Comments on watching and making films.

Thursday, December 31, 2009


Well, 2009 seems to have really sucked for a lot of people. I know it had its ups and downs for me. I lost one job in Texas, and gained another one in California. I thought Indefinable Orbits would never get its final shots (its still short one, but I can get that one eventually). I took a trip to New York City, and absolutely fell in love. I made a couple of personal video's, my favorite of which is originated from my video footage from NYC -

Me Right Now - New York City from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

So, what does 2010 hold? It holds the completion of Indefinable Orbits, which I have promised myself to complete in the next few months. It also holds the completion of a new feature script, PHX, which I plan to shoot in Phoenix in the fall. I am incredibly excited about this. It will be my first feature, which is a surprise even to me, seeing as how I always thought The Definers would be my first shot feature, but, alas, my lack of money to be able to afford the Super 8 I need for that project is making it look like PHX may be coming first. 2010 will also see me doing a better job at keeping this blog up. In 2008, I had 124 entries. In 2009, I only had 57 (as of this writing). It's not that I watched less movies, it's just that I got lazy about updating, and I don't want to do that anymore. I want to keep up with this blog because its as much for me as for other people.

I am also hoping that 2010 will see the completion of more scripts, and especially some shorts, and maybe even the production of some shorts. We shall see. Canon has announced a 24p firmware upgrade for the 5DMkII, and I feel like, when that comes out, I will be doing more video work.

I look forward to this year. Amethyst (one of my best friends) and I were talking a few years back and we thought that 2008 would be the year that everything changed. It didn't. It kind of fizzled. Nothing too good or too bad happened to either of us. 2009, however, saw a lot of bad stuff happen to both of us. I think 2010, though, will see some good things. Even amongst all of the economic turmoil and other craziness going on, it really does feel like 2010 has some promise...

Philip Bloom's "Skywalker Ranch"

Skywalker Ranch from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Vincent Laforet's "Nocturne"

Nocturne from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Session 7 Media's " Gone Goodbye"

Gone Goodbye from Session 7 Media on Vimeo.

Eliot Rausch's "Last Minutes With Oden"

Last Minutes with ODEN from phos pictures on Vimeo.

DVD - My Effortless Brilliance

Lynn Shelton, by way of being at the right place at the right time, sort of fell into the whole Mumblecore scene by befriending folks like Joe Swanberg and others at various film festivals around the time that that movement began. Since then, she's had a roll in Swanberg's Young American Bodies, and Nights and Weekends, and followed up her debut feature, We Go Way Back, with My Effortless Brilliance, and Humpday. She continues to grow, and explore some of the more mature aspects of relationships that her contemporaries don't seem to scratch on.

Brilliance begins with the abrupt breakdown of a friendship between the characters Eric and Dylan. Eric is a writer who's ego has become too big for his friend Dylan to handle. Flash forward two years, and Eric has seen his share of let down, seeing the follow up to his debut novel crash and burn, and being humbled by the only mild success of his third novel. On a trip to Eastern Washington to give a lecture, Eric seeks to find Dylan, and tracks him down to a cabin in the woods. But has two years been enough time for Dylan to forgive and forget?

Effortless Brilliance is hard to nail down. On one hand, it is filled with long, rambling scenes that often times don't seem to go anywhere except to further establish the characters relationship with one another (which is pretty well done within the first half hour or so). On the other hand, I think the film is an amazing dissection of the way a friendship can dissolve because of one persons complete inability to really be the kind of friend the other person needs. I feel like I've been on both sides of this situation, and I feel like Shelton and her crew really managed to suss out a lot of what goes on between two people in that situation. Basil Harris and Sean Nelson fit PERFECTLY into their roles, and I think they are a primary reason, other than Shelton's direction, that this film succeeds as well as it does. My Effortless Brilliance is not a perfect film, but it is a good film with a lot of things to say and to think about.

Red Cliff

I do not know how to review this film. It was so big and epic, I can't even wrap my mind around it. I need to see it two or three more times before I can give an honest review.

Make Out gets "Best of the Decade" cred from Cinematical

My favorite movie blog, Cinematical, has named Make Out With Violence as one of the best Indie films of the ENTIRE decade! And there's only ten films, total, on that list, and seeing as how it encompasses ten years (or, I guess, nine really), I would say that's a pretty big compliment. Want to see the article? Check it out here. And you can also see my interview with the Deagol Brothers, the creator's of Make Out below -

Make Out With Violence Premiere - Interview from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

A Wes Anderson film is one of those "events" for my generation. Most of us probably missed Bottle Rocket, and ended up seeing it on DVD after seeing Rushmore (at least twice). The Royal Tenenbaums was a complete kick in Hollywood's tail, and is still my favorite Anderson movie. The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited were movies we waited patiently for, and did no less for Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The film is Anderson's first foray into animation, and is the story of Fox, played by George Clooney, who gives up his youthful hopes and dreams in order to settle down with his lady friend, Mrs. Fox, played by Meryl Streep. Jump ahead a few years, and Fox is working a job as a news reporter, has a little fox, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), and is living underground in... well, a fox hole. He decides, during a mid life crisis, that he is going to buy a tree (that he can't really afford), and also take up stealing chickens and other things from the local farmers, as this was one of the things he gave up to start a life with Mrs. Fox. But, when the local farmers get pissed and decide to put the hurt on Fox, it starts a war.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is, like many of Anderson's films, about not wanting to grow up, and the trouble that can cause. Fox lives a perfectly good life, until he decides to start doing something he shouldn't, and this is what causes all the trouble for Fox and everyone around him. It also gives them an undeniable adventure, which is also a constant in Anderson's films. The animation was really cool, and seemed so real and natural, and the writing was, for the most part, pretty funny and enjoyable, but, ultimately, like Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox just lacked a certain amount of that early Anderson charm to make it a REALLY good film. It was okay, but it just wasn't as good as some of the other films. That being said, I had to watch Life Aquatic a couple of times before it really clicked with me. Maybe that's what Fantastic Mr. Fox is going to take before it can really blow my mind.


I was a little weary of this film when I first saw the posters popping up around L.A. I like Natalie Portman. I'll watch pretty much anything she's in. I don't like Tobey Maguire. The only things I've ever REMOTELY liked him in was The Ice Storm. There's the fact that its directed by Jim Sheridan, who I like, so that was a plus, but then there's Jake Gyllenhaal. No offense, but Jake hasn't done much that was worth while since Donnie Darko.

The film concerns the capture, and presumed death of Captain Sam Cahill (Maguire) while he's in Iraq. The Army assumes his death, and reports it to his wife, Grace (Portman), who ends up telling his Father, Step Mother, and brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal). Feeling guilty about being a screw up, while his brother bravely served his country, Tommy tries to make up for his feelings by helping out Grace in anyway that he can. In doing so, over time, Tommy and Grace begin to develop some rudimentary feelings for each other, which culminates in a case after they've smoked pot together. Before they can take it any further, though, Sam is rescued from his Iraqi prison and shipped back home. But the weeks of mental torture he suffered at the hands of his captors has left him fragile and angry.

Brother's is a remake of a foreign film, but Sheridan has managed to make it so incredibly American, that there isn't the faintest sense of its true origin. Maybe that's the strength and universality of the story, though. Tobey Maguire finally delivers a performance that's worth all of the hype that he's gotten over the years, and Portman is perfectly solid, as well as Gyllenhaal. The film feels like so much of what middle America is in this moment, and I think that is a huge compliment to Sheridan - That he has captured this moment, in both time and place, and captured the madness that war incites in everyone that has been touched by it. Brothers was intense, and furious, and engaging. A great film.

Crazy Heart

There's an old saying that goes - "There are no new stories". Basically, what that means is, its not the originality of the story, its what mark you put on it. As far as movies go, and movies about country music in particular, the idea of the weathered old musician, lost in a haze of alcohol, or drugs, or both, who gets a second chance, is not exactly new. But, its what you put into it. Scott Cooper brings a certain majesty and glory to this story in his new film Crazy Heart.

Crazy Heart stars Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a country western musician from another time of country stars like Waylon Jennings and George Jones. He has seen his career peak, many years ago, and is now broke and forced into doing shows in bars and bowling alleys. When he meets Jean, a young reporter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, he see's a light at the end of the tunnel he has dug himself into. But can he see his way free from all of the things that made him Bad Blake in the first place?

Crazy Heart is an amazing and beautiful journey through the life and pain of Bad Blake, who is exquisitely played by Jeff Bridges. Bridges proves, yet again, that he is one of our best living actors. He isn't afraid to show all of the embarrassing aspects of Blake's life, including waking up in his underwear from being drunk the night before, running into the toilet, puking, and passing out on the floor. Bridges plays this role no holds barred - he is sweaty, bumbling, and old. He is fragile. He is broken. Gyllenhaal plays a woman who is absolutely willing to let her heart be broken again, but, when it is, she steps back, like a wounded animal, staying as far away from that which has hurt her as she can. Colin Farrell is a bit of a surprise as a New-Country star who's fortune and fame was built on song's Bad Blake wrote for him, and Robert Duvall shines as one of Blake's friends. This film is really great. I feel like every step that was taken here was just right, and the soundtrack overseen by T Bone Burnett is perfect. Well worth seeing.

Sherlock Holmes

There's two classic stories that I've been in love with since I was a kid - Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes. I think both of them appeal to young kids, especially boys, because of the sense of adventure and magic. Looking back on it, I can't think of any adaptations of Sherlock Holmes (at least live action, non-parody ones), nor movies about Harry Houdini. So, when I first saw a trailer for a hip new Sherlock Holmes film, I was intrigued. Guy Ritchie has had his moments, so I figured it has to be, at least, halfway decent, right? I mean, Robert Downey Jr., Rachel McAdams, and the wide variety of story to pull from had to have given them a lot to work with.

Sherlock Holmes concerns the relationship of Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law), as Watson is moving on in his life and getting ready to marry a young woman and move into full time medical practice. Holmes is left feeling abandoned, but doesn't have long to think about it because Lord Blackwood, a once dead nemesis, appears to have resurrected himself from the grave and be causing havoc in London. Holmes teams up with a reluctant Watson, and an old flame, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) in order to fight the dark powers of Blackwood.

Sherlock Holmes is one of those movies that you can see all the ways that it could have been better. Too long, with characters that are not always explored well enough, and one too many needless speed ramping shots, Holmes can come off as bloated and boring. While all of the actors do a good job, it's impossible to really enjoy a movie experience that feels like your having to tread through mud. that being said, the ending sets up an obvious sequel, and I will say that maybe, just maybe, the film suffers from Ritchie having not directed anything for a while, and problems in his personal life. Should there be a sequel, I would consider seeing it, to see if they could pull together all of the things that feel so loose in this one.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Make Out With Violence

You don't know how happy it made me to just be able to write those words in the title. It is rare that a person gets to be a part of seeing friends create something incredibly original and beautiful on the scale of a film, and a truly home made film at that. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to attend the L.A. premiere for The Deagol Brother's film Make Out With Violence. They had won the Nashville Film Festival, and part of their prize was that Regal Cinema (a Tennessee based company) would set them up with a showing in the home of movies in America, Los Angeles. Now, I'm sure there is a different story for every side, but the idea behind the prize, from what I understood was a week long run at a theater in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Regal, after much back and forth and almost NOT giving them a premiere AT ALL, finally stuck the Deagol's film in a theater in East L.A., in the relatively quiet enclave of Alhambra. Pretty far away from Hollywood, and one show only was pretty far away from a reasonable run. Let's put politics aside for a second, though, and talk about the film -

Best described by Deagol Brother Chris Doyle as a mix between a John Hughes and a zombie flick, Make Out With Violence sets up the story of Wendy Hearst, a beautiful young teenager who goes missing one day. The story is told through the view point of Beetle Darling, one of the three Darling boys. His twin brothers, Patrick and Carol, along with their friends Rody, Addy, and Anne Haran round out the cast. The film basically fast forwards to a month later when the locals are having a memorial service for Wendy, believing she's truly gone. As everyone leaves the funeral, going their separate ways to grieve, Carol and Beetle take a little side trip to the woods to have some fun and blow off some steam. In the woods, Beetle discovers the zombie Wendy. They capture her, take her home, and fill in Patrick, who has long harbored a crush on Wendy about everything that's happened. Carol and Beetle are at a loss as to what to do, but Patrick comes up with a plan.

Like I said, I truly feel that Make Out With Violence is one of the most original films I've ever seen. Sure, it apes certain elements of various genre's, but the Deagol's don't just copy these things - they borrow them, and make them their own, which is what the best filmmakers always do. Gorgeous cinematography (which is a compliment I almost NEVER give out for HD stuff), an amazing score by the Non-Commissioned Officers (along with a handful of other local Nashville bands), tight performances from a group of (mostly) non-actors, and assured direction from the Deagol's make this one of the best indie's around. It is not the easiest egg to crack, and that's what I LOVE about it, and what may frustrate some others. You see, Make Out is a zombie film, a coming of age film, a romantic film... It's also none of these things at the same time. It's an echo of elements that have all come together to create a new universe, a universe of youth, and love, and fear, and horror that coalesces into a singular vision, and if you could put it in words, maybe that's why I love it so much. It feels complete. It feels like a Wes Anderson movie, in that every bit of it feels thought out, as though the Deagol's lived in this world, and came out of it to tell this story.

You can find out more info and buy the soundtrack to the movie (which I can't recommend enough) by visiting the official website , and you can hear more about the film by watching my interview with Deagol's Andy Duensing and Chris Doyle here -

Make Out With Violence Premiere - Interview from Stewart Schuster on Vimeo.