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Sean Axmaker

Interview: Lynn Shelton on “My Effortless Brilliance”

[I interviewed Lynn Shelton in Seattle on May 17, 2008, to talk about her then new film, My Effortless Brilliance, and her debut feature, We Go Way Back. This interview was originally published on GreenCine on May 24, 2008. Since this interview, Shelton made Humpday, which was chosen to play in the exclusive competition at Sundance 2009 and was quickly scooped up as the festival’s first film sale, and won the Acura Someone to Watch Award for My Effortless Brilliance at the 2009 Spirit Awards. I revisited the interview for Parallax View in 2009.].

Lynn Shelton
Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton is part of a hardy breed: the regional filmmaker who creates feature films within a community far outside the L.A.-centered base. That means casts, crews, locations, post-production and even financing is all locally based. Her debut feature, We Go Way Back, made after a decade of honing her skills on experimental films and documentaries and editing the features of other local filmmakers, won the Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2006. Her second film, My Effortless Brilliance premiered at SXSW in 2008 and gets it hometown premiere during the opening weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Both of these films are small, intimate, character-based pictures. We Go Way Back, the story of a young actress in a kind of emotional stupor as she struggles to make her way as an actress at the expense of her own sense of self, tosses in a high concept twist – her 13-year-old self, present in letters written to her future self full of confidence and creativity and ambition, arrives in the flesh. What could be a Lynchian bend in time and space and identity, however, is played with naturalistic calm. She’s not here to judge, only to heal and center her emotionally fractured older self. My Effortless Brilliance shifts to male relationships, specifically the “break-up” of old friends and the desperation with which one man (played by Sean Nelson – singer, songwriter, former frontman for Harvey Danger and, in the interest of disclosure, my friend and colleague), a novelist struggling to repeat the success of his first book, attempts to reconnect. His motivations are less out of affection than ego – dude, he was dumped! The film’s reception was mixed, which may have as much to do with the seeming lack of narrative drive and plotting and its undeniable similarities to Old Joy as with the discomforting portrait of male relationships. Yet I found the texture of the relationships and the sly humor winning and was impressed with the performances, especially Nelson, who’s a natural in the role, subtly establishing the sense of ego and vulnerability and self-aggrandizement in the character with brave intimacy. Shelton’s observations of male relationships and the rhythms of old friends falling into old patterns are spot on, helped immensely, surely, by the collaboration of the cast, who played the scenes without a script, only an outline.

I met Lynn Shelton for breakfast at Mae’s on Phinney Ridge (a great little breakfast spot near both of us) and, starting out over cups of green tea (“I love it,” she said – our first connection made), she launched into the history of how she started making features and where My Effortless Brilliance came from.

We Go Way Back is the quintessential chick flick and My Effortless Brilliance really is the quintessential guy flick,” she began. “I’ve yet to meet a guy who does not like my new movie. And there are a lot of people who like it, but there are some who just can’t find a way into it. They just can’t relate to it, basically. And We Go Way Back is the exact opposite. Every woman has a very homogeneous sense of love for this movie. A lot of men love it too, but sometimes men are just like, ‘Whatever.’ It’s really, really interesting. So I like that dichotomy.”

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I Wake Up Streaming – August 2019

Small Screen Noir and Neo-Noir

The history of television is full of great crime shows, from Dragnet to Hill Street Blues to Homicide: Life on the Street to The Wire and beyond, but small screen noir is a rare treasure indeed. Let’s face it, TV rarely embraced the visual style or hard-bitten, world-weary, often cynical attitude that defined noir as much as subject matter, setting, and iconography.

There are a few classic shows that embraced the sensibility, at least as much as network standards and practices allowed, and, in the past couple of decades, crime TV has allowed itself to slip into the heart of darkness of modern noir. And thanks to the voracious need for streaming content, many of these shows, past and present, are now readily available on major streaming services. ane double life” married to both Joan Fontaine and Lupino.

Amazon Prime Video

Blake Edwards’ Peter Gunn (1958-1961), starring Craig Stevens as TV’s most debonair private-eye, presents a veritable digest of B-movie film noir conventions and a striking visual style on austere, often abstract sets filled with fog and smoke and lit with bold shadows cutting through a twilight haze, distilling the noir look into a stripped-down style for the low fidelity of late-1950s black-and-white broadcast TV.

Continue reading at The Film Noir Foundation

Review: Das Boot (2019)

Das Boot shares the same title as Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 film (and is technically a sequel), but familiarity with the original is unnecessary to start the series. Also based on the novel Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim as well its sequel Die Festung, the 2019 series is set in late 1942, nine months after the film’s finale, with a new crew, a new mission, and a new vessel.

Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon), a young, inexperienced officer with a military hero father, is promoted to captain of U-162, much to the resentment of First Watch officer Karl Tennstedt (August Wittgenstein) and a crew loyal to the veteran officer.

Continue reading at Noir Now Playing

Review: I Am the Night

We can thank Wonder Woman for the miniseries I Am the Night. Director Patty Jenkins not only connected with her star, Chris Pine, over the project, but Pine’s interest inspired a new character in the screenplay her husband, Sam Sheridan, was writing. The result is an “inspired by a true story” six-part TV-miniseries as dark and lurid as any fictional film noir.

India Eisley stars as Pat, a mixed-race high school girl in 1965 Nevada who discovers that everything her mother Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks), a single, African-American woman, told her was a lie.

Continue reading at Noir Now Playing

Review: Piranahs

Fifteen-year-old Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli) is a good kid in a bad situation. His Naples neighborhood is terrorized by gangsters and his single mother is barely holding on with the onerous protection money payments. So, this smart, ambitious kid organizes his buddies into a gang, appeals to the former neighborhood Don (now an outcast for turning informant) for weapons, and takes the neighborhood back.

Continue reading at Noir Now Playing

I Wake Up Streaming – July 2019

The Criterion Channel

The Columbia Noir Collection that headlined the launch of The Criterion Channel is now gone, along with a few other choice noir classics spotlighted a few months back, but a new selection has arrived in the past couple of months.

Did you miss On Dangerous Ground (1951) on TCM’s Noir Alley last month? Criterion has a beautiful edition of the film directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. It’s part of Criterion’s “Director: Ida Lupino” spotlight (Lupino directed one scene, as Eddie Muller noted in his presentation), and starting July 24 the service will offer a new video introduction by NOIR CITY contributor Imogen Sara Smith.

Continue reading at Noir City

Japanese Girls at the Harbor

When Hiroshi Shimizu released Japanese Girls at the Harbor in 1933, the veteran filmmaker had already made more than eighty-five films. When he died in 1966, he had at least 160 films to his credit in a thirty-five-year career, most of them made at Shochiku, also the home of his friend and colleague Yasujiro Ozu. In his time Shimizu was both a popular director and a respected filmmaker, but after his death he was practically forgotten, even in his home country. He was born in 1903, the same year as Ozu, yet after the glorious celebration of Ozu’s centenary with a near-complete touring retrospective in Japan, Shimizu received a belated “101st Anniversary” celebration at the 2004 Hong Kong International Film Festival, an afterthought, showcasing a mere thirteen films.

Why? Access is certainly a factor. Only a fraction of his films survive, even fewer are available on home video, and his work is rarely revived outside of Japan. Another reason may be a reputation that stuck as a director of light entertainment after his series of children’s films that he began making in the late 1930s. “Shimizu’s world is a sunny one, where the sadness of things only rarely intrudes,” wrote Alan Stanbrook after a 1988 retrospective at London’s National Film Theatre, the first to showcase the director in the West. And then there was the reductive public persona that remained long after the films receded from the public.

Continue reading at The San Francisco Silent Festival website

I Wake Up Streaming – May 2019

Kanopy is one of the best kept secrets of the streaming world. A free service available through most public and college libraries, it features a robust selection of American indies, foreign films, and educational programming. And thanks to deals with Criterion, Kino Lorber, the Cohen Film Collection, and other libraries, it has perhaps the most impressive line-up of classic and foreign cinema outside of The Criterion Channel. There is a catch, however; Kanopy restricts users to a limited number of items per month. That makes it a great supplementary service, but hardly a replacement for your subscription service(s) of choice. Given that, it is a great supplement to Netflix or Amazon or Hulu, which all favor contemporary over classic offerings. And when it comes to noir, it delivers the goods.

Let’s start with Sunset Boulevard (1950), the blackest of Hollywood’s self-portraits, starring Gloria Swanson as former silent-movie queen Norma Desmond and William Holden as a failed screenwriter with a mercenary streak. Billy Wilder makes his scabrous and acidic exposé of Hollywood’s living graveyards both ghoulish and tragic.

Continue reading at The Film Noir Foundation

A Rich and Varied World: Highlights of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The great misconception of silent cinema is that it’s all about movies that lack the dimension of sound. It’s the idea of “lack” they get wrong. Apart from the oft-stated fact that silent cinema was never silent—from the biggest movie palaces to the smallest storefront theaters, the movies were always accompanied with music and often with sound effects—movies developed as a uniquely visual form of storytelling just as radio drama and comedy evolved into a sophisticated form of audio storytelling. Whether you believe it a purer from of cinema or an archaic one, silent movies offer a different kind of experience than sound cinema, one built on faces and physical performance to communicate character and emotion. Forget the cliché of outsized acting styles and simplistic situations plucked from slapstick farces and spoofs. There is a rich world and varied world in the silents, from surreal comedy to magnificent spectacle to adult drama, with performances both bold and nuanced.

That is the experience celebrated at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the biggest and greatest celebration of cinema before the talkies in the U.S. The 24th year of this annual event presented 23 features between May 1 through May 5 at the Castro Theater (“the Cathedral to Cinema,” as it was so described by the director of the National Film Archive of Japan, Hisashi Okajima), along with shorts and special presentations. 

Continue reading at RogerEbert.com

Review: Trouble is My Business

Disgraced private detective Roland Drake is on the verge of being evicted from his crummy little office—the glass door is scarred with tell-tale signs of a partner’s name haphazardly scraped off—when she slinks in. “She had a face that could launch a thousand ships and a body that would bring them back,” he monotones in voice-over. Played by actor/director/co-writer Tom Konkle with the hangdog presence of a born patsy, Drake has a bottle in the drawer, a fedora perched on his head, and an attitude that reaches for world-weary resignation.

That reach—like much of the film—exceeds Konkle’s grasp, but the ambition of Trouble is My Business is impressive. 

Continue reading at Noir Now Playing at The Film Noir Foundation

I Wake Up Streaming – April 2019

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video is now streaming Charles Laughton’s great American gothic noir The Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum in a fire and brimstone performance as a demonic con man in preacher man’s robes. It’s one of the most beautiful pastoral nightmares the cinema has seen.

Hulu

Hulu presents Karyn Kusama’s hard-edged Destroyer (2018, R), a neo-noir crime thriller with a sun-blasted look and a ferocious performance by Nicole Kidman as a damaged police detective (reviewed by Kelly Vance on Noir Now Playing here).

Presenting The Criterion Channel

Just four months after FilmStruck, the film-lover’s streaming service created by Criterion, TCM, and Warner Bros., ceased operations, The Criterion Channel rose from its ashes as a stand-alone service. Where FilmStruck had the mighty Warner Bros. catalog to draw from (at least for the final eight months of its existence), The Criterion Channel is built on the foundation of the Janus film catalog (home to hundreds of classics from Bergman, Chaplin, Kie?lowski, Kurosawa, Melville, Ozu, Truffaut, Rossellini, and Welles, among many others) and supplemented with film packages licensed from other studios and distributors.

The Criterion Channel launched on April 8 with over 1500 features and short films (as well as original programs and supplements from the disc special editions) in its catalog. 

Continue reading at The Film Noir Foundation

I Wake Up Streaming – March 2019

I just started a new monthly column for the Film Noir Foundation that searches out and showcases classic film noir available to stream. Here is the debut installment….

As any fan of classic movies seeking treasures on streaming services knows, it’s a wasteland out there. There are oases, of course, but at any given time there are fewer options for pre-1970 movies between the three major streaming services—Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu—than you could find in your better neighborhood video stores twenty years ago.

Given that, there are some treasures to be found out there, especially on Prime Video. The problem is knowing what to look for. Since the shuttering of FilmStruck, there really isn’t a service that curates its catalog of classics (Kanopy, a free service offered from public and college libraries, is an exception). So, consider this your guide to streaming noir, and, for this inaugural installment, we’ll look at the options among the big three streamers.

Netflix

Netflix is first in subscriber numbers but last in its commitment to classic movies. It does, however, currently feature a couple of noir classics. Many services offer a copy of Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946), with Orson Welles as a Nazi war criminal in hiding and Edward G. Robinson as the government agent on his trail. Netflix, to its credit, presents the superb Kino Classics master, which is also streaming on Kanopy.

Continue reading at Film Noir Foundation website

Streaming the 2019 Oscar nominees

The Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday, February 24. Are you caught up on the major nominees?

Eight films made the cut in the category of best picture and a few of them are still in theaters, notably the offbeat royal drama The Favourite (2018, R), which came away with ten nominations, political commentary Vice (2018, R) which scored eight nomination, and Green Book (2018, PG-13), with five nominations in all.

Also still in theaters is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, PG), the current favorite in the animated feature category.

A number of nominated films, however, are already available to watch at home. Here’s an easy guide to what you can see and how you can see them.

Best Picture

Two of the top nominees are currently available to stream on Netflix. Roma (Mexico, R, with subtitles) and Black Panther (PG-13).

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

The Best Current Source For Streaming Classic Movies is … Amazon Prime?

What is the classic movie fan to do in the era of Netflix? For a few glorious years FilmStruck was our salvation, offering a rich, well-curated collection of films from the silent era through the 1970s, something Netflix gave up on years ago. 

So with FilmStruck dead, where can the fan of classic movies—let’s say, just for the sake of argument, anything older than 40 years—get their fix without resorting to renting each and every title on iTunes or Fandango?

The answer might surprise you. The meatiest streaming source for world cinema classics is Kanopy, a free service offered through most (though not all) public and college library systems. But there’s a limit of five streams per month and while they carry hundreds of titles from the Criterion Collection from such directors as Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman, the collection of classic American cinema is relatively small.

That’s where Amazon Prime Video enters the picture. 

Continue reading at RogerEbert.com

Elvis and the Death of the American Dream, Through Movies

Elvis Presley is ostensibly the subject of The King, Eugene Jarecki’s expansive road movie of a documentary. The award-winning director drives Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce across the US, from Mississippi and Memphis to Nashville, New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and elsewhere, talking to historians, musicians, members of Presley’s inner circle, and everyday Americans. Elvis centers the film but is also a starting point for a much more wide-ranging discussion of the state of American life, and that discussion takes off in all directions. That Jarecki began his odyssey in the months leading up the 2016 election and ended up on the other side of it only adds fuel to the discussion.

Not of political identity, mind you, but of America itself. Elvis is the touchstone that centers it all, with Jarecki using his life and legacy as both a roadmap for the cultural odyssey and as a metaphor for the state of contemporary America.

And at the heart of the film is the question: Is the American dream dead, a victim of greed, excess, and increasing isolation?

Continue reading at Independent Lens