Concussion—-Lesbian sex, it’s so HOT right now!!

Concussion headlined many Queer film festivals this year.  With it’s high-production values, pretty star and fantasy plot of a lesbian who decides to become a high-priced call girl after a knock on the head; it’s easy to see why it is a popular film.  The sets are all beautifully-furnished suburban homes or artfully-decorated city apartments that our star spends all her time and money upgrading.  It’s a sex-film for upper-middle class lesbians who may be finding marriage, kids and a house in the suburbs more bland and less-fulfilling then they anticipated.

If it’s seems a tad unrealistic to think that there might be a market for Abby’s (Robin Weigert) services, or that leading a double-life would be so easy to keep from the kids and the wife…well, at least it’s an interesting film.  And don’t we all need a little wish fulfillment now a days? The fact that Abby’s escapades involve parading around in expensive lingerie, mentoring a young college student with feminist literature as well as sexual gratification and rough sex with another suburban housewife is about as reasonable as the assumption that getting hit by a baseball would lead to this new lifestyle.

Having won a Teddy Jury award at the Berlin Film Festival for writer/director Stacie Passon and a Best First Feature award at Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco, I wish this director and this film continued success.  The many soft-core porn sex scenes are pretty and not exploitative, and if they feel unrealistic; at least they were directed by a woman from a screenplay written by the same woman.  Thus dodging the controversy surrounding the OTHER lesbian film currently playing in LA and New York….

Concussion

Blue is the Warmest Color is generating controversy and discussion of female sexuality and male gaze.   A three-hour film about a young girl’s coming-of-age journey, “La vie d’Adèle” was directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and stars the two young actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos.  In an unusual and remarkable move, the Cannes jury awarded the Palm d’Or to not just the director, but also, for the first time ever, the actors as well!  Having not seen the film myself, I can easily predict that the length of the film will be more of an issue for me personally, than the six and a half minute-long sex scene.  Rarely do I find that the bloated Hollywood films need their 2-hour running time and though I tend to be more forgiving of non-traditional films from independent filmmakers, three hours speaks to a director who is too precious with his or her work.

I do enjoy reading all the press that this film is inspiring.  Any film that can incite writers to discuss female sexuality and representation is a winner in my book!   Here’s a quote from Matthew Hammett Knott that I rather liked:

“It all comes back to Robert Bresson’s inspiring maxim – “make visible that which, without you, might never be seen”.  In this respect, Manohla Dargis’s criticism that Kechiche “seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades” seems less pertinent to “Blue is the Warmest Color” than with regard to the wider picture. All perspectives are limited, including Dargis’, including Kechiche’s, including mine. It doesn’t mean we have to reject any in particular. That is our prerogative. What is essential is to recognize the limitations of each, and most importantly, recognize those that are missing entirely from our cultural landscape, and seek them out. ”

Blue is the Warmest Color

http://whttp://www.indiewire.com/article/heroines-of-cinema-blue-is-the-warmest-color-and-the-real-problem-with-male-filmmakers-and-female-sexuality

So seek out queer cinema if you can!  Support all films that support women-driven narratives because they are few and far between!

http://www.indiewire.com/article/what-do-we-expect-from-lesbian-films

Rating: 3 soy lattes in an arty cafe while scheduling play dates, a Pilates session and waiting for your paid date to arrive…

Fond Farewell to the Bay Area

drinks with filmsYes, the time has come for me to take a hiatus from my beloved Bay Area and continue my job search somewhere less distracting…look out Boulder, CO!

Big thanks to my friends in the publicity biz who’ve been big supporters: Steve Indig at Landmark Theatres and Karen Larsen and staff at Larsen and Associates.  And to all the gals at Bay Area Women in Film and Media — thank you for your friendship and keep up the good work!

I’m really going to miss living in a city that has such a wealth of art-house and foreign films screening in so many theaters, often opening here right after New York and Los Angeles!  San Francisco has more film festivals than any other city–and I’ve attended or worked at most of them!!  I’ll miss all my dear film festival friends.   A big hug of gratitude to the staffs at Frameline and CAAMFest and SF Green Film Festival, cheers to Jeff Ross for his dedication to independent film and music in the Bay Area with Indiefest, Docfest and Another Hole in the Head and to my dear friends at the SF Film Society presenting fabulous programming and events while struggling with a lack of leadership.  Hurrah for fabulous film curation all around the Bay Area!  To all my festival gypsy friends traveling from festival to festival, I salute you!  I’m there in spirit even if I’m not working at your side!

Here’s what I’d recommend you see in San Francisco this weekend:

The World’s End–This is what I’m most excited to see because I’m a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and it looks like more of the same wackiness!

20 Feet From Stardom–Yes, it’s still playing (at Stonestown, but still…).  This is a great documentary about back-up singers that even non-musicians would enjoy.

Frances Ha–Again, yes, it’s still playing.  It’s at the Roxie (9pm) and is a must-see for fans of Indie films.  Written with Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach’s film is like a more-hip and funnier Woody Allen film!

Two coming of age films that I reviewed earlier: The Way Way Back and The Spectacular Now should also not be missed.   Both charming and with great performances; they are small films with big hearts!

Unknown Cutie and The Boxer–If there was one film that I’d encourage everyone to see, it’s this wonderful documentary!  A well-crafted first film by Zachary Heinzerling, this is an intimate portrait of an eccentric painter and sculptor, Ushio Shinohara and his supportive wife and fellow artist, Noriko Shinohara.   Ushio lives life large with a big presence and big work, while his wife, Noriko steps out of his shadow to present her own work and begins to finds her own voice.  As they struggle to find an audience (and buyers!) for their creations: towering papier mache motorcycles, paintings created by “boxing” the canvas and graphic novels depicting their own troubled relationship, we also see their struggles to be true to their art and each other.  It’s both tender and poignant.

Don’t let this one get out of town before you get to see it!!

And a quick update on this lovely film: http://www.indiewire.com/article/critics-picks-the-top-10-documentaries-released-in-2013-according-to-indiewires-film-critic

Until we meet again, I’ll be at the movies…let’s have a drink and you can tell me what YOU think!

“Blue Jasmine” — Lovely scent but where’s the substance?

Woody Allen’s latest production was filmed in San Francisco, and what a joy it is, to see our fair city featured on the big screen!  Look, there’s the Mission!  Wow, look at that skyline!  To hear big-name actors referring to Marin and see them walking along the Marina Green is a thrill.  Now, if only the film itself were as thrilling…

Cate Blanchett wears her Chanel suit and pearls like a suit of armor as she strides through the film swilling vodka and Xanax trying to ward off panic attacks.  Just how much compassion you feel for this brittle, broken woman of means who’s lost everything, will color how you view this film.  Jasmine has been a pampered New York socialite who turned a blind eye to her husband’s philandering and nefarious money-making schemes.  More than Blue;  Jasmine is both desperate and damaged.  Forced to move in with her sister in San Francisco, it may as well have been New Orleans for all of the references to “Streetcar Named Desire”!

Jasmine swans about in her haute couture, all the while struggling to survive in a world that she’s had little or no experience of – -the world the rest of us inhabit.  Blanchett plays this “Blanche” character as a fragile bird, her fluttering hands grasping the walls as if to keep from falling and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  There are two “Stanley” characters in this film, both lovers of Jasmine’s sister, Ginger. Her current beau, Chili, played by Bobby Cannavale, even has a shouty scene wearing a sweat-stained wife-beater t-shirt.

Sally Hawkins gives the  film’s only sympathetic performance as Jasmine’s adopted sister, Ginger.  A working class woman with a heart of gold, Ginger has forgiven her sister’s mean-spirited ways.  She tries to help Jasmine even as Jasmine continues to belittle her and her life.  While the majority of the characters seem like stereotypes with little depth, Ginger is a caring person who’s given substance through her connections with other people.  Like “Stella”, she’s made some poor choices but Sally Hawkins gives her a warmth that stands in strong contrast to the cold, self-centered Jasmine.

As much as I applaud Woody Allen for giving women complex central roles in his films (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/movies/woody-allens-distinctive-female-characters.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), some of his characters act so neurotic that it’s a challenge to spend cinematic time with them.

Interesting to note: Alec Baldwin played the “Stanley” role in a film version of “Streetcar” and now, here he is, playing another villain to the Blanche character.  He gives a great performance as the sophisticated swindler.  Baldwin and Blanchett have good chemistry as the married, jet-setting New Yorkers; their final scene is one of the best in the entire film.  Blanchett is mesmerizing in the role but by not giving her character a single positive trait, Woody Allen has created a woman to be scorned or pitied but not someone the audience can relate to or root for…

As much as it’s a delight to see San Francisco on the big screen;  Blue Jasmine is full of undeveloped characters and unbelievable premises.  It’s great to see so many stars in interesting roles but some of the performances take away from the narrative and the children are moved about like props on a stage.  In “Streetcar”, Blanche is carted off to a sanitarium while her sister returns to her rough-and-tumble Stanley.   Blue Jasmine repeats that scenario but doesn’t offer even that safety net for our night-blooming Jasmine.

And here’s a great article about the scary possibility of bag lady future: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/magazine/the-fear-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Rating: 2 shots of vodka–perhaps an expensive one on the rocks with a twist, followed by shot-gut vodka swigged directly from the bottle

San Francisco International Film Festival 56: Four Fun Features!

Staff BadgeA film festivals is like a river.  Where you “ford” the river; where you step into the stream, is unique.  Your experience of the same events will often differ drastically from everyone around you.

Are you anticipating a film because you’re familiar with the director’s previous work?  Do you adore the lead actor and are you excited to spend some quality time in their presence?  Did you have to stand in the cold in a long line before you were admitted into the theater or was it nearly impossible to find parking? All of these personal concerns and anticipations will color your view.

For me, having worked in this field for so long, film festivals are almost like coming home.  I know the staff, I’ve worked the venues, and I love the thrill of seeing a film with filmmakers present!  My film-going experience is bound to be a positive one.  This year at SFIFF 56, I worked more than usual, both at the theaters and away from them.  So I had very limited opportunities to actually watch films.  Fortunately, the four features I did manage to see, were all very good.

“What Maisie Knew” — Divorce, Hollywood-style

SFIFF opened with this tale of self-centered parents battling for their child’s affections.  Based on a short story by Henry James penned 100 years ago, the damage inflicted by neglect is brought to life by the marvelous performance of the young lead, Onata Aprile.  As the pawn fought over by Julianne Moore’s aging rock star mother and the traveling philandering father, played by Steve Coogan, Onata is refreshingly open in her natural reactions.  Her joy at spending time with the actors who play her surrogate parents is a delight.  Alexander Skarsgard elevates every scene he’s in as the party boy who becomes the affectionate companion.  The story stretches credability and reason at points, (even wealthy people can’t get away with this level of neglect) and the ending is pure fairytale but there’s a level of charm here that’s hard to deny.  Rating: 3 glasses of expensive red wine

“Cutie and the Boxer” — Eccentric and Wonderful

Zachary Heinzerling’s directorial debut is the winning documentary about an eccentric painter and sculptor, Ushio Shinohara and his supportive wife and fellow artist, Noriko Shinohara.  This intimate portrait of two talented Japanese artists struggling to find an audience (and buyers!) for their creations: towering papier mache motorcycles, paintings created by “boxing” the canvas and graphic novels depicting their own troubled relationship, is both tender and finely-crafted.  Rating: 3 shots of sake

“Byzantium”–Irish Goth with some serious teeth

In one week, I found myself viewing two vampire films!  Both closer in spirit to “The Hunger” or “Let The Right One In” than “Buffy” or “Twilight”; “Kiss of the Damned” is a campy affair by a first-time filmmaker but “Byzantium” is a classy, Gothic drama helmed by Neil Jordan.  Outstanding performances by the female leads, the beautiful and very sexy, Gemma Arterton and the other-worldly, wiser-than-her-years, Saoirse Ronan bring this British Turn of the Century vampire tale to life.

Period costumes, a unique creation story and the always excellent, Sam Riley, add to this dark story of teen angst.  What to do when your mother turns your home into a house of ill repute  to support you?  When your boyfriend already looks like a vampire (Caleb Landry Jones) but your writing teacher suspects that your creative writing assignment might cut too close to the truth?  Rating: 4 glasses of red, red wine

“Ernest et Celestine”–Can a Bear and a Mouse be friends?

This delightful French 2-D animation has lovely water-color painted backdrops and a sweet story of two unlikely friends trying to survive in a world where creatures  keep to their own kind.  A small misstep in an over-long central bit spent in the mouse dental office but the drawings are so charming that it’s easily forgiven.  One of my favorite films of the festival, “Ernest et Celestine” is a charming film suited for all ages.

Rating: 4 cups of cocoa