Comments on watching and making films.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Waking up to the sad news

Well, I got word from Greta this morning that she won't be able to be in the film. She wrote me a very nice letter, simply stating that her plate was too full, which I totally understand.

It sucks, though. I had really come to see her as being in this role. But that's the game, isn't it? You pick your "A" team, and hope you get them, but sometimes you just don't. I wish her luck in everything she's doing.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Classic Avant-Garde

The other day I pulled out my Films of Kenneth Anger:Part 2 DVD, and sat down and watched Scorpio Rising, Invocation Of My Demon Brother, and Kustom Kar Kommando's yet again. I don't know what it is about this guys films, but they have this entrancing quality to them. Anger was a true master of the moving image. Every once in a while, I'll break out the DVD's and watch some of the shorts, and then re-watch them with commentary. The guy, even at such an old age, is amazing to listen to, and to hear his thought process, and how, sometimes, things were not actually as they seem in the film.

A fool for the "artsy" way

I've always liked the idea of doing smaller, experimental films, but have yet to actually make one. I realized, today, why I haven't yet - I don't thrive in the kind of improvisational environment that a lot of these films are made in. I would rather not make a film, than just go out with a camera and an actor and try to come up with something (hoping that its good).

I've been more excited, in the last few days, about filmmaking than I have been in a long time. Do you know why? Planning. Dare I even say it, Pre-Production (a very bad word in my world). I've been talking about making Indefinable Orbits, a Brakhage style short film, for months now. While money has been a factor in getting it done, it eventually came to be that I just wasn't getting it done for no particular reason. Yesterday, though, I sat down with the script/outline/notes, and made out a shot list. Suddenly, I feel like I'm light years closer to seeing this happen. It seems real. It seems do-able. I'm excited again.

I grabbed a hundred foot load of 50D out of the fridge yesterday, and have been thawing it (you should always thaw film for 24 hours before shooting on it). I'm going to start shooting some of the stuff after next week (when all of the grant stuff is on its way to AFS). Who knows, a cut of it might show up in the next month or two. 

Don't take that statement the wrong way, though, that's not a promise...

DVD - Youth Without Youth

It's been ten years since Francis Ford Coppola's last, credited, film as a director (he did directorial and editing work on a film called Supernova, when the studio was unhappy with the cut the original director turned in). Youth Without Youth represents Coppola's return both to directing, and, supposedly, to his roots as an independent filmmaker.

Tim Roth plays an elderly professor of linguistics who, on his way to Bucharest to kill himself, is struck by lightning, burning his body badly, but leaving him still alive. He wakes up in a hospital and is presided over by a medical doctor/professor played by Bruno Ganz (who was incredible in Downfall). Roth's Dominic begins to make leaps and bounds in his recovery, and when they remove his bandages, the professor and other doctors find Dominic to be a man in his late thirties/mid forties, as opposed to the seventy + years old he claimed to be when he still had the bandages. Through this accident, Dominic realizes that he has been given, not only a new lease on life, but extraordinary powers. Just as he is beginning to realize this, though, the Nazi's are beginning their attempt at taking control of Europe. They find out about this anomaly of a person, and come after Dominic, who slips out from under them to Switzerland.

After the war ends, Dominic meets up with a woman, Laura (played by Alexandra Maria Lara), who is a spot on re-incarnation of his lost love from decades before, Veronica. He begins a new love affair with Laura, who has some supernatural issues of her own. But will this relationship help them discover the mysteries they seek to solve, or destroy them both?

Youth Without Youth is a good film. It's not great, but it is good. I don't really feel that this represents a TRUE return to the kind of independent filmmaking that Coppola used to do. I mean, c'mon, let's be real, who else out there has the money and studio connections to fund a period piece with the kind of subject matter that Youth tackles? Would this film have been made in the 1960's, before The Godfather, The Conversation, or Apocalypse Now? I doubt it. This isn't The Rain People, or even THX-1138 (which Coppola served as producer for).

The plot was just interesting enough to keep me focused on it, though, if you asked me what the movie was about, I would probably tell you that I have no clue. There are more twists and turns in the meaning of this film than I could count. The acting was well done, and felt very natural, considering the somewhat strange story. But, isn't that what Coppola does best? Deal with actors?

The visual effects that he uses throughout the film, and the general visual style, I thought was interesting, though the cinematography itself was, at times, sorely lacking. Especially in the night scenes, where they pulled the student film trick of just shoving some blue gel on the lights to give it a "cold, night time" look. C'mon Francis, you've been out of film school for, what, forty years now? I know you can light better than that. The HD, also, looked kind of crappy sometimes. I think it would have served him much better, if he was trying to save money, to shoot Super 16. He would have kept all of the detail in the highlights, the night scenes would have looked better, and the over all look would have been much richer and deeper. Oh well, Soderbergh's Bubble suffered from the same problem.

I don't know, I liked Youth Without Youth, but, like I said before, I have no freakin' clue what its about. It's worth a watch, though, even if its just to enjoy an interesting story, and an interesting visual experience.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack, Dead at 73

From Yahoo! news - 

Sydney Pollack dies of cancer at age 73

LOS ANGELES - Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, who achieved commercial and critical success with the gender-bending comedy "Tootsie" and the period drama "Out of Africa, has died. He was 73.

Pollack died of cancer Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, said agent Leslee Dart.

Pollack, who occasionally appeared on the screen himself, worked with and gained the respect of Hollywood's best actors in a long career that reached prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.

Last fall, he played Marty Bach opposite George Clooney in "Michael Clayton," which Pollack also co-produced. The film received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best actor nod for Clooney.

In recent years, Pollack produced many independent films with filmmaker Anthony Minghella and a production company Mirage Enterprises.

The Lafayette, Ind. native was born to first-generation Russian-Americans.

In high school, he fell in love with theater, a passion that prompted him forego college and move to New York and enroll in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yahoo article on Del Toro winning Cannes Best Actor for Soderbergh's "Che"

Because Yahoo only keeps the articles up for a short period of time, I'm reprinting this in my blog - 

Benicio Del Toro, 'Latino Brad Pitt', wins Cannes award as 'Che'

CANNES, France (AFP) - Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro, the Puerto Rican-born star often dubbed the "Latino Brad Pitt", won Cannes' Best Actor award Sunday for his role as "Che" Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's film on the revolutionary hero.

"I'd like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara," said the actor, after accepting his second big award under the US director's helmsmanship.

"I wouldn't be here without Che Guevera, and through all the awards the movie gets you'll have to pay your respects to the man."

And taking one reporter's question after Cannes' red-carpet awards ceremony, all Del Toro saw was her "Che" T-shirt. "I like the shirt," he said several times.

Del Toro, 41, transmutes into a larger-than-life Che in the marathon four-hours-plus movie.

"Che" charts two episodes in the life of the guerrilla hero -- the late 1950s ouster of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista alongside Fidel Castro, and Che's subsequent aborted bid to bring the Cuban revolution to Bolivia.

Some critics slammed the film shot in Spanish for its length and meticulous documentary-style presentation, as well as for failing to focus on the politically controversial aspects of the Cuban revolution.

Soderbergh needed to tighten it for average movie-goers, they said.

The US director back in 2000 propelled Del Toro into the movie limelight, when he bagged best supporting Oscar for his role as a restrained Mexican police officer walking the moral high ground in "Traffic".

Del Toro, original name Benicio Monserrate Rafael Del Toro Sanchez, also played five years earlier in the blockbuster "The Usual Suspects", where he was the mumbling gangster Fenster.

He has also been directed by the head of this year's Cannes jury Sean Penn, in 1990 "The Indian Runner" and "The Pledge", 2001.

Born in Puerto Rico to lawyer parents, he moved to the United States at the age of nine when his mother died and studied commerce before deciding, secretly, to change to acting.

Del Toro, who has a quiet but immensely strong presence, was involved from the start on the "Che" film, which took nine years of research and 60 million dollars to complete.

In Cannes for the screening, he recounted how like the average American he grew up with a bad guy image of Cuba's hero until stumbling on a book on the guerrilla leader in Mexico.

"He had a really warm smile. I bought the book and then read more. The love people had for this man made me more interested," he said.

Del Toro started his career on television before playing the youngest James Bond villain ever in "Licence To Kill".

One of his most recent star roles was in the much-noticed 2002 movie by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu "21 Grams" where he plays a former convict-turned-religious fanatic who kills two children and their father in a road accident.

Other major roles have been as a corrupt cop in "Sin City" by Robert Rodriguez in 2005, and as a drugged-out lawyer playing alongside Johnny Depp in Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", a 1998 movie about journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

//My Comments//

Can't wait. Soderbergh is, probably, my favorite living director. Everything he's done I love (except for Bubble, which I had mixed feelings about.) I'm looking forward to seeing Che, because its Soderbergh, its about Che Guevara, who has been an iconic figure in my own life for some time, and because it's the first feature (well, two features if they split it) shot on the Red One.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I'm not going to bother doing the traditional review tactic of giving you some kind of hint at what this film is about. I'm really not sure what I could say that would do it justice and still not give away the plot. The plot, in fact, is so strangely insane that I don't really feel like I can discuss it at all without giving it away.

I can say this, though - the film had me for the first half. It felt like I was a kid again, sitting in a darkened theater and watching Last Crusade (which I like, by the way. I say that because most people don't). When the second half came around, though... They lost me. Real quick. It turned into cartoonish spectacle and just seemed kind of stupid, which, I don't understand, because they managed to keep away from all of that in the first three films. Why did they feel the need to go into it here? It just doesn't make any sense.

Things I did like about it - 

1. I liked that it was post-war, and they just said "Listen, we know Harrison Ford is twenty years older, so we'll make the film take place twenty some odd years after the last one". It made me happy that they didn't bother with trying to pick up where they left off.

2. I LOVED the whole atomic bomb/ground zero recreation they did. I just love the imagery of the fake town, with all of the fake people (which, I thought, was used very well in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes).

3. I thought it was kind of cool that they brought Marion back.

4. Two words - Cate Blanchett. Not so much her character, but just her. She rocks. They could have a scene of her playing with a paddle ball for ten minutes, and I would come out proclaiming the film as cinematic gold.

Things I was on the fence about - 

1. They reference Indy's dad dying. Umm... maybe it's just me, and I hate to get technical here, but didn't he drink out of the cup of everlasting life in Last Crusade? I mean, Indy did to... So, shouldn't the dad still be alive?

2. Shia LeBouf is always pretty decent as an actor, but the whole Marlon Brando reference was SO obvious... 

Things I didn't like about it - 

1. Well, most of what I don't like I can't really talk about without giving away plot points.

2. It was really obvious that Lucas had his hand in this a little too much. I'm pretty sure Lucas has completely lost it. He's let his world collapse in on itself, remaking or "re-imagining" all of his past success's. Hey George, how about giving me a little chunk of your billion dollar + fortune, and let me make some GOOD movies, and you just slink away. Or give us that Tuskegee Airmen film you've been going on about for, like, a decade now! Please! Just something OTHER THAN Star Wars.

3. The opening sequence. What was the point? What were those kids doing so far out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada anyway? ... I'm just saying...

All in all, I wasn't completely let down, but, it could have been a lot better.

FCP and The Tracey Fragments

There's an interesting article on Apple's FCP site about the use of Final Cut Pro to create the multi-frame sequences in The Tracey Fragments, a new film starring Ellen Page (ahhh... Ellen Page...). To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here's the trailer, which uses the same effect - 

DVD - Lust, Caution

Ang Lee has had an interesting career, hasn't he? From the indie darling The Ice Storm, to the universally panned Hulk, to the controversy stirring Brokeback Mountain, his career has had just about as many twists and turns and any one's, especially considering his limited output.

I just watched his latest, Lust, Caution, last night. This Lee film also brought controversy, because of its NC-17 rating, which originated from Lee and Focus Features refusal to cut the graphic sex scenes. And graphic they are... I can see why the film got an NC-17 rating. But let's get one thing straight - this isn't porn. The sex in these scenes doesn't play to some male fantasy of what sex should be. It simply portrays a naturalistic version of what sex is - sometimes awkward, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes painful, sometimes distant. If you don't like seeing sex in films, especially graphic sex, don't rent this film, but... you'll be missing out, and here's why - 

Lust, Caution is a top notch spy drama (and notice I said drama, and not thriller). It centers around a young woman, Wong Chai Chi, who joins a group of Chinese nationalist rebels when Japan invades China during World War 2 (now, for those of you that aren't sure about history, China is not a communist country at this point. That doesn't happen until well after World War 2.) Her mission is to get close to a Japanese collaborator, Mr. Yee, played by the AMAZING Tony Leung (a favorite of master filmmaker Wong Kar Wai). Mr. Yee flirts with the young girl, who is going by the name Mai Tai Tai, but is hesitant to become involved with her, because he's married, and he knows there are people trying to kill him. When she is almost exposed, though, she disappears for several years, but eventually runs into the resistance again. They enlist her, yet again, to kill Mr. Yee, and she reconnects with him, only to have their relationship consummated in a violent way. She continues to have sex with Yee, waiting for the order to come through to kill him, and as she does this, she begins to fall in love with him. Will she be able to do the deed, though, when the time comes?

Lust, Caution is, like I said, top notch. The acting is spot on, the set design, costuming, lighting, cinematography, everything is excellent. Although it does have its slow moments, its intensity and craft make up for any of that. The only real problem I had with this film was having to keep up with the subtitles. The characters talk so fast, sometimes, that you lose part of the sentence, because another character is already talking. All in all, a great film, and its really disappointing that I didn't get to see this one in theaters. But, I live in a place where it is difficult, if not impossible, to see anything rated NC-17. People would probably have flipped out and protested if this film had opened here (without, of course, having actually seen it). I hope you do give Lust, Caution a chance. It's really beautiful.

Getting over one hump just means there's a downhill before the next climb.

I know what you're thinking - "He's done. He's not keeping up with the blog anymore."

No, just been REALLY busy with the AFS stuff. Sent off my "rough draft" yesterday to Bryan Poyser @ AFS, to look over. So, for the next couple of days, I get top play catch up with all of the things that I didn't get to do because I was working on the grant application (which includes blogging some older movie reviews I wanted to do, but didn't have the time for).

Also, you'll notice in the bottom left corner of the screen, I am now on Twitter, so you can follow my progress on my films, and in my life (though my life is relatively average, so, don't be complaining when there's posts like - "Eating" or "Working").

Anyways, going to see the new Indiana Jones movie later this afternoon. I'll write a review as soon as I get home. Kind of sucks, though. I wish I got to go to early press screenings like a professional blogger, so I could have my review up before the movie comes out. Oh well, maybe I'll get lucky one day, and Cinematical will call me up and hire me... (that's a hint, in case anyone from Cinematical happens to be reading this).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Buzz Kill

I recently got in the mood to give David Fincher's Zodiac another try. I saw it when it originally came out in the theater, and, to be honest, was disappointed. I felt like all of the edginess that was always so present in Fincher's work had gone out the window. Zodiac felt like an episode of Law & Order. A really LONG episode of Law & Order. When I was sitting in the theater, watching it, it felt bloated, overly procedural, and I was shocked out how plain it looked, considering Fincher's previous cinematic offerings. Gone was the deep, rich blacks of his skip bleach processed 35mm, replaced with the Thompson Viper's gray, washed out high definition. His dark, and film-noir like world's were exchanged for a relatively dull, and uninteresting, take on late 1960's thru early 1980's San Francisco. 

As I sat down and watched it again, though, I started to see the film in a different way. I saw it as something separate from the rest of his work, and was able to sit back and enjoy the film without all of the attachment that I had to his previous work. Granted, The film still falls flat in some spots. When Jake Gyllenhaal's Robert Graysmith gets obsessed with the Zodiac killer, he becomes almost annoying in his obsession, and I still stand by my original assertion that too much time is spent on the cop characters played by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards.

All in all, though, after being separated from it for a year, being separated from all of the hype I had personally put into it, I'm glad I took the chance to watch it again, and see it through different eyes. It's definitely not my favorite Fincher film (down there with Alien 3, which I don't think is horrible, but could have been better), but it is no longer on my "Movies that really disappointed me" list.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Iron Man


That's your one word review for Iron Man.

Not good enough?

Okay, I'll throw in awesome too, no extra charge.

Jon Favreau directs Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a millionaire playboy whose luxurious lifestyle is built on an empire of weapons technology. When Stark is kidnapped and held hostage, he needs to find a way out. His terrorist kidnappers want him to build them a "Jericho" missile, an incredibly destructive piece of equipment already manufactured by Stark Industries. He uses his time, energy, and resources, instead, to build a suit of armor and destruction to escape his captors. Upon his return home, he realizes that his weapons are a blockade in finding peace, and decides to shut down that aspect of Stark Industries. It is then, though, that the real enemy rears his ugly head, and Stark must refine his original design to become Iron Man.

This movie is expertly written, expertly directed, and the acting is out of the ballpark. Every cast member does an incredible job. The CGI is practically seamless and almost completely unnoticeable. 

And it's funny. Really funny, not just trying to be funny like so many other super hero movies. Everything about Iron Man just seems a lot more genuine than a lot of the comic book movies that come out today. Yes, their trying to be cool. Yes, their trying to sell this to an audience. But they don't do it in a way that is trite or unimaginative or unoriginal.

Downey Jr. is the kind of actor you want to see in that role again and again, just like Christian Bale in the new Batman movies, or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men.

Incredible. That's it. Go, see it. Enjoy it. Make up your own mind.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Snow Angels

David Gordon Green has made a reputation for himself over almost a decade of filmmaking. In that time, his three previous films have won both critical and audience acclaim (to be fair, when I say audience, I generally mean the independent film watching audience. None of his films have been fully mainstream). His first film George Washington, was an epic of small town ennui as experienced through a small group of poor friends who come to realize that their circumstances have trapped them in their lives. His follow up, All The Real Girls, was a dissection of love between two people who are not ready for it. His third film, Undertow, was the story of two young brothers on the run from their psychotic uncle. Now, he gives us his fourth film - Snow Angels.

Snow Angels stars Kate Beckinsale as Annie, a single mom working in a Chinese restaurant to support her little girl. She's estranged from her husband, Glen, played by Sam Rockwell, who is desperate to revive his marriage and his family life. Annie works with Barb (Amy Sedaris) and is sleeping with Barb's husband Nate (played by Nicky Katt). She also works with Arthur, a high school senior played by Michael Angarano, whom Annie used to babysit when he was young. Arthur meets and falls in love with the new girl, Lila, played by Olivia Thirlby.

Snow Angels is an incredibly dense, and sometimes hard to follow story. Green adapted the work from the Stewart O'Nan novel (the first time he has not directed an original work), and you can tell that the story is much more suited to the sprawling novel form. As a film, it often feels like Green is trying to fit as much of the novel into the allotted two hours as he possibly can, often times leaving the audience feeling like we are jumping from moment to moment, instead of witnessing a thoughtful, and thought out, story. The acting is top notch from everyone involved, except Sedaris, who sometimes falls a little flat. Thirlby is especially promising as Lila, the young nerdy girl who falls for Arthur. Angarano is perfect as Arthur, a disaffected young kid who just wants to find happiness. He's not concerned with money, popularity, or any of the things most teenagers want - just love.

Annie and Glenn's relationship is the other half of this story, with intense performances by Beckinsale and Rockwell. I can't really go into their relationship in this review, as it would give away part of the plot, but, needless to say, it's very interesting to see Annie and Glenn's relationship collapsing as Arthur and Lila's relationship is beginning.

One wonders how much interference the studio may have had in Snow Angels. The film seems a lot more scattered than Green's previous efforts. Of course, as I said before, it may have just been Green trying to stuff way more plot into two hours than is reasonable. 

I was a little disappointed with the cinematography, as well. Green re-teamed with his long time collaborator Tim Orr, but Snow Angels doesn't look anything like his first three films, instead looking more like almost every other Hollywood film. There's none of that natural, unkempt photography of the earlier films, the Mallick-esque beauty.

All in all, Snow Angels is worth a watch as a piece of Green's filmography. Outside of that, though, I'm not so sure you need to spend your time on it. There's nothing particularly amazing about it, unlike his previous films. I am looking forward to his next film, though, Pineapple Express, which looks hilarious.