Friday, January 19, 2007

Red Doors & The Animation Show 3

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is in progress. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go here to make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing. With these films, I'm at 2 Brattle film seen and 5 elsewhere, which means 9 "points" total (or 4½, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

Updated HBS with a review of Our Man in Havana.

Memo to self: If you ever get a chance to make an independent film, make sure to include at least one gay couple in there somewhere. It gets you invited to festivals that all-straight films don't get invited to, and more laurel leaves to display in your advertising can only be a good thing. Red Doors is a big case of something that's not a particularly "gay" film seeming to get a lot of awards at gay film festivals, if its trailers are any indication.

And, yeah, I'd engage in some nepotism, too. Maybe I'd cast my brother as part of a gay couple.

Speaking of him, he's got to hit The Animation Show 3 if it makes another pass through Boston, at either the Brattle or Coolidge, and so does everyone else.

Red Doors

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Special Engagement) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

It's not hard to like the Wongs; after all, unlike a lot of subjects of family dramas, they seem to like each other. They don't raise their voices, and they don't go to the other extreme and speak in clipped, icy tones. What you see is more or less what you get with them, and while that doesn't make for a big, splashy movie, it does make them pleasant company.

The parents, Ed and May-Li, have been married for thirty years and have three beautiful daughters. Toward the beginning of the film, Ed is being hit with two parties that mainly serve to make him feel old and used up - a retirement party, and another one for his sixtieth birthday. His hearing is starting to go, too, and that's making him feel old and worn-out enough to start to consider suicide, although he always seems to get interrupted. It's a crisis many must feel as they get older - the kids are ready to be on their own, you're not needed at work, and your body is failing in telling ways - and Tzi Ma captures it perfectly. He makes Ed depressed, though not despairing, grappling with the question of what, if anything, to do with his life going forward. Ma is a familiar face, the type of character actor able to boost an ensemble without overpowering it. He's got relatively few lines, but never fails to make an impression. Freda Foh Shen is chattier as May-Li. She's the only member of the cast with a traditionally asian name or a notable accent, and she's the one who represents the voice of tradition, nagging that all the white at a wedding will make it look like a funeral. She doesn't play May-Li as backwards or especially wise for all that, though; she's just a mom, constantly fretting about her husband and daughters.

The wedding May-Li is worrying about is that of oldest daughter Samantha (Jacqueline Kim). Sam recently turned thirty, and she's finding herself looking back more than forward herself: The wedding is mainly in the hands of the groom-to-be (Jayce Bartok), and it's a wonder they've got time to plan it, considering their scheduled their lives are with long hours. Oh, and she just saw an old boyfriend (Rossif Sutherland) playing guitar in a bar. Jacqueline Kim gives a performance that in many ways mirror's Ma's, even if her worries are more about wrong decisions already made than the future. She talks more, but it's the moments when she's caught speechless when she says the most. Bartok and Sutherland play opposing ends of the spectrum, with Bartok's Mark a blond, not quite icy but not quite warm presence and Sutherland's Alex almost too touchy-feely as Alex, the high-school boyfriend who now teaches music in the same school.

Full review at HBS.

The Animation Show 3

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2007 at The Somerville Theater #1 (Special Engagement) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I'll have more on this tomorrow, probably writing up a feature for HBS. In short: If it's going to show up near you, go for it. Bunches of this collection are flat-out brilliant (Don Herzfeldt's "Everything Will Be OK", Shane Acker's spectacular "9", the quick and crowd-pleasing "Game Over", the grotesque but very cool "Rabbit", and Joanna Quinn's gorgeous "Dreams and Desires").

Perhaps the best thing about "The Animation Show" is that it is really put together by enthusiasts, not just a couple guys trying to make money from their shorts. Bill Plympton was signing autographs for nothing, and if you got there early there were animated shorts from local college programs playing. That's stuff they didn't have to do but which I think the audience greatly appreciates.

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