Posts by Christina Stimpson

Awkwardly Erotic – A Film Review of ‘Turn Me On, Dammit!’

Turn Me On Dammit Poster

Turn Me On, Dammit! is an exploration of female, teenage, sexual expression – a perspective that is rarely awarded equal billing on the big screen. There are plenty of coming of age stories that deal with first loves and the romantic feelings associated with this right of passage, yet Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s film is clearly a breed apart, due to its definitive main character.

Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a gangly, yet attractive 15 year-old who refuses to suppress, ignore or plain control any sexual feelings she has towards anyone, no matter how uncomfortable things may get. Whether it is witnessing a kiss, watching her friend sensually apply lip gloss or catching a glimpse of her classmate crush Arthur, Alma is so sexually wound that she pounces on every possibility which allows her to descend into deep erotic fantasy, without actually having to touch anyone.

Embracing a sexual sensitivity that pushes her slightly past her teenage years, Alma becomes caught between Arthur’s sophomoric sexual advances and her excitement over the potential of being touched one night at a party. When word of Arthur’s unconventional “move” starts to circle amongst her classmates, Alma is given an embarrassing new moniker which she must endure as the rumour mill churns out her new name across the community of her small Norwegian town.

Based on the novel Få Meg På, For Faen by Olaug Nilssen, which originally tells the story of three women of varying ages who all experience a period of sexual exploration, the film is fiercely honest in its approach to narrate female desire. Jacobsen’s choice to focus on the teenage years of sexual angst are a refreshing reminder that there is an innocent side to lust, and as carnal as can get, there is always room for quirky in the bedroom.

Humble Yourself – A Film Review of P.T. Anderson’s ‘Hard Eight’

Hard Eight Poster

A significant amount of time in my life has been spent devouring the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. Considering that the California born 42 year-old director has only made six feature films, his achievement in cinema can be attributed to a propensity for quality over quantity. Standing amongst a sea of American and international cinema giants P.T. Anderson has been a constant inclusion on variety of ‘best of’ lists that originate from the venerable American Film Institute to Entertainment Weekly. Each P.T. Anderson film sets the bar higher than the last in terms of execution and cinematic vision. Rumours over his latest film The Master which opens nationwide today, have been feeding the hype machine acclaim that it might be his finest work yet.

Too see how far Anderson has come look no further than his first feature film Hard Eight, starring Gwenth Platrow, John C. Riley and Philip Baker Hall (otherwise known as the library detective from Seinfeld).

One dreary Nevada morning, Sydney (P. B. Hall) meets a broke, down-and-out John (John C. Riley) who is desperate to win $6, 000 cash to pay for his mother’s funeral. The hard-nosed Sydney immediately has a soft spot for John. His effort to be kind begins with a cup of coffee and ends with a trip to Las Vegas, where Sydney is determined to show John how to sustain a living scamming casinos. Cut to two years later and under Sydney’s hand John has experienced the underbelly of casino life with success. When Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) enters John’s life, he becomes powerless over her seduction and vows to stand by her side regardless of circumstance.

The functioning mechanism of Hard Eight belongs to the airtight script, and the outstanding performances of the small cast. For a first feature, it is a solid film that exposes the film form that P.T. Anderon has become known for, and has strived to better ever since.

Whether placed under the category of Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Feature Film or Movie of the Year, in some facet this filmmaker has garnered over 80 nominations for his films. He is a director who sets himself apart by bringing us American rooted stories with characters that become defined in their darkest hours. Unraveling a depth that only a director with a taste for dysfunction told within epic parameters could  accomplish.

Hard Eight is available on NetFlix and itunes. The Master opens today nationwide.

Hermetically Sealed Youth – A Film Review of ‘Dogtooth’

In Dogtooth (2009), almost everything has a falsely constructed meaning. Little yellow flowers growing in the garden are called Zombies. Planes flying over a meticulously kept backyard can easily fall from the sky. Cats are ferocious animals to be feared at all times. The first impression Dogtooth leaves stacks nicely into what we would expect from a sci-fi film. But Dogtooth doesn’t take place on a forbidden planet. It’s setting is rural Greece, and it’s center is the home of both thespian and psychotic, Father (Christos Stergioglou) who has successfully kept his adult children hostage for years. It sounds horrific, but the world director Giorgos Lanthimos presents is far from gruesome. Bordering on serene perfection, the family bastille is luxurious and near resort like in its provisions and amenities. The manipulation hides behind closed doors.

Although pushing through their adult years, Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) , Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) and Son (Hristos Passalis) are treated as infants, and are subject to irking forms of mental abuse. Veiled under an icy world of control, the children are feed a heavy dose of disorientation, lies and bogus knowledge, all in effort to support the patriarchal reign. Slightly Wes Anderson in its quirk and style, Dogtooth remains unique in its portrayal of a twisted family drama, or dramedy if hilarity can be found in the outrageous lengths that are taken to keep the “children” from venturing into the outside world beyond their fortified home.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards and winner of Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Dogtooth brims with recognizable symbolic references and relies on customs of western society to feed its ingenious plot twists. The most important of which in this story is the meaning behind losing your teeth, a person’s undeniable need for sexual exploration and our intrinsic need for freedom.

Given that the foundation of the film is fixed in words, meaning and reference it should be noted that the translation of the film from Greek to English through subtitles is done with success and care, leaving nothing to the imagination. Except what happens in the end.

Dogtooth is available to rent on both iTunes and Netfilx.

Stay Young, Have Fun – A Film Review of ‘Bones Brigade: An Autobiography’

Bones Brigade: An Autobiogrpahy Poster

In 1982, the Del Mar Skate Park was home to a 14 year-old beanstalk teenager named Tony Hawk. Today, you don’t have to own a skateboard to know who Tony Hawk is. He is the most successful professional skateboarder on the planet. His beginnings and skate life destiny, as well as that of Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and Tommy Guerrero are documented (celebrated) in Stacey Peralta’s latest film Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.

Using an indirect interview technique paired with thousands of hours of video footage and still photography from the era, Peralta who is the founder of Bones Brigade, engages the six to paste their story together one interview at a time. The film reaches back into the early architecture of skate life while simultaneously profiling the history of the Bones Brigade collective.

Most inspiring to learn was Peralta’s recruiting technique for the Brigade. Initially he opted for nobodies, passing over those who already had impeccable technique. Proven skill to Peralta was less important than passion and drive for the sport. In choosing to develop young skaters, came freedom, and once within the entrepreneurial hands of Peralta his Brigade took over. The members, some as young as 10 years old, were coached, cultivated and grew so confidently into their craft they invented manoeuvres that would end up defining their decade. The influence of their peers nudged each of them up a technical notch and built an atmosphere of ambitious energy in which they could all excel in their own discipline.

An interesting angle that Bones Brigade: An Autobiography takes is its simultaneous documentation of the skate culture shift that occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As skate parks began to close their doors to contrived competitions, an American sub-culture was breeding underground. Half pipes began to emerge in people’s backyards and D.I.Y chaotic skate contests owned and operated by skateboarders were popping up across the country. Mixed with the burgeoning popularity of VHS, the timing of this phenomenon made way for a rebirth in which Peralta was more than ready for. The ground breaking ad campaigns and self produced videos surrounding Bones Brigade mythologised skate life and infused personality and image into a sport that had previously been flat. By making it about concept over product, personality over generic, and fun on all accounts, skating became accessible to everyone, and Peralta changed its face in history.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is playing nationwide at various film festivals and special screenings. The film is rumoured to be released in fall 2012.

Good Game! – A Preview of Olympics and Sports Films

Chariots of Fire

Without Limits

Sports films generally follow one cardinal rule. This rule has little to do with the technical aspects of film-making, story device, or even high octane performances. The one unforgivable component of a sports film is that it must – without a doubt- be inspiring.  When I learned of the theme week topic I was keen to begin researching Olympics or Sports related films, as this is not a genre that I would naturally gravitate towards. As my research progressed, I gradually began to form self-imposed restrictions to uncover what would stand up as a high calibre sports film. I didn’t want it to star Adam Sandler (although admittedly I am a semi-fan), I didn’t want it to be about Football (to easy), and in the spirit of London 2012, I wanted it to focus on summer Olympics (leaving out the common denominator favorite Cool Running’s). My restrictions may be questionable, but in the spirit of going for the gold, I think rules might apply here.

There are hundreds sports films that are watchable, but there are mainly two that are dimensional enough to be accessible to a wider audience of sports fans and non-fans alike. It’s a cliché choice but, Chariots of Fire is the first. Released in 1981, nominated for seven Academy Awards and three prizes at Cannes that year, the film remains a quintessential example of sportsmanship, and the intrinsic drive that leads Olympic athletes to compete in the world’s fiercest competition.  Set in 1924, the film follows two Cambridge scholars Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who are both accepted to compete in the Paris 1924 Olympics, but who are driven by two very different motivations. The film tends to be slow and it deals with heavy religious subject matter (Jewish Abrahams experiences Anti-Semitism at Cambridge and Catholic Liddell is asked to compete on the Sabbath). As our 2012 world grows more and more secular the characters motivations in Chariots of Fire may seem trivial, yet the positive spirit of witnessing someone achieve a goal remains vividly inspirational. Besides, every frame of Chariots of Fire looks like it belongs in the dead center of the epic September issue of Vogue. If you could care less about the religious undertones, watch it solely for the luxury in set design and costuming that it displays on screen of an era that has escaped through time.

Without Limits is an easy second choice. Directed by Robert Towne, the 1998 film is the bio-pic of American record holder and long distance runner Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) or “Pre” as he was colloquially called. Without Limits and subsequently Prefontaine’s story, is a staunch example of remaining true to the cardinal rule of inspiration as it profiles Pre’s goal to compete at the Munich Olympics. Not only was Pre an outspoken rebel and tour-de-force athlete intent on over throwing athletic establishments, his stoic and wise coach was Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) the founder of Nike. As much as it is all consuming to sit at the edge of your seat and watch Crudup out run a squad of other exceptional athletes, it is equally as entertaining to witness Bowerman’s empire collate from waffle-iron shoe soles to what we now know as his million dollar industry.

Also worth checking out is the basketball tear-jerker documentary Hoop Dreams available on Criterion, and ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30. All these films are available on Netflix and itunes.

 

Let the Terror Begin – A Preview of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Let the Terror Begin – A Preview of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Gore (and lots of it) is about to hit the streets of Montreal for the 16th annual Fantasia International Film Festival. Like most major festivals there is a unique hype that surrounds the event. The Fantasia fest usually summons the bizarre and untamed, as well as those who enjoy a fare bit of terror induced edge-of-your-seat entertainment. This year the Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 19th to August 9th, and will screen over 160 films within the genres of Sci-fi, Horror, Action, Crime, Experimental, Retro, Historical, Musical, Romance, War and Western.

After painfully gleaning the program in an effort to pack in as much sci-fi, blood, guts and thrill into a limited amount of time (there are only 24 hours in the day!), the highlights of my viewing frenzy will start with director, co-writer and producer Shunichiro Miki’s film The Warped Forest. Official Selection at the Hawaii International Film fest and the Freak Me Out Section of the Sydney Film fest, The Warped Forest is an experimental comedy from Miki who very well might be a Japanese cross between Harmony Korine and Michel Gondry.

I am really looking forward to director Christoffer Boe’s Beast. Winner of the Jury Prize at the Gerardmer Fantastic Film Festival and Official Selection at SXSW, the Danish filmmaker’s fifth feature film is an illusive love drama gone incredibly wrong. In the same spirit of over excitement, Jan Kwiecinski, Alexey Fedorchenko and none other than the ubër peculiar Harmony Korine, have collaborated on screen to bring us The Fourth Dimension, staring Val Kilmer. Given that I am a huge fan of Korine, I am certain that The Fourth Dimension will definitely be explored more significantly on TFIB.

Chained, is the new film by Jennifer Lynch which has already been causing controversy with the MPAA who has bestowed upon it an NC-17 rating due to extreme violence. The rating, as well as the quality of the cast (staring Vincent D’Onofrio and Julia Ormond) might work in Lynch’s favour to finally lift the cinematic hex which she has been operating under for years, with the exception of her 2008 film Surveillance. Lynch is also the subject of Penny Vozniak’s documentary Despite the Gods, also screening at Fantasia.  Vozniak’s film captures the treacherous and exhausting experience of Lynch’s goal to direct a horror fantasy film in… Bollywood?

Other films which I will not be missing include Killer Joe; Excision; Possession; The Human Race;  School Girl Apocalypse; Easton’s Article;  Replicas; Carre Blanc; Love in the Buff; Toy Master; Turn Me On; Sleep Tight;  Wrong; The Haunting of Julia;  Sons of Norway;  The Victim; We Are Legion;  Alter Ego’s;  The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate;  Bones Brigade;  The Mechanical Bride;  A Night of Nightmares;  In Bread

More to come!

Two Nights Only – A Film Review of ‘Shut up and Play the Hits’

Shut up and Play the Hits

April 2nd, 2011 holds an alternative meaning for fans of the indie electronic band LCD Soundsystem. It was on that spring date over a year ago that the group, lead by the hailed James Murphy, played their last concert to a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City. Having announced to a shocked fan base about their disbandment earlier that year, the MSG show was methodically chosen as the extravaganza to conclude band’s 10 year career. Luckily, two British filmmakers, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who previously won a Grammy for their documentary on the band Blur ‘No Distance Left to Run’, were already engaged to develop a film on LCD Soundsystem.

Originally meant to focus specifically on Murphy as the intriguing front man, the film encountered a twist of fate. Where the director’s creative intent and Murphy’s career decision coincided, Shut Up and Play the Hits was born into its hybrid structure of character profile, concert experience and documentary film. Premiering at Sundance 2011, SXSW, and HotDocs, both Southern and Lovelace, cultivated a distinct vision for the film. Seeking to avoid the monotonous ‘taped show’ aesthetic, the duo focused on exploring the band’s last days and the transient moment in time of their last show. A crew of 10 cinematographers, including Spike Jonze, were asked to show no restraint in shooting a personal diary of the band dynamics, the relationship with their audience and the visceral experience of participating in a live setting. The concert footage strategically captures the emotion of an 18,000 strong crowd who are there to witness the last moments of the bands life – their funeral as they refer to it.

In the same vein as the infamous April one night only concert, Shut Up and Play the Hits, will play one night only in theatres across U.S.A and Canada on July 18th. Mixed by James Murphy himself, the film promises to bring you to the same emotional high as being part of the MSG show – for those who missed it. The documentary also gives fans a rare glimpse into the post existence of the band and Murphy on April 3rd – the next day.

It’s a funeral – but a musical one, where dancing in the aisles and singing along is welcomed. It might just be the most fun you have have at a funeral. Ever.

A Long Wild Ride – A film review of ‘Beauty is Embarrassing’

Beauty is Embarrassing

It is not often thought that beauty can be embarrassing. Beauty, to most people is the exact opposite of embarrassing, and if we are talking about the art world, beauty, is the advocated standard where aesthetic perfection is celebrated above all else. The concept that beauty can be embarrassing is a bold statement, but when you break it down like Wayne White does, it makes total sense. Wayne hypothesizes that beauty, so rarely encountered, is powerful enough to send us into a state of vulnerability where we feel unworthy to be in its presence. And that, he explains in Neil Berkeley’s documentary, is embarrassing.

Chronicling Wayne White’s personal and career life, Beauty is Embarrassing takes an in depth look at the artist’s influential early childhood years, his commercially successful time as designer and puppeteer on the set of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the culmination of his methodology in his present day success as a master typographist and fine artist who has come full circle. First time director Berkeley, who formed a friendship with White in 2001, spent two years devoted to the project, traveling across the US from New York to Los Angeles, collecting over 300 hours of footage that forms the entertaining tapestry of White’s rich story. Fresh behind the scenes video of Pee Wee’s Playhouse is fused with the divulging interviews of art world aficionado’s such as Cliff Benjamin, Todd Oldham and David Pagel. Beautiful animation sequences produced by BRKLY (the filmmaker’s own company) pinpoint the artist’s prominent life moments, and form a kinship with White’s pop, fun-quirky style.

Fun being the operative word here, as the ulterior focus of the documentary, told though White’s on the road lectures, focuses on his self-proclaimed career mission to openly cultivate the humorous side of fine art which is known all too well as the domain of the serious and the cautious. Beauty is Embarrassing creates a portrait of a man whose natural demeanor is wildly magnetic and who’s work is able to transcend the notion of the artist as untouchable. Art is subjective, and so White’s oeuvre may not be your thing, but the story behind this classically trained, creative thinker is deeply inspirational. He is a painter, sculptor, cartoonist, puppeteer, set designer, art director, animator, and illustrator who imparts a genuine passion for following your dreams to audiences across his lecture tour as well as people involved in his daily life, and those touched by connection in the arts community.

Premiering at SXSW 2012, the film has lived on to play in countless other festivals, such as Hot Doc’s, Full Frame, Atlanta Film Festival, and IFFBoston. Distribution of the film is slated for early September, but there is no need to wait that long. Beauty is Embarrassing will come home to LA tonight to screen as part of the Los Angles Film Festival at the Bing Theater at LACMA. You can also support the DIY effort to distribute this film for theatrical release through Kickstarter.

It’s a wild ride. Enjoy it.

Love Reinterpreted – A Film Review of ‘Laurence Anyways’

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is twenty-three. I usually don’t concern myself with the age of film directors, but Dolan is the exception. In 2009, at the age of twenty, his first feature film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) debuted at Cannes and won three prizes under the Director’s Fortnight. In 2010, at the age of twenty-one his second feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) premiered again at Cannes under Un Certain Regard. This year marks Dolan’s third tour at cinema’s most distinguished festival, with the debut of his epic film Laurence Anyways.

It’s safe to say that the creative voice within this young Montreal auteur is wise beyond his years. His themes of self-discovery, sexual identity and unrequited combustible passion focus on life’s difficult and awkward moments, yet Dolan’s touch prescribes them with ravishing beauty and surreal existence on screen.

Laurence Anyways is an operatic, transsexual love chronicle of a couple whose souls are bound to each other in such intensity that neither of them can deny it. Layers upon layers of relationship ups and downs construct the historical drama of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique (Suzanne Clément). The quintessential case of can’t live with, you can’t live without you, begins in September 1989, and reaches to 1999, the brink of Y2K and the dawning of a new millennium. Laurence is a high school teacher and Frederique works in the film industry, and together they have built a stable life that is rife with joie de vivre.

The test of their stability and endurance as a couple is put under a microscope when Laurence, decides he can no longer live as a man. He courageously releases his 30 year secret to Frederique in a heated argument where he equates the need to leave his male identity behind and transition into female, as a type of death.

This begins the couple’s complex equation of balancing security with insecurity, which tests Frederique’s loyalty and emotional rigour towards the man who she loves as he changes into the woman she is supposed to love. The overwhelming and intense nature of the subject is matched with Dolan’s boundless stylistic vision. This work of art may be the culmination of his artistic vision as it presents a film that is rich with emotion shown in opulence, but on a fundamental level is singularly about change. With the exception of the length of the film, which could have used some key editing to form a more succinct flow, Laurence Anyways is a sumptuous achievement – for a filmmaker of any age – but specifically for one that is twenty-three.

One can’t deny the masterful effort here, and its transsexual love story should not be relegated to niche. This film is universal, and can be understood on the level of anyone who has endured the heart-make and heart-break that love stories so often come with. In its soul, Laurence, Anyways communicates that there are still some things that last a long time, and whether it’s your believed sex or your infallible attachment to another human, some things are too powerful to deny.

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Sometimes skepticism can easily be mistaken for narrow-mindedness.  Those who have accepted skepticism into the current of their daily ritual will tell you that it is systematic and functions on the belief that inquiry will always rule out over blind faith. Sound of My Voice, the collaborative brainchild of budding talents Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, is built upon this argument, and raises the question how can we tell the difference between fact and enlightened personal experience?

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) have a vested interest in being accepted into a secretL.A. cult that meets nightly in an undisclosed location in the valley. The target of their pursuit is Maggie (Brit Marling) the elusive female leader, who dresses as a contemporary Virgin Mary and who claims to be a prophet from the year 2054. Orchestrating a type of psychotherapy environment where the faithful abandon their individual souls to be part of the group, Maggie presents herself as savant time-traveller who has come back to bring a select few to a ‘safer’ place. Wanting to expose Maggie as a fraud and con-artist through a DIY documentary film, Peter and Lorna immerse themselves into this ritualistic cult life. As the couple falls deeper into Maggie’s hypnotic trance-like hold, a shift occurs and those who are traditionally governed by reason and logic begin to question if they are on the right side.

Premièring at the 2011 Sundance film festival, Sound of My Voice, has received well deserved critical acclaim and has since, gained momentum as a leading film in the genre of sci-fi realism. Parallels can be drawn between Sound of My Voice and Another Earth, which also premièred at Sundance the same year. The two films not only share their main star, Marling, but also a comparable mental state of disconnection and anxiety over the inevitable, i.e the future and how we all fit into it.

The beauty of Sound of My Voice is its ability to remain thrilling in the face of ambiguity. Events transpire, and our faith as viewers is tested, as it employs an intentional disregard for dramatic irony. The greatest thrill would come for those who delve into Sound of My Voice knowing little about the plot, but who are open to experience a film that questions blind faith, loyalty and awareness. In addition to the trailer, the first 12 minutes of the film are also by clicking here.