Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shot Design: Why?

So often in film school, we are only taught the scientific aspects of film theory as opposed to the creative or psychological. When being taught on shot design, we are preached the basics, so that we will know the standard rules of moviemaking. Never cross the 180 line. If someone looks off in a direction, give the reaction POV shot of what they're seeing. Or if you're filming a scene of dialogue between two characters sitting at a table, you are taught to do coverage: establishing shot showing both characters in frame, two over the shoulder shots showing each character from waist up, then two close ups showing each character's face. For beginning filmmakers, this is the sort of theory they need to know. One needs to know the rules before they can be broken, the problem I have found is that upon learning the rules, I'm left at a now what. How do I take my own shot design from Hollywood hack standard, to Steven Spielberg-cinematic wonderland?

As film students, once we learn the basics of shot design, we don't know what to do beyond that. There is nothing that distinguishes or movies from anything else you see on TV or in theaters. What can distinguish your work? I think the answer is asking yourself a simple question: Why?

Why am I placing the camera over here rather than over there? Why am I favoring this character in the frame when this scene is really about the emotional impact on the character in the background? Why am I giving this reaction shot when I want what the character is seeing to be a mystery? Why am I sticking with standard coverage, giving each character equal screen time when in fact the scene is about one character? Why not move the camera in toward the character the scene is about and not cut back or show the other character? Why?

Let's watch two similar scenes from movies and diagnose them:

Both scenes are from great movies, but one scene is more emotionally involving than the other. Why is that? I believe that the scene from Shadow of a Doubt took the basic ideas of coverage, but then threw that all out the window when Hitchcock started dollying in on Joseph Cotten. The thing is, the scene from Catch Me If You Can is spectacular because of Christopher Walken's performance, not because of the directing. The scene from Shadow of a Doubt is a tour de force. It is spectacular not just because of the acting from Cotten, but it is a spectacularly directed scene as well. When the scene was just chit chat, Hitchcock used standard coverage, but when it became about Joseph Cotten, and him alone, Hitch pushed the camera in towards Cotten, getting us so close it was uncomfortable. See what I'm getting at here?

Another fine example is in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jimmy Stewart talks to Sen. Payne's daughter, who he has a crush on, and rather than showing us their faces, Capra only showed Stewart nervously fumbling around with his hat in his hands. Capra told us through this creative choice that the dialogue is not important, what is important is how awkward and nervous Smith is when he is around beautiful women, or even women in general. This clued the audience into the idea that maybe Mr. Smith has never even dated before. Watch:

The thing is, it is creative choices like the scene from Mr. Smith and Shadow of a Doubt that makes not just a great filmmaker, but great films. Now, I am not saying you always have to be innovative in shot design, sometimes less is more can lead to great films because of great performances and great writing (The Help being a recent example of this). While there are some more visually stimulating scenes from Catch Me If You Can, the idea I wanted to get across was this is what we are taught in film classes, which is great when you are a beginner, but we are never taught how to break or bend the rules, let alone told when it is best to go less is more and when you need to be fancy to create an emotional connection or crutch for the audience. Hitchcock bended the rules in the Shadow of a Doubt scene, and Capra just straight up broke the rules with the Mr. Smith scene.

I think this all boils down the question: Do you want to make scenes that are memorable, like the Mr. Smith hat scene, or make a scene that is just like every other scene of dialogue you've ever seen? Ask yourself why this shot stays static, rather than dollying in on the actor's face at the most emotional moment? Ask yourself why are you even showing the other actor's face when it is the face of your lead that we need to be focusing on? Movies aren't just talking heads, sometimes we need to know what the audience should be focused on, what they need to know or feel at that moment for that scene to work. In essence, a filmmaker is a manipulator, a manipulator who breaks the standard rules and draws importance to something, like a hat or a particular character, when the greatest moment of emotion is required to be felt. Just ask: Why?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Star Trek v.s. Star Wars

What a horrible debate to enter into with a room full of die hard fans. This argument ranks up there with politics and religion, but like both of those this debate is equally as subjective and the argument will never cease. This video popped up on my RSS Reader this morning, and I was intrigued to say the least. I have read, watched, and listened to countless debates on which franchise's mythos truly is superior and I have had the discussion myself whilst downing beer and realizing that resolving this feud is, as the Borg wold say, "futile." Nevertheless, this may be the first time I have watched an actual participant from one of the universes give a truly biased answer and explain it himself.

I want to start by saying I find myself as a moderate in this discussion. What I want to argue is how William Shatner is way off base in this particular case (based on the interview below), and as you will see in the video below, attempts to make the argument that Star Trek is in fact better, based solely on its philosophical importance, the roles of stronger women in Star Trek, and the vulnerability of the characters. My aim is not to crush Star Trek, but to reel back Shatner's comments so that we can put Star Wars and Star Trek on more of an even playing field.

Let us start with the philosophical debate. Star Trek has long been examined for its philosophical content and I would not deny the show its importance in that regard. The ideas behind Star Trek may be some of the most influential on Science Fiction, and I believe it is the one show that elevated Sci-Fi from its drive in theater -- cheesy -- roots. However, to make the claim that Star Wars has no philosophical content is way is off base. SW is less up front about its message (keep in my mind this was a major Hollywood blockbuster) but it does explore old themes of good and evil, which in looking back throughout literature is one of the oldest themes since the Epics. Shatner likes to say that Star Wars was derivative of Star Trek, but let's take a more global look at it.

Star Wars and Star Trek are both derivative of ancient religious texts, epics, Shakespeare, and classic literature. Before I get ahead of myself, let's explain what I am not saying. Star Trek is more philosophically heavy, however I think Shatner's base is on the original series, which does explore these themes, but I believe most of the heavy handed intellect that he feels the show bears has actually been applied in retrospect by fans of the show. During its initial run, Star Trek's foremost goal was to entertain with exciting adventures, much like Flash Gordon (of which Lucas did admit to pulling influence from). Now, Shatner could make his argument stronger if he was using Star Trek: The Next Generation, which by that time realized the impact science fiction could have on exploring philosophical themes. If Shatner was arguing from a stance of Patrick Stewart's character, Jean Luc Picard, he could have defended this statement better.

Second, let's look at the claim that Star Trek presented stronger female characters. I have to say that this is the most laughable comment made by Shatner, and the one point I don't mind ripping to shreds. Let's start by looking at Kirk's relationships with women: he is a misogynist. The original series, especially, had women in the show solely for something for Kirk to hook up with. Uhura was nothing more than legs and a skirt no matter how you slice it. Sure she held a position on the bridge, but so did Troi, and how convenient that she was used as the emotional sensitive telepath. A more balanced approach could have been to swap Troi and Geordi's roles on the show, making her the engineer and Geordi the telepath. Regardless, Star Wars gave women a voice in Sci-Fi that women never had before. Princess Leia starts as the damsel in distress, but what is her first statement to her heroic male rescuer? "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?" She immediately emasculates him, takes his gun, and improvises an escape plan.
Princess Leia became a role model for young girls all over the world, and her presence is still seen in the science fiction of today.

Finally, I just want to touch on the idea that the characters in Star Trek were more human or vulnerable in anyway. This statement really seems to have no real basis, except that Shatner seems to believe that the existence of the Force somehow makes the characters immune to death or real problems in Star Wars. First let's look at who in the original trilogy actively uses the force in battle: Luke, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Vader, and The Emperor. Four of those characters are dead by the end of the trilogy. It would seem that the Force did not prevent these characters from meeting their demise. While the Force does exist in everything in the galaxy, it does not make any characters in the films any more invincible than the characters in Star Trek.

In short, Shatner is full of himself and applies some very shaky support to this endless argument. I would like to again make it clear that I do not take sides here, but rather I appreciate what both franchises have done for the genre. It is a shame that these films get so unjustly compared all the time, and many times just because of the similarity in their names.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Missing Pieces," A Visit from Kenton Bartlett

I was in for a genuine surprise today as I arrived at my Advanced Screenwriting class this morning. We had a guest lecturer, Kenton Bartlett, 23-year-old Alabama native who recently directed an $80,000 independent film called Missing Pieces, starring Mark Boone Junior and Melora Walters. The movie had a preview screening at the Sidewalk Film Festival a few weeks back, and is currently playing at the Rave-Patton Creek 15 in Hoover, AL, for one week only to qualify for the Independent Spirit Awards. While the movie is still currently searching for distribution, they're hoping that if the critics who have already been vocal about the movie will speak up and get the movie some nomination at the Spirits, then a buyer may come along.

What I found so interesting about this morning is that Kenton was not so much different than me. He was only two years older, had an obsessive love for movies constantly referencing other directors rather than talking about himself or his own methods. He was simple and humble and just wanted to make a good movie. He went to the American University in Washington, D.C., which he said he double majored in Journalism and Business, only taking a few Video Production classes and learning most of what he knows from DVD commentaries, books, and How-To podcasts. Once again, his self taught approach really just struck a chord with me and inspired me.

Here was a guy who did not go to a major film school, came from a middle class suburb in Birmingham, AL, and yet he has made a real movie that actually looks like a Hollywood production with Hollywood actors that are actually good actors and not just people who were some guest star role on a TV Show once. The real kicker was when I learned that none of the cast and crew wanted money, they all simply liked the script and did the 108 day shooting schedule for free (granted the crew was just three people, Kenton and his two college friends as DP and audio).

What I really enjoyed about this morning was just getting to ask Kenton questions and hear how he did these things. This was where the most interesting things came. Such as when he talked about writing the script. He did not write a script that he knew he could not make. Before he wrote a new scene with a new location, he thought realistically about whether or not they could actually find and shoot at a location like that, and he said that is why most scenes take place outside during the day, so that they could use natural lighting. As well, he went on to elaborate how he studied other low budget independent films and found that they used few locations and only a small handful of characters to tell their story.

What I found most interesting, is Kenton's democratic approach to directing. He was talking about how he never really dictates what the actors do, he typically communicates with them and simply takes their ideas or the ideas of a crew member to make the scene and characters work. Like he said there was a scene where they blew up a boat in a field and he did not know how he was gonna shoot it, so he had fire crews and bomb crews there with no clue what to do, and actor Mark Boone Junior just suggested shots and Kenton took those and shot it. I for one am usually too stubborn to accept suggestions that often change what I see in my head, even if their suggestion really is better. Like when Mark Boone Junior wanted to sit an entire scene, Kenton wanted him to stand and be active, but Kenton ultimately said the scene was better with Mark Boone Junior's character simply sitting there and meditating. While he did say such an open method of communication did have its drawbacks when his lead actress rarely did the scene the same way twice, resulting in a good deal of jump cuts in her scene, which he says that the critics have all mistaken as brilliant artistic choices!

There was just an honesty to Kenton that I liked. He owned up to the fact that he truly did not know everything he probably should have known to make such a large scale project, but yet he did it, that is more than anyone else can say. He made mistakes, he recognizes them, and wants to correct them on his next project.

As for how they got an $80,000 loan, he had simply assembled a reel of clips from other movies and tried to assemble a vague sense as to what the movie might seem like and put it on the website they created. The clips would show action from No Country for Old Men and then show sweeping vista shots from another movie. This led to a person with a presumably good credit report who just co-signed on a loan, and lo and behold, they had the $80,000 they had figured it would cost to get the movie made.

Even more interesting is how Kenton found locations. He simply flipped through Discover America books and found pictures of locations that he'd like to film at, he typed in where that location was on Google, and found it on Google Earth. And if he needed a specific location, like a playground, he simply searched all playgrounds on Google Earth in the Birmingham area (where 75% of the movie was shot, till they went up to Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah, on a road trip to finish).

As for actors and crew... He simply posted notices on Craigslist and got youtube audition videos, as well as sending scripts to the agents of the pro actors he wanted. Then he also managed to nab a professional composer from England, who was so eager about the movie, he assembled over 15 members from a string orchestra in Sussex, England, and scored the entire movie, communicating with Kenton via emails and quicktime video files. He said it was funny, that he and the composer did not actually even talk in person till after the score was completed.

Then when it came to the camera, rather than renting and paying $1,ooo a day for a RED Camera, they just bought one and shot the movie on that, putting pantyhose over the lens and sliding another, empty, lens over it to hold it in place to give the movie a softer, more film-like look.

Kenton was just a nice guy who loved movies, and the way in which he is mostly self taught in filmmaking from reading books and watching DVD special features really mimics how I've been taught to make movies for the most part. To see a guy who simply was determined to do something and did it, at only 23 is astonishing, and inspiring. It actually instilled in me that I'm not wasting my time making movies and writing scripts, and that I could actually do something with my obsession and possibly have a chance to make it to making the big budget Hollywood movies I want to someday make.

If you're interested in more on Missing Pieces, check out the website or watch the trailer below:

The movie will be playing at the Patton Creek Rave in Hoover, AL, through Sunday. The next time is 7 o'clock tonight, followed by 10 A.M. both Friday and Saturday mornings and then a final showing Sunday night at 7. Support this movie, cause it actually looks like it has a shot to be something bigger.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Have comic book movies had their day?

When I was a 12-year-old, the prospects of seeing every comic book hero I loved on the big screen seemed so awesome, and yet not all that likely to ever happen. Now, nearly ten years later, within the past decade, I have pretty much seen every comic book hero I desired get a movie, and many of which having varying shades of success. While I loved Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3 was just awful, same goes for the first two X-Men movies in relation to the third one and the Wolverine spin-off. Then you have the comic book movies that failed to do anything, like Daredevil, Hulk, and more recently, Green Lantern.

Back when I was 12, there was maybe one comic book movie every year, a reasonable number. The market was not over-saturated as it is now, and so when we got Spider-Man, when we got X-Men, they were truly something special. They weren't movies that felt like they were just being pumped out for the quick buck that a comic book movie is almost guaranteed. Great care and time was taken to make these adaptations the best movies possible, and over the years this attention to detail has been lost in most comic book movies.

The problem now lies in the fact that movies like Spider-Man and X-Men established a formula, and Hollywood took that formula and made the mold of the comic book movie, where this happens at this point in the movie, then this happens, then this, all to tie together at the end. They did not care about making the best adaptations possible anymore, wanting instant gratification, just seeing how many comic book movies they could make and gross money from. This is where we are now.

As much as I enjoyed Iron Man and The First Avenger: Captain America, these movies were simply products of the comic book movie mold, no innovation, just straight forward, repeating the same formula that they did with X-Men and Spider-Man. While the formula can be comforting, there are no more surprises in the stories, and the movies tend to now be so rushed with haphazard casting and directing that they have lost any real sense of awe and wonder, which is the whole reason we see these fascinating fantasies play out on the silver screen to begin with. Now, with the big team up movie, The Avengers coming next Summer, promising to unite Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, with the Hulk, all in one movie, I cannot muster any excitement. Why?

When I was 12, the idea of The Avengers movie was so preposterous, but now it is a reality, less than 10 months away from release, but I'm not excited. Sure, I'll see it, probably even enjoy it, but the chances of me being wowed like I was by Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight upon first viewing is very slim. This is all because these movies have just become cookie cutters. To think that this movie will be any different is just wishful thinking.

What is worse, when a genuinely original take on the comic book movie comes around and shakes things up, like Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight, then everyone just wants to make a new mold and copy those movies. I mean, look at the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man, coming out next year. It looks so much darker and grittier, more realistic, trying to stay in lines with Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Or when after Spider-Man 2 came out in 2004, it seemed like every comic book movie that came out over the few years after were all just out of the same mold. The thing is, what made these comic book movies succeed, is: A.) they did not adhere to the molds of the traditional comic book movies, creating their own molds; and B.) they tailored these movies specifically to their respective characters.

The reason the gritty look and feel of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight worked for that movie is because Batman is one of the grittier, more realistic superheroes in existence. Where as the reason Spider-Man 2 was so rich in character exploration of Peter Parker with a nice mixture of over-the-top melodrama and humor is because that is the essence of the comic book upon which it was based. While The Amazing Spider-Man looks to include the necessities to make it a Spider-Man story, and hey, it may even be fantastic, but the first trailer paints a picture that is not Spider-Man but a copycat of Christopher Nolan.

Honestly, I am burned out on comic book movies. I still like them and watch them, I may even occasionally find one original enough from the rest to love (like X-Men: First Class), but with the same movie essentially being made and released every three months, how can I muster up any excitement? Sure, I'm excited for The Dark Knight Rises, but that is because of the originality and innovations of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and not just because it is another comic book movie. The saddest part is too, is that there have been many filmmakers over the years that have tried to break that mold, but the studios pulled the plug, choosing not to innovate. I mean, check out this article over at IGN about all of the great unmade comic book movies. I for one would have watched Supermax, or J.J. Abrams' Superman Flyby, and I would personally rather see Joss Whedon's take on Wonder Woman as opposed to him sticking to the formula with The Avengers.

To argue for innovation in comic book movies is essentially a moot point, seeing as how nothing is going to change until that day that comic book movies start to fail at the box office, which we're already starting to see a little bit of decline in box office results of these comic book movies. While the studios try to spin the numbers, the bottom line is, Iron Man 2 did not make as much money as its predecessor, and that none of the comic book movies from this Summer crossed the $200 million mark, which used to be considered a given if a movie was a comic book movie, with the best going above and beyond $300 million! With movies like Thor, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class, barely making back their budgets, have comic book movies had their day?

As I said, the studios are trying to spin these numbers as successes, but you have to know when these same studios were once making twice as much money on comic book properties, they are deep down worried. And why shouldn't they be? It's just like when the Blockbuster first sprung into existence. At first, every Blockbuster released made buckets of money, whether or not it was any good was a different matter. Now, there are so many, people have to pick and choose, so a movie having a Blockbuster budget is no longer a sure bet that the movie will makes oodles of money. The same is happening with comic book movies. I mean, The Dark Knight was huge, but Thor barely scraped up enough cash to be 1/4 as successful. But notice, the more innovative comic book movies make more money. At least, that's my observation, so maybe the studios may wanna brush off some of those unmade scripts and make amends with the directors to keep comic book movies from fading into obscurity.

Doctor Who-"Night Terrors" and "The Girl who Waited"

As promised on The Unicellular Blog, in my Dragon Con recap, I am giving a review of the Doctor Who episode Night Terrors. Of course, I am a week late, but what else is new. Since a full week has passed, I will also comment on this weeks episode, The Girl Who Waited.

I had the pleasure of seeing the US premier of Night Terrors at Dragon Con in Atlanta alongside a room of over a thousand Doctor Who fans. Since Stephen Moffat has taken over the reigns from Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who has gone through some major changes. Visually the show has changed in format and adopted a more muted and dark color pallet, alla shows like Battlestar Galactica, however it is the stark difference between Moffat and Davies storytelling that has altered the shows over all feeling the most. It would be silly to complain that a show coming up on its 50th year has changed and been altered (there are still people who refuse to watch something that doesn't have Tom Baker), but I have truly missed one thing that Davies Doctor Who regularly utilized: The "Monster of the Week" episode. Moffat seems fixed on telling an epic, over-arching storyline centering on the “inevitable” demise of the Doctor at Lake Silencio(quotes around inevitable since The Doctor will surly find some loophole around this conundrum). I am not criticizing the story arch per se, but I am expressing my disappointment for the lack of some of the Doctor’s more self contained story lines. Night Terrors has satisfied that itch, at least for now, with a creepy and excellent story. What stands out most about this episode of Doctor Who is its strikingly different Cinematography. The entire episode carries the look and feel of a creepy horror/suspense film; not like a typical slasher, but something closer to The Shining. Not to be ignored, was the creepy industrial noise soundtrack that accompanied the episode as The Doctor, Amy, and Rory explore the defunct apartment complex. Overall this was a fantastic “Monster of the Week” episode.

This weeks, The Girl Who Waited, was actually more disappointing
than I excepted it to be. Early reviews set an expectation that this would be an emotional roller coaster that would leave me weeping. While the episode was definitely dramatically heavy handed, it was not nearly as emotional as I felt the writers wanted. While this was also a nice departure form the Doctor’s Death arch, it just lacked the zing that I felt the episode could have had. FOr one the action felt rushed through much of the episode. Granted this was an Amy-centric episode, I definitely feel that more time could have been spent exploring the world of the Two Streams facility. Most of what the viewer gets about the facility and the predicament that leads to its creation was picked up on some quick passing dialogue. Personally, I felt that this would have been a great two part episode, that really could have evolved into a much more rich story. I realize I will probably find myself in the minority in criticizing this one, but I really can’t give high marks for The Girl Who Waited when I feel that the story could have executed more perfectly. On a more positive note, Karen Gillian really showed off her acting chops by playing the older version of herself by altering her way of talking, characters attitude, and even body language. Also major props to the hair and make up department for making her transformation even more believable.

Next weeks The God Complex looks to be a trippy and creep good time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are we stalking each other?

I know Christian does not have a twitter account, but as you eagerly await my witty, clever, and often time harsh reviews, you should keep up with me on Twitter. Also, stay tuned for the Unicellular Review Podcast coming soon as well as The Unicellular Show, our own web comedy series. Stay up to date by following me here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Oscar Watch: Part 1

Well, we're about halfway there. The Oscars are only about six months away, and I think it's good time to offer up my first thoughts on this year's Oscar race. I like to consider myself an amateur Oscar analyst, and I have tried to keep my ear to the ground about anything and everything Oscar over the past few months, from big movies, to small movies, to Cannes, all the way to Venice and Telluride. I have assembled a little bit of a picture as to how I feel the Oscars for this upcoming year are shaping up, so I decided to share my thoughts with you guys and see how you feel about them.

First off, I think the big story is The Help. A modestly budgeted studio movie that managed to make a big splash with critics, audiences, and Academy members alike. The performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are almost all but assured Oscar nods at this point, where as Jessica Chastain could get some notice for her portrayal as Celia Foote. With Chastain in so many things this year and winning over nearly every one in the film industry with her broad talent, the Academy may want to recognize her for something, and The Help may be it. As for the movie itself, while some want to down play its potential as a Best Picture hopeful, I think it has a legitimate shot. The Academy loves these sorts of movies, and it is not very hard to assume it will get the right number of number one votes to get in, with so many, especially older Academy members, head over heels in love with the movie.

Moving on to some of the independents that have sprung out of the festival circuit. Terrence Malick's Tree of Life was so divisive that I think it will be lucky to possibly wrangle an SFX nom, much else is just wishful thinking. As for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, the almost inevitable screenplay nom and its box office haul is its win. Then there is Drive, a genre movie that managed to find critical traction. We'll see next week how the casual moviegoer feels about Ryan Gosling's performance, but the movie's director Nicholas Winding Refn did manage to impress the tough Cannes crowd and win Best Director, so he could be a dark horse contender to watch for in the Directing category.

Then, there is the George Clooney one-two punch of, The Ides of March and The Descendants. The Ides of March seems like a soft lob compared to The Descendants, while Clooney directed March and the political subject matter should appeal to many in the Academy, the movie's initial response has been lukewarm, where as The Descendants has been a grand slam so far. Critics love it and are raving that Clooney gives the performance of his career (which I think he did two years ago in Up in the Air). While I am not a fan of director Alexander Payne, Clooney will more than likely show up with a Best Actor nod for the movie, and the movie itself a Best Picture contender.

As for other Oscar contenders that have recently come out of the woodwork. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, has everything going for it. A respected director. A mega weight cast. And well loved source material. The movie has been playing well with critics, and its slick stylishness should be enough to get it in the Best Picture field, and Gary Oldman I hear owns this movie. Could he finally bring home the Oscar I have wanted for him for so many years? Character actors rejoice! Where as David Croenberg's A Dangerous Method has found very little traction in its festival screenings, being blasted for its uncinematic interpretation of the play upon which it was based, having to solely rely on the performances of Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen to get it through the award's season. Same goes for Roman Polanski's Carnage, featuring Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, and Jodie Foster. Though, there still are plenty more Oscar hopefuls out there.

The Artist is one of the biggest contenders in the race thus far, the stylish Cannes' hit that recreates the Old Hollywood before talkies by being a silent film like old Chaplin. While some don't appreciate the straightforward charm of the concept, enough respect it to make this the only surefire Best Picture nominee of the year so far (save for maybe The Descendants). While there are rumors about Warner Bros. wanting to push Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II for Best Picture, it wont happen. Why? Cause in order for a series like this to get recognized, the other chapters would have had to of had a stronger presence, and seeing as how none of the other movies in the series really made a splash with the Academy, WB should not waste their time (same goes for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with many wanting Andy Serkis to get a nod for his mo-cap work, but it wont happen, the SFX nod and most likely win will be the story for this one).

Then there's the flicks coming in the next few weeks: Warrior and Moneyball. Both will play well with critics, but Academy attention will be sparse for these movies, both playing more for audience approval than Academy approval. Same goes for We Bought A Zoo, coming in December. Cameron Crowe has had some Oscar success, but his past few flicks haven't been up to snuff. As well, I am getting nothing from Jason Reitman's Young Adult, and as for Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, Leo Dicaprio may get some notoriety, but the movie itself probably wont strike it rich with the Academy. Eastwood's movies have been beaten by the ugly stick as of late, and I don't see this one changing the trend the Academy has shown over the past few years, even if Eastwood seems to be getting better with age. The real dark horses of the Fall and Winter are Hugo and The Adventures of Tintin.

Both are family entertainment from two of the greatest living filmmakers, one Martin Scorsese, the other Spielberg. I have a feeling one of these will strike with the Academy, and the other will be relegated to box office success only. While I would like to say it's Spielberg, Tintin has yet to grab me with its marketing, where as Hugo's sheer scope of its production already has tech categories galore in the backdrop of the Oscar race. Will it manage to rise to Best Picture contender, time will tell. But don't go feeling sorry for Spielberg. At the moment the race is his to lose. If War Horse delivers in the way that I am hoping it will, this could be the movie that runs the field, and is easily one of the few movies yet to be seen that I believe will be a Best Picture hopeful. And what about Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? The tale comes on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, as well, Daldry has never made a movie that didn't get nominated.

So this is how I see it all playing out so far. With the rule change, there wont be 10 nominees this year. Depending upon how many movies get 300 number one votes, anywhere from 5-10 nominees will be named and right now I only see five. The way everything has shaped up so far, to hope for any more than that is just wishful thinking. Here they are:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
War Horse

Friday, September 9, 2011

Casting "Uncharted," The Movie!

I was late to the Playstation 3 party, not picking it up till this past May, but this also means I had four years worth of great games at my disposal that I can discover for the first time, such as the Uncharted series. The adventures of Nathan Drake, fortune hunter extraordinaire (basically a modern day Indiana Jones), have attracted tons of attention from Hollywood. The games already feature rich characters and stories that are so cinematic that they engross the gamer in its world and make you feel as if you are actually experiencing a Summer blockbuster. While there has never been a great movie made based on a video game, Uncharted could change all of that with Universal really wanting to make the transition perfect. Whether or not the movie will ever see the light of day, I don't know, but I decided to do something fun and try to cast the movie as if I was the director.

Nathan Drake - Bradley Cooper

The big role. Drake is clever and cocky, but has a genuine heart. What makes Nate such an unforgettable character is his ability to find humor in even the most dire of circumstances and his ability to put the lives of his friends above his own. There has been a ton of interest in the character from many actors, with Mark Wahlberg at one time attached to play the part, and Richard Castle himself, Nathan Fillion expressing on Twitter how much he wants to play Drake in the movie. While Fillion is a fan favorite for the role, he is about 10 years too old to play Nate Drake, same goes for other fan favorite David Boreanaz and Nolan North (who voices and does the mo-cap work for Drake in the games). Meanwhile Bradley Cooper has recently been connected to the role since director Neil Burger (Limitless) signed on to direct. I loved Cooper as Face in The A-Team and I think he has the chops to create a Nathan Drake that respects Nolan North's interpretation, while making him his own. Cooper has that awesome ability to slip into that everyman role that Drake so personifies, while also having a charm about him that Drake needs. Nate has to be likable, otherwise he's just an annoying smart elic, and only so much can be done in writing, you need a genuine personality, which is Cooper

Elena Fisher - Emily Rose

This one is so easy to call. Elena is as smart, as clever, and as genuine and pure in heart as Nate is, which is why this reporter is Nathan Drake's true love interest. The great thing about Elena though, she is not simply the damsel, she kicks butt alongside Drake on all of his adventures, often saving his life, and in my mind no one else but Emily Rose should play this part. Rose, who voices and does the mo-cap work for Elena in the game, is one of the the only actors from the game that I think could pull off their live action counterpart. The thing is, she actually looks like Elena, unlike so many of the other actors who work in the game, not to mention she fits the age that Elena must be. When you could get the actress that has already been portraying Elena for close to five years now, and has made countless gamers fall in love with her, why not cast her in the movie if she looks the part as well? I say, do it.

Victor Sullivan - J.K. Simmons

Nate's trusted sidekick on all of his adventures, Sully is a man old enough to be Nate's dad, hardened and cynical, but is Nate's steady right hand man when needed. Sully is a tough one to cast. Cast poorly, he comes across abrasive and offensive with his occasional slurs that evoke much of the humor from the character within the game. While there are many actors in the age range who could play the character, from Bryan Cranston to Stephen Lang to Rober De Niro, Sully is a true challenge to cast, with some fans wanting everyone from J.K. Simmons to Bruce Campbell! I'll be honest, I have been on the fence as to who should play Sullivan, and as much as I sometimes like to go against fan suggestion, J.K. Simmons would make a fantastic Sully. If his J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-man is any indication, he knows how to sugarcoat comments that would be offensive from any other actor and make them funny. It takes a certain amount of talent and charm, and Simmons has that.

Chloe Frazer - Gemma Arterton

An even more difficult character to cast. This Australian beauty tempts Nate on his second adventure in the game series, and while she is worth the fling, Elena is where his heart is at. Simply, Chloe goes where the greatest opportunity is at. When it is Nate that has the upper hand, she is with him, but when it is someone else, she has no shame in double crossing Nate to stay alive. Not only does the actress that plays Chloe have to have a lot of confidence in her body to parade around as Chloe does in the game, issuing innuendos like no one's business, but she also has to have the body in order to earn that confidence. Not only that, Chloe is a very tan Australian, not a lot of actresses meet this description in Hollywood. Luckily, there is Gemma Arterton. Already having the Bond girl experience behind her, and a few more meatier roles that hit well with critics, she has everything to play Chloe. While she is British, not Australian, there is no doubt in my mind she could pull off the role. Now, just get her a tan, and she is Chloe Frazer.

Harry Flynn - Jude Law

There is no one else who can play the double crossing fortune hunter Harry Flynn. Flynn is only interested in what ever furthers his own interests. British and charming, the part just screams Jude Law. Jude Law is charming, he manages to often hide his emotions behind his performances, enabling him to be Nate's one-time friend, then rival Harry Flynn. Not to mention, Jude Law is British, too. He's got it all. Of course, this is all assuming Harry will be included in a film version. Harry is not yet confirmed to be returning for Uncharted 3, unless he knows how to return from the dead.

Eddy Raja - James Sie

Another character like Harry Flynn. He actually died in the first Uncharted game, but in a lot of the comic books, Eddy Raja has had a huge presence as the thorn in Nathan Drake's side, as Drake's dumber fortune hunter competitor (and one time ally in Eye of Indra). Eddy Raja is the leader of an Indonesian pirate gang, only interested in money and more of it. If the movie were to take place in a different continuity than the games, or be a prequel to the first game, I could definitely see Eddy playing a big role in the adventure, which is why an actor willing to ham it up on camera is necessary for the role, and in all honesty James Sie, who portrays Eddy in the games is really the only one I wanna see do this role if included. He takes what is this simple two-dimensional character on the page and gives him a life his own, which is why James Sie should be Eddy in the movie, though his inclusion is not all that likely.

And just to give an idea as to what Uncharted is all about, check out the most recent spot for Uncharted 3 coming out in November!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Who should host the Oscars?

It's about that time of year again, when the Academy names their host for the year's upcoming Academy Awards' Ceremony. Rumors are flying that producer Brett Ratner is wanting to play up the comedy route this year with offering the gig up to Eddie Murphy. Personally, I don't hate this, but neither do I like it. Murphy is often funny, and he will definitely be a welcome departure to the past two year's bad slate of hosts (Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin and James Franco & Anne Hathaway), but Murphy seems to lack the class that one typically wants of their Oscar host.

The thing is, a good Oscar host is more than just a person who can be funny or deliver the song-and-dance routine, but they are someone who has the ability to command a stage and exude the class that is associated with the classiest of all awards shows. The Oscars are a celebration of Hollywood, where it has been, where it is now, and where it is going, and the best Oscar hosts tend to be the ones that embody that Hollywood charisma that is reminiscent of those from the Old Hollywood. Great hosts like Bob Hope, Billy Crystal, even Ellen Degeneres (reminding me of Lucille Ball) and Hugh Jackman. They had what it took, and so I'm gonna offer up my own thoughts on who should host the Oscars. As we learned last year, you just can't toss someone up onstage because they're funny people, you have to have more than that, and these choices do I believe.

Hugh Jackman
Okay, I know this is a repeat, but he did such a fantastic job two years ago hosting the big show. With his song-and-dance routine and natural charisma, he headlined an Oscar ceremony that was entertaining, and actually felt as if there was an emcee and not just someone that popped up on stage to deliver a stupid political joke to segue into the next award. Jackman used his broad skills as an actor and showman to make the show feel alive and classy, something I would love to see him do again.

Tom Hanks
I've mentioned him before, but I really think Tom Hanks has what it takes to be a good Oscar host. First off, he's just flat-out likable, so likable that he is charming in the way that Jimmy Stewart was. But unlike Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks has a killer sense of humor. Just watch his appearances on any late night talk show for proof. Give him some freedom to let him run wild, and his combo of self deprecating humor and humbleness will win an audience over. Not to mention, Tom Hanks is one of the few modern day actors who I actually feel could have made it in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it is simply because he is a class act. A class act who is loved by Hollywood, film fans, and everyone else not included above.

Robin Williams
All right, this could get ugly, but Robin Williams truly is one of the funniest men alive. Not just that, he is a classy movie star in his own right, but his background in stand up makes him a prime candidate to host the show. Now, how can this get ugly? Have you watched his stand up? He is dirty. Real dirty, and often political, two things that tend to irk me in comedy, but if Williams were to stay away from such things and deliver a family friendly atmosphere, he can't be beat. He always kills it whenever brought onstage at these shows, usually upstaging the host, so let him go for it, I say, and see what happens. I mean the guy could probably make a joke about a chicken crossing the road actually be funny.

The Muppets
Yes, the Muppets. Who embodies everything we want out of an Oscar host more so than Jim Henson's creations? They sing, they dance, they tell jokes, and they're charming, lovable, and know how to command the variety show style of an award show (look no further than The Muppet Show for proof). Kermit could emcee. Fozzie could be his comedian wing-man. Miss Piggy could constantly be trying to break into the act. And the two old geezers in the balcony could actually be in the balcony cracking jokes about the latest award winners. The thing is, the Muppets are also seen as classy. Critics love them. The film industry love them. I mean, why else do so many big name stars line up to get a cameo spot in a Muppet movie? The Muppets would create a show that is both original and entertaining, making an Oscar ceremony unlike any other. Waka, waka!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Why, George Lucas? Was it something I said?

Okay. I love Star Wars, and George Lucas deserves all credit for being one of the most visionary filmmakers of all-time, but why can he not just leave his classics alone? There is a shocking new trend in Hollywood that has cropped up over the past decade or so, with filmmakers revisiting their classics and tampering with them to try and meet their "visions," starting back with George in the '90s when he did the Special Edition of the original Star Wars trilogy. In all honesty, the Special Editions are small potatoes in regards to what came next. Over the years we have seen guns stripped from E.T., replaced by walkie talkies, old Anakin replaced by young Anakin at the end of Return of the Jedi, and now we've got the Lion King and Titanic being re-released in 3-D. But wait, more changes are to come to the Star Wars saga as George continues to try and "perfect" his story that, to majority of fans, has been perfect for over 30 years!

George Lucas is finally releasing the Star Wars movies on Blu-Ray, but you know what, I wont be buying it after getting wind of these latest changes. Now, get this. Ewoks will now blink. A dug like Sebulba will blatantly appear in Jabba's palace. Puppet Yoda in Phantom Menace (one of the last movies to utilize great puppet tech.) has been replaced by CGI. Oh, yeah, and to really make fans not wanna watch the end of Return of the Jedi: not only did George start by replacing the Yub Nub ewok song in the Special Edition, then switching out Anakins with the DVD release, but now he has added Darth Vader's much hated, "Noooo!!!" from the end of Revenge of the Sith to when Vader saves Luke from Palpatine. Take a look:

Now, compare with the original scene:

The original scene is so much more powerful! Film is a VISUAL medium. The original scene does so much through the shots and editing that there is no need to add anything to that moment. It was emotionally powerful as it was. And get this, he's even changing things just for the heck of it, like Obi Wan's screech in A New Hope that scared away the Sandpeople. Why change it? There's no justification.

You know what is stupid? I was actually looking forward to buying these movies on Blu-Ray, but I just don't think I can justify the price of the set now. Sure, these changes may seem minor, but when you have grown up with these movies as they were initially made, there is nothing but frustration when someone wants to change even the most minor of details. I mean, you replace Jeremy Bulloch's voice as Bobba Fett with the DVD release in 2004, and I grinned and bore it, even Hayden Christensen replacing Sebastian Shaw at the end of Jedi, but a CGI Yoda replacing puppet Yoda? If you replace puppet Yoda in Empire and Jedi, that is it George, I am done defending you.

Just leave these movies alone, George. I beg of you. I have defended you so many times to friends in arguments, giving you the benefit of the doubt, but enough is enough. Just stop! You have stuff going with the likes of Red Tails and the Clone Wars show, there is no need to go back and change these classic films just because you want to. Fans don't want this. I don't want this. Realize this, please, George, before the damage is irreversible. You don't see people adding things to Casablanca or Gone With the Wind, and you wanna know why? Cause they're CLASSICS! If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and irregardless to your perfectionist tendencies, the Star Wars movies are perfect to so many film fans around the world. Just do something for the fans. For once.

Sorry, George if you read this. I still love your movies, but I just have to let you know that I am disappointed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Movie Review: "The Debt"

Few movies are as perfectly cast as The Debt. It's just unreal how believable it is that Jessica Chastain is a young Helen Mirren, that Sam Worthington is a young Ciaran Hinds, and that Marton Csokas is a young Tom Wilkinson.

The Debt is a movie that takes place primarily in the past, as the older counterparts of three Israeli Mossad agents reflect on their secret mission in the early '60s trying to apprehend the Nazi Surgeon of Birkenau for war crimes committed against the Jewish nation. Majority of the action transpires in the past, while majority of the present is purely the characters reflecting on what happened when they were young. Seeing why these characters are reflecting (via flashbacks) is more satisfying than the moments where their older counterparts are simply reflecting, but the two wind up complimenting one another and forming a complete whole in the end, and the climax with the older Helen Mirren is as suspenseful as any of the moments with the young Jessica Chastain.

While Israeli accents often slip amongst the actors, in particular Sam Worthington, the performances of the cast are pure and emotionally authentic, while director John Madden infuses the scenes of the past with so much raw tension that The Debt often rivals Hitchcock classics, and then the scenes in the present are so marvelously played by the older actors conveying so much with simple looks. There is a richness to character in The Debt beyond the usual thrills of a thriller like this, and it is what makes The Debt so special and enjoyable. Even if the present is less exciting to watch than the past, the two work in tandem, with the past delivering the thrills and the present the emotion of the events.

I give The Debt an A!