Comments on watching and making films.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Catfish" and social media

I watched Catfish last night. I liked it. It wasn’t anything amazing, and, I think as long as you go into it expecting to know what’s happening by a quarter of the way through the film, you can enjoy it. But the film brings up something interesting. I was talking to a co-worker about this today. First, we both agreed that, while The Social Network is a much better film, Catfish better captures the realities and pitfalls of social media than the multi-award winner directed by genius and veteran filmmaker David Fincher.

Catfish really captures the idea that a person can, literally, be anything they want to be online. In an online relationship, its easy to be the perfect you, because the other person only see’s the you that you choose to show. The real you, the you that comes out in the worst times, or the boring times, or the middle times, you never have to really show those. Granted, your building a relationship on a lie, and it will crash and burn should you ever get together in real life, but you can get what you want out of it for the time being (which is exactly what one of the individuals in Catfish does).

The other thing we talked about was how social media (like Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr) is supposed to bring out the personal and transparent, but often times brings out the fake or the shallow or the judgmental. If you are transparent about what goes on in your life, there are people who become offended, even when they are not directly related to anything you say. There are people who think things you post are offensive, or inane, or pretentious (although, let’s face it, sometimes they are). There are those that use social media for the sole purpose of making themselves look as cool as possible (when, in reality, they are a lot more like you and I, but they only show their “exciting side”). Some people treat social media as a photograph that they are the model for. Their posts become a snapshot, a moment, by which you are to judge them by, forgetting, of course, that it’s very possible that they are different, in real life, than they publicize themselves to be.

I’ve been involved in various aspects of social media for years. It has been a release for me, and a way to TRY to be more transparent about what is going on in my life. Never the less, it always comes about that someone (or sometimes several people) disparage something that I do or say or post. You can’t win them all, but, if you are lying, if you are making yourself out to be someone you’re not, who are you really hurting? I feel like that was whatCatfish was about - The fact that, so often we use these tools to make ourselves look better than what we are, but, in the end, we are only letting ourselves and others down. We are only lying, or being lied to, unless we are telling the truth, and our “friends” are doing the same.

In the end, you are who you are. Some of the things you do or say will be wrong, some of them will help people, some will hurt people, but don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be afraid of transparency, because, in the end, throwing something out there may be detrimental in the moment, but you may learn something. You may just learn that someone loves you for who you are.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine courted a lot of controversy when it was making the film festival rounds, and was looking at a possible NC-17 rating for graphic sexual content. Cianfrance made cuts and ended up with an R, but not before winning numerous awards for the story of two people falling in love and, eventually, falling back out of love.

Ryan Gosling plays Dean, a Brooklyn furniture mover who meets Cindy (Michelle Williams), when he has to deliver an elderly mans furniture to the same rest home that Cindy's grandmother lives in. Dean falls in love at first sight, and the courting begins. As time goes on, though, there relationship begins to show evidence of the wear and tear of time.

Blue Valentine is shown in a non-linear fashion. We start off with Dean and Cindy when they've already been married for several years, and flash back and forth to them as a young couple meeting and falling in love for the first time to their love dissolving before our very eyes. Gosling and Williams love and hate each other with such passion in this movie, you would think they must have plumbed the depths of their past relationships that have dissolved (Gosling was in a long term relationship with Rachel McAdams and Williams was partners with Heath Ledger, though they broke it off before his death). Absolutely every emotion feels genuine, which makes it all the more devastating when their love turns poisonous. The films cinematography sticks in close with its characters, using close ups most of the time, which gives the audience an almost uncomfortable feeling of being right there when everything happens.

The only thing that confused me is why Cindy hated Dean so much. He never really seemed to do anything horrible, or, at least, it wasn't expressed that he did. He could be child like (not childish, which is different), but that's part of what she fell in love with in the first place, so it's confusing that she so completely hates him by the end of the film.

Barring that, though, this film was one of the most beautiful, well acted, and devastating pieces of work I have seen in a long time. If Gosling and Williams don't rack up nominations and awards for this, people don't have their eyes open. Many people won't see this film because it's "depressing", but the thing that I love about cinema is how it can bring to life, on a massive scale, the basic human problems we all face, and give us hope and conciliation and make us feel like we are not alone. That's what Blue Valentine does - For anyone who has had a relationship that started off good and went bad, for anyone who has loved someone who didn't love them back, for anyone who has fought hard to keep the things they've built, but the other person won't fight too, this film is like a best friend giving you a hug and telling you it's okay to feel the way you do.

DVD - Crumb

Crumb is Terry Zwigoff's documentary on cartoonist and comic artist R. Crumb. Zwigoff delves into Crumb's origins, dysfunctional family, and dysfunctional life. He gets uncanny access to this man and his life and uses it to paint an interesting, but seemingly seedy, portrait. But that's who Crumb is, really, isn't he?

The film is fascinating. Zwigoff manages to somehow be a fly on the wall, or to have gained the trust of his subjects in such a way that they open up to him completely. We see the man behind the images, no holds barred, with sources ranging from his family, to his friends, to his ex-girlfriends and wives. Everyone has something to say.

DVD - Away We Go

Sam Mendes has left a bad taste in my mouth. American Beauty was a good film, but I didn't think it was amazing. Road To Perdition was good the first time I saw it, but never held my interest on attempted second viewings. I was bored to death with Jarhead (which friends have tried to convince me is the point, but I'm not buying it), and Revolutionary Road was probably a very revolutionary story, when the book was published 50 years ago. Now, I feel like we've seen, almost, this exact same movie a dozen times. When Away We Go came out, I really just did not feel interested at all, and missed it in theaters, but people kept raving about it. I picked it up, and, I have to say, I've finally found a Mendes film I can really stand behind.

The film stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as domestic partners, Burt and Verona. After his parents decide to move to Europe, the two decide that, without any type of family anchor left (her parents are dead and her sister lives in another state), they should travel to some of the cities they have always wanted to live in and figure out where they would like to move to. On their journey, we're introduced to various friends and their dysfunctions. These situations often cause tension between Burt and Verona, but also help them discover themselves and what they want for their future.

The film was simple, funny, well directed and subtly acted, and had a great soundtrack. Mendes not only directed something I enjoyed, but he made a film that I wish I had made. Away We Go reminded me of the kinds of films that I had gotten into filmmaking to make. I guess that may be a bias on my part, but everyone has the kinds of films they like.

DVD - The Art Of The Steal

The Art of the Steal is a great documentary about the collection of modern and post impressionist art that was assembled by Dr. Albert Barnes, who bought these paintings for pennies on the dollar of what they are worth now. In fact, the collection is so valuable, that almost no one can give an estimate of its worth, and even those who have feel as though any estimation, no matter how high, is still not accurate. Barnes had built a foundation for the study of this art, and set up his own Villa, which was essentially a museum. He had constant problems with the people and the city of Philadelphia, where his foundation was located, and when he died, he specifically wrote in his will that the collection was never to be broken up or loaned to any museum, especially the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After his death, though, everyone was trying to get a piece of the collection, including those who were supposed to be protecting it. The Art of the Steal is an interesting documentary about one mans bitterness and determination, and how some people will go to any lengths to circumvent the wishes of someone, just so they can make money. I enjoyed this documentary a lot.

Karen Abad's "Our Year [Apart] Together"

Karen has this amazing ability to take even a small, personal project and make it cinematic, beautiful, and heartwarming.

our year [apart] together from Karen Abad ♥s Dinosaurs. on Vimeo.

127 Hours

Danny Boyle has had a very interesting career. He truly hit the scene with Trainspotting, and has had his well knowns (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, Shallow Grave), his lesser knowns (Sunshine, Millions), and occasional films that didn't seem to quite connect with an audience when they were released (A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach). But, anyway you slice it, all of his films have been well made and even the ones that may not have quite hit the mark had great moments. Boyle follows up his awards sweeping indie, Slumdog Millionaire, with his newest offering 127 Hours, the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), who ventures out into the Utah desert, hops into a cave, gets his hand stuck under a falling rock, and has to figure out how to get out before he dies of exposure and dehydration.

Boyle somehow manages to pear this film down to such minimal elements (the majority of the film is Ralston in the cave), and yet he builds something that is engaging. I had reservations about an hour and a half film that primarily takes place in a cave while its lead character is stuck under a rock, unable to move. Boyle uses the first twenty minutes, or so, to get Ralston to the cave, in which he meets two girls and has fun with them, showing them little places on and off the trail, giving them a tour of parts of the park most people probably wouldn't see, but once they break off, it's a matter of minutes (in screen time) before Ralston is trapped. The rest of the film plays out in a feverish attempt to figure out ways to extract himself, and flashbacks to the past. Franco delivers a solid performance, and this role was, in a way, tailored to his flamboyant personality.

I feel like I can't say much about the technical aspects of the film. The vista shots in the park were gorgeous, but, since the majority of the film takes place in a cave, its kind of hard to, otherwise, comment on something like the cinematography, and the two trail girls (played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) have so little screen time I don't feel like I can really comment on their acting. The film felt solid, though, and I think any film that takes place, primarily, in a cave, with its protagonist stuck in one position, and can still keep you interested is definitely worth watching, though I think this one will probably end up with others like Millions and Sunshine, where it will not exactly join the "essential" Danny Boyle cannon.

Leslye Davis's "Sisters"

I'm really digging Leslye's work, both the narrative and documentary. I think this girl has really got a lot of talent -

Sisters from leslye davis on Vimeo.

Friday, January 7, 2011

PHX Blog - 8 Lessons Learned That May Help You Later

I haven't written much about PHX since the shoot, and I have my own personal reasons for that. I had begun to write a blog post about things that I had learned from the shoot, but had a really hard time balancing tact and transparency. But, after seeing Somewhere, I realized that there are some personal things, failings on my part, that I do want to record and publish, in the hopes that, if some other filmmaker reads this post, they may think twice before falling into some of the same traps that I did.

1. If you love a certain style of filmmaking, don't try to make another style because you think it might be more acceptable/mainstream/more likely to sell/etc. I wrote PHX as a traditional drama because I knew we could break down the script, set a schedule, and shoot the movie in the time we had. Looking back, though, I didn't make the kind of film I really wanted to make. I want my films to be more David Gordon Green and Sofia Coppola, but instead, I ended up much more "filmmaker trying to make a calling card film" (not that there is anything wrong with that, but you should always stick with your original intent and purpose for a piece, and not change just because you think it will make it easier to get into a festival).

I was inspired by an area of town, and by the people who inhabited it, but, while my script hit basic sights of the area, it didn't showcase very much of the people (though we did have some locals playing parts). I guess, in the end, I should have taken more time, and created a more docu-style piece, but I was afraid. That is the most basic way I can express why I did what I did - I was afraid. And now I look at a script like The Definers, and I wonder if, maybe, it would just be better to throw away the dialogue and just have ideas of what the scenes are. Spend more time with the actors figuring out what their characters would be doing and saying, and just let it flow from them. Which leads me to my second point -

2. Control is the enemy. When you write a script, even if you're not completely married to it, trying to get what you want out of it is hard enough without trying to get every single thing that is on the page. I wanted to hit the beats, hit the emotions, which is all important, but sometimes you tangle yourself up in all of that, and you end up tying a noose around yourself because the shooting becomes so rigid that, really, you're just doing the filmmaking equivalent of gym class - Showing up, doing the exercises because you're required to, and then leaving with sore muscles and not much else. And that last point, that's what I didn't understand while I was shooting. Everyone was showing up to gym class, and I was the coach, and it ceased to be about making something, and became about running the mile everyday, because we needed to meet the criteria for the curriculum (in other words, shoot the script in the time allotted).

3. As the leader, you will be the enemy. This has become more and more apparent in my life since the film. It is almost human nature to point out everything that the person who is in charge is doing wrong, but I've noticed that, even for myself, I'm more likely to complain and less likely to put on a game face, keep a great attitude and do something that will help move things forward. It's something I've had to try really hard to change because I saw how it made me feel, and realized that I was doing that to other people. On the flip side -

4. You are the leader, which means you are the person people are looking towards for the tone and feel of the day. If you are excited and energetic and friendly, other people are more likely to be the same. If you are not, you have to find a place in yourself to, essentially, bullshit your way through it. Honesty and transparency is not your friend. People don't like a leader who is a human being, they like a leader who is a robot. I don't mean that in a negative sense, but, what I'm trying to say is that you have to take everything human about yourself and put it aside for the duration and be unshakeable. I thought that it was best to just be me, but people didn't want me, they wanted Churchill or George Washington. That's who you have to be.

5. Everyone will talk shit about you behind your back. You will overhear it, or it will get back to you one way or the other. You have to put on the game face, and you have to be unshakeable, and you have to go in every day and look those people in the face with a smile and a good attitude, and when the day is over, you have to go home and leave the day behind you (however you do that, but it should NOT be drugs or alcohol). It's almost impossible when you're not a salesman at heart (I never was), but, I hope that one day I will have enough experience to be that person.

6. Have at least one person, not involved in the shoot in any way, that you can talk to at any time that will provide encouragement and perspective. For me, it was my parents. They were invaluable to me in times when I wanted to shut down the whole thing and walk away (and there were many of those times). They, along with my counselor, were my support team. This is also good advice for any major endeavor or project that you may be working on in your life.

7. This whole thing runs on money. Even if you have enough for your budget, if you don't stick to your budget, you're going to be hosed down the road. Have someone who can hold the money (someone you trust, obviously), and will make sure that you're not just spending a bunch of money that you may not need to spend.

8. Some things are not meant to be. PHX was originally going to be shot in the winter of 2010, but was pushed up to June because of a timing issue. I should have walked away from it. The script wasn't ready, I wasn't in the right head space about what I wanted to do (see point #1), I hadn't had enough time to do a larger audition, to spend time with the actors to really dive into their parts, and to gather up some more crew who would be willing to believe in this project and help make it happen. Those things are all my fault. I can't blame them on anyone else, and those are all things that became liabilities and made the shoot more difficult than it had to be.

I hope that, whoever may read this, that it will help you out a little. If I could go back in time and tell myself about all of this, maybe things would be a lot different, but as so many things in life are - It is what it is. We take the lessons we've learned and put them into the next one, and there WILL BE a next one.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

TRON: Legacy

This is my five point review of TRON: Legacy -

1. The special effects were cool.

2. Olivia Wilde was bangin' in that body suit.

3. Whatever the technology is that made a younger Jeff Bridges and was used in Terminator: Salvation to make a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, should be stricken from existence. It always looks fake, which is fine for Avatar, where everything looked fake anyway, but this is a really fake looking Jeff Bridges face to face with a really real looking Jeff Bridges. No dice, guys, no dice.

4. The story was about as interesting as the first one, which is to say, not very much.

5. Half of this movie was in 2D, so why was I paying 5 extra dollars for it?

The King's Speech

World War 2 seems to be an endless gold mine for filmmakers, and, while The King's Speech takes place mostly before the war to end all wars, it is the shadow of that war that hangs over Tom Hooper's film about The Duke of York's succession to the throne, after the death of his father King George V, and the abdication of the throne by his brother, King Edward VIII, right around the time that Hitler invades Poland and war is declared.

The film begins in the 1920's. The future King George VI (Colin Firth) is still The Duke of York, and is asked by his father, King George V (Michael Gambon) to start taking over the duty of giving speeches as part of his obligation of "public service" that comes along with his lineage and title. He fails miserably at this because of a pronounced stutter that makes it almost impossible for him to speak. As the years go by, he attempts many cures, under the guidance of various doctors and professionals, but none of them work. His wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), who is now known as the Queen Mother (her daughter now using the moniker of Queen Elizabeth) seeks out help from a highly regarded speech therapist, Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). Logue takes on the task, but not without pitfalls - Bertie, as George VI is known to his family, refuses to get to a personal level with Logue, something Logue insists on to take the therapy as far as it can go. But, with constant situations in his personal life and World War 2 on the horizon, Bertie will have no choice but to put his trust in Logue, in order to become the man that his country needs.

The King's Speech is one of those films that you can't say anything bad about. It's so tightly made, and has just the right amount of everything. Firth's stammering had to be an incredible acting feet to pull off realistically, because, if I didn't know better, I would just assume that was the way he talked. He's way to convincing, which, I suppose, means that he's doing his job. That director Tom Hopper and writer David Seidler treat these members of the monarchy with such respect, and yet, let them be human beings is what, I think, makes the whole film. There's a romance to the monarchy which they manage to balance with the realism of just being human. Some of my favorite parts of the film were when Logue manages to get Bertie to open up to him. You see this man's public facade break down, no more stone faced and official, and the emotion begins to seep out of him, and eventually pour out. When Bertie makes allusions to never having had any friends, and having been made fun of by his family, you genuinely feel his isolation, you essentially become Logue - cheering him on, hoping and praying he keeps making forward steps, and disheartened when he moves backwards. A moment that broke my heart was when Bertie is asked by his daughter, Margaret, to tell her and Elizabeth a story. You can see the fear in Bertie's eyes, but, as a father, he doesn't want to let them down. He stammers through a very short story, trying hard to be the father his two young girls need, and finally gets through it. You breath the same sigh of relief that I'm sure Bertie let out when he finally finished. There are so many of these moments in the film, and that seems rare these days, to have a character who you can so completely be behind. He's not an anti-hero, he's not a character with deep flaws, and he's not an underdog. He's just a man, trying to do his best and do what is right, trying to be a good husband, a good father, and a good leader, and learning, for the first time, that he can do all of these things, as he learns in parallel, that the stutter that has caused him so much pain in his life is something he CAN conquer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jessica Borutski's "The Good Little Bunny With The Big Bad Teeth"

The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth from Foolish K. Bunny on Vimeo.


Sofia Coppola has taken a significant break from filmmaking after 2006's Marie Antoinette, which received mixed reviews, seeming to mostly lean to the negative, but it's not as though she wasn't busy - She started a family in France with her partner, Thomas Mars, lead singer of the french band Phoenix. But, Coppola now returns to the big screen with Somewhere.

The film stars Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marco, an in-demand Hollywood movie star, who spends his time between films living at the infamous Chateau Marmont, a high class hotel on Sunset Boulevard, frequented by movie stars, models, and other movers and shakers. His life is filled with parties, strippers, and Guitar Hero. When his daughter is dropped off by her mother (who's relationship with Marco is never detailed. Were they married? or just together? or even a one night stand?), Marco has to switch into full time parent mode, something he's never had to do before. It's awkward, and he spends his time trying to figure out how to balance the life of a single movie star, a responsible parent, and trying to be "fun". Through this, fairly sudden, time spent with Cleo (played by Elle Fanning), his compass begins to orient itself and he begins to figure out who he really is.

Stephen Dorff is, to me, an odd choice for this role. While his star has shown at various points in time, it seems that there are considerably more men who would be better suited for the role, but Dorff makes you believe he is Johnny Marco, so he's obviously doing something right. Elle Fanning is fantastic as Cleo, a young woman who is cheerful, bright eyed, interested in the world around her, but instinctual about the good and bad that is going on around her. Chris Pontius (of Jackass) shows up as Marco's good buddy, and doesn't seem out of place. Could he be following fellow Jackass alum Johnny Knoxville into acting?

Coppola focuses her lens on some of the everyday moments of Marco, and, while those moments are not representative of 99% of the population (fashion shoots going on down the hall from his suite, traveling to Italy for an awards show, and one hilarious moment when he comes home with Cleo to find a naked woman waiting for him in his bed, asks her to leave, and slips Cleo out for a cheeseburger before the two see each other), she brings to light a world that most of us will never see, and that's what makes Somewhere interesting. Coppola and cinematographer Harris Savides use, mostly, natural lighting to capture the story of father and daughter, and gives the whole film a certain cinematic beauty that is shared with Lance Acord's cinematography in her previous efforts Lost In Translation and Marie Antoinette and even Edward Lachman's cinematography in her debut feature The Virgin Suicides.

There's a lot of complaints right now about the fact that the film is very reminiscent of Lost In Translation, which, I won't deny, it can be on a very basic level. But the previous film was more about not being able to communicate with the people around you, and finding friendship with someone regardless of that. This film is about someone finding a greater purpose than themselves. When Marco realizes that living for his daughter means more to him than living for himself, he is on the road to becoming whole again. For those who try to break the two films down to "a Hollywood star in a hotel trying to find himself", I would say that they are looking on the very smallest surface of the two films and, obviously, just didn't get it.

Top 5 of 2010

My picks for Top 5 of 2010 -

1. Inception - Christopher Nolan's post Dark Knight follow up was, from the moment it was even announced, in danger of not being able to come close to living up to its predecessor. And, while Inception is a different beast than The Dark Knight, it not only met those expectations but exceeded them (at least for me). Nolan creates a new and unbelievably amazing world, with mystery and intrigue covering every square inch of the story. Watching the film felt like you were seeing something you had never seen before, and with some of the best actors of this generation, along with a story that feels tighter than a steel trap, Inception just couldn't be beat.

2. Somewhere - Sofia Coppola holds an incredibly special place in my heart. I saw The Virgin Suicides when I was on the fence about going to film school, and it was one of the films that pushed me into going. Somewhere continues Coppola's fascination with watching her characters, giving the audience the sense of being a third person, but very present, observer into the lives of characters that transcend the reputations and any "it" factor her actors may have. Her films have become, increasingly, like fashion shoots and obviously are heavily influenced by the commercial world. No matter her push for "realism", her shots are very tightly composed and thought out for maximum effect. It's as though Coppola is trying to sell you the lives her characters are living, and no matter how much pain they may be going through (real or imagined), as an audience member, you're buying it.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs The World - Edgar Wright has been hitting them out of the park for a while now. After his hit BBC show Spaced, he broke into the feature world with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. All three projects centered around Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and the three seemed to be unstoppable. Wright took a detour, though, in making the film adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Wright uses actors of uncanny resemblance to their pen and ink counter parts, and brings balls to the wall effects to the forefront, creating the closest thing to a true "comic book" movie that has ever been made - Not cheesy, but still faithful to the concepts and artistry of its creator, Bryan Lee O'Malley. While Wright excised some of the story from the 6 volumes of graphic novels, he brings the story of Scott Pilgrim to life in a lean and mean (and fun) way that, honestly, I'm not sure very many other filmmakers could do.

4. The Social Network - When David Fincher announced he was going to make a film about Facebook, there was a collective groan from the film loving community. Wait, this is the guy who made Fight Club? Se7en? The Game? And he's going to make a film about Facebook? Yep. And leave it to Fincher to take all that doubted him, put us in a collective headlock, and give us a noogie for not believing in him. The Social Network is tight, funny, and Eisenberg's performance as Mark Zuckerberg is both intriguing, cold, and funny. He proves himself a force to be reckoned with, and criminally underused. Aaron Sorkin's script is one of the most well written pieces I've seen brought to the screen. Leave it to Fincher to prove everyone who doubted him wrong. Again. When will we learn to stop?

5. Exit Through The Giftshop - In a true to form fashion, a documentary that was sold as being about Banksy turned out to be a documentary hijacked by Banksy, and would tell the story of the man who was trying to make a documentary about him - Thierry Guetta. Using Guetta's own footage to tell the story of the film he was trying to make, and how his own ignorance and stupidity brought about the camera being turned on him, Banksy and crew create the film that Thierry was SUPPOSED to be making - a document about the "Street Art" movement, but also tell the story of what happens when someone who really doesn't know what they're doing has too much time and money on their hands, and a whole bunch of "friends", who have spent years perfecting their craft and building their identity, to copy off of. The film is thoroughly entertaining and fascinating, especially for those interested in art and, specifically, the "Street Art" movement.