Category Archives: Film Rants

Back to Bloggin’

One of the things I found myself doing more and more lately, especially last year was writing. Tons of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been writing ever since I could remember. I’ve written screenplays, short stories, essays and film reviews. After jumping into the world of podcasting last fall with a good friend and fellow filmmaker Sean Totanes, I found myself looking back at my old blog as I researched for whatever the topic of conversation was for that week. I can’t believe I started blogging ten years ago (!) and now here I am–reviving the form and sharing with those interested enough to read them.

I’m also back into production again, and nothing inspires me more than seeing great films. I’m excited for what 2014 brings.

The photo above is of course, my favorite filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh. He’s an inspiration.

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Sweeney/Ocean/Bourne in movie news, all in the same day!

I’m not one to overblog or even blog about future movie tidbits that much but today gave news to some films I’m interested in seeing this year. So I have to share. Forgive my lameness. I’m going back to Maltese Falcon after this short E!-like blog.

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Old Hollywood Feel
I just saw the official trailer for Ocean’s 13 and it looks so stylish and classy. Love Pacino as the addition to the cast. It feels like those classic glossy golden-age Hollywood all-star movies. I think I’m the only guy in the world who appreciates this trilogy beyond it being an exercise in style. It truly is a throwback to cool. Frank & Dino cool.

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The names’ Bourne. Jason Bourne.
The Bourne Ultimatum
international trailer just blew me away. I am officially stoked. The trailer just makes recent spy movies (ahem, particularly a beloved yet now revamped one) look like a cheap imitation.

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Raise your razor, Sweeney!
And finally, I am extremely excited about the pairing of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim and filmmaker Tim Burton reinventing Sondheim’s classic Sweeney Todd onto the screen. The casting is spot on and Depp (looking like Edward Scissorhand‘s long lost daddy) is going to be amazing as Sweeney. Helena Bonham Carter as Ms. Lovett? Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin? Sasha Baron Cohen as Pirelli? Christopher Lee as the Ghost? This is the cast of the year bar-none. Perfect fits.

Oscar the Grouch

Not too long ago, we used to have Oscar parties. We’d sit around watching the show, placing bets. In all reality the telecast was just audio-visual wallpaper–an excuse to hang out with friends and family. I remember attending a few of those Oscar benefit galas the university would put on.

All in all, the Oscars are rather inconsequential because it’s truly about industry politics.

If I was a card-carryin’ Academy member today, I’d have thrown out the politics and voted completely against the grain. Sure they got a lot of things right. For example, nominating Thomas Newman for Best Original Score for The Good German. Finally. After countless minimalist scores like American Beauty and Finding Nemo, the youngest Newman does his uncles and father proud by harkening back to his family’s rich history of composing music for Hollywood by composing a rhapsodic, atmospheric score that sounds a lot like his father’s and uncle’s work. His score is the best of 2006. Speaking of scores, it’s wonderful that they finally acknowledge Italian composer Ennio Morricone for Lifetime Achievement. Cinema Paradiso is still one of the best film scores ever.

Also, the costume category is spot on. I’m pulling for Marie Antoinette because Milena Canonero rocks my socks, ever since Dick Tracy. I can’t wait to hear from Cherilyn and Ron about this category. Ron’s costume designs lean toward more on the Dreamgirls side while Cherilyn’s costume designs lean toward more The Devil Wears Prada side. Another reason why I liked Marie Antoinette; the costumes just seemed like a combination of my two costume designer friends. Accurate, yet somehow, contemporary.

But then where’s Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck for Supporting Actor? Bill Condon for Director? No Jack? These guys turned in great stuff in 2006. Leo gets nominated not for The Departed but for Blood Diamond? No Best Foreign Film nomination for Volver? Was the Academy too worried it might start looking like the Latin Grammys? How about Emily Blunt and Anika Noni Rose for Supporting Actress? And how about that Best Song category? I love Dreamgirls, but really, three song nominatons? Only “Love You I Do” truly deserves the nomination. “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale and “Real Gone” from Cars rocked the multiplexes. So did “Family of Me” from Over the Hedge and “Hit Me Up” from Happy Feet. How could they have snubbed the entire Curious George soundtrack?

Call me crazy. Was The Queen really that good to garner a Best Picture nod? Hellen Mirren was great, of course. But didn’t the movie felt a bit like a BBC mini-series? As much as I love Little Miss Sunshine, Alan Arkin wasn’t all that. I love that movie for its quirkiness and sure, it grows on me after repeat viewings. But how can those two movies be better than, oh say, United 93? As solid as Babel might be, it is a bit flawed and a tad shallow. I hope The Departed gets it, even though Little Miss Sunshine won the SAG and the Producer’s Guild Award which is a good indication that it might take home the little naked golden man.

I’ve been keeping this all in ever since the nominations were announced. Now that it’s here, I just needed to get that out of my chest. Thankfully, it’s cued on our EyeTV and we can just watch the highlights while we enjoy a night out.

I know it’s all politics. The biggest thing I learn from the Oscars every year is watching how all those industry professionals “play the game.” It’s all smiles and nods, fake thank yous and thousand watt smiles. I hate that part of the industry. But even Scorcese’s got to play the game. Are they really awarding the best of the year, or do they have shallower motives?

After all, last year’s Best Picture winner was . . . Crash.

Cinema Images of the Week

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The most watched DVD of the past few weeks – Little Miss Sunshine
It seemed like every other day, a friend or relative was over and for some strange reason they kept asking me if I had this movie on DVD. Sure enough, they’d end up watching it. It’s a great movie. The more and more I see it the more I see why this tiny little movie deserves all the accolades its been receiving lately.

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Settling a debate over one of the best movie musicals – West Side Story
Thanks to the continuing discussion on movie musicals last Wednesday, I was challenged by a colleague at work to go see West Side Story again. So I picked up the box set at CostCo for under $20 and I have to admit, I gave this movie a bum rap. It’s actually really good. Perhaps even great. Movie musicals are never a perfect package maybe because its too stylized for the average moviegoer. Yet with this movie you can’t deny Jerome Robbins’ choreography or the brassy award-winning performances of Rita Moreno and George Chikiris. I concede. It is a great movie.

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Remake what? – Charade: Criterion Collection
An idea was brewing that perhaps the next film I do should be a remake of Charade. Bad idea, I thought. Jonathan Demme did a really bland version a few years back with The Truth About Charlie. But after seeing the movie again, perhaps it’s not a bad idea after all . . . if I incorporate certain elements to a particular trilogy I’m trying to finish . . . hmm, the possibilities.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forums

I can’t take it anymore.

I’d like to believe that I’m a serious cinephile; a budding filmmaker; and a connoisseur of celluloid, pretentious as it may sound. Yes, I am one to frequent sites such as RottenTomatoes, DVDActive, IMDb, FilmTracks and a host of other film and cinema related websites that update me on the state of the art.

But do we really need to be flooded with countless fanboys on these forums who think they know what the hell is going on? I mean seriously? Who gives a rat’s ass if Spidey 3 will beat out Pirates 3 at the box office next summer? Only the distributors. How is the box office income of a certain movie going to affect our lives in the grand scheme of things? I’m not the guy in charge at Sony or Disney so I can care less. I do care how these movies are made. That’s a different story.

And yes you can learn from the Special Features on a DVD. But remember, the DVD offers some wonderful behind-the-scenes featurettes but in all reality their PR Marketing pieces to show you that they all “had a great time filming the sequel and they would die to work with said director again.” No one is going to put on the Pirates 3 DVD that Keith Richards got drunk on his first day of filming. Now there’s an experience we filmmakers can learn from!

I can care less about criticism. I can care less about revenue (but I will keep in track of per-screen average because it’s important to see the trend of the distributors). And yes, when it’s my time to get up there and have a movie running wide release on a hot summer’s day, I will care. But at this point, what matters to me is the art, the state of the art, but not the commerce of the art. Leave that to the bean counters.

And who is SpideyFan238 anyway? Or RingNut75? If you’re supposed to be well in the know, then stop posting in forums and make a statement in the trades! Unless your Kevin Smith who likes to do both which really proves he’s still got amateurish instincts in him.

And what gets me is that these idiots flooding these sites are “aspiring moviemakers.” Then, stop worrying about the box office revenue of next summer’s blockbuster. Stop trying to figure out who will win the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

I write this because we film students are lacking fellow peers who care about the art, from the creative aspects to the business aspects. Instead they care about the fluff that surrounds the art and they waste their time predicting who will make a better Joker in the next Batman film.

Instead, see the movies. Learn from them. Enjoy them. Critique them. See how it’s done. Ask why. Then see if you can make one.

That’s how a fan becomes a filmmaker.

Why Johnny Depp is the Man

There are iconic characters that are defined by the right elements. Characters such as Darth Vader, Indiana Jones and James Bond became iconic through the visionaries and the talents who helped create them. Yet for Johnny Depp, he has created one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history all by himself.

 

 


“I see you!”

 

 

Jack Sparrow is a creation sprung from the fruitful imagination of one of the greatest actors of our time. Even if it’s said to be inspired by Keith Richards, Depp’s Jack Sparrow is a fresh creature, complicated, funny, tender and sharp all at once. The originality comes from Depp’s choices as an actor. On paper, Sparrow reads like your everyday run-of-the-mill pirate, complete with obligatory “arrghs” and “mateys.” Yet what Depp has ingeniously done with the character is what makes the Pirates movies worth seeing.

 

 


“My dad’s a rock star!”

 

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest works best because of Johnny Depp, and once you’ve figured out that you’re in for the 2nd act of a larger story, the more you’ll enjoy it. So it’s a whopping corporate cash machine designed to make millions of bucks. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. A shopping mall is pretty much the same thing but if you know what you’re coming into, you’ll come out satisfied.

 

 


Little sis Jerica with my Jack Sparrow wig.

 

 

To make the whole Pirates experience sweeter, Jerica and I went to the Pirates Celebration in Disneyland where we got free “Aztec Gold” souvenirs, pirate bandanas and all sorts of treasures. The newly spiffed up Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is pretty darn cool. The attention to detail is amazing with improved sound and lighting effects. It’s much faster (and wetter) but the real fun is Jack Sparrow’s on board. He looks much more real than his older animatronic matey’s but when he pops up, he easily upstages all the other animatronics around him.

 

 


I think the flash takes away the reality of it all, but he looks much better than the older animatronics.

 

 

They say that the Pirates movies have come full circle, from ride to movie and back to the ride. Having Sparrow immortalized in his true birthplace (the ride) proves my theory of why Johnny Depp is the man: he has taken essentially nothing, and made something truly unforgettable, and now, quite possibly, immortalized forever. Now that kind of talent is the real attraction.

Oscar Nominee

 

This was back in high school. Geoff Hoyle played Zazu in the original Broadway cast of the Lion King and the guy with the umbrella is Oscar nominee David Strathairn. Mr. “Good Night and Good Luck.” Strathairn was doing The Tempest at A.C.T. at the time and my good friend Ariel and I got a chance to spend some time backstage because we had teachers in the production. Ah yes, and Strathairn visited our school.

 

Today at work, Jeff (my boss, who is also a film fanatic) gave me the new 2-Disc Special Edition of “All the President’s Men” thanking me for the great work I’ve been doing lately. He and I had a discussion about some of the films that influenced me and I told him that this particular film ranks high on the list. As a matter of fact, I just finished watching it and I must blog about it soon.

 

He knew I didn’t have the new edition so he surprised me and left it in my box with a note saying “a companion piece to Murrow. Great Job at work. Good Night and Good Luck, Enrico!”

 

I’m blessed. Not just because I have a kick-ass boss, but free DVDs as perks?

 

A film major can’t complain.

Confessions From An Aspiring Filmmaker

 

  1. You love/hate Tarantino. Either that or you’re just jealous that a former video store clerk has made a living ripping off old movies and making them cool again.
  2. You’re inspired by music. Any music because it helps you edit the “scene in your head.”
  3. In any phase of production, when all else fails, you steal from the French New Wave.
  4. You know what the word toy-etic means thanks to George Lucas.
  5. Full screen DVDs give you a headache.
  6. You curse the weather because production or not, it will always be against you.
  7. You respect the Harry Potter movies moreso than the books because of ‘its sheer cinematic craft.’
  8. You’ve heard every excuse an actor can give you about not memorizing their lines.
  9. You’re the only one who watches the Special Features on a DVD.
  10. You can go to a movie alone.
  11. You get the M. Night Shyamalan American Express commercial because you’ve been in a restaurant before and thought the same thing.

  12. You’re tired of M. Night Shyamalan.
  13. You wish you can write an ending in your next screenplay as clever as M. Night Shyamalan but then you remember reason number 12.
  14. Like it or not, Spielberg is still the man.
  15. During productions, you can go on without eating or sleeping but when you’re on hiatus, you complain that you never eat or get any sleep . . .
  16. You’re money goes to DVDs because you honestly believe they’re your textbooks.
  17. You watch a music video and you say to yourself, “hell, I could have directed that!”
  18. You hate to admit that even after cinematography and lighting classes, you still for the life of you can’t read a friggin’ light meter. This is why you have a DP because then you can just tell him to ‘bump it up,’ or ‘bring it down’ and he’ll know exactly what you mean.
  19. Or you skip the light meter/DP crap all together and be your own DP because you know you’ll just end up arguing with that DP anyway.
  20. You know the phone number to your local film commission by heart.
  21. MovieFone is on your speed dial, too.
  22. Yes, you pull the director card when you have to and enjoy uttering the words, “but I’m the director and I said so.”
  23. Half the time, you’ll second guess you ever said that.
  24. You have a favorite film composer.
  25. You don’t believe in a project being finished. You’ll always find something you wish you can fix.
  26. You promise you’ll make more serious films come next project.
  27. You have the utmost respect for animation.
  28. You honestly believe that the title design can make or break your film.
  29. You’re always pitching. Either that or someone’s always pitching something at you.
  30. You always have a friend or relative who comes up to you and says “can I be in your movie?”
  31. You always have a friend or relative who comes up to you and says “what kind of movies do you make, porn?” then chuckles as if he/she was the first one ever to come up with that lame-ass joke.
  32. “Interesting” isn’t the compliment you’re looking for after a screening.
  33. No one will ever get your experiments in cinema but you. Not even you’re own cast and crew.
  34. You can tell a fake ‘smile and nod’ from an honest ‘smile and nod.’
  35. Despite the ups and downs, you can’t think of doing anything else for the rest of your life.

The New Age of the Movie Musical

 

The Dreams – Anika Noni Rose (“Caroline or Change”) as Lorrell, Beyonce Knowles (“Pink Panther”) as Deena and Jennifer Hudson (“American Idol”) as Effie in Dreamgirls

 

When was the last time you busted out into song to explain your emotions?

 

I mean, let’s face it, when you’re in a deep heated fight with your friend, do you really get so fed up that words fail you and you have nothing left to do but to just hit that high b flat and belt “AND I AM TELLLLING YOOOUUU!!! IAAAM NOT GOOOING!”

 

Movie musicals have always been a hard sell.

 

Long consider passe on all accounts, due to the unrealistic nature of busting out into song, film musicals tend to be a laborious experience – melodramatic and cheap, with melody and lyric sucking the reality that cinema tries to portray.

 

Hollywood’s trying their best to create a new golden age of film musicals starting with Moulin Rouge!, a movie that faithfully reminded us that MTV’s real roots came from movie musicals and that music videos are condensed, high-content, coma-inducing versions of just that: The McMusical. Then came 2002’s Best Picture winner Chicago, reinventing the genre and taking a near-flawless stage show and turning it into a near-flawless motion picture event. It didn’t hurt to have Oscar-caliber performances (especially Catherine Zeta-Jones who stole the damn show and won supporting actress for Velma Kelly, a role that only a handful of women can portray) and the glorious music of Kander & Ebb didn’t hurt either (not like the cheesy AM Gold collection Moulin Rouge! decided to peruse).

 

After the success of Chicago, it seems that movie musicals have found a place in film once again. TV networks have started producing acclaimed stage classics such as The Music Man and Once Upon a Mattress, and it didn’t take long for MTV to finally realize the connection between music videos and movie musicals with their foray into the genre. Since then we’ve been treated with at least one or two film musicals a year, with Phantom of the Opera, The Producers and Rent, three classic Tony-winning shows with wonderful ideals but handled by the wrong filmmakers. This year promises an even bigger leap into the genre. So far, Disney Channel has produced High School Musical, which has the distinction of being the number one soundtrack of the year so far and Disney Channel’s most watched original made-for-tv-movie.

 

Yet the biggest news to come out of this year as far as movie musicals are concerned is the film adaptation of the beloved stage show Dreamgirls. Loosely based on real life singing group, the Supremes, the show follows the rise and fall of a girl group through the decades, their trials and tribulations. Effie (Jennifer Hudson) is the original lead singer of the Dreamettes, who is slowly pushed into the background (and eventually out of the group) by the group’s manager Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) and replaced by the prettier Deena (Beyonce Knowles) as the group gains celebrity by selling out.

 

The great thing about Dreamgirls is that I’ve always thought the show lends itself to a cinematic adaptation – not as a musical per se, but almost like a biopic, along the lines of Coal Miner’s Daughter, That Thing You Do!, Ray, or more recently, Walk the Line.

 

Musical biopics are a hot commodity in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, rumor has it that Rent‘s Jesse L. Martin will be starring in a biopic of Marvin Gaye (talk about casting of the century!) So if director Bill Condon is as wise as he’s been with a track record that includes Gods and Monsters and Kinsey, he’ll fashion the show along those lines. Dreamgirls is essentially a biographical musical and the tumultous pace of the show only lend itself to a strong cinematic adaptation. The characters are fascinating, the music is intoxicating, and the commentary the show has on the music industry is timely.

 

The music is also very accessible and radio-friendly to modern audiences. The show has produced now standard hits, particularly the R&B showstopper “I’m Not Going” which every diva knows the lyrics to and every Idol hopeful has probably sung to the disdain of prissy Simon Cowell. It’s a smart move to promote the music first before the movie and push it to the radios as early as two months prior to its holiday release. The soundtrack is being produced by today’s hottest producers in the music industry handling such talents as Alicia Keys, and Kelly Clarkson, and Condon has requested to update the sound to appeal to a younger audience.

 

It seems that Dreamgirls is poised to be a hit but that remains to be seen. The genre’s recent track record isn’t a strong one. Yet it doesn’t mean the movie musical is going to disappear anytime soon. Stephen Sondheim’s gothic tale of Sweeney Todd has been announced, attaching Sondheim’s first choices (and wise ones at that) with Tim Burton as director and Johnny Depp as ‘the demon barber of Fleet Street.’ There is rumor flying around of Into the Woods with a seriously interested Spielberg. There is OutKast’s hip-hop musical Idyllwild and the film version of Hairspray: The Musical.

 

The movie musical just might be back. Perhaps not at its height, but like Effie in Dreamgirls, they’re singing the same tune: “and I am telling you, I’m not going.”