Film Club Of The Air: Polanski, Coco Chanel, Bright Star And Paranormal Activity
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
On this edition of Film Club of the Air, we'll talk about the latest developments in the case against Roman Polanski, and we'll review new films about fashion icon Coco Chanel, poet John Keats, and see if newbie director Drew Barrymore's roller derby movie offers some laughs. We'll also get the scoop on a San Diego filmmaker's much buzzed about new film called Paranormal Activity.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. There's a nice mix of movies coming up on this edition of the KPBS Film Club of the Air. A tragic love story, then a tale of a roller-derby queen, the early life of one of fashion's most successful entrepreneurs and a couple of films that warn of the dangers of capitalism. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando is here, along with film critic Scott Marks, as usual, to discuss our selection of films. But first, we'll take a few moments to discuss a news item about one of the most celebrated and infamous of contemporary film directors. Roman Polanski is in custody in Switzerland. His lawyers say he will fight extradition to the United States. He's been a fugitive from U.S. law for the past 31 years after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13 year old girl. Patrick Goldstein writes a column and blog for the LA Times called “The Big Picture,” and he's with us to talk about the case. Good morning, Patrick.
PATRICK GOLDSTEIN (Columnist/Blogger, LA Times): Hey, good morning.
CAVANAUGH: So what do you know about the details of Polanski’s arrest?
GOLDSTEIN: You know, I only know what I’ve read in the…
GOLDSTEIN: …in our paper and in all the other papers. He went to Switzerland to get an award at a film festival and apparently the L.A. County Prosecutor’s office has – had contacted the Swiss and asked them to detain him and arrest him. They want to extradite him to bring him back to obviously serve – you know, go in front of a judge and go through the whole judicial process that started thirty-some-odd years ago.
CAVANAUGH: Now this was obviously a surprise for Roman Polanski. I mean, doesn’t he have a chalet in Switzerland? This isn’t the first time he’s been there in 31 years.
GOLDSTEIN: He’s been there secretly because he does have a house there. Our latest stories, in terms of our news coverage, say that his lawyers, Polanski’s lawyers apparently have been, over the past few months, have been attempting to get the charges waived or dropped or at least moved to a different venue because they feel that there have been a lot of irregularities in how the case was handled in L.A. County. And in the course of their filings, I believe that they’ve brought up the issue that the prosecutor’s office hadn’t actively been pursuing him. So that may have played a role in the fact that while they weren’t doing very much until now, if, indeed, they were embarrassed or humiliated by the lawyers’ charges that they hadn’t really actively been pursuing him then this may have played a role in why they were so aggressive this time.
CAVANAUGH: Now let’s remind listeners, Patrick, of what this stems from, the event that happened back in 1977.
GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. Polanski was obviously a very successful film director at the time. He was doing a photo shoot with a 13 year old girl and essentially raped her, gave her some champagne, I think some kind of Quaalude or other drugs, and had sex with her. And was eventually charged with it, was brought back – there’s a long, long involved story of what happened. There’s a wonderful documentary that came out sometime last year called “Roman Polanski Wanted and Desired,” which tells the whole story of what happened, all the legal irregularities that ensued. And obviously Polanski, at some point, believed that the judge was going to put him into prison even though he had already served something like 42 days in a minimum security facility, and Polanski was tipped off that something was going on and he hopped on a plane and left the country and has never come back.
CAVANAUGH: And he did, indeed, after having the charges reduced, plead guilty to unlawful sex with a 13 year old girl, and he’s never been sentenced for that. Now, Patrick, it is interesting that the victim in this case has publicly forgiven Roman Polanski.
GOLDSTEIN: She has. She came forward some years ago as an adult and publicly said, I’ve moved on, I’ve forgiven him, I think everyone else should. Obviously, that’s not a legal determination and I don’t know that that has any real legal bearing at all but it certainly has affected the way some people feel about the case.
CAVANAUGH: Now you have, interestingly, written about the comparison between California’s budgetary woes and this renewed interest in getting Roman Polanski extradited to the United States. It seems like a strange time for California to be pursuing this right now, at least according to you. Tell us a little bit more about that.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, I wrote a column when I’d heard the news about this on Sunday. I sat down and wrote a – I write a blog in the paper, LATimes.com/thebigpicture, and then something that we also ran in our print edition of the paper on Monday. So I’m not a reporter; I’m a columnist.
GOLDSTEIN: I have a – I am a – entitled and encouraged to have strong points of view. My feeling is that everything is a priority in life and in the state of California, when we’re totally bankrupt and we don’t have money to support our school system, we don’t have money to support our healthcare system, I could go on and on with all the things we don’t have money to support, and we’re actually talking about letting people out of prison because we – our prisons are so overcrowded and we don’t seem to have the money to build any new prisons. It seemed like a strange time for the L.A. Prosecutors and District Attorney’s office to be pursuing this 30-some-odd-year-old crime. I just think, in terms of priorities, I’d like to see them solving some of the current problems we have and – before we go back to something that’s happened a long time ago.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Patrick Goldstein. He writes a column and a blog for the LA Times called “The Big Picture.” And, Patrick, tell us a little bit about how Polanski’s career has suffered as a result of not necessarily dealing with this case of being a fugitive for 31 years and not being able to work in Hollywood.
GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, it definitely has kept him out of Hollywood and he had become a very successful Hollywood director even though he was born in France, grew up and lived in Poland, and ended up being a very international film director. So he’s been forced to work in Europe on smaller scale productions. He still ended up making a movie, “The Pianist,” that’s loosely based on some of his experiences in the ghettos of Poland during the war that ended up winning him an Oscar for Best Director. So he’s been artistically successful, probably not as commercially successful. I think the interesting thing is there’s a great divide between the way the average person feels about Polanski and the way that filmmakers and writers and other artists feel about him. And I bet you could tell whose side – the filmmakers and the artists seem to have a sympathy for him and have often come to his defense and right now there are lots of petitions going around that are defending him and saying leave him alone. Judging from my mail that I got after running my column, I would say the average person has very little sympathy for him and would like to see the doors slam behind him and make him serve some serious time in prison.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, there is this incredible divide, I think, between the artistic community, at least the Hollywood and European film communities, and the, I guess you could call them regular people on this. In your latest column, Patrick, you underscored the tragedy, really, that’s been Polanski’s life, and you say, a fugitive as a boy and now a fugitive as an old man. He is 76 years old. How do you see this whole thing playing out?
GOLDSTEIN: I think it’s unlikely that he will end up coming back to the United States or being extradited. I would think that cooler heads will prevail and that this will – he will be allowed to stay in Europe. He hasn’t flaunted his freedom. He’s never been a repeat offender, so I suspect that it will play out with him remaining in Europe and not either being force to and certainly not choosing to come back. There’s always the possibility someone could make a deal that would allow him to come back but I would say that it’s unlikely at this stage.
CAVANAUGH: Patrick Goldstein, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
GOLDSTEIN: I much appreciate it.
CAVANAUGH: Patrick writes a blog for the LA Times called “The Big Picture.” And before we get to the films in this edition of the KPBS Film Club of the Air, let me reintroduce my guests. Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic, and author of the blog “Cinema Junkie” on KPBS.org. Welcome, Beth.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Scott Marks, local film critic, author of the blog, EmulsionCompulsion.com. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT MARKS (Blogger, EmulsionCompulsion.com): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Now let’s just wrap up this conversation. I want to get your – both of your takes on this. Beth, do you have anything to add on the arrest of Roman Polanski?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, the fact that he might have to come back to the United States, I mean, one of the reasons why the average person has such a negative opinion of him is the way the media treated him. I mean, and there’s a big divide between the way the American media treats him and the way the European media has treated him. But, you know, after his wife, Sharon Tate, was one of the victims of the Manson murders, he was accused of being somehow involved in that. I mean, he’s somebody who’s been victimized by the press repeatedly and when this rape case came up, he was made out immediately to be a villain. So, I mean, I think he has a serious distrust of both the American media and the American judicial system. And he did serve time. I mean, he made a – he had brokered a deal with the D.A. and…
MARKS: Forty-two days for raping a 13 year old child.
ACCOMANDO: But it was – I mean, that was what they had determined. It was not like he was, you know, cheating or something. That was what was…
MARKS: I don’t think that’s what they determined. You know…
CAVANAUGH: No, no.
CAVANAUGH: Actually, let me clarify. The 42 days was for…
ACCOMANDO: Was for…
CAVANAUGH: …psychiatric evaluation and after that psychiatric evaluation he would be sentenced. What he claims is that the sentencing process was going to be rigged and that he, instead of getting the easy deal that he had been promised, was going to get serious time.
ACCOMANDO: Well, they were actually – the judge was trying to extend the psychiatric evaluation period that he was in jail. So, I mean, even the District Attorney said that based on the experiences that Polanski had in the judicial system, he didn’t fault him for fleeing.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, he actually said – and the woman herself said that after what he went – she felt that they were both victimized by that judge and by the American media in courts.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, your take on this? I think we know it.
MARKS: He raped a 13 year old girl. That’s, you know, and I think he’s a great filmmaker. I do, I think he’s a tremendous artist and I also think he’s a sniveling little coward. I think the fact that he fled the country and he’s been living – This whole idea that his life, his career, has somehow been taken away from him, he won an Academy Award. The guy continued to make films. The guy’s a success. He should ‘fess up to his crime and, you know, and this whole idea that they’re letting people out of jail, these aren’t kids who smoked a joint or snorted cocaine or income tax evaders. This man raped a 13 year old girl. Guilty.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to let everyone know the 2008 documentary about Roman Polanski, called “Roman Polanski Wanted and Desired,” is currently available on DVD. We’re going to take a short break and when we return, I promise you, actual films on The Film Club of the Air. You’re listening to KPBS.
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CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. You’re listening to These Days, the KPBS Film Club of the Air. My guests, Beth Accomando and Scott Marks, and let’s get right to it. Our first film is “Coco Before Chanel.” It’s a bio pic of the great French designer’s youth. We meet Gabrielle Chanel, nicknamed Coco, in an orphanage, follow her through her days of singing in taverns and befriending some wealthy gentlemen. In the meantime, Coco uses her scissors to shear off flowery flounces wherever she finds them and begins creating her signature sophisticated style. So, Beth, before we talk about the merits of the film, does this film address the early years of Coco in a kind of standard bio pic fashion?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it tries to turn to her early life before she – before Chanel became a brand and there have been a couple of films, both with American actresses. There was a TV movie with Shirley MacLaine and a Broadway play, actually, a Broadway play and a film, a Broadway play with Katharine Hepburn playing her. Both of those focused on her later years. So, I mean, this tries to look to where she came from and what kind of influences affected her and kind of colored the way that she made her designs and the kind of choices she made. So it’s trying to focus on some of the less well known aspects of her life, and in that respect it’s trying to take a road less traveled.
CAVANAUGH: And we actually find out how she got her name Coco. Tell us that story.
ACCOMANDO: Singing – If we to believe (sic) the film, it’s because she was singing a song in nightclubs and the song dealt with a character named Coco and it stuck.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, what do you think of this film?
MARKS: It’s very well made but I think it is kind of standard. This is a film that I like because of the production design and the cinematography. I’ve never liked Audrey Tautou. I’m not a fan of “Amelie.” I – that’s – I needed an insulin shot after that movie. But I thought that this was fairly well made. My only problem with the film is I thought it was going to take us right up to the point where she became a designer and it doesn’t. This is – And it’s very seldom I’m going to – You’re never going to hear this out of me, I could’ve stood another 40 minutes in this film, just a little bit more. So I like the film very much. I think it’s exceedingly well made. I think that the performances, especially the – her lover, the older gentleman…
ACCOMANDO: The older gentleman?
MARKS: Yeah, I though he was terrific. But, you know, she is a bit of an unsavory character. There is talk about Nazi collaboration in her life, and I think a lot of that stuff is just kind of skirted over in favor of the fact that she was a great designer. And there are times in the movie where, you know, as soon as you see her picking up a scissors, it’s like, okay, she’s a great designer, we have to remind you of this. Anytime you see a scissors or a needle you know that they’re trying to hammer home what’s going to come. I guess I wanted more from this film. But that said, I still think it’s a very enjoyable, well made, well crafted piece of filmmaking.
CAVANAUGH: And how did you feel about Audrey Tautou?
ACCOMANDO: I like her. I liked “Amelie” so I’m not in the same camp as Scott on that one. You talk about wanting 40 minutes, I would’ve wanted 40 less minutes with some of the men in her life and 40 more minutes of her because the two men that are focused on are kind of a drag. They don’t seem to really appreciate her. I don’t know, I would’ve liked more…
MARKS: But she doesn’t allow them to appreciate her.
MARKS: She keeps them both at arms length.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but they’re…
MARKS: And she’s using them.
ACCOMANDO: She’s using them and they’re using her. I mean, it’s a mutual – I mean, they’re both fairly adult about that but they seemed rather dull to me. I mean, the amount of time we spend with them compared to the amount of time we spend with her and the things she does, I could not have spent another 40 minutes with that film.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, do we learn how Coco Chanel became Coco Chanel in this movie?
ACCOMANDO: Not exactly. I mean, what you do get is you get a sense of her frustration with some of the social standards of the time, some of the things that were dictating how women dressed or how women behaved and her frustration with being asked to conform to some of those things. And that part of it, I found was interesting, the way she kind of deconstructed the clothes that were being worn and kind of reconstructed them in a way that she found more fitting and more suitable. And she was interested in simplicity and in a cleaner line and in clothes that were more comfortable for women to wear.
CAVANAUGH: Now I have, Scott, read that Audrey Tautou’s performance in “Coco Before Chanel” is actually a lot grittier than the other things that she’s done, “Amelie” or “Da Vinci Code.” She’s…
MARKS: Yeah, wonder why I liked it? That’s exactly why I liked it.
MARKS: I mean, “Amelie” was very cute. “Da Vinci Code” is unthinkable.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yes, yes.
MARKS: You know. And I thought that she really – Although I guess “Dirty Pretty Things”…
MARKS: …I’ll – which that’s an okay film. But I – There was something that really appealed to me about her in this performance because I think she did get a bit more down and dirty than we’re used to seeing. Didn’t the end of the film bother you? The end – It ends with a tragic moment in her life, cut, and she’s on the catwalk.
ACCOMANDO: And it’s this big fashion show scene.
MARKS: It’s a fashion show. How did we get from point A to point R? That’s what – that’s why I wanted the extra 40 minutes because I don’t think that this film tells us how she became this great designer.
MARKS: And that’s my big complaint with the film. So just…
ACCOMANDO: Because we spent too much time with those damn men.
MARKS: Yeah, but they make – they make two and a half hour films, I mean, you know, they could’ve turned this into more of an epic.
CAVANAUGH: So in other words, we don’t really learn how Coco became Chanel at all in this movie. So it doesn’t…
ACCOMANDO: I mean, it’s…
CAVANAUGH: …suit anybody.
MARKS: It literally is Coco before Chanel.
MARKS: I mean, the title is not misleading. It’s not elusive. That’s what it is.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and there’s another Coco film that’s going to be coming out from Sony Pictures Classics as well, focusing on her life, her time that she spent with Igor Stravinsky.
MARKS: Now is that a documentary?
MARKS: Oh, it’s another narrative?
ACCOMANDO: It’s a Danish film, of all things.
ACCOMANDO: Mads Mikkelsen, the guy from “Casino Royale” plays Stravinsky, I think.
CAVANAUGH: Now I just want to take up on Scott’s point that the stills from the film, I haven’t seen the film…
CAVANAUGH: …but they’re gorgeous. Let – Talk a little bit about the way it’s shot. Is this a beautiful movie?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it depends. If you’ve seen – It’s almost like it’s two separate films because that little end piece where there’s this fashion show is a little bit different than kind of what preceded it. If you saw the fashions from the other thing, it’s like, what, maybe five or ten minutes of just a catwalk?
MARKS: Oh, the – No, no. Five minutes.
ACCOMANDO: Five minutes?
ACCOMANDO: Which just has, you know, some of her most famous designs parading through. But before that, I mean, it is a very well crafted film. It’s just not a film that I feel I can get terribly excited about. It’s solidly made. It’s well done. But I didn’t feel like I got into her character as much as I would’ve liked.
CAVANAUGH: And is there anything about – considering this is about a famous fashion designer, before the catwalk scene, is there anything about – innovative or riveting about the costume design in this movie?
MARKS: It better be.
MARKS: I mean, the film is about Coco Chanel. Yeah, you see her wearing, you know, what I guess back then was considered outrageous, you know, fashions, so, I mean, you see that growing and you obviously see that the woman has a vision when it comes to fashion. It’s just – I wanted to know – I wanted to know that little extra more, how she became Coco Chanel and that’s the one flaw in the film. And, admittedly, I went into this with somewhat lower expectations because I’m not an Audrey Tautou fan. I wasn’t enthralled with “Aimee and Jaguar,” the film the director did before this. And I think because I was somewhat taken – I’m a sucker for camera movements and I’m a sucker for beautiful production design, and this film filled my dance card when it came to that.
CAVANAUGH: You know, just briefly before we leave this film, what you bring up about how this film ends before the Nazi occupation of the French, the Edith Piaf film did that, too. It just completely skirted over that whole period of her life.
MARKS: Because if you start talking about Nazis and collaboration, you’re not going to like the character, which, to me, is wrong. I mean, that’s a cheat. And I think this film does cheat because I never knew that about Coco and then I went – I was re – doing a little reading about her, I discovered this and it’s like, oh, I don’t think I like you anymore, you know? Get the bare Jew on her from “Inglourious Basterds” then I’d be happy.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right then. Let me tell everyone that “Coco Before Chanel” opens this Friday at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. Let’s move on. The next film is from the New Zealand born director of “The Piano,” Jane Campion. It’s a period drama telling the tragic story of 19th century British poet John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne. And it’s written and directed, as I say, by Jane Campion. Tell us more about this – the relationship between Keats and Fanny Brawne.
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s one of these chaste, passionate relationships. You know, Keats was one of the great romantic poets and Fanny Brawne comes across as a fairly well-grounded young woman, somewhat realistic and practical, who, surprisingly, becomes kind of a muse for him. And the film chronicles that relationship.
CAVANAUGH: And, of course, “Bright Star” is the name of one of his most famous…
CAVANAUGH: …poems. He wrote it to Fanny. She is the “Bright Star.” Did you like the movie, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: I – I really like Jane Campion and I admire a lot of things in the film but, again, this one left me a little bit like “Coco Before Chanel,” it was something where I could admire some of the craft in it but it left me a bit cold. And, you know, I have to confess maybe somebody who’s just gone through a divorce isn’t the best person to be reviewing a film about romantic, passionate love but it’s one of those things where they’re so obsessively in love with each other and when you see people like that, I don’t think you can help but kind of feel like you’re an outsider to a degree because they’re so consumed by each other and yet I don’t think the film quite captured what that was in a manner that really engaged me.
CAVANAUGH: So, Scott, if you’re not consumed yourself in the throes of young love, can you appreciate “Bright Star?”
MARKS: I ain’t got no young love. I ain’t got no young love. If “Coco” is craft, this is art. And I have to – You know, I’ve seen the film a couple of times now and it bumped “Il Divo.” I think this is the best picture I’ve seen this year. I think this is an astounding piece of filmmaking. This is set in a time where there was no internet, there was no anything, you know, there was no television, where people were – There were two forms of communication, the printed word and the spoken word. And people really have to choose their words wisely when they’re talking because, in a sense, they’re entertaining each other with what they’re talking about. This film is so brilliantly made and so just incredible to look at. There are images in this film I will never forget: the expression of first love when all of a sudden, you know, the screen is filled with lilacs. It is gorgeous. When he climbs to the top of the tree just to lay, literally in the treetops, and look at the sky, I mean, this is gorgeous. And I think Campion is probably the best working woman director today. And I’m shocked, the one thing I’ve heard, no one I know likes this film, I will s – Well, I take it back. There are a few. But when I saw a screening of it last weekend, when it was over, I was gauging the audience reactions and it’s like, it’s slow, it’s boring, it needs a kick in the ass. Have we been so systematically desensitized by action and comic book stuff that when you see a film that really deals with human emotion, that really deals with substance and romance and love, that you can’t just sit there and be patient? It’s only 119 minutes. This isn’t a four-hour movie. I think, in time, you’re going to go back, when things are better for you, Beth, and you’re going to look at this film and you’re going to say, you know, this is a lot better than I remember it. Is it as good as “The Piano?” No.
MARKS: And I’m also – I take great offense when people say this is Jane Campion, a return to form. She never left. She has never made a bad film, and I love “In The Cut,” I don’t care what anybody says. I think that’s a terrific piece of – that’s Jane Campion trying to make a commercial film.
ACCOMANDO: On “Angel At My Table,” too, or…
ACCOMANDO: I think that was an amazing film.
MARKS: In “Sweetie,” this woman makes a character walking down the street original. How can you make someone walking down a street show that in a wholly original light? And there are moments in this film I thought Abbie Cornish was just terrific in this role. And she’s been in a – you know, I’ve seen her in several films and she has never captivated me the way she has in this film. Ben Whishaw is a little wishy-washy. I mean, he looks like a tuberculosis victim, I’ll give you that.
MARKS: But I don’t know who could’ve done this role more justice than he did but I was just kind of – he didn’t do much for me. But, again, I’m a firm believer that actors don’t make films, directors do, and I think that this is just – Who can sit and write a film like this? Because Campion wrote it, too. How can you sit and devise a film like this where it’s just about communication. The reason that the two of them can’t get together is because he doesn’t have enough money. At one point she says to Keats and his writing partner Brown, you know, I’m a seamstress, and I’m making more money than you are.
MARKS: And it’s true. It’s true.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear – Well, since we’re talking about communication, let’s hear a scene from the film. The actress Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne and in this clip she reads a poem and explains to her disapproving mother what Keats means to her.
(audio of clip from the film “Bright Star”)
CAVANAUGH: That is a scene from “Bright Star,” and that’s actress Abbie Cornish. And, Beth, you know, being that it’s a very romantic story, it – films like this can go over the top very easily. Is that one of your criticisms of it? Or is it just…
CAVANAUGH: Well, what is it that you don’t like about it?
ACCOMANDO: Again, I mean, I think it’s because I feel distant from it and removed. I don’t feel like I’ve been pulled into that relationship. I’m kept as an observer outside. I just – I’ve liked her other films much better than this one. And I – it – this one feels like it’s covering some familiar ground but I don’t feel impressed by it in the same way that I have been by “The Piano” or “Angel At My Table” or “Sweetie.”
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s talk about the performances then. I know in reading about this movie, Abbie Cornish has just gotten these rave reviews as being sort of this just blooming presence in the movie. How do you feel that the main characters did, including Abbie Cornish?
ACCOMANDO: I think it’s – Well, again, I can admire – You know, sometimes there are just films that just aren’t your cup of tea and…
ACCOMANDO: …you – for me, I can admire a film and look at it and say, you know, I can see that it’s well done but for my personal taste, it just has…
CAVANAUGH: It’s so nothing.
ACCOMANDO: …so much for me. I mean, I think it’s well acted. I like her. I do like her.
MARKS: And you’ve got to say it’s well photographed.
ACCOMANDO: Yes. Oh, no, it’s – and it has…
MARKS: And the production design and the…
ACCOMANDO: It has…
MARKS: …costumes. The costumes in this are better than the costumes in “Coco.”
ACCOMANDO: And there’s – I mean, it’s – She’s a seamstress and, I mean, in fact, there’s as much probably sewing and designing in this film because she designs her own clothes and is as conscious probably of going against what conventions are for what she wears. But, again, it’s just…
MARKS: This is not your genre of choice. You do not like romantic films.
ACCOMANDO: No, I don’t like romantic and I don’t like – I don’t like…
MARKS: What a sourpuss.
ACCOMANDO: …Keats and all that…
MARKS: What a crabbypants.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, yeah. Give me…
MARKS: I’m telling you.
ACCOMANDO: Give me “Romeo and Juliet” if you want like passion.
MARKS: Which one?
ACCOMANDO: The one that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the…
MARKS: The Zeffirelli version?
ACCOMANDO: Yes, I like the Zeffirelli version.
MARKS: I’ll give you the Cukor one, not the Zeffirelli, no, no, no, and the Leonardo DiCaprio one, I think we’ll both skip. I just think that this is such a work – It’s the work of a visionary filmmaker. And when romance in Hollywood is now defined by Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Aniston.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, God.
MARKS: It is so nice to see a film. This isn’t Merchant Ivory. This isn’t where they let the costumes and the sets tell the story. This is the work of a visionary woman who just – it’s a very powerful film but I – that said, it’s not for everybody. It’s not.
CAVANAUGH: And why isn’t it for everyone?
MARKS: Because you actually have to pay attention, because there’s not karate fights every ten minutes, there’s not a climax every ten minutes, and it’s a very demanding film. And I think it’s a film that a lot of people find slow and cold and I didn’t find that at all. I mean, I – The supporting cast is terrific. It has one of the best casts I’ve seen in a film. Topper, that cat is so good, and the little girl who plays Toots is terrific.
ACCOMANDO: And her mother is – Kerry Fox…
MARKS: Kerry Fox.
ACCOMANDO: …from “Angel At My Table.”
MARKS: “Angel At My Table,” yeah.
ACCOMANDO: And she was phenomenal in that film.
MARKS: If you like period dramas, if you like romantic dramas, I – I don’t – I don’t see how you can go wrong with this film.
CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone that “Bright Star” is currently playing in area theaters. And we will continue with our Film Club of the Air in just a minute. We have to take a short break. Come back with us, and you’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
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CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS, and it’s the KPBS Film Club of the Air. Beth Accomando is here. She’s KPBS film critic, author of the blog “Cinema Junkie” on KPBS.org, and Scott Marks, local film critic, author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com. We’re moving on to a movie called “Whip It.” Drew Barrymore directs, co-produces and acts in “Whip It.” It’s a comedy/drama about the roller derby. Texas teenager Bliss Cavender finds escape from the world of local beauty pageants by putting on skates and winning a place on the Hurl Scouts roller derby team. The Scouts hurl themselves all the way to the championship game while Bliss is still trying to reconcile the two very different sides of her life. And the names and the characters in this movie are a great deal of fun. There’s Smashley Simpson and Bloody Holly and Iron Maven. How can this movie not be fun, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I’m the one who thought it was fun. Scott’s the one who thought it was not. I thought it was…
MARKS: How do you know what I thought? We never even talked about this film.
ACCOMANDO: You told me.
MARKS: I said “Whip It,” skip it. Okay, I said that, but…
ACCOMANDO: No. Oh, that was – that was subtle.
CAVANAUGH: That was a giveaway.
ACCOMANDO: I’m sorry. I misinterpret…
MARKS: Fun, I don’t – I don’t – First of all, what is – I don’t see fun as being a criteria for recommending movies. I don’t know.
ACCOMANDO: Why not? Why can’t you have fun at a movie? I don’t understand.
MARKS: Oh, you can have fun in a movie but there’s got to be more than just fun. I mean, this thing fails as an exploitation film, which is what I really wanted it to be. This is not a film about female empowerment. I mean, Drew Barrymore posed in Playboy and she did the two “Charlie’s Angels” films. This film is as much about female empowerment as Spice World.
ACCOMANDO: It’s girl power, not female empowerment.
MARKS: Oh, girl power, that’s…
ACCOMANDO: There’s a diff – it’s like…
MARKS: What the hell is girl – that’s powder puff girls?
ACCOMANDO: It’s like a lite version. Yes.
MARKS: So this is feminism lite.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you it is empowerment for Drew because it’s her first directorial effort and I’m wondering what you think. I’ll go with Beth first. How does she do?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I don’t think she really excels at being a director. I mean, I think the film is light and enjoyable. It’s, like I said, it’s a girl power film. It follows kind of the “Rocky” format. I think it’s good because of the performances. I really liked Ellen Page and Marcia Gay Harden plays her mother, and I thought their relationship worked well on screen. And I don’t think that with this film, at least, I don’t think Drew Barrymore proves herself to be any kind of a great director. She’s – She just gets it done. She has fun. She lets the actors take center stage and, like I said, it was enjoyable.
CAVANAUGH: Well, with “Whip It,” skip it, we kind of know, Scott, but I want to know, you weren’t a big fan of “Juno” but you do like Ellen Page’s performance in this film.
MARKS: Yeah, I mean, this is probably the first time that I’ve seen Ellen Page where I really enjoyed her, where it didn’t bother me. Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, with the exception of producing “Donnie Darko,” boy, this is – She has become such a fizzle this decade. I mean, those “Charlie’s Angels” films, I think, are just jiggle garbage. I think they’re so bad. Her direction in this film, she shoots it in Panavision, and she crams all the characters to the center of the frame so it’ll look better when they show it on HBO. The stuff with Marcia Gay Harden, it’s “Roller Boogie.” Oh, mama, I don’t want to go to school, I want to go and become a roller derby queen. This is just such clichéd stuff I didn’t find anything – anything charming, anything engaging, anything clever in this film. There’s nothing original. And if anything, Drew Barrymore, who is a bit of a dirty girl, should have made this an exploitation film.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you, let’s see how close Scott gets to the actual sound of this film. We have a scene from it. Here Ellen Page meets two of the Hurl Scouts for the very first time. The Hurl Scouts are played by Kristen Wiig and…
MARKS: No, ‘Vig,’ see, I asked that one at the beginning of the show, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: …and Drew Barrymore. Let’s take a listen.
(audio of clip from the film “Whip It”)
CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s a scene from the movie “Whip It.” I guess the only question that really remains is how are the actual roller derby matches? How do they come across? I’ll go to you first, Scott.
MARKS: I mean, in the beginning there’s a scene that’s kind of reminiscent of when Samuel L. Jackson describes what nitrate film is in “Inglourious Basterds” where they sit and they put up on the screen and they explain to you the rules of roller derby. I still don’t know what roller – wrestling, I know. It’s two guys, you pin them, and it’s over. I have no idea what roller derby is. I never…
MARKS: Yeah, I – I don’t…
ACCOMANDO: It’s the key: Pass.
MARKS: I don’t know. The one person…
ACCOMANDO: And knock them over the rail.
MARKS: …that I want to mention is, her name is Alia Shawkat. She’s the – I guess Brittany Murphy was too old for the role, so they got this Alia Shawkat. She is terrific. She steals this movie. She is so funny. In one week, I saw three films of her. She’s in “Amreeka,” she’s in “Bart Got A Room,” and this, and I saw all those films in one week. This young woman just kind of dropped out of thin air and I think that there’s a lot of potential for her. Kristen Wiig, though, is so miscast in this film. As much as I love Juliette Lewis and Eve, I can believe them as tough roller derby broads. Kristen Wiig, a good rain and her tattoos are dust. You know, they’re just gone, they’re a smear. So, I don’t hate this movie, it’s just I wanted – I wanted a…
ACCOMANDO: You wanted an exploitation film, yeah.
MARKS: Yeah, it’s about roller derby, of course. What do I want, a searing expose of…
ACCOMANDO: It’s a sweet film about roller derby.
MARKS: It’s just – But, I mean, a sweet film about – that’s an oxymoron. I wanted to have – I wanted to have fun with this film and with the exception of this Alia Shawkat and Robert Yeoman’s cinematography, I don’t know. Didn’t do much for me.
CAVANAUGH: Let us move on then and tell…
CAVANAUGH: …everyone that “Whip It” opens this weekend in area theaters. The next movie is an opposite to a movie like “Whip It.” It’s…
MARKS: That’s an understatement.
CAVANAUGH: It’s the Chinese film “24 City” and it blends interviews with actors and real factory workers to tell the story of the closure of a state-owned factory. The workers lost their jobs to a new development and the film explores how China’s new capitalist society’s changing old landscapes and old expectations. This movie is being described as an experimental fiction/nonfiction hybrid. Beth, can you explain a little bit more how this works?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s a film that does mix nonfiction and fiction and, essentially, the filmmaker looks to this one particular factory, known as Factory 420. It produced, I think it was, airplane engines for a number of years. It was very successful. And he now finds that it’s going to be demolished and torn down in order to put up luxury apartments. And so the film essentially focuses on eight people. Five of them are real workers who’ve been in the plant and three of them are actresses who—I haven’t quite confirmed this or not—but I think that they are playing workers or they are…
ACCOMANDO: …re – or that they…
MARKS: According to the notes, these are fictional monologues by three women.
ACCOMANDO: But I heard that they were based on experiences of other women from the factory.
MARKS: Then how is it fictional?
MARKS: I don’t know, I mean…
ACCOMANDO: …it’s not a real – I mean, it’s not a single individual, that it’s not based…
MARKS: Oh, okay.
ACCOMANDO: …that each of them is not based on a single…
MARKS: Oh, so they’re like composite characters.
ACCOMANDO: ...individual but…
MARKS: Oh, okay.
ACCOMANDO: …that it’s taken from stories of factory workers. But I haven’t confirmed like exactly – so – But the thing is, he never makes it clear at which points he’s crossing the line from nonfiction to fiction, so especially for American audiences who probably don’t recognize at least two of the three actresses, Joan Chen is one of them, but the other two actresses are probably not that familiar to them so for a lot of people, they’ll be watching this and probably not be aware that they’re watching people who are not as they seem. I mean, there was a film recently, what was it, “Nanking,” where it was very obvious that they had actors cast reading diaries and letters of real people, but it was very obvious that it was kind of a fictional recreation of real events done in kind of a documentary style. So it’s a film that challenges you on that point, and the blurring of that line between reality and fiction is part of what he wants to get at.
MARKS: Well, he said that he thought that history, by its very nature, blends facts and fiction and facts and imagination, and that’s why he did it in this film. And you never see the apartment complex when it’s completed, you never see 420 being torn down. Ah, maybe a little.
ACCOMANDO: No, you do. You get to see…
MARKS: Yeah, a little bit towards the end.
ACCOMANDO: No, you get to see quite a bit of the demolition. I mean, it’s really about things coming down and being torn down and demolished and it’s not about, you know, I mean, this – these luxury apartments are supposed to be kind of this symbol of China and the new economic age and it’s supposed to be something that they’re touting. But all he really shows is the demolition of the old without replacing it with anything new.
CAVANAUGH: And I just want to let everyone know the ‘he’ we’re talking about is director Jia Zhang Ke, if I’m pronouncing that correct.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, I know you’re a fan of this movie. Is this style typical of this director’s work?
MARKS: I don’t think I’ve ever seen another film of this director.
ACCOMANDO: I don’t think any of his films have shown here before.
MARKS: Yeah, I don’t think…
ACCOMANDO: But it is – But, I mean, from what I understand, he has approached this kind of a format before using similar techniques. He’s not some – I mean, he’s somebody who, I think, has a very distinct style and approach to the way he – I mean, approach to his material and that he has dealt with things like this in a similar fashion.
CAVANAUGH: Now, one of the criticisms about this movie is that when you blend the actors talking about this compilation of real life story and you have the real life people talking about their own story, that there is an actual difference that you can see in the fact that somebody’s relating their life story and whereas somebody is acting someone else’s life story, and that it’s up – you know, it sort of upsets the texture of the film. Would either of you agree with that?
MARKS: I think the last actress, the last woman, the one that, the 22 year old.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah. Yeah.
MARKS: I don’t know this for a fact but I would bet my bottom dollar that she’s an actress.
MARKS: And Joan Chen, I know as well.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it’s almost like a progression because the first actress he uses is one who tells the story about losing her son and, honestly, I could not tell that that was an actress. I mean, I knew that there were three actresses in it but her performance felt incredibly real, the story, I mean, everything, and the way he shot her. As we moved toward Joan Chen, she plays a character who talks about herself as someone who looks like Joan Chen from a movie.
ACCOMANDO: So at that point…
ACCOMANDO: …you know, he starts to – If you’re paying attention, he’s starting to draw attention to the fact that, you know, maybe you should be paying a little more attention, maybe you’re being fooled and you don’t know it. And I think it becomes a real element and, you know, talking point for his film that he wants to do. And then the third actress is one that I think he’s used in a couple of other films before and it’s almost over the top the way she comes across. So, I mean, I think it’s a progression that he does.
CAVANAUGH: In this movie “24 City” there are many very long sequences and it’s a very long, drawn out movie. And I think it might be interesting to compare this movie with Michael Moore’s movie that lands in theaters this week. It’s also about capitalism and the things that can result from a capitalist society. Scott, you’ve seen it. Tell us what it’s about.
MARKS: Well, first of all “24 City” is beautifully directed and beautifully photographed. Michael Moore is a propaganda filmmaker at his heart. And what this new film is basically saying is that greed is bad. Gee, well, that’s a shock. The first two-thirds of the film, again, when you take ephemeral footage and present it as documentary fact, even if his tongue is in his cheek, there’s one moment where he’s try – Have you seen it? You haven’t seen – Okay.
ACCOMANDO: Not yet.
MARKS: There’s one moment where he’s trying to show us that Ronald Reagan is not a feminist so what does he do? He takes a clip from Don Siegel’s “The Killers” where Reagan reaches across the screen and punches Angie Dickinson. This is unfair. This is just downright cheating. The last act in the film, the last third of the film, where he really analyzes this whole downfall of the American banking system is fascinating. But up until then, it’s more of the same, no pun intended. I mean, it’s – And you want to do the world a favor? Take yourself out of the equation. Take the little skit schtick out of there, just take it out of the equation and stick with the facts. The first 15 minutes of the film, it’s just clips of ephemeral footage from the ‘50s and ‘60s that are supposed to represent what we view the American dream as back at that point in history. So I think they’re both flawed films. If you want to see “24 City,” I think you have just a few more days left. It’s at the Gaslamp now and it’s gone on Thursday.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and the other thing, too, is, I mean, Michael Moore is a filmmaker who tells you what to think. I mean, he doesn’t – he – there’s no…
ACCOMANDO: …room between what he wants you to think and what he’s saying in the film. With “24 City,” it’s really – he’s putting stuff out there. He has a definite perspective but he’s not putting it in your face. I mean, there was one scene that I just thought was wonderful where you see the big Chinese characters that are the name of the factory…
ACCOMANDO: …being taken down. Like each time you go back to it, I think they take down one more letter, and at one point four workers are carrying this huge Chinese character symbol off, and it just seemed to say so much about what was going on.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everybody know that the “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore, is going to be opening in theaters this week. “24 City,” currently playing at the Reading Gaslamp Stadium in downtown San Diego. Now we just have about a minute to talk about “Paranormal Activity.” It’s this – made by a local filmmaker, it’s getting quite a bit of buzz right now. The filmmaker is Oren Peli, a 39 year old videogame designer from San Diego, who made this film, “Paranormal Activity.” Tell us a little bit about it and why it’s got such a buzz.
MARKS: The reason this caught my eye is because – and I gotta give the kid credit, or the guy, he’s not a kid. I gotta give the guy credit, he actually got a DVD copy of this to Spielberg’s hands. Spielberg takes it home to his Pacific Palisades mansion, watches it in his bedroom, the wussy gets so scared that he gets – the door to his room, suddenly it’s locked and he has to call a locksmith to let him out. And he thinks that the DVD is haunted and he brings the DVD back to the studio the next day in a garbage bag and says, get this out of my house. Now I know some people say that this is probably an apocryphal story. It was in the LA Times and I would think that they would do some research. It just – it just hammers home – Spielberg is now a shill for the new “Blair Witch Project,” which is basically what this looks like. I think the trailer to this film is really deceptive. I think – when I look at a trailer and I see lies in a trailer, you have an audience watching it on the screen and the audience is in that kind of like infared green light and everything on the screen is perfectly illuminated, it doesn’t go that way.
CAVANAUGH: In about 15 seconds, can you tell us what it’s about?
MARKS: Ghosts. People set up a camera in their bedroom because they think they’re being attacked by ghosts.
ACCOMANDO: Haunted, yeah.
MARKS: Yeah, and this thing has such a buzz. They had a screening of it last weekend at the Cinerama Dome…
ACCOMANDO: They’re going viral marketing on the internet.
MARKS: …4500 people turned up to see this movie.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let me tell you that multiple sites on the blogosphere confirm that a midnight screening of “Paranormal Activity” will take place Friday, October second, at AMC Mission Valley, so we can all go and get ourselves scared to death.
ACCOMANDO: I’m game to give it a chance but, boy, you know, I’ve been through divorce and I have a teenager, you gotta do a lot more than…
CAVANAUGH: To scare you, right?
ACCOMANDO: …that to scare me with a trailer.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, Beth, Scott, thank you both so much for being here. I really appreciate it. Great Film Club.
ACCOMANDO/MARKS: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And you’ve been listening to the KPBS Film Club of the Air. And this is These Days on KPBS.