SFIFF It's possible to have an almost perfect Sundance Film Festival viewing experience if you hew to one simple rule: only go to the documentaries. Sure, see some of the dramatic entries too, after the 40th person has told you such-and-such title is great. But you can rarely go far wrong with the documentaries. Sundance has its pick of the annual crème de la crème in that genre (among U.S. if not necessarily international films).Read more »
“Make sure to get a spot towards the back of the room,” I told Sam Love as we made our way to Dana Street Theater on Berkeley. “Philip's shows often involve things and sometimes liquids flying.” And I was right. There was some definite yam peeling, neti-pot-pouring, and chair-flying moments sprinkled throughout the show. Did I mention that we were in Philip's bedroom?
If you were the kind of kid who, when introduced to the concept of abstract art, would grab the fingerpaints and try to top Jackson Pollock’s “No. 11,” then chances are at some point you’ve harbored a desire to take on the movie industry with your own resources. After all, the tools are out there, within grasp of anyone with access to equipment as modest as a camera-phone or a web-cam. And just as the advent of the analog camcorder was hailed as a democratization of the cinematic art-form, so too can the current craze for digital gear be read not just as consumerist one-upmanship, but an earnest bid for creative parity.
Well, if it’s artistic inspiration you crave, and fingerpaints aren’t cutting it anymore, you need look no further than the Disposable Film Festival, which took place this past weekend, dedicated to screening the best of the no-budget brigade, for motivation. Lest the term “disposable” put you off, festival co-founder Carlton Evans is quick to amend: the technology is what’s considered disposable here, not the creative output.
MUSIC To be at SXSW is to know you're missing out on a lot of good music. Fortunately the music you do see makes up for the difference, and very often it's the unexpected showcases, the things that weren't on your radar until that very moment, that end up being the highlights of your experience. That said, here are some of my impressions from this year's slate:
Wine was flowing freely at 11 a.m. on Sat/4 for the pre-show press tasting. We had prepped ourselves by carb-loading on whole wheat oatmeal pancakes before heading to Fort Mason for the Eighth Annual Golden Glass festival (which raised awareness and funds for slow food programs) preparing ourselves to indulge in a smorgasbord of carefully vetted, sustainably produced wines. Read more »
Park City at Midnight is what excites me most about each Sundance Film Festival. Yet, many other films screen at midnight that aren't technically part of the actual category, which brings up the dilemma of what type of film warrants the designation of "Midnight Movie." Late-night audiences range from the inebriated to the intellectual (and often both combined). This year's crop of midnight films, in and out of the Park City at Midnight category, was genuinely one of the most eclectic and enjoyable group of films presented in years.
Quentin Dupieux's Wrong — his follow-up to 2010's unstoppable cult hit Rubber — is an absurdist journey where everything and nothing can happen, as long as it's what you'd least expect from a narrative. The reactionary rules of this wandering wonder (don't read any spoilers about it!) seem to have expanded David Lynch's quietest, most awkward moments into a web of surrealist silliness that I immediately wanted to watch again as soon as it was over. As audiences were exiting at two in the morning, half of them were bleary-eyed from laughing hysterically, while the other half were in groggy, drunken stupors. For me, this confirms that Dupieux has achieved exactly what he wanted (to make the obvious joke, something so Wrong it's right).
So Yong Kim's character study For Ellen is only 93 minutes long, but the experience of watching it felt like it took an eternity. But — even though the film did not win awards at this year's festival — it resonated; it was filled with many memorable, quiet moments. Paul Dano (never before so vulnerable) takes the reigns as a struggling musician who, while taking a break from touring to sign the papers for his long-overdue divorce, is forced to confront his own selfish tendencies when his custody rights start slipping through his fingers.
Writer-director Kim (2008's Treeless Mountain) uses long, handheld takes that often prevent the viewer from seeing the actual feelings of our anti-hero. This subtle slice-of-life portrait never wavers from its sullen tone, which might explain why many critics seemed underwhelmed after its screening. For Ellen doesn't give its flawed protagonist an easy way out, in a way that's reminiscent of Darren Aranofsky's The Wrestler (2008).
Although the Science of Cocktails event may be on hiatus next year due to the Exploratorium's big move to the Embarcadero, this year's party is worth highlighting. Attending since the inaugural event three years ago (check out my previous review here), I enjoy Science of Cocktails more each year.
I'm not sure if the new VIP area added much other than a bird's-eye view from above with a few additional (but minimal) bites and drinks, the bulk of food being downstairs. Options were more enticing than ever in the ideal museum space, where one can interact with exhibits, kid-free, cocktails in hand. The cavernous space easily holds hundreds of people without feeling packed.
Drinks were poured by some of the Bay's best bartenders and distillers, sporting white lab-coats, delivering concoctions from test tubes, beakers and hand-crafted contraptions. Cocktails were served in pre-bottled, liquid nitrogen, jello, even powdered forms. (Let us not forget the shiny, porcelain toilet spouting Speakeasy beer).