Posts Tagged 'Movies'


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.



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.

Kindred Spirits

It’s been over two weeks of non-bloggery and the trend will undoubtedly continue for a while. We’re prepping to film a 30-minute short film at the end of the month, and there’s just a lot to do. But! One awesome piece of news is that after posting an ad on Craig’s List, watching over 50 reels from cinematographers and interviewing 8 of them we really liked, we’ve got an amazing DP who will allow us to use two HD cameras and will also use his own stedicam for filming. So long uber-bouncy image! My main goal moving forward is to elevate the overall visual quality of my films – from cameras to lenses to lighting to movement –  and I’m getting very excited about how this one is going to look.

Point being: all of this and more is leaving me little time to blog lately (I haven’t even written my thoughts on Infinite Jest yet, and you know I’m all about that). Nonetheless, now that it’s been a year since making “Trailer: The Movie” and since I’m still in the process of re-writing the feature version, I’ve come across some clips of other people doing similar cinema, media satire, and wanted to share them. The Onion News Network, in particular, has raised the bar. This is the funniest thing in the world to me. They get the tone so spot on. Their actors look and sound the part, and their graphics and intros are shockingly accurate. I would kill to write for them. Take a look!

And then here is one I saw right before the Oscars. Also very funny. I hope these people succeed.


It’s been over two weeks since I’ve written anything. I’m writing this as I wind down from a run – something else I haven’t been doing with as much frequency as I’d like. Turns out having a 40-hr/week job cuts into the free time.

Between writing (as in screenwriting) and rehearsals for a short film that may have just fallen through or may have just gotten much better – in one of two ways – and working and driving to work and trying to finish Infinite Jest (I promise no David Foster Wallace tangents tonight) and catching up with all the big Oscar nominees in theaters (“Crazy Heart” and “A Single Man” are both good but not great) and on DVD/Netflix (“The Girlfriend Experience,” “Humpday” and especially “In the Loop” are all really good. The latter-most being so good it makes me angry and exhilarated how much I want to emulate it) and movie nights on Saturdays w/ friends Tyler and Josh (this week: anti-V-Day with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and “American Beauty”) and then little annoying things like taxes and bills and sleeping – between all these things, I have so little time to blog it’s not even funny. I had to finish an article for “It’s Just Movies” at work today (read it here).

The Man I Want to Be…?

All that’s to say, it’s been a long start to the year. Which is fine. It’s also been good. My temporary position at the Insurance company is going to extend into March, which means more money in the bank for after it ends. I have to keep telling myself that my bank account balance only looks big, and that it won’t last once the job ends. There’s still the chance of moving into a full-time position, but it would be back out in the field doing the inspections instead of in the office. Listening to the field adjusters when they come into the office reminds me of all the things I don’t miss about that position. They’re all so incredibly stressed out and angry and bitter. The worst moment of recognition is this low-voiced swearing every time the phone rings. What was once an innocuous ring-tone becomes a unending nightmare of stupid people asking annoying questions that waste your time and eat your soul.

The thing is this: when you’re a field adjuster, your job doesn’t just follow you home, it takes over your home. When you eat the same place you work at a job you don’t like, boundaries get blurred and things can get internally destructive. Right now, I’m super-busy at work. But when I leave, I’m gone. It’s humanly impossible for me to work without being at the office, and for me that may be a necessity. If they offer me a field position I may try it out again. But I’m better outside of work when my workplace is the office. Today my boss let me know that some Temp people have stayed on for over nine months, even though their position was supposed to be up after two or three or six. That’s my preference. I’m not tied to the company, I can explore other options, but I also have some temporary stability.

And now I have to go hang out with my roommate.

Top 30 Films of the Decade

And the best film of the decade is...

Check over on the CINEMA page to see the complete list of my 30 favorite films from the 2000’s. There were so many movies I had to leave off even that list, I could have easily expanded to a top 50, 60, even 100. Think of it. Many of us make top 10 lists every year, multiply that by the decade, you’ve got 100 movies. That’s not to mention how many good movies come out that don’t quite make that list, either.

What I’m saying is it’s a very good time for movies. This decade brought some amazing technological advancements, that started at the tail end of the last decade (and century, jeez!) with “The Matrix,” “The Mummy,” and the first “Star Wars” prequel. This decade exploded with droves of computer-animated family films, though the first people to the party are still the best: Pixar. They have evolved, themselves, past telling purely children’s stories. This decade has shown them to be the best story-tellers working in cinema today.

Directors like Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and Paul Greengrass (the third of whom, come to think of it, didn’t make my list at all. For shame, me) have emerged as three new auteurs this decade, combining big ideas with great artistic sensibilities. Though they haven’t made as many pictures, three Spanish friends – Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Alfonso Cuaron – have brought a new vibrance to film. Directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Darren Aronofsky, who were all making films in the 90’s, have continued making brilliant films and have found their audiences growing into mini-movements of support.

The best new directors, for my money, are Jason Reitman, whose 3rd film (“Up in the Air”) is his best yet; and two comedians: Judd Apatow and Edgar Wright. Apatow has led the charge for crass, hilarious comedies about man-children growing up, while Wright, alongside writer/actor Simon Pegg, has cultivated some of the most stylish comic send-ups of classic genre films.

And of course, there is Peter Jackson. He gets the New Spielberg award. This decade sortof belonged to him. 5 films, all of which combine a massive scope, amazing special effects, and brilliantly crafted characters in commercial entertainments.

Many of the greats are still working: Speilberg, Zemeckis, Scorsese, Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Michael Mann, the list goes on and on forever, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about my top 10 of the decade, as well as posting my list for the best films of the year. Busy time for movie-lovers.

Merry Christmas all!

Los Angeles in December

It’s a good and bad time to be in Los Angeles in December. It’s good because I have no fewer than 10 movies to see between now and the end of the year and most of them are already playing here. I been able to see “Up in the Air” and “The Road”, even though they won’t get to most places for a few weeks. I got to see “Antichrist” and review it as it was finishing its run here and it won’t ever play in much of the rest of the country. The major downside is that movies are expensive out here. Gone are the days of $5 shows during the middle of the week at AMC. $9 is about as cheap as it gets. $18 or so if I’m seeing IMAX movies in 3D (For “Avatar, I may just be willing to pay that, too).

So here’s my list to see from now til year’s end:

An Education

The Last Station


The Princess and the Frog

The Lovely Bones




Sherlock Holmes

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus

Crazy Horse

The White Ribbon

As well, there are loads of classic movies playing all over the place. Seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen was a truly amazing experience. 2000 people watching one of the most gorgeously photographed movies of all time. The theater honored the intermission in the middle of the film. Even though the movie and its character keep us at arm’s length, I felt like I was seeing the movie for the first time. I know lots of people who would rather wait for movies on DVD, but even with as big a screen as that allows these days, there is no substitute for the big screen, for the atmosphere, for the communal, enriching experience of seeing something breathtaking with strangers who, for a few hours don’t seem like strangers anymore.

E-P-I-C ! ! !

There are shitty things about Los Angeles, too.

Most people who live here are like me, which means they aren’t from here, which means since it’s Christmas, they’re all leaving. This would be fine any other time. Driving, parking, and getting around will be a breeze. Yes, but all of my friends are going home for Christmas, so where am I trying to get in such a rush? I suppose I’ll be able to get all my Christmas shopping done easily. I still need to think of gifts for my sister and parents.

Literally, every one of my friends is leaving for Christmas. I’m not. As I’ve said, this will be my first Christmas away from home, though I’ll be with family. But that’s one day. For about two weeks, I’ll be left to my own devices. There won’t be much background work (if any) because all the shows are on break for Christmas and New Year’s. And so what oh what will I do with myself? I’ve got writing to do, sure. I’ll read. I’ll venture out to some movies by myself, and I plan to catch up on the rest of season 5 of “LOST.”

I should be used to the solitude, I should welcome it. In Kansas City, it was my norm. And in many ways, I am looking forward to it. As Woody Allen might say, I’ll be spending the holidays with someone I love.

The one other thing I might change is snow. For all its hassle and annoyance, I miss playing in the snow.

It Has Come to This

February 2019
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