Comments on watching and making films.

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.