Showing posts with label films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label films. Show all posts

02 July 2017

Take This Movie, Please.


by Leigh Lundin

John Floyd and Paul Marks cast giant shadows when it comes to films. John is known for the depth and breadth of his movie experience. I’ve managed to name a flick or two John hasn’t seen, but it’s difficult. Paul is recognized for his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage Hollywood. What he doesn’t know about Tinseltown could be loosely packed in a brown derby with room left over for a head.

Occasionally one or another of the rest of us bravely steps up to chat about films. Recently a little article caught my attention, ‘Ignore The Critics! 10 ‘Rotten’ Movies You Should Totally Watch Anyway’. I’m not sure what the word ‘totally’ quantifies in this context, but I liked the point of the article. They led with this list, about half which I’ve seen and a couple I wouldn’t have minded seeing.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
  • (2013)   The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • (2013)   The Great Gatsby
  • (2012)   To Rome with Love
  • (2009)   Defiance
  • (2005)   Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • (2004)   50 First Dates
  • (2004)   Troy
  • (2003)   Eurotrip
  • (2001)   A Knight’s Tale
  • (2001)   Wet Hot American Summer
Take, For Example…

Take the Ben Stiller version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s less fanciful and more in tune with today’s world of corporate closings and layoffs, in this case the shuttering of Life magazine. It’s flawed, as are most of the movies on this list and yet it’s a satisfying romantic comedy.

Like Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler made early gross-out movies, but also like Stiller, he can be genuinely funny and play sensitive rôles. To me, 50 First Dates is better than this list. It presents an original problem, one Sandler is determined to resolve, the fact his new love’s short-term memory means she forgets him the next day. Out of these ten, it’s my clear favorite.

50 First Dates

With half an eye on the small screen whilst doing paperwork, I watched Troy in one of those 2AM television time slots. It’s the one movie I would recommend only if your Netflix expired, your local Red Box dispenser broke, you don’t have enough light to read a tattered Danielle Steel novel, and you couldn’t even find your kids’ Bugs Bunny tape under the sofa. It survived in rental stores for, well, weeks by our teary, cat-loving gentle sex who watched and rewatched 2¾ hours of a naked Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Australian muscle Nathan Jones. It’s a pretty bad two hours and forty-three minutes you’ll never get back, but I give it points for a clever explanation of the Achilles’ heel legend.

Troy: Rose Byrne et Brad Pitt

Take Two

While I usually consult critics (Rotten Tomatoes, IMdb), I occasionally defy the experts. I might see a movie because it’s a plot taken from a favorite mystery or speculative fiction writer. When it comes to science fiction, most critics find themselves strangers in a strange land; they don’t grok the genre. (There’s a sci-fi reference.) That’s why SF reviews are often meaningless.

Ever wonder why the movie sound system is called THX? In my student poverty days (as opposed to my writer poverty days), I sometimes visited a pocket-sized dollar movie house off New York City’s Union Square. One afternoon they showed what’s now called a cult film, George Lucas’ THX-1138. It was considered beneath review by major newspapers. It ran on a bit, but I liked it.

THX-1138

My film-fanatic friend Geri should meet John Floyd. When I feel like a movie, I give her a call and she’s always up for a celluloid fix. She’s open-minded, so we’ve seen quite a range from 50 Shades of Grey (lush photography, great music, sad-ass plot) to The Accountant (violently clever). Despite the critics, we recently opted to see The Book of Henry.

The Book of Henry

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics weighed in at a low, low 23%, but audiences tripled that rating. Critic Susan Wloszczyna came up with the cleverest line in her review: “Every book needs an editor.” Zing. It’s true.

Henry's treehouse
We liked the film, the characterization and the childhood atmosphere, but it’s definitely not a children’s story. No child plans a murder and no mother carries it out… not in the real world and not in fantasy, but that’s the premise of the second half of the plot. Clearly the script writer failed to grasp that precept. British critic Kate Taylor said, “I began to wonder if [the screen writer and director] had ever met any children.”

By now, you’re probably wondering how we managed to like anything about it at all, but the setting, character concepts, and acting helped offset a script that lost its way. I simply wish the writer had thought longer and harder about a smarter way to handle his premise. It’s one of those stories where you’re pretty certain you could have written a better outcome.

Take Three

Sometimes I find myself on the opposite side of critics when they over-rate a film. An example is the 2015 The Witch (title stylized as VVitch). Rotten Tomatoes’ critics tipped the scale at 91%. It might have been atmospheric, but it contained absolutely no plot, none, zip. It consisted of nothing more than a series of scenes that were supposed to lead up to… something… but didn’t. Leave it to Puritans to sour a modern day movie about Puritans.

Rotten Tomatoes gave 2013’s Gravity a 96% rating. Think of it as 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL ate the script. The space scenes were meticulously, even beautifully filmed, but NASA forgot to launch the plot, not much of one at least, mainly a dream sequence. Movie critics aren’t the only ones who don’t understand science fiction… sometimes movie makers don’t understand it either.

Pia Zadora in Butterfly
Pia Zadora in Butterfly
I’ve already written about a poorly (and unfairly) received film, 1982’s Butterfly with Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, and Orson Welles. Sometimes trashing a movie has nothing to do with the film itself.

Let’s spare a moment to talk about Django Unchained, the 2012 Tarantino movie. My acquaintances found it incomprehensible, but I give it marginally passing marks. My gripes weren’t the same as my friends. Tarantino bragged how much historical research had gone into the film, but its anachronisms overwhelmed the story. I quit counting historical inaccuracies when I ran out of 9.5 fingers. (Friends will recognize another in-joke) Yes, I gave it a passing grade– barely– but I’ve thought for some time Quentin Tarantino is way over-rated. His sense of color, style, and violence stands out among less colorful directors, but I suspect future film classes will look back and wonder what the hell we were raving about.

Take Four

What’s your take? What poorly rated films make up your guilty-pleasures list? And what films received high ratings that mystified you?

29 July 2014

Making Movies


by Stephen Ross

I'm making a movie. No, that doesn't mean I've relocated to Hollywood. I'm making a short, no budget movie here in Auckland City, New Zealand. Short means 5-10 minutes, no budget means just that. Nada. The movie is a mystery story being shot on digital video, and its destination, once completed, will be a film festival or two (one day, it'll eventually wind up on YouTube -- the final resting place of all things video).

A moment for some history: When I was a kid, I lived and breathed movies and wanted to be a movie director. My father had a Super 8 mm camera, and I shot a bunch of short movies with high school friends. My first production had drama, romance, humor, skateboards, a car chase, clowns, and a gun. The one thing it didn't have was a plot. My desire to be a director evolved into the desire to be a screenwriter, and for over a decade I practiced and taught myself the art of screenwriting.

I'm often asked where I learnt how to write; well, it was there, in the pages between countless FADE INs and FADE OUTs of countless screenplays. Screenwriting taught me structure, plotting and pacing, the economy of language, and how to write dialogue.

The movie I'm making is called The Sandcastle. The story started in my head with a basic plot outline and three characters: two women and a man. I could easily have typed out the story as prose and submitted it to either the Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. There's mystery, there's a crime, there's a twist ending. Had I done, it would have become a different story to the one that'll wind up on the screen. When you write a short story, the characters don't usually come to life and start writing their own parts.

The movie was put together very quickly. And when I cast it, the script was no more than notes, emails, and a Google Doc of motivation and backstory. The principal characters didn't have names and were known simply as Woman 1 and Woman 2. By mutual agreement with the two actresses playing the parts, the characters became Olivia and Rose. The characters now had names, they had become real people, and they had input on how and why their characters were going to do the things they needed to do in order to satisfy the plot I had sketched out.
Olivia (Yisela Alvarez Trentini)
Film making is collaborative story telling. That's part of the fun of it. Even when I start out with a completed screenplay, actors quickly get into their roles and tease out their character's nuances and motivations. They bring a fresh mind to the story, and they'll suggest things I hadn't even thought of. That kind of input just doesn't happen when writing alone, when writing fiction for the page. Part of my job as the movie's director is to facilitate this, and to keep it on track.

Imagine when you write a short story or book, that you could go to lunch with your characters and discuss their parts, their motivation, arc, etc., that they come to life and help you build the story. I'm not advocating working with a collaborator (I don't think I could write a short story or book with anyone else), but the change is refreshing. It's invigorating. It's why I've lately come back to making the occasional movie. Besides, it's fun to go outside, hang out with cool people, and tell a story in a completely different medium. Sitting alone at a desk day after day can, frankly, get tedious.
Rose (Kathleen Azevedo)
So, do I subscribe to the auteur theory of movie direction? No, I don't. And I get annoyed when I see "A Film by..." in the opening or closing credits.

The "auteur theory" arose in France in the mid 1950s. A group of movie critics, mostly connected to Cahiers du Cinéma, proposed that the director was the "author" of his/her movie -- that the director's personal style and artistic vision WAS the movie. The thinking went something like this: Picasso IS the voice of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Shakespeare IS the voice of Hamlet, Bach IS the voice of the Brandenburg Concertos... therefore, the director IS the voice of his/her motion picture. They didn't apply this theory to every director of the era, but certainly to the more notable ones like Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was their poster boy.

But, is Hitchcock really the "author" of Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, or North by Northwest, or any of his other movies? What about the input of Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the music for all those movies (yes, The Birds has no music, but Herrmann created the eerie electronic "bird" score). What about the input of the screenwriters, cinematographers, art directors, and actors who worked on those pictures? When I remember North by Northwest, I remember James Mason and Martin Landau quietly stealing the movie from Cary Grant. When I remember Vertigo, I remember Kim Novak in that green dress. When I remember The Birds, I remember Suzanne Pleshette's quiet despair, delivering lines written by Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain). Sure, Hitchcock directed all of them, but he was more the ring master of a creative circus than a sole individual alone with an empty canvas, a blank piece of paper, or a sheet of manuscript paper. An "auteur"? I don't think so.

That many of the critics at Cahiers du Cinéma went on to become directors themselves supports my theory that what really motivated them was elevating the artistic standing of the movie director in the arts community. Cahiers du Cinéma was based in Paris, after all. Revenons à nos moutons...


The Sandcastle
Making movies at the no-budget level (an actor's salary is lunch and a cup of coffee) means a lot is left to chance and serendipity. You really only have one or two chances at getting a scene right, and when you leave the house in the morning with the camera and the tripod, you hope for the best. But this can also be the best thing about making movies, and it's something that simply can't happen when you're alone with your word processor. It's the unrepeatable moments -- the moments you capture magic. You suddenly find you've put the camera in the right place, the actors are perfect in their performances, and even the weather is behaving. Everything is just right and is even better than you'd imagined. Later, when you review the day's footage, you see these shots and you think, Damn! That was good! A well written sentence really doesn't have the same effect.

There's a way to go before The Sandcastle is completed. There are a few things yet to be filmed and I've only just begun the editing process. And yes, I will be sharing the screenwriting credit.

If you're interested, you can check out our progress on our Facebook page (you don't have to be a Facebook member to see it):
https://www.facebook.com/info.Cinema555

You can also check me out on my brand new Facebook author page:
https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ross.author

Be seeing you!