Comments on watching and making films.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

David Gordon Greene - Asserting his independence from independents

David Gordon Greene has made quite a name for himself over the past eight years, or so, since the 2000 release of his debut feature George Washington. Greene had heaps of praise laid on him for the lyrical poeticism of the film, many even going so far as to refer to him as the successor to Terrence Mallick. With his follow up, All The Real Girls, Greene explored some of the same lyrical poetics, and a similar visual style, though he used the backdrop of young love as his story, instead of the ennui of small town youngsters, trapped in a world they will never emerge from.

Both films were amazing feats, done on incredibly small budgets, with amazing acting, and the gorgeous cinematography of Greene's NCSA classmate Tim Orr. His next film, however, would try to incorporate some of his style into a more mainstream thriller. Undertow is the story of two brothers, on the run from their psychotic uncle after he kills their father. Undertow is definitely a departure from the glacial, yet beautiful, worlds of his previous two films. It is raw, and it is dirty to the point where it almost feels like artifice. I remember when Undertow came out, a lot of critics and fans were crying "Sellout".

His follow up to Undertow, a film called Snow Angels, I have not seen,unfortunately, so I can't comment on it. I do know, however, that it has gotten fair to bad reviews, and seems like the sort of film that will probably end up being buried by the studio on DVD.

His next film, coming out in a few weeks, is the Seth Rogen (Knocked Up/Superbad) penned comedy-thriller Pineapple Express. I say thriller loosely, as their is action involved in the film, but it definitely comes off more as a comedy than anything. It is the story of two pot smokers, one of which witnesses an execution style murder, while trying to get high. The two friends go on the lamb, when the killer finds out who they are, and sends some goons to hunt them down and kill them. 

And most of you that have seen Greene's work are saying, "Really?". Really. I love the trailer for Pineapple Express, and I have to say that if Seth Rogen co-wrote Superbad, and co-wrote Pineapple with his same writing partner, I think we are in for one hilarious ride. But why David Gordon Greene? He does seem like an awkward fit for a stoner comedy.

If you're looking for the back story, I don't have it. I have no idea why Greene took the directors position, but I can only assume that it was because after George Washington and All The Real Girls, which were incredibly similiar in style, that Greene has been looking for some way to break away from the expectations that film critics and audience members are putting on him. And why shouldn't he? A director is not unlike an actor, in that he (or she) wants to try out as many different avenues of their craft as is humanly possible. No one wants to get stuck doing the same kind of films every time (well, John Carpenter doesn't seem to have a problem with sticking to a single genre, but...). Even George Romero, the man who essentially invented the modern day zombie film, refused to cash in on his success with Night of the Living Dead for years, because he was afraid of being typecast as "The Zombie Guy". Of course, that's probably not the best example, seeing as how he did eventually get typecast that way (I mean, c'mon... who has even seen There's Always Vanilla, or heard of Knightriders or The Crazies?).

Personally, I'm looking forward to Pineapple Express. I'm looking forward to Greene spreading his wings, and seeing what he can do outside of his first three films. I have loved all of the films he's made, and look forward to seeing him try new things and (hopefully) succeed. I think he is an incredibly talented director who has a real gift at, not only working with actors, but creating a visual experience with his crew to put up on the screen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Slight Re-Tooling

Originally I started this blog as a way to comment on ALL of the films I watch, as well as keep anyone interested in the know about what is going on with my films. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing to great of a job on keeping up with the reviews. I am going to continue to do them, but I'm not going to do everything, because it's just to time consuming, and there are a lot of other people that you could read that review movies using much better grammar, and are more intelligent. Cinematical is one of my favorites, and you can find the link at the side of the page.

So, that's it. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Will Red kill my love of film?

I'm not going to lie, I thought Red was a joke. I thought it was some millionaires wet dream, something that a lot of money would be thrown at, but would never actually see the light of day. Well, late last year, the first cameras started coming off of the assembly lines, and footage has been popping up ever since.

It's beautiful. And I HATE digital. I have never seen a good looking digital image. Until now.

I've been visiting Red Relay a lot, to see what people are doing with this camera, and I am continuously amazed by the imagery that people are pulling out of the camera.

For those of you that know me, for me to say this is a BIG deal, but - Red could kill film for me. Not completely, mind you. I'd still like to do projects on film, but... they would mostly be short, experimental things, because of the costs associated with film.

The Definers, however, will be done on film. Period. Even if it ends up being the only feature I shoot on film. I just have a very particular vision for it, and that includes being shot on black and white, 16 or 8mm film.

Wishing and Hoping

So, current news on The Definers is this - I attended a meeting the other day to go over the grant application that I will be turning in at the beginning of June (it seems so far away, but, I know it's gonna sneak up on me). Bryan Poyser, of the Austin Film Society, hosted it, and it was basically just a chance to look at the application, go over the rules and requirements, and ask any questions one might have.

Also, I had sent Greta Gerwig a copy of the script a few weeks ago, but I think she lost it, because she asked me to re-send it to her. She will be in the process of reading it, soon, and deciding if it is something she would be interested in doing. If she did, that would be SO AMAZING. I think she would bring the perfect mix of subtlety, ferocity, angst, loneliness, and confusion that the role of the Sister demands.

When I had originally envisioned the film, I saw Katee Sackhoff in the role of the Sister, but I think Greta might be able to better bring to this character some of the paradoxical nature that the Sister needs. So, here's hoping she likes the script, and we can work it out. The only thing I need now is MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!

Greta Gerwig

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Smart People

Smart People stars Dennis Quaid as Lawrence Weatherhold, an English professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, who has little interest in the lives of his students, or his children. After losing his wife suddenly, he retreats into the world of his own intellectual superiority, completely ignoring everything and everyone around him. His daughter Vanessa, played by Ellen Page, idolizes her father, and works towards being his intellectual equal, at the cost of any normal teenage life. His son James, played by Ashton Holmes, has accepted his fathers disconnected nature, and built his life away from his family.

When Lawrence has an accident, which leaves him unable to drive for six months, he grudgingly accepts his brother's offer to chauffeur him in exchange for free room and board. This ends up causing Lawrence a lot more pain than it takes away, when Lawrence becomes interested in the doctor who helped him in the ER, a former student of his, named Janet, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Vanessa, who, as I said earlier, idolizes her dad, becomes embittered with him when he begins dating the doctor, going so far as to make a pass at her uncle, who is adopted, and therefore not a blood relative (in her mind making it perfectly okay).

Smart People is, unfortunately a little to cookie-cutter indie for me. It feels like we've seen these characters before, seen this situation before, but with more humor and less recycling of the standard independent film bag of tricks.

Quaid's performance is confusing, and Parker's nothing to write home about, though Ellen Page continues to amaze with her ability to bring out the most interesting characteristics of someone who seems rather two dimensional. Thomas Haden Church is also funny as the adopted brother who comes to help Lawrence, though his performance is very reminiscent of a lot of the characters he has been playing lately.

Lamenting the lack of the all around well made documentary

I've watched a couple of documentary's over the last couple of days, Meeting David Wilson and 51 Birch Street. Both had interesting topics, the former being about racism and reconciliation in America, the latter being about coming to terms with the fact that often times, as kids, we never really know our parents. Both doc's were alright, nothing to write home about. I think Meeting David Wilson tried very hard to be edgy and somewhat inflammatory, but ended up looking somewhat amateurish, though the ending of it was pretty incredible to see.

The lack of skillful storytelling aside, my biggest problem with these films was that both of them were so amateur in their technical approach. In Meeting David Wilson, you could tell that the filmmakers had access to decent cameras (and it sounded like they had decent sound equipment), but the quality of the image was still sorely lacking. Whoever shot it the documentary (obviously not David Wilson, since he was on camera throughout, almost, the entire documentary) seemed to have only a rudimentary idea of how to use a camera at all.

In 51 Birch Street, Doug Block (who claims to be a professional documentary maker), points what has to be some sort of Handycam at his family to build his doc. He shoots weddings for cash, and shows some clips of this in the documentary, but, if I saw those clips ahead of time, I don't think I would hire Block to film my wedding.

Unfortunately, this is the reality of the post DV revolution. We have many more documentaries being made than ever before, and because they're so easy to make, inevitably there are some that are suffering greatly from either lack of good storytelling, or lack of technical skills, or, worst of all - both.

It's hard when you can see great documentaries like I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Hearts of Darkness, or, you know, pretty much anything that Werner Herzog has done. Don't get me wrong, shooting DV does not always denote a lack of technical skill. DiG!, which uses DV heavily, and Barbara Kopple's Shut Up and Sing, are both films that primarily use video to tell their story, and, yet, they do it in a technically proficient way. The people who are making these documentaries obviously know how to make them, whereas, with Wilson and Block and the like, these people seem to think that a semi-interesting story and access to a Handycam is a God-given mandate to shoot a documentary.

Though having to shoot (and sometimes edit) on film meant that many documentaries never got beyond the idea stages, it also meant that the documentaries that we did get were both technically proficient, and interesting (at least to someone). Films like 51 Birch Street, however, are really hard to comment on, because you wonder if anyone other than the family would be interested in the film. I mean, really, who doesn't know by some point in time in their lives that their parents are not the perfect image we had of them at some point in time?

Other films, like Overnight and Tarnation, have horrible technical quality, but have stories and characters so compelling that you can't look away from the screen. So, there is a flip side to the coin. You don't always need both sides, but, as in the examples already mentioned, you need to have at least one thing that's really strong (99% of the time it should be story, but you can't deny the value of something technically well made).