Comments on watching and making films.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

@ The Commuter Station

001/365: @ the Commuter Station from Eric Anderson on Vimeo.

I thought this was kind of cool. There's some cuts I don't care for, but the feel of it is great.


The AFS announced their grant recipients for 2008, and, needless to say, my name was not on the list. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Quandary of Criterion Blu-Ray

Eventually, I suppose, everyone will get a new High Definition TV, and Blu-Ray DVD player. I mean, you'll have to at some point. But, right now, a lot of people don't have them, and I am one of those people. Beyond the fact that I was rooting for HD-DVD over Blu-Ray, I don't have 400 bucks for the player, and even if I did, I don't have a 1000+ bucks for the High Def TV to hook it up too.

Here in lies a quandary for me. Two films I love will be coming out in November on Criterion in both standard def DVD and Blu-Ray (both for sale at the same price). One of them, Bottle Rocket, I already own (from the previous non-Criterion release). The other, Chungking Express, I was not incredibly happy with the transfer on, so I decided to put off buying it in hopes that there would, eventually, be a DVD with a better transfer available. So, do I go ahead and buy the Blu-Ray editions, knowing that I can't play them until I get a Blu-Ray player and high def TV (which could be another year or more away)? I don't want to spend thirty bucks a piece on the standard def dvd's (even though a Blu-Ray player will still play them), knowing that eventually I will get a Blu-Ray player, but I also don't want to buy two DVD's (of movies I really love) and see them sit on the shelf until I get the money to buy the proper equipment to play them on. There's the other option, which is, simply, wait, but I'd really like to see these new editions, and see how they're presented at 1080p, and there are other movies, as well, that I would love to either buy, or at least rent, in Blu-Ray.

I guess what it comes down to, ultimately, is I just need to start saving up those pennies...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

DVD - Brand Upon The Brain!

How to even review Brand Upon The Brain... How to review any of Maddin's features after The Saddest Music In The World... From Cowards Bend The Knee, and on, Maddin has been getting increasingly more personal, but, paradoxically, more abstract. In a documentary about the making of the film on Criterion's DVD of Brand, Maddin say's the film is "97% True". Well, we know Guy Maddin didn't live on an island, he didn't have a mad scientist father who harvested vital fluids from young children in order to keep Guy's mother young. His sister's pseudo-lesbian experience could have truth to it, but, who knows... So what is truth, in the case of Maddin? How did we get from "A" which is whatever the truth is, to "Z" which is the "truth" that Maddin is serving us in Brand Upon The Brain?

The film, sponsored by Seattle's non-profit The Film Company, takes place on an island inhabited by "Guy" and his family, who run an orphanage. Guy's mother is an overbearing and needy woman who is always taking him away from what he wants to do, his sister is a bother to him, and his father is a recluse who is always doing some sort of strange scientific experimentation. One day, a young woman named Wendy, and her brother Chance, arrive on the island. They're "teen detectives" in the vein of The Hardy Boys, and their trying to find out the secrets of the Orphanage. Guy falls for Wendy, and Sis, Guy's sister, falls for Chance, but Wendy has her eye on Sis. When Chance leaves, unexpectedly, Wendy dresses up as Chance, and tries to gain Sis's affections, while Guy develops a man-crush on Chance, because he's so cool. I'm not really sure how to describe the film in a way that gives more clue to the plot.

Brand is a great film, if you are already a fan of Maddin. If your not, I would HIGHLY suggest that you watch something a little bit more accessible before you check out this one. Maddin uses his trademark silent film/soviet agit-prop style to bring the story to life, and his style is as strong as ever. The film is interesting, but, honestly, if you try and figure out the "auto-biographical" aspects of it, I think you might spend an hour and a half frustrating yourself. If its auto-biographical, it is obliquely so.

I've always liked Maddin, but I have to say that this film is for fan's only.

DVD- Shotgun Stories

In life, there are two ways to go - the right way, and the wrong way. Sometimes, if you live long enough, and if your smart enough, and you have great people in your life, than if you start out going the wrong way, you can turn your life around, and steer it towards the right way. But what happens when some of the collateral damage you leave in your wake is flesh and bone? And how are those people supposed to feel about you all of the sudden becoming the righteous one, after years of neglect or abuse. So goes the plot of Jeff Nichols incredible Southern revenge tale Shotgun Stories.

Set in rural Arkansas, Shotgun Stories is a tale of two sets of brothers, birthed by two different women, by the same father. The first set, named Son, Kid, and Boy, were the products of drinking, apathy, and, eventually hatred and abuse by their father. The second set were born and raised after he had abandoned his first family, quit drinking and found Jesus. When this nameless patriarch dies, Son, Kid, and Boy show up at the funeral, and Son makes some damming remarks about his dear old dad, which royally pisses off his half brothers. As tensions escalate, Son, Kid, and Boy become targets of their half brothers hatred for them, and easy to turn to violence themselves.

Produced by David Gordon Green and Lisa Muskat, Shotgun Stories has some of the languorous feel of Green's George Washington, along with its sense of placement in the south. This is the REAL south, not the Hollywood south. Michael Shannon, as the oldest Hayes boy, Son, brings a menacing presence to the screen, one that has no problem hating his half brothers, no problem plotting revenge, no problem bringing them pain. Douglas Ligon also stands out as Boy, the pacifist of the group, if you want to call him that, who would rather just go to work as a basketball coach, and live in a van down by the river (and no, that isn't an SNL reference, Boy actually does live in a van, down by the river). Michael Abbott Jr. also sticks out as Cleaman Hayes, the oldest of the second set of Hayes boys, who doesn't want any trouble, but is willing to bring on the pain when he's pushed.

Nichols' did an exceptional job with the script, and his actors really bring to life, in a very palpable way, the hatred that these characters feel for each other, and the sense of claustrophobia you can get when your worst enemy lives in the same little town that you do. His brother, Ben Nichols, lead singer for Lucero, did an amazing job on the score as well, and its a real shame that the score hasn't been released, even if its just on iTunes. Shotgun Stories is a great movie to see. The pain that these characters feel, the anger, the hatred, the sorrow, the regret, is all extremely palpable. It's just about the best you can expect from a Southern revenge tale, and may even be better than its producers film of the same genre - Undertow (though, Josh Lucas and Jamie Bell really make that film, so... we'll call it even). 

2 from Vimeo

The first video here is a little experiment I did, that is sort of a preview of something I'm working on. The upcoming film, a "self portrait", will include 9 frames within the primary frame. That's all I'm going to say about it, but this is sort of a "rough draft" I made from some Super 8 I have shot over the last couple of years, a little bit of video, and a still from the movie "Quiet City", which I had been using as a background for my computer.

Multi-Frame Experiment from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

This film is just something I found by accident on Vimeo, and I thought it was cool. Enjoy -

landscape of a body from # on Vimeo.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Ahh... The beauty of controversy... Especially when the people who are kicking it all up have either not seen the thing their complaining about, or completely missed the point. Tropic Thunder is Ben Stiller's first time back in the directing chair since Zoolander, a film that made fun of the idiocy of the modelling business, and male models, in particular. This time around, Stiller is taking on the idiocy of his own breed - actors and directors. With a well-rounded out cast of talent, including once, and now current, golden boy Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Jack Black, and Tom Cruise (in a surprisingly hilarious role), Stiller is out to win your heart for this movie with a lot of R-rated laughs.

The film centers around the production of a war movie, also titled Tropic Thunder, which is being led by an ego-maniacal director, Damien Cockburn (played by Steve Coogan). Cockburn has wrangled up several of Hollywood's leading actor's, including action star Tugg Speedman (Stiller), comedian Jeff Portnoy (Black), and Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.), an Australian multi-award winner. After only a week of filming, the production is hopelessly off schedule and over budget, and the actors aren't cooperating with Cockburn's direction. Fearing his eminent dismissal by the head honcho's in charge, Cockburn decides to gather up his leads, along with explosives expert Cody (played perfectly by Danny McBride), and the author of the source novel, Four Leaf Tayback (played by a very grungy Nick Nolte), and head out into the jungle to shoot the film guerilla style, in hopes that this will inspire his actors to deliver the performances he's looking for. Needless to say, things go awry from the moment they touch down, and soon enough, the whole Tropic Thunder crew is living out the movie there supposed to be making.

This film was hilarious! That's it. That's all I can say. One of the funniest things I've seen all year. And, it's sort of like The Dark Knight of comedy's - you feel like you could watch it over and over, and it would never stop being funny. Everybody's performances were great, and Stiller did an amazing job for being co-writer, director, AND actor. I can't imagine what that process must have been like.

The controversy, though, centers around the inclusion of a movie that Tugg Speedman did, as a chance to get an award, called Simple Jack. That "film" was about a mentally challenged individual. Several mental disability advocate groups have taken to saying that the film makes fun of the mentally disabled. I got news for you - It doesn't. If they had SEEN the movie, they would know that. Simple Jack isn't about showing mentally disabled people as stupid or people to be made fun of. It's purpose is to show the idiocy of actors who try desperately to attach themselves to projects like that, because they think it will get them awards. Tugg Speedman is an action star. He doesn't get any real respect, so he goes out and makes a movie like Simple Jack thinking that everyone will love it, and be challenged by it, and they'll heap awards on him. Instead, people laugh at him, and scorn him (until he finds some people who DID like the film, but I won't ruin that for you). It's the same concept that he's using for Downey Jr.'s character Kirk Lazarus. Lazarus lobbies to play the part of the platoon's black leader. There's only one problem, though - he's white. So he goes through an operation to have his pigment darkened so he can play the role. AND THEY HIRE HIM! Why would anybody, in their right minds, hire a white, Australian guy to play the part of a black, southern platoon leader? But that's the point! It's to show the ridiculousness of some of the decisions that Hollywood makes sometimes. And if you watch the movie, and you don't get that fact... Honestly, I'd feel a little sorry for you...

Tropic Thunder is great. It's almost constant laugh's, a great satire of one of the largest entertainment industries in the world, and its done with great skill and loving care. Don't believe the negative hype about this film - go see it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hellboy 2:The Golden Army

I have to be honest, and start off by saying that I ha never read the Hellboy comics before the first movie came out, and I was not a huge fan of the first one. It just didn't capture me the way I was hoping it would. I have tried viewing it, on occasion, on TV and DVD, hoping that, maybe, my mind would change, but it never does. The new film, though, which marks the return of the original cast and director Guillermo del Torro, was a pleasant surprise.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army picks up a little while after the last film left off, and introduces us (through a REALLY cool computer animated/stop motion sequence) to a world of mythical creatures that have learned to hide in the human world after a long and bloody war lead to a truce between them and the humans. When an exiled prince returns, though, to awaken an unstoppable army, in an attempt to defeat the humans and solidify his reign, Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Affairs has to step in and stop him.

There's not much to say here, as far as performances or directing goes. They're all top notch. Watching Hellboy 2, you feel like you are in familiar territory, and there really isn't any aspect of the film that lets you down. del Torro's mind is a fantasy land, and he lays out everything in front of you, drawing you in, and allowing you to enjoy his world for a little while. I really enjoyed the little bit of back story on Hellboy that we get, and hope that, if there is a third installment, that del Torro will include even more. The new character, Johann Krauss (oddly enough, voiced by Seth McFarlane of Family Guy), is a good edition that allows for a couple of more funny moments in the film.

Even though I was not a big fan of the first one, The Golden Army definitely leaves me with a taste for another one. Here's hoping del Torro has it in him.


Choose your destiny.

Yeah, right.

Wanted is one of those films that tries to make fun of you, the audience member, for being the kind of person who simply accepts who you are as a person, when, if you just made the effort, you could unleash unbelievable power within yourself. Power, for instance, that can curve a bullet, slow time, allow you to hit harder, run faster, and, on occasion, even fly (sort of). In fact, the films main character, Wesley Gibson, goes so far as to, in no uncertain terms, call you a schlub (through the power of voice over narration), at various points in the film, and, after he starts to become proficient at all of the skills that this film tells you you should be able to unlock (if you just try), keeps reminding you of how big of a loser you are.

Wanted centers around Gibson, played by James McAvoy, a schlub himself, who works in a New York City accounting firm for an overly cliche fat, ugly, bitch of a boss. When the overly cliche Fox, played by Angelina Jolie (you see how they did that? They gave the Angelina's character the name Fox? Cause she's a fox? clever...), comes to "rescue" Gibson from his boring life, he learns that the dad he thought was dead, was actually only killed the day before, and was one of the world's greatest assassins. Fox (one name only, the whole movie) takes Wesley to meet Sloan (played by a horribly cast Morgan Freeman), to introduce him to the clan of assassins that his father was a member of, and see if he wants to join up. Oh, yeah, and Wesley is also being hunted by this random assassin guy named Cross.

Wanted is just ridiculous. It is. There are some of these movies you look at and say - "Oh, well that'll be fun", but Wanted is just stupid. It feels like it was written by some screenwriter when they were fourteen, and then they found it ten or fifteen years later and said "Hey, I could polish this up and sell it!". Who came up with this? And did everyone sign up for this for the paycheck? There's nothing redeeming about any of the roles. Jolie and Freeman are already stars, so its not like this is going to make them any more of a star, and McAvoy doesn't seem to really fit into the whole "action star" category. Don't get me wrong, he's leading man material, but he's NOT Bruce Willis.

I wish I could make some really academic response to this film, but, for me, it just comes down to one thing - Wanted is stupid. The only redeeming thing about this film is that Angelina Jolie is exceptionally hot in it. Hmmm... So, if you think about it, Wanted is kind of like Beowulf. Weird.

You know what, just save your hard earned dollars. Here you go, here's the best part of the movie - 

Thoughts on IMAX

I saw The Dark Knight for the third time, today, but this time I saw it in IMAX. I've only seen a few movies in IMAX over the past couple of years, as well as a few movies in Cine-a-rama (at Hollywood's Arclight cinema). The Dark Knight, even after a third viewing, still holds up EXTREMELY well. I can not believe how much I love this film. IMAX, however, is something that I still have a problem with...

With The Dark Knight, in particular, I found myself frustrated at being transported between the gorgeous, native 70mm photography, and the (still gorgeous) 35mm photography that the majority of the film was shot in. What they did was, the film started out in native 70mm for the opening sequence, and then, when they switched back into 35mm, the film suddenly had a letterbox effect to it. It would be like, if you were watching a film on a standard 4:3 television set, and the image kept switching between full screen and letterboxed widescreen.

Why this is so annoying has to do with the fact that I've already seen this film twice in a regular theater with standard 35mm prints. The 70mm stuff looks fine, down rezzed to 35mm for exhibition, with a single aspect ratio for the whole film. But, for them to keep going back and forth between aspect ratios during the film became REALLY annoying. I know its expensive, but they should have just shot the whole thing on 70mm. It would have looked AMAZING. Or, shot the whole thing in 35mm. They did it for Batman Begins, and I can't think of a single moment in that film that I can complain about. 

My other problems with IMAX just stem from the logistics of the theater itself. There's very few "good" seats in an IMAX theater, and if you don't get one, you spend your whole time with your head darting around, trying to take in everything that's on screen. And, usually, you can't. A lot of films on IMAX are action films, and by the time you're eye and brain are working in conjunction with each other to recognize what's on the screen, there's another split second cut, and your brain has to refocus. With cuts maxed out, sometimes, at just seconds, and a two story screen to take in, it just isn't enough time.

I like the big screen of IMAX, IF, and only IF, I can perpetually have a perfect viewing experience. But with IMAX, there's so much more to throw that off. I still love Dark Knight, but I can do without IMAX.