Monday, November 17, 2008

Quantum of what? Solace?



Somebody shoot Marc Forster, he ruined the franchise.

Never in the history of the franchise has such a soulless exercise been produced. QoS sets out to dismantle everything that Martin Campbell and his team of writers did with Casino Royale, arguably the best in the franchise.

WFT they were thinking hiring someone with no respect for the character? I'll never know, the grosses point out the opposite.

QoS is a Bourne movie with Bond's name only. It is executed with the same flurry of sensory assault devoid of plot, and that's not what Bond movies are. Bond is not a trend, Bond's the standard.

The shoulder to blame are the characters above. The editor is not so behind either. The post below answers all those questions.

For an example of what this film has to offer, look at this scene:

(SPOILERS)

The death of Mathis.

Bond just puts him a FKING garbage can! That's it, next scene. The proceedings here feel like the filmmakers don't care for the character, and none of the emotional pull that Bond went through in CR is present here.

For a friend that went out for Bond, the writers sure could've used a better exit for him. The fact that Bond is wreckless is established, but it feels shallow and incomplete.

Word to Bond producers: Next time, don't make a release date. Make a movie. Do NOT hire art school directors who don't care about the material, and put the money on the screen. I didn't see it.

How can you be fair when filmmakers don't care? you just can't.

Quantum of Solace is in theaters now. Sit a few rows back unless you enjoy vomits.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Action is NOT incoherency.



The modern action movie has taught us one thing: coherency is an afterthought to chaos.

The cinema of Michael Bay and Jason Bourne have trained modern movie audiences on shaky cam, fast cuts, and multiple angles to compensate for the precision that used to be hallmarks of good action movies. Movie makers think that more and more means better and better, when audiences are trained to accept whatever you feed them they can appreciate when they can tell what they're seeing. It's all about the grosses, quality be damned.

The action genre has been taken over by frenetic editing, a formula that I never understood how it took off. Editors embraced this by cutting action sequences as chaotic and frenetic as possible at the expense of coherency. Second unit directors point and shoot, what technicians and stunt people work hard to stage. It is modern film editing that's robbed us from the ability to appreciate all the hard work that goes on making these films. Too many crashes, too many explosions, too many angles.

What a better way to contrast the changes than in the new Bond film with it's predecessor, Casino Royale.

Quantum of Solace, Directed by Marc Forster, replicates the trend to dizzying heights, resulting in action sequences that lose track of Bond, as well as what he's doing.

Actually, the whole movie is like that.

One of the things that made the Bond films the standard is it's innovation on the action scenes. The stunts of those films are still some of the best ever captured on film, you can pop those movies in and still be amazed at what they did because it was real. Until the early 2000's, Bond films relied on stunts to carry the day.
The editing back then sold us on these incredible feats, and Bond (more correctly his stuntman) was always the focus of the action. Casino Royale, Directed by Martin Campbell, took the series to greater heights by concentrating on character while still retaining the qualities that make a Bond film special. You could actually tell what was happening and where invested in the characters, every action scene was heightened by the character moments that followed:




It's an example of how to treat this franchise. While I like Marc Forster for his versatility, his movies are tedious to sit through. The man has done every kind of movie imaginable, from Monster's Ball to Stranger than fiction. His lack of respect for Bond is evident on every frame of Quantum of Solace, and that's lamentable.

It is disappointing by the standards set by it's predecessor.

Problem #1:

By hiring the second unit guy from the Bourne movies, the Filmmakers went in the other direction and made the action an incoherent mess. Now Bond is just like any sub par action hero, distinguished only by the name and exotic locations.

Problem #2:

The scenes are edited by a Blender. Forster's editor, Matt Chesse (no pun intended) excels at a different kind of movie. Here his edits ruin the flow of the movie by allowing a typical shot to last less than a second. Here is a link to an article on the guy: http://www.moviemaker.com/editing/article/license_to_cut_editor_matt_chesse_on_quantum_of_solace_20081113/

The film's car chase is an example of what not to do in editing. The sequence opens the film, mere minutes after the end of Casino Royale...with Bond on the run by a rogue organization. We can't tell what is happening, the movie just starts on the chase. There's relentless driving, good stunt work, and no suspense because the scene has no...buildup. No sense of geography. At least the way it's edited. This is why it's not always a good idea to bring someone's editor if you're an art house guy. Not every editor can cut action, and vice versa. Lee Smith, Nolan's editor on Dark Knight, accomplished an incredible feat of maintaining the action sequences coherent while never losing track of the characters, AND the film was 142 minutes yet felt faster than this piece of turd. Now, that's good editing.


Parting thoughts

When something goes right, something goes horribly wrong. The Bourne movies have FKed up action movies in general. That's what everybody's doing, and forgotten that showing something from 16 different angles is not as satisfying as seeing how dangerous it is, if we can't tell what we're seeing.

I do not like it, and don’t think it’s good directing. Blame it on movie trailers, blame it on our ability to sustain interest. The movies do not improve, and people watch what you feed them. While action sequences have gotten more grand and sophisticated (don't get me started on CGI)...filmmakers have lost track of what keeps an audience engaged: Suspense. Our ability to appreciate it has not, witness the success of Casino Royale. 564 million worldwide on a 105 million budget.

Shaky cam and incoherent editing is not action, it's not movement, it's not exciting, and its not good film making.

Perhaps the Bond filmmakers will realize this and remedy the headache.

Martin Campbell, come to the rescue.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The complexities of race in a caribean country.



I am a Dominican. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Although I embraced America as my adopted hometown, Santo Domingo is where my soul was cultivated, and where I came of age.

The 80's where are prosperous time for any child growing up outside of a third world country, for the world was presented by the thick haze of optimism and the coolness of Mtv. I grew up with a television, and witnessed the birth of imagination every time I pressed that button. It was predominately white people on TV, while surrounded by people that most definately where not white, they where Dominican.

The politics (shall we say realities) of race where not in my sights during the Reagan and Beverly Hills Cop II years, for playing with WWF action figures and Transformers where the norm for any kid like me. The topic has resurfaced with urgency, now that distance and a good twenty years has enabled me to pass it by.

Dominicans, unlike ethnic puerto ricans, suffer from a transplanted set of conflicting values. Historically, we tend to be darker than our Puerto Rican neighbors. The racist mentality that still stains the country is a decease that runs across every social cycle, from rich to poor to poorest. It's stupid is as stupid does. Amnesty international conducted a report which brings discrimination center stage, with alarming findings. The country's history with neighbor Haiti has been a fractured one, with the racist mentality caused by this fracture still among most Dominican citizens.

According to the findings, deportations, "discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, language and nationality, are a reality for many Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. Victims whose cases have come to the attention of Amnesty International are predominantly irregular and undocumented migrant workers, but also include Dominican nationals of Haitian
descent, including children".

This is alarming, specially considering the moral fabric that governs the Dominican mentality. Many a voice view Haitian people as second class citizens, people who are less than human. I've heard this echoed around from here all the way there, and it reminds of how conflicted we are as a nation. American influence has surely clouded our ethnic pride, for hordes of Dominican women (typically darker skinned ones) cosmetisize their appearance to their white counterparts, similar to how Black women tend to dress nowaways. This is not the root of the problem, for it's cosmetic, bloodline ignorance is to blame. I'm fairly medium complexion myself, and when I returned to the country after a 17 year absence my conscience was filled, my memories remained but reality confirmed times have changed. I recall walking into a club meeting all the requirements (you think clubs here are strict, think again) only to be turned down more than once while my lighter skin friends where welcomed and white tourists paraded about. Witnessing this ridiculous display caused me to reconsider what I had grown up beleiving, that Dominicans are racist the same way the black community feels about Gay people: denial. Denial of one's truth is denial of one's being, and the anti Haitian, anti dark skin sentiment was a harsh reminder of a country filled with a false sense of identity.

Being dark in Dominican Republic will call you a "negro", or "prieto". It's not as harsh sounding as "Negro" or American counterpart. Context is key here. I've been called Moreno before, as a term of affection. This is something any outsider finds hard to grasp, and it's the local culture that represents the true voice of the people.

The Amnesty article woke me up, shook me, for what it says speaks volumes about how fucked up the state of things are in times like these, times that need integration. We have a black president here, try explaining diversity to a country where identity is still at a crossroads. Haitian migrant workers are denied the rights and protection of ordinary citizens, and even if you where born Dominican and are from Haitian descent people are denied a Dominican "Cedula" (green card). This is astonishing. Dominicans, like our Latin counterparts, are comprised of every ethnicity. Black Dominicans, Brown Dominicans, light, ultra dark, Asian, white, all categories exist, thanks to the gift of a diverse set of people. Exclusion of our neighbors threatens to intensify the brigade, and further escalate tensions. Violence has already resulted, with lynchings reported as recent as 2006.

No isolated incident can destroy the spirit of the Dominican people, it will always be one of singular conviction over what's right or wrong. The case of ethnic confusion is a matter of debate among nationals, one that people far removed from the nucleus can observe.

I come from an ethnically diverse family myself, where my nucleus, my Granddad, was as dark as the beauty of confronting light while my grandmother was as light as early morning sunshine. Both produced my mother, while my father was a brown skin dominican man of middle eastern descent.

Just as the testament of unity seems to be coming true, I offer an glimpse at the kind of people that represent my great country, what a better way to show it than when I first had my Mtv?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama is our new president: A review.









Last night was the most historic night on our nation's recent history. The people spoke with their votes and elected Barack Obama as our new president.

The collective feeling in our country was something I've never experienced, an excitement where race is no longer the matter, and people joined together for the same cause: change. The enormity of the task ahead put unimaginable pressure of Obama, whom many people look at as a savior. A heir to the dreams of such great leaders like Dr King.

It's a moment to be proud, I shall say that I am proud to be an american. This is possible, and more than me feel great already. Like a burden lifted from the negativity and cynical air breathed due to Bush's policies. In more ways than one, this is a victory of hope. Let's all work on making it better.

Then my second half wants to join in and add his collective consciousness. This is a double edged sword, for Obama winning changes the rules among race relations in this country...and opens up new ones yet to be written.

It is within my conscious to state that the majority of blacks whom are uninformed with politics voted for Obama simply because he is black. This raises ethno political issues that come with such history being written. I live in the mecca of Harlem, a neighborhood seen changed by gentrification and split in two by a lack of integration.

What I saw yesterday was not what I just said, it was everyone joined at the hip embraced for the same voice. This is the moment that restored hope and voice that the perils of the 20th century have been lessons learned, now abolished by a new beginning.

I certainly believe white people's self entitlement will change, for they have no reason to widen the gap anymore that Obama being president signals the great thing that makes this nation prosper: Diversity. Every citizen of the united states should be proud of this, for it is what America can be at it's best. He is simply the best candidate for the job, who happens to be black.

Which bring my next point: self entitlement rolling it's ugly head.

Like I said, I still think blacks voted for the Obvious, and to me that is important. Obama could fuck up on his job and people will still love him because of his skin color, but it's black people the ones that need some catching up to do now that the playing field is no longer on the short end of the stick. That self defeating way of thinking that cripples many promising minds shall cease to abolish. I hope his message empowers people to escape the narrow mindedness that perverses this sector of the audience, to escape their entrapment and onto a path of equality, the way Dr King once wished. Every ethnicity has their fuck ups, the black community knows this.
Systematically, socially, and economically, this persecution is the ugly head that rears the reality of where a community stands, and where it will lead by leadership.

Obama is the man that changes this, for his victory spells the consciousness that our nation must and will change. Abolish proposition 8 and we're on our way. Back to life, it feels a collective high.

God bless Obama, god bless America. His victory signals how far we've come, and how open our future can become. The change has already begun. The truth it is evident.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Body of lies



Body of lies is an ok movie with moments of greatness. Further evidence which brings Ridley Scott's current streak full circle. Take away Scott's characteristic attention to detail, and it could have been made by anyone.

I'm a very big fan of Scott the visionary, not the workman. Just look at the resume: Blade Runner, Alien, 1492 and Thelma and Louise, those movies have no peer. American Gangster, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Kingdom of heaven exhibited a lack of consistency that leaves me wondering Scott "knew better" but chose not to go the extra mile to greatness. His output increased while the quality has not, and takes little chances. That's too bad considering what he's capable of. One wonders if Scott is content in letting things materialize this way, rather than the visionary gusto that categorizes his best work. Maybe that's the whole point. Earlier efforts like The Kingdom explore hollywood middle east in more satisfying ways.

Body of lies represents workman-like Scott to the fullest. It is well made, engaging, and never boring. What is lacking is a clear agenda, and dramatic momentum to leap the story to satisfaction.

Trust no one, deceive everyone. The movie promises that. By sticking so rigidly to formula (the love story feels patched on), it pleases no one.

Leo Dicaprio is characteristically intense (shades of his Departed performance here) as a man who is once again caught up in a web he has no idea he's weaved into. His performance keeps Body of lies watch able enough to be mildly satisfying, even if the casual viewer is wondering if the story's going anywhere. Russell Crowe does exactly what the part calls for, and it's an interesting parallel to the one he played in the far superior Insider. His character here represents the beaurocratic obesity that heroic guys like Dicaprio clearly despise. That's an interesting dynamic that the movie spends far too little time dwelving into.

Other than the negatives, there's much to recommend here. Lenser Alexander Witt and Arthur Max's production design ground the movie in realism, among the supporting performers bring more to the movie than the script (By Departed's William Monahan) realizes. This brings me to the conventions of Scott's working style. Remember Black Hawk Down and sections of Hannibal? Scott seems to fetishize ethnic profiling, as evidenced in these movies. The arabs are stereotypes, and lack dimension. Part of the problem is the film's lack of identity. It's neither a political thriller like Syriana nor is it an action movie. Transplant the conventions of those genres and you sorta get the idea. It's got the adherence to action movie conventions while trying to branch out of it. Anytime something interesting is about to happen, Scott rolls out an action sequence that feels obligatory instead of organic. One fresh character is the suave Hani, played by new comer Mark Strong (Rocknrolla). This part is where the film shines, and Strong's performance keeps things interestingly contrasted to Dicaprio's pleading intensity.

Body of lies is neither bad enough to condemn nor good enough to praise, and doesn't fall in the middle either. It makes for a frusttating experience. Scott and co surely are capable of better, and the question of whether his best work is behind him is valid. Is he content with the current wave of cranking out a film a year rather than attempting something more ambitious?

Based on box office receipts, I suspect the latter. Perhaps the criticism is too harshly.

The question remains, does he still want to?

The law of diminishing returns kicked in five movies ago. It's time for a new frontier, Scott.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blindness



Blindness is a good movie. Stopping short of great, it's a mostly fascinating allegory of human nature at it's most desparaging
when chaos erupts and people are confronted with the unexplainable. Just don't call it entertaining, for those coming to see this wanting all their answers solved are in for a doozy. The Film is an intellectual exercise, one that confronts the viewer and puts them right where the characters are: A world falling apart.

Along with Children of Men, and to a lesser extent, 28 Days Later, Blindness can be considered part of the new sub genre dubbed "Apocalypse Porn". It's neither a thriller nor is it an action film, which makes it harder to categorize.

Blindness's premise is simple: In an unspecified city, people a blind epidemic starts to occur. Stripped of their sight with an unresponsive government at hand, chaos erupts and the bleakness takes over. Fernando Meirelles, whom directed the excellent City of God, is less interested in the Psycological aspects of blindness (the movie just begins when the first person is infected and doesn't explain anything) than the despair it brings to a group of people. This is something the Director, a native of Sao Paulo, understands all too well. The movie's subject matter offers endless visual possibilities, and this, along with is talented DP César Charlone, device a visual device as bold as the storytelling. White is the dominant color, and is effectively used as a framing device to transport the narrative.

Julianne Moore (em, Children Of Men) is the only person who can see among the blind, and along with her Doctor Husband (and delegating Mark Ruffalo) is forced to survive in situations that are harrowing beyond belief. The government, in fear of the escalating chaos with no answers to solve it, takes a group of the infected and hauls them together to fend off for themselves. Power plays ensure, as the screws of survival tighten and despair takes it's hold. These sequences are among the most harrowing seen in a recent movie, as the blind cope with the relentless abuse of power by another sector who use fear and intimidation as a dominating tactic. Allusions to the real world are not coincidental. This material is what's polarizing viewers and clueless reviewers whom don't like their cage shaken. The movie's centerpiece, where the woman are forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for survival, and men put them there. This scene really pissed off my partner, whom as a woman has every right to a perspective man don't share. The scene shows human nature at it's most primal, and how men force woman into making sacrifices by the use of fear and abuse to dominate others.

To put this scene into real life perspective, one must understand it's implications. In her own words:


They (the men) chose to let the women save their asses with the cost that outstrips any reasonable explanation. and men always do that!!! not just in the movie, but in the real life and that's what pisses me off. Men always let women sacrifice the most. and even in that situation, man still finds time to turn around and cheat on somebody who's the only person there for him. Once you see the scene you'll understand what this means.

I suspect the removal of a reportedly incessant voiceover (Danny Glover, in eyepatch) pulls the rug under the viewer even more, adding to the unpleasantness. The third act of the film is so bleak and heavy that the movie barely recovers by the time the optimistic resolution comes. This, along with the music and a few pacing issues, detract an A movie to a B rating.

Regardless of the uneveness, it's a powerful film about the effects of humanity responding in the urge of a crisis no one can see. Being stripped away from our vision also strips us of our senses as we confront survival, according to the film's material.

Blindness is engaging and intelligent enough to provoke some hard reactions and frustration. See it with your eyes wide open, no pun intended.

Trailer:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In defense of Spike Lee...sort of.



Spike are you listening? you get a lot of flack from the white community, sometimes self imposed, most often not. This is my attempt to examine the parallels and double standards of race in this business as they relate to your work. Roll tape.

The man is a polarizing figure to most, yet he remains one of our premier filmmakers. The man has an impeccable resume: Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, among many others.
He never told the same story twice, and branched out onto documentary just as successfully. Spike Lee opened the doors for black film, and in the process revolutionized film culture through his convex of racial politics, ideology, and cinematic language. The fact that the progress he has made for African American arts has been devalued by the acceptance of commercialism as a means to an end makes the current state all the more saddening. There was one time where progressive social politics MEANT something to film culture, and Spike was at the forefront of this examination through his work.

I can mention Spike in the same sentence as Woody Allen, Scorsese and Spielberg and not miss a beat. This may sound like a love letter to Spike, no it's an affirmation of his contribution to film culture. A culture that is sadly in decline. Mediocrity is the new cancer, playing it safe at the hands of nothing to offer. How many times have you been to the movies in the last ten years and truly came away inspired and changed?

I remember my first summer in America, the summer of 89'. I lived in the Bronx at the time, and recalled the poster for Do The Right Thing at the local bus stop. I remember looking at that poster, and the characters looking up at me. I didn't understand it at the time, what that image meant to convey. Years later I saw the movie, and that summer vividly replayed among my young eyes. This was my introduction to Spike Lee.

Later in eight grade I bought the screenplay to Do The Right Thing and was more interested in reading that in class than any bullshit they wanted to teach me. I would get lost in the colorful language and the scenes, it was something within me. I saw it as "this is it", this is my calling. Sweet Dick Willie couldn't put it better.

Film is the defining art form of the times, and now more than ever it's in trouble. It's power to move people and inspire their emotions remains the best vehicle of self expression. The language of telling stories has evolved, but storytelling has been impacted, taken a step back to mere technique.

Wanna know what pisses me off? critics. Critics think they know everything when they fucking don't know from A to B. Audiences have changed, and it's harder than ever to engage them when 90% of what they want is just want escapism. That and the driven cost of films has made it harder than ever for a filmmaker like Spike Lee to tell his brand of stories. Lesser filmmakers are handed out bigger budgets (Wes Anderson comes to mind) to craft their idiosyncratic visions, even if his films only play to art school sophisticated hipsters. Everyone has an opinion. Bloggers get down on their knees and suck up to the system in exchange for a free pass. Seems like no one wants to critique work with a balanced view anymore, since intellectual exercise has been replaced by juvenile "youtube" comments. It can be argued that film criticism is dead, packaged, morphed into a popularity game of admiration and bottom floor condescension. No film by any contemporary American filmmaker faces more derision and deviance than a Spike Lee film. Oh folks are equally pissed and entranced at a Spike Lee joint. That's part of what's great and part of what's...sad about our movie going culture. His detractors are usually film critics who take personal issue at his reputation while overlooking his craft at telling a story. When you're as vocal as he is and pigeonholed as the angry black man, no one cares how good your films are. Film criticism has no place anymore, because personal dogma has replaced what used to be known as artistic merit.

The posturing of the "angry black man" is like a curse that haunts every production he makes. Somehow critics, and the audience by large, can't separate the man from his films. I'm afraid this is a reason his films don't do as well commercially as they should because of that. Then again, few filmmakers have cemented a reputation in the public and artistic side like Spike has. There's a sociopolitical identification with his work that engages the audience and makes them asks the same questions his characters live through. His media visibility overshadows that of his films, although in recent times he's learned to be smarter and take a back seat. I argue that because he is black and makes movies about blacks, he gets attacked on those grounds. Well, if 90% of all stories are told from white people's point of view, where's the balance to illicit such strong reaction? people focus on the bullshit and overlook the craft and passion even his less successful movies contain. Sure, his record is hit or miss, but he never plays down the integrity of the story the rules for the sake of dishonesty, something 90% of American films are guilty of doing. Every film he's made could not have been made by anyone else.

Look at an film like The 25th Hour. Very underrated film. It's a story of predominately white people. Any white director could have made that film. What distinguishes it is the insight which informs his best work. The language of new york, the beauty of the characters interactions. In a Spike lee film, people say what often you and I feel about people but don't often express. It could only come from having that unique sensibility. He's had bad films before, but even the bad ones contain elements as good as any.

In a broader spectrum, it can be argued that black film's aim is no longer to shed a light on the African American experience. Capitalism is the new god, so times have changed. I believe art still has a place in this world, even if the bar has been set so low that it has no place to go. Social discourse is solely missing in our cinema. Black cinema embraced the backwards buffoons and racial stereotypes that people take as the construct of our reality. This is what the media wants colored people to represent, evidenced by all the garbage that plays on our screens. The politics of change don't wheel forward unless its from within, and that plays to our fundamental understanding of how we feel about ourselves. The screen is the truth that represents how we are viewed.

Things are changing, with the world becoming more ethnically integrated than ever before. A black man is running for office, and America has come a long way from the days of OJ and Rodney King. Racism still exists, and it always will. The relationship of race and it's discontents are at the heart of his work. However didactic and heavy handed a Spike Lee film can get, the messages they carry are urgent and full of plight. He does not glamorize the trappings of black people, instead offering social commentary on how these trappings bind the black experience in social and cultural struggle. That's anthropology to you and me.

Spike makes what he wants, and he's done more to articulate the race issues that divide this country than anyone with a voice that needs to be heard would. Other black filmmakers chose to glamorize capitalism and materialism as the means to an end for them, that's a cultural shift and a gradual change of the times. Spike's integrity permits him to focus on the black experience instead of the stereotype.

What Spike has accomplished for black film, and for film in general, should not be understated. This is a town that paints in the same color, and excludes everyone else.

Anyone remember driving miss daisy? that film won an Oscar the same year Do The Right Thing was released. Do The Right Thing remains a benchmark film, and didn't even get a best picture nomination. Same could be said for Malcolm X, both remain his best movies to date.

This is where the praise ends, and the subject begins.

I've read the definitive book on Spike (That's my story and I'm sticking to it). It's a remarkable read, and one of the most honest studies of an artist I've read. To understand his work one must understand the man who made them, and the book paints the nuances in a satisfying light. As the book notes, Spike is a man whose complexity far justifies the intentions behind his artistry. He is a bit of an asshole, and self serving, specially to his collaborators. Then again which filmmaker isn't self serving? it's in their DNA. I would not have written this article without gathering an understand of his work. I revisit his films with inspiration and a point of view.

To make the long story conclude, I respect Spike Lee as a filmmaker and think he's great. Call him a racist or a bad filmmaker if you must, but don't deny he's a fucking great storyteller. Even I sometimes disagree with his methodology, but always enjoy the film.

Keep doing what you're doing, Spike. Fuck the establishment, it will never change.

Do the right thing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cut it within an inch of it's life, Fincher.



I love David Fincher's films, except for Zodiac. The man is a genius, no pun intended.

But I also beleive that long doesn't necessarily mean better, and incline towards a streamlined approach in what I'm watching. You see, I'm a film editor, so naturally this topic is right up my alley.

Some films are just too long. I've seen movies that are three hours (Casino comes to mind) that fly faster than anything under 94 minutes, either because they're so engaging that you're glued or fascinating in the way the story is told. Hitchcock said it best to consider your film's running time by genre expectations, audience expectation, and their bowel movements.

Everyone has a bowel, not every filmmaker is successful at telling a story. If they where, every film would be a masterpiece.

The bigger the filmmaker, the longer the film. There's examples of this in every good filmmaker, Spike Lee, Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson come to mind.

That's the cliche. Good directors know how well a film will play to the audience because they command the language to engage their senses before they even edit it. Good directors stage their scenes with maximum efficiency instead of shooting the shit out of it till something good pops out. The only one who's above all this is teh late, great Stanley Kubrick. His films where long, but every edit was perfect. Others work differently and rely on an editor's sanity to rescue their story from total incoherence. Action films don't subject to this formula, as coherence is not a basis for engagement. An hackeyed action film such as The Bourne Supremacy ends up Winnin the editing Oscar versus measured and seamless pieces like Children Of Men. This goes to prove that you don't need to be up there to know that idiots run the show.

Remember the days of Oliver Stone? he's a reason film editors exist...often at the mercy of the director. If form follows function, good editing is the chess game of intentions.

The secret goal of a film editor is to bring in a film fat free, to trim away all the directorial excess and keep the story told as lean as possible while maintaining the vision of that story. Easier said than done, it takes a lot of skill to do this. During this time, questions are asked, accidents happen, and films are shaped in ways that resemble the script, or radically depart from it. What is essential is how efficient can a story be told without disrupting it's emotional core? that's a director's job ideally. A questioned later answered at the bay...or at the script stage. So many directors don't understand editing, and watching even great movies made by even great filmmakers narrative leaks and edits exist. Every cut is a decision made in the service of telling that story.

Even one frame can make a difference whether a film drags or feels just right, but only people that do what I do notice that. We're the gods between the details.


David Fincher, top 5 greatest Director alive, has been in a locked battle over the lenght of his new 175 million epic, Benjamin Button. The film stars Brad Pitt as a man who ages backwards. It's the move I look forward to seeing the most this holiday season. Now if you've seen Zodiac and aren't a cinephile, you probably found it as laborious to sit through as I did. That movie is what prompted me to write this blog.

You see, Fincher is uncompromising. This is the man who notoriously has his way with the studios, and makes the films he wants to make. This is his best and worse quality as a filmmaker, but I'm a subscriber to the "lenght is dictated by how you stage it" theory. Quoting Fincher, a movie "makes a pact with it's audience". Every bit of information is informed by every cut. The thematic threads of the story and the context of the emotions are formed by the choice of shots, their staging, the performances, and when and how the edit is applied. Sorta like how your brain engages the intellect, if you possess it.

Zodiac's running time was 158 minutes (162 in the DVD). It is neither a historical epic nor does it contain multiple narrative threads. It is also a story with no resolution, given that it's based on the case of the Zodiac which was never solved.

Fincher had final cut in the film, which means after a studio mandated lenght all the creative decisions are his. When you have millions invested in a property, wouldn't you also want your investment to play to as broader an audience as possible? this is the argument that underlines film vs movies, art vs commerce. The both are not mutually exclusive because they must join in order to exist. Back to the movie.

Now, 158 minutes is a lot of time to devote to a movie without a clear resolution. This to me is the main reason why the movie failed at the box office. The movie just lacks momentum, and this is informed by the way Fincher chose to tell the story. Out of my experience with my own work and working with someone else, I often have an internal discussion about how it's playing. I structure the footage six ways to sunday until every single creative avenue has been explored, and the end result is the connective end of all these roads. Reports from a 20 minute preview point out the obvious, that the film poses a challenge to mainstream audiences accustomed to having everything fed to them at a steady pace. Fincher's contract with Paramount (and Warner Bros) gives him final cut at 2 1/2 hours. It was reported that the film irks closer to three hours, and the studio demands more cuts to keep it under 2 1/2. Judging by the trailer, it's a sweeping epic which covers a man's entire lifeline, hence the lenght might be necessary to tell that kind of story. If the movie resembles the pacing of Zodiac in any way, audiences are in for a rude awakening. Bring plenty of coffee, because great films can be ruined by poor pacing. Ever told someone a story and before you got to it they just want to know what happened? audiences are conditioned to read a film this way, because most entertainment is designed this way. Hollywood films are escapist entertainment, but Fincher's films toe the line between art and commerce more successfully without compromising either. Every one of his films are made within an inch of their life, save for Zodiac and his Alien movie (that one doesn't count).

Does the article FEEL long? that's the whole purpose. If it feels long, then it must be long. But is it necessary to tell the story? only time will tell. This is the longest I've had to write to say so little, could it be told by anyone else?

Cut it within an inch of it's life, Fincher, don't let the scenes go on too long.

Trailer for Brad Pitt as an old man below:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Off topic: Gay rights vs Immigrant reform.

Today I got into an interesting discussion with fellow thespians at IMDB regarding Stephen Spielberg's contribution to help strike down Proposition 8 in California.

The news led me to examine the cause, and add a few opinions to the topic at hand.

It beleive it is a worthy cause to contribute to equal rights, and I support gay marriage.

But I also beleive this country, and the world for that matter, has deeper problems than solidifying Gay equality. Being Gay is a lifestyle choice, not a legal matter. Racism still exists, and so does the cancer of ignorance. Inner city children, for example, could use that money Spielberg donated to build after school facilities or donate a film program helping those who want to be filmmakers and are underprivileged. I suppose the donation was at the urge of his fellow friends who asked for a drop in the bucked to help their cause. Gay people have come a long way, and I think their intergration to society will one day become permanent if that say hasn't already arrived. I wish for that, but I also wish that immigrantion was reformed, and that powerful people like Spielberg will also focus their attention to giving minorities opportunities to level the field. Bill Gates is a good example of this, and has dedicated his wealth to further education. That to me is more important than the Gay agenda. Children and immigrants are the future of this country, whether you agree with me or not.

Don't know what part of the country you live at, but it is likely that the people who cook your food at your local restaurant works illegally because he / she cannot become an American citizen unless they marry one. One is not more important than the other, but they are all the root of the problem. A question of priority over social advancement. People who are illegal immigrants do the jobs you and I won't do, and should have the same rights accorded to them that any law abiding citizen should. Yet they will not be able to advance that way due to the roadblocks of immigration. Gays in America don't have this problem. Subject to persecution and discrimination happens to anybody, as does reverse racism. The world has become ethnically integrated, and that pisses some people who don't embrace change.

America is the only place in the world where all cultures and ethnicities can prosper, yet I am not satisfied with what this means because the laws don't often work in this favor. Because it's all on paper and statistics are futile. Everyone does and should have their right to accord, yet it's not that simple.

I also don't think if McCain and Plain get elected they will change anything. Legislation for Gay marriage is a state by state basis, as is Roe vs Wade a supreme court one. Ten years ago being Gay was still socially Taboo in the majority of the world, specifically in America. A lot has been done since then, but still don't know quite what to do with the increase in ethnic population. I don't claim to have all the answers neither do I think I'm right. I just think immigration reform has more gravity than Gay rights, because Gay rights are not the rights of equality if being Gay is a lifestyle of choice. The needs of children are way more important than the rights of alternate lifestyles that are an accepted part of society. That is a generalization, but necessary to state it.

What this country does is constantly turn a deaf ear on immigration plea, yet welcomes the workforce that they provide.

What I think we as citizens need to ask ourselves is: What is the meaning of change, and how do we relate to a world that's constantly being changed by opposing forces?

Any time a discussion involving Gay rights come up it's sure to be a divisive one. The same goes if discussing if Hasidic Jews prefer their own and exclude minorities is considered Anti semitic. Being Gay is neither an ethnicity nor a racial group, like many classify themselves as such. People classify everything as the hate speech bandwagon so easily these days once any critical questioning falls on the table. What is missing in this social discourse are the meaning behind social agendas, and offering no ideas to moderate it is not a ticket to discussing it. The sanction of marriage and what it entails should not be limited only by what god says, but that's another discussion.

But if you ask me, I'll tell you that immigration reform has more gravity than Gay rights.


It is more relevant to the future of this country at this time. I wish Spielberg made that donation towards helping people that clean his toilet instead of those who don't need it. Statement concluded.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Internet racism: War

By now it's either naive or a waste of time to decry that internet racism just for the sake of it.

With the advent of forums everyone and anyone can express their digital hate. I gather a lot of people purposely sit at their keyboards all day and criticise anything that isn't remotely theirs to compensate for their lack of education.

There is a correlation between this culture's new breed of internet savants and the deeply rooted racism that run rampart, unchecked with such liberties. Take for example the cancerous obsession with everything and anything celebrity. Sites such as http://www.perezhilton.com/ and the http://thesuperficial.com routinely open their forums for the willing to engage in the (sometimes deserving) lives of people who are thought to be important and influential. That's an easy target, I will not go there.

Take a look at this thread for example: http://thesuperficial.com/2008/07/paulina_rubio_in_a_bikini.php

There was one member in particular who stood out, who ironically goes by the name "Barack Obama". Seem like he/she gets a kick out of writing comments like the one below. Fictional or real and however despicable the remarks are, some people do think it's funny and that to me is unacceptable.

Sample:

10.

I like to fuck the illegal mexican girls, then call immagration on them. It makes for a good weekend. Promise them you will sponsor them and thier family and they just open thier legs. It is pretty easy. Throw in a shopping trip to WalMart and you can get some anal action from them.

Stupid mexicans.

Or: #79

Paulina,

Hold your head high! You may be a chalupa chomping piece of Mexican crap scuttling your way across the border screeching your gibberish music in the bastardized version of Spanish your monkey people blather in, but you're also hairy and greasy...

Um, wait... I don;t have anything good to say about her at all... or Mexicans in general... You wetback lowlifes can stay on your side of the border until 1/2 hour past checkout time so you can clean my hotel rooms. I may let you stay late to do the dishes or fix my "chebby".

But your crime-ridden cities, complicit cooperation with drug traffickers and government corruption to the highest positions means you are a 3rd world country for a reason. Take your pudgy, squat faces and your 18 children and return to the barren wasteland you screwed up.

Cheers!

- Randal

Oh wait:

#3: A masculine-looking nobody, like all hispandex women. She better know how to scrub a toilet. Wait, what am I saying, it says "Latin" right there at the top...

Notice they have one thing in common: Targeting mexicans.

While I won't go on and give a speech, it demonstrates the general racist sentiment among mexicans in this country. Mexicans represent THE latin ethnic group among the clueless adolescent minds whose prose adorn those pages. As part of a larger epidemic, they think of mexicans same as they think of ALL Latin ethnic groups, which is as second class citizens.

No one is above contempt just as no one is below praise. The world is comprised of elements of both and best personified by what we carry on our souls. Racism is old news, what's new is how it's morphed into the mouthpiece of those who hide behind their keyboard. Everyone's a critic, just like the internet allows us to express our innermost of sentiments.

But if you where to ask me why this irks me, it's because I have a very clear distinction on what constitudes the right from wrong. Sites like these engage in all sorts of soulless behavior as it's called freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech...a double edged sword it surely is.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight: The visual aspect.



The Dark Knight is an unprecedented visual triumph. If you read my review you would share my enthusiasm. Whenever something like this comes along it inspires me to write, it becomes an object of my cinematic obsessions.

Notable for being the first major film to be shot using the IMAX process, Dark Knight moves a step ahead by retaining film's essential quality: Photochemicaly. With an industry quickly adopting digital as the primary means of aquisition, Nolan and co went the opposite route and set out the unpresedented task of shooting a film of this scale using the format. It's a testament to the balls out approach that they managed to convince Warner Bros to buy into their scheme. The risk paid off handsomely.

First, a primer on the IMAX format.





While a standard film is shot and projected in 35MM, IMAX DOUBLES the negative size and has 10 times the resolution of 35MM film, resulting in a 70MM image. Not only do you see more at the top and bottom, but the composition size is enormous. The cameras a bigger and bulkier to use than standard 35MM, which makes operating the camera impractical compared to 35MM. Due to the size of the negative, a 500 foot magazine can only record up to 100 seconds at a time, compared to 10 minutes in 35MM. In order to expose at standard film speed of 24 frames per second, three times as much film needs to move through the camera each second. To do this, 70 mm film stock is run "sideways" through the cameras. While traditional 70 mm film has an image area that is 48.5 mm wide and 22.1 mm tall (for Todd-AO), in IMAX the image is 69.6 mm wide and 48.5 mm tall. In order to expose at standard film speed of 24 frames per second, three times as much film needs to move through the camera each second. (Source: Wikipedia)



IMAX is the highest quality motion picture format currently available, and while filmmakers employ digital tools that capture images at an inferior resolution than that of film, it's ironic that it took Nolan to explore the format's possibilities in a narrative feature. The last couple years has seen the format become commercially viable, as more and more Hollywood films where released in the format the additional revenue stream it provides makes it attractive to the studios, after all, tickets are more expensive thus the revenue's higher. I think this was a defining reason Nolan managed to sell Warner Bros on, as shooting in theformat is four times of standard the streams provided by tocket sales offset the costs. The film shot for 155 days on an estimated 185 million dollar budget.

Now the film.



Nolan and DP Wally Pfister shot the film's major action sequenecs in the format, expanding on what could be done with the cameras by employing them as never before. Because of the format's gigantic size, certain camera moves easily done in 35MM would not work. Focusing is also an issue, as the frame size is so big that keeping objects in focus became a challenge. This is evident during the opening heist sequence. There is very shallow depth of field on the images, especially during closeups.



The format's potential is realized especially during the spectacular aerial shots of Chicago. You really feel like you're there and the filmmakers used the format to immense the audience. The increased detail meant that the filmmakers had to be super diligent about hiding the lights and equipment, and the Joker's makeup is seen with every imperfection of it's grotesque glory.



The most impressive goal of the film is how the special effects don't upstage the action, rather complement it. In big Hollywood comic book films (like Spider Man) the special effects are so obvious that it takes the viewer out of belief. The use of CGI so plastered that audiences have become acostumed to it's obvious banality. Nothing amazes anymore, because everything is relentless, artificial, and overused. The Dark Knight, and to a lesser degree Iron Man wisely allow the special effects to complement the characters and immensing us in the story.






I loved The Dark Knight and think it's the most visually impressive genre movie since Terminator 2. Remember how in awe you where when you saw that? here you are in awe at how seamless Batman's universe is presented, and surprised at how immensive it can be when filmmakers use the technology in the service of the story. See it in IMAX if you get a chance, it'll blow your mind.

The Dark Knight: my review vs his review.



I'm not a professional but one thing I do know is that film critics can no longer be trusted to give a thorough opinion when dismissal is their main frame of reference. When a movie such as The dark Knight comes along it's worthy of discussion.
So much is inversted in the storyline and themes that simply dismissing it as popcorn entertainment condescends it's considerable achievements.

Armond White is a film critic for New York press, one that is widely respected as well as detested. He's a polarising figure for sure, as someone who champions films like The Black Dalia yet reduced this to mere insignificance. Here is his review and below i'll share my thoughts and contrast the two. It was a great movie why not talk about it?

KNIGHT TO REMEMBER
Christopher Nolan panders to hip, nihilistic tendencies, forgetting that superheroes are also meant to inspire hope.

By Armond White

The Dark Knight
Directed by Christopher Nolan


Every generation has a right to its own Batman. Every generation also has the right—no, obligation—to question a pop-entertainment that diminishes universal ideas of good, evil, social purpose and pleasure. And Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, is a highly questionable pop enterprise. Forty-two-year-old movie lovers can’t tell 21-year-old movie lovers why; 21 can only know by getting to be 42. But I’ll try.

After announcing his new comics interpretation with 2005’s oppressively grim Batman Begins, Nolan continues the intellectual squalor popularized in his pseudo-existential hit Memento. Appealing to adolescent jadedness and boredom, Nolan revamps millionaire Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the crime-fighter Batman (played by indie-zombie Christian Bale), by making him a twisted icon, what the kids call “sick.” The Dark Knight is not an adventure movie with a driven protagonist; it’s a goddamn psychodrama in which Batman/Bruce Wayne’s neuroses compete with two alter-egos: Gotham City’s law-and-order District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and master criminal The Joker (Heath Ledger)—all three personifying the contemporary distrust of virtue.

We’re way beyond film noir here. The Dark Knight has no black-and-white moral shading. Everything is dark, the tone glibly nihilistic (hip) due to The Joker’s rampage that brings Gotham City to its knees—exhausting the D.A. and nearly wearing-out Batman’s arsenal of expensive gizmos. Nolan isn’t interested in providing James Bond–style gadgetry for its own ingenious wonder; rather, these crime battle accoutrements evoke Zodiac-style “process” (part of the futility and dread exemplified by the constantly outwitted police). This pessimism links Batman to our post-9/11 anxiety by escalating the violence quotient, evoking terrorist threat and urban helplessness. And though the film’s violence is hard, loud and constant, it is never realistic—it fabricates disaster simply to tease millennial death wish and psychosis.

Watching psychic volleys between Batman, Dent and The Joker (there’s even a love quadrangle that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s slouchy Assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes) is as fraught and unpleasurable as There Will Be Blood with bat wings. This sociological bloodsport shouldn’t be acceptable to any thinking generation.

There hasn’t been so much pressure to like a Batman movie since street vendors were selling bootleg Batman T-shirts in 1989. If blurbs like “The Dark Knight creates a place where good and evil—expected to do battle—decide instead to get it on and dance” sound desperate, it’s due to the awful tendency to convert criticism into ad copy—constantly pandering to Hollywood’s teen demographic. This not only revamps ideas of escapist entertainment; like Nolan, it corrupts them.

Remember how Tim Burton’s 1989 interpretation of the comics superhero wasn’t quite good enough? Yet Burton attempted something dazzling: a balance of scary/satirical mood (which he nearly perfected in the 1992 Batman Returns) that gave substance to a pop-culture totem, enhancing it without sacrificing its delight. Burton didn’t need to repeat the tongue-in-cheek 1960s TV series; being romantically in touch with Catwoman, Bruce Wayne and The Penguin’s loneliness was richer. Burton’s pop-geek specialty is to humorously explicate childhood nightmare. But Nolan’s The Dark Knight has one note: gloom. For Nolan, making Batman somber is the same as making it serious. This is not a triumph of comics culture commanding the mainstream: It’s giving in to bleakness. Ever since Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic-novel reinvention, The Dark Knight Returns, pop consumers have rejected traditional moral verities as corny. That might be the ultimate capitalist deception.

A bleak Batman entraps us in a commercial mechanism, not art. There’s none of Burton’s satirical detachment from the crime-and-punishment theme. In Nolan’s view, crime is never punished or expunged. (“I am an agent of chaos!” boasts The Joker.) The generation of consumers who swallow this pessimistic sentiment can’t see past the product to its debased morality. Instead, their excitement about The Dark Knight’s dread (that teenage thrall with subversion) inspires their fealty to product.

Ironically, Nolan’s aggressive style won’t be slagged “manipulative” because it doesn’t require viewers to feel those discredited virtues, “hope” and “faith.” Like Hellboy II, this kind of sci-fi or horror or comics-whatever obviates morality. It trashes belief systems and encourages childish fantasies of absurd macho potency and fabulous grotesqueries. That’s how Nolan could take the fun out of Batman and still be acclaimed hip. As in Memento, Nolan shows rudimentary craft; his zeitgeist filmmaking—morose, obsessive, fussily executed yet emotionally unsatisfying—will only impress anyone who hasn’t seen De Palma’s genuinely, politically serious crime-fighter movie, The Black Dahlia.

Aaron Eckhart’s cop role in The Black Dahlia humanized the complexity of crime and morality. But as Harvey Dent, sorrow transforms him into the vengeful Two-Face, another Armageddon freak in Nolan’s sideshow. The idea is that Dent proves heroism is improbable or unlikely in this life. Dent says, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” What kind of crap is that to teach our children, or swallow ourselves? Such illogic sums up hipster nihilism, just like Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. Putting that crap in a Batman movie panders to the naiveté of those who have not outgrown the moral simplifications of old comics but relish cynicism as smartness. That’s the point of The Joker telling Batman, “You complete me.” Tim Burton might have ridiculed that Jerry Maguire canard, but Nolan means it—his hero is as sick as his villain.

Man’s struggle to be good isn’t news. The difficulty only scares children—which was the original, sophisticated point of Jack Nicholson’s ’89 Joker. Nicholson’s disfigurement abstracted psychosis, being sufficiently hideous without confusing our sympathy. Ledger’s Joker (sweaty clown’s make-up to cover his Black Dahlia–style facial scar) descends from the serial killer clichés of Hannibal Lecter and Anton Chigurh—fashionable icons of modern irrational fear. The Joker’s escalation of urban chaos and destruction is accompanied by booming sound effects and sirens—to spook excitable kids. Ledger’s already-overrated performance consists of a Ratso Rizzo voice and lots of lip-licking. But how great of an actor was Ledger to accept this trite material in the first place?

Unlike Nicholson’s multileveled characterization, Ledger reduces The Joker to one-note ham-acting and trite symbolism. If you fell for the evil-versus-evil antagonism of There Will Be Blood, then The Dark Knight should be the movie of your wretched dreams. Nolan’s unvaried direction drives home the depressing similarities between Batman and his nemeses. Nolan’s single trick is to torment viewers with relentless action montages; distracting ellipses that create narrative frustration and paranoia. Delayed resolution. Fake tension. Such effects used to be called cheap. Cheap like The Joker’s psychobabble: “Madness, as you know, is like gravity—all it takes is a little push.” The Dark Knight is the sentinel of our cultural abyss. All it takes is a push.


The Dark Knight.

By Acapedit.

My jaw dropped on the floor.


The Dark Knight is the one comic book movie that redefines how comic book movies are made. This is what brass balls filmmaking is all about. Wildly ambitious, dark, preocupied with alot on it's mind. It succeeds brilliantly because the weighty thematic elements work in perfect unision with the popcorn munching requirements.

Lemme just say that I am not a fanboy geek. I could give a shit about the adolecent preoccupations of that audience. I take joy dissecting the film thematically by examining it's plot and character. The acting, sight and sound to me inform what it's about. I'm the first to admit i've never been crazy about Christopher Nolan, but he stepped up his A gam here. I liked The Prestige and I found Batman Begins too ponderous and boring to be satisfying. Safe to say that here the proceedings fire on all cylinders, as anything i've seen done with Batman is being reevaluated. The Dark Knight is the most ambitious movie of it's kind since The Empire Strikes Back, and it plays like a fully formed creation instead of fragments by commitee becasue Nolan was allowed to make it uncompromising. First thing he's done right? the screenplay (cowriten with his brother) is layered with thematic weight, framing the characters in an universe that doesn't transcend them, instead embraces them. This is unlike what Tim Burton did in his movies. Nolan wisely (and without irony) represents the Batman mythos seriously. Every character represents sides of the same agenda. The chips drop and consequences ensure.

Remember when you first saw the Empire Strikes Back and once Luke lost his hand all bets where off? this is THAT Batman movie. There's a level of uncertainty and an undercurrent of dread that's palpable as you see every character put in circunstances beyond their control. Only fate determines the outcome. This emotional investment of theme and character, chance and fate succeeds partly because the acting is so superb and because the direction is so confidently executed. In the first film Batman's need for justice was his sole motivator, here the results have dire consequences beyond his control as the odds stack up against him. The preocupation with justice and it's moral implications pepper the film with a complexity uncommon for this type of film. The dissertation on the nature of good and evil is what anchors the movie. Mistaking bleakness for thematic emptyness is invalid. Film critics often submit to cynicism because they prejudice the joy an immersive experience like The Dark Knight provides. You need your brain as well as your eyes here, because it's an incredibly immersive movie. Don't you think it's uncommon seeing somthing this complex in what's essentially a cash machine?

I find it subversive that a commercial entity designed soley to make money comproses a platform to discuss such weighty issues. The city and it's citizens evoke post 9/11 panic. When the joker instills anarchy onto Gotham the results are exactly how a city in panic reacts to an uncontrollable force. I find it subversive that a commercial entity designed soley to make money comprise a platform to discuss such weighty issues.


Second thing Nolan got right: The conception of The Joker.



Heath ledger creates a performance so inedible that an undercurrent of sadness is all but inevitable knowing such a gifted performer is no longer here. Every expression feels organic, rather than prerehearsed. Ledger nails every gesture, every weird tick for this maximum impact. What makes the character so memorable is that he has no identifyable agenda, he's simply a symbol of anarchy. He enjoys driving the city to it's knees. Joker's determination to expose Batman as a fraud presents a psychological component of uncommon gravity for this sort of film. While Jack Nicholson played it for fun, Ledger makes him off the handle terryfying. One of the things the reviewer above got wrong is calling it a "ham" and one note, mistaking purpose of character for nihilism. If you appreciate good acting then you will see that a great actor disappears into the role and that's exactly what Heath accomplishes. Rather than go the usual route of taunts and antagonisms, Joker outlines his dilemma and the reasons for them. Credit Nolan and his brother for writing intelligent dialogue.

Nolan's direction.

The impressive thing about Nolan's confident direction is how all the plot theads manage to run parallel to advance the story, instead of stopping and starting. This is one 2 1/2 hour movie that never falters because the narrative elements are precisely in their right place. Kudos to the editor, I envy you.

The visuals.




This is by far the most visually impressive Batman movie since Batman Returns. Lemme pause for a minute to pick up my jaw from the floor. Nolan shot the spectacular action sequences in IMAX and the results are outstanding. Michael Mann is a frame of reference evident in the opening heist that launches the movie. Gotham city is less gloomy than the first but in return has more gained more clarity and is better intergrated into the story. Gone are the awkward fight scenes from begins, here everything is dynamic, perfectly realized. Nolan's DP Waly Psister deserves an Oscar nomination for his work, as his lighting scheme is incredibly intricate without resorting to the typical artifice. It FEELS like it should. Worthy of mention is the scene where Joker exits the hospital. I fucking peed my pants almost. The action scenes evolve in a coherent manner and are visually dynamic, yet theu never upstage the characters and this allows us to be absorbed into the story rather than be distracted.


As for Batman? well that's the least interesting element of the movie. He does get to do more detective work this time around and his resolution is terrific, I was surprised at how screentime Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckard) had. His character is arguably the most prominent to the story. Two face is a grisly creation and certainly very cool indeed. Katie Holmes? Gillenhaal is an improvement but not hot enough to warrant the extremes Harvey Dent would later go to. In fact this was the weakest link in an otherwise flawless film, I just didn't think their relationship had enough gravity to warrant the preceeding shitstorm. Rachel is a thankless role and more designed to move the story along, the other is The Joker's resolution. The stakes where so high that...it was all forgotten in favor of Harvey Dent's character arc. I hear reports that Nolan shot scenes for the third film that would complete Joker's arc but that's just a rumor.

Parting thoughts.


Nolan has crafted an epic where every action has a reaction, and everyone's fked to some degree. Every character at one point stands to lose everything. Towards the end Batman makes the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good, his choice resonates and is true to character. The Batman mythos all but demystified. The end barelly allows hope to peek though because when all is done, the chips fall where they may.

The Dark Knight is the best comic book movie ever attempted. Nolan has crafted an intense and unrelenting ride. That it deserves further discussion is a sign of it's merits. Superbly realized and without peer, comic book films reach a zenith to a level of art with The Dark Knight. Along with Children of Men, It may very well may be one of the decade's crowning achievements.

A masterpiece.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Michel Gondry = genius = past his prime?


Don't get me wrong I have always had a love for Michel Gondry's work, he's without peer and truly a singular vision.

I remember fondly the days of art school at Pratt in the late 90's, back then music videos where still healthy and there was no youtube. These where arguably Gondry's golden years, the years where his best work was produced. His videos fueled my imagination, and I beleived I can do stuff great within my means. Such is the power of inspiration.

Flash forward a decade, and here I am, frustrated by lack of progress. Ideas floating in a sea of unrealized expectations, potential just now beginning it's fruition. Such has the work of Michel Gondry evolved with the times, his influence seen in advertisements and countless other forms of media. The child like wonders of imagination become a touchtone of hip culture, disciples eat this up. I had a chance to interview the man a few years ago, and he struck me as someone completely in the know of his persona yet equally savvy and shy. I took notes, because the mistique of who you appear to be superceedes your reputation. Does that make sense? He struck gold with Eternal sunshine, as good a movie as any this decade. The notoreity gained from that success and the industry finally catching up with is influence seemingly led to his ability to do anything he wanted, when he wanted. And that's when he started to repeat himself.

Take for example a movie like The Science of Sleep. He penned it, a french guy with deep pockets bankrolled it. Sure it was a sweet little movie, but the dialogue so inept and the editing so jagged that it resembled less a movie than a poetic lovefest designed for hipsters. I didn't like the movie, and still don't think he's a good screenwriter. His work is best when there's a strong glue to cement his visual ingenuity, in Eternal Sunshine he had Charlie Kaufman's material, almost impossible to fuck it up.

At this point in the story, it should be noted that I equally admire and loathe what his does, his career is the perfect one anyone aspired in the medium (such as me) would want to have. This business is tough, tougher to start, tougher to stand out. If I sound bitter don't mind me, i'm just rambling.

Then he made Be Kind Rewind and I couldn't sit through the whole thing. It's so haplessly put together that it has no regard for it's audience. Yes the audience. My idea of a good movie is one that no matter how arty it needs to be assesible, it's ideas well intergrated into the storyline. Here I was watching another hip wankfest, and while cute, it confirmed my notions that what was once innovative and full of wonder has now turned into half formed ideas stretched to the running time, and somebody paid for it.

Every great artist worth his salt reaches a point where destiny is seemingly endless, and synonymous with achievement. He's done such great work and influenced a generation of art school pets that mainstream acceptance has given the right to do anything, and people will eat it up. This is the part that I think is a casualty of success, because there's no longer a need to swing for the fences when you're in your confort zone. I wish there was a manual on how to infiltrate the industry and carve out a niche for oneself, the days of conquering the world long gone, now materialized in pragmatic discurstions of what's doable at my second lease.

That's the connective link between Michel Gondry and my aspirations. The fact that at a time one stuck to what he does and kept on going with it, and my being inspired by the same idea in search of what's going to happen. A relationship forged by illusion and reality, personal goals and professional dreams.

Dreams, a motif both illusive and inviting. I continue to be amused, but I think Michel Gondry's starting to suck.

Watch "declare independence" to see what I mean: Genius or past prime?



Bjork's Wanderlust: Risk vs Reward.



Bjork has pulled out all the stops for her new video, "Wanderlust". An epic, visual effects laden extravaganza directed by new kids Encyclopedia Pictura.

Now, it's worth debating the relevancy of such a massive (and expensive) undertaking in today's Youtopia culture. With music videos becoming less and less effective as a means of exposure for an artist, here comes an interesting project by the always risk taking Bjork. The question becomes, is it worth going through the expense and (trouble)? there must be a risk vs reward scenario in these days of tight economics and diminishing returns. The video took an army of technicians almost a year to complete, at a cost of whoknowshowmuch.

Bjork is in a leauge of her own, and she must be applauded for opening her bank account to invest in music videos of this scope, even as her music has become less and less user friendly. She's always taken risks and done her thing, resulting in some of the very best the medium has offered.

I've seen the video and while I admire it's achievements, I don't feel the need to see it again. ALOT of effort when into it's making, yet the end results seem proacted instead of organic. Replay value is limited, therefore I'd clasify it as an art project instead of something designed for mass consumption. That doesn't diminish it's value, but i'm not sure if it enhances it.

Time will tell if it catches on, it's a great video on it's own merits. If it starts dialogue again and people talk about it and see it, then it reconfirms there is still life left in the medium. If it does, it's revival might be restored in this day and age of zero attention spans.

I'm all for it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Does raising movie ticket prices mean a better moviegoing experience?


WARNING: PRETTY SOON YOUR MOVIEGOING EXPERIENCE IS ABOUT TO GET MORE...EXPENSIVE. THEY'LL OFFER WINE TO GO WITH THAT SEQUEL TO DRILLBIT TAYLOR.

Variety reports about a disconcerning development in the future of our entertainment: Ticket prices. If you are like me, that is, a movie fan who can't stand going to the movies anymore, there's reason to pay attention.

The movie business is changing, and so are the economics. The advent of technology and the greed of the movie studios means they want to expand on any possible ways to keep fattening their wallets, by justifying the ticket price hike with "added value and improved experience".

Let's examine what this is supposed to mean.

As if sitting through half and hour of previews and commercials isn't enough, now they plan on offering "premium seating" and other incentives to cover the cost of their bottom line: Digital Projection. Pretty soon, Digital projection will become the standard, as the increased cost of movie prints and exhibition facilitate this need. Someone has to pay for this, and the movie studios want the theater chains to do so. They reached a compromise, which is genius: Raise the ticket prices. Makes perfect business sense.

IMAX and 3-D has become a juicy revenue stream for the studios, and they'll keep pumping product to facilitate that stream. The success of films like Beowulf gave them the go ahead to expand and 3-D will be the next gimmick to get butts in seats. Despite the recession and their screams that attendance is down, what explains the continued smashing of opening week records? attendance turnout in record numbers to see the latest overblown special effects spectacle.

Yes folks, economics is what it's all about. It's always been what it's all about. But what does it mean to you and me?

Face it, the modern moviegoing experience is flawed at best. On top of the shitty product, we've got twenty minutes of ads, cell phones ringing, people kicking your chair, babies at inappropriate showings, and an absent projectionist who doesn't keep the screen in focus. THESE ARE THE REAL REASONS you and me wait for the DVD, or better yet: download.

The average movie ticket costs $11 dollars in cities like new york, $17 dollars for Imax or 3-D presentations. You pay an average of 12 dollars for popcorn and soda, add in transportation, and that's an average of 50 or 60 bucks for a night out with your sweetheart.

Now. Let's say they raise ticket prices to $15 bucks a pop, plus concession prices. Going to see Wedding Crashers III will become a lot harder to enjoy.

So I have a list of suggestions to remedy the situation:

1) Make better movies and they will come.
Seriously, Drillbit Taylor?

2) Hire 300 pound convicts (preferably african american) to eject anyone talking or texting throughout the movie.
I'll help with the selection process, I live in harlem.

3) Ban homosexuals from any movie with Meryl Streep.
Cross that. Ban anyone from the ghetto at any movie with special effects, period.

4) Ban parents from taking their little children to see see Hostel, part 17 or Superbad 4.
The most distressing time i've had at the movies was seeing Superbad and during the penis drawing scene I overhear a young girl's voice: "Mommy, can I watch now?". Repulsive.

5) Make films downloadable the same day they open for the same fee.
That way they can make more money and I have the option of watching it at home, like pay per view.

That evens out the score.

Conclusion:

As long as theater chains maintain a lax policy towards cell phone ban and rude patrons, things will not improve. People go to the movies to be entertained, but this past generation is nothing but an army of assholes with attention deficit disorder. They, the price of tickets, and the quality of the product are the main reasons piracy runs rampart, and waiting for the DVD three months later the better option.

Thing is, you can charge all the money in the world and people will still go to the movies to watch whatever you feed them. The public are like dogs of consumption: they are used to repitition.

You can the article here: http://www.variety.com/VR1117982907.html

A primer on Film Editing

It always worries me when I work with people who think they understand what film editing is. Most directors I know don't can't tell what a match cut is to a three point editing of a sequence, just that they want it to feel like something they've seen.

Film Editing is a fucking skill best served to those who study and practice it. It is the skill any aspiring filmmaker must understand, because films are made and broken in the editing room. I'm self taught, and studied and practiced the craft for the better half of my life, and it's only now that I've matured that I'm beginning to see how valuable knowing it is.

These are some of the most revered and acclaimed film editors in the industry, along with sequences that display the best the craft has to offer. Roll tape.

Walter Murch.

Coppola's editor, and an innovator of sound and montage. Remember Apocalypse Now's opening? he cut that. Murch is widely acknowledged as the person who coined the term Sound Designer, and helped develop the current standard film sound format, the 5.1 channel array, helping to elevate the art and impact of film sound to a new level. His contributions in both editing and sound design are invaluable, the work speaks for itself.

Apocalypse Now (1978).





Note: The editing of Apocalypse Now was handled jointly by Richard Marks, Jerry Greenberg, and Walter Murch. Walter cut the montage sequences and was the sound mixer / designer, he won an Oscar for his efforts.

Thelma Schoonmaker.

Martin Scorssese's secret weapon, and the recipient of two academy awards. Her innovations in the work of Scorsesse revolutionized and became the synthesis of modern film editing. I think Casino, Goodfellas, and Raging Bull are among the best edited films i've seen, and work precisely because they're edited so brilliant.

Indeed, many of the editorial greats have been women. It's a little known fact in an industry where women only accounted for 16 percent of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2004, and 80 percent of the films had absolutely no females on their editing teams at all, the golden age of hollywood (1940's to 50's) employed roughly 40% females as editors or editing assistants. Many of the many of the editorial greats have been women: Dede Allen, Verna Fields, Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates and Dorothy Spencer rank as the most celebrated and respected among their peers.


Casino (1995)




Michael Khan.

Probably the most skilled editor there is, he is responsable for giving Spielberg's films a sense of geometry. This man has brought that editorial sense of unity to the films he's cut, and I think he's unmatched in terms of rhythmn and pacing. Anyone remembers all the memorable setpieces in Spielberg's films will attest to that.

Look at Schindler's list for example, he's a master of pacing, credit should be given when credit is due.

Check out this sequence from Saving Private Ryan so you see what I mean. I study him alot.






Anne V Coates.

In a career that spans over 50 years, she's still going strong. The woman was born in 1925 for chrisssakes!

She cut films by David lean (Lawrence of Arabia) as well as Steven Soderberg's. I'd be happy to go on as long as she has.

Out of sight (1998).



The next generation.


Children of men.

Dir Alfonso Cuaron was one of the editors of the film, it's notable because the long takes are spliced together from multiple sources to appear seamless.



The Matrix.

Ed: Zack Staenberg.

Amother great film editorially is The Matrix. Every visual effect shot has a setup, and that's a reason the film holds up so well.