SIFF Review: Paper Heart

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE!
Rated PG-13
88 minutes
Paper Heart Productions

4 and 1/2 stars

Charlyne Yi doesn’t believe in love. But it’s not because of past heartbreak. It’s because she’s never felt it before. So she embarks on a project with her best friend, Nick, to meet real couples and hear their stories – all in an attempt to define love and determine whether or not it truly exists or if some people are doomed to remain unloved.

Part documentary, part improvisational narrative, “Paper Heart” is an atypical yet authentic romantic comedy
for people who normally find such things insufferable. For the record, I am one of those people. And “Paper Heart” charmed the jaded pants off of me.

Charlyne and Nick travel around the country interviewing anyone and everyone about love and relationships. They meet young couples and couples married 50 years. They talk to Elvis impersonators at Vegas wedding chapels and academics at universities. Meanwhile, Charlyne tries to make sense of (and resist) her budding relationship with actor Michael Cera. They both play alternate universe versions of themselves, which makes for a pretty bizarre, and totally compelling, love story.

Plus, Charlyne is not your typical leading lady. In fact, she’s a character we rarely see in any film, let alone a rom-com; the boyish woman-child. She’s not one of those fake, sexpot tomboys (i.e. Megan Fox) who wear dirty jeans and pigtails but still know how to give a smoldering sidelong glance. Charlyne is the genuine article; a girl who loves video games and fireworks, doesn’t bathe much and wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do with an eyelash curler. She has huge glasses and a Pee Wee Herman laugh. You get the impression that you could have a great time hanging out with her and she would never ever try to steal your boyfriend.

But she starts the film as a somewhat tragic figure. She’s never had any romantic feelings toward anyone and it’s led her to believe that true love is a myth. She claims that this doesn’t bother her. That she’s mainly curious about love from an academic standpoint. However, it’s clear that the real issue is that she’s never opened herself up to anyone for fear of getting hurt. As a result, her reluctant romance with Cera is as bungling as it is cute.

The true documentary vignettes are just as enjoyable as the driving plot line. They employ puppets and two-dimensional backdrops to illustrate some of the stories that couples tell her about their courtship. Many of the interview locations are quirky and amusing such as a biker bar and a room full of mounted animal heads. These interviews also serve to mirror and foreshadow the fictional story. A romance novelist tells Charlyne that the formula for a love story is always “Romance – conflict – resolution.” It all fits together so perfectly that it’s necessary to remind yourself you aren’t actually watching Yi and Cera fall in love.

Actually, they do a little of the reminding for you. Some of the most hilarious parts involve purposeful breakage of the fourth wall. After their first date, there is an awkward goodbye at Charlyne’s car and then Michael asks “Should I give back my microphone now?” When Charlyne and Michael kiss for the first time, the camera pans around to reveal reaction shots from the crew.

There are also several really sweet moments that let the audience know Charlyne might not be as immune to love as she thinks. The song she writes for Michael (but isn’t sure if she’s going to give to him) is totally heart-rending. At that point, she’s pretty much the only one who can’t see what’s happening. The question is whether or not she will recognize it in time.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Cera once again does his “Michael Cera thing.” Personally, I love his “thing” but know it’s not for everyone, and I agree that it doesn’t always work contextually. But trust me, here it really works.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

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SIFF Profile: Moon

The second best film I’ve seen so far at SIFF (The first being Paper Heart. Review on the way.) is a film that I don’t actually get to review for work because someone else got to it first. But I feel the need to mention it anyway because the more I think about it, the more I like it. That film is Moon. I’m not sure why it’s being marketed as a terrifying space madness film like Sunshine or Solaris. Perhaps it’s to protect the “twist”. But the twist isn’t really a twist. It’s more like a plot point that is revealed pretty early on. The real story is about what Sam Rockwell’s character (conveniently also called Sam) does with that information. Brugos pointed out that the real twist is actually the robot’s role in all of this. And that Kevin Spacey, the voice of the robot, isn’t annoying. It would appear that these days, Spacey is only a tolerable actor when he’s not emoting.

Anyway, here is the trailer. It’s a great trailer in that it makes the film look good. But it also misleads the viewer.

I hesitate to tell you what the deal is with Moon because every other reviewer seems to be keeping it a secret. But I honestly think that does the film a disservice because you go into it expecting one kind of film and getting another. So I’ll tell you the deal under a cut. If don’t want to know the secret, I can confirm what everyone else is saying about Rockwell’s acting. He’s phenomenal. He’s hilarious and can convey 50 conflicting emotions with one glance. If you are a fan of sci-fi at all, you should see Moon. But if you do want to know, I will tell you. Are you ready? Here it is: Continue reading

Film Threat Review: Kiss Napoleon Goodbye

1990
Un-rated
95 minutes
Cult Epics

2 stars

The gritty art film is a bit of a dying art form. Perhaps it’s because it’s so cheap to make a digital film with clear picture and audible dialog these days that no one has the patience for films like “Kiss Napoleon Goodbye”. Fortunately for fans of old school art house, they’re granted new life on DVDs distributed by Cult Epics. So now you can sit in a dark room with your introspective friends and struggle to hear fuzzy audio without even owning a projector or VCR.

“Kiss Napoleon Goodbye” was written by underground spoken word artist Lydia Lunch and directed by someone called Babeth. Lunch also stars along with Don Bajema and Henry Rollins in the story of a married couple (Lunch and Bajema) who move to a castle in the Dutch countryside in an attempt to rekindle their strained marriage. Their attempt is thwarted when the wife invites her ex (Rollins) to visit and is entirely incapable of keeping her hands off of him. I guess we don’t have to wonder why those two kids can’t seem to work it out.

The subplot, if you can call it that, revolves around the ghosts of other people who have lived in this castle, including Napoleon, his mistress, a guy who likes to drill holes in his head, and some bunnies. The spirits of former inhabitants mingle with the current ones to exemplify parallels in their lives. At least I think that’s what it all means. Or maybe it’s a precursor to Keanu and Sandra’s “The Lake House.”

So is it good? Well, that all depends on what you like. It looks great. I love that soft, orange film look (budgetary as it may have been) and the castle (which actually was home to Napoleon at one point) is gorgeous. Lydia Lunch is fairly sexy and spends a good deal of time wearing next to nothing and boning everyone within arm’s reach. But the dialog is cliché and the acting wooden. You know a movie is in trouble when Henry Rollins comes off as the best actor of the bunch. Of course, I missed at least a third of the dialog anyway. I had to turn the volume up to ungodly levels and be careful not to chew or breathe in order to catch what was being said. Usually, I regretted the effort. Though, I suppose that’s part of the point. In the bonus documentary, “Lydia Lunch: Paradoxia & a Predator’s Diary,” Lunch talks about how appalled she was by the budget of “Titanic” and how that money could have gone to feed the world. So spending money to remaster her film would have gone against her principles.

The special features include the aforementioned Lunch doc plus a performance of one her spoken word pieces entitled “It’s a Man’s World.” These are great features if you can really get “Napoleon” and are into anarchic feminist rants. But they are pretty tedious otherwise. Listening to Lunch speak is like having someone read you their diary. Personally, I find her more palatable when she’s in her underwear and making out with Henry Rollins.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

NFT Radar: Atlantic Crossing

On a recent warm Sunday morning, a crowd waited outside the Sunlight Cafe so that they could eat mediocre breakfast indoors. Meanwhile, Atlantic Crossing, with its spacious outdoor patio (direct sunlight, people!) and exceptional brunch menu, was empty. This was a culinary crime. Me, I’m a law-abiding citizen of Yum City. Every dish on their brunch menu is a winner and comes with your choice of Mimosa or Bloody Mary. They do put a LOT of ham on their Eggs Benne. But if you like to look a gift ham in the mouth, there’s always the Florentine option. The Banana Bread Pudding French Toast is decadent but not overwhelming. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go for the Scotch Egg: an egg wrapped in sausage and then fried. But A.C. is more than brunch. Being a pub, they also come equipped with your favorite beers from the British Isles. Their modern twists on traditional pub food are staggeringly clever. They cover all sorts of things in their house made beer battered from fish and chips to avocados and they soak pork in Magners hard cider for their quesadillas. It’s almost as if beer is better off served in food. Almost…


6508 Roosevelt Way NE 98115
206-729-6266
www.atlanticcrossing.com.

X-posted from

Film Threat Review: Empire of Passion

1978
Un-rated
105 minutes
Criterion Collection

3 Stars

My knowledge of Japanese Ghost cinema is relatively limited. It mostly consists of films about killer cell phones and creepy little girls, which were instantly remade in America starring blonde leads. But I assume “Empire of Passion” is regarded with veneration or else they wouldn’t have bothered to release a Criterion DVD. So are all the Japanese classics this insane? Or is it just the ghost stories?

“Empire of Passion” is a cautionary tale about what happens when you fall in love with your rapist. Seki is a lonely housewife living in the 19th-century Japanese countryside. She is mother to two children and wife to Gisaburo, the town rickshaw driver. Seki passes the time by eating pastries with a younger man named Toyoji. One day, Toyoji finds Seki napping with her young son, and decides that because he can see down her kimono, she’s asking for it. Cue the first of many, many rape scenes!

After a while, Seki starts to fall for her overbearing rapist boyfriend (maybe it’s the moustache) and he convinces her that the key to their happiness is killing her husband. They concoct a very convincing story about how he’s just gone to Tokyo to work. People buy it for a while, and aren’t even upset that the only rickshaw driver in town has moved away. Unfortunately for our wholesome couple, Gisaburo’s ghost turns up three years later to haunt, well, everyone. He shows up in dreams, he shows up in Seki’s living room and he taunts Toyoji. It’s not so much the guilt as it is the idea of getting caught that eventually leads to Seki and Toyoji’s undoing. It plays out like a fairy tale but instead of a prince and princess, we have a rapist and a wet blanket as leads.

Not that “Empire of Passion” isn’t entertaining. It’s a messed up country love story with Hitchcockian flair, Shakespeare morality, and a Lynchian mentally challenged character thrown in for good measure. I was riveted throughout. It’s just not the most accessible of worlds. Seki is a pathetic sack who is constantly sobbing. She cries when she’s raped and she cries when she’s not being raped enough. She isn’t the slightest bit cool when the town policeman comes to question her. She’s a terrible mother and not just because she helped murder her baby daddy. Her daughter tells her she’s running away from home because her dad’s ghost shared some interesting information with her. Seki’s response is all “OK! See you! [SOB!!]”

Toyoji is evil enough to rape and kill, but not diabolical enough to even try to get away with it. I don’t have a lot of experience hiding bodies, but I do know one thing. You probably shouldn’t make daily visits to the well in which you’ve stashed said body and fill it with leaves. It might draw just the tiniest bit of attention to the grave.

The last third of the movie is mostly Gisaburo’s ghost silently haunting his murderers and Toyoji and Seki taking turns freaking out about whether or not he’s ratted them out. Visually, it’s interesting, but because Toyoji and Seki are so unsympathetic, it gets a little tedious. Frankly, I was left wishing for a few more rape scenes.

The DVD features a beautiful restored, HD digital transfer full of rich colors as well as interviews with the actors, production staff and a video essay explaining why this murder/rapefest is an important film.

Originally posted from FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

MacGruber!

Cinematical reports that a MacGruber film may be in the works. They suggest that the sketch is funny in small doses but perhaps a longer format would venture into Rob Schneider territory. That would indeed be a tragedy. But I couldn’t even stand 2 minutes of Rob Schneider and I think Will Forte is one of the funniest current SNL cast members. I also really enjoy his irreverent guest spots on “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job”. So am I prepped for an hour an a half of MacGruber? YES INDEEDY! Of course, I may have been the only person on Earth who enjoyed The Brothers Solomon.

NFT Radar: Seattle Laser Dome

If you’re looking for great recession time entertainment, (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) you should really check out Laser Dome at the Pacific Science Center. Sure, most of the audience is comprised of teenagers looking to hang with their crushes in the dark. But there’s also loud rock n’ roll…and LASERS! They have classic shows like “Pink Floyd: The Wall” and “Laser Queen,” and they’re always adding limited engagements for contemporary bands like Radiohead and Muse. It never hurts to sneak in some beers in your tummy. But even in a sober state, lasers are pretty cool. Especially when they depict robot battles. It’s already cheaper than a movie but there are even more ways to save at Laser Dome. Thursday is “cheap date night” at $5 a pop. Concessions on Friday and Saturday are just $2. They have $1 weekend matinees with your PSC ticket. Teen admission is always $5. Best of all, it’s a live show, which means there’s a guy in the booth customizing each performance. If the crowd is keen, he’ll even do an encore. Besides, you should support the Pacific Science Center because financially, it’s not doing so hot. The people need their science!


200 2nd Ave N 98109
(206) 443-2850
www.seattlelaserdome.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.