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GE and Cinelan Announce Short Film Challenge at Tribeca Film Fest

GE and Cinelan, a video publishing company co-founded by Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster, presented a special preview last night at 92YTribeca in Manhattan. The event was held to announce the opening of submissions for the Focus Forward $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, and featured the world premiere of four new short films. Focus Forward’s “Short Films, Big Ideas” initiative is a series of three-minute nonfiction films centered around the idea of people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, engineering and other fields of knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity.

Illustrating this theme were nine short films presented in the 30-minute program following a cocktail reception in 92YTribeca’s main room. Five of these were 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selections, including the extraordinary opening film, Jeremiah Zagar’s Heart Stop Beating, about the work of two doctors who managed to save a dying man by replacing his heart with a turbine engine of their own design. It was a bold choice to open the program with a film that features open heart surgery footage, but the mood was lightened by Jessica Yu’s Meet Mr. Toilet, a humorous look at the efforts of Jack “Mr. Toilet” Sim to bring proper sanitation to the large portions of the world still lacking it.

Following these first two films were a pair of world premieres: first, Nelson George’s All Hail the Beat, an all-too-brief look at the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, whose sounds are still in use today by artists from Kanye West to Daft Punk, despite the fact that it hasn’t actually been manufactured since 1984. Next came Katy Chevigny’s The Honor Code, the most emotionally moving film of the evening, and the only one that focuses on innovation in human thought, as opposed to technological invention. Honor Code uses stylish animation to illustrate the ideas of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and his efforts to end the deplorable practice of “honor killing.”

The other two world premieres were sandwiched between two more Sundance selections: Jessica Edwards and Gary Hustwit’s The Landfill, which documents a small New York landfill where trash is refined into electrical energy, and David W. Leitner’s Newtown Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste, which examines the unusually beautiful Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The latter was the least satisfying film of the evening, mostly because it felt too rushed, with too much information crammed into its brief running time. On the other hand, the final film of the program, Phil Cox’s Hilary’s Straws, has a much more leisurely pace in its look at the innovative navigational tool that allowed a quadriplegic woman to sail across the world alone.

The final two world premieres were Steven Cantor’s The Bionic Eye, about research being done to artificially restore sight to patients suffering from degenerative blindness, and Michele Ohayon’s Solar Roadways, a very exciting look at the effort to produce solar-paneled roads and parking lots in order to cleanly and cheaply power nearby communities, as well as electric vehicles. Hopefully, the world premiere films will be available online soon; I would especially like to see The Honor Code and Solar Roadways again. In the meantime, the others are streaming on Focus Forward’s website, and if you have an idea that fits the theme, you can create your own film for the $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, which you can read more about here.

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Congratulations, Elinor Burkett

You’re the Kanye West of old white women.

Movie TrailersMovies Blog

Roger Ross Williams has been dreaming of this moment his entire life, and you just stole it from him. He had a speech ready and everything, but nope, you had something you just had to say. He may never get another chance to say what he had prepared, all because of you. I hope it was worth it.

May you never work in this town again.

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“The Jay Leno Show” – The Post-Premiere Wrap-Up

At last, it has arrived.

Just last week, in our Fall TV Preview, I wrote of the impending premiere of “The Jay Leno Show,” “This is the most controversial maneuver in the past several decades of television history, a Hail Mary by the people at the Peacock,” so as a TV critic, there was no way I was going to miss Jay’s premiere episode. Having now seen it, I am absolutely unsurprised to report to you that, aside from a change in set, there’s virtually no different between the feel of his work on “The Tonight Show” and his work on “The Jay Leno Show.”

Really, though, this can’t be a surprise to anyone.

Although I always picked Letterman over Leno in the late night wars, I never disliked Leno. He was always hysterical whenever he turned up on “Late Night with David Letterman,” so I was thrilled for the guy when he made the transition to Johnny Carson’s regular guest host and turned that into a gig as Carson’s full-time replacement. But you can like a guy without actually watching him, and although I can see the appeal that Leno offers to mainstream audiences, I just prefer my comedy to be a little bit more off-center.

Rest assured, there was very little outside-of-the-box comedy on display in the first episode of “The Jay Leno Show.”

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Overall, not the best day in the world

I’ve been just a bit distracted and sleepy today and didn’t even hear about Kanye West’s little display at the VMA’s last night until just now. Of course, I’m strictly a movie blogger, more or less, so I don’t have to weigh in on — or even watch — last night’s no doubt mega-embarrassing spectacle. A small mercy.  Also, as I started to write this, we got the very sad news of the passing of film and television star Patrick Swayze from pancreatic cancer. Just below this post, Will Harris remembers him in high style.

Fortunately, not everything going on today is as really bad or really sad. Still, because I’m an irresponsible member of the media, I’m going to lead with the bad.

Megan Fox in * In political blogging, it’s common to refer to something called Godwin’s Law. The original version simply held that the longer an online discussion went on, the greater the possibility, or near certainty, that someone would invoke Hitler or Nazis. Over time, however, it’s use has extended and inapt Nazi/Hitler comparisons are held up for ridicule on Godwin grounds. Quoth the Wikipidians:

Godwin’s Law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons…Whether it applies to humorous use or references to oneself is open to interpretation, since this would not be a fallacious attack against a debate opponent.

Well, I don’t think she was being particularly humorous (I guess you could call that the “Soup Nazi exception”), so I have to say that Megan Fox was definitely somewhere in Godwin’s Law territory when she compared controversial blockbuster director Michael Bay to, yes, Hitler last week. Now, I’m anything but a Michael Bay admirer, but on his long list of unfortunate qualities as a public figure, “genocidal mad man” simply isn’t there. He belongs in movie jail, not the Hague.

Anyhow, that would have been the end of it, but unnamed members of Michael Bay’s crew have, for whatever reason, gotten into the act and have written an unnecessary but nevertheless rather hilarious attack on Ms. Fox, which you can read all of over at Nikki Finke’s place. Apparently wanting to keep the peace with Fox, Michael Bay has gotten into the act to distance himself from the crew comments. He refers to Megan Fox’s “crazy quips.” I don’t think he understands what the word “quip” actually means. I guess he belongs in word usage jail, also.

Christoph Waltz in * Casting stories can get tedious, but awhile back I made a big deal about the casting of Taiwanese singer-kick-butt martial artist Jay Chou in Seth Rogen’s upcoming “The Green Hornet.” Now, the movie is starting to look even more fun with the placement of Christoph Waltz in the role of the bad guy. Waltz, of course, is the multilingual German TV actor turned international flavor of the month with his universally lauded, thoroughly enjoyable performance as the “Jew Hunter,” Col. Hans Landa, in “Inglourious Basterds.”

Not since Alan Rickman damn near stole “Die Hard” from Bruce Willis has a previously unknown actor playing a villain — particularly a more or less completely unredeemable villain — gotten anything resembling this kind of attention. Even Rickman didn’t get anywhere near this much praise, as important as he was to the massive success of that borderline-classic action flick.

It’s safe to say we’ll be hearing from Waltz a lot. I just hope he can find some really good leading man roles, too. If anyone deserves to suddenly become a full-on international superstar at age 52, he might be the guy.

* I’ve been guilty of ignoring the Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF). The favorite major festival of geeky cinephiles (a rep that was perhaps harmed slightly by a kerfluffle this year over blogger press credentials) is now well underway. The high profile films this year include Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” which wowed ‘em at the Telluride Film Festival just a few days back, and the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.Anne Thompson and Karina Longworth are covering their ends of the festival very nicely.

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American Idol: Let the cage match begin…

Last night’s “American Idol” results show brought us down from three finalists to two, setting up the biggest and most important showdown of the season next Tuesday. We’ll get to that….after the break…..or scroll down if you didn’t watch.

So Ryan Seacrest announced that there were 88 million votes on Tuesday night. I half-expected Seacrest to put a pinky to the corner of his mouth like Dr. Evil when he said that. Anyway, he also said that it was the closest voting ever, with 1 million votes separating the top two.

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