Film

Film: Sleepwalk With Me

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Monday, September 10, 2012
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From Sleepwalk with Me (Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane
and James Rebhorn.  Photo credit: Adam Beckman, IFC Films.)

September 10, 2012

There’s this great little film making some big noise, and it's back in Boston. It’s Sleepwalk with Me, and it’s about a guy who can’t get his comedy career on track, can’t decide if he wants to commit to his girlfriend, and can’t stay in bed thanks to a sleepwalking disorder. As his anxiety grows with the first two, so does the sleepwalking — each incident increasingly funny and dangerous. It’s silly, sad and serious all at once. And it’s also semi-autobiographical.

Mike Birbiglia, a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts native, really is a comedian and really does have a sleeping disorder called RBD (rapid eye movement behavior disorder) that causes him to physically react to his dreams. What kind of physical reactions, you ask? How does jumping out of a second-story window of a motel sound? This incident really happened while Birbiglia was on tour in Walla Walla, Washington and ended with him getting 33 stitches in his leg.

Birbiglia turned the experience into a book, Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories, and an Off-Broadway play that swiftly gained popularity. Soon after, his "no way are those true, but they are true" stories caught the attention of This American Life host Ira Glass, and Birbiglia became a regular contributor to the show. As the working relationship progressed, so did their idea for a film.

The screenplay took over two years to produce (with Seth Barrish and Joe Birbiglia — Mike’s brother — helping) and proved challenging, as neither Birbiglia nor Glass had experience structuring stories for film. It wasn’t uncommon for Glass to ask This American Life’s Facebook fans to attend secret screenings in order to audience-test and catalog feedback. The idea underwent numerous changes and story edits, and over time became a completed movie.

Sleepwalk with Me premiered at Sundance, received rave reviews and the Audience Award, continued on to SXSW, and was the opening night film at our own Independent Film Festival, Boston earlier this year. Most recently, it grossed the third best per-theater average of the year, behind Moonrise Kingdom and To Rome with Love.

"Avengers director Joss Whedon recently declared war on our film, so we're surprised to see that our per screen average is so much higher than The Avengers at $47,698 per screen,” said Ira Glass on the Sleepwalk with Me Facebook page. “We look forward to beating his worldwide gross of $1.5 billion in the coming weeks." This was the rebuttal prompted be director Joss Whedon’s very public, and very fake, declaration of war with the film. You can watch the video here — it’s complete genius.

Sleepwalk with Me stars Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Carol Kane (Taxi), James Rebhorn (Meet the Parents), Cristin Milioti (star of Broadway's Once), plus comedians Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Jesse Klein, Henry Phillips and David Wain.

The film opened at Kendall Square on Friday, August 31, and at the Coolidge Theater on Friday, September 7. Visit landmarktheaters.com and coolidge.org for more information.
 


Film: Dear Mandela at The Brattle Theatre

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Friday, August 10, 2012
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August 12, 2012

Zama, Mazwi, and Mnikelo, have becomes the faces of political change in
South Africa as leaders of the movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.
(photo: dearmandela.com.)

Nelson Mandela was faced with many obstacles as president of South Africa in the early ‘90s. Top of the list was providing an improved quality of life for a nation recovering from apartheid–the same system of racial segregation that kept him jailed for over 20 years. The plan was to ensure fair housing for the impoverished shanty town communities many called home, a plan that proved far too ambitious for a country so deeply segregated and on the mend.

It’s 20 years later, and populations have doubled. And so have doubts about and trust in the government’s ability to deliver on its promise. Matters got worse when a nationwide eviction began. And in a country with a strong history of violence, it should come as no surprise that these efforts involved shack demolitions, guns, prison detentions without trial, and even assassination.

Filmmaker Dara Kell grew up in South Africa during the height of the tension, and in 2007 discovered and become intrigued with Abahlali baseMjondolo (Residents of the Shacks), a social and democratic movement founded to find alternative ways to fix their growing inherited problem. After Kell and filmmaking partner Christopher Nizza met with the movement’s young leaders and fell in love with their courage, idealism reminiscent of Mandela’s, and determination to take their own government to the highest courts in the name of democracy, Kell and Nizza set out to tell their story.

Dear Mandela is not a documentary about activism, but instead an exposé on the pressures of historical burdens put upon the self-taught, politically savvy, post-apartheid generation. It offers a new perspective on the role that young people can play in political change and is a fascinating portrait of South Africa’s coming of age.

The film had its world premiere at the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa, where it was awarded the Best South African Documentary prize. Since then, it has screened in cities around the world, including New York, London, Prague, Seoul, and Vienna, and now Boston will get its chance to watch the documentary and participate in a discussion with the filmmakers. Dear Mandela will be screening at the Brattle Theatre, with Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza in attendance, on Monday, August 13th. Visit brattlefilm.org for more information.

Film Review: Ai Weiwei, The Gentle Revolutionary

By Kris Wilton   |   Tuesday, August 7, 2012
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August 7, 2012

Ai Weiwei in Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (photo by Ted Alcorn; A Sundance
Selects release.)

Outside of the art establishment, Ai Weiwei is best known for his role in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, first as designer of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium and then as an outspoken critic of the event, which he called a “propaganda show” for which the government pushed workers and ordinary people out of the city in order to stage a prettier picture to send to the world.

The artist and activist knows about sending pictures to the world. In the beginning of Alison Klayman’s well-crafted, inspiring new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, now playing at Kendall Square, Ai says he does more than a hundred interviews a year with foreign journalists, and another hundred with Chinese. He gained a staunch following for his prolific and popular blog, and when that was shut down by the government, he turned to (uncensored) Twitter to get his messages out.

Gentle and soft-spoken, the man many call Teacher speaks eloquently in Klayman’s film, describing himself, as among other things, a chess player: “My opponents make a move, I make a move.” In the recent, best-known part of his career, the line between these moves and his art is unclear.

In her first feature documentary, and the first made about Ai, Klayman shows how in 2008, after Chinese officials refused to release the names or numbers of children killed in a brutal earthquake that destroyed government-built schools made with purportedly shoddy “tofu” construction, Ai investigated the matter himself, making a documentary about his efforts. Sending teams of volunteers out into the countryside, he compiled a list of 5,212 names and birthdates, and posted them on his blog on the anniversary of the quake. The government promptly took down the blog. Ai took to Twitter. Checkmate.

Meanwhile, Ai also tussled with the government over fellow dissident Tan Zuoren. When Ai traveled to Chengdu to testify on Tan’s behalf, police stormed his hotel room, hit him, and detained him until the hearing was over. They deny it, but he documented it. Later he was treated for a brain hemorrhage in Munich, where he was the subject of a major mid-career retrospective. He tweeted from his hospital bed. The media swarmed. He covered the façade of the museum with a mosaic made of children’s backpacks reading, in Chinese, “She lived happily on this earth for seven years” (a mom’s description of her lost daughter. )

Whether art or activism, Ai’s work is innovative, important, and inspiring, and Klayman, through generous access to Ai’s studio and extensive interviews with artists, curators, and media, does a much better job of condensing and contextualizing his career into her 90-minute film than I can do with either here. So I’ll just say: go see this film. With China rising, an election coming up, and the Olympics on, there couldn’t be a better time to learn about Ai Weiwei’s peaceful, artful brand of dissent.

Film Festival Preview: Action Film Series at The Brattle Theatre

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Tuesday, July 31, 2012
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July 30, 2012

Scene from The Raid: Redemption, Sony Picture Classiscs,
directed by Gareth Evans, 2012.

What do you get when you screen a mix of some of the best action movies of all time? A well-deserved kick in the pants, that’s what.

And the Brattle Theatre’s delivering just that with its International Asskicking! series. From now until the end of August, they’ll be showing a variety of international action flicks chock full of fight scenes, car chases, and karate chops to the head during these final dog days of summer.

Festivities kicked off on the 26th with a screening of indie filmmaker Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption, a mind-blowing Indonesian favorite about a squad of cops who ambush an apartment building controlled by a gang lord. Guaranteed to be 101 of the most thrilling minutes of your life, its twist on the genre has not only earned it a “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s also the inspiration behind the entire Brattle series.

Films continuing the series include District B13, Ong Bak, Once Upon a Time in China, Iron Monkey, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and the martial arts favorite Enter the Dragon.

And don’t forget your American butt whooping too. With Expendables 2 starring Stalone, Statham, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Li, Norris, Lundgren, Crews, Couture (and every other contemporary action hero you can think of before running out of breath) coming out soon, the Brattle considers what the all-star cast would have looked like had the film been made in the ‘70s. Caine, Marvin, Eastwood, Roundtree, McQueen and Bronson made the list, and you can watch their popular action flicks Get Carter, Point Blank, Dirty Harry, Shaft, The Getaway and The Mechanic on the big screen during the Brattle’s Classic Tough Guys series.

Mind-blowing lineup, right? (Insert stunt doubles and large expensive movie set explosions here.) The International Asskicking! series will screen on Thursdays and the Classic Tough Guys series runs from August 10th through the 12th. Visit brattlefilm.org for dates and times.

Film: The Devil's Carnival Comes to Boston

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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July 19, 2012

The Devil's Carnival, photo credit: beyondhollywood.com.

It’s off to hell we go...

Can you imagine a carnival-themed afterlife where sinners are sent to pay for their choices? And in this afterlife, what chance would a conniving kleptomaniac, a gullible girl, and a grief-obsessed father stand against their transgressions? The Devil himself, and his carnie minions, invite you to grab a ticket to The Devil’s Carnival to find out.

After their successful collaboration on 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer/actor Terrance Zdunich are back and billing their latest film adventure, The Devil’s Carnival, as hell in its purest form. Commit a sin and you’re sent to an alternate afterlife resembling a freakish carnival where demons are the carnies and the show is your punishment.

Carnival brings back Repo! favorites Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, Terrance Zdunich, Nivek Ogre and Paul Sorvino as the world’s creator. And newcomers to the family include Marc Senter, Slipknot’s Shawn Crahan, Emilie Autumn, and Five Finger Punch’s Ivan Moody as Hobo the Clown.

And as you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s all coming to Boston. The Carnival team has put together a cross-country traveling show complete with a full film screening, carnival acts, a costume contest for the fans, and a personal Q&A meet and greet with the entire audience that makes the viewing experience unforgettable. Bousman is very passionate about his work and the fans supporting it, and chose to promote the film independently to preserve the integrity of both.

I was fortunate enough to attend a show a few months back, and it’s fantastic. The crew members are absolute ringmasters at audience participation and fan loyalty -- You don’t want to miss this.

The Devil’s Carnival will be screening at The Coolidge Corner Theatre as part of their @Fter Midnite series for one night only on Saturday, July 21st. Visit www.coolidge.org for more information and to purchase tickets.

How to Work the 2012 Woods Hole Film Festival

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Friday, July 13, 2012
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July 15, 2012

Documentary feature, Detropia, courtesy of woodshole.festivalgenius.com.

Film festivals are probably the last thing that come to mind when you think about Cape Cod. Yet I bet it has more film festivals per resident than anywhere else in the U.S. They’re big business on the Cape and Islands, and one that always tops the “must-do this summer” list is the Woods Hole Film Festival, the oldest independent festival in the area.

The Woods Hole Film Festival (WHFF) is an eight day showcase of independent films featuring daily screenings (at Woods Hole’s notable locations), workshops, panel discussions, and parties galore! And this year marks the 21st anniversary of WHFF, which means there is a lot to do.

So how do you tackle all of WHFF in one short week? Organization and a schedule, my friend. A good place to start would be at the workshops. WHFF has some great ones this year, including “How to Watch a Film”, designed to teach viewers how to look a film from a cultural, ideological, and theoretical standpoint.

Put your new viewing skills to test afterwards and make a list of the films you’re most interested in watching. Pick a variety of features and shorts, and go off the beaten path to discover the hidden jewels of the festival. Some notable screenings to consider: Bay of All Saints, a portrait of three single mothers trying to survive in the slums of Brazil during a bad time personally and economically; Breakfast with Curtis, a summer story about a young boy joining a project with an eccentric local bookseller; and the documentary short 24 Hours At The South Street Diner, produced and directed by Boston locals Tom and Melissa Dowler.

You should also plan on attending all of the screenings and discussions by this year’s Filmmaker in Residence, Lauren Greenfield. Greenfield, best known for her ability to chronicle youth culture, gender and consumerism, will be showing Thin, her documentary about four women struggling with eating disorders, as well as her most recent documentary about a family attempting to build the biggest house in America, The Queen of Versailles, which received critical acclaim as this year’s Opening Night film at Sundance. It also won Best Director in the U.S. Documentary Competition.

And last, but not least, don’t forget to attend a few parties and panel discussions in between and mingle with some of the masterminds behind your favorite films. Festivities begin on Saturday, July 28th, running through Saturday, August 4th. Visit woodsholefilmfestival.org for more information and the calendar of events.

About the Authors
Stacy Buchanan Stacy Buchanan
Stacy is California born and raised, and happily living in Boston.  By day, she’s a seasoned digital marketer, social media enthusiast and pop culture consumer. After studying special effects makeup and film for over 20 years, she is also full-time film buff and by night, produces content for horror publications, focusing on classic and contemporary horror films.
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Artinfo.com, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bostonist.com, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.

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