from OMNI Reboot

Filmmaker Shane Carruth made his bones in the indie film world with the 2004 science fiction puzzlePrimer. The ultra-low budget film, concerning a group of engineers who accidentally invent time travel, collected the Grand Jury Prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s become something of a legend in filmmaking circles: Primer was made for a little over $7,000 with Carruth acting as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, actor and musical composer. For lovers of brainy, conceptual sci-fi, it’s a real gem.

Earlier this year, Carruth’s long-anticipated second film, Upstream Color, also premiered at Sundance. It was released in April to select theaters, then quietly ported to DVD and digital distribution. Upstream Colormade a splash at Sundance with the critics, but outside of art house devotees and attentive film nerds, the official release barely registered.upstream-color

The film’s extremely quiet, extremely slow roll-out is all part of the plan, according to Carruth. The filmmaker, never one to delegate, handled distribution himself. “The people that this is for, it will be for,”Carruth told The Los Angeles Times. “Everything about the choice to do the distribution is about contextualizing.”

Sure enough, Upstream Color is getting a second life thanks to that most reliable of grassroots distribution strategies, word-of-mouth. And that’s genuinely good news, because Upstream Color is a gorgeous and intricate film—one of the year’s best—and a giant leap forward for Carruth as a storyteller and filmmaker.

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Feeling Gravity’s Pull

October 26, 2013

from OMNI Reboot

The first 15 minutes of Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón’s graceful and ambitious new film, provide one of the most startling, wondrous movie experiences ever delivered to the multiplex.

Floating in low-earth orbit, space shuttle astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are diligently at work, spacewalking and making repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. The rookie Stone is tethered to the satellite, while the veteran Kowalsky jets around in his thruster pack. The mood is relaxed and the view, as Kowalsky notes, can’t be beat.

The camera floats along, drifting in lazy ellipses. We marvel as these objects in space float in and out of view – the satellite, the shuttle, the impossibly beautiful and delicate Earth, and these two vulnerable souls locked in their hard shell space suits.

Complex trajectories swing the camera from long establishing shots to extreme close-ups. The 3-D effects produce wonders here that reveal the relative shabbiness of typical 3-D retrofitting. Cuarón is working with a more-or-less infinite depth of field, and he does things with spatial relationships that you’ve never seen before. In one seemingly unbroken 15-minute sequence, we swirl in giddy delight, weightless inside of Cuarón’s carefully crafted hi-tech illusion of orbital physics.

Oh, it’s a trip, man. For all the time, effort and money that’s put into the Hollywood spectacle machine, it’s actually pretty rare indeed to see something genuinely brand new on the silver screen. CGI has changed the game forever, especially with science fiction, and the effects people can usually generate anything a filmmaker can dream up. But no one’s dreamed up anything as graceful as this before.

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from Discovery News

We humans have never been particularly comfortable with death. That’s entirely understandable, of course. Death is permanent and largely unpleasant and we don’t know what — if anything — is on the other side. For millennia, various cultural and religious rituals have helped us process our feelings about death, providing comfort when a loved one dies.

But those rituals are fast disappearing in our increasingly secularized society — and we actually really need them. That’s the contention of author and professor Candi K. Cann in her forthcoming book, “Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the 21st Century.” In her research, Cann identifies several emerging trends in modern culture that seem to suggest we’re searching for new ways to live with death.

“We’re seeing a disappearance of the rituals surrounding the dead,” Cann said. “We’re not really supposed to grieve out in public, at work, in front of people. So you see this dichotomy of what’s almost an obsession with death — all the vampire movies and zombie movies — but at the same time there’s a disappearance of grief and grieving.”

Cann said that, for those people who don’t participate in traditional or religious mourning rituals, there’s a movement toward do-it-yourself memorializations. People are finding new and often technology-driven ways to honor the dead.

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from The Raleigh News & Observer

The writing of David Sedaris is such a delicate thing. Surely one of America’s best and most artful humorists, Sedaris’ carefully crafted personal essays can be deeply melancholy and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time.

Sedaris, who grew up in Raleigh, is also a gifted performer, in his particularly circumscribed arena. His book tours – in which he reads passages from his stories – are major events that more closely resemble the theater tours of A-list stand-up comics. He does all his own audiobooks, too, and as his legion of fans can tell you, the idea of anyone else reading his stories seems impossible.

So the task of adapting Sedaris’ work to film is a tall order indeed, one that the author has firmly resisted up until now. I wish he’d kept resisting.

The flat and confused comedy-drama “C.O.G.” is based on an essay of the same name in Sedaris’ very funny book, “Naked.” As in the book, the film chronicles the adventures of a young man named David as he retreats from his own life by heading out West to work on an apple farm.

The film trumpets its tonal problems in the very first scene, in which David is stuck with a scary seatmate on his bus ride to Oregon. As the young woman next to him literally screams a shockingly profane monologue, David (played by the bland Jonathan Groff) simply sits in stunned silence.

In the book, this sequence is seriously messed up and really, really funny. In the film, it’s just messed up. By opting against voice-over narration, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“Easier With Practice”) makes a bold choice, but a bad one. Without the wry comic distance of Sedaris’ own internal monologues, the scene dies a violent death right in front of our eyes.

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from The Raleigh News & Observer

The lively new documentary “Muscle Shoals” — packed to the rafters with classic soul, rock and R&B songs — explores the rich musical heritage of two storied Alabama sound studios. On one level, it’s a standard-issue doc concerning a specific slice of musical history. On another, quieter level, it’s about that ephemeral and elusive substance known as mojo.

A hot ticket at this spring’s Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham, “Muscle Shoals” is a good time for hardcore music nerds and casual fans alike. In the 1960s and 1970s, the music that came out of the small and unassuming town of Muscle Shoals, Ala., quite literally changed the direction of American popular music.

Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin made their first hit R&B records at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. In later years, Fame and the competing Muscle Shoals Sound Studio hosted a procession of pop music royalty: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Paul Simon, Jimmy Cliff, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd. The film even makes the persuasive case that an accidental Muscle Shoals musical summit between Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman essentially invented Southern Rock.

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