Comments on watching and making films.

Monday, April 12, 2010

DVD - Even Dwarf's Started Small

Werner Herzog has always been considered two things - a maverick, and a crazy lunatic. Once you know that, his whole body of work somehow makes a lot more sense. I don't know what to tell you about Even Dwarf's Started Small. I enjoyed it. It's crazy. It seems beyond real, as though it were shot as a documentary in some other dimension, instead of being a fictional film. It's an interesting study in malevolence and rebellion on the part of individuals who are being forced to live in an institutional setting, and how, often times, rebellion can get out of hand. That's about it, really. This is just one of those ones you have to check out for yourself.

DVD - Downloading Nancy

Not all films are meant to be mindless entertainment. Some filmmakers transcend the trappings of Hollywood and decide that, instead of making a movie like Transformers, they are going to make something that explores the human condition, hopefully without judgement, in order to shed light on the way we act and react to our world, and how we can improve the way we do both of those things. Johan Renck has done exactly that with his feature film Downloading Nancy, which explores the life of a person who's very essence has been shattered from a young age, and how her needs and wants effect those around her.

Maria Bello, in what may be one of her best roles (although it's neck and neck with her role in A History of Violence), plays the title role of Nancy, a woman who was heavily abused as a child, and because of that abuse, has been twisted in such a way that abuse is the only way she knows how to feel love. Her husband, Albert (played by Rufus Sewell), can not understand her needs, and refuses to give into her constant bating. He almost has to steel himself against her, so as not to give into the physical abuse she craves so much. By the time the audience joins the story, Nancy has met someone online, a man named Louis (played to stunning perfection by Jason Patric), whom she has contracted to meet her in a far away town, abuse her, and, eventually, kill her. The film follows Nancy, her run-ins with her husband and her counselor, her self-destruction, her death, and Louis's confrontations with Albert.

Renck gives the film an ominous cleanliness, and a blue tone, that makes you feel as though you are in a sterile, hospital like environment the whole time. His production design is painfully middle American, and you can almost sympathize with Nancy for putting up with such a drab existence for such a long time. Maria Bello brings this character to life in such a way that, I, as an audience member, felt so much empathy for her, that even though I would never want anyone to kill themselves, I felt like I just wanted her to have what she wanted so badly - A way out. Rufus Sewell is both reserved and explosive in his role, balancing the two in a high wire act that makes me believe this is a guy who has more talent than he, often times, lets on, and Jason Patric is devastating as a man who grows to love Nancy so much that he will make the ultimate sacrifice to give her what she wants.

I really liked this film. It seemed to be heavily panned when it was doing the festival circuit, and barely saw any kind of release, but this is just one of those films. It's not for everyone. You have to be okay with being taken places that you may not want to go too, or shown things you may not want to see or agree with if your going to get anything out of it.

Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, discusses shooting the series on film

QUESTION: Why did you want to produce Mad Men on film?
WEINER: It's the aesthetics. I've now come to realize, and I think that they proved this technologically, that a sampling of the world that goes on in film at 24 frames per second has been perfected to produce a lifelike experience, the way that you would see it with your eyes. There's nothing that competes with it. I can tell the difference, and until I can't tell the difference (between film and video), I will stay with film. Also, I don't think the great cinematographers are comfortable working with video. They don't get the looks and blacks they want. There is rigidness to working in video, maybe because it doesn't have the chemical elements. It's just not the same thing. When I shot my $10,000 movie, I shot it on (KODAK) Plus-X and Tri-X 16 mm film. Working with film made a huge difference.

DVD - Alexander The Last

Joe Swanberg, like many of his contemporaries and many auteurs from the 1970's golden age of filmmaking, tends to focus on smaller stories about people and their intimate problems, and his newest film, Alexander The Last, is no different.

The film focuses on the relationship between two actors, Alex (played by Jess Weixler) and Jamie (played by Barlow Jacobs). The two are working on a play together, and Alex allows Jamie to crash on her couch while her husband, Eliott, is on tour with his band. She enjoys the company, and insists on setting Jamie up with her sister, Hellen. When things get serious between Hellen and Jamie, though, Alex realizes she has feelings for Jamie, which is a triple threat because 1) She's married, 2) She's in love with her sister's boyfriend (after she set them up), and 3) They're starring in a play together that is very sexually charged, and they are, therefore, very close to each other, in rehearsals, at all times.

Alexander The Last is a good film, but, ultimately, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Hannah Takes The Stairs or Nights and Weekends. Maybe its the chemistry that he built with the star of both of those films, Greta Gerwig (who was also a collaborator in the writing and directing process), or maybe it was the over simplicity of the story. It feels like everything in this film is laid out from the very start, and you instantaneously know, from the beginning, where he is going with all of this.

Justin Rice stands out in his role, having made steps to better himself as an actor since his debut in Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation (which he did a pretty good job in. If he ever decides to not be a musician, he could have an acting career ahead of him). Jess Weixler and Amy Seimetz are also great as the two sisters her always on an edge of love and hate with each other. Jacobs, as Jamie, seemed to closed off for a film that is so intimate and so about the internal goings on of its characters. It's not that he did a bad job, but I'm not sure he was completely right for the part, or, maybe the part wasn't right for him.

Hot Tub Time Machine

There has been a crop of great comedies in the last couple of years (and just as many horrible ones), thanks to the success of people like Judd Apatow and his band of repeat players, as well as comedy teams like Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. These comedies range from the outrageous, to the vulgar, to the just plain stupid-funny. Hot Tub Time Machine feels like the culmination of all of these styles into one perfect piece of work.

The film has an ensemble cast, and starts John Cusack as Adam, Rob Corddry as Lou, Craig Robinson as Nick, and Clark Duke as Jacob, Adam's nephew, who also lives in his basement. The three friends, Adam, Nick, and Lou haven't seen much of each other in the past couple of years, not since being best friends in high school and, presumably, through their twenties. When Lou attempts suicide, Adam and Nick decide that they need to all go on a little vacation to their teenage hotspot, a winter ski village. This is the location of several pivotal points in their lives, and they want to go and recapture the magic in order to bring Lou back to his senses. They end up bringing along Jacob because he has nowhere else to go. When they get to their ski resort, though, they find out its gone down hill, and everything is in shambles. Making the best of it, they decide to get into one of the few working things at the lodge - the hot tub. But when someone spills a can of Russian energy drink on the controls, the hot tub turns into a time machine. Now the group have to work through the one night that meant the most to all of them, without changing anything, so they can get back to their lives in the present. But, what if you had a second chance to change everything, for the better?

Hot Tub Time Machine is hilarious. The premise is so ridiculous that you just have to laugh. It is vulgar, and some of those moments are really funny, but what really pulls the film together its self awareness. It knows it's ridiculous and it totally plays to all of that. Cusack, Robinson, Corddry, and Duke all walk that fine line between trying to play serious characters and just letting it all loose and going to the very edges of stupidity. The film does feel like a brother to the long list of films that came before it (Superbad, 40 Year Old Virgin, any of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay films), but it also feels like it carves out its own little piece of territory for itself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

PHX update, 040810

It's totally crazy right now. I have written 50 pages on the script in about a week and a half. My first feature script took me eight months to finish. I'm still not done, but I'm on track to finish by the end of this weekend. Amethyst is working on locations. I talked to my friend, Matt Christy, and he may be joining us from Nashville. I ordered my postcards yesterday, and they should be in April 19th, which means my Kickstarter will be starting shortly after. Jeremy is excited, which makes me even more excited. Some things are falling into place, but there is still a long hard road ahead.

If your reading this, please consider coming back and checking these updates, and donating to my Kickstarter campaign when it begins. I would greatly appreciate it!