Monday, March 31, 2008

I Think I love my Wife (2007)

Based on a Eric Rohmer movie called "Chloe in the Afternoon" about a marriage & infidelity Chris Rock's movie "I think I love my Wife" seems to be an update on the theme. What may have looked good on paper doesn't translate too well on the screen. I understand that the theme is a universal one, and one that many directors have done. I guess the studio saw Chris Rock was doing it, and he would be able to put a hip new fresh slant on the old theme of marriage & infidelity. Only thing is that this movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama. There are some comedic pieces in the film that feel forced, and the narration that Chris Rock does gets annoying at times.

From the coming attractions I thought this had some potential, but after seeing it on cable over the week-end I have to tell you I was a bit disappointed. The film does have some interesting casting choices such as Steve Buscemi as George Rock's co-worker & friend. The beautiful Kerry Washington plays Nikki Tru the temptress in the story. Edward Herrmann plays the boss to Rock's character, and it's a shame they didn't use him a bit more. Gina Torres even plays Rock's wife Brenda. You would think with some good actors here the material would be better, but it isn't. A quarter of the way into the film my wife and I were looking at each other and talking back at the screen. When that happens a movie is in trouble.

I still have to take my hat off to Rock for getting the film made. I had heard he had put a lot of his own money into the project, and his heart was in the right place. Maybe the material needed to be re-written by someone else. I happen to be a big admirer of Eric Rohmer, and I've learned to appreciate them. I can't say I was always an admirer of his films, but they have grown on me, and I love what he does. What Rohmer does is inject reality into his film. Everyday people fall prey to the wandering heart. In Chris Rock's film I didn't feel that. I felt I was watching a sitcom with a lot of F words. I don't even object to the obscene language because we all use colorful vernaculars from time to time, but Rock's film does it way too much. Maybe casting himself in this film wasn't a good idea, but I understand why he did. After all Rock's name has box office potential, and that's what the studio was looking for. I also didn't like the ending. First what is up with singing a duet about "making love" with his wife Brenda (Gina Torres). that comes out of left field, and secondly after Rock's character Richard goes to Nikki's (Kerry Washington)apartment he runs away. It felt out of character, and not true enough. I understand it was a pivotal moment in the film, but it rings out as hollow.

The film is 94 minutes yet it seems longer. I'm sure Chris Rock will do some other interesting films in the future, but this isn't one of them, and if you want to see the same film with a bit more believability see "Chloe in the Afternoon". Rohmer does it so much better.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Body Double (1984)

What possessed me to watch Brian DePalma's movie "Body Double" the other night I really can't say. I'm a fan of DePalma's and I do remember always laughing at his tributes to Hitchcock in his films. "Body Double" is a film that takes strongly from Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and "Rear Window", and DePalma does it brilliantly.

Roger Ebert said it best in the beginning of his review of the film that it bears repeating:

"Body Double" is an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking, a thriller in the Hitchcock tradition in which there's no particular point except that the hero is flawed, weak, and in terrible danger -- and we identify with him completely. The movie is so cleverly constructed, with the emphasis on visual storytelling rather than dialogue, that we are neither faster nor slower than the hero as he gradually figures out the scheme that has entrapped him. And the casting of a Hitchcockian average guy also helps.'

"Body Double" is defiantly a visual film. There isn't much dialogue, and the film uses a lot of steady-cam shots that seem to give the picture a dreamy sort of flavor. When the film opened the picture got several reviews that labeled it: "being misogynistic and glorifying violence against women ". The film failed at the box office, but now watching it again I can only say that DePalma was ahead of his time. There are so many levels to the film. Whether it’s the suspense aspect or the eroticism or the tongue-in-cheek jabs and spoofs at Hollywood and the film industry, this is a well-made film.

The criticism that DePalma got because of the film’s overt sexuality and violence seems ridiculous and dated. Compared to the level of sex and violence in today’s films; Body Double seems tame to say the least. I really enjoyed the film again, and it was a bit of a nostalgic trip back to the time where advances in new equipment such as the steady-cam were beautifully pulled off. It seems that in these days DePalma has lost his auteur status, but he really hasn't. He is still a gifted and well respected director who has a very impressive filmography.

DePalma will always be tops in my book, and looking back at his work only proves it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

American Gangster (2007)

To begin with "American Gangster" has two good performances by Russel Crowe, and Denzel Washington. The picture directed by Ridley Scott is an interesting crime drama about the rise and fall of Frank Lucas a heroin kingpin from Manhattan in the early seventies. It is also about Det. Richie Roberts who eventually brought down one of the most powerful drug lords of America while at the same time cleaning up NYC's corrupt police force. This is of what epics are made for, but American Gangster doesn't feel epic. Instead it feels like a long "Law & Order" episode. The art direction and cinematography of the film is quite good, and it exudes that 70's era flavor. NYC was in decay, and the big apple had a few worms in it.

The performances from both Washington, and Crowe are good, but nothing we've already not seen. Crowe's performance echos Paciono's performance in the film "Serpico", and Washington's performance gives us a bit of "Godfather", and a bit of "Scarface" in his performance as Lucas. Like I said nothing we haven't already seen before.

Ridley Scott's direction is typical Scott. Long on atmosphere, and solid acting performances from his two star performers as well as other actors such as Josh Brolin, Ruby Dee, Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante, Ted Levine, and Joe Morton. I've never had a problem with any of Scott's films, but this one seems as though it could have been cut down. The movie is 157 minutes long, and the unrated version of the film is 176 minutes. Both Lucas & Roberts have said in interviews that a lot of the film's scenes never happened, and some Police officers that were involved in events depicted in the film have come forth and sued Universal for deformation of character.
The films truthfulness or lack of it doesn't hurt it. It is still an interesting film about the seventies and captures the period quite well. If you want to see a true account of the real Frank Lucas there is a documentary called "Superfly: The True, Untold Story of Frank Lucas, American Gangster".

If you like GOOD performances and an interesting story about crime & punishment in the United States "American Gangster" may be a film you might consider checking out.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hot Fuzz (2007)


I just happened to catch the movie Hot Fuzz on last night on one of the cable stations, and was thoroughly entertained by the film. Written by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and directed by Edgar Wright Hot Fuzz is a spoof on the cop genre. Mr Wright is also responsible for the movie Shaun of the Dead which is a spoof of the zombie genre. Wright plays it more tongue in cheek throughout the film, and there are some funny laughs in the film which you don't see coming. The only problem with the film is maybe it's length at 122 minutes. I enjoyed the story, and the set-up, but I do know that sometimes audiences want more laughs and quicker pacing, Maybe that's why it didn't do as well as it should have when the film came out. Yet the soaring, rocking climax of the film more than justifies any pacing issues, and I'll tell you if you're waiting for the explosions and gunfire you won't be disappointed.

All in all I liked this film, and I had a fun time. Simon Peg also wrote the screenplay along with Wright, and he has a ball playing the character of Sgt. Nicholas Angel. There is even some dialogue of typical one-liner's characters say in these types of movies, which is pretty hilarious. Wright also plays a homage to such films as "Bad Boys", and "Point Break". You've got to love a director who knows his material.

If you want to see an effective spoof on the cop-buddy genre this movie wont disappoint. It also has some great performances by Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, and Edward Woodward of the old TV series the Equalizer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

John Adams (2008)


"John Adams" the mini series that is showing on HBO on Sunday nights is a interesting film about the man who served as our second president, and who many consider the voice of "The Declaration of Independence". Staring Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as his wife Abigail the series could be easily called John & Abigail since it describes their 54 year old marriage and love story. With that and the backdrop being the revolutionary war "John Adams is a dramatic piece of film making. Budgeted at over or about 100 million dollars the production value of the series is fantastic. The actors, the sets, and even the costumes are stellar. Produced by Tom Hanks's company Playtone, and HBO "John Adams" is a film that shows how the characters lived back then with unflinching candor.

The screenplay written by David McCullough is one that portrays how the events actually transpired. McCullough wrote his Pulitzer prize novel about John Adams by doing his research. Letters notes, diaries are were all read as research into the characters and the time of the period.

You can see how lovingly the film is produced. Flawless camera shots are littered throughout the production, and it shows the care that HBO and Hanks had for the material.

I promised myself that I wouldn't get involved in another long mini-series, but the first two episodes hooked me, and the coming attractions intrigue me. It's like getting a history lesson without the boring lecture. I being a fan of history it isn't too hard for me to love this mini-series, but I think others would find it interesting and not boring at all. I hear that in May HBO will release the DVD of the mini series, and maybe more people will get a chance to see the film that way. Variety reported that 2.5 million people watched the series on HBO last Sunday night, which isn't too bad. Apparently it's better then some other premier series such as "Rome". For me "John Adams" is a hit and one where I'll gladly say viva the revolution! Thanks HBO for quality programming!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No Country for Old Men (2007)


I had heard a lot about this film, and when it got nominated for several Academy Awards my interest peaked, but as much as I love the Coen Brothers I just didn't have the time to see this film until now on DVD. I thought the film was a strong character piece where the landscape played an important part in the narrative. I don't know what else to say about this movie that hasn't been said before. I came away from the movie knowing that I had seen a good piece of cinema. They say they don't make good films these days but "No Country for Old Men" is proof that they do. I've been a fan of the Coen brothers since "Blood Simple". In fact my film "Deadly Obsessions" was an attempt in trying to make a film like "Blood Simple" albeit on a radically lower budget then the Coens. Part action adventure, part film noir, part crime drama "No Country for Old Men" is a film that will stay with you long after you see it, and good films do that. The three characters we're most interested in are: Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin). All three characters propel the movie forward and make the movie a fascinating view.

Now in the past maybe this type of film would have been relegated to the drive in, and would be one more B movie that would come and go. The film would probably star a Lee Marvin as it's star or perhaps a Charlie Bronson, but in today's Hollywood B movies are given A+ budgets and released in mass. These types of story have been written in time memorial by such authors as Jim Thompson, Dashell Hammet and Micky Spillane. A lot of these stories were turned into films long ago, and have been remade and repackaged as new. That's what "No Country for Old Men" is a repackage film noir, action adventure, crime drama. Only this time the Coens put their masterful touch to the genre and presto change-o you have something that once was old is now new.

The performances, the cinematography, and even the art direction all lend themselves to a movie that is unique yet familiar to us all. I really liked the film, and there is some criticism as to the way the movie ends, but I saw nothing wrong with the way it ends. All it's characters are done, and the story is complete. The characters move on, and fade into the sunset.

I don't know about you but I only buy DVD's of films that I like, and that I want to see again. "No Country for Old men" will be in my permanent collection for some time. It's a movie that stays with you, and it's a well crafted film that does deserve the awards it has earned.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Amy Walker: Actress Extraordinar



I first read about Amy Walker in the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is an actress who lives here in Philly. Her video of her doing 21 accents was posted to some web site called Break.com. Within days the video got several hundred thousand hits. The video turned "viral", and Amy has since been on the Today show with Matt Lauer & Meredith Vieira.

Why write about Ms Walker? Simply put she has talent, and in order to make a film you need some good talent in front of the camera. I know some producers treat actors and actresses like cattle. A lot of directors & producers treat actors as props to move within the frame of their film and no more, but Ms Walker is the real deal. Take a look at her videos on YouTube. She's the whole package. I'd kill to work with actors of such caliber. I was fortunate to work with them in my film. It is that privilege of working with such creative spirits that compels me forward. There is no high better, and there is no substitute when a scene comes together. No matter how long I'm on this earth I'll always marvel at what good actors can do. I love directing them, and working with them.

It's pretty cool to see an actress get some publicity. I hope Ms Walker gets to preform for a long, long time. What's even cooler is that she lives in my city. Maybe someday again, if the stars all align, I would love to work with a performer as talented as she is. It makes film making worth while. Good luck Ms Walker!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Film vs. Digital Video

Okay so the debate has raged on for so long that there are converts on both sides. Coming from a film background I happen to like the digital video. Like I always said tape is cheap, film isn't. The other day I came across a article in Government video by Wayne Cole. The title of the article was "The impact of compact", and he had some things to say that I've been concerned about, and why I still haven't abandoned film.

To boil it all down the article dealt with resolution of DV cameras. This included DV, HDV and XD CAM HD. To quote the article:

"Video resolution is related to the luminance bandwidth in the recorded signal. Smaller imagers capture less light and therefore less resolution. Lossy compression formats like DV, HD, and XD CAM HD are based on throwing out high-frequency information that will be least noticed by the human eye. In other words resolution is sacrificed in the hopes that viewers will not notice."

This is what has always bothered me. Being a lover of cinematography, and it being my first love in filmmaking I've always been not happy with DV's compression. Many DV cameras use 1/3-inch imaging chips followed by 10:1 DCT compression with 4:1:1 sampling for NTSC.

"The reason that this high compression rate works is that smaller chips don't capture more resolution then the DV format can deliver"

That's where I see DV and even HDV flawed. The article goes on in more detail and should be required reading if you're looking to buy a camera. In the end even the HDV format is compressed, and offers no more clarity then what is out there now. Some people would disagree I know, but no matter what you do the image you are going to capture will be compressed, and therefore be degraded. How much that degradation is up to many different factors like chip size, digital signal processing and codecs that the camera uses.

When shooting film you get greater clarity and a better picture. Hands down. Of course your expense is driven up by film processing & digitizing to tape, which also can have its faults too if not done right. But I still think film is a wise decision to shoot on, and something that should be considered. Especially if you're spending ton's of money on actors, food, locations, etc. You can also always go back to your negative and scan it into the format which is at that moment in time the most popular and marketable.

The article was an interesting one, and something every indie producer should look at. I'm not advocating shooting film only, but if you have a film that you're doing, and that your putting a lot into it. It would make sense that you would want the best image possible, and something that will stand the test of time.

I'm told the "Once" didn't look all that great on screen and that was shot on HDV. I'm not saying that it was a bad decision, because actually the format works for the film, but the images would have been a lot more crisper then what they are. I'm also sure that Searchlight, the company that distributed the film put a lot of money into getting the film up to snuff technically for theaters. Just like "Blair Witch" got a $250,000 audio sweetening when it was distributed to theaters.

The way I look at it. Either you pay for it up front or wait until post, and pay there. That phrase "fix it in post" has always made me uncomfortable, and maybe that's what shooting in DV does for me. I'm not a big fan of fixing it in post, so I like the film route if I have the money. That being said I'm sure my next film will be in the digital arena, but you'll hear me more then once lament my love for film.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

John Polonia (1968-2008)


I just found out that John Polonia had passed away on Monday February 25th of a heart aneurysm. Now I only saw a few of both Mark & John's films, and I believe I met John way back at some convention whose name escapes me. No I wasn't a fan of their films, but I had a certain respect for the guys. They made a bunch of low budget horror films that got distributed and seen. John's knowledge of filmmaking and filmmaking history was astounding, and he LOVED what he was doing. In my book that's all that matters. So I feel obligated to write this in respect and admiration for John. He was taken way too young, and he leaves a wife and young son behind which is tragic enough. My condolences go out to his family, his wife and young son and all who knew John Polonia.

There's a great tribute here to John

Monday, March 03, 2008

Once (2006)


I finally sat down and watched the movie "Once", and actually enjoyed it. I know this has been revered as the little movie that could, and its win for best song at the Oscars seems to bear that out, but actually it’s a good film. Written and directed by John Carney the film is about a relationship between two musicians. One is a street singer, and another is a young woman from Prague. Essentially the film is about the creative process, and most importantly the music. We are given back stories of the two main characters through the dialogue, and we find out that love is something both have in common. One who is nursing a broken heart, and another who is confused on what love is and should feel like. Through the music we hear their conflict, and what makes the film so special is that we are privy to the creation of some beautiful ballads.

What I found interesting about the film is the style the director used in creating the film. The film was shot for around $100K and was filmed with two Sony handycams. The feel is almost like a documentary, yet we are seeing a scripted film. Carney has said in interviews that he wrote a 60 page script, and improvised some of the scenes to get the feel that we are watching a documentary. What he also relies on are his actors. Both Glen Hansard who plays "guy", and Markéta Irglová who plays the "gal" are in real life friends, and have preformed together several times. There is chemistry already between the two, and the two actors work off each other well. It is this alone that sells the film. There is no doubt that filming with a small crew and actors the director already knew created just the right environment for the three of them to work off each other. It shows on film, and it works very well. I'm sure the director shot a lot more footage then he used, but that's what the DV format can do for you. The film was actually shot with HDV.

All the elements came together for this film, and if you tried and duplicated it you wouldn't be successful. Sometimes a bunch of artists come together and mesh so well that they create something that's better then themselves, and that's due to the fact that everyone had a hand in it. Film history is littered with such films.

Once is a film that does that. The film is a beautiful example of when talented artists come together and do great things. Yes the film is talky, and bit introspective, but at 85 minutes the film does a good job with its subject. I have to say that the subject of the film, and the way it was presented profoundly touched me. The DVD comes with several behind the scenes videos, which may shed some light on the creative process the filmmakers used.

I also have to comment on the music since the film relies heavily on it. The music meshes well with the film, and if you take apart the music and listen to the lyrics you'll even find deeper meaning to the film. Once is a film that probably will affect you for sometime after viewing it, and in a good way. Seeing this film validates my entire philosophy about filmmaking, and that is good films are being made here and now in the digital age. See it with someone you care about.