Comments on watching and making films.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

It's been on everyone's "best of" list for the year, and has been heaped with praise. Now, Danny Boyle, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated director's working right now. He seems to get very little attention or credit for his amazing body of work. Almost everything he's done has been great, from the 90's drug staple Trainspotting, to the movie that rebooted the zombie genre 28 Days Later, to the (in my opinion) SEVERELY underrated sci-fi thriller Sunshine. Boyle continues to amaze in everything he does, and while Slumdog Millionaire is an enjoyable film, it is, in my opinion, one of the least of his films, and definitely not worth the massive amounts of praise that is heaped on it.

The story concerns the life of Jamal, a young man who gets a chance to make a million dollars on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He makes it to the final round, but before he can take the stage, he is abducted by local police who try to torture him into confessing that he is cheating. Instead, he recounts his childhood, and how (almost) every question that is asked of him has some sort of personal story from his life attached to it, and how, ultimately, he is only trying to win the game so that he can rescue the love of his life, Latika, from a ruthless gangster. Jamal's stories range from when he was a young boy, with his brother Salim, to his current situation as a "lowest man on the totem pole" at a customer service call in center.

Don't take me the wrong way, Slumdog Millionaire is a great film. Although it's destiny driven message is, at times, a little heavy handed, ultimately it is an uplifting film about humanity and the power of love. That being said, I think there are a lot of other BETTER films that have come out this year that deserve to be called the best of the year. Boyle delivers something entertaining, but not amazing. Personally, I think Millions was just as good, or possibly better, but that's probably just a personal thing (seeing as how everyone seems to hate Millions but me...)


Gus Van Sant has been one of the most consistently good filmmakers of the last twenty plus years. From his breakout film Drugstore Cowboy, to his Oscar winner Good Will Hunting, to his critically acclaimed trilogy about death (Gerry, Elephant,  and Last Days), Van Sant has made a lot of great films on a small, independent scale. Milk is probably the closest he's ever really gotten to making a mainstream movie, and may be the closest he will ever get.

Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay city official. It picks up Harvey's story on the night of his fortieth birthday in New York City, when he meets Scott Smith(played by James Franco), the man who will, effectively, become the great love of Harvey's life. Harvey and Scott eventually migrate to San Francisco to be a part of a more gay-friendly environment, and settle in the Castro district. As time goes on, Harvey see's so many things about his environment that he wants to change, but, in order to do so, he must gain the power to do so. In order to do this, he runs for a city supervisor position and loses. Every few years he runs again and again, and loses again and again. By this time, he has become famous in his community, but when he decides to run one more time, he loses Scott, who walks out on him, sick of having to deal with Harvey giving all of himself to politics. It is then that Harvey wins the position. When he takes his seat, he meets, and tries to allign with another newly elected supervisor - Dan White(played by Josh Brolin). Harvey tries to support Dan, but eventually begins to become more and more famous, and more and more adamant about changing the city's laws and treatment towards the homosexual population. This causes friction between Dan and Harvey, and eventually, after losing his job, Dan comes back to City Hall for Harvey, with a gun.

Milk is an interesting film from a historical perspective. It made me realize that the homosexual population, especially in America, have there own history, their own hero's and villian's. All of the actor's did an exceptional job, though sometimes it feels like Sean Penn's Harvey Milk seemed to be schizophrenically flamboyant. One moment he would be the serious politician looking to change things, and the next he came off as almost a Hollywood stereotype (though I do stand by the fact that stereotypes are born out of truth, and therefore there may have been truth to Penn's flamboyance). Ultimately, though, the film suffered the fate of many recent biopics - it was just kind of boring. I mean, Van Sant did all the right things - used period news reel footage, included the most interesting and relevant parts, and gave us characters we could cheer for but, still, something was just missing. I think that, ultimately, the biopic (in general) suffers from the fact that, ultimately, you know what the outcome is. It's so hard to find a story to tell that someone either doesn't know the outcome of, or couldn't hit up wikipedia or google to find every last ounce of relevant information to. Milk is a good film, and certainly a good addition to Van Sant's resume, but I found myself, at the end, saying "Alright", getting out of my seat, walking out of the theater and not caring about anything I saw for the last two hours just like I have with almost every biopic I've seen in the last couple of years.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher is one of the great director's of his generation. Although he hasn't made that many films, as compared to the filmmakers that started coming out around his time (Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith), all of his films (short of the studio cannibalised  Alien 3) have been amazing works of art. He has made countless television commercials and music videos, and continues to expand his visual grammar. With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though, he's brought a softer edged humanity to his story telling, with the help of source material by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Button is the story of one man's life, lived physically in reverse. He is born the average weight and size of a new born, but with all of the characteristics of a man well into his eighties. He spends his early life fighting geriatric ailments, living in an old folks home, and believing himself to be just like those around him. As he grows older, though, he grows physically younger, feeling constantly out of place as he maneuvers his way through an ever changing world. He constantly opens himself up to new encounters, and new loves, but is always forced to give up those things which he loves the most.

And that is the key to Button. If there is a single message in the film it is that death, and letting go of the things you love the most in life, is a natural part of life. It happens to everyone, and can not be controlled. Button is a heartbreaking film, and, as the title character, Brad Pitt brings an unbelievable earnestness to Benjamin, a simple man who always seems to be happy to simply experience life. Fincher puts on an incredible patina to the entire film, making you feel, more than almost any other film I've ever seen, that you are right there in that moment with Benjamin. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy, Benjamin's life long love interest with absolute honesty and clarity. She is the person you fall in love with, and lose, but you never really lose them in your heart. Benjamin is lucky enough, though, that he and Daisy always seem to find each other.

I think the one thing that surprised me the most about Button, though, was the importance of women in Benjamin's life. You never seem him have any guy friends. There is no real father figure (even his real father never really gets to act the part). The film is, in fact, completely about the women in Benjamin's life - Queenie, the woman who becomes his mother after he's abandoned at birth, Daisy, his life long love, and Elizabeth, a relationship he has while working as a sailor in Russia. Love, in this film, whether familial or romantic, is the number one message of this film - You may get only one chance to seize your moment with someone. If your lucky, and you screw up the first one, you might get a second, but its best to take the chance when you have it. Life doesn't last forever, and whether your young or old, you WILL lose everything and everyone you love in the end. Love them while you have them. Make today the day.

I want to end this review with this phrase that Benjamin writes to his daughter - "If you find yourself living a life your not proud of, I hope you have the strength to start over".

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Film - Matt

This is my new film, Matt. It's a sort of moving portrait of an old friend of mine who I was able to visit with while going home for a friends wedding. Shot on Tri-X Super 8. Music by Tchaikovsky. Hope you like it, and please feel free to leave feedback - 

Matt from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thoughts on Dexter, Season 3

Well, I recently finished watching the final episodes of Dexter, season 3. All I can say is - WOW! Scott Buck, who executive produced Six Feet Under is one of the exec producers on this show as well, and I can honestly say that, while Dexter isn't as good as Six Feet Under was, it is VERY close.

One of the best things about this season was also the thing that was the biggest surprise to me - Jimmy Smits. Not that I don't like Jimmy Smits, but, to be honest, I never had much of a feeling for him either way. LA Law was before my time, and he's always popped up in more supporting roles in all of the stuff I've ever seen him in. I was a little worried, I have to admit. Bringing in a bigger name actor like Smits into a show like Dexter can be a way of saying "We're in trouble" without saying it. But Smits fit perfectly into his role, never trying to be bigger than what he was, and, though he was an integral part of the story line for this season, the writers made sure to always make sure that his character was only used when necessary. Smits inhabited his role like it was a second skin (no pun intended to those who have seen the season), and REALLY vanquished any and all doubts I had about him.

Lot's of kudo's need to go to Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, as well, for their performances. Hall is one of the best actors around, and I'm a little surprised that he's not better known. Julie Benz, who plays Rita, also kicked it up a notch in this season (or maybe the writers just gave her a little more to work with, who knows?). 

My only complaint would have to be something that the writers seemed to do last season as well, which was start the show in a very intense way, lull in the middle, and then hit it again at the end. I don't know if that's purposeful or not, but it is definitely felt. I also didn't care for Quinn. I don't know whether it was the actor I didn't like, or the character, or both. The character seemed really one dimensional and flat, and whenever they did try to breath a little bit of life into him, it was sort of like "who cares?". Ultimately, though, in a show like that, I suppose they need a few one sided characters every once in a while, just to keep the plot moving along.

Monday, December 15, 2008

DVD - Son of Rambow

Son of Rambow is the hilarious story of a young boy, Will, who's family belongs to a sect of the Christian religion, almost Amish like, in England. One day, while sitting in the hall because he's not allowed to watch documentary's with his classmates (TV is apparently considered wrong in his religion, even though they drive cars and use other various forms of modern technology), he meets another young boy, Lee Carter, a trouble maker who quickly begins taking advantage of the young and impressionable Will. Lee Carter doesn't have any friends to speak of, so he soon enlists Will to help him make a film to enter into a BBC contest. Son of Rambow takes place in the 80's, right after the release of First Blood in England, and the boy's, taken by Rambo, decide to make their own Rambo film.

This film was really funny, and a lot of it was because of the perfect chemistry between Will and Lee Carter (played by Bill Millner and Will Poulter respectively). Millner has a perfect innocence about him, and Poulter plays the bully/opportunist very well. Another great part of this film was the graphical work done in it, that helped bring Will's day dreams to life. In this film, we saw Will's thought process in a way that seemed more authentic than anything I've ever seen in a film portraying kids. The script, and direction, by Garth Jennings was great, and I really look forward to seeing whatever is next from him.

DVD - White Dog

White Dog is something of a legend in the film world. In the early eighties, Paramount Pictures tapped legendary director Sam Fuller, just of his recent success with The Big Red One, to direct a film based off of the novella about a young couple who take in a stray dog, only to find out that the dog has been trained to attack and kill black people. Fuller made the film, having made several anit-rascism pictures in the 1950's before equal rights and de-segregation were even seriously being considered. Upon initial viewing of the film, however, Paramount executives thought it to inflammatory, and shelved the project except for a short release in France. This was a slap in the face to Fuller, and all who worked on the film, and Fuller never saw the film released in his lifetime. This month, though, Criterion put White Dog out for the first time, as far as I know, on home video.

The story of White Dog is fairly simple - A young actress in Hollywood comes across a stray dog while driving through the Hollywood Hills to her home. She takes the dog home with her, and seeks to find the owner. When no owner shows up, and the dog saves her from being raped (by a white man), the girl, who's name is Julie, decides to keep the dog. Little does she know, though, that the dog wasn't just trained to attack those that would put someone like Julie in jeopardy, but was also trained to attack and kill black people, which she first finds out when the dog attacks and maims one of her friends. Feeling like she has developed a real bond with the dog, she tries to avoid having it put down by taking it to a black animal trainer named Keys, who is looking for a challenge. But can Keys break the dog of its ways? or will it kill again?

White Dog is alright, but it FEELS very 80's. And, I don't know, maybe I'm just a product of a different era, but watching the movie now doesn't seem like its as impactful as it probably should be or might have been back in the day. I know people are rascist, I know people do horrible, unspeakable things to animals, and I know animals can be made into dangerous weapons... Ultimately what I was left feeling about the film was that we got good performances by Kristy McNichol, as the optimistic Julie, and by Paul Winfield, as the animal trainer Keys, but the story itself really didn't draw me in the way I wanted it to, and it didn't really impact me the way I thought it would. White Dog is good, but its not life changing. For me, a film like Shock Corridor, Fuller's 1963 film about mental illness and asylum's was much more interesting as a "topical" film.

I have been working

I know I always say I'm working on this or that, but I am actually working on stuff, it's just slow going. As proof, I offer some stills from a recent transfer I did of 16mm and Super 8. The 16 stuff is for Indefinable Orbits and the Super 8 (black and white) stuff is for an as of yet untitled film.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme seems to have kept himself fairly busy these past couple of years doing a lot of documentary work, including films about Neil Young and Jimmy Carter, but he's decided to saddle back up to the narrative in Rachel Getting Married, though he brings with him a lot of what he must have learned while making said documentary's.  Rachel... is the story of the titular character's wedding, and the homecoming of her sister, Kim, from a rehab facility. Kim is released so that she may attend, and, of course, when Kim, who has been in and out of rehab and, for various reasons you learn in the film, has been a thorn in the side of the family, shows up, things get REALLY intense right before the big day.

Anne Hathaway finally gets  to show us she can act outside of Disney movies and chick flicks, and actually does an amazing job as Kim. Rosemarie DeWitt is radiant as Rachel, and Tunde Adebimpe, who I first saw in Jump Tomorrow, was great as Rachel's soon to be husband Sidney. Great performances by Bill Irwin and Debra Winger as the divorced parents of Rachel and Kim round out the group. Rachel Getting Married is less a fiction film done in documentary style, and more a documentary of actors putting on the show of this wedding. Demme gives you an almost God's eye view of all the significant going's on, and makes you feel like you're not just seeing some Hollywood film about a dysfunctional family, but actually witnessing said family have a complete melt down. I ceased to see these people as individuals playing a part and completely sunk into the concept of these actors as actually being the people they portrayed. Demme and his team get massive props for bringing Jenny Lumet's story to the screen in such a seamless way. Truly, truly masterful filmmaking.

Synecdoche, New York

I don't know how to describe this film. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Caden Cotard, a theater director who receives a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation, and decides to use it to create a massive stage play that he spends twenty years of his life trying to create. That's about the best I can do. The film, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, is... amazing. That being said, its almost impossible to do it justice in a paragraph. It's just one of those movies you have to see. It's, basically, Cotard's life, from shortly before he receives the grant, into his very old age. It is funny, awkward, truthful, and far out all at the same time. Kaufman really creates his own world, going way beyond the strangeness of his previous writing efforts like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Just see it. That's all I can say. You'll either like it, or you won't, but you'll never forget it.

Let The Right One In

When I think of Swedish film, I think of Ingmar Bergman - dark, brooding meditations of life and love. With Let The Right One In, I'm seeing a whole new aspect of Swedish filmmaking. ...Right One... is about a young boy, Oscar, who is bullied at school, and for all intents and purposes, ignored at home. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his mom, but she doesn't pay that much attention to him. One night, a young woman, about his age, moves into the apartment next door, with an older man, who we presume is her father. Over time, Oscar gets to know the young girl, who only comes out at night, and never seems to get cold in the freezing Swedish winters. But when the old man she was living with passes on, Oscar finds out the frightening truth of Eli, the young girl he's fallen in love with - She's a vampire.

Let The Right One In is an amazing film. I loved it through and through. The two young actors who play Oscar and Eli, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson respectively, are amazing and really disappear into their roles. The director, Tomas Alfredson, seems to have worked hard to get the chemistry just right between them, and between Oscar and the boys who torture him. It amazes me that this team was able to take such a relatively tired genre (sans the recent 30 Days of Night, which was really good), and breath some new life into it. I loved the idea, as well, that Eli was not just some creature who loved the thrill of the hunt and kill, but that she only did what she did because it was for her survival. Just as we kill and eat a cow or a pig, she must kill a human being to survive. Instead of the whole Underworld style of Vampire, Let The Right One In has the most human vampire I have ever seen - like you and I in every way, except for her need for human blood to feed on.

Quantum of Solace

It's really late by this point. Quantum of Solace has already been out for a month or so, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. In the newest installment of the Daniel Craig series of Bond films, Bond is still pissed off about the death of the woman he loved, Vesper, at the hands of a mysterious enemy. The film opens with a daring car chase, which we learn, is Bond getting away from henchman of this organization, while he holds captive (in his trunk) one of the top ranking officials of said super secret organization. What ensues, throughout the film, is a cat and mouse game, with Bond trying to expose the inner workings of the people who killed his woman and have been pulling strings all around the world to get their way.

I enjoyed Quantum of Solace a lot, but, ultimately, I liked Casino Royale a lot better. It felt like a much more well rounded film, where as Quantum of Solace felt like a Bond film that had been written for Charles Bronson. It felt like it could have been a Bond version of Death Wish. The action sequences were really incredible, but, sometimes it felt like they were trying to shove a little bit too much of it in there. The Bond girls, Gemma Arterton and Olga Kurylenko, were tight, but... they were a little one sided. The best Bond girls have been relatively three dimensional, and a little more developed. It's all a little disappointing, because Marc Forster is truly one of my favorite directors of this generation. I think the man is talented beyond belief, but... Quantum of Solace just didn't do it for me the way I was hoping it would. It's a great film, but their are other Bond's that were better. interview - Kelly Reichardt

Karina Longworth, formerly of Cinematical, now writes for, and recently interviewed Kelly Reichardt, the auteur of such films as Old Joy, and the all new Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams as a broke twenty something, trying to make her way to Alaska to work in the lucrative cannery's. It's a great read. I really enjoyed Old Joy and have River of Grass on my Netflix queue (now that its on DVD).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Top Whatever

The Documentary Blog has posted a list of its Top 25  Documentary's of all time. It's a pretty good list, though I find it hard to believe that Paradise Lost 2: Revelations is on the list, as opposed to its predecessor Paradise Lost, which I felt was a much better made film. I feel like the second part simply rehashed a lot of the information that was already known, while including a little bit of new info. I also feel like The Up-Series should be higher on the list, as its one of the most important film documents of modern society.

On the other hand Empire Magazine has released its list of the 100 Greatest Characters of all time, which, to me, is proof of why lists like this are completely pointless. When you pick out the most obvious things you can, it sort of ceases to have a point, don't you think?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Judgements on recent DVD's

Taxi To The Darkside - Alex Gibney's Oscar winning documentary about torture in Abu Ghraib and beyond is informative, but a little boring. I was expecting it to be a specific story about the taxi driver who was abducted under false pretenses by military soldiers, captured, and killed, but his story was sort of secondary to a documentary that was only generally about torture. The next film was a lot better - 

Standard Operating Procedure - Errol Morris's visually stunning documentary about Abu Ghraib and the famous images that came out of it, is another amazing Morris film. He interviews many of the people responsible for those images (unlike Gibney's Taxi To The Darkside). Morris's goal is to question the reliability of an abstract image and its meaning, and he does so with incredible result. When those pictures were released, most people would have strung up those soldiers. After watching Standard Operating Procedure, you realize the problem wasn't simply with a few soldiers, but a disease that started at the top of the chain of command and worked its way down. The most unfortunate thing about it is that only the most obvious people were punished for it. A must see.

House of Wax - This Vincent Price vehicle was a remake of a film from the 30's, and was remade a few years ago into a horrendous waste of time, who's only redeeming moment was a Paris Hilton death scene. Price plays a genius wax sculptor who is disfigured and let for dead by his partner. He survives, though, rebuilding his wax museum with people who look strikingly realistic. A little too realistic, in fact. The film is interesting and enjoyable for a film from that era. Price is a great actor, though he often was cast in bad horror and sci-fi films. Worth a watch.

The Furies - Anthony Mann's epic western deals with a battle between a father and his daughter for control of a huge ranch known as "The Furies". This is a classic western with a lot of eye candy scenery. While some of the acting is kind of hokey, and 1950's stereotype's abound, over all the film is a good watch if you're into westerns.

The Night Porter - The story of a Nazi soldier who reconnects with a young woman who he had a strange sexual relationship with in a concentration camp. The story makes sense, but is long and boring. This film is considered one of the greatest films of the 70's "golden" era, but is not worth your time unless your trying to see as much 70's film as possible.

The Foot Fist Way - Danny McBride stars as an idiotic martial arts instructor who's life is going down the tubes. His wife is cheating on him with everyone she can, his students don't respect him, and, after meeting his martial arts hero, he realizes the guy is a complete tool. McBride is hilarious and writer/director Jody Hill and writer Ben Best do a great job at bringing us a hilarious comedy about a complete idiot. 

Gray's Anatomy - I love Steven Soderbergh, but I'm going to have to take a pass on this one. I tried watching this twice and fell asleep both times, about 30 minutes in. The third time, I made sure to watch it early, and fast forwarded through the 30 minutes I had already seen (twice). I'm assuming if you know, or like, Spalding Gray, this film is probably great, but I don't know or like him, and found his monologue to be uninteresting. Did Soderbergh honestly believe that a bunch of people were going to sit around for 80 minutes watching a guy talk about an eye problem? Sorry Soderbergh, but, in a long and illustrious career, you've finally got your first strike.

Erin Brockovich - I'm not a big Julia Robert's fan, but I am a big Steven Soderbergh fan, so I have been trying to hit up all of his stuff that I haven't seen yet. I missed Brockovich when it came out because I didn't know who Soderbergh was yet, and it seemed like a chick-flick. The true story of rags to riches lawyer Erin Brockovich, who helps hundreds of people win a judgement against an energy concern that has been poisoning their water for decades, Robert's is competent in it, and the film definitely has its moments both funny and sentimental. Much like Out of Sight, Erin Brokovich is not one of Soderbergh's best, but it is a good film and enjoyable enough to sit through its 2+ hour running time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I was wrong, you were right (or, how Jim Jannard changed the game AGAIN)

Red has already posted info and pics for their Scarlet/Epic announcement in the Red forums, and I must say... Jannard didn't lie. It's everything we could have hoped for and MORE. I can now (well, not now, when they come out) get a Scarlett that shoots 5K, with a Canon or Nikon mount (or even a PL Mount, if I wanted to rent the lenses for a film I'm shooting), and seemingly endless options for add ons... That's not to even mention Epic (which is completely out of my price range).

This is it, folks. The only question now is, what do I do between now and when this stuff is released? Me thinks Canon 5D Mk II, with lenses, and then I can just use the lenses when Scarlet is released, and either sell the 5D or keep it as a more normal looking still camera.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DVD - To Catch A Thief

Hitchcock is pretty reliable, and To Catch a Thief keeps the status quo. The film stars Cary Grant as John Robie aka The Cat, a retired master thief. When someone on the French Riviera begins stealing high dollar jewels using The Cat's old M.O., Robie has to come out of retirement in order to clear his name. Along the way, he meets the gorgeous and single Frances Stevens (played by the gorgeous Grace Kelly), and begins romancing her as a way to keep his cover while investigating the robberies.

The story for Thief is pretty basic, but enjoyable, and Grant and Kelly, as always, pull off great performances. Hitchcock does an amazing job at photographing the French Riviera for the exterior scenes, and making sure that all of the sound stage stuff matches with the look and feel. Although Thief is not one of his more well known films, overshadowed by his thrillers from the same era, it's still a reliably enjoyable piece of work.

DVD - The Last Winter

The Last Winter is one of those films that you have high hopes for, and they don't exactly get dashed, but they definitely aren't met in the way you were hoping for. Actor Larry Fessenden directs this eco-horror tale about a group of oil rig workers trying to set up an ice road to bring in equipment to set up in the just opened Alaska Wildlife Refuge. Some force, however, whether natural or super natural, is killing them, one by one.

The film has an interesting and poignant enough story - it's a cautionary tale about using the last of our resources in an area we don't fully understand. It's also an attempt to show how little we know about nature and its defenses. Ultimately, though, I feel like the one-sided, and almost cliche characters kind of ruin the film. I mean, it just seems like everyone is a carbon copy of another character in a different film (John Carpenter's The Thing, seems to be the  most obvious comparison). You got the guy who just wants to get the job done at any cost. You've got the one girl who will hop in bed with whoever's available. You've got the mildly spiritual guy. There's always a young buck, and a mechanic with a sarcastic sense of humor. 

The Last Winter I think COULD have been a much cooler film if Fessenden had gone against horror conventions, and really gave these characters more interesting identity's, and not steered the plot so far into the familiar. It wasn't a bad film, I just think it could have been a lot better. The fact that the ending was so vague also really upset me. You'll understand if you watch it, and, if your horror fan, I would say watch it. It's only about an hour and a half. You may love it. If your not big on horror, you probably won't like it that much.

Pride and Glory

Some ideas look great on paper, and then, when you commit them to celluloid, or video, depending on your capture medium, you stand back and look at what you've done and say "That isn't what I had in mind at all...". Somehow, I HOPE that the makers of Pride and Glory had the intelligence and artistic fortitude to step back from what, I'm sure, cost them many millions of dollars and say "You know, I accept the fact that this just isn't that good."

Pride and Glory is a relatively mundane police thriller involving three family members (two brothers and one in-law) who get caught up in an investigation when four cops are gunned down. Ed Norton stars as Ray Tierney, a NYC cop who has been working in the abyss of Missing Persons, when, after the four cops are mowed down in an ambush, is given the job by his police commissioner father (played by Jon Voight), to head the task force, whose fingers are pointed in the direction of his brother Francis's command, as well as his brother-in-law's, Jimmy Egan (played, respectively, by Noah Emmerich and Colin Farrell). As the action unfolds, Ray, who has always been a good cop, has to contend with the idea that, maybe, his brother's aren't quite as clean as he is.

Pride and Glory is not a bad movie, it's just not a good one. It feels pretty flat most of the time, though the actor's all give competent performances. The story feels like a a story from school that you've read a million times before, and are having to read again. There's nothing particularly new, or interesting in this film, which is kind of sad considering the fact that you have Ed Norton, Jon Voight, and Collin Farrell on your roster. Pride and Glory is like a film version of a Shakespeare play. You've seen it a thousand times, in a thousand different ways, and when its over, you wonder why you should care.

To Hollywood script writer's, a note - We get the point! NYC cops are like brothers. You don't rat on your brother, even if he is crooked. We get it! We don't need five movies a year with this premise. 


Clint Eastwood is the best kind of director - always willing to try something new, someone who believes in their projects, and someone who delivers, if not a masterpiece, than, at least, a competent and enjoyable film. I feel like Changeling is such a film - not a masterpiece, but a competent, well made, and enjoyable film.

Changeling is the story of Christine Collins, a single mother in late-twenties Los Angeles, who works for the phone company while raising her you son, Walter. One day, when Christine is called into work to fill in for an ailing co-worker, she makes the mistake of leaving you Walter alone, and when she gets back, he's gone. After months of searching for the boy, the LAPD says that DeKalb, Illinois police have found Walter and are sending him back to Los Angeles. When the boy shows up, though, it's not Walter, though the police convince her to tell the press it is. This starts a domino effect that causes Christine to have her very sanity questioned, as the chances of finding the real Walter become slimmer by the moment.

Angelina Jolie, who plays Collins, does a good job in the film, as do pretty much all of the actors, but the real standout is Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) as the slimy Captain J.J. Jones. Donovan inhabits the skin of the abusive and completely out of touch Jones with stunning accuracy. He made me want to hit him! Amy Ryan (Gone, Baby, Gone and The Office), who has been garnering some great minor roles the last few years, also does a great job as Collins' only confidant in the LA County Hospital's Psych ward. There was also a good performance by Eddie Alderson, who played Sanford Clark, the young boy who Gordon Northcott got to help him with his abductions and murders.

Why did the film not impress me? Don't know. I can't really put my finger on... It just didn't pop like Mystic River or Flags Of Our Fathers. It had an almost procedural feel at times, and I feel like the most interesting part of the film, the story of Gordon Northcott, wasn't given the precedence it should have had, nor was the dramatic interpretation taken to the kind of level it could have been. While the story was about Christine Collins, and her battle with the LAPD, I honestly feel like Eastwood did a disservice to the film by not making Collins' story and Northcott's story gel a little more. Don't take that the wrong way, though. I enjoyed Changeling, but, ultimately, it would not be something I would probably see again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lance Hammer and Ballast

Apple has a great article on Lance Hammer. Hammer wrote, directed, and edited the film festival favorite Ballast, and then gave up a distribution deal with IFC, a sure fire way to get his film seen by a LOT of people, and opted to self distribute, because he felt as though IFC took away too much creative control from the distribution process (I think we saw this first hand in their recutting of the awesome Hannah Takes The Stairs trailer that had been cut by Joe Swanberg, when they replaced it with a much more traditional, and boring, trailer). 

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure IFC, after so many years of experience, has a pretty solid way of distributing stuff. On the other hand, though, I can't completely blame Hammer for wanting a little bit more control over the project that he has put so much blood, sweat, and tears into.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I don't mean to sound impassioned or overly zealous, but I.O.U.S.A. is probably the most important film you will see all year, and it is one of the most important pieces of media you can digest this year. A documentary about the national debt doesn't sound all that interesting, but when you see it, and they lay out the history of said debt, where we've been and where we're going, it will give you a new outlook on life, and politics. Before this film, I thought more taxes were a a ridiculous thing. Why do we need more taxes? Well, put simply, at this point we need more taxes and less government to keep the country from tanking in thirty to forty years. Go see this film. That's about all I can say without really getting into it and giving everything away. It's amazing.

If you'd like to learn more about the silent crisis we're facing, and can't get to a theatre to watch the film, please visit The Concord Coalition for more information on the Federal Deficit, Deficit spending, and what its doing to America.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno

Okay... So, the title is making a lot of people say - "That's not the kind of movie I want to see/want my kids to see". Makes sense, and if you read the Kevin Smith interview over on Cinematical, you'll find out that that is exactly why he fought to keep "Make A Porno" in the title, instead of just shortening it to Zack and Miri. Smith's logic (and it makes sense when you see the film) is that people who don't know what the film is about, and go in expecting some standard indie rom-com might get pretty pissed off when they realize the back drop of these two friends falling in love is them making an adult film. Makes sense.

The film centers around the titular characters, Zack and Miri. Zack and Miri are old high school friends, who, ten years later, still live in the same Pennsylvania town they grew up in, have crappy jobs, and barely have lives. When they go broke, have their water and power shut off, and, in effect, have nothing more to live for, they come up with the idea of making a porno film to make the money to get them out of debt (why they can't just get second jobs, I have no idea...). The idea is, since they are such great platonic friends, having sex with each other on camera to save their livelihoods shouldn't be a problem. So Zack and Miri go about pulling together cast and crew to shoot this film, and in the process learn about themselves and develop a surrogate family within this misfit band of pornographers.

Zack and Miri is classic Kevin Smith. Hilarious, a little dirty, all wrapped up with a lot of heart. The film is funny, and Zack and Miri's journey from friends to being in a relationship, while at times can be cliche, is still packed with a lot of heart. Seth Rogen packs an incredible punch as a comedic leading man, and Elizabeth Banks (who, for some reason, I've never particularly liked), brings Miri to life as the lovable, if somewhat apathetic, slightly above average girl (she's cute, but not super hot, but she would totally do guy stuff with you). The supporting cast, which, of course, includes Jason Mewes, is hilarious, with the best part being Office actor Craig Robinson.

Here's the point - Zack and Miri Make A Porno can be a little graphic at times. After all, the back drop of the movie is about making a porno, but the real story is about finding love in the least likely of places - the person you gave up associating love with a long time ago. If you're cool with Kevin Smith's stuff, go see it. If you don't like his humor, don't go see it. I thought it was hilarious, and I think he has shown that he can make a great film that is outside of the "Askewniverse" (if you don't know what that it is, look it up).

DVD - Paranoid Park

Gus Van Sant, at this point, could probably be considered a master. His career has spanned over twenty years, his films have garnered both critical and commercial acclaim, and he has even been up for an Oscar (a feat that many independent director's never achieve). And why should any of his latest films fail to live up to the mark he has already established?

Paranoid Park is an intensely hypnotic chronicle of one boy's travails through the Portland skateboarding scene. When Alex gets ditched by his friend Jared one night, he decides to head over to Paranoid Park, the skate park on the edge of town where all of the hard core skaters hang out. There, he meets a few scrappy older kids. One of them invites him to go ride the freight trains with him, and they head off to a nearby train yard. While riding the trains, a security guard tries to beat them with a bat to get them down, but Alex gives him a good smack across the face with his skateboard causing the guard to fall over onto another set of tracks, where his body is cut cleanly in half by an oncoming train. The other boy runs off, leaving Alex to deal with the aftermath. 

Paranoid Park sticks with Van Sant's recent, almost documentary style that he's used his last couple of films to perfect. Like Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days, Van Sant follows the story of Alex in an incredibly matter of fact way, giving the audience very little ups or downs, but instead letting the entire story rest on the shoulders of the interaction between characters. In other words - If you don't like character driven stories, you WILL NOT like this film. There's no high tension between Alex and the detective who suspects that he knows more than he's saying, no judgement placed on Alex for what he has done, it is simply a story about a young boy who makes a series of choices and where those choices take him.

The film, as I said before, is incredibly hypnotic. Van Sant intersperses a lot of Super 8 into the skateboarding scenes, and gives pieces of the film an almost pastoral feel. Christopher Doyle, the legendary Hong Kong cinematographer who has lensed all of Wong Kar Wai's best films, lends some of his trademark visuals to the film, and gives me the sense that the two of these guys together could make an unstoppable team when it comes to visuals. Van Sant continues his use of, primarily, unknown actors in the film, as evidenced especially by Alex's friend Macy (played by Lauren McKinney). While McKinney is not bad, she has some of those junior high theater class moments where you think "Okay, she needs a little bit more practice...". Van Sant has seen both ups and downs with this choice, having launched a few careers, but also populating some of his films with people that just shouldn't be on camera until they have some more experience under their belt.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eagle Eye

Okay, let's just get this out of the way - Eagle Eye is ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. In fact, it borders on Wanted territory. Unlike Wanted, however, its just enjoyable enough to not wish someone was hammering nails into your eyes instead of having to watch it (that's probably a little extreme... let's just say I did not like Wanted). Exec Produced by Steven Spielberg and brought to the screen by "ehh..." director D.J. Caruso, Eagle Eye delivers an hour and a half of ridiculous, over the top fun, without (thankfully) any clunky subplots like so many of these big budget thrill rides. 

Eagle Eye centers around Jerry Shaw (played by Shia LeBouf, in one of the ten thousand roles he's been in the last few years. This kid's working on getting as much mileage as Gene Hackman...). Jerry is a loser. He's an artist with little ambition, who makes his living working at Copy Cabana. Upon return from his twin brothers funeral, he finds out that ton's of weapon's and bomb making fertilizer has been left in his apartment, and whoever did it tipped off the FBI. A female voice calls him on the phone, and starts giving him instructions, but Jerry refuses to follow them. After spending a few hours at the local FBI field office, answering questions, the voice calls Jerry again, and this time Jerry listens, and escapes from the FBI's captivity. He meets up with Rachel (played by Michelle Monaghan), a woman who is also being led by the voice. Together, they are blackmailed by the voice to complete a mission for it, which puts them in some seriously crazy and dangerous situations.

Eagle Eye reminds me of a high octane version of those movies I used to love as a kid - a mindless hour and a half full of car chases, explosions, and any other kind of action you can stuff in. But, in being a "high octane" version, I want to back up what I said before - this movie is completely ridiculous. The stuff that happens in it is beyond any kind of logic or realism. It's not Matrix crazy, but it's pretty crazy. It's just one of those movies that you have to forgive for being so out there, so that you can just sit back and enjoy it.


Ed Harris has only directed two films in his life time, but when those two are Pollock and Appaloosa, you really can't complain about much, except that his out put is so small. Like Clint Eastwood, Harris is an actor who has made the transition back and forth between being an actor and a director, and showing a mastery of both.

Appaloosa is the story of two men - Virgil Cole (played by Harris), and Everett Hitch (Vigo Mortensen), who are hired by the town of Appaloosa, after their Sheriff and his deputies are murdered in cold blood by Randall Bragg, a local rancher and outlaw. They come to the little western town to restore order, and do so by running the town with an iron fist. In fact, Cole forces the city leaders to sign over all law making ability to him, in effect giving him the sole right to say what is legal and illegal, and how to punish those who break the law. A cat and mouse game with Bragg pushes Cole and Hitch to the limit of their capabilities, as they try to put down the outlaw and his gang.

Appaloosa is one of those "old master" kind of films. It almost feels like Eastwood himself directed it, or maybe John Ford. Harris and Mortensen don't miss a beat as the quiet and incredibly skillful gunfighter, nor does Jeremy Irons as Randall Bragg. The only thing I didn't like about this film was Renee Zellweger. I've never cared for her acting, and her face always has this weird bloated look, which makes it difficult to buy her as the romantic lead.

Harris sprinkles some humor into the script in certain places, which certainly lightens up the mood, though it doesn't always need it. These guys, in effect, kill for a living, and sometimes its just interesting to see them wait for the right moment to do so. Hitch, especially, as you assume his temper is probably pretty thin most of the time, as he always seems to have his double barreled shot gun loaded and ready to go.  These guys are so good at what they do, they're almost like machines, and its an experience to just see them do their job. If you like westerns, I think that Appaloosa is absolutely a must see.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Michael Cera has been knocking his roles out of the park lately, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is no different. Based on a novel written for the teen/young adult crowd, the film centers around the titular characters of Nick and Norah, who meet up at a New York City night club. Nick is playing with his band, and trying to get over his recent break up with Triss, while Norah, who goes to school with Triss, and knows of Nick, is at the club with her friend Caroline. When Norah is made fun of by Triss for being alone, she lies to Triss and tells her that she's there with her boyfriend. Triss calls her out, though, and Norah decides to ask a random guy to act like her boyfriend until she can get out of there. She accidently asks Nick, having never seen his face, but knowing who he is through the numerous mixes he's made for Triss. Caroline gets totally blasted, and Nick and Norah trust Nick's bandmates to get her home, but they end up loosing her along the way. This causes a chain reaction of all the characters making a search of New York City, while also trying to find out the location of a secret show by their favorite band "Where's Fluffy?".

Cera plays the same kind of character that he's played before in films like Juno and Superbad, but if you like him in those roles (which I do), you never get tired of it. Kat Dennings plays Norah as the indie girl of Nick (and my) dreams. I think that is, maybe, why I connected with this film so well. I saw a lot of my own insecurity in Nick and I saw a lot of the girl's I have always had a crush on in Norah. The two have a realistic adventure and find love in one of the most romantic cities in the world. 

Although the film reminded me a lot of other films, including Juno, it didn't really bother me that much. The young actors bring a lot of energy to the film, and what is NOT interesting about a film set in New York City? The soundtrack for this film is also amazing. I went out and bought it a few days later (weighing all of my options, I found out it was actually cheaper at Best Buy than iTunes), and have been playing it non-stop ever since. It makes me wonder if Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist will grow to be one of those cult-generational films like American Graffiti were people look back on it, and see the truth of the generation it portrayed. Maybe, maybe not... who knows? All I do know is, I'll be buying the DVD when it comes out and watching it for many years to come.

Mean Magazine Videos

I came across these, recently, because the Rogen/Banks one was on Cinematical. Their all kind of weird and interesting.

Seth Rogen & Elizabeth Banks In "This Is Not Sex" Directed By Tony Kaye from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Summer Bishil Battles the Forces of Darkness from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Presents Bill Hader as The Bad Lieutenant from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Kate Beckinsale in Rollergirl from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Sir Ben Kingsley STOMPS into the shoes of Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Anna Faris in Ocean of Tears from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Dennis Hopper from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents James McAvoy in The Dream from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Mean Magazine Presents Emma Stone from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

DVD - The Searchers

John Ford's The Searchers has come under some controversy over the last couple of years. It has been lauded by many famous filmmakers (including Scorsese and Tarantino) for being highly influential, and often times listed as one of their favorite films. Upon its DVD release, however, a lot of critics and writers began to cry out about the films (supposedly) racist tone.

John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, an ex-Confederate soldier returning to Texas and his families ranch. Upon his return, a neighbor's herd of cattle go missing, and Ethan, along with several other neighbors and authorities (including a young boy named Martin, who Ethan's brother took in after his family was murdered by Indian's), go off into the wilderness to try and find the missing cattle. When they find one of the bulls dead, with no apparent attempt to salvage any part of the body (an odd thing for Native American tribes who make a habit of using every part of an animal), they realize the missing cattle are a diversion. The local tribe has used the cattle as a way to pull the strongest away from their homesteads in order to pillage and murder those that are left. When the search party gets back home, they find the Edwards family murdered, and the ranch burned to the ground. Upon realizing that two of the daughters are nowhere to be found, Ethan and Martin, along with another local boy who was in a relationship with the older daughter, go looking for the two girls.

The Searchers is not what I expected at all. It was not a grim meditation on violence or racism, as it had been called in other reviews. In fact, I don't think the film is racist at all. It doesn't show the Native American's to be particularly blood thirsty or violent (except for the one break off tribe that is causing all of the trouble), and the only character who is overtly racist is Ethan, and your going to tell me that it came as a surprise that someone who fought on the side of the Confederate's in the Civil War is not exactly the kindest person towards those who are not exactly like him? How is this a surprise? Racism was pretty prevalent at that time, especially against Native American's. Would you make a Holocaust movie where the German's were all really nice to everyone, and those shower's were just shower's and the oven's were used to bake french bread and pizza's? No, because its not accurate. People hate. People have always hated. The Searchers isn't condoning hate, its simply exploring it as a driving force behind Ethan and Martin's multi-year quest to find those girls. 

The Searchers is one of the most interesting Westerns I've ever seen. It is, at various times, humorous, vengeful, romantic and stirring. It is almost everything a film has the potential to be. Ford does an amazing job at telling a story that is obviously more about obsession than about hate. Decent performances are all around in this film (for a 1950's Western), though John Wayne is, ultimately, John Wayne - his walk, his talk. He's like DeNiro or Pacino, in that, it's very difficult to separate the man from the role. Ford does an incredible job, as always, capturing the look and feel of the "old west", or, at least, what many people thought the "old west" looked and felt like.

Thoughts on "Extras"

Ricky Gervais has come to be known in the States, primarily,  for being the creator of the British version of The Office (as well as being a writer/exec producer on the American version), for his role in the popular kids film Night At The Museum, and, for those fans of The Office, his second series - Extras

On the show, Gervais plays Andy Millman, a middle aged man with no family to speak of, who, upon getting close to turning forty, decides to ditch his job and follow his dream to become an actor. Where he ends up, however, is doing various extra work with his ever present friend, Maggie, who is also trying to make it as an actress. He also, occasionally, has to deal with an arch nemesis type character in Greg, a fellow extra who ends up getting more high profile work in the first series, and in the second series ends up becoming a legitimate actor. 

Each episode of the show is based around someone who is "legitimate" - Kate Winslet, Sir Ian McKellan, and Daniel Radcliffe (in my personally favorite episode), for instance. For thirty minutes we see how Andy and Maggie deal with having these stars around, and, basically, how they make asses out of themselves. The second series is a little different, as, by this time, Andy has sold his spec script to the BBC and has developed his own show. The only problem with it is the fact that his piece of high entertainment, has been commodified and made into low brow trash by the BBC. Andy spends the second series trying to regain some sense of artistic integrity and legitimacy, but, often times, ends up making things worse for himself. 

Extras is a hilarious cautionary tale about the realities of fame. I think the character Tre Cooper (Andy's new agent in the Series Finale) said it best when he said (something to the effect of) - "You can either be rich and famous, or you can be artistic and struggling, but you can't be both." While I don't believe that is particularly true, it is for Millman's character, because he wants the most of everything, even at the expense of a good life, and the few friends that he has. 

The point of Extras, I think, is to enjoy what you have. Every time Millman tries to force things ahead in his career, it ends up blowing up in his face. Every time he tries to make himself look better, he makes himself look like a fool. It's a great life lesson, really - be yourself. You may not be famous, but its better than being false, and the people who really love you will always stay with you if you're true to yourself and true to them.

I enjoyed Extras a lot more than I enjoyed the British version of The Office. Whereas Gervais was awkward and annoying as David Brent, as Andy Millman he was somewhat endearing, even though he was horribly clueless. I liked the relationship between Andy and Maggie and how it exemplified ambition versus a certain amount of passivity. I also liked how they skewered the whole film and television world. As someone who hopes to be "legitimate" at some point in time, it made me happy that someone was pulling out some of the truths of this world, and laying them out on the table. Stephen Merchant was also hilarious as the ever bumbling agent, someone who, like so many people in the film industry, found a nitch to fit in so that they were in the industry, even though they don't actually know how to do what they are supposed to be doing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ghost Town

I meant to write this up a few weeks ago, when I saw it, but work, Daisy Chain, and being sick got in the way...

Ghost Town is a funny new comedy starring Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, and Greg Kinnear, and is directed by screenwriter David Koepp. Gervais plays a dentist, Bertram Pincus, who lives his life, in a very purposeful way, avoiding human contact as much as possible. When he dies for a few moments in the hospital, during an operation, he comes back to life with the ability to see ghosts. When the newly dead Frank Herlihy (Kinnear), finds out about Pincus, he tracks him down and tries to get Pincus to break up his wife Gwen (Leoni) and her fiancee, who are planning on getting married soon. Pincus' plan is to get Gwen to fall in love with him, which is not an easy task, considering that she has lived in his building for quite some time, and he has continuously made life difficult for her.

Gervais is at his best as the socially awkward doofus in this film. Pincus is the character that Gervais has been honing through his characters on The Office and Extra's. Kinnear makes a great instigator and foil for Pincus, and Tea Leoni is likeable as the girl Pincus is falling for. While the premise feels worn out, the films comedic moments are sharp and fresh, and the film is heartwarming without trying to be over the top or ridiculous.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Recommendation - A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope

The other day I was sick, and bored, and had watched all of my Netflix, so I was looking through my DVD collection for something to watch and came across a documentary that I LOVE and had not seen in a while - A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope. The doc is an hour long piece that includes the story of how a bunch of film school students, who just happened to be Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Walter Murch, John Milius, and others, came together to form the first incarnation of a production house which would go on to produce some of American independent cinema's greatest films (Apocalypse Now, American Graffiti, The Conversation, etc.)

The doc feels short because they skip forward over some of the post THX-1138 debacle period, but maybe that is what makes it so interesting - it's quick, to the point, and includes the best of the best when it comes to info, interviews, etc. With interviews ranging from Coppola and Lucas, to Steven Spielberg, to Warner Brothers exec John Calley, the makers of the doc really pulled together the people that were in the trenches during this amazing time in film history.

This piece is on the DVD for THX-1138, so, you'll either have to buy the special edition dvd, or see if they rent the second disc on Netflix (I've only ever seen the single disc version in Blockbuster). This doc is well worth your time, especially if you are a fan of any of the films or filmmakers listed. Even though they are about the same topic, basically, I enjoyed this doc a lot more than Fog City Mavericks, which is less about Zoetrope, and more about the San Francisco filmmaking scene in general, but which focuses primarily on Zoetrope.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Updates - 100608

Well, obviously there's a lot of new reviews up. I went from having barely anything in September, and nothing for October, to having 11 posts for October in one day. It's because I'm sick. All I can really do today is sit around anyway, so, why not play a little catch up?

Shooting on Daisy Chain went as well as could be expected. We could have used more equipment, and more time, but, when do you ever have what you need on a no budget or low budget shoot? Tim, the guy who ran the B camera, should be starting to edit in the next few weeks. It feels very strange, because, even though I wrote the film, directed it, and ran one of the two XL2's that we shot it with, the film is still not really mine, it's the groups. As such, I felt the need to relinquish some of the responsibility (or in this case, process) to someone else. It would be in poor taste for me to do everything, when there are other people in the group who want to be a bigger part of making this film than just lugging around lights or being set monkey's. 

I know I keep saying this, but I'm going to get the ball rolling on some of my own stuff. I'm getting more and more desperate to get some short films and spec stuff shot so that I can show people I CAN do something.

Bryan Poyser, of the Austin Film Society, sent me the comments on my grant application. I'm thinking about posting them here, though I haven't decided whether I will or not. I agree with some of what they said, though not with all of it. I feel like posting it, with my responses back to their comments, might be worthwhile, though I'm not sure if I want to have it up on the internet for everyone to see. The Definers is a very personal project, so, I feel like I need to be ready to post any outside criticism of said project.

I'm really excited about the possibilities of Canon's new 5DMkII - 1080p video capture (though it only shoots 30fps right now), and interchangeable lenses.

That is all, for now.

Judgements on films past

These are some films I saw a while back, that I never got around to writing reviews on - 

The X-Files: I Want To Believe - Disappointing. Seemed like it was going to be something more interesting, but ended up coming off as a much longer version of some of the not-so-great tv episodes. I was hoping for something as exciting as Fight The Future, even if they didn't want to do aliens, but it just didn't deliver. It was nice to see Mulder and Scully together, but I would have rather had them apart with a good story line.

Pineapple Express - Funny, but not as funny as I thought it was going to be. Still one of the better of the Apatow/Rogen movies. Not one of David Gordon Green's best, but better than Snow Angels.

Step Brothers - Hilarious. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly cement their status as a great comedy team. Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen were great as the parents. The kind of movie you need in your DVD collection, so you can watch over and over again.

Hancock - Pretty good. Enjoyed it a lot. The whole surprise with Charlize Theron was great. It's not life changing or anything, just a good hour and a half of entertainment.

The Happening - I was ill when I saw this (should have waited until I got better). All I remember about it was thinking it was a little hokey, but still better than his last few films. Not that good, but not horrible either. I'll probably get it from Netflix and re-watch it, just so it isn't a weird, hazy memory.

The Strangers - Didn't really care for this much, except for the cinematography. It really seemed to stretch realism, a lot more than some similar horror films. I liked how it was a low-key starter, and how everything was centered around the single location (a house), ultimately it just came off as kind of ridiculous.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan - Took my mom to see this. She really likes Adam Sandler movies. It was funny. That's about it.

The Incredible Hulk - I thought it was pretty good. It didn't change my life, or get me all freaked out about the Hulk. I wasn't going around and trying to get my hands on all the Hulk comics I could, but it was enjoyable.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - One of the funnier Apatow produced movies. Not as good as Superbad or The Forty Year Old Virgin, but better than Knocked Up or Walk Hard. Jason Segel is hilarious, Kristen Bell is hot, and Jonah Hill has a great, albeit small, role as an obnoxious, celebrity obsessed waiter. Russell Brand was annoying, and I wish they would have gotten anyone else but him to play that role.

DVD - In Bruges

In Bruges is a hilarious, slightly dark, comedy by writer/director Martin McDonagh. It stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hit men who are ordered to Bruges, in Belgium, by their boss after a hit goes slightly wrong. While their there, Farrell's character Ray reveals his inner pain over the mistake he made during the hit, and Gleeson's character Ken is ordered by their boss, Harry, to kill Ray for the mistake. When Ken refuses to do it, Harry (played by Ralph Fiennes), shows up in Bruges to take care of both of them.

In Bruges is a hilarious film about partnership, even when it is between hit men, love, finding beauty in the little things, and dealing with other people (especially midgets). I hate to say to much, because it feels like I would be giving away a lot. Gleeson is a great straight man to Farrell, and Ralph Fiennes is hilarious as the hot head boss who shoots first and asks questions later, even if its to his detriment. 

That's about it. That's all I feel I can really say without giving away too much. It's funny. It's a great movie. Go and see it.

DVD - Red Without Blue

Oddly enough, the recommendation to see this film came from Relevant Magazine, which is at least a little odd, when you first think about it. A Christian magazine giving a very good review for a documentary about two gay twins who reach an identity crisis when one of them decides he wants to under go sexual reassignment surgery? But that's why I love Relevant, because they give everything the benefit of the doubt.

Red Without Blue is a documentary about what happens when two identical twins, who are exceptionally close to one another, have to deal with one of the twins deciding that he wants to become a woman. Alex, who now lives as Clair, has been living as a female for a few years, but has finally decided to apply for sexual re-assignment surgery. Mark, Alex's twin brother, finds himself with a multitude of feelings about this, one of them being a certain sense of betrayal. If Alex is a mirror image of Mark, than does Alex hate Mark so much that he wants to become a woman to separate himself from Mark? These two faced bullies together, faced their parent's together, even attempted suicide together, and yet, in Mark's mind, he feels like Alex/Clair is trying to cut the bonds that they have suffered to build up. Alex/Clair, however sees becoming a woman as  the final step of a metamorphoses into what she truly is, and her goal, ultimately, is to get her family to accept her as a woman, and still have the kind of relationship she has always shared with her brother. But, is that kind of relationship coming to a close, now that Mark has found a long term boyfriend?

Red Without Blue is a fight for identity. It's a fight for family ties, that sometimes disappear when people change, whether it be physically or emotionally. I can't help but think there would probably be more things that could be gleaned from watching this documentary again, some truth's about life and family, but the one truth that was obvious was the most important one anyway - There comes a time in life when you have to let people go. You have to let them do their own thing, find their own way, and you can't expect them to be your family the way they were before. People grow up. People change, and, eventually, they may become something you don't recognize anymore (whether figuratively or literally), but you have to find your love for them, somehow, within that.

Thoughts on Dexter, Season 2

I recently finished watching Dexter Season 2, and I have to say I liked it. Season 1 was great, and really felt special, and I was really wondering how they were going to handle Season 2, because the whole "Ice Truck Killer" thing seemed like it could be a potential end all/be all for that series. Season 2 came along, though, and they hit another home run. Eventually, that is.

Honestly, I thought it started out a little slow. I felt like even though we're put into this situation where the evidence of Dexter's crimes are unearthed, the cat and mouse game didn't really get going until half way into the season. The first couple of episodes just seemed kind of slow, like you were having to lick your way through them to get to the center of the tootsie pop.

Character wise, I was really glad to see some evolution in some of the characters. It was good to see Rita be more than the victim, and really start to take charge of her life and her destiny. I liked the addition, even if for just a season, of Keith Carradine as Frank Lundy, and I thought LaGuerta became a lot more three dimensional. I thought it was interesting, as well, what they did with Harry and his code. I was a little disappointed that Angel hasn't really come into his own, but maybe we'll see more of him in season 3. And Dokes... Oh, Dokes... I'm glad he got what he got. I hated that character so much. So one dimensional, and so freaking annoying! The only character I'm glad didn't change?

You guessed it, Dexter's little sis, Debra - the beer drinking, cigarette smoking, obscenity spewing, perfect opposite of her brother (as portrayed by the incredibly attractive Jennifer Carpenter...). I like Debra because she's everything Dexter isn't, and it sort of makes me feel like there's a balance when the two of them are together. I only hope that if she starts to change in Season 3, that they change Dexter in a way that they stay balanced.

Miracle At St. Anna

While I do think that he is just as guilty of the racism that he attributes to everyone else, when Spike Lee makes a film, I go to the theater and watch it. He has a peculiar and interesting voice, and I really feel like he's one of the few independent's left where it feels like an event when they do something. Even She Hate Me, which was not a very good film, seemed like an event at the time.

His newest, Miracle at St. Anna, is a sprawling epic, at least for Spike Lee it is, about a group of black soldiers in World War 2, who, after surviving a Nazi barrage during a river crossing, somehow manage to make it to a small Italian village, where they hole up until they can get rescued. Now, the trailer would have you believe that the film is about the miraculous power of a statue's severed head that one of the soldier's carries around with him, but, oddly enough, the head really doesn't add up to much more than a device that Lee uses to brush aside some of the more other worldly moments in the film. How can a soldier, who shouldn't have the strength to do so, be able to save a little boy from some beams that have fallen on him, and for all intents and purposes should be too heavy for the soldier to lift? Well, he has a magic marble statue head, of course. And what saved the same soldier from getting shot during the river crossing, even though the guys got to be seven feet tall and three hundred pounds? He has a magical, marble head. The examples go on the film, but one has to wonder what the necessity of the head really was. You could have told the entire story without said head, and it would have made a lot more sense, and you wouldn't have risked the hokey ending that kind of ruined all of the credit Lee built up with the audience with the final shoot out scene. The four soldiers this follows were great - Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, and Omar Benson Miller, and I hope to see all of them in future roles. 

Ultimately, I liked Miracle at St. Anna, but the two things that took this film from a great film to a mediocre film were the statue head sub plot, and the over long middle section of the film. Lee builds up a lot of excitement and pleasure during the opening sequences of the film, and does an incredible job with the final shoot out, but the middle section just feels over long and a little boring. There's a lot of things in the story that make sense, but after watching it, you kind of end up wondering - Who cares? Am I supposed to care that Bishop slept with the girl that Stamps liked? or that Train develops a father like relationship with the boy he rescues? And what of the Italian Partisans? They just seem like a device to connect some things together. In fact, there are a lot of things that seem like devices to connect things together.

I don't know... It's a film that I like, but I see a lot of flaws in. Lee has done a lot better, and will continue to do better, but Miracle at St. Anna is definitely not his worst.