Movies postsThursday May 15, 2014
How Do You Solve a Problem Like SIFF?
“Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” about a “Fargo”-obsessed Japanese girl who travels to Minnesota, is one of the films I'll be seeing at SIFF this year.
How do you solve a problem like the Seattle International Film Festival? Two-hundred and seventy-six movies from around the world and you've heard of maybe five of them. And you have four weeks. Go.
My friend Vinny simply figures out which country he doesn't know well and/or wants to know more about, and simply goes to see its movies. This year's theme for him is apparently Eastern Europe. He's going to see “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” from Romania, “The Japanese Dog” from Romania, “Tangerines” from Estonia, “Clownwise” from the Czech Republic, and “40 Days of Silence” from Uzbekistan. Not a bad strategy. Unless you wind up with dogs and clowns and Latin. But if you go to any of these movies, say hi. Vinny's nothing if not friendly.
Me, I tend to look through the SIFF guide, pick out what's interesting, and then check out its IMDb rating before buying anything.
Yeah, this can be problematic, too. “The Case Against 8,” for example, a documentary about the Prop 8 battle in California and the fight for marriage equality, is on the docket, but its IMDb rating is 5.2 Why? Homophobes and right-wing nuts. So you parse out that lot. Basically you look for something in the 7s. About 7.5 is nice. Above 8? You grow suspicious. That's a bit too high. Is it a TV show? Yes, it is. Below 6.5 and you grow wary again. Too low. Anything in the 5s, unless it's “The Case Against 8” this year or the Wikileaks doc last year, you avoid. Or I do.
Easy movies, too, get high IMDb ratings. Crowd pleasers. Difficult movies, like Terrence Malick's movies, less so. You just need to figure out which difficult movies are your kind of difficult movies. I guess that's the battle.
I wound up not going to “8” this year because it'll be on HBO soon enough (sorry) and because I already interviewed its principles in January. I also didn't get tickets for movies I really want to see—“The Congress,” “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above,” “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”—because schedules conflicted. So it goes.
These were what I wound up with, sorted by IMDb rating:
|The Trip to Italy||UK||8.2|
|Muse of Fire||UK||8.1|
|In Order of Disappearance||Norway||7.8|
|The Bit Player||Philippines||7.6|
|The Last of the Unjust||France/Austria||7.4|
|Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter||Japan||7.4|
|The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared||Sweden||7.1|
|The Better Angels||USA||6.8|
|Our Sunhi||South Korea||6.8|
|Charlie Chaplin shorts||USA||n/a|
To be honest, some of my choices simply related to proximity. “Chinese Puzzle,” for example, will be showing in a place and time that's easy for me. So why not?
But it's all a crapshoot and SIFF doesn't make it any easier. Why not, on its website, give us a sortable table of every movie in the program with relevant data? Right? So you can at least sort by title and country and genre? Wouldn't that help?
With the schedule this year, they included top picks from its half dozen programmers, which is interesting, but it's only helpful if we know what that programmer liked in the past. If, for example, the programmer says their favorite recent SIFF movies have included “The First Grader” and “Frances Ha,” well, they're not for me. If, on the other hand, they liked “Restrepo,” “A Hijacking” and “The Act of Killing,” then I'm theirs. So wouldn't that make sense? To include that? SIFF?
Last year I lucked out. The year before, less so. This year? Who knows? Crapshoot.
Oh, I also have the gala pass. So that includes, among others, the Jimi Hendrix biopic (at the opening, tonight, open bar), and Richard Linklater's “Boyhood.”
Fuck, I'm going to be busy.
What about you? How do you solve a problem like SIFF?
SIFF also needs help with their posters.
That 'Frozen'/'Wicked' Connection: Is Idina Menzel the Voice of a Generation?
Think of the connective tissue between these stories:
- Both are revisionist fairy tales in which the villain, a powerful woman (Snow Queen, Wicked Witch), has been recast as the heroine (Elsa/Elphaba).
- The standout song in each production is the moment when this character defiantly reveals her powers to the world (“Let It Go”/“Defying Gravity”).
- Idina Menzel. She voiced Elsa in the movie and originated Elphaba on Broadway.
According to IMDb.com, they're thinking Lea Michelle for the movie Elphaba. Not bad (more connective tissue: Menzel played her mother on “Glee”), but that's still too bad. Think how much Menzel's voice has already influenced kids, particularly girls. We're talking voice of a generation here.
But who would you cast as Galinda?
God's Not Dead? Goody
The shot below is one of the IMDb.com pics of one of the stars of the godawful film “God's Not Dead”:
Apparently I wasn't the only one to have problems with the movie. The message boards at IMDb.com are full of complaints from Christians. “It's bad and I'm sorry,” reads one. Yet the Breitbarts of the world still push the film for political reasons. Shame. $42.8 million and counting. Although “Heaven Is For Real,” which opened yesterday, and also looks godawful, will probably cut into that. Well, you cannot serve both God and money. Someone said that once.
What Would You Put on Captain America's To-Do List?
Here's a screenshot of the list of historical and cultural artifacts Captain America was going to check into after awakening from a 65-year deep freeze in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”:
It gets a quick laugh, as it should. Sam Wilson, the man he kept lapping in D.C. Tidal Basin, and soon to be the Falcon, was the one recommending “Trouble Man” by Marvin Gaye. Can't imagine how Steve Rogers, whose head and heart are still in 1945, can wrap his mind around that. Let alone Nirvana.
Probably too much film in there, right? I like “Star Wars/Trek” but the “Rocky” reference is unncessary. I like the economical way they handle the Cold War, though, with the Berlin Wall reference (up/down). But my favorite is probably “Thai Food.”
Question: If you were on the filmmaking team, what would *you* have suggested? “9/11” would obviously ruin the moment. The Civil Rights Movement? Or too much of a reminder of our racist past, into which, remember, Steve Rogers was born. Women's lib? Iffy terrority for the same reason. How about the A bomb, the H bomb, the Neutron bomb? Which Presidents? Which assassinations? Nah. Too close to the plot, such as it was, of that crappy 1990 “Captain America” movie.
What was the biggest thing to happen to the world since 1945? And what little pop cultural artifact might get a laugh?
Harold Ramis: 1944-2014
Ramis (right) in “Stripes”: the triumph of the self-amused.
Harold Ramis. OK, that surprises. That’s unwelcome.
I was one of those guys who found SCTV in syndication in the mid-1970s, then found it again on PBS, then NBC late nights. I kept looking for it and finding it before its cast scattered into other, lesser projects. Or greater projects. Or both. Generally both. But my favorite episodes were those early episodes when Ramis was still on board.
He always seemed like he had a private joke going. He knew something was funny. Not the skit, necessarily. Everything else. Life. He was self-amused.
Apparently, in the early days of SCTV (the Chicago troupe not the Canadian TV show), he played the wild and crazy one. Then he came back from a trip to Europe to find a new guy, John Belushi, had usurped his role. So Ramis became the intellectual. That was probably a better fit anyway. He became “Specs.” The droll one. He became the guy with the private joke.
“Moe Green” is a private joke. On “SCTV,” Moe hosted this and that show, and became station manager for a time, but the name was stolen from “The Godfather.” For years, I couldn’t watch that tense scene where Fredo warns his younger brother, “Mikey, you don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!” without laughing out loud. Ramis basically ruined the scene for me. I kept thinking of Moe on “Dialing for Dollars” when the “prize jackpot giveaway,” for anyone who could name the late-night movie, was … (cue Ramis mopping his brow] … twenty-four dollars. Didn’t the late-night movie run long once? Wasn’t he calling people at like 2 am and getting grief? Didn’t he call the Pope? And his mother? I always liked those bits. I always liked Ramis mopping his brow.
You can tell the world he came out of: “Dialing for Dollars,” “Sunrise Semester,” late-night movies: that staid, surburban TV world. He mocked it all. Then he went on to bigger targets.
With Doug Kenney and Chris Miller, he wrote “Animal House.” With Doug Kenney and Brian Doyle Murray, he wrote “Caddyshack,” and directed it. Then he and Len Blum and Dan Goldberg wrote “Stripes,” and Ramis co-starred in it. As Russell Ziskey, the pacifist Jew who becomes the mad-dog soldier, he nearly upstages Bill Murray. That bit (above) where Ziskey overreacts to John Candy’s heart-felt talk? I did that for five years. So, yes, Ramis has some things to answer for.
In 1984, he and Aykroyd wrote “Ghostbusters” and it became the No. 1 movie of the year. Ten years later, he and Danny Rubin wrote “Groundhog Day,” and Ramis directed it. Apparently he and Murray had a falling out over that one. Murray wanted it more philosophical, Ramis wanted it funnier. Maybe that’s the tension that makes it work.
In its obit, The Chicago Tribune writes this:
As zany as Ramis’ early comedies were, they rigorously pursued a theme close to the heart of someone who grew out of the 1960s counterculture: characters rebelling against institutions, be they authoritarian college administrators and pampered rich kids (“Animal House”), a stuffy golf club (“Caddyshack”) or the military (“Stripes”).
I’d hold back on “Stripes,” which actually gave us a more nuanced perspective of rebellion. It’s one of the first post-Vietnam movies I encountered where the career military man, Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates), is actually a positive force. The movie recognizes the emptiness in rebellion, in mocking everything and believing in nothing. In its own way, it led to “Groundhog Day,” where you can’t just be a jackass all the time and expect the world to keep spinning.
In the last 20 years, every once in a while, I’d see Ramis in a movie and smile. There he was as the genial (but overweight!) doctor on “As Good as It Gets.” There he was as Seth Rogen’s dad in “Knocked Up." I thought: Will he always play the Jewish dad from now on? Or is that Eugne Levy’s role?
Yeah, he made some schlock: “Stuart Saves His Family,” “Multiplicity,” “Bedazzled.” But he turned down more of it. I love his 2006 interview with THE BELIEVER magazine:
BLVR: Rumor has it that you turned down the chance to direct Disney’s remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because you felt they weren’t interested in really exploring racism.
RAMIS: The way they wanted to do it didn’t have a lot to do with the colossal amount of pain and violence that swirls around racial injustice. It would’ve been like an episode of The Jeffersons. What’s the point? But who knows, maybe that’s as much as most people want. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.”
BLVR: Does that offend you as a filmmaker?
RAMIS: It offends me as a human being. Why wouldn’t you want to think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the fucking head?
I like this quote, too, where he basically articulates why the GOP is never funny:
It's hard for winners to do comedy. Comedy is inherently subversive. We represent the underdog, since comedy usually speaks for the lower classes. We attack the winners.
Early on, he even attacked the ultimate winner, who got him today:
If there’s anything to know, now he knows. Rest in peace, Moe.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard