant job bringing Penelope’s wanderlust character to life through a dynamic range of facial expressions around her nose as well as a character within her tone of voice to portray the endearing protagonist. In this way, Penelope proves relatable to many viewers who have a wide-eyed wonder about the world outside of their comfort zone.

penelope-03 Penelope’s father (Richard E. Grant) is the passive parent; therefore, most of the drama comes from Penelope’s high-strung mother, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara). Jessica is absolutely convinced that she’s doing what’s best for her daughter and going about it the right way. Unfortunately, she cannot see that Penelope is suffering because her mom is so bent on fixing her, that she completely misses the hardship Penelope is enduring. Viewers can relate to Penelope’s relationship with her mother because many people have felt frustrated or oppressed by his or her parents at times. The child feels the parent is completely blind to his or her suffering, and that simple miscommunication on the child’s part and failure to recognize the child’s misery on the parent’s part results in the tension that Penelope and Jessica encounter. 

Initially, Max Campion is a sketchy-looking character, but once the viewers see him interacting with Penelope, we witness him develop genuine interest in her, rather than the reward. Max is a complex character with a deep backstory that is touched on but not elaborated nearly enough in my opinion. He stands as the anticipated “saving grace” for Penelope, which turns out to be a flop. I found this to be an excellent salute to our tendency to believe we can help any situation, but soon realize that we cannot always play white knight.


The film’s production utilized a time-period/modern setting, wide angles, and swelling music to emphasize the wonder and adventure Penelope experiences throughout the film. The castle-like home she lives in is very extravagant and had a very old-English time-period feel (similar to the setting of movies such as Nanny McPhee), whereas the world around her seems much more modern day London, with cobblestone roads and pubs and bustling bars. It was a fantastic balance between old and new in terms of fashion, culture, and dialogue. The shots included many bright colors and soft lights to enhance the entire magical feel to the film, which the music assisted as well.

Joby Talbot composed the score originally for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005; Arctic Tale, 2007). I was very pleased with the orchestration, consisting of strings in the high register, which always symbolizes either magic or love—or in the case of this movie, both. With dynamic swells and themes, the viewer can experience the emotions with the characters. During the scene of Max playing the piano, Talbot had composed a beautiful piano instrumental that was used in the theater showings of the film, but unfortunately replaced with a soundtrack song in the DVD release. This disappointed me because there was a lot of dimension in the piece, backed by a string section, emphasizing the emotions Max was experiencing from leaving Penelope, as well as paralleling the wonder Penelope experienced by riding around town and seeing the world for the first time.


In my experience, recommending Penelope to my friends has proven to be difficult because I struggle to summarize the movie without giving away too much about what makes it such a feel-good film. It appears to be yet another damsel-in-distress film, and it’s not until the final plot twist at the end of the film (SPOILER) that it is revealed all she had to do was accept herself.

Families can pull lessons for discussion from the movie, although the topics may be too deep for younger children to engage in. I appreciate the message that emphasized on how, many times, we search for ways to fix our flaws, when all we really need to do is accept them and find ways to live with them. Unfortunately, our flaws cannot be whisked away as if they were a magic spell, but it may definitely feel that way when we feel alleviated by the things we once considered our “curses.” Ultimately, we are capable of finding our identity and happiness on our own without needing the approval of others around us.

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Basic Rules for the Background Artist

by Carrie Specht

Background-ExtrasThe background artist, or extra is the most thankless and overlooked position on any production.  In a sense, it needs to be.  After all, if you’re paying more attention to what’s going on with the people in the background than you are to the main actors then someone hasn’t done their job right. Although, there is a lot of time and energy spent on making sure this important contributing factor to the atmosphere of a production is just so, it is vital that it not draw any attention to itself.  This result is virtually the definition of a classic “catch-22” otherwise know as, “mutually conflicting dependent conditions”.  Welcome to movie making!

There are some important basic guidelines that will help the background artist achieve the goal of aiding production to their fullest ability, while at the same time making the most of the experience.  The following are just a few of the more obvious points.  As your experience grows, so will your understanding of what is expected of you and you’ll be able to achieve every one of these goals without thinking about it.  That’s when you’ll know you’re a pro.

18367358_SABe on time.  Punctuality is important for any job.  Yet, there seems to be a popular misconception that tardiness is the norm in the entertainment industry – that it’s no big deal if you’re a few minutes late.  This is perpetuated by the well-publicized antics of name actors.  However, unless your name is used as a tool to promote the project you’re working on you better be on time and ready to work.  This means you are dressed, made up and have already eaten and gone to the bathroom by your set call time.  Period.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of people ready to take your place, so you really don’t want to give those responsible for hiring you a reason to replace you.  Many Assistant Directors (the crew members to whom you answer directly) are jaded by bad experiences with background artists, and they don’t have the inclination to deal with someone who is going to be difficult in any way, shape, or form.  They simply don’t have the time.  So, start off on the right foot by being on time, early even, but not too early.  Someone who is ridiculously early can be as much trouble as someone who is late.  They just get in the way.  Fifteen minutes is early enough.  If you have to, wait in your car before arriving at the designated check in point.  Otherwise, you may be considered a nuisance.

539wBe prepared.  If you have been instructed to bring a specific type of clothing or item such as a backpack, purse, etc., then do so.  And make an effort to match the request as precisely as possible.  If you’ve been requested to appear in cocktail attire, country club casual or some other description with which you are unfamiliar then “Google” it.  There’s no excuse in today’s world of instant information for not knowing what is meant by a particular style of dress code.  Also take the time to make sure your items of clothing are presentable.  Do not show up with a couple of quickly selected items that barely meet the description and are obviously in need of ironing, cleaning, or worse.  Remember, you have been asked to bring a specific selection for the purpose of speeding up the process of preparing you for camera, not slowing it down.  This means you should definitely not answer a call for something you know you cannot fill.  If you don’t have a tuxedo, don’t take the job that requires one, thinking you can show up and have wardrobe fit you for one.  It is highly unlikely that will happen and you will be sent home without pay.  The same goes for make up and hair. If the scene you’ll be working on requires extra care in grooming you need to check in with that already done.  That goes for men too! Particularly if you are informed ahead of time that you will be playing a cop or other uniformed position.  Your sideburns and facial hair (let alone the hair around your collar line) is expected to be appropriate to the role.  If it isn’t, then do not be surprised when you are asked if it’s okay to cut your hair or shave your face.  If it is not okay with you (which is absolutely your prerogative) then you should not have taken the job.

inflatable_movie_extras_640_09Be flexible.  If you are booked to be a doctor in a hospital, but upon arrival are asked to switch to being a patient, please be gracious enough to do so without hesitation.  Similarly, if you are given one set of instructions for your on screen business, and then someone else comes along and gives you an entirely different set of instructions, simply and quickly inform the second person that you have already been “set” and by whom.  They will either leave you with your first set of instruction or tell you that your instructions are being changed. Both results happen all the time.  The first because the second person did not know you had been “set”, and the second because things change quickly on set, and you need to be ready to change with them.

background-actors-with-johnBe attentive.  Please use your common sense here.  If a person of authority is talking, do not be paying attention to anything else but that person.  If you are on set, do not be doing anything other than standing by to do your business, whether that’s what you’ve been informed to do or waiting to be informed what to do.  It is most aggravating when someone has very little time to set the background and the background artist isn’t paying attention.  You need to know what you’re doing as well as what others around you are doing, because often times your cue is motivated by the actions of another background artist.  You do not want to be the person who says, “I don’t understand.  Who am I waiting for?  When do I go?  Can you say that again?”  More than likely, you will not be asked back, let alone included in the more complicated setups, thus reducing your screen time.

Be alert.  If something around you changes you need to be aware of it.  However, these changes are not always directed at you so you need to be able to notice them.  If you’re working on a scene where the cue of one background artist is dependent on the next and so on, and one of those cues is changed then there is a domino effect.  So if you’re alert enough to pick up on this whether or not the Assistant Director has told you directly that person will be in your debt for being on top of things.  If in doubt, ask.  This is a good question and your alertness will be appreciated.

s04_e0407_01_136191849957Be polite.  Smiles and good manners go a long way.  I was once told that I looked upset and unapproachable.  After reviewing several pictures of myself I saw that I did indeed look angry in many of them even though I know that I was not.  As it turned out, my face in its natural relaxed state was a scowl.  It took some time and a lot of practice but I trained myself to smile no matter what.  I’m not saying that if a devastating accident occurred right in front of me I wouldn’t respond appropriately, but I now smile when relaxed.  Most people now find me pleasant and approachable.  I don’t think you have to be insincere, but things generally go a lot smoother when those involved make the effort to be pleasant.  Yes, it may be a very long day of repeating the same actions over and over. But remember, the same will be true for everyone else too, so you might as well make the most of it.

Be in the moment.  Don’t be watching the clock.  Your day will go much slower if you do, I guarantee it.  Instead, take every opportunity to learn from what’s going on around you.  It may be a long day, but it will be a much fuller one that goes by surprisingly quickly when you strive to make every moment an opportunity to grow in your knowledge and skills as a member of the on set team.  You never know what you might learn from the every day experience if you pay attention.

20150328_142733-e1427725021475-620x349Be professional.  Do not take anything personally, and take the good with the bad.  Sadly, there will be times when you are treated unfairly and with a manner that may seem disrespectful if not out and out so.  That’s just the way it is.  But more than likely when this happens it will have nothing to do with you.  On the other hand, when you are treated with exception it will likely have a lot to do with you and your ability to go with the flow.

Be willing.  Do not moan about doing the work.  It’s not as if it will change anything any way.  Remember, most people on set are not performing their dream job.  More than likely all most everyone (cast and crew) is looking to move up in one way or another.  Everyone will have something to complain about, but the one that works time and again is the one who is smart enough to keep it to him or herself and readily pitches in when called upon.

Be safe.  I cannot stress this point hard enough.  Sets can be dangerous places.  Watch out for cables, water spills, protruding light stands, etc.  It is important to always pay attention to where you are going.  If you see something that you think may be a hazard then tell someone with production (a PA or AD).  Hazards can’t be attended to unless someone says something.  And don’t do anything that may make you uncomfortable.  If you are asked to do anything that makes you uncomfortable then simply say so.  Don’t make a big deal about, and don’t make a scene, just simply say you are uncomfortable with the request. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself.  In fact, it’s less time consuming if you don’t.  It Selma Filmingdoesn’t matter if you feel unsafe making a cross amid traffic, would rather not lift a heavy item, your reasons are your own and should in most cases be respected.  After all, you need to be able to work on your next job and you don’t want to do anything on this job that will physically prevent you from taking the next one.

Be smart.  If you end up being called out for your work because in someone’s eyes you made a mistake, don’t throw the blame on anyone else by saying something like, “But the AD told me to do that”.  That’s considered “throwing someone under the bus”.  Just listen to what they want you to do differently and do it.  And if you realize you’re about to collide with another background artist (or worse, a lead actor) use your best judgment to adjust your timing.  You can pause, change your pace, hesitate longer at your start mark, but be sure not to cause a distraction that will pull the focus from the main action.  The ADs will thank you for it.


Be tolerant.  Not everyone around will have the same attitude about the work.  Do not let them bring you down, and be patient with them.  The Assistant Director who is currently being less than charming may have just had a bad run in with the Producer or Star of the show.  Their bad mood will pass; so don’t give them any reason to associate that previous bad experience with you.  Nor should you let the jaded background artist contaminate you with their negativity.  Take what the complainers say with a grain of salt and consider the source.  You’re also going to have to deal with those who have dominant personalities and strong opinions.  You may vehemently disagree with someone you are forced to work with, but the set of a movie or TV show is not the place to debate anyone.

Be positive.  This is probably the most important thing to do.  The set of any production is a great place to learn about your craft, about the behind the scenes needs of the business, and about dealing with all types of personalities, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.  You may not be working under the best conditions, nor be treated with the greatest respect but you can’t let that effect you.  Remember all of the positive aspects of the job.  After all, you have a job in a clean and safe place where you don’t have to dig ditches (unless of course you’re cast you as a ditch digger).  You’re attitude will make all the difference in what you get out of every experience, so do your best to make each experience an enriching one.


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Ned Rifle Completes Hal Hartley’s Trilogy of a Messed Up Family


by Carrie Specht

1388785480-dothis_lectores_010214-hal-hartleyThe Cinefamily’s Hal Hartley Film Retrospective runs April 2nd – 4th. This is the first-ever West Coast retrospective of the works of the iconic film auteur, but don’t worry if you miss it because there will be additional Saturday matinee screenings throughout the rest of the month featuring eight career spanning films. Although, Hartley is only in attendance for the April 2nd through 4th screenings, you still have the opportunity to see the rest of the films on the big screen, including the Los Angeles premiere of his latest feature, NED RIFLE. The film’s stars, including Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), James Urbaniak (American Splendor, Henry Fool) and Liam Aiken (Fay Grim, Road to Perdition) are expected to make appearances. This highly anticipated retrospective is the kickoff of a weeklong Cinefamily run of NED RIFLE April 3rd through April 9th.

Liam Aiken as Ned Rifle in NED RIFLE, directed by Hal HartleyNow it’s no secret that Hartley’s filmmaking style can be an acquired taste. However, his deadpan “dramadies” filled with taut dialogue and offbeat characters defined classic American independent filmmaking of the 1990s. And it was Hartley’s films that offered breakthrough roles to Parker Posey (The House of Yes, Waiting for Guffman), Edie Falco (The Sapranos, Nurse Jackie), Adrienne Shelley (The Unbelievable Truth, Waitress), and Martin Donovan (Insomnia, Weeds). It’s hard to believe, but NED RIFLE is Hartley’s first feature film in eight years. It premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, and recently screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival, marking the triumphant completion of the trilogy that started with HENRY FOOL and continued with FAY GRIM. Although these films were made over a period of fifteen years, Hartley used the same actors to play the same characters in three different films over the course of a generation (if this sounds familiar it’s because recent Best Picture nominee BOYHOOD accomplished something similar but very different shooting one film over the corse of twelve years with the same actors). Each film in Hartley’s trilogy includes Parker Posey, Thomas James Ryan, James Urbaniak and actor Liam Aiken. Aiken was just seven years old in 1997, and in 2014 he returns in NED RIFLE as a teenage born-again Christian convinced it is his duty to hunt down and kill his father. This is most definitely not your typical family saga.

201503077_2_IMG_FIX_700x700 This beautifully shot film has an overall somber tone and pace that accentuates the personality of the characters. The matte color palate is undoubtedly the trademark of a low budget film, however in this case the desaturation of the world in which these characters live is pitch perfect and accentuates the muddled thinking of each. Those unfamiliar with Hartley and his approach to character may mistake the even keel performances as bad acting or misguided “helmsmanship”, but they would be mistaken. Hartley and his actors know exactly what they are doing, and the result is quiet rich and satisfying. These are real people, not movie people. And real people who behave in un-dramatic ways give punctuation to their actions when they stray from the norm. These are fine performances marked by the nuances of character that know what they need to do. And even though everyone’s quest is a serious one, there are never any high dramatic moments until absolutely necessary, and even then there is a quiet acceptance of events. 

cdn.indiewire-1Undoubtedly, NED RIFLE holds a greater impact for those who have seen the first two films. However, it is not necessary to see the first two to understand and enjoy the third. Like any well-made sequel, NED RIFLE has an impactful story of its own. In fact, the original film was never conceived as a three part series. It was not until FAY GRIM that Hartley decided there was to be a third film to complete the story. But that doesn’t even matter, because the story is a basic one. It is clear from the very beginning that Ned has issues with his parents and is determined to resolve the matter by avenging his mother for the wrong his father has done her. And thus the journey of a young man begins, but before all is over he emerges as a man. Although he is not the man he expected to be. How could he be with no one else being who he expected them to be? SPOILER – His presumed suffering mother seems to be enjoying prison life, his lovely companion appears to be a nymphomaniac bent on a twisted kind of revenge, and his father whom he has always envisioned as a son of the devil turns out to be a type of modern day sage. And it all fits together in a beautifully crafted tale without a single car chase, explosion, or computer-generated effect. NED RIFLE is just plain old good story telling. It’s definitely unique, very original and certainly twisted, but solidly good at its very core. 

cdn.indiewireOf course Parker Posey provides a solid performance as Ned’s mother, and the rest of the Hartley stable of actors (Aiken,Urbaniak,Thomas Jay Ryan and Martin Donovan) are just as reliable. Amazingly enough, it is the young television comedy star, Aubrey Plaza who stands out by fitting in so nicely with this well-established group of Hartley veterans. Her signature droll delivery is perfectly in step with the world Hartley has carefully established over the years. Her’s is a performance that straddles dry comedy, mystery and intrigue. It is a screen characterization that will propel her in directions we have not seen her attempt before, and the opportunities that are about to come her way are well deserved. Although the image above (used in many ads) depicts Plaza in a very sensational pose, her performance is far more subtle and complicated than implied. Much like a Hal Hartley film. You always get more than the sensational, there’s also depth.

The Hal Hartley Retrospective screening schedule includes the Friday night premier of NED RIFLE, the Saturday presentation of TRUST and THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, the Saturday April 11th screening of SURVIVING DESIRE, followed by the Saturday, April 18th afternoon show of SIMPLE MEN, finishing up Saturday, April 25th with THE BOOK OF LIFE. All screenings will take place at The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, LA 90036. Tickets and Screening information can be found at the Cinefamily’s official site: http://www.cinefamily.org/films/the-films-of-hal-hartley



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