Thursday, October 22, 2009

Please Be Jealous

I think one of the things I like most about the Film School is the endless opportunities it provides me to name-drop when talking with my parents. Sometimes it's teachers, sometimes it's speakers, all times it's amazing.

This past year alone has offered me opportunities to meet Oscar-nominated cinematographer Barry Makrowitz, (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, Oscar-winning writer-director Alexander Payne, and Lori Singer, star of the movie Footloose, the stage version of which I performed in twice (once as John Lithgow, the other as Kevin Bacon).

My professors include television director Chip Chalmers ("Melrose Place", "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), editor Steven Marks ("The X-Files", "Deadwood"), cinematographer Rexford Metz (he did the underwater scenes in Jaws), and writer-director-editor-producer Victor Nunez (Ulee's Gold, Ruby in Paradise, Spoken Word).

And now we get to meet Sir Ian McKellen on Tuesday. Can this major rock any more? The only problem I have is trying to resist the temptation to go all fanboy on some of these people. But hey, if I resisted going nuts on Lori Singer, I can deal with Gandalf.

Also, finished shooting my movie this past weekend. Pics to come.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodbye, Dear, and Amen

Bond Fans the world over: Mourn.

Joseph Wiseman, whose portrayal of Dr. Julius No in the first James Bond movie will always be known as one of the Ten Great Performances in the series' history, has passed away at the age of 91. Wiseman's brand of villain was smooth, intelligent, classy; his feathers were never ruffled, and I am always taken aback when he so casually dismisses Bond as "a stupid policeman whose luck has run out". It is one of many Bond Performances that I felt to be worthy of an Oscar nomination (maybe over Terence Stamp in Billy Budd?). He will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

For Your Consideration: It Starts Now

Warner Bros' Awards site has added Where the Wild Things Are and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to its contenders. Young Max Records, the twelve-year-old star, is being pushed for Lead Actor, which is a relief -- Ivana Baquero, the lead of 2006's excellent Pan's Labyrinth, was given a supporting campaign, as was Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider (the Oscar voters smartened up).

Meanwhile, Miramax Films has its little group set up as well. No "For Your Consideration" sections yet, just screening dates, but it looks like they're pushing the possible De Niro comeback Everybody's Fine, the Clive Owen drama The Boys Are Back, and the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Cheri.

Universal's awards site has full FYC listings for Bruno (Heavens, no!) and Funny People. The latter's screenplay is available, as is the script for Michael Mann's beautiful Public Enemies. It's Complicated, which won't hit theaters until Christmas, is also up there, but alas -- not even cast pics are up!

How long until the other studios jump on the bandwagon?

Say Whaaaat?

With Warner Bros' Oscar site updated for the 2009 race, three things come to mind concerning The Informant!, the only film they have listed as of now.

1) The song that closes out the movie, "Trust Me," is an honest-to-goodness Original Song. That's pretty neat. It's got that classy Rat Pack vibe that I like, though I would have gone with Tom Jones as vocalist rather than Steve Tyrell. Anyhow, add this to the list of contenders.

2) Matt Damon may be getting the only acting campaign of the film, and that's unfair. Scott Bakula, at the very least, deserves a shot at Supporting Actor, his being one of the better performances of the first nine months of 2009! His work is just as strong as Damon's, I feel. Maybe when they see what the other studios offer up, they'll reconsider.

3) Their Ensemble only consists of four people: Damon, Bakula, Joel McHale and Melanie Lynskey? I am always confused by this "Ensemble" category. Million Dollar Baby only submitted the three leads -- Eastwood, Swank, Freeman -- as their ensemble, yet Margo Martindale, Jay Baruchel, Anthony Mackie, and Brian F. O'Byrne all had substantial roles in the film. Tess Harper was included in the Ensemble for No Country for Old Men, but poor Beth Grant and Kathy Lamkin, who made more lasting impressions, were left out in the cold. Is there a limit to how many can be listed? It seems unfair that only a handful of actors be eligible.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm So Nervous I Could Shit

Busy, busy week. So busy, in fact, that the last movie I saw in a theater was Jennifer's Body. And I won't be able to go to the cinema house for Where the Wild Things Are until Tuesday, at the very least!

Fortunately, it's for a good reason. I spent Friday and Saturday working on a friend's set, and I liked what I saw. I'm beginning to really respect child actors: most of them have a real naturalism, a flow that has yet to be tainted by Acting Classes or people speaking of The Method. Yes, we all hope they grow as performers, but to see an untainted kid actor is truly amazing. It helps when the screenplay is great, of course, and I personally found this one to be haunting.

As soon as that was over, of course, we went full steam ahead on my film, which shoots this Friday and Saturday. And I am hella nervous because I meet with my teachers tomorrow for a Director's Prep. I have my tone clip (from The Hours), I've practiced my one-minute pitch, I've got a tagline and logline in mind. And I saw some storyboards my awesome Director of Photography cooked up. Locations and cast are all secure. I just hope it all goes well.

Anyway, I thought I'd talk about it now so no one wonders why I'm gone. Hopefully, I'll have pics at some point of the goings-on. Until then...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Can You See Jennifer's Body Hanging Over Me?

So...Jennifer's Body is actually really, really great.

It took me long enough to see it, I know, but there were several factors involved. Some friends of mine needed to be available first. It had to be a night where I had free time. And it had to be in October, because Halloween and all that.

Maybe that's why it performed so dismally at the box office. Horror movies without established cult followings should just stick with October. Hell, it was hard enough for a horror movie with an established following to make it in August -- though that was probably because it was a sequel to a shitty movie. Why studios decide to release horror films in September and November releases is just perplexing. This is why crap like the Saw franchise does so well -- it's the only horror movie out at the proper time. Also, people like me go to see it.

Jennifer's Body should have been an early or mid-October release. Hell, maybe even a Halloween one. Because it deserves an audience.

The film follows Needy (Amanda Seyfried), a nerdy high schooler whose best friend is resident babe Jennifer (Megan Fox). Things go awry after an up-and-coming indie band, a fire, and a waning moon all come together one fateful night -- and Jennifer soon starts cannibalizing local boys. Like, hardcore. I'm talking disembowelment, blood-slurping, guts-everywhere cannibalizing. And always with their pants down.

And in the midst of all the carnage, we get a pretty smart screenplay penned by Oscar Winner (and Hollmann Award Nominee) Diablo Cody. Yeah, there are occasional lines that take one back to the "Honest to Blog" days of Juno, but for some reason, they come out more believably here than in that better-received film. I think it's because most of these lines come from Jennifer, making me think that perhaps the problem with the dialogue in Juno was that the characters were too smart, not shallow enough, to make bizarre pop cultural references disguised as smart snark. Whereas with a superficial beauty queen like Jennifer, we can see how these phrases sound smart and sassy in her head, and when delivered with confidence, actually come out effectively.

Boy, I hope that last paragraph was clear. I'm trying to convey two things. First, Cody's screenplay is intelligent, well-crafted, and shows a growing maturity in her writing. Second, Megan Fox pulls off Diablo dialogue so naturally that I was almost convinced that she was a pretty good actress. I'm not a fan of hers traditionally, but damn if she didn't nail most of her scenes here. And some people are going to say, "Well, yeah, she was playing a hot bitch, not much of a stretch," to which I would say, "Neither is George Clooney playing a suave Cary Grant-type, and he has an Oscar." God forgive me, I'm going to side with the Fox Fans on this one.

I mean, she's no Amanda Seyfried or anything. That girl just amazes me each time I see her. She dons glasses and bad hair this time around, movie-speak for smart and plain. It's in her body language and line delivery, though, that we see the quiet, protective Needy. Not to be confused with the insecure, needy Needy, because she comes off as more confident and assured than her name suggests. Sure, she changes her plans to hang with Jennifer, but she is her best friend, and most of us are susceptible to BFF pleading. Seyfried, Cody and director Karyn Kusama craft a far more complicated character than we traditionally see in high school horror films, one that is refreshingly intelligent, kick-ass, and protective -- and not in the "movie-speak" way, but in a believable, three-dimensional way.

One of the more daring aspects of this film is its treatment of the quasi-sexual friendship between hormonal teenagers that is so familiar to the high school scene. I know a lot of girls who "experimented" in high school, and perhaps one of the cleverest aspects of Jennifer's Body is its exploration of these feelings. We see it start in a flashback of Needy and Jennifer as children, when even then, Jennifer is the dominant female, with Needy ready to please her. I mean, with that, it's just the dressing of a wound, but when they're teenagers, there are weird feelings and moments, and...

OK, yes, there is a same-sex snog between the lead actresses that is intense and sexy. But more than that, there is a scene where they're at a concert, and Jennifer holds Needy's hand. And the look on Needy's face when she turns to Jennifer is just so full of love, and not entirely friendshippy love. Then when she realizes Jennifer's just reacting to the hotness of the lead singer (a deliciously funny Adam Brody), the disappointment on Needy's face -- this is one of those great moments, those scenes that keep people coming back to a movie time and time again.

There is so much going on. The fad of public grieving could not have come at a better time than the year Michael Jackson died. The fine line between frendsies and backstabbers is neatly and realistically illustrated. To top it all off, there's an original song that's actually pretty good, called "Through the Trees". Yeah, I already have the soundtrack. Because it rocks.

I know this movie won't work for everyone, but it was magic for me. Give it a shot; you may be surprised.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Zombieland is So Fucking Baller

Man, Zombieland. Zombieland, Zombieland, Zombieland. You are Number One at the box-office...Number One in my heart.

OK, maybe not Number One, but I did have a great time. I got all goose-pimply and excited. I was eating ice cream at one point and was so shocked and frightened that it spilled all over my Members Only jacket. At another point, I was afraid someone I had grown attached to was going to die...and I actually teared up. I was that obnoxious person that laughs weirdly and distractingly in the theater, but I couldn't help it.

The script is amazingly refreshing. As cool as the zombie kills are, they really are few and far between. Instead, we get a road trip movie about the importance of human relationships. The good, the bad; either way, people who need people are the happiest people in the world. I don't mean for it sound pretentious or un-zombied. The zombie kills are EPIC. But it's nice to get four fully-developed characters.

All the leads are great. Jesse Eisenberg plays the lead, Columbus (they are all identified by either origin or destination), a nerdy, friendless fellow with a set of rules of handling the zombie apocalypse. Woody Harrelson is the bad-ass Tallahassee, and let me tell you: seeing a movie with a hero named Tallahassee while living in Tallahassee is epic. Every line generates applause and hoots from the crowd. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are sisters and survivors; Stone just gets better and better, and Breslin fucking earns that Oscar Nominee status.

David Sardy's score is worth remarking upon if only for the way he recalls Ennio Morricone and his spaghetti westerns. Quentin Tarantino, take note: the next time you want Morricone, hire Sardy. He's young, he gets the vibe, but he still makes it his own.

Ah, but it is not perfect. There's a cameo in the movie, sure to be famous by the end of the month, that is distracting. It's awesome, certainly, but it's the only time when we are clearly watching a movie. It's self-aware in a way that little else in the movie is, and while it certainly plays, it took me completely out of the story. Sorry, but pad the running time some other way.

Ooh, but let's talk about director Ruben Fleischer. You know, I know McG gave them all a bad name, but between Fleischer, David Fincher and Marc Webb, I think music video directors are some of the most talented filmmakers out there. They know pacing, they keep things interesting, and they manage to get career-best performances from their actors.

Hey, I know it doesn't exactly need your help, but go and see this movie. It's probably the best movie out in theaters right now. I certainly feel like a jerk using my free movie pass tonight. I'm sorry, Fleischer & Co. I'll never do that again.

Catch-Up: Part Two

Six movies, five sentences each, and I'm all caught up. I'm glad these are mostly positive. Sometimes, I think I'm fairly easy to please; other times, I think most everybody else is just being bitchy. Just because you can deliver the snark doesn't mean every film deserves it.

Anyway, off the soapbox and onto the films:


Blood spurts, body parts fly, fire roars through the screen and into our faces. It's your typical Final Destination flick, but in another dimension, so it's automatically awesomer. I like the lead, Bobby Campo, and I hoep we see more work from him, as he seems capable of doing more than just guilty pleasure fare like this. Director David R. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane) and writer Eric Bress give the movie a sick sense of fun that is refreshing after too-serious horror fare like the Prom Night and Friday the 13th remakes. Probably not as fun in 2D, but holy hell did I have a good time.


Smart action flick with ADD editing and directing from the team that brought you the Crank movies. It's not just the welcome presence of Michael C. Hall and Kyra Sedgwick: the movie actually has some brilliant ideas underneath all the confusion. Poor Gerard Butler is the only one stuck without a character, just a Hero that we should root for because he's the hero, though he does try, God bless him. Alison Lohman is actually given a character, meanwhile, and just sucks, a disappointment after her triumphant performance in Drag Me to Hell. Works as a guilty pleasure, but if you're willing to find more to it than that, there are many layers here.


Fun little gem with a 1970s vibe, yet set in the 1990s. Matt Damon gives a fantastic, layered performance as a corporate whistle-blower who, though smarter than most give him credit for, is not as slick as he thinks he is. Scott Bakula plays his FBI handler, almost walking away with the entire show, with a host of under-used comedians and character actors in supporting roles. Film is both amusing and sad, but builds slowly, believably, to that sour note. I wish Marvin Hamlisch could score my life.


YouTube sensation Derrick Comedy has their first movie out, one of the most independently independent I've ever seen...and it's hilarious. More than just a drawn-out sketch, we get an actual mystery to solve when three high school sleuths wind up investigating a double-homicide. Laughs come from a combination of the situational and the absurdly random, but it all works, and the climax is a thing of beauty. Aubrey Plaza is the anti-ingenue, and between this and Funny People, I think we've got a welcome new talent on our hands. Y'all should support it, but I think it's being given the roadshow treatment right now.


Intriguing Norwegian film about a recently retired train conductor (Baard Owe) going through life, with questions of mortality lingering throughout every scene. Owe gives a tender, haunting performance that stays with you long after the film. It's a little slow-going, certainly, and feels a LOT longer than its 90-minute running time, but it's worth it. John Christian Rosenlund's cinematography is beautiful, and between this and Let the Right One In, I am suddenly very intrigued by Scandinavian cinema. Good to rent if you're in the mood for it.


Intriguing doc about the behind-the-scenes magic behind Vogue's September issue, the largest and most important fashion publication of the year. We certainly get a picture of the devil in Prada, Anna Wintour: guarded, all-business, very serious about fashion; also self-conscious and insecure - though she's established herself, she is clearly hurt by how her siblings find her career "amusing". Creative director Grace Coddington is the film's true star, however, a woman just as formidable as, yet more open than Ms. Wintour. The work is outstanding and breathtaking, and these ladies demand and deserve respect. Worth seeing just to get a glimpse into a world you're not a part of.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Whip It

Guys: I really liked Whip It.

I know, I know. After months of talking about it, how could I not love it? That's unfair, of course: with a bar like the one I'd set, it was either fall in love or be let down. Fortunately, it was the former, and though it's not perfect, I still think it's beautiful.

Okay, there are a few problems. The amount of music (non-score) gets distracting, and while a lot of it is really's distracting. The romantic subplot between Bliss and a bassist (played by actual musician Landon Pigg) is not set up particularly well. Come to think of it, he's kind of awkward to watch, too. Sometimes the editing was jarring, losing some big moments, awkwardly cutting for close-ups, etc. Drew Barrymore is certainly no Sarah Polley.

But as a director of actors, she must kick some ass, because the performances are surprisingly good. When I say surprising, I mean I know that these are actors and characters that could be broadly comic. Instead, the comedy is more amusing than funny, with the dramatic sequences actually hitting that emotional core within all of us. My roommate was tearing up, my DP's girlfriend was tearing up, and the tears were just outright flowing for me. So, yeah, as far as that kind of thing goes, Barrymore's great. She just needs more practice behind the camera.

She's certainly working with a solid script. Shauna Cross adapts her own novel Derby Girl, and having read that, I gotta give mad props. Yeah, they're the same story with the same characters, but Cross approaches them differently, changing her story to suit the medium. It works better here than it does on the page (and it works great on the page).

Also of help: the solid cast. Once again, Ellen Page is a high-schooler marching to the beat of her own drum, but don't you dare mistake this for another Juno. Bliss Cavendar is more reserved, more self-conscious, less dependent on quips. Surely Maxim is wrong: how can Megan Fox be "the new sexy" when Ellen Page exists? Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern play her parents. Harden's pageant-obsessed mother is never a stock character, and she really breaks your heart in a number of scenes. Stern -- Daniel Stern, mind you, from Home Alone and Bushwacked -- also manages to avoid caricature, though there are so many missteps he could have made. And yet, he has probably the most touching scene in the film. Good on Stern, or good on Barrymore?

Barrymore herself plays a stoner derby girl, one of a colorful ensemble of sexy skaters that include Zoe Bell, Eve, Ari Graynor, Juliette Lewis (!) and Kristen Wiig. Wiig gets to play the other mother of the story -- she does well. Lewis is a villainous bitch, absolutely terrifying and yet impossibly awesome. I'm not a HUGE fan, but I admit, I was kind of pleased to see her back. Andrew Wilson is pretty funny as their coach, so far putting him at #2 on the Wilson Brothers Rankings (Owen is still #1).

It's a fun movie, one that definitely should be seen by women. Earlier, I recommended my mother see it with my sisters, because as far as mother-daughter relationships go, this film has one of the more realistically-portrayed ones. Not just the chemistry of the actors, though that is certainly the driving force of the film. The level of approval and disapproval as regards a situation is finally illustrated truthfully instead of idealistically.

I'd see it again, definitely. And again, Marcia Gay Harden. She's great in this. Definitely see it this week -- it needs our help.