FIlm Talk

Sucker Punch, Certified Copy, and the 2011 Nashville Film Festival

The following blog entry is an article I wrote for in 2011. That site removed all of their content, so I am reposting my articles here.

Sucker Punch, Certified Copy, and the 2011 Nashville Film Festival

After an exhausting week of a Disney World vacation and NOT riding the new Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios because the park closed one hour earlier than we expected, I’m back for quick reviews of Sucker Punch, Certified Copy, and the 2011 Nashville Film Festival. The Belcourt’s game-changing series Visions of the South has finished, and I’ll be back next week with a review of the second half. Check out my review of the first half here. (Offline. I’ll repost that one soon.)

I’m incredibly excited about this year’s Nashville Film Festival. The lineup is the strongest of the last 5 years I’ve attended. I’m most looking forward to the Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Livesthe newest edition to the Romanian New Wave, Tuesday, After Christmas; Monte Hellman’s new film Road to Nowhereand Nicolas Philibert’s Nenette. I’ll be posting my impressions each night after the screenings. My first film on the roster tonight is Takashi Miike’s 13 Assasins.

You can check out my reviews for The Sleeping Beauty, The Red Chapel, and more in this week’s print and online edition of The Nashville Scene. Out of all the films I pre-screened, The Red Chapel is the best. By all means, see it.

I’m almost reluctant to review Sucker Punch — Zack Snyder’s new assault of the senses — because doing so would feel like poking fun at an easy target: the equivalent to reviewing any Nickelback or Brittany Spears album. The film is a many-layered onion of fantasy and dream; and on the rare occasions when the outer layer shows, you still feel like you’re in a dream thanks to Snyder’s trademark slow-fast ramp, hyper color, blaring style. The soundtrack serves as a metaphor for the film’s badness. Snyder takes really good music — The Pixies, Iggy Pop, etc — and filters it through mind-numbing modern artists — leaving the words and notes but removing every bit of soul. The same can be said for every other aspect of the picture. I will say this though: If you love bad films, you won’t be bored. This one is glorious in its total ineptitude.

Certified Copy

Certified Copy

You can tell in the very first minute of Abbas Kiarostami’s new film Certified Copy that you’re watching the work of a master. I’ve mentioned in the past that his film The Wind Will Carry Us is one of my favorite movies of all time.  My main issue with Certified Copy is that it feels as if Kiarostami is driving his point with a 20 pound mallet. There are too many examples of fake things imitating real things. In one scene, there’s a bride-to-be applying fake tears in preparation for a wedding photo. The act is not the focus of our intention — in fact the bride is out-of-focus in the background of the shot — but my eyes were drawn to it; and here I felt a victim of Kiarostami’s calculated precision. I was immediately taken out of the movie. Nevertheless, Certified Copy is a (minor) masterwork by one of the greatest living directors and should not be missed.

Tony Youngblood is a film and music snob and producer of the experimental improv music blog and podcast Theatre Intangible. His favoritefilms include Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray, Abbass Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician, Lee Chang Dong’s Oasis, and Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 15th, 2011 at 1:15 pm.

2010 Nashville Film Festival Reviews

The following blog entry is an article I wrote for in 2010. That site removed all of their content, so I am reposting my articles here.

2010 Nashville Film Festival Reviews

On opening night, I was treated to Nowhere Boy, a biopic about a seventeen-year-old John Lennon and his relationship with his bi-polar mother. The film sold out two large theaters and spilled over into a third. I myself was caught up in the hype, believing that it may break the opening film curse (that being, high-profile low-quality films traditionally open the fest. Last year’s passable 500 Days of Summer the only recent exception.) Unfortunately, Nowhere Boy was clumsy, slow, and overwrought, coasting on the fumes of a legend. The film was introduced by the festival organizers after some crowd-working about Nashville being the best music town in the world (sorry, it’s not).  2 out of 5.

The next two films were much more engaging, yet they drew much-smaller crowds. First up was Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard, a retelling of the fairy tale about a young girl who is wed to an infamous lord. The film interweaves two modern day girls reading the story.  Breillat succeeds again in defying our expectations and doing exactly the opposite of what we expect. She’s one of the few real auteurs working today, and I’m quite pleased NaFF chose to book her new film. 4 out of 5.


Next was the Korean film Vegetarian.  A a housewife suddenly develops an obsessive distaste for meat and finds solace in body paint. Yes, really. I’m still processing this engagingly ineffable film, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. But I enjoyed myself throughout the screening, and the images are still in my mind. My rating may change as I get a sense of the aftertaste, but for now: 3.5 out of 5.

Knowing the subject matter, I felt for sure that Michael Nash’s Climate Refugees about the very real effects of climate change was a shoe-in for the Reel Current Al Gore award. The film didn’t win (at least it wasn’t announced at the first screening), and when I finally viewed the film, it was easy to see why. (Update: There was no Reel Current award this year.) The film deals with very serious issues, and I don’t mean to downplay their implications. My problems are with the snail’s-pacing, the choice of interviewees, and the generally educational-film production. I wonder why they would choose to interview Newt Gingrich who acted as if he never tried to downplay global warming (are our memories really that bad?). Why would they choose 911-truther Ed Begley Jr. as a responsible social advocate? And why is the phrase “global warming” never once used in the film? PR moves?  You bet. I also wonder why they go through a list of things you can do to help combat climate change without mentioning the two most important: eat less meat and use condoms. I definitely feel they were tailoring the message for their target audience, and indeed in the Q & A they said they were going to screen the film in churches throughout the country. 2.5 out of 5

The Complete Works of Jamie Travis — As the title suggests, this is a collection of shorts by the young Canadian filmmaker Jamie Travis. Comprised of the films Why the Anderson Children Didn’t Come to Dinner, The Saddest Boy in the World, the Patterns trilogy, and The Armoire, the collection is an artfully-designed business card of a director with a big future. Someone in the audience compared him to David Lynch and Guy Madin, and he does occupy the same universe of quirky ineffability; but I see more of Stanley Kubrick in his obsessive-compulsive eye for details. The rooms seem bigger stars than their inhabitants with every detail meticulously designed (Travis also did the production design) from the colorful wallpaper to the knick knacks on the shelves. There’s a lot to wonder about in these movies, but I get the sense that we aren’t meant to cloy for meaning. Rather, like looking at an expressionist painting, we should enjoy without cross examining. Travis himself admitted that he didn’t know why he made one character say a particularly nonsensical line. It just sounded right. And the films feel right. Watch for Travis in the near future. 4 out of 5.

A much prettier-to-look-at documentary than Climate Refugees, Queen of the Sun explores the global bee crisis that threatens extinction of a multitude of species. I enjoyed myself throughout the film, but I grew irritated at the director’s tendency to let a bunch of people give theories and solutions without sorting out the real causes. (To be fair, the causes are not entirely understood.) We’re told about the very likely causes of Varroa mites and migratory beekeeping, but the directors also give air time to Vandana Shiva, who seems hell bent on blaming everything on genetically modified crops. (There is no evidence that GM crops are causing bees to disappear.) The film goes off the rails in the end and stops being about the global bee crisis and becomes a diatribe against big business and GM foods. Mild recommendation. 3 out of 5.

Saturday Night is James Franco’s inside look at the making of an episode of Saturday Night Live, this one hosted by John Malkovich. I enjoyed the film in the same way I would enjoy a backstage pass, but the direction didn’t lift it above anything more than satiated curiosity. I was intrigued at the way extremely funny sketches get progressively less funny as they go from the reading to the taping. 3.5 out of 5.


My first film of day 4 may very well be my favorite thus far: Lourdes, a story about a woman in a wheelchair making a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the Pyrenees Mountains. The filmmakers take no religious position here but simply let the characters speak for themselves. When something possibly-miraculous happens, things get very interesting. Lourdes is an unsentimental film about desire and limitations, hope and reality. 5 out of 5.

The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy. I won’t upstage my review in the Nashville Scene but instead will direct your attention to it. 5 out of 5.

Steve James, co-director of Hoop Dreams and director of Stevie (one of my favorite films of all time), appeared on day 5′s The Film Talk. I was able to keep my composure without geeking out too much. We talked a bit about both being graduates of Southern Illinois University. On the show, James talked about his new film No Crossover: Allen Iverson on Trial.

As luck would have it, No Crossover was day 5′s first screening. The documentary explored James and Iverson’s hometown of Hampton, Virginia and it’s reaction to the court case which put the future NBA star behind bars. The sentiments fell largely along racial lines in the town where slave ships first landed on American soil. James reflected on his own possible bias, recalling his own high school basketball days when he fraternized with black players on the court but never invited them into his home. The film is a part of a 30 film series ESPN sponsored to celebrate it’s 30th anniversary. Leave it to James to take an assignment that was supposed to be about profiling a sports icon and turn it into a treatise on bias and identity. 4.5 out of 5.


In the Hong Kong action/crime spectacle Bad Blood, we have all the ingredients of a “must-see.”  IMDB’s synopsis states: “When the boss of a ruling Hong Kong triad is arrested and executed in China for counterfeiting money, mayhem ensues as the mob’s leading contenders circle the throne.” Sadly, the enthusiasm disappears when the projector rolls. I found the narrative confusing, the direction clunky, and the entire affair lacking. During the selection process, NaFF might have taken this as an opportunity: “Bad Blood is adequate, but can we do better?” Why not try for the newest Johnnie To film, for instance? (It’s worth noting that the newest Johnnie To picture Fuk Sau stars Sylvie Testud, the enigmatic star of NaFF highlight Lourdes.) Instead, we get brain-dead schedule filler. 2 out of 5.

My first film of day 6 was the Peruvian film Undertow (Contracorriente), which won the audience award for World Cinema Dramatic at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. I usually walk into audience-award winning films with some suspicion: no film I’ve ever voted for won any festival’s audience award. More often than not, the films that win are just slightly better than ok crowd pleasers with a positive message than inexplicably make fest-goers mark 5′s on their cards.  IMDB describes Undertow as, “An unusual ghost story set on the Peruvian seaside; a married fisherman struggles to reconcile his devotion to his male lover within his town’s rigid traditions.” That pretty much says it all, although “ghost story” makes it sound scary or even mildly haunting. Rather, the male lover exists only in the head of the fisherman after he suddenly disappears in the first quarter of the film. Undertow reaffirmed my suspicions of the audience award, and I give it a decent 3 out of 5


It was 8:15pm on day 6, and Gaia was already 30 minutes late for it’s 7:45 show time. The projectionist was having problems with the HD elements — problems which seemed to have cursed Gaia’s first 5 screenings. However, when the film finally began, all bad vibes went away. Photographed on two Red cameras, Gaia is a stunningly-shot meditation on sexual abuse, marginalized cultures, and the fearlessness one acquires when there’s nothing left to lose. Director Jason Lehel offers this synopsis: “A group of Native Americans discover a young woman, left for dead, in the Arizona desert and take her to their reservation. Through her relationship with American Natives she manages to re-connect with her own innocence, but is forced to make a choice between being reborn out of the chaos of her past or dying in the grips of her darkness.” Having gone through some of the tribes’ rituals himself, Jason was able to gain rare access to highly-protective indigenous communities in Southern Arizona. He captured never-before-seen tribal rituals and a disturbing ritual slaughter of a hog that would feed the entire real-life tribe. There is a poetry in Jason’s camera-work that is reminiscent of Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky. He gleans performances out of his mostly non-professional cast that rivals the direction of Robert Bresson and Roberto Rossellini. Newcomer Emily Lape is absolutely explosive in her first feature performance. She’ll be a star if there is any justice in the world. My only real quibble (and it is a minor one) is that Jason uses too many flashbacks of Emily’s abuse-laden childhood. The point would have been much more effective if 90 percent of the flashback scenes were taken out. Even still, Gaia is a near-masterpiece that marks the arrival of its director and lead actress. 4.7 out of 5.

Because Gaia ended late and because the director invited us out for drinks after the screening, I missed Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl. I hear it’s everything I had hoped Bad Blood to be, and in spades.

An Italian drama starring Tilda Swinton about the love lives of the bourgeoisie offspring of a wealthy textile manufacturer, I Am Love (Lo Sono L’Amore) was the surest, most elegantly composed, most masterful film I saw at NaFF. I’m still thinking about the densely layered plot, involving class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, power, and the forbidden. 5 out of 5.


Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Big Man Japan was the outrageously-entertaining-if-bum-fuddling monster romp of NaFF 2008. I was a little worried that his new film Symbol would succeed and fail in the same ways. Worry not. Symbol is certainly innovative and at times bum-fuddling, but it satisfies; and the ending is thoughtful, touching, and prescient. The film juxtaposes the stories of a Mexican luchador who never takes his mask off and a man (played by the director) trapped in a white room. You’ll wonder what the two stories have to do with each other until a slow-wound punchline intersects them near the end of the film. The man in the white room has to touch levers in the shape of . . . erm . . . cherub penises and testicles . . . in order to activate various deployments, including toothbrushes, sushi, cherub farts, momentary-on doors, etc. The plot could very well be the level design for a video game. I was constantly reminded of Valve’s masterpiece Portal and half-expected a companion cube to drop in. The man subsequently reaches further levels until he faces. . . well, I won’t spoil it for you. Is the cake a lie? You’ll have to watch and see for yourself. 4.5 out of 5.

Starring John C. Riley, Johah Hill, and Marisa Tomei, the Duplas brothers’ Cyrus was by far the comedy highlight of NaFF. Of course, it was the only comedy I saw at NaFF. IMDB plots it as thus: “A down on his luck divorcée finally meets the woman of his dreams, only to discover she has another man in her life – her son. Before long, the two are locked in a battle of wits for the woman they both love-and it appears only one man can be left standing when it’s over.” The film was quite hilarious, but things resolved a little too easily at the end. 3 out of 5.

So there you have it, the 2010 Nashville Film Festival. If you want to read more of my reviews, check out the Nashville Scene’s NaFF guide. Stay tuned next week for “Emerging Genres: The Vital Force Behind Cinema Anima.”

Tony Youngblood is a pretentious film and music snob who produces the experimental improv music blog and podcast Theatre Intangible. His favorite films include Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray, Abbass Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician, Lee Chang Dong’s Oasis, and Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap.

This entry was originally posted on Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 at 7:06 am.

Film Talk Archives: 7 Reasons You’re Irrationally Clinging to Your DVD Collection

I purchased the domain over two years ago, and for months, I kept telling myself, “I’ll write on it soon.” Then I just forgot about it. Then, last month, I discovered that a film blog I once wrote for shut down and removed all of their old content. Without informing its contributors to make backups.

Luckily, I had backups of (most of) my articles there. And so, now I’ll be posting them from time to time here. So I guess that’s one positive thing: it motivated me to get off my ass and do something with this domain.

Of course, I’ll be posting new content as well, such as my first post Pictures from the 2014 Nashville Mini Maker Faire. And when I do post old film blogs from time to time, I’ll always mention they are archives.

This first archived blog, which is about entreating people to sell their DVD collections, comes from July 27th, 2010, when Netflix streaming was still a nascent enterprise. In the four years since, the home video market has experienced a revolution. I think it’s safe to say I was right about DVDs going the way of the dodo. But I got a few things wrong. For one, the streaming and digital markets still have nowhere near the content library of DVDs. Even if you subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, the selection is still spotty. For example, I wanted to watch Disney’s Frozen a few months after it was released on home video, and I had a hell of a time finding a digital copy I could rent, not own. I eventually found it on the Playstation Network. (By the way, is an invaluable resource.)  When I wrote my article, I did not anticipate all the media companies hoarding their content for their own services.

The second thing I did not anticipate was the value of certain DVDs rising. While I maintain that most DVDs are worth less now than they were four years ago, some that have yet to be released on Blu-ray or digital are now fetching high prices on Ebay. But the fact remains that if you were to sell your entire collection, you would get less overall in 2014 than in 2010.

Here’s the article. I edited a few sentences for reasons of style, but I did not alter the arguments. What do you think?

Not my collection. Can we agree this is out of control?

Not my collection. Can we agree this is out of control?

Originally posted on, July 27th, 2010. 

Over the past year, I’ve been gradually selling off my DVD collection on Ebay. Last Sunday, I listed the final stragglers. Once the auctions are paid for and shipped, I will be, in effect, DVD-less for the first time in 10 years.

And that fills me with a mixture of loss and freedom. I had built up an impressive collection of oeuvres: the near complete works of Bresson, Kurosawa, Rohmer, and more; delicacies hard fought and won through online DVD stores, brick and mortars, and internet auction sites; items from every region code, PAL and NTSC; editions rare and out of print; artifacts enshrined in special collector’s tins, lunchboxes, and vacuum-molded plastic. Many of the DVDs — not the movies themselves but the actual physical containers — were embedded with memories: where I was when I purchased it or whatever emotional state I was in when I first or last popped the DVD into the player. And while I made sure to “back up” all of the DVDs on hard drives anticipating a future home media computer, I felt like I lost a little bit of myself with every auction listed.

And then I smacked myself out of that sentimental fantasy world.

When you make a DVD purchase, you think you’re refining your collection, gaining grounds on a better definition of you. But in reality, you are slowly encasing yourself in a cocoon of junk. DVDs become closet-fillers, bookcase-hoggers, table decoration, and step-around stacks.

“But not me!” you say. “My collection gives me meaning and value.”


Here are 7 reasons you’re irrationally clinging to your DVD collection:

1. I only buy films I watch on a regular basis.

That’s how it always begins. But as your collection increases, the time to watch decreases. With a steady stream of incoming Netlflix rentals, instant ques, Xbox live, video-on-demand, Tivo, Hulu, and torrents; the items you own always drop down a peg on your to-do list. You own them after all; you can watch them anytime.

You are an evolved animal, replete with cognitive biases. Your well-meaning buying strategy gets exploited by the dopamine rush of the hunt.  “It makes economic sense for me to purchase this.” “Owning this product will give my life meaning and value.” But really, they’re all just excuses. The reality is it’s fun to shop. Even if you DO watch most of your collection at least once a year (which you DON’T), economically, it just doesn’t add up. You’ll still save money by renting instead of buying.

2. I like being able to pull any title on a whim and watch.

A few years ago, this argument made sense. If you wanted to watch something not in your collection, you had to go out and rent it or wait for your Netflix to arrive in the mail. But with the advent of instant streaming, you can watch titles you don’t own on a whim. And while the streaming selection is far from complete and the quality isn’t yet on par, both get better every day. Digital songs killed CDs. Xbox Live, the Wi Virtual Store, Valve’s Steam, and the Playstation Network will one day kill physical video games. Kindle and iPad are already taking a chunk out of physical book sales. This is something you can champion or lament, but it is happening. The cold hard fact is that physical media is dying, and the sooner you make peace with that, the sooner you will regain your guest bedroom.

3. I’m waiting for the values to rise.

. . . because that worked SO well with CDs. With very few exceptions, DVDs will never increase in price above their retail value. Most will in fact plummet; and the longer you hold onto them, the less they will be worth. With instant streaming gaining more ground, prices are dropping even more rapidly. When you hold out for a higher worth, you are like the loss averse investor who irrationally clings to a withering stock in hopes that it will regain its value. Forget about recouping your DVD investment. But you will earn more overall by selling today than you will by selling in a year.

4. I can’t stop until I’ve collected the entire series.

“Just one more Warner Film Noir box set!” Maybe you’ve spent years collecting a particular director or series, and you can’t let all your hard work, dollars, and emotional investment go to waste. Besides, your collection would look silly without the 6th and final season of Lost sitting beside the first 5. But there’s another way: sell now and cut your losses. Humans are wired against cognitive dissonance. Instead of correcting a past error and admitting we were wrong, we’ll continue making the error. Some wars should be pulled out of, and some Dr. Who collections should be dismantled.

5. I like the texture, smell, and tangibility of the physical medium.

This is the one plausible argument in the list. No matter how great the quality of digital media, we can’t thumb the pages of an e-book. I believe the resurgence of vinyl records is due more to the tangibility of the medium than any perceived difference in quality. But we have to weigh the benefits of each medium, and digital media has many compelling advantages. For one, digital frees us from the anchors of space-hogs. It’s nice to be able to walk into a clean room without having to brush past stacks of CDs, records, and DVDs; nice to be able to move to a new house without devoting an entire U-Haul trip to your preciouses. The accumulation of things can weigh you down. Shedding excess junk will set you free and help divert focus to the few items that are actually worth cherishing. And in an increasingly overpopulated world, your physical footprint may mean everything.

6.  My DVDs are who I am.

Oh please. Wait until you’re over 30 and then get back with me on that.

7. I keep my DVDs for the sentimental value.

As humans, we tend to see in ordinary objects almost-supernatural underpinnings. This happens when we covet an autograph or a golden age comic book. In his book The Science of SuperstitionBruce Hood calls this our SuperSense. We evolved it to help make sense of a world we couldn’t fully understand. It rained after we danced, so we imbue dancing with the essence of rainmaking. Similarly, we attribute a sacred quality to the objects we collect. DVDs are more than just paper, plastic, and silicone. Perhaps by owning a physical copy of our favorite film, we feel an intimate connection with the filmmakers or that we can better absorb the film’s meaning. I would argue this is an urge we must curtail. Many a family has been broken up because of a collector’s obsession. I’m not advocating selling all of your worldly possessions or decoupling the sacredness from the objects you most covet (because, let’s admit it: it’s fun); just be aware of what you’re doing and recognize when your brain is talking you into a bad buying decision.

Sometimes we forget why we began buying DVDs in the first place: our love of movies. NOT gimmicky cases, limited pressings, or collectible booklets. And today, we have at our fingertips access to more films than ever before. And THAT is what we should be embrace. Don’t let your collection obfuscate the pleasure of watching a great film. Casablanca can hold a special place in your heart whether you own the Ultimate Edition or not.

8. I AM getting rid of my DVDs . . . to replace them with Blu-ray!

Ummm. . .