Friday, November 28, 2008

The Road

Okay so I had to write this while still being inspired. After getting my latest Filmmaker magazine I read an article about a movie called "The Road". It is being directed by John Hillcoat, and it is from a novel written by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is the author of the "No Country for Old Men", so this is not a story from an unknown author. The story is a post-apocalyptic story about a man and his son traveling across a burnt out and desolate United States. It is not an easy read, and from what the article author explains in Filmmaker it is NOT an easy film to watch.

The movie is being distributed by Dimension Films, and looks to be released in early 2009. The movie was filmed mostly in Pennsylvania, and was chosen for its tax breaks and its abundance of locations that looked post-apocalyptic such as coalfields, dunes, and run-down parts of Pittsburgh. The abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike was used for much of production. The director also said of using Pittsburgh as a practical location, "It's a beautiful place in fall with the colors changing, but in winter, it can be very bleak. There are city blocks that are abandoned. The woods can be brutal. We didn't want to go the CGI world." Filmmakers also shot scenes in parts of New Orleans that had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and on Mount St. Helens in Washington.

My wife and I have been to many parts of Pennsylvania and she can recall when I said that this would be a great place to film. Many of those locations were desolate, and far in-between known civilization. At $ 30 million dollars I can only hope that they captured the full extent of PA's location.

I had and have been working on a story about a post apocalyptic world, but much more scaled down then this. After all I don't have 30 million to spend. The article along with the photos I've seen on-line look very promising. I'm sure it's not a feel good film, and from what I hear it isn't, but I like the director has to say. He is more into depicting "realism" and NOT using CGI which sometimes can look fake as I've said in my review of "Diary of the Dead".

Anyway this looks to be an interesting film. I really like the "realism" angle. Sort of that Italian neo-realism that happened after world war 2. After all the studios were all gone, so filmmakers were forced to use locations as their sets, and to a large extent it was successful. Then came the birth of the French New Wave and cinema wasn't the same ever again.

Sometimes old things become new, and sometimes the older ways are still the best. My challenge is to use locations as part of the story, and use them effectively. Having too big of crew can be a problem and having to little can also be a problem. It is that balance that one needs to make an effective film on a budget that Hollywood would consider insignificant. "The Road's film website isn't up yet, but I'm sure in the next few months the film will get more and more attention, and especially because of its subject matter and the times we currently live in. Check it out and take a look. I think you'll be impressed and interested.

Dan in Real Life (2007)

I had a chance to watch the movie "Dan in Real Life" starring Steve Carell and directed by Peter Hedges. I watched this movie because my late grandmother loved it so much. She was a big movie fan, and loved comedies and family dramas, so I thought I would watch the first ten minutes of the film and see how I liked it, and I soon forgot about the ten minute rule, and watched it straight through. The film is filled with sentimentality. "Dan in Real Life" is about a widower (Carell) who is raising three girls by himself. Dan Burns (Carell) and his daughters are heading up to a family get together that they have every year. While there he meets a women (Juliette Binoche) in a book store while out getting a paper. They talk and share a cup of coffee, and fall for each other. But here's where the conflict happens. After Binnoche's character leaves and Dan heads back to the family he meets her again only this time as his brothers girlfriend. So hence begins a few days of torture for Carell's character.

Now I know it sounds a bit far fetched, but I have to say that Carell does an excellent performance as Dan Burns. He does a slow burn, and you do feel some sympathy for him and his predicament. Binoche does a fair performance as the girl caught between two brothers, but this is Carell's movie, and he does one heck of a job as a love lorn widower of three girls. This is Peter Hedges second movie he's directed. Hedges also shares writing crets here with Pierce Gardner. Both writers I'm a bit unfamiliar with their other work, but do know Hedges received an academy award nomination for "About a Boy" with Hugh Grant.

If you're looking for some holiday movies with a feel good ending then "Dan in Real life" is your type of film. The jokes and humor are not laugh out loud funny, but they are funny and that's a credit to again Steve Carell's acting abilities. Diane Wiest is in this too yet she does not have as much to do here as she Carell or Binoche. There are good performances all around by Dane Cook, John Mahoney and Brittany Robertson. The film in itself is well done, and something of a simple pleasure. There are faults, but they are only nit-picks. I felt that the scene where the family makes fun of a blind date that the family is setting up Dan with is a bit cruel. I know that when the girls eventually does show up she is just the opposite of what they all expected. There are a couple of scenes that telegraph the ending, yet they work in their own way. I'm sure the writing could have been a bit better and more realistic. After all it deals with a man who has lost his wife who he adored and loved. How does anyone coupe with a loss of a loved one is a difficult thing to write about, and yet this is a comedy and we can't get bogged down with heavy emotions.

Again I did like this film, and thought it sweet and sentimental. In the end we all know Carell's character and Binoche's character get together, but how they get there is fun to watch. So if you're looking for a sentimental and sappy film about family, loss, and re-discovered love then "Dan in Real Life" is your cup of tea. Just sit back and enjoy the characters, and smile. In the end that's what makes "Dan in Real Life" a film worth watching.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Diary of the Dead (2007)

So I finally sat down and watched George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead". I am a fan of Romero's, and I do like his work, but Diary is a film I was very much disappointed with. The premise is interesting. Have a bunch of students videotape there experiences as the Dead start coming back. Make them film students doing a horror film, and add your own irony to the film within the film. Throughout the film we the audience are subjected to the "narrator". You know the one who tells us what is happening and who tells us of her or his plight. In this case the narrator is Debra Moynihan played by Michelle Morgan. The narration seemed to get in the way for me. I felt detached and I didn't care at all about our protagonists. Also the narration is annoying at times. I can hear Romero hammering away at a point about civilization and whether we need saving or not. For freaking sake please! don't lecture me. I can figure this out myself. Ultimately the narration detracts from the story, and weakens the movie.

It seems as though Romero has also raided the stock footage cabinet. Romero has taken a lot of news footage from disasters, wars, and riots and added them into the film to portray the world gone made. I don't think this works effectively for me as well as the beginning of the Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" scene where the characters literally wakes up to a world of the dead, and Sarah Polley has to run for her life. The shot of a car zooming across the highway and one smashing into a gas station says it all. This all happens in the first few minutes of the film, and we know the world is in chaos. In Romero's "Diary of the Dead" he has none of that. Maybe it was due to budgetary constraints, and the way the film is set-up. I think Romero wants more of a personal view of the zombie outbreak, hence the name "Diary of the Dead", but that never happens for me.

Instead I'm introduced to various characters I really don't care about. I feel bad for the narrator Debra, but instead it feels like a video game, and not a very good video game. I always think that for a film to work you need to feel empathy or at least care about the character or characters. In this movie I didn't feel a thing.

There are some interesting effects in the film, but you can see that it was digitally enhanced, and that too takes a way from the film. Digital is good when done right, and done in scenes where you can hide it, but here its obvious that the effects are digital.

Also Romero is a victim of his budget. Romero adds a new side to the zombie film, but by now haven't we seen it all. The effects don't sell it anymore it's the story, and here it's the same old tale told a bit differently. In the end I just shut it off and realized I'd seen all this before, and wasn't interested in seeing it again. Sorry George, but Diary doesn't do it for me, and maybe it's time to move on to some more fertile ground. I still love ya, but in a media obsessed world Diary just makes me want to change the channel.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Ever since Daniel Craig has become the new Bond I've had a bit of excitement when another 007 picture is released. Now don't get me wrong I've been a Bond fan since seeing Dr. No way back when. So it's a little hard for me not to like a Bond film though there are some that I don't like, but Craig's introduction as Bond in "Casino Royal" was a breath of fresh air into a franchise that seemed to have run out of steam. Ian Fleming's Bond is a man who does what he has to do and it may not be morally right, but he does it. For Queen and country is Bond's operatis mondi, and he does it so well. The Bond films have or should I say had gone away from that and focused on the technology, and the fantastic villains that Bond was up against. Never did we get a look into Bond's heart and what makes him tick as we did in the last two Bond films, and that can be attributed to it's writing and Craig's acting.

In "Quantum of Solace" Bond is on a rampage of revenge. Only Bond does a slow burn, and we see every expression on Craig's face as his character goes through some hard choices. What makes the series viable and real for me is Craig's acting. He plays a Bond you don't want to mess with. Behind those beautiful blue eyes is a killer who will not hesitate to kill you if he must. He also portrays a venerability unlike other Bonds before him. His relationship with Vespar in "Casino Royale" is one that Craig makes us believe in.

I've always thought that James Bond the character was much more interesting then any of the villains or people around him. That's what invigorates me about the Bond franchise now. When I heard Daniel Craig was the new Bond I wondered, as well as did the rest of the world how the franchise would fare. But in Craig's hands Bond comes off as if Ian Fleming were channeling Bond's spirit. This is in no small measure due to Craig's superb acting abilities. Take a look at Craig's films such as "Layer Cake", "Munich" and "Flashbacks of a Fool", and you will see an actor who can play it all. It is no wonder that Craig plays Bond so well he is just that good of an actor.

Okay but how was the film "Quantum of Solace"? I've answered why I like Craig, and the new Bond franchise, but what of the film itself which was directed by Marc Foster. Foster directed such films as: The Kite Runner, Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball, and he does an apt job in Quantum of Solace. The problem with the film and this is a nit pick is that the cuts are fast and furious, and there is little time for the audience to absorb it all. I blame non-linear editing for this at times. Cutting on a 17 to 21 inch screen or screens and not projecting it can make an audience member dizzy. Yes I know it is an action/adventure type film, but there have been Bond films in the past that didn't rely on the fast cutting, and yet they still elicited gasps from their audience.

I know I'm getting older and the eyes aren't what they were in my youth, but sometimes the information on the screen is a bit overwhelming, and it forces audiences to go wow because they actually don't know what they've seen, and then it's onto the next shot. But this is my general peeve in the cinema today. Maybe I would do the same if I had all the toys that a big budget film like "Quantum of Solace" has at it's disposal. When I mean "toys" I mean Steadicam, blue screen, dollies, cranes, and other neat filmmaking equipment.

But I still loved the film. I loved Craig's performance. I loved seeing Judi Dench, and Giancarlo Giannini who are also superb actors in their own right. Three other actors need also to be mentioned and they are Olga Kurylenko who plays Camille, Gemma Arterton who plays Strawberry Fields, and Jeffrey Wright who plays the CIA operative Felix Leiter. All play against Craig magnificently.

For me Bond is back, and he's back with a vengeance. I'm setting my watch for the next one as we speak. Viva La Bond!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Christmas on Mars (2008)

2008 - Christmas On Mars - Trailer from George Hussein Salisbury on Vimeo.
Came across this film and thought it looked cool. It's playing till the end of the year if not the end of time: New York City at: The KGB Complex's Kraine Theater .

The plot you say what is it? It's Christmastime, and the colonization of Mars is underway. However, when an oxygen generator and a gravity control pod malfunction, Major Syrtis (the Lips' Steven Drozd) and his team (including the Lips' Michael Ivins) fear the worst. Syrtis also hallucinates about the birth of a baby, and many other strange things. Meanwhile, a compassionate alien superbeing (Coyne) arrives, inspiring and helping the isolated astronauts. You got that?

Now whose it from? Psychedelic rock band the Flaming Lips present Christmas on Mars: A Fantastical Film Freakout Featuring the Flaming Lips, a glorious science fiction film that marks the directorial debut of the Lips' visionary frontman Wayne Coyne. Seven years in the making, Christmas on Mars features original music by the Flaming Lips ("The greatest U.S. band today" - The Guardian), with acting performances by all band members, and many others from their Oklahoma City-based team. Comedian Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and actor Adam Goldberg (Dazed and Confused, Two Days in Paris) also appear, as does performer Steve Burns of the band Steve Burns and the Struggle (who had also appeared in children's television show Blue's Clues). Bradley Beesley and George Salisbury co-directed the movie with Mr. Coyne.

Hey any movie with Steve Burns in it can't be all that bad can it? Another way on how to promote your film.

Interested in buying the film check Amazon