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Exhibition (2013)

Liam Gillick in Exhibition directed by Joanna Hogg

Writer/Director:  Joanna Hogg

Stars: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston

Joanna Hogg’s third film deals in gracious architectural spaces and the upper middle class creatures who fill them.  Elegant, mannered, a study in static frames and noises off, Exhibition jettisons plot in favor of vignette, presenting a series of scenes from a marriage that’s neither ideal nor enviable, but, by the end of the movie, has come to make a kind of twisted sense.

Artist D (Viv Albertine) and architect H (Liam Gillick) spend their days creating at their respective desks, occupying separate floors of their London townhouse.  They communicate in a rather stilted manner via intercom, implying their relationship has become stiff through overuse.  The third party in this marriage is not a child, or a lover, but the house itself, which appears to have grown between them like a tree root, forcing them apart over time.

D certainly seems to have a more intimate relationship with the house than she does with H.  She drapes herself around its curves, on a windowsill, a corner wall, a rock in the garden.  She seeks approbation and satisfaction in its reflective surfaces.  She dons fancy knickers and performs crude burlesque in one of its empty rooms.  The house gives her what H will not: tranquil approval of everything she does and is.  So she orients herself towards it, usually presenting us (and H) with the back of her head, or the shrug of her shoulders.  Only the house is permitted to gaze upon her face.

D and H have decided to sell the house, after 18 years of co-habitation, so D’s interactions with the furniture and windows have a nostalgic quality from the get-go.  She must indulge her guilty pleasures while she still can.  Consequently, she pushes H, so much less arch and fascinating than the house, away.  He attempts to maintain their connection, but the house has intruded on his side of the relationship too.  He sees D more clearly in reflections than he does in reality, and can only say “I love you” via the intercom, when he’s insulated from her reaction by the wood paneled walls.  Is he reaching out to D, or the echo of who she once was to him?

A brief moment of passion fizzles as D flops on the bed like the proverbial dead fish, unable to ignite even the energy it would take to wriggle out of her clothes.  When he asks, “Can’t I play first?” she denies him via complete inertia, wanting him to stick it in and be done.  H flails above her, frustrated, completely unable to penetrate the barriers she has erected around her secret self, the one she shares only when alone with the house – with whom, of course, as we’ve already seen, she is only too happy to play.

Viv Albertine in Exhibition directed by Joanna Hogg

D and H discuss the previous occupants, the architects who designed and built this suave structure, and lived there into their 80s, when the spiral staircase became too much to navigate.  They ponder the possibility of the house absorbing this couple’s lifelong love into its edifice, and, by implication their own. Although they’ve decided to move on, they feel it’s important to preserve the house as it is, a monument to love and regret. They ask the realtor (Hogg’s muse, Tom Hiddleston) if they can insert a “No Demolition” clause into their terms of sale.  He smirks denial at them.  Once they quit possession, that’s it.

Hogg’s eye for negative space is fully utilized here, both in terms of the stylized photography and in the force that drives the narrative.  Exhibition’s truths are more easily located in cavities rather than content – often in a punning manner, as when H gets into a fight with a builder who has impinged upon his parking space, or when another contractor discusses the width of the gap between the elevator car and the shaft.  D and H have identified themselves with a restrictive structure for too long.  It’s only on occasions when they break free, out onto the streets of London, that they are able to access emotional honesty, as when D, alarmed by the wailing of emergency sirens, runs outside in her underwear to check that no accident has befallen H, showing more concern for his well-being in that moment than in any of the scenes inside the house thus far.

The house in Exhibition is not just an enviable address but an all-encompassing lifestyle. As young artists, D and H required a frame, and they found one they thought was perfect within the clean modern lines of the house.  But, over the 18 years they’ve lived there, the frame has become a constraint.  The house contains and confines them in ways that go beyond walls.  For the sake of their love, their careers, their sanity, they must move on.  By the time they’re slicing into a replica house cake at a party to celebrate the sale, symbolically destroying their des res, it’s hard not be glad they’re making their escape to a more creative and fulfilling future.

Held together by two mesmerizing central performances from Albertine (former Slits guitarist) and conceptual artist Gillick, Exhibition is an inventive study of the way structure affects content.  We are where we sleep.  Outwardly precise and mannered, inwardly quite chilling, there are also some darker lessons in here about covetousness, about contemporary obsessions with property values, and a warning that if you gaze long enough into architectural interstices, they will gaze also into you.

Exhibition will screen as part of AFI Fest 2013 on Monday, November 11 @ 7:30 p.m., at Chinese 3 and on Wednesday, November 13 @ 4:15 p.m., at Chinese 2

Our Sunhi

Our SunhiWriter/Director:  Hong Sang-soo

Stars: Jeong Jae-yeong , Jeong Yu-mi , Kim Sang-Joong

Our Sunhi won the Silver Leopard award for its director, Hong Sang-soo, at the 66th Locarno International Film Festival. It’s a refined chamber piece, shot digitally, and focused on static dialogue scenes that play out in a single take – it’s about as far from a commercial Hollywood movie as it’s possible to get.  Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing narrative, following a young film student and three men who all believe they know her better than she does herself, and therefore have some kind of claim over her affections.

In Hong’s world, characters cross paths, communicate, depart, and move on to the next coffee or beer klatch without once making the connections they think they have.  Alcohol lubricates and befuddles these encounters (empty bottles pile up in the background of almost every scene, part extenuating circumstance, part leitmotif).  The men look back fondly on their conversations with Sunhi, and discuss her behind her back as though she was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a captivating yet eccentric female who exists purely to salve their ills.  Yet Sunhi is more than that, a troubled individual seeking her own path, yearning to express sexual desire, and frustrated by the men’s insistence on shaping her persona to suit their needs.  Tellingly, she disappears long before the movie’s end, amidst the riotous autumnal hues of Seoul’s Changgyeonggung Palace.  The men fail to notice her absence, although she continues to be the focal point of their discussion.

Our Sunhi

Sunhi (Jeong Yu-mi) herself is emblematic of Generation Y clichés, twisted by indecision and ennui, incapable of solid achievement but convinced of her innate talent and superiority.  After a mysterious absence, she returns to her film school to ask for a letter of recommendation from her former professor,  Choi (Kim Sang-Joong).  She believes studying in the USA will somehow ignite her previously dormant passion for filmmaking.  He scoffs at the idea, and tells her she should embrace creativity and make films now, “while there’s still time”. He agrees to write a letter, but cautions that it will be ‘honest’.

From the first, then, Sunhi is subject to the whims of men who want to tell her what to do.  Stung by the encounter with Choi, she seeks solace in beer, and runs into her ex, Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun).  He, apparently, has had some success with a movie he made about the failure of their relationship, and she feels betrayed.  Munsu, nonetheless, is still in love with her, and waxes lyrical about the reunion to his friend, another movie director, Jaehak (Jeong Jae-yeong).  Choi is also friends with Jaehak, and also inclined to praise Sunhi’s feminine mystique – she has been flirting with him in order to persuade him to change the somewhat harsh terms of his reference letter.  When Jaehak finally meets Sunhi, he too falls for her charms – who wouldn’t, having heard such glowing recommendations?

Tonally, Our Sunhi combines elements of classic farce (eventually, all Sunhi’s suitors collide) with some wry observations on human nature and some poignant emotional punches, such as when Sunhi tenderly caresses Jaehak’s face in a bar, only to have the moment destroyed by a food delivery.  The long takes demand powerhouse performances, and Hong gets gold from some of his regular collaborators, especially Jeong Yu-Mi.  She’s more than able to anchor us in Sunhi’s perspective of the ridiculousness going on around her, twitching melodrama into comedy with a simple furrow of her brow.

Our Sunhi’s gentle pace and quietly building absurdity may not be to everyone’s taste.  It’s the kind of film that rewards those who stick with it, beginning in banality but ending in powerful insights and a decidedly comic final payoff.  Fans of Hong’s other work – he’s a prolific director with more than a dozen credits – will, as always, enjoy the wry observational nature of this piece, which may also provide an engaging entry point for neophytes.

Our Sunhi will screen as part of AFI Fest 2013 on Saturday, November 9 @ 6:30 p.m. in Chinese 3 and on Tuesday, November 12 @ 7:45 p.m. in Chinese 5.

 

After Tiller (2013)

After Tiller poster

 

Directed by Martha Shane
Lana Wilson
Director of Photography Hillary Spera
Cinematography Emily Topper
Edited by Greg O’Toole
Executive Producers Artemis Media Ventures
Belle Max Productions
Produced by Martha Shane
Lana Wilson

 

 

America is at war with itself over abortion.  In other countries, this simple, legal, and in many cases life-saving medical procedure is a matter of personal, private choice.  In the USA, it’s an act that elicits screams of protest, picket lines, macabre placards, and, in the case of Dr. George Tiller, a self-righteous fanatic with a gun.

Dr. Tiller specialized in third trimester abortion, a complex procedure that focuses on preserving the integrity of the mother’s reproductive organs whilst terminating her pregnancy at any point after twenty weeks.  Despite the fact that these abortions count for less than 1% of those carried out in the United States each year, anti-abortion activists targeted Dr. Tiller and his clinic in Wichita, Kansas with tragic results.

On May 31, 2009, as he attended a church service with his family, Tiller was shot in the head by one such activist.  Tiller’s assassination made him the eighth abortion clinic worker to be murdered since Roe vs. Wade, and also wiped out his Wichita clinic and the health services provided to Kansas women.

In the wake of this tragedy, only four doctors in the United States, all friends and former colleagues of Dr. Tiller, offer specialist third trimester abortions.  AFTER TILLER, Martha Lane and Shana Wilson’s thoughtful documentary, explores their daily practice, interviewing them, the workers in their clinics, and the patients who seek their help. Read More..

The Anti Hero Era: Walt & Dexter

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall)

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall)

Television waved farewell to two of its iconic anti-heroes over the past week: Walter White and Dexter Morgan. Although these characters were worlds apart in style and execution, at their core they both embodied the essential oppositions of the anti-hero. After eight seasons each, they will be missed, albeit for different reasons.

The anti-hero is a compelling character type within fiction.  On one level, he or she is a subversion of the traditional hero, devoid of the typically heroic qualities of loyalty, morality, nobility, physical strength and beauty, athletic skills, intelligence or confidence.  The anti-hero is flawed — often fatally — and answers only to him or herself, and their internal values (which may not be values in the truest sense of the word). The anti-hero is the Jungian shadow of the hero, the dark untrammeled self, the cautionary tale of what happens when an individual steps outside the light.

Nonetheless, the anti-hero still gets stuff done, often in the form of revenge or payback, or vigilante justice. Unfettered by a moral framework, the anti-hero can work outside social and legal restrictions, free to act as he or she chooses.  The anti-hero represents a seductive ‘What If…’ for audiences. What if you could make your own decisions? Enforce your own justice? What if nothing else mattered but gratifying your desire for vengeance? Read More..

LOVELACE: [Re]Written On The Body

Deep Throat poster 2

LOVELACE (2013)

Directors:

Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Writer:

Stars:  Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, James Franco, Chris Noth, Chloe Sevigny, Hank Azaria

Sometimes, a movie is just a movie.  Sometimes it’s a cultural flashpoint, a watershed within a wider revolution, a landmark in socio-sexual history.  Sometimes it’s the first time people hear the word ‘clitoris’ or go to a movie theater to watch a woman voluntarily swallow an erect penis without triggering her gag reflex. Sometimes it’s a battleground between feminists and pornographers, censors and hedonists, the FBI and the Mob.  Sometimes it becomes synonymous with both a specific sexual technique and a presidency-destroying informant.

Sometimes a movie is Deep Throat (1972), the 61-minute porno that cost $25,000 to shoot but coined over $100 million (the actual box office revenues are the subject of much controversy).  The star, Linda Lovelace, née Boreman, never received a penny for her efforts. Instead, she was rewarded by fame – or infamy – as the poster-girl for sexual freedom and the punchline to a million dirty jokes. She couldn’t act, sing, or dance, nor was she model-beautiful, but her party trick propelled her onto the pages of Playboy, Bachelor and Esquire and into the zeitgeist.

In 2013, this kind of career trajectory doesn’t seem at all out of place (eat your heart out, Kim Kardashian), but in the mid-1970s Linda Lovelace represented an entirely new phenomenon. Her sunny, girl-next-door charm was touted as evidence of changing attitudes to pornography.  If a nice girl like Linda could enjoy onscreen sex, and be invited to Hollywood parties on the strength of her performance, so could anybody. Inevitably, however, the dream turned to dust.

In 1980 Linda, by then a born-again Christian and married mother of two, published Ordeal, an account of the grim reality behind the carefree smiles and coy giggles.  In Ordeal, Linda claims physical, psychological and sexual abuse put her in front of pornographers’ cameras and kept her from going anyplace else.

It’s a classic rags-to-riches-to-rags cautionary tale, drenched in neon 1970s nostalgia, coupled with the durability and cultural impact of the Deep Throat brand.  No surprise, then, that two Hollywood Lovelace biopics competed to be the first into theaters, spurred by casting merry-go-round rumors (Kate Hudson, Lindsay Lohan, and Malin Ackerman were all lined up to play Linda at some stage).  Rival Inferno seems to have bitten the dust while Lovelace hits theaters this week, bringing a starry cast and a lot of sympathy towards telling Linda’s side of the story. Read More..

Adrift – A Tribute To San Francisco Fog

Time lapse maestro Simon Christen’s latest project is available to watch on Vimeo.

“The weather conditions have to be just right for the fog to glide over the hills and under the bridge. I developed a system for trying to guess when to make the drive out to shoot, which involved checking the weather forecast, satellite images and webcams multiple times a day. For about 2 years, if the weather looked promising, I would set my alarm to 5am, recheck the webcams, and then set off on the 45-minute drive to the Marin Headlands.”

Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

Turn Your Phone

Don’t be guilty of vertical video crimes this summer.

YouTube Infographic – The ‘Where Are They Now’ File?

Here’s a convenient round-up of some of the biggest successes on YouTube so far (and their current whereabouts…):

youtube downloader mp3

Race and Class in Django Unchained

Django Unchained is a love-it-or-hate-it movie-going experience. Tarantino’s decision to make a spaghetti western/slave revenge fantasy seemed like a cynical move to generate controversy from the get-go.  Now it’s in theaters everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to the provocative depictions of race.  There are those who celebrate the bold representation of Django, the freed slave who fights back against a particularly sadistic slaveowner, claiming what is rightfully his (Hildy, his wife), burning the pristine white columns of the mansion to the ground in the process, and riding off into the middle distance. There are others, notably Spike Lee, who have questioned the oversimplification of these images and the apparent trivialization of genocide.

The movie has also been criticized for its objectification of women, the cartoonish (and anachronistic) representation of the Ku Klux Klan as buffoons suffering a wardrobe malfunction, and Tarantino’s Australian accent.  Some critics couldn’t stomach the blood spatter of the gunfights.  Others thought Tarantino’s trademark violence, once so exciting, has become so normalized it seems tired. It’s a problematic film on many levels. However, Tarantino has to be commended for opening up discourse — and, potentially, opportunities for other filmmakers — about the slave era, two hundred years of history that American mainstream pop culture likes to pretend never happened.  Other than grisly blaxploitation like Mandingo, or historical lamentation like Roots, slavery has been off-limits as context for a period drama. Until now. Read More..

2012 – The Lists

2012leavingAs 2012 draws to a close, here’s a round-up of the round-ups, the ‘Best Of’ lists of the media that rocked the world over the past 12 months.

1. YouTube Videos

From South Korea to the outer edges of the planet’s atmosphere, the most-watched YouTube videos of 2012 are a truly global collection. Psy’s Gangnam Style became the most viewed YouTube video of all time, and spawned countless parodies. Felix Baumgartner became the man who fell to earth and garnered the most simultaneous views, from everyone watching his record breaking jump live.  And there was KONY 2012, but we’ve forgotten that now.

 

2. Pirated TV Shows

Game of Thrones topped the list of shows that fans, mostly outside the US, couldn’t wait to see. If the US TV networks could figure out a global subscription model, it seems there’s a lot of money to be made.

 

3. TV Commercials

Advertising spots around the world continued to straddle the boundary of entertainment and annoyance.

 

4. Tweets

Barack Obama’s “Four more years” got more than 810,000 RTs, making it the most retweeted comment of the year.  Not even Justin Bieber’s farewell to a dying fan came close.

5. World-wide Box Office

It was the same-old same-old Hollywood doldrums at the global box office this year, with the Top Ten dominated by superheroes, franchises, and superhero franchises. Audiences across the planet responded enthusiastically to big explosions, car chases, sparkling vampires, archers and talking cartoon animals – just as they always do. Only Brave (at no.11) is an original movie, everything higher up the list is based on pre-existing intellectual property.

 

6. Documentaries

Documentary movies provide a fascinating measure of cultural temperature: what subjects resonated with both filmmakers and audiences in 2012? From the riches-to-rags down/up comparison afforded by The Queen of Versailles to the injustices exposed by Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God to the unique experiences explored in Jiro Dreams of Sushi or The Imposter, 2012 gave us a range of insights into the human condition.  I’d also add The Ambassador and Paradise Lost 3 to this list — although they were officially released in 2011 they didn’t reach a wider audience until this year.

 

7. Valuable Movie Stars

Every year, Forbes compiles two lists.  One is of the movie stars who deliver the most return per dollar of their asking price, the other details those who return the least.  The young stars who dominate the MVP list owe their position to the blockbuster franchises they appear in (for a relatively low payday) rather than their audience-pulling clout.  However, with the notion of star power, and the resultant massive paydays, fading into the 1990s in Hollywood, this metric is becoming more and more meaningful.

 

8. Blogs

Despite the rise of other forms of social media, blogging refuses to die.  It’s still the best way for individuals to bypass traditional media – in all its hegemonic glory – and communicate their viewpoint with the world.  Whether you’re a Scottish schoolgirl complaining about the quality of your school dinners, a political pundit, an interior designer or a comic book expert, a blog is as vital as it has ever been.

 

9. Tumblrs

Sometimes, a blog is TL:DR and a picture is worth a thousand words.  That’s where Tumblr rules.  Whether the images are of Hillary Clinton, texts from a dog, face math or cats (LOTS of cats) Tumblr is best way of bringing memes to the masses.

 

10. Music Videos

The migration of the music video from TV to the internet is now complete.  Their short length and instant brand identity makes them an ideal media form for viewing on smartphones or tablets.  This year, Psy dominated YouTube but Carly Rae Jepsen’s lawnboy lust topped the views on VEVO. This is crazy…