HOWL, All That I Love

HOWL (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Eccles Theatre, 1/29/10


Not quite a documentary, but far from a dramatic film, HOWL blends a reenacted interview, a reenacted performance, a reenacted trial and some psychedelic animation into what is, in effect, a feature-length companion to the titular poem.  The film is sometimes engaging, especially towards the end, but it lacks both the suspense of fiction and the concreteness of non-fiction, making it more of a neither-here-nor-there experiment than an actual movie.

All That I Love (Jacek Borcuch, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Prospector Square Theatre, 1/29/10


Gorgeous, understated coming-of-age tale, set amidst the political turmoil of 1981 Poland.  Elliptically told and with a soft touch, All That I Love is a bit hard to follow (especially without a grounding in Polish politics), but plot isn’t really the film’s main focus anyway.  It’s a movie about a moment — in a young man’s life, in a nation’s history — and its grace is all in the details.  Mateusz Kosciukiewicz (suggested Hollywood name: Matt Cashew) is captivating in the lead role of Janek, a soulful teen dealing with first love, punk music, sexual rivalry, and the unintended results of his own actions.  With lovely, lyrical cinematography, All That I Love carries us away into a bygone time and place, and makes us nostalgic for it even if we were never there.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Blue Valentine, The Taqwacores

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie, Racquet Club Theatre, 1/28/10


As harrowing in its own way as Buried, Blue Valentine is a story of two people trapped in a dying relationship, tracing a sad spiral of alienation, vindictiveness, and wounded, desperate hope.  Intercut with the crumbling of their marriage, we get tender, lovely scenes of their early infatuation and romance; the cumulative effect is nothing short of devastating.  Ryan Gosling, as usual, is extraordinary, and the film is artfully made, with moments of beauty and humor to leaven the overhanging tragedy.  Still, it’s not easy to watch.

The Taqwacores (Michael Muhammad Knight, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Holiday Village Cinemas, 1/28/10


A flawed but bracing portrait of disaffected Muslim-American youth struggling to define themselves in relation to their religious heritage, their punk ethos, and each other.  The Taqwacores has the excitement of peering into a previously unseen world, and the universality of youthful rebellion.  It’s a pity the protagonist is such a bland, uptight cipher; other characters are much more engaging, particularly the thoughtful, mohawk-sporting Jehangir, played with sensitivity and charisma by Dominic Rains.  In the end, The Taqwacores has more ambition than it knows what to do with, but there are far worse sins than that.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Buried, Sympathy for Delicious, Douchebag

Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie, Prospector Square Theatre, 1/27/10


As a cinematic exercise, Buried is stunning.  As a movie, it’s still pretty dang good.  The whole 94-minute film takes place inside a coffin underground, with Ryan Reynolds struggling frantically to survive, summon help, and keep down his rising panic.  Claustrophobes, Ryan-Reynolds-phobes, and those who like their entertainment fluffy would do well to steer clear.  Cinephiles and adrenaline addicts, on the other hand, will find a lot to admire in this taut, original thriller — though even they may be glad when it’s over.

Sympathy for Delicious (Mark Ruffalo, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Eccles Theatre, 1/27/10


Some movies like to dress themselves up in superficial strangeness, to disguise the fact that they’re conventional at heart.  Sympathy for Delicious is not one of those movies.  This one starts from an eccentric premise — crippled DJ Dean O’Dwyer develops the power to heal anybody except himself — and takes a decidedly eccentric path.  It’s an examination of faith; it’s a rise-and-fall rock odyssey; it’s a black comedy; it’s a courtroom drama; it’s a story of temptation and redemption; it’s whatever it feels like being, from one moment to the next, making no apologies and observing no rules.  What a pleasure to sit through a movie whose outcome you can’t predict — whose possible outcomes you can’t even begin to enumerate.  Mark Ruffalo has made a promising debut as a director, and Christopher Thornton, the wheelchair-bound actor who wrote the screenplay and stars as Dean, has made his presence known.

Douchebag (Drake Doremus, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Eccles Theatre, 1/27/10


Another wonderful oddball film – a scruffy, low-budget road movie about brotherhood, commitment, and what to do when you realize you’re an asshole.  Film editor Andrew Dickler and his considerable beard make a very impressive acting debut as Sam, the titular douchebag, a smart, funny, know-it-all vegan with a lot of growing up to do.  Ben York Jones plays his younger brother Tom, sweet, aimless, and with a major grudge against Sam.  The many incidental female characters are much less well-developed (and much more attractive) than Sam and Tom, but it’s mostly a movie about brothers, so I guess that’s all right.  Filled with deadpan humor, rapid-fire dialogue, and warm humanity, Douchebag is a uniquely winning movie.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Dry Land, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

The Dry Land (Ryan Piers Williams, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Broadway Centre Cinemas (SLC), 1/26/10


Bleak, cliché-ridden mope-fest, brought to life briefly by Wilmer Valderrama’s energetic, affecting performance as the main character’s old army buddy.  If you’ve ever heard of PTSD before, you’re not likely to learn much from The Dry Land, and if self-destructive behavior and screaming recriminations aren’t your idea of entertainment, you’re better off not seeing it.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Broadway Centre Cinemas (SLC), 1/26/10


About as different from The Dry Land as any film could possibly be, but — alas! — not much better.  The trouble here is that Gilliam doesn’t ground his flights of fancy in any kind of bedrock reality; the London through which Parnassus and his cohorts travel feels no more “real” than the panoramic phantasmagoria their magic mirror conjures.  The characters’ situation is less than vivid, and the plot consists mainly of cryptic hints – in short, there’s nothing to grab hold of, and the whole film floats aimlessly from one conceit to another.  It’s too bad, because there’s a lot of good stuff here, especially the acting and the production design.  Tom Waits is wonderful as the devil.  It’s the role he was born to play.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 11:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Boy, The Imperialists Are Still Alive!, The Extra Man

Boy (Taiki Waititi, 2010)

alone, Peery’s Egyptian Theatre (Odgen), 1/24/10


Warm, artful coming-of-age fable sit in a small town on the coast of New Zealand in a 1980’s almost entirely defined by Michael Jackson references.  It’s a little awkward the way Waititi’s role as the deadbeat father is used to showcase his gifts as a comedian, but that’s a minor quibble; overall, Boy strikes a nice balance between humor and pathos — between exuberant fantasy and bittersweet truth.

The Imperialists Are Still Alive! (Zeina Durra, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie and Robb Stey, Eccles Theatre, 1/25/10


A poker-faced portrait of life among ultra-hip immigrant New Yorkers, which touches on — but doesn’t really delve into — the effects of post-9/11 geopolitics on individual lives. Durra’s directing style is insistently hands-off; most scenes play out in wide shots, with little or no comment from the score or the camera.  At times, the effect is simply confusing (Who’s talking?  And about what?), but there is something refreshing about not being told what to think or feel or even understand.  And the acting is excellent, especially by Elodie Bouchez in the lead.

The Extra Man (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2010)

with Robb Stey, Eccles Theatre, 1/26/10


Lightweight New York fairytale about a shy young man (Paul Dano) who finds himself pulled into the orbit of a selfish, proudly elitist, impecunious professional escort (Kevin Kline).  Kline is always at his best playing characters who are themselves performers; he’s the perfect actor to embody Henry Harrison’s theatrical gusto, flinty defensiveness, and secret melancholy.  The Extra Man‘s pervasive quirkiness feels a little forced, but it’s still a tender and entertaining film.

Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  


Restrepo (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, 2010)

with Mike Lavoie, Rose Wagner Theatre, 1/23/10


A gripping, you-are-there portrait of American soldiers assigned to a dangerous outpost in remote Afghanistan. If you want a visceral sense of what it means to fight a war against an entrenched, near-invisible enemy, this is the film for you. The biggest surprise, perhaps, is how funny a film Restrepo manages to be. Amidst the loss, dread, violence, and tedium of their daily lives, the soldiers of OP Restrepo maintain a healthy sense of absurdity, camaraderie, and raucous good humor. The interview footage is surprising, too — startlingly intimate, often moving, and occasionally chilling. This is powerful stuff.

Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sundance Shorts

In my first two days of Sundance 2010, I saw twenty-one films. Now, granted, most of them were on the short side, but still, I feel very productive.

I’d feel a little silly writing up a separate entry for each film, since some of them are only a few minutes long, so I’ll go program-by-program instead.

Shorts Program I

with Mike Lavoie, Eccles Theatre, 1/22/10

"I'm Here"

“I’m Here,” by Spike Jonze, is a bittersweet romantic fable about robots. It’s as odd as it sounds, but far more affecting; I give it a 7 (out of 9). (You can see a trailer for “I’m Here” here.) “The Fence,” by Rory Kennedy, is an entertaining exposé of the Mexic0 – United States Barrier, but Kennedy could have found a better narrator than herself (6). “Logorama” is a sophomoric, incoherent attempt at satire; if you think the idea of Ronald MacDonald as a murderer is hilarious and groundbreaking, you’ll love it (2). “Seeds of the Fall” is an oddball black comedy from Sweden; at first I found it off-putting, but then it made me laugh, and it had me (5).

Shorts Program V

with Mike Lavoie, Prospector Square Theatre, 1/22/10

“Little Accidents” is a chilly, raw, beautifully shot drama about unwanted pregnancy, highlighted by two very strong performances (6). “Charlie and the Rabbit” is dull, repetitive, and shamelessly manipulative; it’s basically ten minutes of watching a little kid wander around with a BB gun and wondering if something awful is about to happen (3). “Shimásáni” features lovely black-and-white photography, but precious little narrative (5). “TUB” is a dumb, poorly-executed gross-out comedy based on the promising concept of a man impregnating his bathtub (2). “Rob and Valentyna in Scotland” is a wry, spry, winning study of unrequited love (7).

Shorts Program III

with Mike Lavoie, Library Center Theatre, 1/22/2010

"My Invisible Friend"

“Patrol” is a sweet, sad, funny story about a man desperate to impress his estranged young son (7). “My Invisible Friend” is a deliciously weird — and weirdly touching — portrait of a tragically shy teen trying to break out of his shell (8; trailer here). “Chicken Heads” is an undistinguished, but very watchable Palestinian film about childhood, poverty, and goat herding (6). “Herbert White,” by James Franco, is artsy, unsavory, and feels endless at thirteen minutes (2). “N.A.S.A. A Volta” is a stylish, hyperkinetic animation that’s almost impossible to follow, but sure is fun to watch (5). “Tungijuq” is a pretentious music video about man’s unity with nature, or whatever (3). “New Media” is a clumsy, go-nowhere comedy — well, actually, I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a comedy (2).

Animation Spotlight

with Mike Lavoie, Rose Wagner Theatre (SLC), 1/23/2010

"Old Fangs"

This eclectic and fascinating program is the highlight of the festival so far. “Runaway” is a joyously amoral slapstick farce about an out-of-control train and the cow that bedevils it (7). “Old Fangs” is a visually intoxicating, rueful and melancholy film that tells a familiar story in a downright visionary way (8; you can watch the full film here). “Vive la Rose” is a tender, technically stunning reverie that gains much of its interest by drawing attention to the act of animating itself (6). “Please Say Something” uses deliberately crude computer animation to tell a complex human story (6). “Rains” is simply a series of melancholy rain-related vignettes, but it’s a lovely little experience (5). “Meatwaffle” is an aggressively tasteless, defiantly incoherent yawner (1). “Madagascar, a journey diary” is nice to look at, but ultimately it’s a glorified “Look where I went!” slideshow (4). “The Little Dragon” is a funny, accomplished, bracing tribute to Bruce Lee (7). “One Square Mile of Earth” is extremely talky and visually static compared to everything else in this program, but it’s hilarious, so who cares? (7)

Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How This Will Work

The film log’s basic purpose is to help me remember what I’ve seen, under what conditions I saw it, and what I thought of it. It’s also, of course, for public consumption, to the degree that anyone besides me can possibly find it interesting. And it’s a lot of fun.

I use a 1-to-9 rating system that I developed a few years ago, after several years of trying to squeeze my opinions into the awkward four-stars-including-half-stars paradigm that many professional movie critics adhere to. I don’t use this system to be contrarian, or because I consider myself above convention, but simply because it works for me — and since I have no boss or editor, I’m free to do as I please.

Please note: it is not 1 to 9 because 10 implies perfection and no movie is perfect. It is 1 to 9 because, in my sincere and long-reflected-on opinion, there are exactly nine distinct grades of movie quality — no more, no less. You’re free to disagree, of course, but if you do, you’re wrong.

The scale runs thusly:

1 — execrable

2 — lousy

3 — bad

4 — weak

5 — decent

6 — solid

7 — excellent

8 — superb

9 — sublime

If I’m using the scale correctly, there should be very few 1’s, very few 9’s, and quite a lot of each other grade (with the caveat that I don’t generally see films I expect to dislike). The scale does get extra-subjective at either end, but I can live with that.

Here’s the format that each film’s entry will have:

Movie Title (Director, Year of Release)

movie companions, venue, date

Grade (1 to 9)


for example:

Keeper (Keith Boynton, 2010)

with Tom Hanks, Keira Knightley, and Martin Scorcese, Kodak Theatre, 2/27/2011


Not bad, if I do say so myself. And the Academy seemed to agree.

Some of you may wonder, “Who the hell are you, to make such a fuss over your opinion?” The only honest answer is: no one at all. But why should that stop me? This is the Internet, my friend!

That’s about it. If I’ve left anything unclear, feel free to post a comment, and I’ll be happy to elucidate. Now, without further ado, let the capsulizing begin!

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 8:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Welcome to The Film Journal That Will Not Stay Dead!

Keith’s Film Log is an endless, vaguely narcissistic project that I’ve started and abandoned many times over the last six or ten years. And I’m starting again! Now, for the first time, the newest incarnation of the Film Log is available to a general audience on the World Wide Web. (And when I say “a general audience,” I mean, “my most devoted friends and a few lost souls who wandered here from Google.”)

This feels like a good time to restart the ol’ Film Log, for three reasons: 1) this past summer’s 12 Films 12 Weeks project was the occasion for my first sustained experience as a blogger (and introduced me to the joys of WordPress); 2) it’s a new goddamn decade; and 3) the 2010 Sundance Film Festival begins tonight, and I’m out in Park City eager to experience the madness once again.

Actually, now that I think of it, this year marks the 10-year anniversary of my very first trip to Sundance, back when I was a fresh young lad of 18. (I was allowed to take time off from high school to come out here. It was awesome.) My mother — God bless her — had purchased me the invaluable (and expensive) Eccles Theatre Pass, and I attended every single screening it entitled me to — thirty-nine movies in all. My favorite that year was Everything Put Together — the breakthrough film for Marc Forster, who went on to make Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, the underrated Stay, the wonderful Stranger Than Fiction, and the disappointing Quantum of Solace. It’s been an eventful decade for Mr. Forster, for the world at large, and, when I think about it, for me. But then again, aren’t they all?

I’m not going to see thirty-nine movies at Sundance this year — probably more like fifteen or twenty. But I’ll be sure to post a little capsule description/review of each one right here in this space, for your enjoyment, edification, and (if I’m lucky) envy.

In my next post, I’ll explain a bit about how those capsules are put together. First, I have to figure out how to format them on WordPress …

Onward, into the second decade of 21st-century filmgoing!

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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