Monday, January 21, 2008

A reader bemoaned yesterday that the 2008 Clarion University - Venango Campus Independent Film Series was not yet online. So I typed. And typed. And typed (and cut and paste...) Emily, please put me on your PR list. Please. I'll bring you a cookie when I go to see Half-Nelson. I promise. All films are free, in Rhoades Center Auditorium and start at 7:30pm

Who is that strange boy sitting quietly in the corner of a bus full of screaming fans going to the football match? In fact, this shy boy is a girl in disguise. She is not alone; women also love football in Iran. Before the game begins, she is arrested at the checkpoint and put into a holding pen by the stadium with a band of other women all dressed up as men. They will be handed over to the vice squad after the match. But before this, they will be tortured -- they must endure every cheer, every shout of a game they cannot see. Worse yet, they must listen to the play-by-play account of a soldier who knows nothing about football. Yet, these young girls just won’t give up. They use every trick in the book to see the match.

Jafar Panahi’s films are often described as Iranian neo-realism. Although all of his films, including Offside, have been banned by Iran, he continues to make movies which explore the very human side of the conflicts in his native country. In the case of Offside, he used a fake name and false papers in order to get permission to shoot at an actual soccer match in Iran. As a result, Offside has a documentary feel which captures the very real humor and determination of the Iranian women – and men – who love soccer and are willing to go to extreme lengths for the opportunity to cheer on the home team.

Nobody Knows, an extraordinary film from Japanese director Kore-Eda Hirokazu, is a heartbreaking and touching story about how selfish a single mother can be to her four children, and how resilient children can be. Kicked out of several apartments for her large brood, Keiko (Japanese pop star You) sneaks them in to a new one (two inside the suitcases) and goes over the house rules: No loud noises. They must stay hidden inside the apartment all day, every day. Only Akira, the oldest, leaves to do grocery shopping while she works. He also makes dinner while Keiko goes out on dates (implying to her children that she's looking for a rich husband so that they can all live in a big house together). One day, Keiko (not a villain, but an unsympathetic, helium-voiced child herself) announces she's going away for a few weeks to work. She soon emerges every few months, only to drop off money before taking off again, at one point, for good. Akira forgoes any normal 12-year-old's upbringing (even school) to play mother, father, even Santa Claus to his siblings. There's a trapped feeling in Nobody Knows. For the younger kids, it's the inability to escape to the outside world. For Akira, it's seeing the outside world and knowing he has too many responsibilities to participate in it--when he tries, the results are disastrous. As the children grow up and resources become more scarce, the film's tenacity to show every painful detail of their existence slows the pace to almost a standstill. Still, it's a lovely, haunting tale beset with unforced performances from its young actors, particularly Yagira, who won the best actor prize at Cannes. -- Ellen A. Kim

  • Feb 16 March 1- No Country for Old Men (R)
The Coen brothers make their finest thriller since Fargo with a restrained adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day Western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet who could use a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with $2 million. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way--or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II vet, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful--except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

"I'm going," says a lovely, understated Julie Christie, in a heart-wrenching moment of recognition that Alzheimer's is slowly descending on her. "But I'm not gone." Away from Her, the directorial debut of young Canadian actress Sarah Polley, allows two themes--the growth of love, and the limits of the mind--to intertwine, uplift, fall, and rise again, throughout its arc. What should be relentlessly depressing is instead a film of great courage, humor, defiance--and a quality that Christie's character, Fiona, calls out in another defining moment: grace. Away from Her chronicles a love story between Fiona and her longtime husband, Grant, played with bearlike stolidity by Gordon Pinsett, as the couple struggle with the onset and acceleration of Fiona's Alzheimer's disease. Moments of lucidity and wry observation pepper Fiona's decline, and Christie gives an unforgettable performance as a woman who is both ordinary and singular to those whom she's touched. The story is set against a frigid Canadian winter, with fields of snow as a background underscoring the bleakness of Fiona's diagnosis; yet life is constant and surprising, in the call of a meadowlark or the resurrected memory of a skunk lily. A scene of Fiona out for her daily cross-country ski shows Christie's gorgeous, sensual face in closeup against the snow, framed by a babushka, reminding the viewer of a similar scene of the decades-younger Christie in Dr. Zhivago. It's impossible not to be touched by the gifts of this extraordinary actress, through the life of this everywoman, whose very presence is shot through with grace. --A.T Hurley

Sometimes people are attracted to each other because of their differences. When there's a nebulous attraction between a teacher and a young teenage child--as in the superb Half Nelson--the relationship has all the makings of confused disaster. Though there are a few uncomfortable moments when it's not obvious whether Dan (Ryan Gosling) and Drey (Shareeka Epps) might cross the line, the attraction between the pair is culled less from sexual tension than desperation. Dan is an idealistic history teacher in an inner-city school. Drey is one of his brightest students. For both, drugs represent something that may help them escape their worlds. He takes drugs to dull his dissatisfaction with himself. She views drugs as a possible way to better her life, even though she knows her brother's foray into that trade landed him in jail. Bleakly filmed and well told, Half Nelson soars because of the immaculate acting by Gosling and Epps. With his impish smile, Gosling provides a character that is at once disarming, alluring, and pitiful. As the young girl who's already seen too much hardship in her life, Epps plays her part with just the right amount of hardened raw emotion. While the ambiguous ending may not please fans weaned on happy Hollywood finales, it's a fitting and believable close to a thought-provoking film. --Jae-Ha Kim

  • March 29 - Saawariya (PG)

  • April 5 - Atonement (R)

  • April 12 - Juno (PG-13)

  • April 19 - Waterhorse (PG)
Based on a novel by Dick King-Smith, author of The Sheep Pig (from which Babe was adapted), the touching and often spectacular The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep ingeniously presumes to explain the truth behind "Nessie," i.e., the Loch Ness Monster. The story, told in present day to a couple of American tourists by a kindly gentleman (Brian Cox) in a pub, begins with a lonely boy, Angus (Alex Etel), pining for his father, who is serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. Angus, along with his sister (Priyanka Xi) and mother (Emily Watson), live on an estate that has been billeted by soldiers in the Scottish Highlands, near Loch Ness. The troop’s commander (David Morissey) has an eye for mom, suspicions about a mysterious handyman, Lewis (Ben Chaplin), who is also a war hero, and an absurd contention that the Highlands are the real frontline in the war against Germany.

Into this intriguing drama comes a completely different element, a fantastical creature of Celtic mythology that befriends Angus and is, in fact, the sea-beast who will eventually be known as the Loch Ness Monster. Trying to hide the dinosaur-like fellow, nicknamed Crusoe, Angus enlists Lewis to transfer it to the lake, where boy and serpent have extraordinary adventures together until human stupidity threatens Crusoe’s existence. A true family film, there is a lot for adults to like about the grownup story in The Water Horse. Meanwhile, the wistful relationship between Angus and Crusoe--each of whom helps the other move past obstacles toward their individual destinies--will leave children feeling both happy and melancholy in the best possible sense. Directed by Jay Russell (My Dog Skip), The Water Horse is the best of a mini-genre of films about or inspired by old Nessie. --Tom Keogh

When a movie can blend passionate social concern with good old-fashioned suspense, it must be doing something right. Maria Full of Grace scores high on both counts. Maria is a Colombian teenager who, for a large paycheck, agrees to be a mule for drug-runners: she has to swallow dozens of thumb-sized capsules of heroin and smuggle them into New York. This debilitating process is painstakingly described, and of course not everything goes as planned when Maria and her fellow mules land in America. Director Joshua Marston is working on a low budget, which explains the film's narrow, single-minded focus--but this may be a strength, not a weakness. The trump card is the lead performance of Catalina Sandrino Moreno, who won awards at the Seattle and Newport Film Festivals. Her empathetic face carries us along on Maria's journey, and humanizes a problem that is too easily relegated to a headline. --Robert Horton

Wow, Mary Dressel, who writes and self-publishes romance novels about the town of "Enchantment" based on Franklin, has a new one out already! This one's called Enchantment's Embrace. I'm headed to the library tomorrow to see if they have a copy to see how the city is portrayed.

Pat Stewart, photographer and nursing student at Venango Campus, will open her photo exhibition "From Bonaire to Bali and Back" with a free and open reception from 6:30 -8pm Jan 25th at Rhoades Center at the Clarion-Venango Campus.

Bunim-Murray Productions will be casting MTV’s The Real World Season 21 in Pittsburgh (Saturday Feb 2nd at Boomerang's Bar & Grille) and are in need of casting assistants. Job includes casting outreach, helping with the open call and assisting casting directors in the interview process.

Applicants must be hardworking self-starters with good communication skills. To apply please email us the information requested below. You MUST include in the subject line "Pittsburgh CASTING ASSISTANT” to be considered for the job.
Phone Number:
Previous Experience:
Why you are right for this job:

A video production company located in Grove City is searching of a host for a project. The on-camera work will be shot in front of a green screen and the voice-overs will be done in GC. Email for more information.

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shaylyn said...

thank you for the list! i really appreciate it.

Emily said...

Sorry about that-we're feverishly working to get the spring stuff online. We did succeed, though, in having the series run weekly in the Good Times. I'll get you on the PR list.

PS-the dates for Half Nelson and No Country for Old Men have been switched. There was a release delay for NCFOM...

Dittman said...

Thanks Emily! Cookie preferences? ;)