The 15th annual FirstGlance Film Festival comprises a host of independent shorts, docs and features, many of which are based in Philly. Bill Haley’s Steve Phoenix: The Untold Story is one of the full-length flicks. It follows a down-on-his-luck reporter searching for his big break in Fishtown. But the festival’s primary focus is on shorts. Destined, by Michael Giletto and Andrew Laquintano, deals with evil spirits, morals and a jealous husband, while Lee Porter’s comedic web series My Ruined Life is a humorous look at the woes of everyday life. For reviews of these films and a host of other Philly-connected offerings, check this week's movies section.
Nov. 9-11, all films screen at the Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., $8-$12 per screening or $75 for an all-access pass. For more information, go to firstglancefilms.com.
What sort of movie would RZA — the de facto mastermind behind Wu Tang Clan and its hip-hop dynasty — make if he had a chance to direct one? We wouldn’t know precisely what kind because The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA’s directorial debut that he co-wrote with Eli Roth, wasn’t made available to screen before this interview. But you could guess from his background in the theology of martial arts — the skill and its films and their influence on Wu everything — to say nothing from a reel where he, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, David Bautista and Jamie Chung run roughshod across 19th-century China. It would be a fast-paced bloodbath, especially since it’s being “presented by” his cinematic mentor Quentin Tarantino, with whom RZA has worked on several film scores. Plus RZA created most of the score to The Man with the Iron Fists when he wasn’t developing Chambers headphones (a pair of which we gave away in an Instagram contest this week), the sleek black zip-up pouch it comes in, or trying to get the entirety of the Wu Tang Clan in fighting action for 2013. I spoke to him from the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles.
City Paper: What was the first movie that you absolutely loved?
RZA: Star Wars. It’s still an amazing film. I even love the whole saga.
CP: What was the first film that moved you to pay attention to its direction, do decide that making movies was something you’d like to do someday?
RZA: I can say the first film that I found remarkable enough to want to know more about was Five Deadly Venoms then The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, after that. Once those hit I probably began to look at films from the standpoint of how they were done. The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly — these were masterpieces of cinema that you wanted to get inside. I watch films with a different eye because of that. Like when I saw The Grey I felt like I was in a rainstorm the whole time. I got cold.
It's our Halloween issue! Pat Rapa talks with professional actors about the roles they've played in haunted houses in less-flush eras of their careers: "I wandered around, mean as fuck, glaring at people and barking at them in a voice like Jack Nicholson chewing on speed and broken glass."
Theresa Everline hangs out with mummies at the Penn Museum: "There are numerous human heads with (ew!) preserved hair. There’s a falcon, an ibis, a herd of cats, a crocodile and two young children — all mummified."
Mark Cofta goes to the Adrienne for Luna Theater Company's 70 Scenes of Halloween, in which a resentful suburban married couple are stalked by two scary monsters: "Beast and Witch are simultaneously neighborhood children, Jeff and Joan’s friends and the couple’s barely controlled ids.
And a roundup of Halloween events, from Dracula ballet to a Rocky Horror Puppet Show to zombie-pop.
Deni Kasrel on human-robot choreography in Science per Forms from Carbon Dance Theatre: "Homer must be reprogrammed, not merely asked to avoid beaning the other dancer."
Patrick Rapa talks to Kate Ferencz about her band Evil Sword and their love of costumes and weirdness. " Regardless of what time of year it is, if you come to an Evil Sword show you are expected to wear a costume."
Michael Pelusi has a few things to say about the Aimee Mann/Ted Leo show at Union Transfer on Friday: "Thirteen years after Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Aimee Mann has found another simpatico filmmaker: Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show on WFMU. Scharpling’s videos for songs from Mann’s latest album, Charmer (SuperEgo), delight in testing the resolve of her deadpan. ..."
Peter Burwasser is intrigued by the gigantic Cage: Move From Zero series starting up on Friday: "Was John Cage a creative genius or a clever charlatan?"
Sam Adams calls the highly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s sci-fi epic Cloud Atlas "a movie of big ideas — and only some of them are terrible." Directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant Grade: B+ Theaters: Franklin Mills, UA Grant, UA Riverview.
Christian Graham reviews The Other Son, "a West Bank story of mistaken identity and clashing cultures that, unfortunately, fails to hit as hard as it could." Director: Lorraine Levy Stars: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé and Jules Sitruk Grade: B- Theater: Ritz Five.
Drew Lazor calls indie drama Smashed "a forthright exploration of alcoholism clipped by its own rhetoric." Director: James Ponsoldt Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul and Octavia Spencer Grade: B- Theaters: Ritz at the Bourse.
Plus, a roundup of rep films by Christian Graham that includes all kinds of old-school Halloween flicks, like The Monster Squad at The Balcony, The Exorcist at County Theater and Halloween at Rave.
Movie critic Andrew Wimer reviews his favorite Netflix Instant flick of the week.
Coming off 2012’s National Coming Out Day celebrations, British director Derek Jarman showcases an intangible relic of ancient queer history in his 1976 debut Sebastiane. The film offers a glimpse into an era of bathhouses and casual sex, long before the impending AIDS epidemic was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Chronicling the exile and execution of Saint Sebastian, the film remains notorious for its low budget and gratuitous male nudity (the result of such limited expenses, the director once joked).
From the journey's onset, Jarman establishes his unique vision of the late Roman Empire. The emperor's court is a veritable who's who of Rocky Horror fame, including Little Nell, Peter Hinwood and Patricia Quinn. The rest of the talent ranges from friends in Jarman's artistic circles to unknowns who may well have been cast directly from a '70s porno reel. Impressively, all dialogue is spoken in vulgar Latin though one need not know the language, as subtitles are provided.
The sole Christian amongst the group, the saint finds himself reaching holy enlightenment, unlike his fellow soldiers who are busy being attracted to each other's flesh. In a time before contemporary notions of sexual identity, casual sex between men passes the time for all but Sebastian, tortured by a compatriote for his refusal to submit to his lust. Between Brian Eno's psychedelic ambient score, a sublimely beautiful slow-motion lovemaking sequence among two soldiers in a pond and Sebastian's increasing delusions, Jarman creates a hauntingly spiritual presence beyond the bounds of celluloid. The implications of the BDSM-esque ruin of the saint juxtaposed with homoreoticism remain questionable today, but few have the courage to tackle such themes this far past Jarman's untimely death from AIDS in 1994.
As the world's oldest, most exclusive sorority churns out tons of celebrities and politicians, a new young batch of sisters discovers the secret power behind their rituals is actually demonic and a tad bit murderous. No, this isn't a hidden legend of UPenn past, but the plot in local production company South Fellini's Alpha Girls, shot entirely in Philadelphia. With a world premiere at 7 p.m. tomorrow at The Balcony, last summer's production will soon be splattered on screens across the East Coast and elsehwere. Tony Trov and Johnny Zito, the comic artist duo that wrote and directed the film, took time out to sit with City Paper for a brief, snark-tastic gab fest.
City Paper: How much research and first-hand experience went into accurately representing sorority life?
JZ: There was a ton of research. We spent months playing beer pong, listened to tons of dub step and entered several pillow-fighting competitions.
TT: Not to mention the countless panty raids. These were all difficult hurdles but we managed to overcome.
The grouping of underground filmmakers, cinephiles and theoreticians that make up Philadelphia’s Shooting Wall collective will show wherever they find a blank flat space. Could be an art gallery’s white expanse. Could be outside City Hall for the Occupy Movement during encampment’s start. Currently, along with wrapping up issue number five of its eponymous film zine, the local-oriented floating collective finds itself with a semi-permanent screening home in the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art. The one-Monday-a-month series starts with showings of two of Shooting Wall’s most auspicious and conspicuous filmmaking members — Joshua Martin who has hosted his share of Shooting Gallery events and Joe Kramer. Martin, the director of claustrophobic shorts Bathtub and Shoebox unveils the long form Episodes from an Investigation while Kramer screens the teeny tiny Vacant Guillotine Blues.
Mon., Sept. 24, 7 p.m., free, PhilaMOCA, 31 N. 12th St., 267-519-9651.
Before he began working on this summer’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Joss Whedon demonstrated his love for comic books in more modest ways. His comic adaptations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Serenity fleshed out characters and stories from Whedon’s beloved television shows. His run on Astonishing X-Men earned him critical acclaim and a coveted Eisner Award. But it’s the three-act webseries Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog which allowed Whedon to push his love for comic books in startlingly new directions. This musical about the lovably villainous and villainously lovelorn Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) reverses the standard superhero formula, compelling viewers to root for the mad scientist with “a Ph.D in Horribleness.” The Rotunda will be screening the miniseries in its entirety as well as offering games, refreshments, and a raffle drawing — all for a less than horrible cause. All proceeds from the event benefit Equality Now, a Whedon-sponsored organization dedicated to ending violence and discrimination against women.
Sun., Sept. 23, 2 p.m., $8-$10, The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., 215-573-3234, therotunda.org.
FirstGlance Film Fest just released the lineup of flicks that will be shown at the 15th annual Philadelphia festival, taking place Nov. 9-11 at the Franklin Institute. Congrats and good luck to the Philly-connected offerings, which are bolded in the full list of films below.
Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass' Sleepwalk With Me opens today at Ritz at the Bourse (see our review here). In anticipation of its release, the duo sat down for an interview with City Paper's Frida Garza that quickly went from chatter about the movie to a sweeping, almost romantic saga about how the project got started. These guys are total goofballs. Read on.
City Paper: My first question is for Mike. Sleepwalk With Me has been a one-man show, it’s been a book, it’s been a segment on This American Life. When was the first time you told the story of your sleepwalking.
Mike Birbiglia: The first time I told it to anyone was the night it happened. I was on the phone with my wife and my parents. It was a really weird phone conversation, because I was calling them in the middle of the night saying, “OK, this really weird thing happened.” I think it was really shocking for them. And I’m sorry that I had to put them through that.
CP: So when did it progress from something that was happening in your life to something that you were starting to include in your comedy?
MB: A few months after it happened I started to tell people conversationally, and then I said, 'you know, I think I’m gonna tell this onstage.' I found that it was really connecting with audiences. I was doing it in a standup setting, and eventually I merged it with my one-man show, Sleepwalk With Me, which I was already writing.
CP: This one’s for Ira. When did you first hear this story and how did you react the first time you heard it?
Ira Glass: My part of the story is a little boring, because I heard a recording that Mike had made for … The Moth. Somebody on my staff heard it and they thought, ‘We gotta get this guy on the radio.” They played it for me and I agreed. You know, when I heard the story — the short, 15-minute version — the things that are appealing about the longer movie version were there. It has this spectacular trajectory of somebody in denial about what’s really going on his life and then it expressed itself through big, physical action. That’s the thing at the heart of the film.
CP: So, when did one of you turn to the other and say, ‘This is something that we should make into a feature film’?
IG: It was over a candlelit dinner, and Mike …
It's not often City Paper's film critics dole out A's when grading new-movie releases, and it's even rarer that top-rated films pop up on Netflix Instant. Recently, however, one of our 2012 A-earners, David Gelb's food-centric documentary on legendary sushi chef Jiro Ono, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, became available for instant viewing. Here's what critic Drew Lazor said about it when he reviewed it in late March:
"Leaning on sleek time-lapse footage and elegant close-ups to compound the intricacies of Jiro's every measured motion, Gelb shoots with so much respect and artistic clarity that Jiro's incredible standards of self-discipline are not noted so much as gilded. "Ultimately, simplicity leads to purity," the chef says of his job, a deceptively straight-ahead view from someone who not only loves, but lives, his work."
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