>> Saturday, January 23, 2010

U.S. Dramatic Competition. Official description:
Hesher is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it—in a very unexpected way.

TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world—and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van—until he meets TJ.

Hesher is that rare film that manages to be a completely original vision, a thoroughly entertaining story, and a provocative metaphor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings the character of Hesher to life with anger and angst, and Devin Brochu makes quite a splash as the young boy dealing with both the loss of his mother and an unwanted houseguest. Cowriter/director Spencer Susser crafts a multidimensional, darkly humorous film that exhibits an immensely talented storyteller at work.
Yeah, that description didn't help much in determining whether I would like it or not. I picked this solely based on the cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman. I figured they tend to pick interesting projects, so it would be worth it. After all, I plunked down $15 to see this; although, if anything, it is nice to see something that is competing in an actual category.

This is the first Sundance film I've seen in Ogden. I saw New Jersey Drive fifteen years ago at the Tower Theater in SLC. Um, that was kind of a wretched experience. This was much, much better. I got there about a half an hour before the show started. The Egyptian seats 800, so I didn't know if I would have to fight for parking. I skipped the pay lot directly behind the theater and parked a block away in the mall parking lot. Why pay $4 for parking when I can park for free and stretch my legs a bit.

The Egyptian is such a nice theater. That interior always wows me. They had an organist playing until the movie started. Totally gave an old time feel. The showing wasn't sold out. A few rows in the front had plenty of seats. I'd say it was about 97% full.

A few of my photos were a little bit blurry. I felt a little weird taking a camera, but when I walked in there were plenty of other people taking pictures of the theater.

The film itself?

Well, I have seen weirder films for sure. It is definitely an unconventional, bizarre film. Bizarre not in structure but in mood, which is constantly changing yet matches the 13-year-old main character, TJ. I'm sorry, but he doesn't look 13 to me. He looks like he's 12. He's definitely supposed to be small for his age. If he wasn't, then his schoolyard bully wouldn't be able to persistently terrorize him.

There are parts of this that are extremely funny. Parts that are sad. And parts that make you go WTF? The parts of Hesher pulling off some stunt are the best parts, and they happen to be some genuinely funny bits. Hesher, the character, is a total...well, I'm not sure what the best word is to describe him. Live-wire? I wouldn't call him a freak, because there seems to be a method to the "madness." The description calls him an anarchist, which I suppose is true, but he clearly adores Grandma. Dude tells Grandma that smoking pot via a bong is the healthiest way to smoke it. I have no idea if that's true, but if it is...really?

From a review on /Film:
The story follows a 13-year-old kid named T.J. who is living in his elderly Grandmother’s house, along with his depressed pill popping out-of-work father (Wilson). The death of TJ’s mother hit his father very hard, yet TJ seems unaffected, and confused/embarrassed of his father’s emotion-filled state. Through a series of events, TJ meets a young man named Hesher (Levitt), a long haired tattooed head-banging badass, who inserts himself unwillingly into T.J.’s life. The uninvited house guest torments the young teenager while also assuming the role of a troubled mentor. But Hesher is only one of three or four bullies in T.J.’s life. The subplot of the film involves TJ’s relationship with a young grocery story clerk named Nicole (Portman) who saved him during an attack in the store’s parking lot, and becomes the object of TJ’s fantasies. If the plot sounds like it is all over the place, that’s because it is.
True. It goes all over the place. But I wouldn't say TJ is "unaffected." He can't let go of the car his mother died in. If he was "unaffected," then that entire subplot wouldn't exist. I wouldn't call it a "'traveling angel' story" either. Hesher clearly benefits by becoming a member of the household, primarily by hanging out with Grandma. If it's all over the place, it's because the characters are all over the place--the father who can't cope with anything, the kid who is preoccupied by a junked car, his tormentor and a possible mommy-replacement, and an "anarchist" who is just doing whatever whenever.

After all the WTF moments layered into it, as I walked away I felt like I viewed a cinematic form of catharsis. Would I recommend it? Yeah, but it's probably suited towards cinematic adventurers. As I was exiting, I saw a lady who rated it a "fair" on her ballot. Pretty harsh for a film that got a lot of laughs from the audience. And I really do mean A LOT.


A little over 15 years ago...

>> Friday, January 22, 2010

Joint Chiefs chairman John Shalikashvili confers with President Aristide on how to avert a bloodbath of revenge killing during and after the occupation. The National Security Council debates whether General Raoul Cedras should be hunted down as was done with Manuel Noriega in Panama, and less successfully with Mohamed Aidid in Somalia. The Voice of America gears up to replace Haitian Radio with its own broadcasts in Creole.

The working premise of the planners is that if American casualties are held to a minimum by a massive show of force, the president can carry this off without undue damage to his already weakened position at home. Few in the administration believe that a generally unpopular and uncomprehended invasion will improve his position. But barring a last-minute cave-in by the Haitian military junta, there appears to be no way back from invasion. Mr. Clinton must sometimes wonder where he got the idea he could put the world on hold and be a domestic president.
—Daniel Schorr, September 12, 1994, "Haiti Action Signed, Sealed, and Ready for Delivery," Come to Think of It: Notes on the Turn of the Millennium, p. 75


The Decade in Magazine Covers

(Presented by Magazine Publishers of America and the American Society of Magazine Editors. Visit magazine.org for more information.)

Until this video pointed it out, I never noticed the similarity between these two covers:

Just proof to me that Sarah Palin should never be taken seriously as a politician since she has no problem being viewed as a cupcake.


The Cove

>> Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I had wanted to see this back in September after reading the FireDogLake chat with Louie Psihoyos, the director of The Cove. Unfortunately, it wasn't playing anywhere near me because it had played a few weeks earlier in SLC unbeknownst to me.

So I watched it on dvd. Kind of a shame since the underwater photography is so beautiful that it really should be seen on the big screen, but films like these are why documentaries have become so popular. It doesn't just focus on the dolphin slaughter (the water literally becomes so red with blood that you can see it 100 feet in the air), which they show at the end, but also on international whaling politics, history of mercury poisoning in Japan, government corruption and the odd group working together to expose this slaughter.

It's kind of funny seeing the group of people that worked to bring this about including prop makers from Industrial Light and Magic and a pair of free divers. I had never heard of free diving before, but they mentioned in the film that one free diver could dive 300 feet deep and back on one breath! It's one of those skills that normally you'd think they wouldn't be able to use in life, but for this film it was essential in order to place the underwater cameras. Scuba gear wouldn't have worked.

This is a film that couldn't have been made 10 years ago. It's the small and compact nature of digital cameras that allowed these events to be filmed and in such excellent picture quality. The thermal camera they use is a little weird to watch at first, but as they mentioned in the special features, they wouldn't have been able to get their cameras in place without being caught by a policeman and subsequently deported.

The mercury issue, as mentioned in the film, completely destroys any argument for killing the dolphins for their meat. One of the special features on the dvd is an 18-minute segment on mercury. The most interesting point was when they interviewed a bunch of Japanese scientists about mercury. None wanted to be speaking on camera because their funding comes from the government. When they took these scientists out to lunch at a sushi restaurant, none of them ate any sushi. Director Louie Psihoyos said that before he made this film he used to eat fish all the time. He had his blood tested to see what his mercury levels were at the suggestion of the Japanese scientists. He no longer eats as much fish as he used to. Makes me glad that I don't eat fish very often.

There was some talk last summer when this was released that it might receive a Best Picture nomination since there are 10 nominations for that category this year. I would love it if it happened, particularly since some people are put off by the idea of watching this due to the dolphin slaughter footage, but I know it's highly unlikely. That footage is perhaps three or four minutes maximum. The most striking thing you see is how red the water becomes. Really, it's like looking at a small, red sea.

Learn more about the world depicted in “The Cove” at Take Part.


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