Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adventures in Filmmaking: A Complaint (Or 2...or 3)

Smile. You're on candid camera.
I like being a cinema minor. Really, I do. But what I like even more is complaining. At my university, complaining comes with the territory. If you follow me on twitter or read my blog at all you will know that I've taken some pretty interesting cinema classes (we call my avant garde film class the cinema department's version of hazing), but it helps me make friends because we all commiserate together.
The main problem I have with my video production class this semester is a number of things. For one, I'm not crazy about the professor. As much as I complained about my professor from last semester, he was nice and helpful and explained the projects very well. I always knew what he was looking for. This new professor, not so much. We have completely different tastes and so far; in watching other student's videos, he seems to like all the ones I hate. When doing my project it is slightly frustrating because instead of thinking of my own vision, I'm thinking of what he will like and what will get a better grade which I don't like to do, but is unavoidable.
The other thing is, it is hard to make a creative project when the area you are restricted to is a campus and the surrounding area which is not very large or beautiful. I know that this is where the creativity part of the class should come in, but the entire class ends up having similar projects. It is a challenge not only to film something in general, but to film something different and make your project stand out from the rest. It is something I constantly struggle with, along with coming up with ideas in general.
Another complaint I have with my class is the strict deadlines. Before one project is even complete, we are already talking about the next one. It allows a little time for the creative process to take place and I constantly feel rushed. I wish I had time to really think and plan what I wanted to shoot rather than just pointing my camera and abjectly shooting because I want to get my project done on time.
However, on a positive note, so far I have been learning final cut pro much better. I have been taking my time to play around and really see how everything works which has been a good learning experience. Also, since I am making videos that are made to play with quick time, I will eventually be able upload my videos to the blog and share them with my faithful readers. I think it will be interesting to see what other people think of my early filmmaking efforts outside of the people in my class. And while my first project is not the best thing I've ever done, I don't hate it, which is a good sign so far.
 Overall, the class is not terrible, just frustrating and time consuming. This year has been extremely hectic for me, but I am trying to enjoy what I feel may be my last production class here at Binghamton University.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Facebook 30 Day Movie Challenge

Day 4- A movie that makes you sad-The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) is probably my favorite comic book film to date (followed closely by Ironman and Spiderman). It makes me sad for one reason and one reason only and that is Heath Ledger. Heath is mesmerizing as the Joker in the film; hell, he is the film. You literally cannot look away or you'll miss something, a twitch of the mouth, a shake of the head, a crooked grin-all things that completely make his performance. He changes not only his voice but his entire persona. He became the Joker. It is not worth even talking about any other actor in the film, even though they were all great (besides Maggie Gyllenhaal) because they cannot compare.
The Dark Knight makes me sad because it shows that Heath had so much left to give. He was an actor that had so much talent and yet I feel that we barely got to scratch the surface on what he can do. Like many actors, he was a man who completely lost himself inside his roles and became completely unrecognizable.I find myself getting choked up during the film not because of the content, but because of sadness at not being able to witness more of this amazing man's career. I would have loved to see what Nolan was planning on doing with him in The Dark Knight Rises. The film just won't be the same without him (but I'm sure it will be good).
An honorable mentions goes to Brokeback Mountain (for many of the same reasons and because it's actually heart-wrenching).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Facebook 30 Day Movie Challenge

Day 3: A movie that makes you happy-Back to the Future 
Back to the Future doesn't just make me happy, it makes me giddy. There are just so many things I like about it.  It has great dialogue; literally the entire thing leaves me laughing out loud from numerous characters making fun of Marty for being part of the Coast Guard to the allusions to future events. It had just the right amount of comedy, sci-fi, and 80's-ness to make a great film. It is by far my favorite film from that decade.
My density has brought me to you.
I also love young Micheal J. Fox. What is not to love? He is adorable and has great comedic timing. He and Christopher Lloyd play off each other well and have really good chemistry. Lloyd plays Doc Brown just crazy enough with a touch of science which works really well. He has some of the best lines in the film (Why are things so heavy in the future? Great scott! Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads). Lea Thompson is fantastic as well playing both Marty's mother and a girl with a big crush.Their interactions are so awkward, but also so funny. Oh Calvin, I would fall for you too. The entire cast is just great in general, no one could play George McFly other than Crispin Glover.
The story is also great. It can be thought of as the beginners guide to time travel because it makes sense and still manages to add in a few surprises. When Marty gets back to 1985 and sees all the changes, it surprises the viewer almost as much as it surprises Marty himself. Even the second film makes sense for those who have trouble following other time travel films.
Honorable mentions for films that make me happy go to Ironman, pretty much anything released by Disney or Pixar, and the Harry Potter films because even though they are not the best adaptations, I cannot help but love them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Facebook 30 Day Movie Challenge

Day 2: Least Favorite Film-The Da Vinci Code
Don't even get me started about his hair.
As an avid reader of Dan Brown's novels I was excited at the prospect of The Da Vinci Code being adapted into a film. I thought it would be a smarter, more mature version of National Treasure. How wrong I was. Tom Hanks, normally one of my favorite actors delivered one of the worst performances of his career. He was wooden and completely uninspired. It was almost as if he was just going through the motions. The same can be said for Audrey Tautou. She and Hanks had no chemistry and the usual joie de vivre that is part of her charm was seriously lacking. I will say that Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina were decent in their roles and provided some of the only engaging scenes in the film.
 Ron Howard who had plenty of material to create a captivating film with seemed to not want to offend anyone and cut out substantial parts of the novel making it neither interesting nor entertaining. Even if there was not a book to compare it to The Da Vinci Code failed to be a good movie in general because of the halting and sometimes confusing way in which it told its story. And despite the beautiful country and settings there was very little that was visually appealing.
Overall, I was very disappointed. The same goes for Angels and Demons, but by that time I expected it to be horrible after seeing how badly Howard and co. messed up the first one. Believe me, I'm not going to waste my money even attempting to see The Last Symbol if it ever gets made. Especially when I didn't even like the book.
Honorable mentions for least favorite film go to pretty much anything starring Katherine Heigl because I despise her  "I'm-a-busy-career-woman-too-stuck-up-to-have-fun-or fall-in-love-but -really-all I-need-is-a guy- to-show-me-the-least-bit-of-attention-and-I'll-fall-in- love-with-him" schtick that she has in every film, although I still haven't seen her in Knocked Up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Facebook 30 Movie Challenge

Since Lent began today I wanted to try and do something for 40 days. I was going to try and watch and blog about 40 movies but as a (very involved) college student, I knew that would be next to impossible. Instead, as a way to make myself blog (almost) everyday I am going to do the 30 Facebook Movie Challenge; 30 movie related questions that I will try to answer to the best of my ability. Looking up the questions I actually just found out that there is a second part so I may be participating long after Lent is over. So, without further ado...
Day 1: Favorite Film-Fight Club
As a self proclaimed movie snob, I have always had difficulty answering this question. I feel that it should something obscure or totally out there or French, but I have to say my favorite film is David Fincher's 1999 Fight Club. Where do I even begin? With the ending that completely blew my mind? With three of my favorite actors (Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, and Helena Bonham-Carter) in lead roles? With my favorite director? I think Fight Club has everything a film should and much more. It is funny, smart, in your face, full of action, and thought provoking. I love the screenplay and think that it is a perfect adaptation of Palahnik's novel.
Every time I watch it, I find something new to enjoy. I love watching it with friends for the first time just to see their reactions. They get mad at me because I always look at their faces during the good parts and give things away, but I just can't help it. 
"You met me at a very strange time in my life."
It is hard to describe the things you love. There are so many reasons why I like Fight Club and yet I cannot explain them all. Why is it my favorite movie? It just is, for all the reasons I said before and so much more. It is about love and life and friendship; the film just speaks to me on a real level because it hits me right in the gut. I feel that Fight Club is especially applicable now more than ever
with the me-me-me-apathetic-technologically obsessed generations of today because it captures the very real fears of society (wow I sound old). While I have loved many a film, for me Fight Club is for now (and has been for awhile) my number one.
Honorable mentions go to V for Vendetta, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge, and Across the Universe. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Ode to Rose

Ten: Well, I've seen a lot of this universe. I've seen fake
gods and demi-gods and would- be-gods. I've had the
whole pantheon. But if I believe in one thing...
just one thing...I believe in her!

Having just finished season 2 of Doctor Who, I feel like I need to defend Rose Tyler. I know a lot of people hate Rose, hell I complained about her for most of the first season for all the stupid things that she did. The thing is, I grew to love Rose for all that she is and represents. Rose is normal. She represents the choices many of us would make if given the opportunity to travel all of time and space; we would all blunder in head first and then need saving later. I may consider myself a tad brighter than Rose at times, but I would probably make some of the same mistakes she did. And you can't say she didn't change; she grew over the seasons from a silly shop girl to one who knew about life and could take action.
Rose was the first one to pull the Doctor out of his shell after the Time War. She had just enough spunk and wit, but also fragility that made him come alive again and gain that spark behind his eyes.  She even stayed with the Doctor through his regeneration and subsequent changes as he grew accustomed to his new body. If that is not a good companion than I don't know what is. Granted, I have only seen Rose and two episodes featuring the lovely Amelia Pond, but Rose, like Nine will always be my first and therefore have a special spot in my heart.
The last episode of the season, "Doomsday" is heartbreaking for a number of reasons. Rose saves the world and how is she rewarded? By being forced to live a ordinary life. After all that she has seen. And it is not only that, but the person she has seen it all with, the incredible man with the changing face who taught her that life could be so much more than she ever imagined. And she can never go back again. That is the saddest part. She is resigned to live her life knowing that the Doctor is out there somewhere and she can never be apart of his adventures.
The lost girl, so far away from home
As for the Doctor, I think he should truly be the 'forever alone' meme because that is what he is. He has all of time and space, but no one to call his own. Rose filled that void for awhile as countless others had and will have. But in the end, they will all leave. That is the burden of the Time Lord.
The image of the Doctor and Rose on separate sides of the universe both staring at the same wall yet so far away from each other was where the tears started flowing for me because she came back. Despite of everything and willing to risk her own life, Rose came back to the Doctor and left everyone she loved behind because she knew she would never be able to go back to living an average life after all she's done and seen. It was worth the risk.
And then it was all over. That is why I am so glad they got to say goodbye. They got the closure we all needed them to have and had  one the of best "I love you" exchanges since Han and Leia.
Anyone who calls Rose Tyler weak is a fool. Daft? Maybe. Leaps before she looks? All the time. But I think she's brave merely for giving this whole thing a go, for leaving the shop and plunging into the unknown. For representing all of us. It makes me wonder what I would do in the same situation.
So onto season three and my first new companion. Allons-y. Goodbye Rose. You will be missed.

Friday, February 17, 2012

And For Once He Was Magnificent

This is currently the background of my computer
I have a pain in my chest and it's caused by this man, Justin Vernon, the man behind the beautiful voice that is Bon Iver. I first fell in love with him when I heard the duclet tones of "Skinny Love" on an episode of Grey's Anatomy. After that I was hooked. I listened to (and still do) For Emma, For Ever Ago with an almost religious fervor and I still put at least one track on every mixed CD I make. There is just something about this man's music that touches me right down to my very soul. His lyrics are pure poetry and even though they don't make sense all of the time they speak to me about love, loss, and the pure beauty of the universe. His voice is husky and deep and resonates with a clarity that reaches down and pulls at parts of you that you didn't even know were lonely. I can listen to his music no matter how I am feeling; happy or sad, Bon Iver works for all occasions. And even as much as I love Morrissey and the Beatles, I honestly think Vernon's voice is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard (and that's saying a lot). I don't even really believe he is that attractive, it is just that when he opens his mouth he becomes the most beautiful person on earth.
When his self titled album came out this year I bought it at midnight and listened to it on repeat. There is not one track I dislike on the entire album. Besides Florence + the Machine's Ceremonials, it is the most played album on my i-tunes. It is so different from For Emma. The album is still haunting and magnificent (despite what Vernon might think), but there is also a maturity that comes from Bon Iver. What the album has lost in rawness, it gains in composure.
One of the things I like most about Vernon is his honesty, not only in his beliefs, but in his music. I truly feel that he is an artist who creates music because he loves it and because he has something to say, not for all the money and fame. Even with his recent Grammy win (and the hysterical name mispronunciation and "WTF" tweets that ensued) he has professed his pure love of  just making music and almost disdain for the awards process. That is why I was reluctant (but also incredibly happy) to see him win. In a world of autotune and over production it is nice to see an earnest, experimental album receive some recognition. It's like an indie movie winning the Oscar's.
If you're not convinced by what I am saying, neither Justin nor I care. However, I beg of you, listen to this live studio version of Veron and fellow Bon Iver member Sean Carey as they duel pianos and play some songs from their recent album. If this does not make you feel something, then you must already be beyond help. I was literally swooning upon hearing the opening notes of the first song, "Hinnom, TX." I know I've already shared him and I know that this is an unusual post, but since I have missed two successive Tuesdays, I think this incredible performance can make up for it. 
Review: No milk needed. Ever.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Turn Off the 'Lights'

Jess: Being a part of the Lions has been the greatest experience of my life.
Coach: I think it's been mine too. 

It ended the same way it began: the Taylors on a football field surrounded by those lights.

For most, the television show Friday Night Lights officially ended last summer, but for me it ended last weekend via Netflix. The final episode 'Always' left me in tears, but also satisfied with where the characters ended up.
It all revolved around the big game, the Lions playing for the state championship. This was a big deal because we had to struggle through the previous season where the Lions only won two games. Seeing the team's development was one of the highlights of the last season. Not only did the players come together on the field, but they also showed their growth as individuals. When Vince first made his appearance in season 4, I thought I would never like his as much as I liked Matt or Tim. However, his relationship with Coach Taylor and his father won me over. He is so different from the young hoodlum we see in the first episode. Watching him become a man worthy of respect was one of the highlights of the season. He, like many other characters on the show, proved that sometimes all that a person needs is someone to love and encourage them in order to succeed. That is one of the many themes of this show. It is the little things that can really make a difference. Friday Night Lights is never preachy, but it shows what can happen if only a few people are willing to make a difference.
The game itself was not important, it was not the point. It was wonderfully shot using mostly music and visuals of the characters' faces to give us clues on what was going on. When Eric finally looked to the score board the Lions were down by one touchdown, with one play to go (of course). However, the last play isn't shown. We don't know how the game ends. In a show about football. Because this is not a show about football. It is about family, friendship, over coming obstacles, love, and life. And football.
The shot couldn't have been better. We watch the crowd, the players, and the coaches all following the trajectory of the ball and then there is a cut. Someone in a green jersey, not Lion red, catches the ball. The scenes change around showing what each character is doing now. But when that scene cut to Vince's hand wearing the championship ring I lost it. It doesn't matter who caught the ball. The Lions won as a team. As they had been doing the entire season. The surprise in editing added an emotional element that I was definitely not expecting.
All the loose ends are tied up. Vince and Tinker (yay!) and even Buddy Junior are all Panthers. Julie and Matt get married. The Taylors move from Texas. Luke joins the military (that was the only thing that confused me, it seemed to come out of nowhere.) In perhaps my favorite scene of the finale, Tim finally gets the ending he deserves with his land and his dream house. As he clinked beer bottles with Billy, I whispered at the exact same time he did, "Texas forever." 
It is moments like this that made the final episode and the entire series so powerful. Small moments such as Tim's dream house finally being built and 'Jason Street' scrawled on the wall of the Panther's locker room and  Tyra saying she wants work in politics, "like Mrs. T but bigger" carried over from season to season creating characters as familiar as one's own family. So while I will miss Friday Night Lights for its amazing acting and unique camera style, I will miss it more for the bond that was created between viewer and character; for the way they made me care about what happened to every single person on that show. That is why I cried, not because it was a sad episode in and of itself, but because I was sad to say goodbye to my friends.
Clear Eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose. Goodbye, Dillon. Texas forever. 
Review: No milk needed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Think You Should Know Thursday

This Thursday starts a new semester so I am going to do something a little different. This week it is not a band I think you should know but songs, specifically songs from (semi) recent trailers. I could go into an entire rant about how much I love trailers, frankly it's a post I've been meaning to do for awhile, but right now that is not the point. The point is that recently some fantastic songs from bands I love have been featured in trailers and they need to be shared.
The first song is "Wake Up" from  the trailer for Spike Jonze's 2009 film Where the Wild Things Are sung by Canadian husband-and-wife band Arcade Fire. And while I liked the movie for most part, I loved the trailer. I think the song perfectly captures the vulnerability and yearning that encompasses childhood as well as the spirit of adventure that the movie represents. I love the build up to the words as well and the idea that they represent what is inside all of us. The editing and shots of Max running while the scene continuously changes is also edited to perfection. I immediately bought this song on i-tunes after seeing the trailer because seeing it for the first time gave me chills. The song is one of my favorite from the band whom if you remember, won the Grammy last year and caused the twitter "who the hell are these guys?" heard the world 'round.
"If the children don't grow up,
Our bodies get bigger, but our hearts get torn up
We're just a million little god's causin' rain storms
Turnin' every good thing to rust
I guess we'll just have to adjust."

The other song is from the more recent trailer Like Crazy (2011) directed by Drake Doremus. And while I haven't seen the film yet, I will admit that the trailer makes me tear up slightly every time I see it. The song in this trailer is "Dead Hearts" by another Canadian indie band, Stars. My favorite song by Stars is "Your Ex-Lover is Dead," but the song featured in the trailer is a close second. It captures the feeling of young love fraught with despair, loss, and hope that I believe the film is trying to convey. Also, the way it is shot and sung it makes it feel like the characters are singing and it is reflecting their emotions. 
"I can say it, but you won't you believe me.
You say you do, but you don't deceive me.
It's hard to know they're out there,
It's hard to know that you still care.
I can say it, but you won't you believe me.
You say you do, but you don't deceive me.
Dead hearts are everywhere!
Dead hearts are everywhere!"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Adventures in Filmmaking: The Saga Continues

So a new semester begins and I am now enrolled in Video Production. Say goodbye to my beloved film, it is all digital, all the time from here on out. I am slightly saddened by that fact, but happy at the same time because at least I get to used a DVD this time rather than those horrid tapes which caused the biggest headache known to mankind called time code breaks. (If you don't know what those are you cannot possibly understand, just know that they are the bane of a filmmaker's existence.)
I am a bit scared for this semester because everyone in my class seems really intense so far. As I move up in the hierarchy of film classes we weed out the people only taking the classes for an "ascetics" credit. I am now in the upper 300 level for classes which means if you are taking it, you are a cinema major or minor (I'm a minor). The way the people were talking the first day made me worried that everyone thinks the are God's gift to filmmaking. Already I had to sit through a lecture where people talked about their directorial aspirations. Some people after class were talking about how much they hated the new The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I'm all for debating films, it's what I live for, but at the same time it was the pretentious way they were going about it. The way they dripped film snobbery. And I consider myself kind-of-a-movie-snob (see what I did there?), but at the same time, I'm not that bad. "Shot for shot it's the same as the Swedish one" and "Rooney Mara does not deserve the Oscar" are only some of the things I heard. It was all I could do to stop myself from jumping into the conversation (they were walking away from me anyway). I personally loved both the American and Swedish version and though Rooney Mara was well deserving of the Oscar, but that's besides the point. I am easily intimidated by real film snob types so I think this class will be good to solidify my opinions and hopefully give voice to them.
In terms of actual learning, I believe I will become more proficient in Final Cut Pro. My professor actually speaks English and talked about teaching us how to use it through a series of workshops. I also think that in general he will be more concerned with the technique. At least I hope so. I have a creative block when it comes to filming, but I believe it comes from my lack of confidence in my own skills. I think when I know more, I will be able to experiment and find my cinematic voice.
So my goals for this semester?
1.Learn (and develop skills in) FCP.
2. Defend movies I like and not be intimidated by the wannabe directors/film snobs.  
3. Try and push myself to really think outside of the box and be creative.
4. And most importantly, have fun with my projects.
Let the games begin.