Monday, February 11, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

So I finally got to see the documentary "Won't You Ne My Neighbor?" directed by Morgan Neville.  I had heard a lot of good things about the film, so I was excited to finally see it.  What I can say is that it is an emotional piece about a man who literally helped many children understand about growing up.   Roger's became an advocate for children and fought for good educational programming that would help children through the perils of growing up.  In the film we learn when and how "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" came into existence, and how Fred Rogers developed the concept.  It is quite moving to see how Roger's comes up with the concept of "Mister Roger's Neighborhood".  I can say that I was one of the kids "Mister Roger's neighborhood" was preaching to.  I remember vividly sitting down and watching Fred Roger's go through his day and learning new things.  All before I even set foot into a classroom.   Roger's was our guide into growing up, and he tackled problem like death, anger management, and how to not be scared of the world around us.  I am reminded now today how civility and just plain caring has gone out of fashion.  Mister Roger's Neighborhood taught us that someone cared for us, and that we were all special.  The documentary tells me a lot of things about the program but not about the man.

What I was disappointed in was that I really did not get to know who Fred Roger's was?  Why did he do the things he did?  I am given an individual who is well meaning, and very civil, but I do not know anything about him.  We are told that he grew up a privileged child, and that he may have been bullied due to his size, but I did not hear why he did what he did.  I understand he was in divinity school where he was training to become a priest.  That's about all I know, and I'm afraid that's all we get to know.  I understand that Rogers had passed away, and that the documentary is about him through the eyes of others, but because of this I get a picture of only one side of the man.

I would think that the filmmaker could have gotten a more detailed picture of Fred Rogers through other people.  Classmates, friends, and or teachers could have shed more of a light on the character of Fred Roger's. 

Sure it seems as though "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" is a program out of time, and that such a program would not work in today's society with social media, and commercialism of children's TV.  But Fred Roger's was the linchpin of the show and that speaks to the power of Roger's character.  Roger's made the show a success because of his communication with children.  He had an uncanny act of understanding what children were feeling and what they wanted.  That's what I was interested in, and what makes Roger's such a unique individual.

I wanted to know more about him, and why he did the things he did.  Roger's character seemed to be framed by the question of "was he always that nice"?   That questions seems to define the character of Fred Roger's, yet it does nothing to really tell us anything about him.  We see Roger's wife, and his two son's but they do not say anything about him that would give us a definitive look into the man's character and his motives. 

At one point in the documentary we're told of Roger's anger at programming for children, but we are not given anything to tell us why.  Instead we are given clips of Saturday morning cartoons, and other shows like the "Banana Splits, or "The Soupy Sales show" which were successful kids shows that were unlike "Mister Roger's Neighborhood".  No critics, no teachers, no professors on media are given a chance to talk about children's programming, and what Fred Roger's was doing.

There isn't enough on Fred Roger's to make me care. We're told he did not see doctors, and that he had stomach ailments, and he eventually got sick and passed away.  There is footage of Roger's early on when he begins "Mister Roger's Neighborhood", but again there is no really definitive interview of him.

It's as though we want to create a mythic figure of Fred Roger's when in fact he was a human being like al the rest of us who had challenges.  It is those challenges that I would like to see.   Instead Roger's himself is glanced over superficially and it hurts the film.

I did find Roger's life interesting, and wanted to know more.  But more the personal Roger's then the public figure.  Maybe that will come out in the biography that Hollywood is doing of him starring Tom Hanks, but I still feel that I'm being forced feed this image of Roger's that may not be all too true.  I still think that the most definitive film about the man is yet to be made, and I hope to see it someday because the man is worth more exploration then this film gives him.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Sopranos: 20 years Later

This week marks the 20th anniversary since the television show"The Sopranos" debuted on HBO, and with all the celebrations going on this week I wanted to put in my two cents about the series.

It feels like only yesterday that we were all talking about the show.  Every Sunday night HBO would air the show, and by Monday we were all talking about it.  the show seemed to capture our imagination, and we were always drawn back to it no matter what happened each week.

The Sopranos was about a family in New Jersey that happened to be in the mob.  Tony Soprano was the head of this family and it was his character that drew us in every Sunday night.  Of course James Gandolfini had a lot to do with us coming back to the show each week.  Along with the cast of Edie Falco James Gandolfini and Falco turned a unusual drama into a weekly viewing ritual.  I am of course not listing the others such as Steven Van ZandtTony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, and Lorraine Bracco and many more who contributed to the series and it's unusual trajectory.   

The Sopranos was a ensemble piece.  Each character contributed to the complex storyline that was the Sopranos.  It's been 20 years since HBO aired their last episode "Made in America" to a bit of controversy when the screen suddenly went to black, and it's sound dropped out.  America at first thought that their cable went out.  It's all that everyone talks about.  What did it mean, and why?

But I'm not going to talk about that.  It ended as it should have, and that was it's creators decision.  David Chase who created the series created a fascinating world of mob life with a twist.  The main character Tony Soprano played by Gandolfini is prone to panic attacks , and decides to go into therapy for it.  It is this idea tat turns the series upside down.  

In the past we have had many films that deal with the gangster element, but none like what the Sopranos did.  Why did we come back week after week wanting to find out what happens to our beloved characters.  It was through Gandolfini's portrayal that we gained sympathy for his character, and the characters around him.  Chase showed us the mundane as well as the brutality of mob life.  It was a contradiction to what we had seen before.

In the movies we've seen before we see sociopaths that have no morality.  They kill because of vengeance, or profit, or betrayal.  We never got a working picture of who these guys were.  not even in the Godfather do we know why Sonny joins the business.  We assume it's because he joins out of loyalty of his family.  Sonny seems to want retribution, and because of his family being threatened we have sympathy for him.  What David Chase does in the Sopranos is that he gets us to like Tony Soprano through his weaknesses.  We identify with Tony in a certain way even though he is a sociopath with violent tendencies.   We se him interact with his family and find a little of us in all of them.  That's "the Soprano's secret.  The performances are all stellar, and that's what really brings home these characters.  

We have Tony's mom played by Nancy Marchand who gives a stellar performance as a manipulative mother who has shaped Gandolfini's character Tony.  The family dynamic is layered, and through each episode we find out why things are the way that they are.  We even have two families.  One is Tony Soprano's immediate family.  There is his son A.J ( Robert Iler), Medow (Jamie Lyn Sigler), Carmela (Edie Falco), and Corrado "Junior" (Dominic Chianese).  Then there is his other family.  Tony's gang.  We have Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Silvio (Steven Van Zandt), Paulie (Tony Sirico, and Sal (Vincent Pastore).  Both families are close and both interact with each other.  It's this that keeps us tuning in each week.  The audience wants to know why and how our cast of characters gets out of their predicaments each week.  Their dysfunction is a reflection of us too.  No one is perfect, and seeing this crazy dysfunctional family makes us feel better.

Also the series is entertaining.  The show gives us love, lust, betrayal, loyalty, passion, and vengeance.   All at 55minute increments.  

When the show premiered there was no show like this.  In today's age where the proverbial cliffhanger seems almost a mandatory plot device "the Sopranos" never did that.  The series was the continuous exploits of "the family".  Each episode delivered shocks, and surprises and it sometimes horrified us.  In the episode "University" we are suddenly aghast to witness Ralphie's (Joe Pantoliano) sudden brutal killing of one of the dancers of the club that Tony owns.  The violence comes out of nowhere and takes us into a different realm of reality.  These guys which we are viewing and are interested in are brutal sociopaths with no regard to life.   Of course this is not the first violent act in the show, but one of many.  But it's suddenness is what made "the Sopranos" a series to watch.  The audience never knew what would happen, and though not every episode contained such violence when the violence did happen it made an impact.  It was a cold slap to its audience.  Why do we care about these characters, are we just as morally bankrupt in watching the violence unfold.   Maybe I delve too deep, but the show had an impact, and the show got people talking.

The show was and is entertaining.  The old bread and circus applied.  We tuned in to see who would be left standing each week, and the actors along with the writing made it a must watch for its day.  Today watching the show it still works on many levels and it plays well, but as a one time viewer when it originally played on HBO the show does not have the same impact that it once did.  Maybe it's because I already know the characters and I know what is going to happen.  What I am always look at are the performances of each actor.  I've been watching some episodes of late on HBO, and have concluded that the show works well because of these performances.  The performances are stunning, and the writing is as good as it can get.  David Chase really hit a home run with the series, and you can understand why if you see his earlier work.  Such shows as "the Rockford files", and "Northern Exposure" are examples of good writing.  Chase has an ear for dialogue and he creates complex characters that interact with each other well.  Just that alone makes the series re-watchable, and if you're a fan it's like visiting old friends.

Chase never thought that after completing the first season that the series would be as popular as it was, but the audience connected and  as they say the rest is history.  The cinematic feel of the series was what also contributed to it's popularity.  Chase is a lover of the cinema, and you can see that through each episode of the show.  It plays very well in a the 16:9 format which is what all TV's are now.  In that way David Chase knew that the wider format would enhance the show and give it a "bigger" feel.

50 years from now people will still watch the series, and it will speak to another generation.  The shows ideas and it's portrayal of an American dream turned into a nightmare is something that will resonate with future audiences.  Yet for me the show is a good example of a well produced, well written show with depth.  The Sopranos will always have an audience, and it will always be memorialized as a show that broke a lot of barriers for TV.  Scholars and critics will forever talk about the Sopranos as a show that broke ground on so many different levels, and that makes the show one for the ages.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

Orson Welles last movie "The Other Side of the Wind" was finally released back in November of 2018.   33 years after Welles' death in 1985 Netflix premiered it on it's platform.  The film had a limited run in theaters starting in October.  The film is a stunning piece of cinema due to it's editing and it's photography.  The film with-in the film concept is nothing new, and Welles denied that the film was autobiographical, but it is hard to say that it is not.  The film is about a director played by the legendary John Huston whose career is in decline and who dies in the end.  The film is about friendship, betrayal, and power.  It is in essence one long flashback into the director's last days, and who he was, and who he cared about.   Peter Bogdanovich plays a up and coming director who is friends with Huston's character.  In that way it is a personal film for Welles.  Being a friend to Welles was a challenge, and the film shows it. 

The companion piece to this film "They'll love me when I'm Dead" is about the making of "The Other Side of the Wind".  It is a real fascinating look at Welles at the end of his career and how he worked feverishly on projects that mostly were never complete.  His relationships with his family, and friends was a complex one, and when you see "the Other Side of the Wind" you'll notice that in his characters.

I find the film "The Other side of the Wind" a very interesting film, but it did not engage me as well as the documentary "They'll Love Me when I'm Dead".  The documentary was a lot more riveting then the actual film.

Orson Welles was himself a character.  No doubt he was a brilliant writer and director.  His films like "Citizen Kane", "Touch of Evil", and "Othello" are just some of his brilliance in the cinema.  He is a bigger then life character, and he is fascinating to watch and hear.  Just alone hearing his voice is something that makes the viewer sit up and pay attention.  He was an intelligent and creative human being who had presence.  Look at all the TV shows he appeared on.  Everyone was captivated with Orson, but like every human being we have our faults, and he had many.  Hollywood should have paid more attention to him, but he was ignored as a relic of the past.  Welles had his own problems as well, and he did not endear himself to the powers to be, but he was widely respected by his peers, and friends, which without them "The Other Side of the Wind" would not have been made.

I found the film a little dispassionate.  I could never find any love for John Huston's character.  The film flows well, and the film with-in the film is a shot in wide screen and looks beautiful, yet the film feels out of time.   Welles described the film as using several voices to tell the story.  Through conversations and interviews Welles uses many different voices to tell the story about John Hannaford the character played by John Huston.  I had no emotional investment in the character, yet the film is a must see for any of Welles' fans, or admirers.

Orson Welles pushed the boundaries of cinema, and in his last attempt he continued to push them.  The editing is flawless, and Gary Graver's cinematography is remarkable.  Their are so many styles in the film that mesh together quite well.

I do believe I'll sit down again and watch it because of it's techniques.  Orson always pushed cinema to it's limits and then threw out the rulebook, and did his own thing.  Through his work you could learn a lot.  It is sad that he died too early, and that their was more for him to teach us, yet I'm sure that Welles went out the way he wanted.  Planning, shooting, and editing future films, and for any filmmaker it's a good way to go out.  Going out doing what you do best, and Orson Welles did it better then anyone else. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Films Etched in the Mind

Okay so there's this meme going around called the top ten movies that influenced you.  John Oak Dalton did his, so I try it.  I left a lot of movies off this.  Just way too many good films to choose from, so I tried to make list them quickly.  I'm sure you can figure the titles out.  Have fun.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

DJI Osmo Pocket Camera

Okay here's a really neat little camera for those on the go videos.  The video is brought to you by our friends at B&H camera.  The results are stunning, and the size of the camera is even more remarkable.  You can use it with you're smart phone as well, or just alone by itself.  It's a lot less encumbered when not using your smartphone, but when you use your smartphone you have a better viewer to frame your shots with.  Either is good.

It also can take still pictures, so it makes for an excellent on the go camera for blog posts, and web based applications.  I am blown away with the quality too.  I'm sure sound isn't that great, but from what I saw for simple set-ups it sounds okay.

It's a bit pricey but at $349 it's not a bad deal if you use it for blogging purposes or you're an aspiring you-tube star.  I'm sure we'll see more of this in the future.  The clarity and the smoothness of the shots are really good.  Take a look at the video:

I have to say it looks great, and has many applications.  I am amazed at the quality.  I have just one question.  Whose going to be the first to use this gem for a feature film?

Why? You say.  Why Not?

I'm thinking this would be a great camera for shooting interviews or demo videos.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Ricky Jay 1946-2018

Ricky Jay passed away at his home in Los Angeles last Saturday.  Known for his superior card skills which lead him from the stage to screen in such films as "Heist", "State of Maine", "Boogie Nights", "the Spanish Prisoner", "House of Cards" & "Magnolia".  His talent was most of all his skills with a deck of cards.

It has been reported that Jay started practicing magic tricks at age four.  Jay's interest in tricks and cons lead him to form a company with his partner Mark Weber called Deceptive Practices.  He had several Broadway shows one of them called "Ricky Jay & his 52 Assistants" directed by David Mamet.

*"Jay’s film career hit its saturation point in 1997, a year in which he appeared in Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, played an adult movie cameraman in Boogie Nights, and popped up as a cyberterrorist in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. He reunited with Anderson for a double role in 1999’s Magnolia, appearing on screen as a game show producer and voicing the narrator, whose opening monologue plays to Jay’s talent for rattling off anecdotes of the distant past. In the aughts, he had a recurring role as a card sharp in the first season of HBO’s Deadwood, and continued his collaborations with Mamet, showing up in State and MainHeist, and Redbelt."

What I liked about Mr. Jay's performance was how natural he came across. His performances were stellar.  I always watched Ricky's performance in anything and I was convinced that he loved what he did.  He had a skill that translated well into film.  He was the guy who said it like it was.  Like his Brooklyn origins he never strayed too far away from what he knew.  His characters had history which even though not stated seemed authentic.  He was a regular on Late Night with David Letterman, and he could fascinate you with his stories and his ability to work his magic with cards.  I was saddened to hear that he had passed away because he was a true talent and a heck of a character.  His recurring character in "Deadwood" was something to behold.  When Ricky had the screen he had the screen.  I always wanted to know more about the characters he played, and that's what was Mr. Jay's talent.  Ricky made you want more as any good performer can tell you that is as good as it gets.

He will be missed and he is gone way too soon. Thanks for the performances.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Blogging in the 21st century...

I started another blog, but I don't want to abandon this blog.  They say the more you write the better you get, so I've double downed.  Being relevant in the 21st century is important.  Both on a personal level as well as on a career level.  I will not abandon this blog just because I've had so much fun doing it, and it's because of this blog I've meet and talked with some pretty awesome folks.  I will try and review more films since I like doing it, and though I'm no Roger Ebert I do enjoy it.  Being a filmmaker of sorts I find it hard to hate a film or not enjoy a film.  It either works for me or it doesn't.  I was always taught constructive criticism will make you better.  In a culture of attacking ideas and thoughts I find that counter-productive.

I have always loved and admired the "French New Wave" because of their collaboration with each other as well as their competitiveness towards each other.  They produced some radically interesting films.

I'm also closing in on my 500th published post, and I don't want to abandon that.  So here's the address to my other blog on wordpress:

Thanks for listening...