Comments on watching and making films.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Strangers On A Train

NOTE: This post is a review of a Hitchcock film that was seen projected on 35mm at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN, as part of their Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense Series. These movies were not watched on DVD, but in a theater, projected on film.

Strangers On A Train is one of Hitchcock's best psychological thrillers. Farley Granger stars as Guy Haines, a tennis star, who meets the mysterious Bruno Antony (played by Robert Walker) on a train. Guy is in the midst of a love triangle, which Bruno knows about through tabloid magazines, and Bruno tries to entice Guy into a plot in which he will kill Guy's wife, if Guy kills Bruno's father. They both get what they want, the people in their lives that are holding them back are out of the picture. Guy, thinking it all a joke, laughs it off, and tells Bruno he's in, not realizing that Bruno goes through with his part of the plan. Now Guy must either kill Bruno's father, or go to jail for the murder of his wife.

Expertly constructed, Strangers On A Train is one Hitchcock film that is not to be missed. You can tell Hitchcock went all out on designing great shots to have, including one that takes place in the reflection of a pair of glasses. With large set pieces, including a major tennis match and a carnival, and a pretty amazing performance by Walker as a psychotic in sheeps clothing, the film is a classic. 

Django Unchained

Tarantino is one of the most contested directors of this time, and he leaves plenty of room for upset with his new film, Django Unchained. Spike Lee, in fact, who admits to not having seen the film, has already lambasted it. To him, and others, I can only say - chill out. I saw this film with a very heavily mixed audience, and the one thing I can say about it is this - We all sat in that theater, for almost three hours mind you, and laughed at the same jokes, jumped in our seats at the same surprises, and cheered for the same good guy(s).

I don't think that Django Unchained, the story of a slave set free by a bounty hunter in exchange for help with capturing some pretty awful people, has an ounce of inflammatory filmmaking in it. It is Tarantino at what he does best - Pulp Fiction (conveniently the title of one of his films). It's funny, it's violent, it's action packed, and in the end, (SPOILER ALERT) the good guy wins.

I had a lot of fun watching this, and everyone else who was there had a lot of fun watching it. It's a great movie. One of my favorites of 2012.

Blackmail and Murder! Double Feature

NOTE: This post is a review of a Hitchcock film that was seen projected on 35mm at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN, as part of their Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense Series. These movies were not watched on DVD, but in a theater, projected on film.

Most average American's don't realize the fact that Alfred Hitchcock's career began in the silent cinema in England. The Belcourt showed two of his early sound films, Blackmail and Murder!. Both are fairly simple stories, Blackmail is about a woman who accidentally murders a man who is trying to take advantage of her. She runs from the scene, but not without a panhandler seeing her. She thinks she may have gotten away with it, with the help of her Scotland Yard detective boyfriend, but soon enough, the panhandler reappears, and he wants compensation to keep his mouth shut. Murder! feels like it may have been a partial inspiration for Twelve Angry Men. A woman is found murdered, most likely by the hand of her dazed and confused roommate. Even though he caves to the pressure, and votes her guilty, one of the members of the jury believes her to be innocent, and sets out on a quest to prove it.

I'm not a huge fan of pre-war filmmaking. I know that's sacrilege, but the era these are from is especially awful because, with the advent of sound technology, filmmakers literally had to redefine the way they made films. Everything seems clunky about them - the dialogue, the acting, the way that they're edited together. Both of them have good moments, but, as a whole, are a little difficult to watch.

Rear Window

NOTE: This post is a review of a Hitchcock film that was seen projected on 35mm at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN, as part of their Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense Series. These movies were not watched on DVD, but in a theater, projected on film.

Rear Window is kind of amazing in that it almost pre-supposes things like reality TV. The whole premise of the movie is based on how much people are fascinated with other people's "normal" lives. Jimmy Stewart plays LB Jefferies, a photographer who has been injured and laid up in his apartment. He spends all of his time in a wheelchair, watching the lives of his neighbors, through their windows. One day, though, he thinks that he might have witnessed one of the neighbors, a man by the name of Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) murder their wife.

Hitchcock does an amazing job at giving you the run around here. Most of the time, you're not quite sure whether Thorwald did it or not. Every time Jefferies seems to come up with some bit of evidence against him, there's evidence that say's he didn't do it. The more obsessed Jefferies becomes, the cloudier things get. I think it's an interesting comment, too, that he gets his girlfriend and nurse involved in the spying. They are both hesitant, at first, but eventually fall into the paranoia, much like a show like Honey Boo-Boo will start off with a few watchers, and balloon based on how many crazy and stupid things that little girl and her family can cram into an episode.


NOTE: This post is a review of a Hitchcock film that was seen projected on 35mm at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN, as part of their Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense Series. These movies were not watched on DVD, but in a theater, projected on film.

Rope is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. I had seen it years and years ago on DVD, but had always wanted to see it on the big screen. Rope is the story of two post college grads, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), upper crust society types, who decide to try and commit the perfect murder by killing a "lesser" friend of theirs, right before a party in which his parents and girlfriend are some of the guests. They stuff his body into a large trunk that sits in the very living room they are entertaining their guests in. But the two can't seem to keep it together. Between Brandon's "it's written all over my face" non-gloating, and Phillip's paranoia, they tip off one of the party guests, Rupert (played by Jimmy Stewart) that something is wrong.

Rope was based on a stage play, and, I would imagine, is even more suspenseful in that arena. However, Hitchcock does a pretty amazing job at mining every bit of suspense and awkwardness that he can from the film. Often times thought of as one of Hitch's lesser films because of it's "single take" set up, the lack of cuts actually helps to keep the feel of watching a live play.


Looking back on this year, it has been more than I had assumed possible, I suppose. In 2012, a few major things happened -

- I paid off the initial production costs for PHX
- We achieved a solid second pass of PHX that will, hopefully soon, become a very close to completed third pass of the film
- I edited a lot of stuff, improving my skills, and finally had enough pieces I felt confidant about to build an editing reel
- I got to shoot with Rhys Darby at Bonnarroo for five days
- My friend Jeremy Adams and I began to shoot a short documentary on Nashville artist Herb Williams, which I hope will be coming out soon in the new year

Most of all, though, I feel like I graduated this year. I feel like, with the experience that has been afforded me, I can say that I'm an editor and a shooter. I still have things to learn and more experience will only make me better, but, it was kind of like the realization of finally being able to call myself a director after PHX was shot. I feel like I'm finally "growing up", so to speak.

What does 2013 hold? Well, as stated above, the release of that Herb Williams doc. Also, I'm really hoping for PHX to be finished. We have some technical and financial hurtles to pass through, but we're still moving forward. Jeremy and I will also be shooting another piece in Seattle in February, and have a couple of more ideas on the slate. I finished the first draft of Midway Park, and will be revising that, as time allows. Could we possibly be shooting Midway Park by the end of the year? Who knows... Anything could happen, but that would be pretty awesome!

Ultimately, though, what I hope 2013 holds is this - I want to make films, become better at what I do, and have fun doing it (and, making good money at it would be nice, as well).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Loneliest Planet

Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet is an incredibly subtle piece of filmmaking. At times, too subtle for its own good, but, for the most part it works. Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg play a young couple who are traveling through an area of the world that used to be part of the Eastern Bloc countries. They hire a guide to lead them across the wilderness, and, like life, on a long enough time line, things go wrong, and test their relationship to its limits.

The Loneliest Planet is beautifully shot, though some of those shots, specifically the extremely wide ones of the characters walking across vast expanses, seem like filler. The acting is first rate. I never had a moment where I didn't buy these characters as who they were, and, while it is admirable that Loktev stuck with the reality of trips like that - Lots of hiking, which, after a while can be really boring - It sometimes makes the film a little boring. I had a full range of emotions while watching this film, from intrigued, to sad, to angry, to bored, to amazed. I would say The Loneliest Planet isn't perfect, but it's still pretty amazing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Also working on -

An, as of yet, untitled short documentary on artist Herb Williams, with my friend Jeremy Adams. He's shooting, I'm editing. We also have several more in the works. Good to be busy.

Above is a non color corrected screen grab from the raw footage.

Midway Park - Update

I'm almost 60 pages into the first draft. Pretty excited about it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Sessions

The Sessions is a rare and amazing film that I think too few people will get a chance to experience in the theater, either because it's not available where they are, or they are too shy to go see it because of its subject matter. The story centers around poet and journalist Mark O'Brien (played by John Hawkes), who has a disfunction that has robbed him of the use of his muscles and keeps him in an Iron Lung most of the time. After doing a story on sex and the handicapped, Mark decides that he wants to try and have sex, to see if it is something he can do and enjoy. With the blessing of his confidant, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), he hires a sex surrogate, Cheryl, played by Helen Hunt.

The Sessions approaches its subject matter with a certain dignity and respectful nature, being sure to simply tell the story how it is, and not try and stoke the audience into feeling sorry for O'Brien. I think that is one of the things I liked most about it - They never went for any kind of cheap sympathy, or tried to make you cry, director Ben Lewin simply told the story of a man seeking help to feel whole, while still trying to stay connected to, and honor, the traditions he holds dear.

I really enjoyed this film, and I really hope people take a chance to see it. It really is something special.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly is a great mix of those 1970's small time gangster pictures, and a more modern cinematic aesthetic. Directed by Andrew Dominik, whose previous film The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, was a stroke of cinematic genius, Killing Them Softly reteams him with star Brad Pitt, who plays Jackie, an enforcer who has to set things straight when a couple of low level doofus's knock over one of the mob's card games.

Pretty much everyone turns in a great performance in this movie, which is overtly about America and its seedy reality, but, is in a smaller way about growing old and tired. Again, the cinematography is gorgeous, the editing flawless, and the story is fantastic.