Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Time Management

I haven't written anything here in a few days and I really need to, but I have no reviews, and sometimes I don't know if that's really what I want to be known for here. I've increased my viewing of various films that I've been interested in seeing, but haven't had a chance to see. It's a shame because movies have been a BIG part of my life. When I was younger I would always go see some films with a bunch of friends. In my teen years it was almost ritualistic. That and bowling I guess, but with a wife and kids now time has become precious. It's all about time management I guess, but sometimes time just runs out. Between family commitments and work time is a harder commodity to juggle. So hence this write up on what else time management.

I read an article where a study said that depression hits people a lot in their mid-years. It doesn't come all at once, but develops through the years. The studies researchers stated that this is probably due to the fact that either people in mid-life have seen some of their friends & family pass on, and value life a little more precious. While other researchers have stated that people in their mid-life realize that maybe a lot of their dreams won't be full-filled.

Some people suffer more than others but in our data the average effect is large," said co-author Andrew Oswald. "It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children. Nobody knows why we see this consistency."

So I have to say why do I still persist at this thing called filmmaking. Isn't it clear that you're not the Hollywood mogul you thought you would be. But here's the rub ladies & gent's I still have the desire to tell stories. It's not because that these stories are special, but maybe, just maybe these stories are worth listening to. I can't measure my success in million, but hundreds, or possibly thousands maybe, and that's all due to this thing we call the Internet.

Take for instance David Howell. Who you ask? David Howell that guy in Britain who video blogs. He's a filmmaker & fellow cineaste. I came across him and watched a rant that he did on his portable phone. It was quite interesting, and a bit inspiring because why he had the same thoughts as I did. Fellow film enthusiasts and aspiring filmmakers who have the same thoughts about this thing we call filmmaking.

There are a bunch of others out there too, and maybe that's what still draws me to filkmmaking. but the time management thing always gets in the way. We all live such busy lives, and all of us are trying to scrape together next months rent or mortgage. It's a hard thing for people to do, yet there is brilliance out there, and sometimes it inspires us. There is so much to do and say, but so little time. It's like the shy kid at the party. You know the one that's just bursting out to tell everyone what he or she can do, but instead stays silent because of his or hers own phobias.

How do you manage it? How do you get to the next project? By bringing down the walls. That's how, and I'm trying to do just that, but time.....

It's a motherF*er! Now excuse me while I spin out of control!

PS: I Like to thank the guys at Flickhead.com for their contest. Seems I actually won , and how cool is that. I won a copy of the movie: "He Was A Quiet Man". Expect a review of that soon. Thanks for sponsoring the contest.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

This is a great video about the digital distribution revolution. Panelists include Leah Meyerhoff, JERRY RAPP, Arin Crumley and Susan Buice. It fires up the old brain pan, and all of these filmmakers make sense. It's almost 58 minutes, but well worth watching if you're serious about distribution, and getting you're film out there.

Jamie Stuart Part II

Jamie Stuart makes short films about filmmakers. You may have read about him earlier here, or maybe on Filmmaker magazines blog. I think he's a talented guy, and I find his humor funny, and refreshing. There's an interview of him on the NPR website, and as a bonus there's a video of him making his film at Sundance in of all places a parking lot. Check it out if you get a chance.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Layer Caker (2004)

Layer Cake is an ingenious crime drama with layers of complexity that lifts it out of the regular standard crime drama scenario. Matthew Vaughn directs from a script by J.J. Connolly who wrote the novel also. It stars Daniel Craig as XXXX. Yes that's right Craig's character has no name. The name is never mentioned, and in the end it is suppose to mean something to us as the author uses irony to eventually show us the characters downfall.

I had no problem with this film. It is complex and a bit hard to understand due to the accents, but it did feel very authentic. Daniel Craig does an outstanding performance as a cocaine drug dealer who we sort of like, and that's the beauty of this movie. Who would think or even care about a character like XXXX, but we do. Colm Meaney is also in this film, and he does a great job as a guy with both shoes in the criminal an the legit world. George Harris as Morty also gives an interesting performance that is quite believable, and that's why the film works. It's believable, and the characters make it come to life. With names like Duke, Gaza, Angelo, Jimmy, & Kinky we the audience buy what the filmmaker is showing us.

As with any crime drama "Layer Cake" has a lot of double and triple crosses. You need to be paying attention, and somehow you do because Vaughn does such a great job at making us believe in this world.
Even at the end I was left guessing at what would be the end. Any movie that can do that has my respect, and my admiration.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Romero Alert!

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The latest Moviemaker magazine has a interesting yet brief interview with George A. Romero. Romero for those who don't know is & was the director of "Night of the Living Dead" (the orginal one), and it's sequels "Dawn of the Dead", "Day of the Dead" & "Land of the Dead". He's also done a lot of other films also, but that's probably where you've heard the name before.

In the article he talks about being an independent filmmaker in today's market, and he reveals some interesting tidbits on his deal with the "dead" films. For instance Romero does not get much from his films. It seems as though others hold the rights to them. The article talks about what he is doing, and what he would like to do. He was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Latino Independent Awards in 2007.

Romero is currently living in Toronto where he is finishing two more films about the dead entitled "Diary of the Dead" & a yet Untitled George A. Romero Diary of the Dead Sequel. Romero goes on to say about re-inventing the franchise, and getting a piece of it himself. I had always thought he was the heart and soul of the franchise, and that Romero was taken care of in the financial area. I'm sure he's not hurting financially , but I hate to hear that Romero isn't getting his cut. Maybe it's my naivety, but for someone like Romero to be kicked around like that makes me a bit angry. What in blazes do I have a chance to ever play with the big boys when the big boys kick an icon like Romero around.

To his credit Romero isn't bitter. He is a bit frustrated, but he still is actively pitching projects. I ask you could there be a benevolent executive out there willing to take a chance on Romero? I mean come on folks the guy has a track record that kicks ass.

Okay I'm done fan boying around. I must say I was invigorated by Romero's honesty in the article, and I even have a deeper respect for the man then I did. In February Romero turns 68
and he says that he doesn't know how long he can do this. I think for February I'll be blogging about Romero & his films. Call it inspiration, but how about getting a blog-a-thon for Romero? Show him some love. As for the picture above yes that is me with Romero after seeing a presentation of the film "The Crazies" at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington Long Island. I blathered a few words and even gave him a copy of my film. I never expected anything from it and still don't. I just wanted to tell Romero that he was an inspiration to me, and I thanked him for his work.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Match Point (2005)

Match Point is a film steeped in ambiguity, and how luck has more to do with our success then we would like to believe. Woody Allen directs this interesting crime melodrama that feels like a through back to those noirs of the 40's & 50's. The plot is simple: "At a turning point in his life, a former tennis pro falls for a femme-fatal type who happens to be dating his friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law". Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Chris Wilton a former tennis pro. At first we don't know whether Meyer's character is a man who is a con artist or a man who truly does like the finer points of life. His love for opera, and his fascination of Dostoevsky and his work seems a bit strange, but when he decides to commit murder you realize his cruel calculating demeanor is anything but false.

Woody Allen does a superb job at immersing us into a place where murder will be gotten away with and with no consequence proving that sometimes the guilty don't pay for their deeds. The movie is a bit lengthy, but it only does so to steep you in the characters world. A world of opulence, and comfort. Allen uses opera music several times in the film. "The haunting recording used several times in the soundtrack, including over the opening and closing credits, is the Enrico Caruso 78 rpm of "Una furtiva lagrima" ("A furtive tear"), from Gaetano Donizetti's opera "L'Elisir d'Amore" ("The Elixir of Love")."* Allen does this quite effectively in a few scenes, and it is quite chilling to see what he juxtapositions to the music and the respective image. It gives the scenes a bigger then life feel.

The cinematography is done by Remi Adefarasin, and the production design is by Jim Clay. The world Chris inhabits is one of sheer opulence, and through the cinematography & production design we transported into this world of wealth & comfort. The art direction is by
Diane Dancklefsen & Jan Spoczynski who do a great job at showing us a world that few only see.

I really like this film. It seemed a bit long for me, and my only nit pick would be that the set-up takes forever, but Allen does a wonderful job at getting us to like characters that we wouldn't ordinarily find likable. I do think that in the end Allen makes Scarlett Johansson's character a bit of a shrew, which is unfair. Maybe it's to try and justify Meyers' actions, but his actions go way beyond justification, and into the criminal. Johansson's character at first seems to be that of the femme-fatal, but in the end we see her as a very beautiful young lady caught in a doomed love triangle destined to fail. The movie leaves you without any really cathodic ending, and because of this I think the film is a bit stronger for it.

If you get a chance Match Point is a really interesting film with a lot of sub-text in it. Allen's refers to opera, and Dostoevsky throughout the film, and the film is layered with some interesting ideas on how much "luck" has to do with our success & failures. After seeing this film I began to get envious at how Allen crafted his film. It is something I wanted to do with my own film, but I really never had the budget to do it as grand as he had done. Nor do I have his talent for brilliant writing, but I'm working on it. I did feel as though the film was a through back to the late noirs, but without the stark photography of the period. I look forward to Allen's next film if he decides to go down this road again, and it's also really good to see some really good filmmaking by a filmmaker who few think have reached his zenith. I think Allen is just beginning to hit his stride, and he will be a filmmaker to be remembered for years to come. Of that I have no doubt.
*taken from IMDB trivia

Friday, January 18, 2008

Crash (2004)

I know its as though I'm jumping all over the place with reviews, but I'm trying to get inspired. I am a bit inspired, but sometimes it feels as though everything worth saying has been said, and still no one listens. Take the film "Crash" directed & written by Paul Haggis. Haggis is most known for his TV work on such shows as "thirtysomthing" "The facts of life", and "Due South", so the man knows how to write dialogue. I enjoyed the theme of the film "Crash", but what made it ring out as false was some of its dialogue. People in real life don't talk in monologues. We conspire and hide our true selves usually from the world. It's probably a defense mechanism of sorts because when we encounter other people we don't know if their friend or foe. So we don't give people a clue to how we feel, or who we are at first.

I understand the scenarios that "Crash" presents to us, but we are looking at a drama, and by its own definition we need to present conflict quickly into the plot otherwise there is no drama. "Crash" feels a bit forced. Take the scene where Matt Dillion's character goes down to the health insurance office to beg for his father's care. Dillion goes off on a tangent and mentions to the insurance agent a black women played brilliantly by Loretta Devine that his father is a victim of affirmative action. Now I understand his case, and the story that Dillion tells is interesting, heartbreaking, and filled with irony, but please real people don't talk that way. When I hear that I hear the screenwriter talking, and that takes me out of the picture, and makes me realize that this is fiction. Once that happens you've lost your audience, and that's something you don't want to do in a film.

I much preferred how they handled revealing Don Cheadle's characters mom. Through slow revelation we find out that she is a drug addict, and that actually Cheadle's mom loves her other son more then him. What Don Cheadle does with his expression as he learns that it is his brother that has been killed speaks more volumes then any dialogue any screenwriter can conjure up. That is the power of cinema. The image, and Haggis doesn't do that enough in this film.

I still think "Crash" is worth seeing. The cinematography is good, and the production values are all up there on the screen. There are performances in the film that are really good, and should be seen. The message of the film also resonates with me as I hope it resonate with others. That message is that we all have our problems in life, but together we make up a unique spices called the human race. A film like this should be viewed by as many people as possible. Especially in a time where people find themselves more and more alienated with each other. Is "Crash" a perfect film no, but it's worth seeing if only for the performances by this ensemble cast.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

Coffee and Cigarettes is a film written & directed by Jim Jarmusch. Since seeing Jarmusch's film Stranger Than Paradise I've been a fan of his work. Jarmusch's cinema is of the sub-lime. The dialogue in his films are natural, and sparse. The old saying that silence is louder then words can be said of a Jim Jarmusch film. The plot of Coffee & Cigarettes is a "series of vignettes that all have coffee and cigarettes in common". There are various actors who do a rife on various subjects throughout the film. Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Cate Blanchett, and a host of others are all featured in the film.

The film is shot in black and white by four different cinematographers. There is Tom DiCillo, Frederick Elmes, Ellen Kuras, and Robby Müller. The film is divided into eleven segments, and are titled. All the segments in the film do have something in common, but mostly it has to do with the art of conversation. Some are funny, and some are just plain sub-lime. I enjoyed some of the conversations during the film, and it is an interesting film to hear and watch. Throughout the film we do hear music from an off camera source, which adds something to the scene their playing in. Jarmusch does a remarkable amount of work for a film that only deals with conversations. He makes it look easy, but I'm sure it was anything but easy.

I'm sure it's not for everyone, and it seems more geared to the art house crowd, but it's an interesting experiment in the art of cinema minimal. Either you'll like the film or hate it, but whatever you're take on the film is you'll have to give Jarmusch credit for doing something different.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

XX/XY (2002)

Okay where do I begin with this one. Let's take the plot of this film. "Three friends begin a dangerous three-way relationship that spirals out of control, leading to dire consequences that haunt them ten years later." Okay so I took that from somewhere, but that sums up the plot, and there isn't much to begin with. Mark Ruffalo plays Coles a animator/filmmaker of sorts. Maya Stange plays Sam the girl that Cole likes, and meets at some party in NYC. Enter Kathleen Robertson who plays Thea Sam's roommate, and friend. They have a sort of a Ménage à trois one night and after Ruffalo's character seems smitten by Sam. Pettiness, and jealousy doom the relationship and the threesome break-up. We then pick up in the present day about ten years or so into the future, and Cole is a ad man for an ad agency. Cole runs into Sam one day, and old feeling are stirred up between the two only this time with other complications. Seems as though Cole is in love with Petra Wright who plays Clair, and Sam has broken off her wedding to a English guy in London.

Sound like a soap opera? Well it is, and I can only imagine how the filmmakers got the money to actual shoot this. Maybe it was the sexual liaisons in the film that did it, but even those scenes feel cold and boring. I wrote a script for my screenplay class when I was in college. The script was about twenty somethings doing their thing in the world, and it was set in NYC. I even broke down the script for a class in production management, and I gave it to my professor to grade. I eventually budgeted the film to be close to two million dollars. After all I was doing this with a union crew, and SAG actors at the time. My professor gave me a good grade for the breakdown, but he said he didn't know how anyone would finance such a film. It was very expensive, and didn't say anything. My professor was completely right in his opinion. The script was too self indulgent, and had no hook.

Somehow the filmmakers of XX/XY got the money to do their film, and the production value really looks good, but it is wasted on characters that the audience couldn't care less of. I did watch it to the end after feeling I'd vested way too much time on it, and I'd hoped it would get better. Unfortunately the film did not. Now I won't say that the film is a total waste. After all human beings aren't perfect, and we do some really stupid things when we think we are in love, but the film drags a bit, and Mark Ruffalo's character can become a bit annoying. Maybe that's what the filmmaker wanted, but I can see where some people in the audience would just give up and leave. There has to be some redeeming value in a character even if it's a false impression.

Also the last shot of the film seemed strained. I needed to see more in their faces. Cutting to a closing door and the two holding hands didn't seem right, or is it that the filmmaker wanted you to feel that. After all I thought Cole was destined to a loveless marriage at the end. But it could of played better for me, and in the end I ultimately didn't think too much for the story. In the end I guess the main reason I didn't like this film was that I just didn't care.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DIY: Driftwood

I read an interesting interview by filmmaker Sujewa with Pete Middleton. Seems Middleton made a film for less about 200 dollars. Middleton has posted his trailer and the making of his film onto YouTube. Check it out here when you get a chance. It's an interesting look at sub basement budgeted filmmaking.

It's an example of how one now has to drum up support for ones film all by themselves. Hopefully Middleton will succeed. I look forward to seeing his film. From the glimpses I've seen it is interesting, and I'm a bit curious on what type of camera he shot it on. Check out the interview, and then head on over to his Youtube space and take a look at his videos. Middleton is also looking for a distributor for his film. Good hunting Middleton.

Monday, January 14, 2008

On a Clear Day (2005)

So I just happened to catch the film "On a clear Day" starring Peter Mullan as an out of work shipyard builder who swims the English channel. Brenda Blethyn plays his wife Joan, and both actors contribute a lot to this film that makes me really like it. Of course I can't say anything about the film if I didn't mention Gaby Dellal's direction, and Alex Rose for the screenplay. Both work so well, and make this film an enjoyable view.

Now I've been reading other reviews throughout the Internet, and in print, and I have to say there are a lot of positive reviews for this film, and the ones that give it a negative review seem to drum up that it's a film that we've seen before. These reviews site the plot as a feel good movie about an assortment of cooky characters who do something enlightening, but all I have to say to these reviews is a big "BULLOCKS!"

What the reviews fail to say is that what is at the heart of this film is it's characters and how these characters interact with each other. Mullan's character is interesting, and we become a bit interested ourselves in his family as the film progresses. As we find out a little bit more about Frank (Mullen) we see that he is a complex character. The relationship with his son is deep, and maybe that's where it rang out for me. Relationships between fathers & sons as plot points in films and stories have been around for millinum, and when done right they touch a nerve and resonate. This is what this film does. It resonates with the familiar, and makes you root for the characters.
I'm always surprised to see how a film like this disappears from the radar. I mean why didn't I hear about this movie when it first came out. I can only say that it probably got lost in the choris of movie openings. With todays theaters more and more owned by conglomorates films like "On a Clear Day" never seem to have a chance to aquire viewers. Maybe a few specialty theaters and art houses and then it's done. It becomes just another film to head to DVD, or cable. It's a shame that happens because we do miss a lot of very good films, and make no mistake this film is an excellent piece of work. The performances are all stellar.
"On a clear Day" has no difinitive action scenes, or exploitative scenes for the filmmakers to hype, but what it does have is a solid story that will make you care for its characters, and shout out when they suceed. Catch it if you can I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hustle & Flow (2005)

After seeing Hustle and Flow I have to say that I really liked it, but there is something a bit disturbing about it when you think about the story. After all it's about a pimp who tries to break into the rap game. The pimp is played by Terrance Howard who does a great job, but the film does gloss over prostitution as not so much as a "bad" occupation, but something the characters need to do in order to survive. The film takes place in Memphis, and Howard's character is represented as a benevolent type pimp. There is one scene where I believe Howard shows the true nature of a pimp, but even that is restrained, and you know that it's worse then that in reality.

But this isn't reality is it. It's a film about creativity, and also how one needs his or her dreams. I liked the script, and I also enjoyed how the characters put life in perspective. Watching characters go through the creative process can be a boring endeavor, but Craig Brewer the director & writer of the film makes us interested in what they are doing. I even thought that Hustle & Flow could easily describe low budget filmmaking. With such pieces of dialogue as: "I'm trying to squeeze a dollar out of a dime when I don't even have a cent". I really liked that aspect of the film, and it kind of resonated with me, but showing how Terrance's character makes his money seemed more Hollywood bullshit to me then what people really do in order to survive. The whole prostitution thing seems sugar coated, and almost feels like a "Pretty Women" white wash of the subject.
This was Brewer's first film, and it's produced pretty very well, and it really works. For a three million dollar budget I believe Brewer got all that up on the screen and then some. Again it's a good film about the creative process, and how some of us want more out of life and try to aspire to better things. I liked that message, and Howard's performance rings truthful, but the sugar coating of what he does seems a bit false.

What should also be said about this film is the performance of two other actors. Anthony Anderson as Key, and Taryn Manning as Nola. They do some really good acting, and I love Anderson character who balances his want and desire to do something special, and his desire to do right and as he says "pay the rent". Look for Isaac Hayes as the bar owner also.
The film is a good first film, and it does say something if you listen to it. Showing a life that is probably 100 times more worse then it is portrayed is something that gives you second thoughts about the film, butI'd recommend seeing the film any way because after all if you want reality go rent a documentary.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Open Water (2003)

What can I say about a film shot on DV and made for about 180K. Open Water is an interesting film about two vacationers getting stuck in the open sea. The film is 79 minutes and it felt even that was too long. Don't get me wrong the film is wonderfully produced, and it brings a certain reality to it that makes it frightening, but as one reviewer said "An expertly made suspense thriller based on an actual incident, but on a visceral level it's about as much fun as watching someone pull the wings off a butterfly".

That little blurb says it all. I came away from the film drained, and yes I did use the fast forward button. I know how could I, but in my defense there are some scenes in the film that seemed to be just filler. I mean if I really wanted to I could make this film shorter, and still be effective. It's a one gimmick film, and when our two protagonists are finally on the water I was hoping that the film would kick in, but it never does. Open Water is a small film that I think would have an audience in the art theater circuit, but as a mainstream film I don't think it works.

What I am impressed about is the making of the film, and how the filmmakers made this film. It was shot all using prosumer DV cameras. I wasn't too happy about the look of the film since I saw a bit of aliasing within the frame, and I'm sure this was because of the DV format being converted into 24 f.p.s so that it could be projected on film.

The two characters also didn't elicit my sympathy. My pity sure, but not my sympathy, and that's due to the one dimensionality of the characters. All I know about them is that their busy young professionals, who really need a vacation. During their time at sea they complain and argue more, and I began wondered why don't they just try and swim for the other boats they saw. I did not know if they were novice scuba divers or not. I know one of the characters tells why it wouldn't do them good to swim for the boats, but I didn't care. It seemed a cop out. Their actions also seemed selfish. Breaking from the group seemed dangerous, and so when they are caught on the open water I thought about what Roger Ebert said about the "stupid decision" plot point. Ebert said that he hated plots that revolved around the character or characters making "bad choices". Had character A not done B he or she would not be in such a situation, and all character A had to do in order to get out of his or her predicament was to make a "good" decision or a number of smart decisions. When a movie makes you think about such things it's already lost me.

Open Water is a good one note movie, but that's all it is, and I always think that for 180k why did they shoot on DV instead of film. I mean the image still would have been better then what they got, and there are light weight 16mm cameras that they could have used. The Aaton XTR model comes to mind for me. I'm sure it would not have been that much more money to shoot had they decided to go the film route. It would have created such a better image. Of course with DV you can shoot more footage, and for a first time filmmaker which Chris Lentis is it may have made sense. Call me a traditionalist, but if you want to make a film that will look good, and have some future due to the ever changing way we present media I think film is still a very viable way to go. That's just the producer talking in me.
Open Water is a "good" film, which has an interesting story, but it fails to capture the audiences sympathy for its characters. The film is after all a one note film that leaves us in silence and not satisfied. I say that because what one of the main characters does in the end seems to be a cop out. I'm not asking for happy endings, but a bit more realism and a bit more characterization into the characters would have helped. The way the film ends now seems weak, and its as though the filmmakers didn't challange themselves enough to find a better ending.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

You would have thought I would have seen this movie already, but I never got around to seeing Forest Whitaker's academy award performance especially with all the hype it had. Well the hype was right. The Last King of Scotland is a film that is exceptional, and Whitaker's performance adds to the films tenacity. The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald who is familiar with directing documentaries such as A Brief History of Errol Morris, and Touching the Void. It is Macdonald's understanding about documentaries that makes The Last King of Scotland such an effective film. The plot is a simple one: "In the early 1970s, Nicholas Garrigan, a young semi-idealistic Scottish doctor, comes to Uganda to assist in a rural hospital. Once there, he soon meets up with the new President, Idi Amin". Garrigan becomes an advisor and slowly realizes what type of a man Amin really is.

The performances in the film are all stunning. James McAvoy plays Nicholas Garrigan who at first is naive and a man who is seeking thrills and adventure as well as trying to be helpful as a doctor in a poor country. Gillian Anderson is even in the film, and she plays a doctors wife who is sort of attracted to Garrigan. Anderson's part is brief, but very effective, and it sets up for us what type of character Garrigan is.
What attracted me to the film is the cinematography, and the way Macdonald uses it. There are zooms, and a bit of hand held camera work which made me feel as though I were looking at a documentary. With Whitaker's performance so convincing I was transfixed on what was happening was real. It's a good trick and one that Macdonald uses convincingly.
What bothers me about this film is that it is said that it is based on true accounts, and if you follow Amin's history that's partially true. The affair that Garrigan has with one of Amin's wives is true, but Garrigan's character is based on several people who were around Amin. The doctor who had the affair was a doctor from the hospital who commited sucide after Amin butchered the wife. Amin also ruled Uganda for several years. From 1971 to 1979 Amin brutally ruled over Uganda and commited attrocities that claimed a total of 500,000 to 600,000 Ugandans. Growing up in the 1970's I do remember headlines of newspapers claiming Amin a "cannibal", and the film touches on this too. So the film is a fictional account of a doctor who witnesses Amins accent to power and his decent into tyranny. The thing about films like "The Last King of Scotland" is that some people may consider the character Garrigan as real when in actuality he isn't. Films that claim to be based on real events do take liberties of the truth, and sometimes people confuse fact from fiction. But of course the selling point of the film is that it is "BASED" on actual events that happened in Uganda during Amin's reign.
There are a lot of historical and documentary evidence on Amin's reign of terror. One of those documentaries is a film called "Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait ", and it is directed by Barbet Schroeder. The film was shot by one of my favorite cinematographers the late Néstor Almendros. The documentary is a chilling look at Amin, and the type of person he really was.
The Last King of Scotland is a good film, and one that rightfully earned Whitaker his Academy Award. Go see the film, and be prepared to be stunned at how brutal one man can be to his own people. A really well made film, and one that shouldn't be missed. It's also good fillmaking at its best.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hostage (2005)

Okay here's another Bruce Willis action/adventure thriller that's not "Die Hard" but tries really hard to be. The plot summary goes like this: "A failed police negotiator turned small town cop, must save the lives of a family held hostage, which draws him into a much more dangerous situation". Add a few surprises such as the mob kidnapping the main character's family (Willis), and add a fledgling psychopath to the mix and you have Hostage. The film is okay and throws in a few surprises, but it's the ending that sort of blows it for me. Everything is resolved and ends happily, but somewhere in the back of my brain I'm saying "I've seen this ALL before".

The cinematography of the film is really something to note. Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci is the cinematographer of this film, and he knows how to frame a shot, and make Willis look oh so cool. The action sequences are well done, and the story is interesting, but then there's that ending. We all want resolution in a film, and not having it is something that's unforgivable, but this ending seems a bit false. Maybe the filmmakers were rushed, and needed to cut down on time. The film does come in at 113 minutes which is a bit long for one of these films, but so much does happen. Maybe it's too much and they needed to cut somethings in the writing stage.
My main problem is that the filmmakers do a great job setting us up to really HATE the guys who kidnap Willis' characters family. They do die, but not how we want them. Too fast, and in the end the big honcho who we've seen on the phone briefly barking out orders is NEVER dispatched. Will Kevin Pollak's character testify and put him in jail, or will Pollaks character do the deed himself.

Maybe it's just a minor nit-pick, but I wasn't to satisfied with the ending. I enjoyed the film up until then, and I thought Bruce Willis did a great job. Willis has become the John Wayne of our era, and he does it so well. I'm sure everyone will look at this film as another "Die Hard" rip off, but it does try to be more then that. We even have the dysfunctional family in the beginning like Die Hard does. Maybe the fault of this movie is that it was just too ambitious, and some of the writing needed to get a bit more fine tuned.
Is "Hostage" a great action/adventure. I'd have to say yes. Renting the film isn't a bad choice. After all it's a Bruce Willis film, and you know you're going to see major butt kicking, and if that's what you're looking for rent it and have a good time. But that ending. It could have been a lot better.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Music & Lyrics (2007)


Music & Lyrics is a pop infested cute romantic comedy which stars Hugh Grant & Drew Barrymore. Grant plays Alex Fletcher a one time 80's pop icon whose band disbanded in the mid 80's and who now makes his living performing his old songs. Drew Barrymore plays Sophie Fisher who is subbing for a friend who waters Alex's plants; she's a pretty good poet, and quick witted. Somehow Alex is offered a job to write for a successful young diva named "Cora", who grew up to Alex's pop hits from his band "Pop". Eventually after having no success on his own he stumbles onto Sophie and he somehow enlists Sophie's talents in creating lyrics to his melody.

Sound complicated or a bit far fetched? Maybe, but guess what this works. The film is a quick 98 minutes long, and the movie does fly by. The songs in the film sound so camp, and yet that's what the 80's sounded like. The original music is by Adam Schlesinger. The music supervisor is Josh Deutsch & additional composer is Clyde Lawrence . The tunes are catchy and do capture the period in which they were supposedly written. The beginning of the film starts with a faux type of video from Hugh Grant's characters band "Pop". They capture the style right on the money, and it's funny to watch how Grant and his band mates ham it up in the video.
Oh! and the story about Sophie and Alex is well done. It's light and airy, and it makes for a nice romantic comedy. Both characters are funny, and I also enjoyed the scenes in how they create their song. The creative banter that happens between writers is hard to capture on film without it coming out false. Here the creative energies between the characters kind of rings true. Grant is funny in a self sort of mocking way and Barrymore plays a goofy girl trapped by her own insecurities.
I'm not much of a fan of romantic comedies but this one warmed my heart, and tickled my funny bone. It's a great date movie and it never takes itself too seriously which is the beauty of the film. I also dare you to not come away singing the films songs. Their infectious and somewhat funny. The songs seem to capture a bit of innocence of the 80's where big hair and pop tunes were the norm.
I should also mention that the movie co-stars Brad Garrett as Alex's manager, and Kristen Johnston as Sophie's older sister. Both contribute to the laughs and make this film a fun and enjoyable view. For someone who likes the 80's and is a bit of nostalgic about that decade I think you'll enjoy the film. For others the banter between the characters and the cute story that happens between Sophie and Alex is fun. All in all a good little film to catch, and like I said I dare you not to remember the songs. Also catch the end credits too. At the end of the movie the filmmakers revisit the so-called video by "Pop", and put in a VH-1 type inspired retrospective of the band "Pop" by using their own pop-ups. To VH-1 viewers they'll know what I mean.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Typhoon (2005)

Typhoon is an action/adventure thriller from Korea. It is directed by Kyung-Taek Kwak and stars Jung-Jae Lee as our hero & Dong-Kun Jang as Sin the villain. The story is simple. Long ago Sin's family was denied entry into South Korea, and was betrayed by a South Korean bureaucrat. After watching his father and mother die, and being separated by his sister Sin has it in for the two Korea's. Sin along with his gang of modern day pirates hijack some ballistic missile devices, and buy some Russian radioactive waste. He plans to annihilate the two Korea's by spreading the radioactive waste with balloons set to a timer to explode over the two Korea's. In steps our hero Kang Sejong. He's a South Korean navel officer who is called into duty to stop Sin.

The budget seems extensive, and so the action sequences and special effects are plenty, but what this film can't hide is it's "pan-Korean nationalist sentiment". That's a quote from some review which I thought summed the movie up. To say that it's sentiment is strong is an understatement. It's a patriotic film to the South Korean national defense force. What I liked about the film was that our villain was sympathetic. In some warped way he is trying to avenge his families honor. It's a nice plot point. In the end the two protagonists duel it out on a sinking ship with explosions and fire all around. I guess American cinema does have it's imitators around the world.

The film takes place in many locations and has the scope of a big budget action/adventure. At 124 minutes the film is a bit long, and could use some cutting. The film is presented in 2.35 : 1 format, and it looks very much like a big budgeted Hollywood film. The interesting thing in this film is that the villains are a bit more well rounded. They do have the audience's sympathy, and it's an interesting thing to do to put in an action/adventure film. usually the villain is all bad, and when he or she buys it we feel no remorse. In this film there is a certain sadness. Even at the end there is a piece of dialogue that tells us that Sin wasn't as bad as he lead us to believe. For an interesting look at foreign action/adventure films Typhoon should be seen.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Reality Check!

I've been catching up on some movies I've been wanting to see, and never got around to them, so hence the mess of reviews in the previous blog entries. I have some more to go, but over the holidays something kind of clicked with me. My family had surprised me with some movie gifts in the form of DVD's. I've also been reading "The Portable Film school" by D.B Gilles., In the book he makes some interesting observations, and the one thing that stuck out was a chapter about loving movies. After reading this and seeing all the movies I've acquired I suddenly came to the realization that I've fallen out of love with movies. Maybe it's just that there are other things in my life that have demanded more attention. But the thing is I still LOVE films, and filmmaking. I began watching some of these films, and slowly began to appreciate them. I'm not going to say that at this day in age there aren't that many GOOD films out there. On the contrary there are a lot of films that are very good, and are struggling to be seen.

I've also recently watched a 58 minute interview with Jerome Courshon entittled "Secrets of Distribution". He the writer & director of a film called "God, Sex & Apple Pie". It is a film that has been successful for him, and I do remember catching it on cable one late evening. His comments in his interview are interesting, and thought provoking. After all the landscape to film distribution has changed drastically in the past few years. In the interview he explains a few things about the language of distribution, and the various deals that exsists. He also offers an 8 hour seminar in Los Angeles about distribution. From the info I got in the interview he's a knowledgeable person, and one who knows the business.

The interview got me to thinking about the reality of filmmaking. So hence the title of this piece reality check. At some point you have to ask yourself what do you want to accomplish. We all know the film business is a business. I don't think we're that naive anymore. Too much water under the bridge for that to happen.

There seems to be a small industry on the Internet that is made up of producers, writers, directors who give advice or seminars to the masses who aren't initiated yet into the world of film business, or film production. I even took one of those seminars from Dov S. Simen called "the Two day Film school". I learned a lot, and it did accomplish one thing, and that was making a film. The cold hard facts were all out there. Of course it's all changed with the advent of Digital video, but filmmaking still takes focus, and most of all talent.

I have to ask myself what do I want to do? What's my goal, and how do I do it with the resources I have? That is the key question. What resources do I have. Money can limit you of course, but with more and more sophisticated tools at a filmmakers disposal one can make a very good and entertaining film nowadays.

I still believe that it's all about the story so one should get it right in the writing, but as a filmmaker you also want to get your film seen too. It still seems as though that such genres as horror, thriller and action/adventure films are a good way to start. Especially if you don't have any well known actors in your film. The harder sell are dramas, comedies, and romantic comedies.

I've been focusing on one particular genre, and realize now that it isn't practical to do. I've worked on a lot of low budget films and they've jaded me, but I've forgotten about the classics, and how much I love cinema. It is possible to do good work on a sub-basement level budgeted film, but you have to LOVE it, and so I needed to re-evaluate some things and try again. Cheap, fast & good. It's going to be a mantra of mine, but one I'm used to, so here's hoping. Till then I'm immersing myself into the films I so love, and the filmmakers who inspire me. Maybe with that I can make a better film, and better yet I can be a better filmmaker.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Derailed (2005)

Derailed is a film that tries to be one of those film noirs of the late 40’s and 50’s. You know the movie where the protagonist is a SAP, and it’s the femme fatale that does him in. There are dozens of films that I could name that follow that formula, and Derailed is sort of a throw back to one of those films. Of course there is considerable updating in the film, and the filmmakers put a few twists and turns to keep the audience on their toes, and to put their own spin on this true and tried formula.

Derailed stars Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. The film is directed by Mikael Håfström ,who brought you last year the film 1408 starring John Cusack. As I’ve said before this film tries to take the standard noir film and turn it on its ears. If you’re a fan of the genre you’ll see the plot points coming a mile a minute, but what director Mikael Håfström does in the beginning of the film is interesting. Håfström creates a reality that is dismal, and made up of monotony & desperation. When the thriller elements are introduced only then does the story kick into high gear. Another actor who should be mentioned is Vincent Cassel as LaRoche our French villain. Cassel sneers and taunts our Owens’s character so well you really want to see this guy get his, and I promise he does.

Some reviews have said that Ms. Anniston had been miscast in the role of Lucinda, but I think the filmmakers wanted that. The character that Anniston plays is quite dubious, and at first we think she isn’t. In fact we are lead to believe that she is the victim. She does this very well, and so I won’t fault the filmmakers for casting her. They (the filmmakers) were casting against type, and it works. I was expecting her as more of the victim. When it winds up that she isn’t I was a bit surprised. There is no macho hero stuff in Derailed that usually turns a thriller into an action adventure film. Clive Owen plays a regular guy whose life is turned upside down. It’s a performance that won’t win him awards, but it certainly conveys the quality of the actor he is, and after seeing him in Children of Men I can fully say that Owen is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today.

Derailed is a film that works, and it always surprises me to see a good film fall through the cracks. Sure it’s not a film with a astronomical budget, and flashy filmmaking gimmicks, but it works as a pure escapist thriller, and is worth a view.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Hard Candy (2005)

Hard Candy starts off as a interesting film about a teenager turning the tables on a pedophile, and devolves into the standard revenge film. The film in essence is a two character play. Patrick Wilson plays the supposed pedophile, and Ellen Page plays Hayley Stark the girl. The film is directed by David Slade the man who brought you last years 30 Days of Night. This was Mr. Slades first film, and it's somewhat impressive. The film is shot a lot in very tight closeups, and it's style is intriguing for awhile, but at 104 minutes the film does drag after awhile. Both performances are quite good, and I'm always interested in seeing two good actors chewing up the scenery. But somehow the length bothered me. There is a torture scene in the film that will make some men cringe, but I didn't and the reason was that I had no sympathy for the character. Wilson's character at first is a bit dubious. Is he or isn't he, but his performance is such that you know that there is something there under that "nice guy" veneer. I completely admire Wilson's chops as he goes toe to toe with his young tormentor, but it drags. Too much, and just a bit hooky. I've heard that some people may find the violence a bit too harsh, but it is never graphic, and the filmmaker handles this well. In fact Slade does it too well.

The ingenuity and calculating manner that Ms Page brings to her performance is interesting, but I don't buy it. Sure her character rattles away about how she did that and how she did this, but am I to believe that a 14 year old can think so thoroughly, and plan so efficiently. It's too by the numbers. I did love the revelation that happens near the end of the film where what is perceived is really not. That was a cool twist, and if you see it you'll know what I'm talking about. What I didn't like is how LONG the scene that played out before it took. Talk about endless, and again NO I didn't care about our victim. I did care for our heroine, but again some of her psyche I wasn't buying. It was all too neat.

I did watch the film to the end, but I swear I wanted to hit the fast forward button a couple of times. The pacing does seem to draw attention to itself, and it made me think about what I was really looking at. The film is dialogue heavy and hey I really don't have a problem with that, but it does sound sometimes forced.

Hard Candy is not a feel good film, and it does make you think after the film is over. In a world where pedophiles can enter your home via the computer it is a cautionary tale at best. As I said I enjoyed the style in which the film was shot. The shallow depth of field works, but at times I had to run back the scene to see if it was me or the film. Sometimes the character is out of focus, while an element in the frame is in focus. Now I know that filmmakers usually use it to draw attention to something he or she wants the audience to see, but in most of the scenes that wasn't the case. The depth of field was too shallow and the actress was out of focus while her shirt was in. That took me out of the story, and hindered me from believing the scene.

So did I like the film? I enjoyed the performances, but I felt it was over produced. The director Mr Slade I'm told is well known for his music videos, and though he uses the camera and the editing to his advantage I still had problems with the story. Some say too violent I say maybe not violent enough. Especially when you deal with a subject of pedophiles and murder. I neither cared about our victim, and also didn't believe that his abuser was that powerful.

Maybe if Slade had introduced some weakness in his characters, or a flaw I would have bought the scenario, but as it stands I can't. It is an impressive first film, and I'm even more interested in his second feature 30 Days of Night. The one thing this film does do is that it leaves you with a certain uneasiness about it's subject matter and it touches on the exploitation of young women in the media. Had it touched a deeper chord about that subject maybe the film would have been more interesting, and relevant.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

District B13 (2004)


District B-13 is a film on high octane! Written by Luc Besson, & Bibi Naceri and directed by Pierre Morel this film flies onscreen at hypersonic speed. The film takes place in the future in an area known as District B-13, which has been walled up and is a no mans land run by criminals & gangs. The government has given up, and sealed off this section of Paris, which is now a war zone. Our hero Leïto was born and raised here, and he is only trying to survive in a desperate land, but when the police betray him, and his sister is given over to a ruthless drug kingpin heads will roll. Enter Capt. Damien Tomaso of the Paris police. A super cop who enforces the law, and is incorruptible. It seems that the ruthless drug lord has obtained a Neutron bomb, and it will go off in 24 hours if Tomaso doesn’t diffuse the bomb. Our two heroes forge a reluctant alliance, and off they go.

To say that this film does not have any action scenes is like saying Disney does not do cartoons. District B-13 is on par as being a well crafted action film. There is little to criticize in this film. The editing is super, and the cinematography is quite good, but that’s because Mr. Morel the director of the film is also a cinematographer, so he knows his visuals. Credit should go to Manuel Teran the cinematographer on “District B13”. Through Teran’s visuals I actually buy the filmmakers premise of a bleak future. The picture was shot in Romania, and by using the architecture of the former Eastern bloc country District B13’s landscape is quite convincing.

This leads me to Cyril Raffaelli, a stuntman turned actor. His performance is amazing. He reminded me of a young Jackie Chan, and the way he did his own stunts certainly adds to the films authenticity. The film is in French, and it took me awhile to get into the groove of the language. It is a quick language and I struggled at first to keep up with the sub-titles, but in no way did it take away from the movie. The filmmaking is basic. No special effects. Just special choreography in the fighting sequences. What ever special effects there was was well hidden and did not distract from the movie. On the movies web site it tells of how the filmmakers shot with camera speeds up to 150 frames per second instead of the regular 24 f.p.s. It was the filmmakers desire to show the audience how the actors did what they did.

All in all if you want to see a solid good action film go rent the film, and don’t blame me if you come away with a new appreciation of French rap too. It’s all très magnifique!