Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Readers, I've been remiss.
After a demanding Edinburgh International Film Festival I spent some quiet time at home before continuing my summer sabbatical back at my home-from-home in California. I've been busy working on my Masters portfolio, and spent the last week in San Diego at Comic Con. It's been a time of absence, so I couldn't think of a better way to thank you for sticking around than hosting another giveaway!
I'm a little late out of the gate on this one - the words 'Watch Animal Kingdom' have been written on my to-do list every week for about 2 months. Despite the lack of a personal recommendation, though, I can assure you that this film is very much worth watching (and if you don't trust these guys, I don't know who you'll believe).
Animal Kingdom is an Australian family crime-drama directed by David Michod and starring the enigmatic Guy Pearce. The gripping tale of the seventeen year-old child of a criminal family and the detective who tries to save him, it's been hailed as a brutal and captivating depiction of Melbourne’s criminal underbelly.
So let's keep this one simple. For a chance to win one of three copies of Animal Kingdom on DVD, courtesy of Optimum Releasing, answer the following question in the comments:
What's your favourite thing to come out of Australia? (It can be a book, a film, a person, anything.)
For an additional entry, tweet the following message:
Win Animal Kingdom on DVD at Uncultured Critic! http://bit.ly/oU12nx
Entries close on Friday 5th August, and a winner will be picked at random.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook to keep up-to-date with the latest from Uncultured Critic, and a Comic Con round-up is coming soon.
Read on: Comic Con Round-Up; A Better Life Awaits (Interview with Chris Weitz)
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Chris Weitz is a filmmaker who isn't afraid to do his own marketing. "I've emailed every single living human being I know."
The producer-director's latest feature, A Better Life, enjoyed its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival on the same date as its US release. "I'm very excited to be in Edinburgh - I haven't been here in 20 years! I acted in a play in the Edinburgh Fringe, which was very quickly forgotten - and a good thing that is too." But I doubt he'd say the same about his film.
"A Better Life is about a father and his son. The father is a Mexican gardener and illegal immigrant in Los Angeles, and his son is born in the States. The father is trying to work and put food on the table, and the son doesn't really appreciate it because he hasn't had any time to spend with him. An adventure ensues, and they learn how to express their love for one another."
With a stand-out performance from Demián Bichir, the Mexican lead actor is already well on his way to living the American dream. "It's a titanic performance," says Weitz, "it's really extraordinary. It's already getting a lot of Oscar buzz back in the States, which is gratifying because he really deserves it."
Though set on the breadline of Los Angeles within a very specific cultural setting, Weitz is confident that the film has universal appeal. "The immigrant story was important to me because my Grandmother is Mexican, and she moved to America when she was 17. I think it's a global issue now, people from poorer countries wanting to get into wealthier countries. Of course there's a tremendous amount of resistance to that. But once you look through the eyes of someone who is actually living that struggle, you begin to understand the human toll of it. It's an incredibly specific film: some if it is in Spanish, and much of it is in an LA dialect, but the fact that it's about the story of father and son makes it universal."
Off the back of this global release, Chris has a message to be spread, "I would also like [Edinburgh audiences] to call all of their friends in America and tell them to watch it. And to watch it themselves when it opens here."
A Better Life opens in UK cinemas on Friday 29 July.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Documentarian Liz Garbus began a personal journey to know a man on the day of his death. His name was Bobby Fischer. "I first became interested in the story on January 18, 2008. A very precise day because I was reading Bobby Fischer's obituary." From that moment, she became obsessed with making a film about one of the world's all-time greatest chess players.
"The film follows the story of Bobby Fischer and the great match of 1972 when he, a lone American, took on the Soviet Tzars of the sport of chess. The Soviets had been dominating the sport for decades and it was the midst of the Cold War, so this match took on enormous importance. But the film also explores the psychology of Bobby Fischer and the weight of celebrity and the mantle of being a genius and the toll that can take on an individual."
Fischer was almost as famous for his anti-semitic rants in the last decade as he was for his agility on the board. A search on YouTube, Garbus says, will find hours of Bobby's raving. But Bobby Fischer Against the World takes a step back from modern lore and buries deep into his past to find the real Bobby Fischer. "I think when you listen to someone for 5 minutes rant about the United States or rant about the Jews you would be disgusted and angry, but I think when you listen to it for 200 hours, as we did, you understand that it's the raving of somebody who is not in full control of their faculties. It's actually a tragedy what happened to this great great mind."
Garbus brings back the 'old' Bobby, one whose charisma and keen wit on talk shows as a 15 year-old US Chess Champion have been long since forgotten. Reviving his life story along with professional and personal friends from his life, Garbus captures the poetry of chess, a devotion to a game, its infinite complexity, and its profound effect upon one great mind. "I don't think that the film is for chess fans or not for chess fans. The film is about Bobby Fischer, and Bobby Fischer was one of the greatest chess players who ever lived - to give a little insight into chess and what made Bobby such an extraordinary player."
Monday, July 4, 2011
James Marsh returned to Edinburgh International Film Festival last month with his sophomore feature documentary, Project Nim. His last film, Man on Wire, which saw Frenchman Philippe Petit tightrope walk across New York City's Twin Towers, had its European Premiere at the same festival in 2008 and went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary. I caught up with the Oscar-winner to find out more about the life and times of Nim Chimpsky.
"Project Nim is the story about a chimpanzee that's taken from its family when it's born and given to a human family to bring up as if it were a human child," says Marsh. "The idea is to see if it can learn language in the way that human children do. In a sense it's about nature and nurture: a chimp has a certain nature, so what will come out when he's brought up a human being will be very interesting. The film takes that idea and then follows this chimpanzee from the moment he's born until he dies."
Drawing upon a wealth of archive footage from the 1970s language experiment led by Dr Herbert Terrace at Colombia University, Marsh tells the story of the beleaguered study that attempted to identify whether chimpanzees were able to understand and communicate using American Sign Language. Linguistics were at the heart of the study, but its trajectory took on a series of human-ape relationships with progressively more baffling, questionable, and dangerous consequences.
Alongside staged interviews with key characters -- including the project director; the family with whom Nim first resided; and Nim's human teachers -- archive footage and voiceover narratives meld to give a bigger, more intense, and ultimately hindsight rich history of events. Is there a trick to to finding engaging interview subjects? "I think the reason they're good storytellers is because this means something to them. They have a very strong memory of something that meant something to them in their lives," says Marsh. "So there's a big imprint of that story on them and I think that they're able to tell that story well, but also to tell that with feeling and to connect back to how they felt at that time." Indeed, as Nim is ushered from a private school all his own to an Oklahoma sanctuary, and eventually into horrific AIDS animal-testing labs, the timeline of the film grows dark. "Many of the people involved have a lot of regret about what happened and I think that also prompts them to be more confessional, perhaps, about what they went through while spending time with the chimpanzee."
Taking a cinematic approach to documentary story-telling, Marsh weaves simple reconstructions with engrossing interviews to tell the life story of a subject that's almost human. "We're so often sentimental about animal's behaviour and projecting things onto them. This was an attempt to see what the animal is actually like." Marsh himself identifies with Nim on a close-to-human level "What I liked about Nim more than anything else that he showed me was that he is by nature a hedonist, and so am I. Therefore, we're hard-wired, he and I. Nim likes to take drugs and smoke cigarettes when he can, and I'm the same." Though there are more similarities of which to speak, doing so might spoil the surprise. "There's some very big surprises in Nim's story that I'd rather find out for yourself."
Along with surprises, there are a number of elements of Nim's story that Marsh is charged with missing out. As is inevitable in feature filmmaking, Marsh chose the human story of relationships with Nim over the scientific background of the experiment. Shrinking down the science has reportedly sparked aggrieved comments from Dr Terrace, but Marsh has confidence. "There were quite a few stories that, you know, you leave out because you're trying to make a film efficient. If I've done my job right I'm telling you a story," says Marsh, pointedly, "and if I told the story well enough it has many different ideas in it."
Project Nim is released in US from Friday 8 July, and in UK cinemas on Friday 12 August.