FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #11: “Littlerock” (SIFF review)

Poster for "Littlerock"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel head for the Seattle International Film Festival to review Littlerock, the story of a pair of Japanese siblings finding their way through a desert town in California. Glenn’s lovely fiancee Megan jumps in to expound on the nature of a “nice guy” and offer her unique perspective as a fluent Japanese speaker. Click below to listen to our discussion of this surprise cross-cultural gem [may contain some NSFW language] (19:09).


FilmWonk ratings: 8.5/10 (Glenn), 9/10 (Megan), 8.5/10 (Daniel)

Show notes:

  • The actor in attendance at the screening was Ryan Dillon, who plays Brody in the film.
  • Music for this episode is the track “Bramble“, by The Cave Singers, from the film’s original soundtrack.

Listen above, or download: Littlerock (right-click, save as).

SIFF Roundup: “Another Earth”, “Kosmos”


Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Brit Marling and Mike Cahill

Another Earth is an ambitious film, to be sure. It depicts the sudden appearance of another planet, seemingly identical to our own, in perfect view in the skies above New Haven, CT. The planet appears in nearly every outdoor shot of the film, which made me momentarily wonder if a planet that is visibly larger and closer than the moon in geostationary orbit might be catastrophic for our planet’s tides, tectonic plates, continued human existence, and so forth.

While the film doesn’t directly address these issues, it’s possible that similar worries are flowing through the head of Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a 17-year-old student who has recently been accepted to MIT. On the night that Earth Two appears, she is driving under the influence and gazing up at the new planet, and the distraction is sufficient to send her careening into the family station wagon of music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother from “Lost”), putting him into a coma and instantly killing his wife and son. At this point, the film skips ahead 4 years, as Rhoda emerges from prison and gets it into her head to reconnect with John (who has since awoken) to apologize, and because she was a minor at the time of the accident, her name was sealed in the court records, and he has no idea who she is. At this point, the film effectively ditches its sci-fi premise and becomes an exploration of an extremely ill-advised relationship between the two, as well as a study of grief and regret. Earth Two becomes a cipher – an ever-present reminder of what Rhoda has done that could have been replaced with virtually anything else – a photograph? A roadside memorial?

It was in that sense that the film was disappointing. As Rhoda enters a contest with a private space agency (in a nice bit of worldbuilding) for the first commercial flight to Earth Two, we’re meant to believe it’s something she desperately wants for herself, but the film never quite sells this idea. Instead, it just ends up comparing unfavorably to a film like Gattaca, in which the romance of spaceflight and the unrelenting desire to achieve it make up an ever-present and thoroughly convincing backdrop. This film gives us Rhoda’s prior interest in astronomy, as well as the occasional gaze through a telescope (in broad daylight, through a window), but we’re never sure if she really wants to go to Earth Two, or if she simply no longer wishes to live on Earth One, where she’s caused so much pain and suffering.

The film has an undeniably effective sci-fi premise (on-the-nose metaphors notwithstanding), but it never quite succeeded in portraying a world in which such a mindbending event has occurred. All the fascinating bits of hard sci-fi are relegated to momentary snippets from talking heads on radio and TV, and the few everyday people that we meet never quite seem like their lives have been altered significantly. A sudden third-act revelation about the occupants of Earth Two is also not explored in sufficient detail, particularly by those who are considering making the trip.

Nonetheless, Marling and Mapother’s performances are convincing, and effectively sell the increasing stakes of their relationship as Rhoda continues to hide her true identity. While Another Earth doesn’t succeed as a piece of science fiction, it is at least somewhat effective as an exploration of grief and regret.

FilmWonk rating: 5.5 out of 10


Written/directed by Reha Erdem

As a general rule, I will not seek out writer/director interviews in order to increase my understanding of a film that I intend to write about. Since this film was followed by a director Q&A, I was not expecting to write a review – but for Kosmos, I will make an exception. First, because there is enough inexplicable weirdness in this film to make David Lynch blush. And second, because the Q&A only illuminated the extent to which a shit-eating grin transcends language barriers, as Erdem’s good-natured amusement at the audience’s befuddled response (and refusal to answer any questions in detail) was apparent even via translator.

The film begins with the titular Kosmos (Sermet Yasil) appearing outside a Turkish mountain village and immediately saving the life of a boy drowning in the river. The boy is ostensibly frozen to death when Kosmos plucks him from the water, but walks away nonetheless, the first of many to be aided by Kosmos’ ability to cure all manner of ailments, both physical and mental. He also speaks in very formal, almost scriptural language, expounding in broad strokes about the nature of God, man, good and evil, and so forth. He also breaks into a cheese shop and steals money from the cash drawer. And he also courts the girl of his dreams, Neptün (Türkü Turan), via a giddy, animalistic call-and-response game, in which the two chase each other around the village while blasting high-pitched, ornithic love-screams.

While Kosmos is a bizarrely fascinating character – equal parts Doctor Who, Jesus Christ, and psychotic hobo – he is but a small component of this densely packed film. Old men in a tea shop debate a petition to open up the border to trade, even as their wary attitudes about outsiders become readily apparent. The army conducts some kind of exercise nearby, giving the town a constant rumble of distant munitions explosions. A satellite is also poised to crash, and we hear snippets of its failing radio signal throughout the film. And what’s more, the townsfolk complain about this as if it’s a common occurrence.

I don’t dare summarize any more plot (I’ve omitted a story lifted wholesale from Weekend at Bernie’s), but suffice to say, there’s a lot going on in this film, and I was completely taken in by it. Kosmos is an incredibly rich (and beautifully shot) experience that I suspect will become even richer on subsequent viewings. While its weirdness for weirdness’ sake wore on my patience a bit by the third act, I’ve still found myself pondering the lives and interactions of this small-town slice of life every day since I saw the film. From the politicos in the tea shop to the random flocks of geese, I would gladly spend more time with all of them – even Kosmos with his migraine-inducing bird calls.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2010 – Saturday Roundup

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival, which wraps up today. I attended on Saturday, and had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, ranging from very good to extremely bizarre, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). Unfortunately, due to unforeseen will call delays this year, I missed the first two film blocks. I was still able to see the four remaining categories, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of the category. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.


Around the World in 50 Minutes:

Still from "Televisnu".

  1. Miracle Fish (Director: Luke Doolan, Australia, 17 minutes) -
    A slow and rather offensive horror (?) film that is nonetheless effectively creepy. Sound mix seemed occasionally off- managed to make children’s laughter sound extremely grating. Effectively captured the mindset of a lonely child in a scenario that felt almost borrowed from a “Twilight Zone” episode.
    Watch it here.

  2. Superhero (Director: Hanneke Schutte, South Africa, 15 minutes) -
    A man wakes up in the desert dressed as a superhero. What ensues is a sweet little tale of admiration and forgiveness. Beautiful South African desert scenery, slightly hammy acting.
    More info here.

  3. Televisnu* (Director: Prithi Gowda, India, 15 minutes) -
    A bizarre, stream-of-consciousness journey through the life of a young Indian girl who is promised into an arranged marriage. Following the introduction at her workplace (a tech support call center), scenes unfold like flipping TV channels with only the slightest connection from one to the next, but there is a fascinating narrative and character arc that runs through it all. The filmmaking reminded me favorably of Michel Gondry, capturing a grand sense of tumbling down the rabbit hole on what was clearly a modest budget. During the outdoor sequences, the Bangalore scenery was gorgeous (miles of rocky hillsides covered in palm trees). The director, Prithi Gowda, was in attendance, and slightly endangered my opinion of the film by veering in a “Lost” direction with her explanation (“I was just trying to make a film with a lot of mysterious elements!”), but did clarify a number of points – namely, that the film is rooted in the myth that the Hindu deity Viṣṇu is dreaming our existence. Televisnu is delightfully bizarre, and was easily my favorite of the category. More info and trailer here.


The Animated Life

Still from "The Incident at Tower 37"


  1. Cat’s Cradle (Director: Ray Rea, USA, 4 minutes) -
    I swear, there’s one of these every year. This was an uncontrolled vomiting of black and white Rorschach blots, photographs, and transparency layers set to some trippy music. Felt about twice as long as it actually was. Not quite as offensive to the senses as That Idiot Stinks from last year, but very nearly. Info here.

  2. Dust Kid (Director: Jung Yumi, South Korea, 10 minutes) -
    A cleaning woman keeps finding dust in the form of a shy little naked girl, and deals with her mercilessly. The animation is done in a very minimalist hand-drawn b&w style. While the motion was a little jerky at times (when characters walked, I thought I was watching South Park) each frame of this film was artfully composed, and the story was delightful. Trailer here.

  3. Humpty Dumpty is Scrambled (Director: Yuriy Sivers, Canada, 3 minutes) -
    A bizarre and slightly incomprehensible music video manifesto. The lyrics may be incoherent, but the anti-war message is clear, and the protagonist is a freaking atom bomb. Worth it for the strange and morbid animation style, which reminded me at times of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video – but the music is a upbeat jazz number. Watch it here.

  4. The Incident at Tower 37* (Director: Chris Perry, USA, 11 minutes) -
    The film’s noticeably low-budget CG doesn’t reduce its effectiveness in the least – this is a gripping and poignant environmental allegory with an absolutely beautiful score (from composer Evan Viera). The film’s earnest message is about as over-the-top as “Captain Planet”, but it doesn’t resort to cheap manipulation to showcase it. More info and trailer here (film will eventually be online).

  5. Pivot (Directors: André Bergs, Arno de Grijs, Kevin Megens, Floris Vos; Netherlands, 5 minutes) -
    A fun and adept little chase thriller with a bizarrely polygonal CG aesthetic. Watch it here.

  6. Santa, the Fascist Years (Director: Bill Plympton, USA, 4 minutes) -
    Perhaps the most concise and accurate titular high concept since Snakes on a Plane. This is one extremely simple joke told well and for just long enough. More info and clip here.

  7. Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man (Director: Haipeng Sun, China, 2 minutes) -
    See “Santa, the Fascist Years”, as I could say all of the same things about this film. Cute (and bizarre) little tribute to Bruce Lee in which a meat bun fights a sushi roll. Watch it here. If you liked that, check out Food Fight (D: Stefan Nadelman, USA, 6 minutes), a history of 20th century American warfare as reenacted by pieces of food.

  8. Vive la rose (Director: Bruce Alcock, Canada, 6 minutes) -
    A fascinating mixed media project based on a song by a Newfoundland musician. Features an impressive opening shot which combines full-motion time lapse and stop motion, then delves into an watercolor-animated music video framed artfully with physical media (dirt, rocks, shells, and sticks). More info and clips here.


Best of SIFF 2010 Jury Award Winners

Still from "White Lines and the Fever"


  1. Little Accidents (Director: Sara Colangelo, USA, 18 minutes) -
    One word: classy. I missed the first few minutes of of this, so I don’t have too much to say… This is an odd rehash of Forrest Gump – a sweet simpleton is recruited by his extremely white-trashy girlfriend to steal a pregnancy test for her. And oh yes, there are choc-o-lates. Impressive acting, especially from the female lead (possibly Amanda Fulks). More info here.

  2. White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug* (Director: Travis Senger, USA, 27 minutes) -
    This slickly edited documentary was a surprise favorite for me. It drew me in immediately despite covering a subject I cared almost nothing about – the 1980s Bronx origins of hip-hop, and a talented up-and-coming DJ therein. The film clearly has a great deal of affection for Junebug, but doesn’t let him off the hook for a moment for his largely self-inflicted downfall. In the end, it’s a compelling character piece and a tragic cautionary tale – an impressive achievement that could likely be stretched into an effective feature. More info here.

  3. The Wonder Hospital (Director: Beomsik Shimbe Shim, USA, 12 minutes) -
    Simply put, there is an absolute abundance of weird shit in this movie – an inflatable doctor and a human centipede, among other things… The visual style is an odd blend of CG (easily the highest quality I saw all day), stereoscopic 3D, and stop motion with some slick handheld-style camera flourishes. Reminded me a bit of Henry Selick’s Coraline, but managed to construct an even stranger world. Definitely worth a look. More info and trailer here.


Love and Marriage and More…

Poster for "The Fortune Writer"


  1. Dear Roommate (Director: Myron Kerstein, USA, 11 minutes) -
    This film started off so promising! We see the story of two roommates (male and female) through a series of passive-aggressive and increasingly hostile notes read as voiceover narration. Their antics become a bit cartoonish, but remain entertaining until the film descends into rom-com silliness at the halfway point. The entire second half of this film could’ve been left on the cutting room floor and the film would’ve been a lot better. Well…perhaps with the final scene included, sans pillow fight. More info here.

  2. Fancy (Director: Chris Olsen, USA, 3 minutes) -
    A short dance number on a minimalist set. Fun for what it is. More info here.

  3. The Fortune Writer* (Director: Eric Gross, USA, 9 minutes) -
    A note to up-and-coming short film directors: a shot of sizzling cabbage is an excellent hook. This film takes place in a Chinese restaurant, where a man sits in the kitchen at a diminutive typewriter typing up the little slips of paper for fortune cookies. As he peers out into the restaurant at the various diners, he tailors each fortune to their respective situations. In a curious narrative choice, we only see one of these fortunes in its entirety. The rest, we have merely to guess based on their effects on the various diners. I went back and forth on whether or not this struck me as lazy writing, but I ultimately sided with the film. For such a brief period to get to know them, each of the diners felt like real people (a testament to their performances), and the exact wording of the fortunes ultimately felt less important than their effects on each diner. And the last diner is no exception, thoroughly justifying this film’s placement in the “Love and Marriage” block. More info, Watch it here!.

  4. Non-Love Song (Director: Erik Gernand, USA, 8 minutes) -
    Two male friends share an extremely awkward goodbye at the end of summer. The result is gay, didactic, and gaily didactic. More info here.

  5. Bedfellows (Director: Pierre Stefanos, USA, 16 minutes) -
    “The course of love never did run smooth… A phrase made all the more true when the lovers in question both have a penis,” intones a sardonic British narrator, as we learn the tale of Bobby and Jonathan, who indulge in a fairly unsentimental one-night stand, then decide to spend the night together. What ensues would be best described as a fairy tale, as Bobby imagines what their future might be like together. What starts out as utter cheese becomes one of the most ambitious short films I’ve ever seen… If shorts attracted nearly the audience of mainstream cinema, I could easily see the headlines this film would provoke… “Propaganda for the Homosexual Agenda!”. While I tend to not have a very high opinion of any flavor of propaganda, it’s to this film’s credit that there were really only one or two lines during this extremely over-the-top sequence that felt particularly soapboxy. All in all, it seems like the film is selling a simple notion of love and imperfect romance, and nearly every moment feels completely honest and heartfelt (including a pretty devastating narrative twist halfway through). The resulting sequence is equal parts 25th Hour and Little Shop of Horrors (think “Suddenly Seymour”) – an earnest and memorable fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. More info and trailer here.


Quick List: All of the films that are available online:

Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” – A masterful dose of guns, guts, and gloom

Poster for "Winter's Bone"

Winter’s Bone is the tale of Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), a tough-as-nails 17-year-old girl who must track down her meth-cooking, bail-jumping father in the Missouri Ozarks before he misses his court date and forfeits his bail – the family home she shares with her two younger siblings. Out of that simple, high-stakes premise comes one of the most bleak and memorable thrillers I’ve seen since Gone Baby Gone. Director Debra Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough shoot the film with an utterly drab color palette, the Missouri gloom cloaking every frame in a desaturated blue-gray haze. The film’s atmosphere is one of utter hopelessness and yet through it all, Ree remains, frankly, a tough bitch. Relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence (who bears quite a resemblance to Renee Zellweger) turns in a powerful and unflinching performance. As Ree interrogates one uncooperative subject after another amid social obstacles and resistance from even her own family, Lawrence delivers every line of back-country Missoura slang with remarkable authenticity.

“You’ve always scared me,” says Ree.

“That’s because you’re smart,” gruffs John Hawkes, who plays Ree’s uncle, the inexplicably-named Teardrop. Hawkes, an actor who I’d only previously seen playing wiry, semi-geeky characters, was easily the biggest surprise in this film, completely matching Lawrence’s intensity. His physique was more or less unchanged (except for a slightly graying beard), but his demeanor was something new and thoroughly intimidating. Every word Teardrop says seems to carry a simmering threat of violence, and although the character actually perpetrates very little, Hawkes brings a fiery intensity that makes him downright terrifying to watch.

Winter's Bone still

Also intimidating is Merab (Dale Dickey), one of the first characters Ree questions, who offers her tea and then advises with precipitous hostility to “Go home, child.” The stakes of this scene were driven higher by their ambiguous blood relation, and indeed, the film presents the conflicting familial and social allegiances amongst these characters as central to Missouri culture. They were also utterly unintimidated by guns or guts, which were ubiquitous throughout the film. As an ignorant, lazy, metrosexual coastal-dweller, I can’t speak to how accurate this depiction may be, but the characters and culture felt completely authentic. Also central to the film is “meth culture”, of which we’ve already seen a gritty, stylized version in AMC’s “Breaking Bad”; but while the medium of television grants that show the freedom of rich world-building over a long period, the greatest strength of Winter’s Bone is just how rich, believable, and utterly bleak a world it manages to craft within its runtime. And while the trailer-park drug production and rampant availability of methamphetamine are merely a backdrop to the overall mystery of this film, they manage to add yet another layer of bleakness and tension.

This indie thriller kept me fearing for its characters at every turn. The screenplay, adapted from a Daniel Woodrell novel by director Debra Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini, is immensely taut with its dialogue. The characters say everything they need to say, and not a single word more. The direction and pace is fantastic, evoking shades of the Coen Brothers (it reminded me at times of both Fargo and No Country).

“You’ve paid for this in blood,” a character tells Ree toward the end. And indeed, if this film has a central theme, it is blood. How it binds or separates us, how easily it is disregarded, and what we might do to protect it. Lawrence and Hawkes’ intense performances guide the audience masterfully through this simple, effective thriller, and make it well worth the price of admission.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10