Comments on watching and making films.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dear Robert Zemeckis...

I hear your planning on making ANOTHER performance capture movie, this time about the Beatles.


Stop making these STUPID, INANE performance capture movies! I'm sick of seeing you show off how much technology you have access to, all the while leaving people like me, who have defended you for most of my movie going life, out in the cold having to watch these sh&^ty films!

Your best films didn't use any of this technology - Back to the Future, Cast Away, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forest Gump (Well, maybe Forest Gump did, I can't remember). The point I'm trying to make is, how about going back to making films that have GOOD STORIES, and use REAL ACTORS in REAL LOCATIONS.


I want to love you again, but between Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and The Polar Express, and now this new Beatles film, you're making it really hard for me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Book of Eli

One of the funniest thing's I have ever read about The Book of Eli was a quote on someone's Tumblr that I follow, in which this person's cousin said " Ugh... I hope it's not the Bible...", and, after reading that I thought, Surely not! It seems almost preposterous for Hollywood to take a book like the Bible and make it the center piece of a film like this, not to mention how politcally correct they try to be in their blockbusters (except, apparently, for the "rascist" Autobots in Transformers). But, they did exactly that, and I think it is probably what I connected with most in the film.

The film centers around a character that, for the most part, goes unnamed for a while, until he is forced to give up his name as Eli. In a post-apocalyptic world, much like the recent John Hillcoat adaptation of Cormac MacCarthy's The Road, civilization is in shambles. Food and water is scarce, and everything is on the barter system. Paper money and coins mean nothing. Eli is a man who has spent thirty years, or so, walking across the country, presumably starting on the east coast, and trying to get his sacred book to the west coast, after being charged, by God, to do so. But, when he comes across the leader of a town he happens to be passing through, a man named Carnegie, Eli soon finds out that Carnegie has been looking for this book, the last known copy in the entire world, and is not going to let it go.

Denzel Washington has given some pretty amazing performances, even though he's been in some pretty crappy movies (why he continues to work with Tony Scott, I'll never know). Book of Eli, though, has Denzel delivering an almost zen like performance in a movie that borders on being a B movie. Gary Oldman plays a decent villian, as Carnegie, and Mila Kunis, as the daughter of Carnegie's woman, and eventual side kick to Eli, doesn't talk much but sure wears the hell out of a pair of Aviator's. This is one of my problems with this film, and that is the fact that there is some ridiculous subplot that is barely explained, about a "hole" being torn in the sky, and now everyone has to wear sunglasses or goggles of some sort, yet, they seem to have no difficulty taking them off outside. Seems not very thought out. Overall, though, the movie was pretty good. There were some cheesy moments, but you pretty much expect that in a movie like this, so, as long as you go into the theater with low expectations, you will have a good time.


It's just about the worst time for movies in all of movie history right now. The money for independents has dried to a trickle, and the studios aren't interested in anything but remakes, re-imagining's or proven properties. It's a hard life for someone who is trying to do something even mildly original, even if they have been nominated for Oscar's for their previous work, and won countless other awards for the same work. Rob Marshall, apparently, believed that he could recapture the magic that he had with his hit stage to screen musical Chicago, in the Fellini inspired, hit Broadway musical, Nine. Unfortunately, when it didn't do as well as expected on its opening week, the studio pulled out of engagements all over the country, and now this thoroughly entertaining film will probably only be seen for the first time, by many, on DVD.

Nine is about about a director, Guido Contini (patterned after Italian director Federico Fellini), who is having a crisis trying to figure out what his next film is going to be. He has made a string of hits, and now, his production company is moving forward on his new project, a film for which he doesn't have an idea for, much less the script that everyone keeps demanding. He is forced to reckon with pretty much everyone in his life, and ESPECIALLY the many women of his life, before his creative muse will return.

Nine, I think, is a fun romp, especially for those who are fans of film history and enjoy Fellini. Daniel Day Lewis is exactly how you expect his character should be, Italian (or, at least what we think of as Italian) to his very core. The film boasts a number of incredible supporting roles, the best of which is Marion Cotillard as Contini's wife, who is constantly humiliated by his philandering ways. Penelope Cruz turns in a fun performance as Contini's mistress, and Judy Dench does a great job as one of Contini's right hand staffer's. It's hard to comment on the direction in a movie like this, because musical's are really a mixture of acting direction, choreography, and musical direction, which, most of the time, are taken care of by various people. I enjoyed Nine immensely, though, and do recommend it to people, though mostly to "film" people.

Friday, January 15, 2010

LA Film Forum Q&A with Marilyn Brakhage

This is a long, but interesting, discussion with Marilyn Brakhage that was done at an LA Film Forum presentation of Stan Brakhage's work. She states, in the first segment, that Criterion is prepping a second release of Stan's films, which is great, because the first release they did is still one of my most prized DVD's.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

DVD - Two Lovers

James Gray has made a career out of making New York based films that generally revolve around some combination of crime, gangs, and family. He took a break from all of that with his latest film, Two Lovers. The film had somewhat of a weightiness to it, upon its release, because one of its stars, Joaquin Phoenix, whom Gray had worked with twice before, had declared that Two Lovers would be his last film. Ever. Now, only time will tell whether or not that happens, but let's all hope it doesn't, because the combination of Gray and Phoenix is one that seems to be magic.

Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a thirty something who returns to live with his parents in their Brooklyn apartment, after his fiancee leaves him. His father decides that it is time to sell his business, a popular neighborhood dry cleaners. When the buyer, Michael Cohen, and his family show up at the Kraditors, to celebrate their agreement, Leonard meets his daughter Sandra and the two become mildly enchanted with each other. Soon after, though, Leonard meets Michelle, a woman in his building whom he falls in love with at first sight. Michelle has a lot of issues, though. Leonard will have to choose one or the other. Will he stick with the smart, sensible Sandra? or be happy with the troubled Michelle?

It's hard to comment on this film in regards to Gray's prior work, as I have only seen We Own The Night (which I liked). This film, however, blew me away. I loved the tight intimacy of the Brooklyn neighborhood (Brighton Beach) that the film was set in, as well as the emotional intimacy we are able to share with Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow as Michelle, and Vinessa Shaw as Sandra. Phoenix, especially, brings an exceptional reality to his role that I feel is pushing the role a little bit more than any one else has in the past. Two Lovers is an amazing film that has made me a lot more interested in exploring Gray's previous work, and has put me on the lookout for his future projects.

DVD - Sybil

Mental illness is, probably, one of the hardest things to truly express in film. It is, almost always, attempted with the best intentions, but, often times, either falls short of shedding any new light on a condition, or it runs head long into ridiculousness. There are a hand full of films that have done it right, and hundreds that fall into one of these two categories. Sybil, which was originally devised as a mini-series, gets it as right as it could for the time that it was made.

Sybil stars Sally Field as the titular character, a young New Yorker who's dream is to move from substitute teaching into full time slot teaching art. She is taking a class of youngsters on a field trip to Central Park, when, upon witnessing an event near her, she loses time, and wakes up, knee deep, in a pond with all of her students and another teacher staring at her. Strange things keep happening, and the occurrences come more often since the park. Sybil seeks help from a psychologist, Dr. Wilbur, who, over time, discovers Sybil has multiple personalities. As Wilbur learns more about the dark aspects of Sybil's childhood, she is left to wonder how Sybil survived at all, and if she can, honestly, do anything to help bring Sybil's personalities together.

Sybil was originally aired as a mini-series, and, as such, retains its three hour plus run time. This makes it kind of a hard watch, especially since its not separated into its original episodes, only presented as whole. That being said, Sally Field does an amazing job as a woman who is so incredibly divided, internally, that she often times doesn't know who people are that her alters met, or how she got to where she is. She is the consummate lost individual. Brad Davis, as Richard J. Loomis, a love interest in the story, brings a much needed dimensionality to Sybil's problems that would not have existed, had her interactions only been with strangers or with Dr. Wilbur. Jane Hoffman is incredibly creepy as Sybil's mother, the mentally ill woman who inflicts all of the torture on Sybil. While the film moves along pretty well (barring, as I said before, its long run time), the only thing that seemed odd to me was the ending. It seemed like Sybil, with the help of Dr. Wilbur, was able to bring her personalities together so easily at the end, once she had discovered what was going on. The ending just feels like they wrapped everything up real quick to keep it within an allotted run time. To me, I would think going more in depth on how Sybil was cured would be the more interesting thing, once you've established her problem. I think Sybil was worth the watch, but I would have liked an episode separation so I could watch it in chunks like it was originally presented.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


It was supposed to change cinema. James Cameron said this would be the movie that would turn the tide towards a whole new cinema going experience. Avatar would be what would, single handedly, bring people back into the theaters. Well, it definitely did that. Tickets were almost impossible to get for the IMAX screenings for the first couple of weeks its been out. I finally managed to get a single seat on New Years day to see the film that everyone was raving about. And, like I suspected, there was little way for it to live up to all of the hype.

Avatar stars Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed from the waste down Marine, who takes his dead twin brother's place in an experimental program that will transfer his consciousness into the body of an alien being. The people in these bodies then infiltrate the alien's community to learn more about them. Jake, however, is not being sent to do scientific study. He's being sent to find out what it will take to move the alien's away from their settlement, because the corporation that is funding the project, along with the military, has discovered the largest deposit of the ore that they are mining on the planet directly under that settlement. Jake follows orders at first, reporting things back constantly, and doing his best to learn as much as he can about the aliens, but when he begins to become one of them, and fall in love with a female alien named Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana), his loyalty to the corporation and to the military, and in turn, to the human race, becomes questionable.

Avatar has AMAZING visual effects. There is absolutely no doubt of that. The mixing of live action and CGI, the interplay of the characters, the detail on the CGI... It is leaps and bounds beyond anything that has been done before. The story, though, is pretty much the same old, same old for Cameron. Some nameless, heartless corporation is trying to exploit something or someone, or both, and will do so at any cost, until a hero steps in. In fact, it was hard not to see shades of Ellen Ripley in Sigourney Weaver's scientist Dr. Grace Augustine. You half expected her to take over for Jake at some point and win the show.

And then there's the 3D. This was supposed to be the movie that proved that 3D was here to stay. That this wasn't your parents 3D anymore, and, to some extent, I'll agree with that. It isn't our parents 3D anymore. It also isn't the "game changer" Cameron and the theater chains so desperately want it to be. Pandora, the planet this film takes place on, was beautiful, and the 3D gave it exactly what it promised - a third dimension. But, one has to wonder - Does it matter? I took my glasses off several times during the film, and didn't feel any less "into it" because it was in 2D (except for the fact that the image was slightly strange because of the effect they have to put on it to make it 3D). So Pandora has a little more depth. Okay. That's great. But, really, isn't that what 3D has always done? Added depth to shots? What was the difference between, say, one of the crazy Pandora animals charging at you on the screen in 3D, versus Jaws charging at you in 3D (other than the fact that its, probably, better rendered in Avatar)? The point I'm trying to make here is this - 3D is still a simple "That thing appears much closer to me than that other thing" technology. Ultimately, until they figure out how to do 360 degree 3D, where the image enraptures you in all directions, it will only and always be what it has always been. Your imagination will only ever go so far as the screen, because, as the camera moves, or an object moves, before it can escape your peripheral vision, it is disintegrated upon impact with the side of the screen, and no matter how 3D everything is, you are constantly reminded how 3D it is not.

Now, I'm not trying to be a party pooper. Avatar was fun (though it would have been more fun had it not been two and a half hours long). The story wasn't that great, but the final battle sequence was AMAZING, and it did have its little moments. That being said, I left the theater knowing that I didn't ever, particularly need to see this movie again. I may go see it one more time, in the non-IMAX theater, just to see if it's any different on a normal screen, but I don't think I'll ever touch it on DVD.