Monthly Archives: February 2010

How Hollywood Stars Help Cinema

Considering making your own film and trying to make money?  Read this Slate article on independent cinema’s reliance on Hollywood stars before you max out your credit cards

http://www.slate.com/id/2126120/

Doom for Indie Flicks and Netflix?

Over at gawker.com they’ve had a recent spat of articles on the film industry written by Edward Jay Epstein.

In the first piece on independent cinema, he argues that Avatar’s huge success is one cause of the death of independent film financing.  Citing one example, a film was offered that could earn back 100% profit, but was turned down by big studios so they can seek even greater financial returns by blockbusters like 2012.

Epstein goes on to explain that the major source of funding for indie filmmakers was through pre-selling the distribution rights to foreign territories and using this as collateral to borrow from banks.  Due to the large amount of indie distributors in the U.S., these deals were passed assuming there would not be difficulty in finding a release Stateside to pad promotion in other parts of the world.

For the independent distributors in the U.S., the major funding came from deals with cable companies like HBO.  However, cable companies realized they didn’t need as many films to keep subscribers and less cash went to these distributors, like New Line Cinema, Fine Line Features, Picturehouse, Warner Independent, Fox Atomic, Paramount Vantage, and Miramax: all of which have gone under or have been bought out by the big guys since the cable company cutoff their cable deals.

If you have the time, read the whole thing

http://gawker.com/5465348/can-indie-movies-survive

And on the Netflix front, Epstein says they don’t have the type of collateral to compete in the long run with cable.  Currently they’re still doing most of their business with DVDs mailed to subscribers because of a legal loop-hole:

It gets its DVDS from wholesalers and even retail stores. It can then rent them because of a court-approved “first sale doctrine,” which says that once a person buys a DVD, he can re-sell it or rent it out.

However, this “first sale doctrine” does not apply to streaming films, where Netflix is trying move it’s business.  Thanks to a deal with Starz, Netflix has acquired the digital streaming license to many newer films from Disney, Sony and other studios.  However, both cable companies competing with Netflix’s (why subscribe to HBO when you can rent their content through Netflix?) and the film distributors are invested in closing Starz’s sub-lease agreement with Netflix.

Epstein says Netflix can’t compete with HBO, who is rolling out its own streaming services, but since Netflix’s main business comes from older titles, it won’t necessarily die out.

Again, if you have the time, read the whole thing

http://gawker.com/5471943/why-netflix-wont-be-the-hbo-of-the-21st-century

It’s interesting to consider the film ecosystem and one area’s shift causes such drastic consequences.  Especially in regard to the first piece: what’s going to happen to independent films now that drive-ins are dead, independent distributors are an endangered species, and less money is available at major studios for smaller films?

I imagine one of these major blockbuster films is going to flop and that’s when studios will watch their budgets.  Carolco Pictures (Terminator andTerminator 2) collapsed due to Cutthroat Island and all it would take is the failure of a 2012 or a Transformers to kill a company.  With smaller budget films like District 9 (it had a $30 million budget, but that’s small compared to the $200-400 million summer blockbusters) and Paranormal Activity, there are obviously companies thinking of their wallets.

Also, the independent distribution market will come back at some point (maybe with the aforementioned blockbuster flop).  Right now one business model has disappeared, but someone will find a new one.

Movie Poster Art

io9 recently published some articles about poster art in other countries.  Below are some posters from Thailand:

Day of the Dead

Evil Dead 2

GODZILLA!

And here are some from Ghana:

Evidently Evil Dead II has worldwide appeal. Chainsaws and boomsticks have that effect.

Why does this look romantic to me?

This is probably a horrible movie, but this poster makes it look awesome.

These posters from Ghana were put together during the 80′s when videocassette’s first came out.  entrepeneurs would go around with various videos, setting up screenings in rural areas.  These posters were used to advertise these screenings.

You can read the full Ghana io9 articles  here, and the one on Thailand film posters here.  The articles also have links to their sources, which feature more posters.

A Single Man

...although this poster subtly tries to downplay the gay.

...although this poster subtley tries to downplay the gay.

The struggle for political rights during the twentieth century highlighted the parallel importance of representation.  I bring this up because the largest reason a film like A Single Man can even be released is due to the representations of the homosexual community since the 1990′s (thank you Ellen, Gus Van Sant, and reality television).  With Brokeback Mountain five years behind us, something tells me there will not be too many protests over this one.

Colin Firth stars as George Falconer, a professor of English whose boyfriend of sixteen years, Jim, died in a car accident eight months ago.  Kissing Jim’s cold limp lips at the snowy scene of the crash, the film opens with George waking from this bad dream.  A fountain pen lies near his hand, bleeding all over his white bed linens, carrying dream into reality.  Kicking his day off with such melancholy, George surveys himself in the mirror: “Just get through the goddamn day.”

George’s “goddamn day” is punctuated by memories that flood his mind with the suddenness of a thunderclap or are interrupted by moments of serenity: the world floods with color and George basks in the glow of the moment, be it the beauty of a secretary or children playing in a yard.  Nevertheless, the moment always wanes, giving way to George’s default depression.

POSSIBLE SPOILER

The flood of memories and dreamlike moments of serenity are occurring because this is George’s last day on Earth.  Intending to commit suicide at the end of the day, George teaches his class, buys bullets for his revolver, and empties his safety deposit box.  All of his important documents, keys, letters to friends and the suit in which he is to be buried are laid out in meticulous order.  Now for George to do the deed…

POSSIBLE SPOILER OVER

Much has been made of this film not only for Colin Firth’s performance (excellent and subtle), but for the work of director Tom Ford.  Well known as an American fashion designer, Ford’s day job reveals itself in the film’s chic-moderne look and the men George meets during his day (Kenny and Carlos), who were pulled from Derek Zoolander’s School of Ridiculously Good Looking Models.  Don’t get me wrong, Firth is handsome, but Nicholas Hoult (Kenny) and Jon Kortajarena (Carlos) were selected for their eyes and jaw line, not to serve the story.

And here is the film’s major flaw: an over-reliance on aesthetics to drive the story.  Ford’s set design and costumes, though interesting to look at, keep you at arm’s length emotionally.  The music clobbers you and the voice over lacks a solid goal.  If the ridiculously good looking Kenny and Carlos don’t bring a smirk to your face, the film’s conclusion, SPOILER ALERT wherein George decides not to bite a bullet, but immediately dies from a heart attack, should make you laugh since this is the stuff of comic book or The Twilight Zone zingers. SPOILER ALERT OVER

The last film to tackle the death of a loved one using music and visuals to drive the story was Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain.  Though you may not know what the hell is going on during Aronofsky’s meditation (it definitely needs to be watched more than once), his visual and musical aesthetic at least made me feel something.

Imagine this on a proper cinema screen. This is how you engage with visuals.

A Single Man will likely leave the viewer as blasé as George.  Though a good addition to a growing list of films about homosexual relationships, it doesn’t deliver the type of emotional knockout we know lurks beneath George’s surface.

The Wolfman

The new Wolfman

Monster movies have been a mainstay of American Horror films and they all owe a debt to The Universal Monsters. Many of the group had literary origins and were given their screen debut by Universal Pictures from the 1920′s until 1960; the major monsters included Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, and of course, the Wolf Man.

This re-make stars Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, who returns to England when his brother Ben is reported missing; by the time Lawrence arrives, Ben’s mutilated body is found.  Lawrence stays at home with his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), and Ben’s brooding fiancé, Gwenn Conliffe.

And of course Lawrence wants to find the killer of his brother, who turns out not to be a lunatic or a gypsy’s bear, but something much more unnatural.  Scarred by his encounter with the beast, Lawrence goes on to learn of monstrous curses.

This film wants to be Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992)…and not.  The setting, costume design, lighting, all give it the mood and atmosphere of a film really reaching for something memorable.  At the same time though, the pacing is too quick, too abrupt and jerky.  It lacks any faith in the actors and the script, jumping from scene to scene, shot to shot, which tells me it wants to be about action at the core.  Do you remember Let the Right One In?  That little vampire film had faith in the material and in its actors, which shows in the camera work: doing less means there is more to be focusing on.  The quiet camera movements in Let the Right One In make the violent segments that much more jarring.  The Wolfman just doesn’t have the skill to do the same, going for cheap thrills that will make you jump, but won’t evoke true dread.

Why the schizophrenic interpretation?  Because original director Mark Romanek was dropped from the picture (or he left of his own volition).  Romanek did the amazing One Hour Photo (2002), which was all about mood and slower pacing.  So the atmospheric elements to The Woflman are probably attributed to Romanek.  His replacement (and current credit holder on the film), was Joe Johnston…the guy who brought you Jurassic Park III.  Now you know where the action-y feel comes from.

Along with the director switch just before production, there’s also been mention of special effects issues (Rick Baker is credited, but was supposedly kept on the sidelines as CGI did most of the work), new editors, re-shoots, and on-set rewrites.  This latter bit shows, as halfway through the film we find out (I’ll give the spoiler alert, but I guessed it from the outset) MINOR SPOILER, that Sir John Talbot killed Lawrence’s mother as a werewolf; she did not slit her throat cleanly as Lawrence had remembered it. After we see this flashback, Lawrence redundantly states, “You killed my mother.”  SPOILER OVER This statement was funny unto itself: we see what happened, we don’t need a narrator to guide us.  But Del Toro’s delivery of this line had everyone in the cinema giggling, which pushed this film into Giallo type camp  (if you haven’t read my review of  Giallo, trust me, that’s pretty bad).

Though the film boasts great actors like Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, there’s only one redeeming aspect to The Wolfman and that’s the ridiculous amounts of gore.  Amidst other big budget fare frightened of the R rating, it was cool to see a werewolf’s true capacity for bloodshed.  So kudos for being bloody, but shame on you for making a film so bloody banal (zing!).  If you just spent more time building up before the gore, this could have been a great film.

Just go see this instead. It's great.

A lesser film critic would quip: “Blah blah blah, but The Wolfman is nothing to howl about.”  I try to do a good job here, so instead of a quip, I’ll recommend another film featuring the Wolf Man over this version: The Monster Squad. This was a film made in 1987 about a bunch of kids who have to fight the major Universal Monsters who are trying to obtain an amulet that will open a wormhole to hell.

Now, that may sound really hokey (and the trailers don’t help, do not use them to judge the film), but it was written by Shane Black, the same guy who wrote the Lethal Weapon films and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  Thus, the film is clever, funny, and makes these kids feel surprisingly real.  If you liked The Sandlot and Goonies, you’ll be wondering if The Monster Squad is the best of the three.

The Wolfman is okay (go only for the gore), but you’ll have a better night if you and your buddies watch The Monster Squad.  At least that film has nards.

Official Release: Hank vs Ninjas, Nazis and a Chupacabra

The following is my short film, Hank vs Ninjas, Nazis and a Chupacabra.  This was put together from the Fall of 2008 to the Spring of 2009.  I waited to release it online to try to make some money from the DVD sales to cover various costs.  All profits were split equally among the 20+ cast and crew.

So now I offer this to you, online, free.  However, I have also included a Paypal “Donate” button.

This is what I ask: If you like what you saw, please donate $2.

If you really liked what you saw, you can by this on ebay for $3, which includes my first short, Neighborhood Watch.  Both films run about 20 minutes. Buy it here.

All donations will go towards the cost of my current slate of films:

Dawn of the Living (post-production): my first real foray into the dramatic aspects of horror

How Do We Die? (pre-production): five minute documentary on gravediggers and how they think of death

So here it is: Hank vs Ninjas, Nazis and a Chupacabra


US Donations UK Donations   

Thanks for all your support.

Why is Clint Eastwood Performing Penance?

After watching several films directed by Clint Eastwood, I began to see patterns exhibited by each film’s main characters.  This struck me when I watched Unforgiven. Continue reading

DVD Roundup: Westerns, Spike Lee, and French Hate

Before writing this entry, the idea was to post a blog every week listing all of the films I’ve watched (that I have not previously seen) over seven days.  However, given the length, I don’t know if that’s going to be a constant.  Maybe once a month highlighting the best films I watched.  Anyway, here’s what I saw:

Vinz, Said, and Hubert, the main characters who represent the diverse poverty fo the banlieues.

La Haine (1995)

This was the best film I watched all week.  It reminded me of both Fight Club and Children of Men for specific reasons:  Fight Club because it was speaking to a certain generation-in this case, poor youths  living in the banlieues of Paris;* Children of Men because the camera work is easy-going, not kinetic, but smooth; it lets the film do its thing.  When you watch as many films as I do, you begin to feel worn out by ho-hum films.  This was a good jolt of awesomeness, both for content (you really feel like you’re learning something about this world) and formalist elements.  Please: Watch this.

*The banlieues in France are the suburbs or outskirts.   In contrast to the U.S., these suburbs are the ghettos where the poor and minorities reside.

Cache (Hidden) (2005)

I thought Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (2007)* was brilliant, so I was disappointed by Cache.  Residing on many top film lists, I felt this was heralded by auteur theory slaves or for the formalistic as opposed to the content.  People discuss it in terms of an allegory for French colonialism, but there is nothing in the film that directs you to such a conclusion.  All you have is a French man thinking an immigrant boy he knew in childhood is stalking him.  The film’s purpose is opaque and thus comes off as artistic wankery.  Any time you’re looking at a piece of art and the only way it has meaning is via the titlecard explaining the artist’s purposes, the artist has failed.  I am by no means asking for an artist to shove the subtext down my throat.  However, you need to give clues to your meaning and there are none in Cache.  Don’t bother.

*this was a shot-for-shot American re-make that Haneke, surprisingly, directed himself


A Boy and His Dog (1975)

This is the film that inspired Mad Max, thereby The Road and probably any post-apocalyptic film you’ve ever seen.  The world has been scorched to deserts and a boy and his dog, who are telepathically linked, search for food and women for the boy to rape.  Yes, you read that right: man’s best friend helps a boy with sexual assault.  Things get weird when he meets a girl and goes underground, where the world is frozen as 1950′s America, the townspeople wear creepy clown makeup and the high school band is always in full swing.  This is definitely from the 1970′s (too weird to be from any other decade) and the humor is super black.  Totally worth a watch just for the ending, but watch with friends.  This is too out there to watch without company. Trailer

Malcolm X (1992)

A biopic on Malcolm X . . . where Spike Lee doesn’t know when to be quiet.  Really Spike Lee, did you need Nelson Mandela to hammer your point home after we see X shot a bajillion times?  Denzel Washington is good (of course), but watch Lee’s 25th Hour for something really great.

North by Northwest (1959)

"I'll inn- your -uendo anytime, Mr. Grant."North by Northwest (1959)

I had no idea that a mainstream Hollywood film could have so much sexual innuendo.  I was perpetually waiting for some super sexy music to cut in during the dialogue between Grant and Saint Marie.  Other notable comments: an abrupt ending which transitions directly from Mount Rushmore, straight into a Honeymoon train ride.  Also, you’ll notice any exterior scenes flip back and forth from being on location, to using a green screen (like those of The Daily Show correspondent reports). Something tells me this was the result of keeping dialogue in a studio where audio can be recorded easily, then cutting back to on location when no dialogue was occurring.  It’s interesting to consider how a film’s style is affected by technical issues.  Good little thriller though.

The Searchers (1956)

Since discovering Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) I’ve gone through recommended Westerns I missed during my youth [too busy watching films on TNT, like Night of the Living Dead (1990), The Lost Boys (1987), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994)].  So seeing The Searchers among all the other Westerns put it in perspective.  The film is noteworthy for John Wayne’s role as an anti-hero when he goes looking for girl kidnapped by “Indians” with a young buck who is part Native American himself.  Other than that, the acting and dialogue aren’t the finest.  If you’re new to Westerns, you need to see The Searchers, but I’d recommend High Noon (1952) for higher honors.

Unforgiven (1992)

Along with my comments on The Searchers, Unforgiven is praised for breaking from Western tradition and showing the true consequences of the killin’ life.  Interesting since Clint Eastwood directed Unforgiven, the guy who made killing look cool in the Leone and Dirty Harry films. See my blog entry on Eastwood’s penance for a lengthier treatise.

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

And finally, this links up with Unforgiven not only due to Eastwood’s directorial role, but for the same act of deconstructing the genre’s mythos of war heroes.  At first, the look of the film might remind you of a tv movie, but I think that’s because Eastwood didn’t want to tart it up with grittiness like Saving Private Ryan (1998).  Better to stay away from stylization and let the film play out in our world, where colors continue to exist despite a war’s occurence.  Again, see my Eastwood blog entry for more.

The Scarlet Empress (1934)

If the earliest films you’ve seen are the Classical Hollywood Films during the Hays Code Era (such as North by Northwest), then this one will surprise you, as German director Josef von Sternberg spins the tale of Catherine the Great of Russia.  The film’s opening montage, in which young Catherine is receiving her education of Russian politics, we see nudity, torture, and beheadings (though on this we only see a man with an ax; the other items, we see it).  The set design of the Russian palace is just as grotesque (very German expressionist), but this little film is interesting for focusing on women, with Marlene Dietrich as the protagonist who has a vareity lover boys, and the tyrannical mother-in-law and ruler of Russia, Empress Petrovna.  Men are idiots or play things in this world and that is just as striking (in a good way) as the opening montage.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

I hand wrote this review in class: Really funny, but the music designer pushed some scenes into homoerotic territory.  Also, it keeps moving between hilarious and overly dramatic.  It gets so dramatic in fact, that you reasonably expect Del (John Candy) to go in the bathroom, peel open his wrists up with a razor, and be discovered by Neal (Steve Martin) the next morning in a pool of his own blood; this of course occurring as a result of Neal’s ill temper toward Del and adding just another hurdle to Neal quest to get home.

I don’t know why, but I quite literally, laughed through the whole film.  I don’t laugh easy during comedies.  I don’t chuckle at the slightest provocation.  So it might have been due to the pacing: long lingering takes as another annoyance/tragedy plays out, and we feel Neal’s explosive reaction building up.  If the same events happened to Del, the nice chatty guy, it would be sad to see such repeated ailments befall such a nice guy.  But since we know Neal as a tight ass, we can rely on him to freak out and we have to laugh at him.  And in regard to the acting: John Candy can do real, subtle hurt; but Steve Martin does sadness like a second grade actor in the school play.

I thought this might have been John Hughes’ first film he wrote and directed, but imdb tells me this was one of his last major hits.  Surprising.  Certain parts were REALLY serious (only made worse by the music) and this change in tone felt awkwardly abrupt, not like Shaun of the Dead, which snaked its way through scary, sad, and funny with amazing finesse.  I’ve seen Hughes’ other notables, so I know he likes to take us through the funny and the serious, but this wasn’t as well done.

Despite this issue, I’d watch it again.  It was funny and that’s what I was expecting.

Complete Version of Metropolis Found

A few weeks ago I sat down to watch Fritz Lang’s most famous film, Metropolis (1927) and during the opening credits the titlecards commented on missing reels.

It seems the original 200+ minute version of the film, unseen since the premiere in 1927, surfaced in Argentina.  The link is to a website that published the article in 2008, but I found it in Empire Magazine, stating a DVD release of the original version in 2010.