Friday April 25, 2003

I’m going to have to be short tonight. I’m currently at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival which Rotten Tomatoes is “sort of” sponsoring. I say “sort of” because we didn’t actually put any money in (not like the old DR days when we actually HAD money to sponsor things like Wushu stuff), but provided alot of free advertising promotion on our site as well as powered their forums. It’s been a long two days, but here are some highlights:

I’ve been perpetually bumping into Eric Byler, the director of Charlotte Sometimes. He’s an up-and-coming director and probably the only other Asian American guy (well, actually HAPA) my age around here. Charlotte Sometimes is going to be playing at the festival on Saturday — handpicked by The Big Thumb himself. Besides Eric and Ebert, I’ve never met anyone else at this festival before so it’s been a pretty lonely affair.

Actaually, I should correct that: The movies have been a great joy to watch (with one humorous exception), but the time between the pictures is pretty much just uncomfortable solitude interspersed with my fumbling attempts at conversation with some filmmakers and film critics.

Amongst my more fumbling attempts, I went up to Neil Labute, a director that I greatly admire, and fumbled over my words and gave him a RT t-shirt. I already knew that he was a fan of Rotten Tomatoes since he e-mailed us earlier about some missing reviews for the horrible Possession. Of course, I didn’t mention my dislike for Possession, but I did emphasize the fact that I saw a stage production of The Shape of Things and was eagerly awaiting it’s theatrical debut. Actually, I just looked at the RT page and it’s currently slightly rotten. Doh… The funny thing is that he was in the elevator ride up with me, Eric, and Mark Caro (film critic from the Chicago Tribune) and I was a bit too nervous to talk to him directly. Thank god that Eric was composed enough to tell him that the RT t-shirt that Neil was carrying in his hand was the same t-shirt that he (Eric) wear all the time.

Other moments of social awkwardness: Jacqueline Kim, star of Charlotte Sometimes walked into the large movie theater and asked a couple in front of me if the seat next to them was free. I recognized her from the film right away and told her (unsolicited) that the seat next to me was free. I think she thought that I was hitting on her because she gave me a slightly betwixt look. In any case, I tried to recover by introducing myself and shaking her hand and asking her if she was, indeed, Jacqueline Kim. Unfortunately, I think this might have freaked her out a little more based on the next expression on her face (glancing around to see if there were other seats further away from the freakazoid). Finally, I told her I had recognized her from the film which I saw in San Jose at the SFIAAFF and that, in fact, I had met Eric years ago before the film was ever made so it was great to see his finished product on the screen with her on it. Uncomfortable silence ensues… I don’t think I quite recovered from that awkward conversation and I felt completely uneased while watching Blood and Wine with her sitting in front of me.

Okay, the final awkward story actually occured this morning. I was invited by Professor Nate Kohn, the director of the festival, to sit on this morning’s panel on “What Use is Film Criticism?” with a bunch of film critics. I let him know several weeks ago that I would be able to participate, but that as a programmer and NOT a film critic, I probably wouldn’t be the most qualified speaker. In any case, the panel consisted of some 10-15 people — so large, in fact, that they didn’t have either a table or microphone for me and I was relegated to the very end of the platform. It’s a bit daunting having to sit without cover for the whole panel. Film critics are a very vocal bunch so I was only able to insert any comments after one of the audience members, a UofI Film professor, specifically asked for my opinion since so many of her students were RT fans. That was pretty nice of her… I don’t think I would have spoken up otherwise because it would have meant interrupting one of the other panelists.

Chris Gore from Film Threat was on the panel, too, and I was a bit fearful of meeting him — Film Threat has such a maverick reputation amongst hardcore indie movie fans and I was a bit afraid that he’d consider us as unfriendly competition. However, despite all of that, he was actually really friendly throughout the day the couple of times we bumped into each other and actually began complementing the site (although he confused one feature that he especially liked with a feature that only exists on MetaCritic).

Oh… the movies. The Right Stuff on the big screen rules all! Unfortunately, the print was scratchy and the guests were a bit too removed from the main talent (e.g. none were the GREAT Philip Kaufman, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Tom Wolfe, Sam Shepard). It’s still one of my favorite movies of all time and watching it on the big screen makes me love it all the more.

I watched FOUR movies today… Stone Reader is a great, entertaining little documentary that should play really well to anyone who has a love of reading. Ranch: You might want to hunt down a copy/screening of this movie because they’re especially marketing it to librarians. Alot of the movie takes place in libraries and basically involves the director of the movie’s search for a one-hit wonder author who wrote The Great American Novel — no, not Salinger… an unknown author named Dow Mossman who, by the end of the movie, becomes almost mythic folkhero to the captive movie audience. Very entertaining and with a fantastic payoff at the end.

The next film was — different. Ebert wanted to introduce the Japanese lost filmic genre of benshii. Basically, benshi’s were live performers who narrated and provided spoken dialogue to silent films in the early 20th century in Japan. The benshi were stars of their time, bigger even than the stars on the screen. Well, the artform disappeared with the advent of the Talkies, but has recently been revived in Japan and, oddly enough, Mexico. A troupe of Japanese-Mexican benshi singers performed live as a silent Mexican film played on-screen. Some things you can only take in small doses… for some unintelligable reason, the singers decided to perform the movie in a mismatched mixture of Spanish, Japanese, English, and when the occaision arose, half a dozen other languages including about two minutes of various dog barking sounds. Strange strange strange. It was an intellectual curiosity for about ten minutes before it descended into a major headache.

Neil Labute’s Your Friends and Neighbors played next which I enjoyed alot — I think. I don’t think you can really embrace this movie because it contains so much cruelty in it, but I do really appreciate it and would recommend it to my friends (but definitely not my mother). I really love Labute’s writing and his skill with characters. He’s often compared to the infinitely inferior Todd Solondz (in my humble opinion) but is a far more gifted writer, I think. Labute has a love for his characters even if they are often morally repugnant. The best satire laughs at it’s subject, but also partially has a love for it. I feel like Solondz is just there for shock value and gets cheap laughs with no empathy for his characters. He’s basically a literary bully to his own creations. Labute, on the other hand, is so gifted at making the audience shocked, laugh, but most importantly, IDENTIFY/EMPATHIZE with his characters. Strange thing is that despite his tendency for writing such extreme characters and the fact that, along with Mamet and Lonnergan, he might just be the most sought-after playwright these days, he seems to be a really normal guy in person and lives/writes from his home in a small suburb of Chicago.

Finally, the GREAT Bob Rafelson was here for the screening of the Jack Nicholson thriller, Blood and Wine. After reading Raging Bulls, Easy Riders, the chronicle of the great filmmakers of the late 60’s/early 70’s, Rafelson stands like a larger than life character in my mind. The movie is from the mid-90’s and costars Michael Caine and Jennifer Lopez (in her first film role) and would be a very standard procedural heist thriller if it weren’t for some really superbly written and expressed character details. Another very strong movie that manages to rise above the standard thriller…

In any case, I got up at 8am and pretty much watched about 9 hours of movies today so I’m going to hit the sack.

Tomorrow includes 2.5 days more of movies. I THINK I’m enjoying myself, but I’ll have to tell you later.

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