Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Cine(ma)laise

I Understand Completely

I got into a debate online this week about whether or not this has been a good year for movies so far. Apparently a lot of people think it’s one of the best in a long time (one guy even said it was the best since 2005, which is just plain not true, since 2007 is far-and-away the best since 1999 [which, itself, is, in many people’s opinions {mine included} the best year in cinema history]). I think it’s been decidedly lackluster, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t liked a fair number of movies. I have. But I haven’t out-and-out loved any movie released in 2011.

Usually by early-mid September, there are five or six that could find themselves in my top ten list at the end of the year. Right now I have…zero. There’s usually one or two summer movies I just have to see again. This year, none. I was underwhelmed by the final “Harry Potter,” and the laundry list of sequels. Even movies I’ve enjoyed, like “Bridesmaids,” and “X-Men: First Class” and “Captain America” – or movies that took me by surprise: “Fast Five,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – just haven’t compelled me to see them again. Neither did my favorite movie of the year so far, “Super 8.” I really liked it, but there’s been something missing.

And it’s not just the big studio movies. I saw and liked both Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” and Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Both films have a lot to offer, and they stand out against the backdrop of the majority of films this year (as does, for that matter – though on a substantially less level – Kevin Smith’s “Red State) simply by virtue of their uniqueness. But neither film inspired the fervent love in me that they seemed to for so many.

Overall, the movies have been mostly fine, fluctuating from decent to mildly impressive, but I can’t think of a time this year when I felt like I was seeing something truly brilliant. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you don’t have to say something no one’s ever said before. What I do require, though (and what I’m going to be writing about as well), is that there be some true storytelling going on that emerges from the characters, not just from someone trying to fit all of the standard pieces into the plot-driven puzzle.

Aside from “Super 8,” which spent lots of time with its characters, the two movies that have come closest for me have been two late-summer sci-fi disease-driven thrillers: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Contagion.”

Come on, Get Happy

I’m trying to catch up on the stuff I haven’t seen, now. I’m going to go see “The Help,” and “Horrible Bosses,” renting “Win/Win” and “Hanna” and “Certified Copy” and, maybe if I’m feeling like watching something I’m not interested in at all, “Uncle Boonmee…” (as well as the handful of documentaries).

Hammer Time

I do have pretty high hopes for some upcoming films, like “Drive,” “Moneyball,” and “Melancholia,” and as we get into the end of the year, there are more and more movies I’m interested in seeing. Between all of these, it could end up being a very good year at the movies. But at the moment, I can’t do much more than throw up my hands to those who think it’s a banner year. I just don’t see it.

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I Play Ultimate Frisbee With This Guy

So a guy I know from Ultimate Frisbee, Steve Shane (we guard each other from time to time, he’s a great guy), just sent me a link to his new music video. I remember him telling me about it a few weeks ago in between games, and I thought, “Oh cool. Someone made a music video, good for them.” Oh how very little I knew.

The song itself is fun and playful with a pleasant, ever-so-slightly country twang to it, but the video itself gives me major concept envy. I loved watching it and going back and forth between thinking how clever it is, how well it tells its story and thinking, how long did that take to plan? It’s pretty staggering. On par, I think, with The Mountain Goats’ video “Woke Up New.”

Now I’ve never heard of the video’s director Behn Fannin, but his website boasts an array of interesting projects, most notably, in my opinion, “…the making of…,” which is a mockumentary about a documentary about the making of that selfsame documentary. Exactly. Looks like he also did a video for Panic At the Disco. He should be making lots and lots of money on very interesting projects.

Check out Steve Shane’s website here and his video below:

Top 10 Films of 2010

Happy Oscar Sunday everyone!!! Just in time to close out 2010 with my Top 10 Films of the year. That this was not the greatest year for movies is certainly not to say that there weren’t some absolutely wonderful films. By and large, the bigger movies underwhelmed while the moderately-budgeted auteur projects really delivered the goods. Here’s to hoping the studios take note and provide funding accordingly. Before I get to my list, a few housekeeping notes:

Movies I Didn’t See: Rabbit Hole; Another Year; Barney’s Version; The Illusionist; Mother; Somewhere

Movies That Are WAY Overrated:  The Kids Are All Right; The Town; The Ghost Writer; A Prophet

Honorable Mentions: 127 hours, Blue Valentine; Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; The Last Exorcism; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1; The King’s Speech; Winter’s Bone

-TOP 10-

10. Black Swan

We start off in murky waters. The screenplay for the film is a mess. There’s the whole idea, for starters, that the descent into madness is an almost solely sexual one for women. I found it a little condescending and it seemed like the psycho-sexual elements – in particular Nina’s lesbian dream (which was okay yes all right very super totally sexy-and-a-half) – didn’t really amount to much in terms of propelling her further along the downward spiral. And yet. Natalie Portman’s performance is fearless. The ballet is majestic and rigorous and painful. And director Darren Aronofsky, in the same bloody water from “The Wrestler,” creates a complete picture of this dual world. In reality he shows us the cracks and groans and aches of the performers’ bodies, the routine of breaking in their shoes, and the design of the heightened sound of Portman’s breathing really highlights the physical toll. Then there are all of the subtle effects on Nina’s body: her rash, the hair, her eyes, the rippling scales, the creepy visions and eventually, with Clint Mansell’s brilliant score, her transformation. Some people interpret the film to suggest certain characters didn’t exist or that Nina, herself, may have been a figment of someone else. I’ve only seen the film once, but I didn’t take that away. To me, it shows a single-minded pursuit of perfection at any cost. Beyond that, I think the speculation devolves into sortof conspiracy theories.

9. Iron Man 2/ Tron: Legacy

Most of the major action efforts by studios this year were bland and uninspired, and I know plenty who felt that way about both of these movies. I thought the action was top notch, from the hand-to-hand battles in “Iron Man 2” to the etherial light-cycle sequence in “Tron: Legacy.” And both had plots that engaged me. Most sequels settle for wall-to-wall action, but both of these took their time and provided opportunities for talented actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges to do some fascinating, if curious character work. And call me a sucker, but the father/son storyline worked really well in “Tron.”

Neither movie bends our expectations so far that we’re in an arthouse movie (although there was some opportunity for it in both, actually), but neither did they insult our intelligence. They could have painted-by-numbers, instead they took some chances, showed some ambition. That goes a long way with me.

8. Shutter Island/Inception

This is the second and final tie on the list. What an interesting double-feature Leonardo DiCaprio offered this year. He plays essentially the same character in both films, struggling internally to make amends with a disturbing personal tragedy that refuses to change no matter what orchestrations he creates. In both he creates a world steeped in his regret and pain, and in both there are disastrous consequences. DiCaprio is perhaps the best actor of generation at conveying anguish. You see it registered over every inch of his face, in his posture, in the way he half-chews when nothing is in his mouth. It would be too big and dramatic if it weren’t also so true; and when he finds stillness, it can be powerful and unsettling.

For my money, “Shutter Island” is the better film, for its additional thematic concerns about men-of-violence and for the way its climax doesn’t sidestep the character’s past, but allows him to relive it and see it as it truly was for the first time. “Inception” still has those themes, but I’m more impressed with it as a piece of action-filmmaking. The hotel sequence with Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably the most purely exciting thing I’ve seen all year. The numerous layers of reality are interesting, but ultimately, there is a wide gaping hole at the end of the film that goes unexplained. A double bill with a movie each from Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan, both of which leave viewers asking all sorts of questions afterwards, has to be recognized.

7. Dogtooth

A small Greek film from director Giorgos Lanthimos, the plot is spare and upsetting. A husband and wife have confined their three teenage children to their home for their entire lives. A fourth sibling has been created and the children are told he lives over the fence, due to disobedience. The father works at a nearby factory, where he occasionally brings home a woman to have sex with his son. The parents teach their children incorrect meanings for words. Why? Are they afraid they will escape? Are they deliberately cruel? The children are aware of television as an invention, but the only thing they see are their own home movies. When their mother uses the telephone, they wonder why she is talking to herself. The film raises all sorts of questions about parenting and those qualities which are inherent within us versus those that are learned. How does the notion to deceive occur? What about to dominate? What about to lie? What about basic spatial relationships that seem obvious? Do they seem obvious because they’ve been reinforced or because they are naturally evident? In addition to the slow burn of tension and hostility, what makes “Dogtooth” remarkable is that it never explains itself. It simply shows characters behaving. Apart from that, we’re forced to draw our own conclusions.

6. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Now a film that seems to telegraph its perspective for us but maybe doesn’t after all. I love the story of Thierry Guerta, the Frenchman who can’t help but document everything he sees and accidentally gets hooked up with the street artist Shepherd Fairy, who lets him tag along…everywhere. The footage following around street artists as they tag different spots around Los Angeles and the country and then abroad has a fantastic energy to it. Exuberance might be the right word. And while I buy Banksy’s LA show with the elephant and the celebrities, and I see the footage from Disneyland, am I really supposed to buy that Guerta put down his camera to make art himself? And if he did, and if during that time Banksy was back in London, then who picked up the camera to film? And why? There are negative implications about street art as a skill if Guerta really was able to create his own 2008 show. There are even more negative implications if none of that art was his and the whole thing was a sortof joke by Banksy, Shepherd Fairy and the other artists; a joke at the expense of their own audience, except that from their perspective, the audience may have gotten too big – or more accurately too commercialized – anyway, which means that pissing off dumb people you don’t want to buy your art will almost surely result in those that remain feeling an inflated sense of personal connection to the art, thereby possibly making them more likely to purchase more of it; which of course, starts the entire process of commercialization all over again. This movie will either sound exhilarating or exhausting. I found it fascinating and hilarious.

5. True Grit

The Coen Brothers don’t make prestige films and they don’t make standard genre pictures. And yet “True Grit” turned out to be both in a way, but only there’s nothing standard about anything they make. Some felt this was Coens-lite. I disagree. Every one of their major thematic concerns and motifs is represented in the film (blunt, brutal violence; the personal cost of seeking vengeance; the boundless, inventive dialogue; the odd one-scene characters) as well as the stark beauty of the landscapes captured by longtime cinematographer, Roger Deakins. Most of all, there are three brilliant performances in Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon (who deserved a nomination much more than Jeremy Renner), and, in my favorite performance from the entire year, Hailie Steinfeld. She commands the screen at every moment, and she is so fierce – as when she unblinkingly forges a river on her horse – that I felt silly for not realizing the title is just as much about her as Rooster Cogburn. The Coens don’t play safe and they don’t cheat the consequences of their characters’ actions. Sometimes that comes at the expense of an emotional investment in their characters and results in a sortof detached bemusement. “True Grit” seems like it should fall into that same trap. The reason it doesn’t is Hailie Steinfeld.

4. The Fighter

Now my favorite male performance of the year, which belongs to Christian Bale as Dickey Eklund, the cracked out ex-boxer who can’t seem to let go of his past glory. Is he really so oblivious to his own deterioration? To the squalor around him? The recognition of those things in Bale is what makes his depiction transcendent; in fact, that’s what makes “The Fighter” so surprising as a whole. Who needs another boxing movie, was my thought going into the theater. You expect family issues and big fights and to feel like you’ve seen it all before. I don’t know why I didn’t have more initial faith in David O. Russell, a director who’s never made a movie I dislike. He finds the truth in each moment and doesn’t settle for easy resolutions like getting rid of your family for you girlfriend or turning your back on people who cause you pain. Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams (like you’ve never seen her before) lead the strongest ensemble of the year. There is a scene late in the film on Adams’ character’s porch, where she and Bale have to come to an understanding. It is confrontational and angry and you can see both actors putting themselves totally on the line. You expect soft sentiment and easy answers from the scene. What it gives you is a picture of brokenness trying to change; to turn and be mended.

3. The Social Network

For most movies, it would be a bad thing if the opening scene was the best in the movie, but somehow David Fincher’s “The Social Network” manages to feel like such a true extension of that scene (the perfect combination of exposition, character, and theme) that it all works. You see how deeply Zuckerberg’s ambition is rooted in pain. Every aspect is firing on all cylinders. Aaron Sorkin’s script is a technical marvel. Jesse Eisenberg (so deserving of his nomination, good for him!) and the other actors inhabit the roles, Trent Reznor’s score is diabolically good, and Fincher’s direction folds them all together in a way that leaves you breathless. How many amazing sequences does the film contain? My favorite is the Facemash sequence, where Zuckerberg first gets people’s attention. The way the film intercuts different scenes to create a simultaneous stream of dramatic action is like nothing I’ve seen before. I don’t think it’ll win Best Picture this year, but I think it will be remembered much longer than the film that does.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

 

Another double feature would be “The Social Network” and this movie. Both about pop culture, both endlessly inventive structurally, and you’ve got the Michael Cera/Jesse Eisenberg connection. I don’t know why “Scott Pilgrim” was so universally overlooked and underrated when it came out, but the film remains my favorite comedy of the year. Edgar Wright incorporates the breakneck pacing and tone of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” with the more personal stories from “Spaced.” This movie is so good it’s humbling. How many directors can have a three-joke sequence just using framing? From epic fights to hilarious characters to more on-screen cultural iconography than you can fend off without having to Continue – all the while maintaining a sense of story and theme and character that (far from being displaced) are enhanced by the visual style – this is the coolest movie of the year.

1. Toy Story 3

The fact that I wasn’t that interested in seeing the latest from Pixar only reinforces how shockingly good the final act of the trilogy was. What can I say about it? The opening reminded me of the hours I spent as a kid playing with action figures in my room. It shows the nexus of the numerous creative impulses. That’s what people like me saw in their mind. What an astounding character Woody is! Look at his dedication to get back to Andy, in whom he has unwavering faith, combined with his unrelenting love for his friends and his refusal to let them be hurt, even after they’ve hurt him. The fact that you know Woody will stop at nothing, and that his insistence is born from love and goodness, makes his moment of resignation in the film’s climax the most emotionally arresting thing I saw on film all year. There is something inexpressibly beautiful about the way they take each other’s hands, about the looks they share with each other. I’m telling you, it made my heart stop. It is a profound thing to reach the absolute brink of your ability as a creation. No other movie displayed that kind of looking-into-the-abyss moment like “Toy Story 3” did. For all its invention and humor and excitement and joy (the epilogue is heart-rending in its own way), that moment in the incinerator when we see Woody’s eyes change makes “Toy Story 3” the best film of the year.

Hyper-Critical-Mass

There’s just too much is the main issue right now. With a finite number of time-units and cultural consumables, how can there be such a great disparity between the two? Forget, even, news-related items. Think how unprecedented, really, is an individual’s particular tastes and experience (which for the purposes of sanity and this singular blog we’ll relegate to artistic experience). My own group of friends’ tastes are too varied to even begin to describe (I know, because I just started writing it all and realized it was too complex for this entry) – from film to TV to music to literature to podcasts to theater to graphic design (now that’s broad) to comic books to photography, and on til morning goes the list. How to follow it all? How to keep up? How to respond even to just that barrage of ABSOLUTE MUSTS in all those mediums? It’s unending. It’s overwhelming. (TV and Literature is just the worst to me. Great mediums, both of which I love, but there is seriously so much volume of great that I don’t have any time for the good or the very good. Except that it’s almost a guarantee that something or other I watch because it’s someone’s favorite won’t be my cup of tea, meanwhile something others may write off as “pretty good” might be a revelation to me (Can you say “Community”?))

The following litany is from Friday. That is, this is what I consumed on during some spare time in the morning, during my drives to-and-from work, and sitting at work for twelve hours (parts of which also involved some more driving). Later in the day, thinking back on it, I felt overwhelmed when I tried to place it all. So often there is a giant list of things to get through that the order and rate they’re in is discarded. Starting to think that might be a mistake. That when ambition overtakes absorption the point may be muted. There are plenty of people, no doubt, for whom this list is small; who have no trouble multi-tasking. My roommate watches movies and shows while he works on art. I can’t do that. My attention has to be devoted, and I need more time to consider.

Lately I have issues recalling specific episodes of podcasts like “This American Life” or “The Tobolowsky Files.” Except my few favorites, my attention may have been too divided to retain enough of each story. That’s a problem, my problem, which is why this is essentially an attempt to retain something from each thing.

TV:

The Office“Threat Level Midnight” – A very playful episode. Look, The Office isn’t what it used to be, and I’m not quite as gaga over this one as many reviewers seem to be, but it was a really-good-to-near-great episode. I enjoyed all of the small moments with former series regulars.

MUSIC:

Mumford & Sons“Sigh No More” – What a great album this is! Folksy, banjo-laden music that moves and thumps. Here are songs that are about something; you can feel it deep in your bones.

From “The Cave”

So make your siren’s call/ And sing all you want/ I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now/And I need to know how/ To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope/ And I won’t let you choke/ On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain/ And I will change my ways/ I’ll know my name as it’s called again

And now hear a song played with two fists clenched:

Phoenix“It’s Never Been Like That” ; “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” – Yeah, they’re a hipster band to some degree, they just did the soundtrack for Sofia Copolla’s new film “Somewhere,” and I honestly haven’t listened to them enough to be able to articulate their M.O. They’re similar to Vampire Weekend, except even better.

PODCASTS:

This American Life“What Is Money?” – Few shows tackle complex subject matter this consistently – with staggering insight. This episode looks at the general abstract-ness of money and the two shocking instances – one in Brazil, one here – where the solution to a national crisis sounds more like something out of one of the absurdo-circular subplots in “Catch-22.” It’s like arguing semantics with an inanimate object. But somehow, these ideas work (well, one of them we’ll wait & see).

Radiolab “Cities” – So okay this would be the other show that aims just as high on a weekly basis. In this episode, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore what makes a city distinct. They start off comparing the rates at which patrons from different cities walk, then they speak with some experts who analyze that data (among other data) and have created a mathematical formula that is eerily accurate in predicting how many, for instance, people there are in that city; how many libraries, schools, theatres, et al. Then the discussion transitions to what the data can’t tell you – the soul or spirit of a city. Oh how many applications about truth and life can we draw from this? Oh how many types of many? The show ends with a moving portrait of a city torn apart and all-but abandoned (except that not in one final heartbreaking, beautiful way). Hearing it made me think of people who grow up in a place and decide to make their home there; have their entire extended family there. To stay, to remain. I’m not one of those people. I moved around to four different cities during my formative years. My parents now live somewhere else. So do I. Except now I’m somewhere and I can’t imagine leaving, although that too is less about the place than the people. You find a community and you want to make your life with them.

PLAY:

One of me, three of you. I like where this is going.

“Spring Awakening” – Ashley loves this musical, from which I’ve heard all of two songs (her idea it’s clear enough without saying, but nonetheless). Can’t recall either one. But a couple years ago, blissfully unaware of the musical (small miracles and all that), I bought the play during one of my online searches for all-things Jonathan Franzen (he did the translation of Patrick Wedekind’s more-than-100-year-old work). I read his introduction – which is not-at-all flattering of the musical – but never made my way past the first scene. I’m told the musical retains maybe 50% of the dialogue (it’s a relatively short read at about 80 pages), and it is unfortunately one-note. The play rails against any notion of parental, educational, and spiritual guidance, save for one mother whose idea is to let her 14-year old figure things out for himself. The writing is beautiful – Franzen’s translation is eloquent and sly and contains a number of passages that feel as much like literature as dialogue. Among other things, the play explores all manor of sexual experience (which might be more harrowing to see than read, except the idea of children committing these acts is undercut by having sexy 20-somethings inhabit the roles (because otherwise it might be oh um uh illegal?)) Still, the themes of repression-in-the-name-of-innocence (although it’s really ignorance), the fear of even the idea of the subjects, and the youthful speculation and confusion about school, life, and sex are all fully realized. My one wonder is how much stock the author placed in the logic of his pubescent subjects. They are true in that they make sense to us at that age. Are we to see them as free-thinkers who are stifled? Or as developing thinkers who are dissuaded from maturing at all. There are arguments to be made for both sides.

Act II, scene i:

MORTIZ: Before the exam, I prayed to God to give me tuberculosis and let me off the hook. And I got off it –although even now I can sense it hanging in the distance, with a glimmering around it that makes me scared to raise my eyes, day and night. — But now that I’m on the ladder I’ll keep climbing. My guarantee is the logical certainty that I can’t fall without breaking my neck.

Act II, scene iii:

HANSY: *Moritura me salutat! — Girl, girl, why do you press your knees together? — Why even now? — — Are you mindful of inscrutable eternity?? — One twitch, and I’ll set you free! — One feminine gesture, one sign of lust, of sympathy, girl! — I’ll frame you in gold and hang you above my bed — Don’t you see that it’s your chasteness alone that gives birth to my debaucheries? — Woe, woe unto those who are inhuman.

*Moritura me salutat = “Those doomed to death salute me.”

New Day Today

Tomorrow too.

There’s a lot going into this post. It was a long weekend. It was good, but I was off and I was angry and I was making mistakes and being rude and inconsiderate and just pissed off to people I love.

Hey McNutty!

I said “fuck” a lot more than I usually do (which so-fucking-what?) but there was something behind it that isn’t usually there. Uh oh. Now this is going to sound silly: I finished Season 5 of “The Wire” last Friday (own the box-set folks, you just have to), at which point I immediately downed the special features. Some people think the final season veers off and contains choices its characters wouldn’t really make, particularly McNulty. I disagree. There is a moment when his partner – the ever-cigar-chomping Bunk – is scolding him for his actions and McNulty says, “They don’t get to win, we get to win!” That line contains untold reservoirs of anger and bitterness and rage – at the crime itself but also (moreso?) at the equally broken system in place and people in power to stop it. I can’t tell you how much I identified with that moment. It’s a callback to a monologue another character screams to inner city thugs earlier in the series, but it encapsulates his character. There is a particular brand of discontentment and failure and understanding that is McNulty’s alone. It’s the reason he remains the show’s “lead” character or at least central figure. “The Wire” in whole often echoes that perspective thematically and in many of the other characters’ story-lines. It’s the kind of thing that makes your chest go tight; the singular moment when your heart both swells with love and breaks in despair. McNulty lives that moment day after day.

So okay maybe I was a little pissed off. So much is broken it’s hard to know which way to move and which shard of glass will hurt your foot the least.

Be Afraid, For He is Awesome

On Tuesday I start filming a documentary about my friend and personal trainer, Shawn Richardson. I’ve never made a documentary before, and it’s been a while since I had to film anything myself. In the midst of occasional substitute teaching (Presbo!), looking for industry/permanent work, and a full workload of self-imposed writing, this will be a totally new experience. Which meant getting reacquainted with my camera. So today I struck out to a nearby park, intending only to film test-footage and work on camera movements, but after about 30 minutes, I started looking for details. I walked the entire park shooting bits and pieces as I went. By the time I left, I felt so much better. Calmer. Less constricted. I had to get outside myself, focus on other people, a whole community enjoying the beautiful weather on an important day.

I thought of looking up some MLK quotes, but it’d be a sham. I didn’t watch “The Wire” because of him or go to the park because of him. It just worked out this way and maybe it just often does. Truth and goodness and community don’t occur because of earthly or human perfection. That’s not what happens on this side of life, and it’s frustrating. We are neither the authors nor perfecters of our salvation or faith. But they exist in us and between us when we seek something outside ourselves together, regardless of how desperate the state of things has become.

So I made it into a short video; a mini-doc, if you will. I set it to a song off The Decemberists’ new album The King is Dead (which how appropriate?!) called “Calamity Song” (Again!).

So, as you saw… There’s all sorts of issues with the mini-doc, short as it is. Should have got more signs, sleeping people, bicycles, runners, skaters, food, smiles, laughing, feet, et al. I spent two hours there is all, and didn’t have the idea to even try to do anything with the footage until I was already gone, and by that point it seemed somehow wrong to go back. Nonetheless, lessons learned.

Imagine

Hey you watch this!

I know it’s a sortof magic trick. It’s a cinematic sleight of hand. Broken down in a certain way, it’s nothing more than quickly-cut dramatic clips to bombastic music. That’s true.

But that’s not true at all, though, is it? It’s so much more.

It might be more meaningful to me, because I recognize nearly all the films from the clips. It might be because I love that song from an [in-my-opinion] underrated album, or because I dork out hardcore over cinematography. But I just love the hell out of this video. Even in an off-year, there was so much creative energy spent bringing us stories, dazzling us with amazing effects, breath-taking stunts, and even more breath-taking close-ups. A kiss. A pair of eyes, flitting over at just the right instant. Recognition in a wordless look – isn’t that why we go to the movies? A two shot. An embrace. A punch. A moving camera. People running. To something. From something. A life-or-death leap of faith that can be as big as the largest explosions or as small as the moment when things change inside of one individual.

These are things I can’t get enough of and can’t get over. What marvelous wonders are the stories we tell. What greatnesses they show. What treasures they bestow. Great stories have a way of making us feel small in the biggest, most comforting of ways – a glorious paradox I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. And to borrow a line from Sorkin’s “Sports Night,” while hoping to retain the proper sense of perspective and scale, this video is a little reminder:

Look what we can do.

Visual Stimuli

Quick movie-related bits to get back into the swing of blogging:

–Two trailers for next summer movies: “Green Lantern” looks good, not great, we’ll have to wait to see how it’s executed. Ryan Reynolds is earning his paycheck, but anyone want to tell me why we need Blake Lively in this thing Blake Lively-ing it up? Jon Favreau doesn’t like time off, and “Cowboys & Aliens” looks mega-kickass. You see how it’s not winking at us in its purely Western moments? How it doesn’t feel anything at all in any way even just a little bit like “Jonah Hex”? How it’s got James Bond and Indiana Jones in it? And Aliens! I’m excited.

–Double Sequel Movie Day – “Toy Story 3” again at second-run theater [aside from all its other brilliance, do you see how it is in many ways about the writers and creators using their new computer toys to visually remember – and render – what it was like to play with their tangible, childhood toys? Pixar=Meta-brilliance] and right down the street, midnight showing of “Harry Potter 7.1″ aka ‘ ” ” and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,’ which contains my favorite moment (SPOILERS!!!), rendered very nicely, in which Ron defeats one of the horcruxes (-cruxi?) and in so doing, his own worst fear. Great story-telling, I enjoyed the pacing even if I thought some of the more suspenseful sequences could have been handled better. They placed a lot of trust in the three leads, and they handled it excellently. I’m already giddy to see Part 2!

–The Coen Brothers have their remake of “True Grit” coming out, and I just noticed the tagline on their four character posters: “Punishment Comes One Way or Another.” It’s remarkably similar to their 2007 Oscar-wining film, “No Country For Old Men,” whose tagline similarly encouraged: “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” Also a western. Also an adaptation. Also about people trying to hunt down Josh Brolin. The stories are quite different, but the territory is the same. [Also exciting: the trailer tells us the film comes out at Christmas, and the word it offers to cement this is “Retribution.” As a Christian, I’m wondering aloud, here: too soon?]

–Speaking of Oscars, my-oh-my what an off-year we have here for movies. Some gems: “Toy Story 3,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” [RENT IT!] and “The Social Network.” And a few key late releases like the Coens’ film and also “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “Somewhere,” “Blue Valentine,” “Another Year,” “Black Swan” and “The Fighter.” Still, that’s not a large crop from which to choose. My guesses, very early in the game: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress all go to “The King’s Speech” and maybe also Original Screenplay. Director, Adapted Screenplay, and a few other tech awards [cinematography, editing] go to “The Social Network.” Actress to Annette Bening for “The Kids Are All Right” [and for surviving two losses to Hilary Swank] and the film may also get Original Screenplay. Much of this is up in the air, of course, and some of the buzz for “The King’s Speech” could die down if it’s not as brilliant as the early word or if some other film gains momentum. So I really don’t even hardly stand by what I’ve said, except but conjecture is fun for me right about now. If I had my would-rathers, “Toy Story 3” would be much higher on the list.

–Just as an announcement, you can purchase my short film, “Reservations” for a mere $5 here, and I encourage you to do so. The money barely covers all shipping and printing, but the point is that I’d like people to see the film. I’m actually very proud of it. The performances are good, it’s funny, and it’s well-made. There’s even a commentary track discussing the film, if you’re into that sort of thing.

–Finally…writing: I finished a draft of the feature length version of “Trailer: The Movie,” and immediately set to work on the treatment, which meant I also quickly began seeing story, character, and pacing flaws. While conceptually very sound, the scale can still increase a bit more. The second and third act are too similar, the character arcs, and along with them the satire, can be pushed much further. It’s funny, I prefer a lot of chaos in the third act, but what was written was pretty tame. Outlining has become my new best friend. I set up a marker board on an easel next to the computer, divided into blocks that have the broad story beats and specific sequences broken down. It’s a clear, helpful way to get ideas out of my head and onto something I look at and examine. It helps to literally see the flow of the story from one scene to another. And because I love lists, it also fosters even more creativity. I’m also being more disciplined with myself. It’s easy to read books and watch movies [and write blogs] and never get down to business and go, “Well, I have so many ideas, but shucks I just never seem to write them down.” Gone are the days of letting myself off the hook. I sit down, turn off my phone and get to work. Sometimes the pages come fast and easy, sometimes I spent almost all the time outlining, but the time and energy are focussed in the right direction either way. It’s the difference between thinking about doing something and moving toward a goal.

Incidentally, I’ve also been reading about Michael de Luca, who was the head of New Line Studios when he was my age, making films like “Seven” and “Boogie Nights” when no one else would. Eesh. Talk about putting things into perspective.


It Has Come to This

November 2017
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