Tag Archives: Film

Jose Vargas

The 12th Annual USF Human Rights Film Festival

Change the World from the Big Screen

What’s a school devoted to social justice without a three day film festival dedicated to human rights?

USF will host its 12th Annual Human Rights Film Festival the first weekend of April, in effort to promote awareness and dialogue about global human rights abuses occurring around the world and in our own backyard.

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(Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The odds are far from Katniss Everdeen’s favor in the second installment of “The Hunger Games” series.  Back in District 12, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) prepares for the “Victory Tour,” following her win in the previous 74th Hunger Games. She discovers that her defiance of the Capitol in the previous film has ignited a rebellion throughout the nation’s districts. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pays visit to District 12 to instruct Katniss that she need not only convince each district of her love for Peeta as the reason for her actions but also convince Snow himself.

“Remember who the real enemy is,” the phrase of mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), sets the tone for the 75th annual Hunger Games Quarter Quell. The last stop on the “Victory Tour” leaves Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in the Capitol. This time they are thrown back into yet another Hunger Games, only to be surrounded by fellow victors of earlier games.

The supporting cast features a number newcomers to the film. Sam Clafin (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) as Finnick Odair, and Jena Malone (“Sucker Punch,” “Donnie Darko”) as Johanna Mason bring a sense of danger to their roles as they form an alliance with Jeffrey Wright (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Casino Royale”) and Amanda Plummer (“Pulp Fiction”) as the eccentric and genius characters Beetee and Wiress.  Actress Elizabeth Banks, portrays the role of Effie Trinket as seen in the first movie, but this time we see the injustices infringed upon her and how much she truly cares for the victors.

I recommend viewers to watch the film in IMAX to enhance the experience.

Although the first “Hunger Games” movie remained true to its book, “Catching Fire” captured Suzanne Collins’ story like no other sequel movie has done. Often, literature adaptations fail to embody the very essence of the story itself, and in doing so fail to succeed in reviews. “Catching Fire” encompassed all the elements of the book: action, sacrifice, emotion, and a looming sense of danger.

“Catching Fire” played in 4,163 locations in North America, dominating the box office during opening weekend. Lionsgate increased the budget to an estimated $140 million; the first movie had a set budget of $78 million. This budget went into visual effects, use of IMAX cameras, and due to the sequel’s story line, more expansive filming was needed.

I recommend viewers to watch the film in IMAX to enhance the experience. Each scene is deeper and darker, and the surround sound will throw you off your seat. It will be as if you entered the film itself.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

“Nebraska”: A Successful Black and White Midwestern Film of 2013

Watching “Nebraska,” the new film from director Alexander Payne, is a bit like flying home to visit your family at Christmas. You’ll laugh, you’ll get weepy, you’ll love till it hurts, and you’ll probably — more than once — feel an intense desire to punch someone in the face. “Nebraska,” in short, takes every emotion and experience of a family get-together and paints them liberally, with both Midwestern grit and artistic nuance, into a breezy 110-minute film. It’s deliriously good.

The film stars acting legend Bruce Dern (you may recognize him from a brutal cameo in “Django Unchained”) as Woody Grant, a crotchety, increasingly senile old man on a mission: to get from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to claim $1 million from one of those bogus sweepstake ads. Along the way, he visits his rapidly disappearing hometown in addition to his equally antiquated extended family. Dern carries the film with equal parts hardheaded swagger and fragile vulnerability: a role that truly shows his talents as an actor. Dern won a well-deserved Palm d’Or, the highest prized award, at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance. I’ll be shocked if he isn’t considered an Oscar frontrunner.

Despite his lofty win, Dern spoke humbly about his achievement as a reflection of the entire film, praising writer Bob Nelson’s script: “The French — they got it, which surprised me because they’re reading subtitles…You just do the story; the story’s on the page.”

The film is shot in black and white, which, although probably not essential, does give the viewer the sense of the stark, disappearing Midwest.

The film also stars Will Forte as David Grant, Woody’s youngest son, who agrees to drive him to Nebraska. Forte, best known for his wacky characters and impersonations on “Saturday Night Live,” proves that he is perfectly capable of providing some seriousness. His performance is completely genuine, and I look forward to seeing more of him in similar roles.

Fortunately, despite getting teased from Dern (“He’s out in Cloudy with Meatballs Part Two — I mean, how dramatic do you want him to be?”), Forte seemed enthusiastic about this change of pace for his career. “I’m really so proud to be in this movie. I would love to have more opportunities like this,” said Forte.

The supporting cast is top notch as well. June Squibb plays Kate Grant — Woody’s wife and David’s mother — a foul-mouthed, miserably married woman dealing with Woody’s dementia and pig-headedness. Squibb is a true, live wire.

Stacy Keach also makes a memorable appearance as the scheming Ed Peagram, Woody’s old business partner. Despite acting pleasant and pleased for Woody, Peagram quickly takes advantage of him, trying to weasel out a cut of the money. When asked if either of them had experienced a similar kind of pressure, Forte and Dern had differing responses. Forte complimented his friends and explained his growing ability to choose the right people with whom to spend time: “I have a wonderful group of friends. You just kind of evolve as a friend-chooser.” Dern, however, has gotten plenty of requests. “Can you get me an interview with him? Can I meet Jack [Nicholson]? They press their advantage.” Dern also admitted, with a wry smile, of being “just as much a whore as anybody.” He once crossed off Harry Dean Stanton’s name from a casting director’s register and put his own name down, taking Stanton’s prime 3 o’clock slot.

Overall, “Nebraska” is excellent at creating comedy out of everyday family experiences. Nothing feels forced and most of the jokes are simple — the kind of thing that would naturally happen and cause a quick giggle to ripple across a dinner table. (You couldn’t keep a straight face if you heard a karaoke version of “In the Ghetto” at a cheap steakhouse, could you?) The obvious contrast between Woody’s sons and his Nebraskan relatives also provides some of the funniest moments in the film, as does Woody’s increasingly poor ability to pay attention.

The film is shot in black and white, which, although probably not essential, does give the viewer the sense of the stark, disappearing Midwest. It also contributes to the difficult relationship between Woody and his son. Alexander Payne’s film is very nuanced, with nearly every shot set up to provide artistic or emotional depth. It is a graceful film, full of warmth and heart, and one that anyone could and should enjoy.

Rating: ★★★★★

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures


The Whimsical World of Wes Anderson

The trailer for Wes Anderson’s latest indie flick, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was released last week. For those of you who are not familiar with Wes Anderson, here is a brief guide on the film director and his incredible movies.

Wes Anderson has created, written, and directed many iconic pieces of cinema. It all started when he met actor Owen Wilson in college, and decided to write and direct a short film. When “Bottle Rocket” was released in 1994, it was well-received, and Anderson and Wilson were given money to make it into a feature film. This was the first film Anderson directed, and the first film you should watch when diving into the world of Wes Anderson. The story is about of three friends and their overly elaborate plan to pull a very simple robbery and make a run for it. The main characters are brothers Luke and Owen Wilson, who appear in a majority of Anderson’s work. “Bottle Rocket” is a hysterical crime comedy that will give you a sense of the unique, artistic style that all of Anderson’s films possess.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” is Anderson’s most star studded movie featuring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray. The film tells the story of an estranged family of prodigies who reunite after their father, Royal Tenenbaum, announces that he has a terminal illness. The screenplay is exceptional, and the humor is distinctive to Wes Anderson. You are guaranteed to laugh. The characters in “The Royal Tenenbaums” are so well-developed that you really feel like you know them by the end of the film. This is a one-of-a-kind movie and a must-see.

If you like extremely quirky humor, “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is perfect for you. Starring Bill Murray, the film is about Steve Zissou, an oceanographer who lost his partner to a mythical shark creature. He rallies a team of people, including his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) and his “maybe” biological son (Owen Wilson), to find his partner. “The Life Aquatic” is an adventure, drama, and comedy all balled up into one enjoyable film. Murray’s performance as the irreplaceable Steve Zissou is phenomenal as he makes the film his own.

Anderson’s films are whimsical, and it is almost like he paints the scenes to create the highly stylized visuals that are present in his films. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a perfect example of this, and is definitely my favorite Wes Anderson film. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a love story between two young pen-pals who are unhappy with their current lives. They live on the small, secluded island of New Penzance, and decide to run away together and journey through the island trails. Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop have a love story unlike any other, and the madness that ensues after their escape is hilarious. Their running away incites a search party that involves the entire island and turns into a crazy chase for the two kids. The music composed by Alexandre Desplat (“The King’s Speech”) complements Wes Anderson’s artistic style. People of any age can enjoy the humor in this film, and it is arguably the best film Anderson has directed.

A few other notable films to watch are the family cartoon “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Rushmore.”

Once you get through the sequence of films leading up to the newest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” you should be familiar enough with Anderson’s style to fully appreciate it. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the complex story of Gustave H, a concierge at a grand hotel, and his lobby boy, who becoms his most trusted ally. This movie has a lot of hype surrounding it and I do not doubt that it will live up to Anderson’s other films. It also features an all-star cast and is bound to be a great.

Hop on Netflix, grab some popcorn and immerse yourself in the world of Wes Anderson. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is set to be released early 2014.

Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237” has been screened at both Cannes and Sundance Film Festival in 2012. (Courtesy of IFC Films)

Now Showing: ‘Room 237’

USF Professor Daniel Plotnick discusses his screening event of Rodney Ascher’s film

    Documentarian and director Rodney Ascher plans to visit USF on Oct. 18 to present a screening of his latest movie, “Room 237.” The film, which made a successful theatrical premiere last year, revolves around Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and its perceived meanings. “Room 237” consists of clips from other Kubrick films and voice-over interviews with passionate Kubrick enthusiasts. While many view “The Shining” as a simple horror/thriller flick, Ascher’s documentary aims to shed light on the possible conspiracy theories that result from the typically enigmatic Kubrick film.

I recently had the pleasure of discussing the film with Professor Daniel Plotnick of the media studies department, who is hosting the screening event on campus.

Foghorn: What is “Room 237”?

Plotnick: “Room 237” is a documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” and it’s one of those films that people are quite obsessed about. Rodney interviewed five people that are totally obsessed with “The Shining” that have all these interpretations of how to analyze the film and the secret messages embedded within the film. Like there’s one person who thinks that if you look at the film carefully, it proves that Kubrick faked the moon landing. There’s someone else who says it’s a commentary on how the Americans took the country away from the Native Americans. So the film is really about the people that get obsessed with any particular text. He uses lots of clips from “The Shining” and other bits from film history to visually construct the argument. And you never see the interviewees; you just hear them.

Foghorn: So the film focuses more on “The Shining” as an art film more so than a thriller or horror.

Plotnick: Yeah, and it’s got this whole postmodern edge — because even if Kubrick didn’t intend for it to be seen this way, this is how people are reading into it. And so it’s really a question of art and how we interpret a piece of art, and does the intentionality of the artist even make a difference or is it really just about how the audience receives it?

Foghorn: Does the film talk about Stephen King’s motives, or does it mostly focus on Kubrick?

Plotnick: It mostly focuses on the film. There are definitely moments where “Room 237” talks about the adaptation and how it did things to piss Stephen King off — but then again, this is a person’s interpretation and them ascribing motives to Kubrick. Like, “the color of the car is not the color of the car in the book,” or something like that.

Foghorn: How did you get involved?

Plotnick: Rodney is an old friend of mine, and he’s been a part of the underground film scene for years — and he’s originally from Miami, but he’s lived in San Francisco for a while where we became better friends. He lives in L.A. now, and he’s just someone who’s been making really great, fun films. And this film had great reviews: It made a theatrical release, and hopefully it’ll get nominated for an Academy Award. It’s been definitely one of the bigger box office documentaries of the year.

Foghorn: Would you say that watching [“The Shining”] again gave you this motivation to really delve into “Room 237” when watching it?

Plotnick: Yeah, absolutely. And part of the thing that “Room 237” riffs on is that “The Shining” came out during the dawn of home VCRs. Like, let’s say you were watching “A Clockwork Orange” for example, when it came out — and the only time you’d be able to see it again would be if it showed again in the theaters. So people didn’t study movies back then as closely as they did post the advent of the VCR. Once the VCR came out, you could watch “The Shining” over and over again. People of your generation grew up with DVDs, so there were movies that you probably had when you were a kid that you could watch a hundred times, which is a totally different experience if you grew up in the 60s or 70s.  Now, there was “The Shining” that people could get obsessed about because they could watch it over and over again. And I think part of Rodney’s reasoning for picking “The Shining” is that it coincides with that advent of the VCR, and people could read into it like text. Like, “the positioning of Calumet cans in ‘The Shining’ proves things that Kubrick is trying to do!” If you just watched it once in the theater, you wouldn’t pick something like that up.

Foghorn: I feel like with Kubrick’s movies, he definitely goes all out in everything.

Plotnick: Yes, he’s really meticulous. And one of the things that gets brought up in the film is that, because Kubrick is such a meticulous filmmaker, everything the audience sees is there for a reason. That can of Calumet is there because Kubrick put it there; it isn’t there by chance. So therefore, what does he mean by that placement of that object by that object in that frame at that moment in the film? I think that’s another reason why people get obsessed over something like “The Shining” rather than something that’s more of a pop hit: because of the idea that this filmmaker is in total control.

Foghorn: Have you brought up “Room 237” or “The Shining” in any of your classes?

Plotnick: I often show a lot of Kubrick clips in my class to talk about cinematography, so there will be times when I’ll show something from “The Shining” — but it’s not a film that I spend a lot of time looking at or talking about, because I had just recently seen the film again. To me, it was always that I love Kubrick, but “The Shining” was always way down on my list.

Foghorn: Do you have any closing words about “Room 237”?

Plotnick: I think it’s now out officially, and you can watch it through iTunes or rent it online. I would check it out, and I would check out “The Shining,” and I would come to the screening next week because Rodney is someone that’s done a lot of cool, animated stuff — and he’s someone that’s super fun. He’s gonna show a lot of clips, and he’s gonna break down the film, and I think it’ll be a pretty exciting opportunity.

The screening of “Room 237” with the director Rodney Ascher will be on Friday, Oct. 18, 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m., in Fromm Hall 115 (Berman Room).