“An Impression: Dischord Records” at the DC Independent Film Festival

An Impression: Dischord Records

For a subject with as interesting a history as Dischord Records, the documentary “An Impression: Dischord Records” (Produced by Leena Jayaswol & Kylos Brannon and featured in this year’s DC Independent Film Festival) crams a fairly concise portrait into a slender fifteen minutes. For the uninitiated, this doc is a great stepping-stone with which to approach the history of one of the most storied, notorious, and organically run record labels in the world. For anyone who owns more than one Fugazi record or who knows who Ian Svenonius is, “Impression” is a superficial review. Despite an attractive opening sequence, juxtaposing gritty DC scenery with flyer and album art from the label’s early days, nothing leaps out visually. The short film’s key strengths are in the content, which brings a steady barrage of eye and ear candy for any DC punk aficionado. Continue reading →

Of course the Academy got it wrong! The true two best pictures

OscarCall it “The Snub Heard ‘Round the World.”

One has to wonder whether the Academy of Arts and Sciences was playing it safe in crowning Crash best picture instead of the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain, which had won the owner from the Golden Globes and just about every respected film critics’ organization. Did conservative members, unable to accept a homosexual love story (The Hours, which had a bunch of gays and lesbians, lost out to Chicago back in 2003), go with the race relations flick? I’ve already read the excuse that West Coast Academy members were more affected by Crash because it took place in L.A., but I’m not buying it. I think the Academy wussed out.

But this year was tough as, for a change, all the nominees for best picture were excellent films (well, four were excellent and one was good). Also, four of the five films highly are social-conscious works that take on issues pertinent to these troubled times. The Academy chose substance over fluff. And I don’t mean to discount Crash, because it is a powerful and thought-provoking film; I’d go as far to say that it’s one of the best ensemble dramas I’ve seen in the last five years. But out of the five nominees, it was actually my number three pick.

Up until the moments before I heard the news, I hadn’t made up my mind between Munich and Brokeback Mountain. When I did choose, I went with the critics: Brokeback is an astounding film, rich with narrative, imagery, and subtle symbolism that is all too lacking in American films.

(Warning: All kinds of spoilers ahead.) Continue reading →

Washington DC Independent Film Festival Opens this Thursday

DC Independent Film Festival

What cities do you think of when you think of independent films? Park City, Utah? You bet. New York City? Of course. Washington, DC? You didn’t read wrong. For 11 days in March, Washington, DC is home to The Washington DC Independent Film Festival (DCIFF) and it has been for the past six years. Each year, the DCIFF features “world premiere films, award winning features, shorts, animations, and documentaries.”

As with most film festivals, the DCIFF bestows various honors on its most outstanding films each year. They award films in each category they screen throughout the festival (feature, animation, short, and documentary). These awards include the Grand Jury Award, the Audience Award, the Visionary Award (which is “presented to a film of social or political importance that can provoke change”), the Washington, DC Filmmaker Award (“presented to [a] DC filmmaker for outstanding creative achievement”), the Cine Latino Award (awarded to the best Latin film), and the World Cinema Award, which will be presented this year to the most outstanding film from South Asia. Grand Jury Prize winners receive the DC Production Grant, which gives the Grand Jury Winners monetary and promotional support.

Founded by Carol Bidault in 1999, the festival first appeared on the scene in March of 2000 calling itself, “DCDANCE” as a nod to the world renouned Sundance Film Festival. In its first year, it lasted only three days, but featured 30 films, including the premiere of director Barry Levinson’s (Liberty Heights, Sleepers) documentary, Original Diner Guys. That same year, the DC Independent Film Market and Trade Show was founded. It now coincides with DCIFF and provides DC filmmakers the opportunity to meet with industry professionals, such as buyers, distributors, and agents. This is a unique opportunity because it is the only film trade show of its kind in the DC area. The next year, the festival changed its name to the name its stayed with, The Washington DC Independent Film Festival. Over the next few years, the festival gradually expanded, and garnered praise from local film critics like Stephen Hunter. Continue reading →

Bursting the Bubble: Is Soderbergh’s latest predicting the death of the movie theater?

Steven SoderberghMy worst movie theater experience is still vivid in my mind: Loews in Georgetown, 28 Days Later, opening weekend, midnight showing with girlfriend (ex now, if you care to know). Oh, it should have been scary and tense, horrifying and brilliant, but no, it was aggravating. Two drunks reeking of whiskey sat to the right of us, one snoring and the other one punching him every five minutes and telling him to wake up. A kid in front of us played a game on his cell phone and felt the need to hold it up, as if I wanted to see his high score. And the chatter: at times I couldn���t even hear the dialogue. I left vowing I would never see another film at Loews in Georgetown again (a vow I���ve subsequently broken).

Of course, that was only part of a trend. I remember during a screening of Bad Santa watching a couple get into a hysterical screaming bout a few rows ahead. And let���s not even get into any film where there might be kids in the audience ��� Star Wars Episode I (which was unbearable enough alone) was absolutely miserable to sit through with a bunch of uncontrolled brats throwing popcorn and candy at each other and shouting out descriptions of the action (or what happened two minutes before because their little friends with little bladders had to loudly run to the bathroom).

Director Steven Soderbergh (you might remember he did Ocean���s Eleven and Traffic, oh and this little indie flick called Sex, Lies, and Videotape) has brought to life a novel concept: his latest film Bubble on Friday opens in theaters and is released on DVD and is available on satellite and cable TV. All media, all at once ��� an cinematic assault, you could say. Talk about this kind of marketing has been brewing for years, with theater to DVD timetables growing shorter every year, but Bubble goes all the way. And I���m left pondering, is that a good thing? Continue reading →

Scrooge and A Christmas Story: The Two Greatest Yuletide Films

No matter where you live or how you spend the Holidays, the odds are that you’ll probably wind up hearing a pantheon of Christmas-themed music and movies oriented around the said Holiday. I grew up celebrating both holidays, but considering how omnipresent Christmas is in our culture, and that Hanukkah isn’t the most vital of Jewish holidays, I gravitated towards the former. But considering how brutally hyper-commercialized Christmas has become since…well, Santa was created for such a purpose, are there any pieces of music or film that actually capture the essence of what the holiday’s about?

Short answer: Music- no, Movies- yes, though not too many. When filtering through the seemingly endless barrage of normally terrible Christmas-related films, two rise to the top instantly for diverse reasons.

A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story (1983)

The first, A Christmas Story, starring Peter Billingsley and Darren McGavin, is not only one of the greatest Christmas movies, but one of the greatest coming-of-age films, one of the greatest period pieces, and one of the greatest comedies ever produced. Novelist Jean Shepherd (who also wrote the screenplay) hits a bulls-eye with every character he creates and every scenario he draws from his romanticized 1940’s Indiana childhood. The protagonist, Ralphie, captures that precise moment from childhood that anyone can understand. We’re getting old enough to help change a flat tire, pick up dirty words, and fight back against meatheads like Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, but are still young enough to believe Santa or the Tooth Fairy, and for your whole kid-year to revolve around Christmas, as Shepherd put it in the introduction narration.

When all is said and done, A Christmas Story presents the ultimate wink-and-nod to the ideal of Christmas in America. The Parkers even wind up going out for Chinese in the end, which is an appropriate nod to Jewish customs, and the scene concludes an endlessly rewatchable and quotable cinematic gem. TNT has seen to create its own tradition around it; they show it every Christmas day 12 consecutive times.

ScroogeScrooge (1951)

As terrific as A Christmas Story is, it still can‚Äôt compare to 1951’s Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim. Charles Dickens‚Äô classic Victorian romantic novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ has become possibly the best-known of all the holiday stories not taken directly from the Bible, but until director Brian Desmond Hurst adapted it for the screen, nobody had nailed it.

Sim, the quintessential onscreen Ebenezer Scrooge, played the part with such reverence for Dickens’ tragic character that we sympathize with him from almost the beginning. Never for a second is any character reduced to one dimension, especially since Hurst’s version beautifully spells out Scrooge’s life during his journey with the Ghost of Christmas past. We see every major change in his life, and in the world surrounding him, that leaves an emotional scar- the growth of industrial and commercial interests, his beloved sister’s death during childbirth, the loss of his true love Alice- all played with such perfect intropection and no pretentiousness whatsoever. Noel Langley’s script does not forget the vitally important sense of humor as well, injecting clever, perfectly paced dialogue throughout.

Hurst’s version also benefits greatly from the breathtaking cinematography, grandiosity, and excellent score. Victorian England lends itself to the ideal romantic fantasy story, and certain shots burn themselves into the back of your mind, never letting up, even as Scrooge’s transformation shakes the screen. Moments like when Scrooge greets Marley on his deathbed, as well as when, during his reformation on Christmas day, he appears at his nephew’s Christmas party to make amends, rank among my favorite movie scenes of all time. Both scenes, among many others from this film, are just as moving and entertaining at anytime of the year.

The reason that both of these movies are so great is because they see far beyond the holiday itself. They build off the widely interpretable Christmas, and create wonderfully didactic stories that stay in our minds and hearts, as the Spirit of Christmas Present says, “not only one day of the year, but all three-hundred sixty-five.”

This Weekend in Film…

Friday, December 16 — Tuesday, December 20

Please Note: We are only reviewing independent films at this time. This will change in the near future.

First off, if you haven’t seen King Kong yet this movie should be #1 on you list. If you have here’s our picks from movies opening this weekend:

Wait… I need to tell you about a one night only screening of Afro-Punk at Warehouse this Friday—read the full story.
 

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain poster

Synopsis: Set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, the film tells the story of two young men — a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy — who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys, and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.

Official Site | IMDb | Metacritic Reviews | View the Trailer

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris, and Scott Michael Campbell. Directed by Ang Lee . Rated R. Synopsis provided by Focus Features.

Go For Zucker

Go For Zucker poster

Synopsis: In this comic film about a dysfunctional Jewish family, Jaeckie Zucker (Henry H?�bchen) is a hard-living, former East German celebrity sportscaster now down on his luck, and Samuel (Udo Samel) is his quasi-Orthodox brother from the West. The two estranged brothers are awkwardly reunited when they learn that in order to share their mother’s inheritance, they will need to reconcile before burying her in her native East Germany. Jaeckie, desperate for the money, decides that his best shot is to convince his brother that he is kosher. Said to be the first German-Jewish comedy made in Germany since World War II, Dani Levy’s contemporary farce won the Ernst Lubitsch Award for best German comedy.

95 minutes, Color, in **German w/English Subtitles

Official Site | View the Trailer | Playing at E Street Cinemas.

Starring Hannelore Elsner, Udo Samel, Golda Tencer, Henry Huebchen, Anja Franke, Sebastian Blomberg, Steffen Groth. Directed by: Dani Levy. Comedy. Rated NR . Synopsis provided by First Run Features.

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam

The Keeper poster

Synopsis: This historical epic tells the story of a contemporary boy living in America who uncovers a secret connection to the Great Omar Khayyam, 11th Century Persian Mathematician, Astronomer, and Poet of the famous “Rubaiyat.”

READ OUR REVIEW

Official Site | IMDb | Metacritic Reviews | View the Trailer | Playing at E Street Cinemas.

Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Moritz Bleibtreu, Rade Serbedzija, Bruno Lastra, Christopher Simpson, Adam Echahly, and Marie Espinosa. Adventure, Drama. Rated NR . Synopsis provided by Arrival Pictures.

Also Opening this Weekend:
The Family Stone

Still Playing & Recommended:
Capote, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Darwin’s Nightmare, Good Night & Good Luck, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire, Jesus is Magic, King Kong, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Machuca, Paradise Now, Pride & Prejudice, The Squid and the Whale, Syriana, Walk the Line

Afro-Punk: One Night Only!

Special One Night Screening at Warehouse >>

Afro-Punk photophoto courtesy and © Afro-Punk

���Punk rock is black music.���

So say two interview subjects in James Spooner���s documentary Afro-Punk, including Carla Mad-Dog, who has been deep within the punk rock scene since it began in the 1970���s.

���In short, this film [reflects] my life story,��� says Spooner, ���I felt that I needed to validate my experience as a black person in a predominantly white culture.���

Afro-Punk logo���Afro-Punk,��� which has been an ongoing project for the past five years, features a number of interviews and depictions of various protagonists from within the black punk and hardcore community. One of which, ���Moe��� we see come to Howard from Long Island, where he fronted a hardcore band. The film juxtaposes his life at the all-black Howard with his life at punk shows, often the only black person there.

Spooner, 29, grew up between New York and California an avid skateboarder, where he noticed the chromatic difference between the two punk scenes from an early age.

���In New York, the majority of any audience would still be white, but you���d have a much greater black and hispanic presence,��� he said, ���Outside of New York, DC, and other places on the east coast, though, I���d really notice the discrepancy.���

Spooner���s experience within the punk scene runs deep. He had been influenced by SST bands such as Black Flag and The Descendents early on, and by the time he was 17, he began Kidney Room Records, which grew to prominence by releasing the first Swing Kids 7���.

���I still get that ���Wow! That was you!?��� reaction all the time when I mention that,��� Spooner laughs.

Today, having completed the film a couple of years ago, Spooner and his partners often organize events related to the project around their home base of Brooklyn which turn out a predominantly black crowd. In the past two years, the film has been screened over 200 times all over the country.

���The film has definitely created its own scene,��� says Spooner. This Friday night, 7 PM at the Warehouse-Washington Downtown Arts Center, anyone from the DC area has the opportunity to become a part of it. The screening will be hosted by Visions in Feminism, and sponsored by Positive Force.