Monday, February 03, 2020

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

I took the family to see this late December, and I enjoyed myself, but I was experiencing several emotions while viewing the film.  One emotion is of familiarity.  Having grown up with the Star Wars films and it having such a profound experience on me as a young teenager I come full circle now as I view it with my own children.  I was glad to see the old cast again even if it was briefly.   It connected the film for me, and as well I enjoyed the adventure that the characters were on.  The music and the effect were all fine, and why would it not be since ILM was still involved.  It was a new cast for as new generation, and maybe thats where it gets emotional.   I saw Star Wars back in 1979, and it profoundly changed me and lite my imagination on fire.  I knew that I wanted to become involved in filmmaking.  George Lucas was my major influencer and I knew his work such as "THX1138" and "American Graffiti".  To make a long story short I looked forward to the sequels, and the way filmmaking was changing.

Its now over 40 years later and I am with my own family seeing the end of the chapter in the Star Wars saga, and I get misty eyed.  I am older, and its more behind me then it is in front of me, and I see the youthful ambition and excitement in my own children.  It's like I have to take a breath and say where did it all go?  I'm sure others say it as well.  It's not an unusual phenomenon.

So how is the movie you say?  After all isn't this a review of the film.  After all I did establish this blog way back when for reviews, and all things about filmmaking.

I have to say YES!  The movie is fun and exciting.  The critical side of me says that the story is weak, and that Disney brought back an old villain when originally Lucas never really wrote it that way, or saw it that way.  My oldest as well as my youngest even commented on it, and they have become a Star Wars aficionado's.

It was said that Lucas had a outline for his Star Wars epic saga, and it seems Disney threw that out.  Maybe they thought it was too dark, or that it didn't fit what they interpreted as the Star War's universe.  Whatever the reason the movie is weaker then the original films, and in fact makes you enjoy Star Wars I, II, and III better.  Lucas seemed to have a better vision on the earlier Star Wars universe then maybe he did in post "Return of the Jedi" time.

We'll never know.  But the film is worth seeing and I challenge anyone to say that they did not enjoy the rollercoaster ride of the film.  The film is structured like that.  In fact the film comes out of the gate quickly and doesn't disappoint in the action.

Is the movie a nice wrap up of the series?  YES.  Is it emotional for us original Star Wars fans?  YES!

Going forward the ball is in Disney's court to create interesting storylines and interesting characters in the Star Wars universe.  If "the Mandalorian" which is streaming on Disney is any is any example on what Disney wants to do they may be going in the right direction.  Time will tell.  All I can say is Disney better not get sloppy, and just produce product for the money.  Because money is guaranteed only if they stay faithful to the original series.

But back to the film.  "Star Wars IX: the rise of Skywalker" is a nice send off.  One that can be emotional for us older fans, but none the less satisfying.    See it with your family you'll get a bigger kick seeing it through their eyes because it will remind you of when you first saw the original Star  Wars back in 1977.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Joker (2019)

It seems that the movie "Joker" has hit a nerve with the audiences.  Based loosely on DC comic's arch nemesis to Batman the Joker the film is rooted more to our past history of violence then it is to the comics. The film seems to be doing well, and it is amazing that Warner Brothers actually made a R rated film based on a comic book villain.  But then again the movie seems to be a bit of a time capsule of what we are going through presently in our political and social scene. This is only my own opinion but a movies such as "Joker" could only come out now in an era where hate, and senselessness to violence towards each other are more the norm then it was in the past.

The filmmaker sets the film in the fictitious city of Gotham, but in reality the film was shot in New York city.  This is no mistake.  Only in a city of 8 million plus can we get the feel and look of despair and loneliness through the NYC landscape.  I do not want to denigrate the city that I love so much, but the filmmaker does an outstanding job in creating a society on the brink of lawlessness, and where violence is everywhere.  It literally conjures scenes up from the early to late 70's of NYC.

There is a garbage strike, and the city is awash with garbage.  Todd Philips does a great job in creating a rich and dense atmospheric film.  It sells the film, and creates a world where the Joker can be created.  Along with it's gothic and old infrastructure NYC stands in for Gotham quite nicely.  It is no mistake that the filmmaker doesn't hide the fact it is NYC.  The images and sequences are almost ripped from old headlines of NYC in the 70's where the city was going broke, garbage was all about, and the city was awash with old tenement buildings in disrepair.

I find it ironic that after three weeks out the movie "Joker" is number 2 in box office receipts .  I believe the film has resonated with its audience, but better yet it's GOOD filmmaking of the highest caliber.   "Rambo's: Final Blood"has grossed $83.1 million at the box office time as of October 20th while the "Joker" has earned $737.5 million as of the same date.  Why?  Both are different films, but "Joker" seems to have hit a nerve.

It also has a stellar performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck aka the Joker.  The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is extraordinary, and worth an Oscar nomination.  I do feel that the film's atmosphere contributes to it's quality.

The violence is overly hyped.  Nothing no one else has seen or done before.  The film deals with mental illness, but the Joker is a sociopath.   The film does try to address why he Arthur became the Joker, but is his mental illness from his environment or was he just born that way?   Through the picture we find out that Arthur had been abused and his mom had suffered from delusions & stood silent to the abuse Arthur was receiving from her boyfriends.    Is it nature or nurture?  The film seems to say that it is the environment that shapes the individual, but does it?  It has been a question that has perplexed psychologists for years.  The movie does not answer that.  It only provides you with how Arthur grew up, and by doing so we become sympathetic to Arthur. 

Joker is a villain, we feel sympathy for him and it is those feelings that make the film a strong comment on violence or our love for retribution.  After all we want to believe that Arthur will get better, but we are repulsed by his actions.  Todd Phillips & Scott Silver do an admirable job at writing a screenplay that straddles the razors edge of pure insanity and murderous rage while at the same time sympathizing with Arthur's plight.

Is "Joker" an easy film?  NO.  Is it a film that should be merited for its technique and it's message.  Thought the film takes place in the 80's it feels later, and it deals with social media without ever mentioning it.  Throughout the film characters say that it's a bit crazy out there, and that's why everybody is so mean and nasty.  I believe that's a comment on todays social media, and our politics where everyone screams at each other, but nobody listens. 

I sincerely believe "Joker" is a byproduct of our times.  It's well made, and ugly, yet in the ugliness their is something familiar.  I applaud the filmmakers at making a film that tries to deal with several issues, yet doesn't try to preach to us.  Another film this reminds me of is "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer".  In that film as well as in "Joker" there is nothing redeeming about the main character, yet we seem compelled to watch.

This is not a movie for everyone.  Yet I praise Warner Brothers for having the guts to make it in the first place.  Unusual film?  Absolutely, but worth seeing if not just for the performances, but as well as the atmosphere.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

MOVO VXR10 & MOVO PR 1 Mount

The above video is a promotional video from MOVO.  It is a game changer for vloggers and youTubers in creating content.  It's also a great idea for shooting interviews, and activity.

Long ago I had companies ask me what type of portable camera can we get to help interview people from across the county.  Back then we used small cannon cameras that could be shipped to the location.  Now ANYONE can do it, and with the MOVO VXR10 you can get great sound.  Along with the MOVO PR 1 mount you can shoot anywhere you want and be successful in getting images without having a teach along with you.

The MOVO VXR10 works with both iPhones and Android phones.  You just need a different attachment which it already comes from.  The MOVO PR 1 mount is a mount that you can secure your phone with, and get a pretty good stabilized shot.  It's also great to mount the microphone on top of it.  You may even mount a light on the mount as well.

This is portability at its best.  If you need a run and gun interview this set-up is the way to go.   The MOVO VXR10 is affordable as well.  The cost is about $55. The mount is about $25 - $30.

Its affordable and a great choice for those quick interviews, or those talking head shots.

I hope to have it someday soon, and will post examples tests I will do.  In the meantime look at some of these reviews.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Nymphomaniac Vol 1 & 2 (2013)

I had been interested in seeing these two films for awhile.  I do like some of Lars von Trier early work  and find him as a director interesting.  I was interested in the the Nymphomaniac series because of the subject matter, and who was in it.  First off the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg does a phenomenal job and she is captivating throughout the two films.  It is her performance that I found to be true, and honest.  Mr Trier does not go for the vulgar.  He shows an individual who is complex and a bit broken.  How she is interacts with others throughout the film is what made me want to continue with the films.  It also shows how Mr Trier and Ms Gainsbourg trusted each other through the production process.  Surely with such a title the film would go into a more exploitative theme, but under the direction of Mr Trier's he involves us (the audience) in the character of Joe. 

We are subjected to many relationships and scenes where Ms Gainsbourg is exposed and through them we feel empathy for her.  She is nude for a lot of the film, and yet I felt the way she played it was empathetic to her character.  Of course I'm sure that this empathy and this de-construction of the character is in no way accidental.  It is Mr Trier who provide Ms Gainsbourg the freedom, and the safety to explore the characters darker persona.

Mr. Lars von Trier has a way with actors.  He gets them to do and and say things within character that we believe, and it makes his films a lot stronger.  The performance is riveting and captivating.  Mr Trier creates a world that is misogynistic and after watching both films I happen to agree with his assessment.  How Mr. Trier does this is by showing us how our main character is treated throughout the film. 

Again it's Ms Gainsbourg's performance that sells the film and she should be applauded in trusting her director not to be exploitative but instead just the opposite.  Maybe some audiences were put off by the length of the film and the sexuality it deals with.  After all even though the film is about a nymphomaniac I never felt that the filmmaker's were exploiting the actresses sexuality.

Both films are an interesting look at what society thinks is sexual.  In the film it isn't sexuality that the filmmaker deals with it is of compulsion, and obsession.

If you're uncomfortable with nudity, or sexual situations taken to extreme then the film is not for you.  The length alone I suspect turns away people.  What the film is is a exploration in the human condition when that human being is different then what we consider normal.

The film made me appreciate the director, and interested me in his other films. such as "Element of the Crime", Dogville", and the most recent "The House that Jack Built".

Check it out if you have time, and watch it in increments if you want.  Viewing the film this way seemed to work for me but I'm sure it's not what the director had intended.  To me it shows the strength of the performance alone by the actress which held me to the end of the film.  Ms Gainsbourg does an exceptional performance here, and is one that sticks with you way after you've finished the film. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Avenger's EndGame (2019)

Okay you've heard by now this movie is doing fantastic business.  The studio has passed the two billion mark worldwide, and it's still growing.

I'm also sure you've heard all the spoilers now.  Amazing now that we have to contend with "spoiler" alerts now.  I mean what would Hitchcock of done with "Psycho"?  I remember the campaign back then had people NOT to tell the ending to the people coming out of the theater.  Now you're a tweet away from making that happen.

But I digress.  So how is the film?  One word "FUN!"

If you're a fan of Marvel, and you've seen most if not all the movies you'll love this film.  I can only imagine the box-set coming out for this.  It would be huge. 

Now if you're not a fan then this is not the movie for you.  Clocking in over a little over 3 hours long it certainly does not feel like 3 hours, and that's a good thing.  The filmmakers Anthony Russo, and Joe Russo do an extraordinary job at putting all the pieces together for this epic movie.  I mean epic in the sense that the film is not only a part 2 to "Avengers: Infinity War", but it a culmination of 12 films which all started with the movie "Ironman" way back in 2008.

So if you watch all the films since that time "Avengers: Endgame" is the sum of all these films.  In the other films we are introduced to the characters that eventually play a part in the film.  Each of the films had a post credit scene which clues in the audience to what was coming up.  It was sort of a coming attraction of things to come just like the old serials in the 40's and 50's.

It is that type of filmmaking that makes Endgame so fascinating and so unique.  Also the movie becomes an event.  It started selling out even before the movie was out through pre-sales.  Marvel Studios and now Disney did something unique, yet so very familiar and that was give us a throw-back to those days of serials. 

Back in the day those serials were made cheap and as long as they contained action and adventure it's audience never cared about continuity or even script plot holes, but nowadays  visuals need to astound us, hence the unbelievable images through special effects and CGI.

All in all it's a good film, and if you've seen the other films you'll be doubly pleased.  My son kept on leaning into me and telling me about the references to other films he and I have seen.

See it with the family.  If you have younger ones all the better.  It's great seeing their reaction to what's happening on the screen.

The last film of this phase in the Marvel universe will be ending when "Spiderman: Homecoming" comes out.  I am told it tells us more about after the movie Endgame.  So there is one more film that needs to come out before the box-set comes out, but I'm sure Marvel & Disney are working on that as you read this.

Fun all the way around, and a great achievement for the filmmakers to complete.  Go see it and as my favorite writer Stan Lee would say "Nuff Said".

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Shazam (2019)

Went to see the latest superhero movie, and was pleasantly surprised.  The mix of drama and comedy works for this film.  It works because our superhero is a 14 year old boy in a hulking big body.  That is the charm of the movie, and it's theme is family, which isn't a bad theme to have.  Shot in Toronto filling in for Philadelphia the filmmakers create a good illusion of the city.  The filmmakers made sure they capture all the iconic Philadelphia landmarks and used them in their process shots.  I'm very skeptical when it comes to substituting cities with other cities because the filmmakers got a better deal in the city they were shooting in, but here it doesn't detract from the fun.

Though I would really like if Pennsylvania get's its act together and offer bigger tax credit to studios and filmmakers.  Don't they know for every dollar spent in the city or town they get like 3 or 4 dollars back?  But I digress.

The film is a fun origin story about a superhero created by magic.  It even references the other DC comic universe such as Badman, and Superman, yet the film stands on its own and you don't have to see the other DC films to enjoy the film.

The filmmakers even poke fun at comic book dramatics such as when the villain gives his speech and out superhero can't hear it because their far away from each other.  Pretty funny and you can see the filmmakers we're having fun.

But what the film hammers home is that the core to ones strength is family.  A family that you create.  A un-traditional family made up of people you care and love, but may not be related.  That's a pretty cool message to say especially in these times where we're all so divisive.  It's like a breath of fresh air, and I have to say that all the actors in this film do a great job in their performances.  Zachary Levi does a remarkable job as Shazam, and he looks and behaves like a 14 year old boy would if he were inside a big mans body.  The results are hilarious.

I ill not talk about the plot.  I hate spoilers, so I just suggest you go see the film and enjoy the moments.  It's a fun film, and one that you can take your family to.  All in all good film, and very entertaining.  Oh! and stay for the credits all the way through.  There are two clips one that sets up a sequel, and the other is a nudge to other superhero movies (wink~wink~nudge~nudge).

And to the filmmakers.  Please film here in Philadelphia when it comes time for the sequel.  It will look so much better I promise.  Let's just hope Pennsylvania gets its act together and pass a tax credit for filmmakers and studios.  Even though it did not detract from the movie it would have been so much cooler and better to see Philadelphia and it's citizens up on screen.  There is a tribute to even Rocky in the film, but being there and showing it in a process shot are two different things.  It's like the film "Moonlight" with Cher.  Shot in Toronto but takes place in New York.  Never works for me and really hurts the film.  Could have been such a better film.

So filmmakers think about that when you make your next film and set it someplace iconic.  Film the story where the story takes place.  Please!

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Mama Mia!: Here We Go Again (2018)

So Universal Studios decided to cash in on the original Mama Mia! and try a second go at it with a sequel of sorts.  I really liked the first one.  In fact my entire family loves the film.  We find ourselves singing along to the film, and enjoy watching the film unfold, so why does the sequel partially fail when the original kicks butt every time you watch it?  Easy.  The second film is nothing but a rehash of the first with other people singing the songs.  There are a few new songs in the film, but a lot of the first songs are rehashed and when they are sung it feels like the filmmakers are just trying to elicit emotions you had for the first movie.  It all feels forced.

Now don't get me wrong.  I did succumb to some emotions, but only because that was towards the end of the film.  The death of Meryl Streep's character is handled very emotionally towards the end when Amanda  Seyfried and Meryl Streep's sing a duet together "My Love, My life". The scene will have you misty eyed it did me, so in a way the movie works in eliciting some strong emotions, but what I found as its weakness was that it did not introduce us to what befell Meryl Streep's character.  Her struggle, and the grief that befell Sam (Pierce Brosnan) her husband at the end of the the first film.  Of course that would make the movie a completely different film, but I think it would be a stronger one then the one they have.

We already know how the young Donna met her three paramours, and that she decided that her baby (Sophie) was more important to her then her career.  We all have heard this and yet the sequel plays it all out.  The movie is about loss, and family no matter if they are biologic or not.  Families come in all shapes and sizes, and it is the love for one another that makes each family special.  The duet together cements that feeling.  Daughter (Sophie) honoring her mother by having her child, and building a new family.

Sure it is fun seeing the young Donna played by Lily James.  The young Rosie and Tanya (Alexa Davis, and Jessica Keenan Wynn) are also fantastic, but what if we saw why young Donna decided to give it all up.  Why was she so conflicted.  She was a free spirit, but when confronted with pregnancy she embraces her destiny to have Sophie and leave show business.

There is so much the filmmakers could have done to make this better then the original and give the sequel some meat, but instead it feels like it was crafted by committee.  The studio had the rights to some ABBA songs already so they used them, and added a few more.  It feels repetitive, and almost like you're watching a bad copy of the original.  That's the problem with the film.  Only at the end do we feel how much the loss of Donna is felt, and that Sophie and Donna share similar fates, but are drawn closer by the experience.  For me its too late.  I wanted to see more of the mother and daughter relationship, and how the loss of one affects the other, and yet in the end Sophie comes out triumphant.

Like I said in the end the film turns itself around, and I don't know anyone who won't be touched by the ending.  I just feel that there were moments lost in the film where it could have been more profound then the original . Maybe it would be more of a tear jerker but it would more powerful then the original, and when making a sequel one shoots high because you have a higher mark to reach with your audience.  Here it feels the filmmakers punted the ball.

Cher is fantastic, and her song "Fernando" is a greatest set piece, but the one thing my wife pointed out was that in the first film Meryl Streep's Character Donna tells everyone that her grandmother died, so why does she visit her at the end.  Is it just an excuse to introduce Cher?   Probably so.  Aside from that Cher kills it, and does a great rendition of the ABBA classic.  If nothing go see it for that even though it makes no sense that she appears at the end.  The film could have been so much better, and there are some elements in it where we can see that, but the filmmakers didn't follow through.  The movie is just a shallow copy of the first, and not worth seeing, yet what could have been would be a lot more interesting.  Unfortunately this is not that movie...