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Straight to streaming, please!

So I finally got a Netflix streaming device, an LG BD370. It is an actually a Blu-ray player but after the initial day of drooling over the resolution, it has become mainly a streaming device.

Strangely, once I got the LG, the cable box refused to work properly (after an hour of use, it sticks to one channel, better known as the monogamous cable box syndrome). I’ve been meaning to switch it out but frankly I prefer the new setup.

The Old way

My old television habit would be to search for something to watch, find nothing, compromise on something that didn’t use brain cells, search again for something more challenging and then finally end up on America’s funniest home videos.

Once a month, I’d get antsy to go to a movie theater, I’d get all excited about watching an independent movie but when Kelly and I are finally able to sync our schedules, the movie is long gone from local theaters. So we compromise on a Hollywood movie that that caters, even partially, to adults. We usually come out feeling like we got our money’s worth but we don’t talk about it afterward. Much later, the movie will come up in conversation with friends, I’ll be able to say that I’ve seen it, vouch for its quality or lack of. Sidenote: it seems like people rarely talk about movies as they once did. Is it just me? We seem too smart to have smart conversations. Too respectful to disagree? We give people room to discover their impressions but we don’t engage with those impressions.

We have a Blockbuster account, it has been at least a year since we used it. So for DVD rentals, it’s been Netflix. I have more than 260 movies on my DVD queue and yet it will take me a month to watch a movie and return it. This kills me. When I lived in NYC, I rented VHS tapes from the now defunct Kim’s videos. I would rent 2-3 tapes every two days, travel into Manhattan (an hour ride from Astoria or Flushing) to return them. I used to be so dang broke but the $10 I spent at a time were never a problem. But now, even though money is not an issue, the Netflix subscription seems like a thorn on my side. I think this has to do with guilt more than anything else.

The one bright spot has been online content. For the last 4-5 years, the films that have really stood out have been shorts posted online. Writing for TickleBooth has provided me an incentive to seek them out.

The New Way

Pull up my Netflix queue and watch something that is challenging, beautiful, independent, with a strong personal voice. You see where I’m going with this? This is a filmmaker’s paradise. As a filmmaker, it is not terribly exciting to reach your audience on a itty bitty computer screen. I don’t want someone to read an email and watch my film simultaneously.

Television and mainstream movies are still in the mix. I don’t want any of this to stop. I mean it! I just think independent film has taken a back seat to these mediums in accessibility. You have to subscribe to IFC and/or Sundance channel. You have to quick about getting to the movie theater when a foreign film comes out. The big guys have been eating up the channels of distribution. Ever since Netflix DVD rentals came into the scene, the indie titles have had a shot. But there is something to be said about watching something when you’re good and ready. Streaming provides choice and accessibility.

I should also point out that mental health is another distinct advantage. In the old way, you are at the whim of television/movie schedules. What’s on when you are ready gets top billing. You are in a passive state. When I was young, I never understood how people watched so much television. I do now, it’s all incremental. Day by day, you increase the dose. It has less of an effect, so you increase the dose some more. In the new way, it is about curiosity. The mind works so much better that way. It can also turn itself off when it is satisfied. Things are quieter around the house than they ever were.

Talk of the future

I hope all online video content is accessible on these devices. Youtube is fine but it can be better. I seriously don’t understand who watches all these Youtube stars. “Featured”, “Most viewed”, “Highest Rated” mean zilch to me. I’m tired of 3rd rate knock-off’s of Ze Frank. Vimeo would be more interesting as their featured content seem to highlight shorts more than personalities. However, something along the lines of Netflix recommendations for online videos would be awesome. For those who are not familiar with Netflix, the site recommends movies based on your ratings. For the most part, it is a very effective way to find films.

In the future, I hope, TickleBooth could have its own channel, its own interface. Some of you are more technically inclined will ask why not just connect your Mac/PC to your TV. Where is the emoticon that sticks its tongue out? That sounds like more multitasking to me. I think streaming should play by different rules. Less distractions, less features and a focus on content.Blip.tv has a channel on the Roku player, it is a good example of what I’m talking about. Sadly, it currently showcases only featured content, WTF!

Straight to streaming. What if? And here is a big what if. But what if, major studios spent their gazzillions of dollars on spreading the word on a new movie that was releasing on the web. Wouldn’t the film do quite well? They would make less from each viewer but more in the end. Every time someone said “you got to watch this film” and you could actually do it instantly, wouldn’t you more likely do it? This actually sounds like a little scary. Content overflow! But what if the event movies continued to dominate the multiplexes and the indies dominated world of streaming. The fight to save most indie theaters are a losing battle, in my humble opinion. And when a 20 million dollar “Indie” clogs up the theater, I stop caring. Wouldn’t these films be better suited for a World premiere with a virtual red carpet on the web? I don’t mean all indie theaters should die, theaters like the  Walter Reade theater or Carolina Theater are in a different class because they are less about profit and more about film culture. It is important for us to keep them alive. Galleries vs museums (the positive sense of this word).

Other thoughts:

Favorites of 2009

In no particular order, these were my favorites from what we posted this year:

A Thousand Words
Mono
Two Cars, One Night
Skhizein
Poppy
Red Rabbit
Switch
9
Cinnamon Chasers – Luv Deluxe
Red House Painters – Song For A Blue Guitar
Keith Schofield – Diesel
Oren Lavie – Her Morning Elegance
Last Minutes with ODEN
Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No
Can We Talk?
Simon’s Cat – Fly Guy
¡Perfecto!
Levi’s – America (Go Forth)
Notte Sento
Driftless: Stories from Iowa
Steel Life

Best Online Videos for 2008

We have posted some wonderful stuff this year, our annual best-of list gives us a chance to celebrate some of them. Dek has a great round up of his favorites. Also, our 2006, 2007 lists.

Shorts

Best Short: Glory at Sea – A 25 minute tour de force that uses a contemporary tragedy (Katrina disaster) to create a powerful myth that seems as old as the hills.

Special Mentions:

Best Stop Motion: Illuminant – To experience this on a big screen like I did at Carrboro Film Festival was incredible.

We posted quite a few innovative stop-motion video including Lucia & Adjustment

Best Short Doc: Bullet Proof Vest

Best Hidden Product Placement: The Ramp

Best Acting in Shorts: R.L. Jackson & Tori Lee in Remember When

Best Abstract film: Pencil Face

Also:

Special mentions for Animations:

Web

Best Web Video: Dr. Horrible – It is nice to see big name talent doing web content. It certainly lived up to the hype. Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come.

Special mentions:

Music Video

Best Music video: Fleet Foxes: White Winter Hymnal – After a year full of shocking videos, especially in content, the one video that haunted me was Sean Pecknold‘s animated classic. Simple in style, resonant story and a great fuckin’ song.

Sexiest Music Video of the year: Toe Jam

Special mentions Music videos:

Commercials

Best Commercial: JC Penney: Aviator – Also the cutest video of the year. The direction is pitch perfect.

Other awards

Best Interview of the Year: Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin – Unintentionally hilarious that changed the course of the presidential elections.

Best Parody: SNL’s version of Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin – Saturday Night Live came back with a bang. Even more wicked than the original.

Best Online Radio: This American Life: Super

Note: Some of these videos were not released in 2008, they are included here because this is when we discovered them.

Going to the movies? What’s the point?

I used to love going to the movies. I can’t remember a first date that wasn’t at the movies. Yes, I am quite selfish that way. But it has been two months since I have been to the movies. I have been to film festivals but that is quite a different trip than a visit to my local multiplex.

What is even weirder is that I don’t miss it. I think this is largely due to what I do here at Ticklebooth. What I post here is so much interesting than what the studios are putting out. Look at our recent picks selections in our sidebar, it is riddled with original ideas.

The short film/ online video genre are putting movies to shame. When I say “movies”, I mean feature films mostly from Hollywood. However, I seriously cannot tell the difference between mainstream Hollywood and independent cinema. People are playing poker by the book. Where is the fun? Where is the gamble? When is the last time a movie was willing to upset you? I don’t mean Batman losing his girl in Dark Knight kind of gambles.

The style of modern film is contained in very small boxes. You either have the tripod look or the shaky hand held look. Everything is high contrast. If it is an action film, you see more blue. If it is a drama, you see warmer colors. Cinema has a language but it isn’t this narrow.

Other notes:

My best-of-the-year list for online video is a much harder decision to arrive at than my best theatrical released movie list. I have more choices, a more diverse set of qualities to compare. I have no sequels, no reputations, no teases to deal with. What do you think?

Four Eyed Monsters: New episodes (ep 9 to 12)

Four Eyed Monsters: New episodes (ep 9 to 12)

It has been a while since we heard from the Four Eyed Monsters (filmmakers Arin Crumley & Susan Buice). We have interviewed them in the past. I have fond affection and respect for them and their work. Many times, since all hoopla died down, I found myself defending them, their work, their way of doing things.

The biggest objection I hear is that they teeter on the obnoxious. A feeling akin to an older person feels to a younger person describing their lives as a grand-new-once-in-a-lifetime event when it is actually commonplace and repetitive. If you are in your late 20′s or later, these podcasts and the drama it revolves around remind you how silly, shallow life is in your early 20′s. But that could be intriguing in its own right.

These new podcasts will not change any of those perceptions. We are in our middle 20′s. The relationship is past the film and focused on itself. The big twist is that Susan has decided to be a stripper. I am a little confused on the reasons. Money, sexual exploration and a bigger-middle-finger-fuck-you to Arin are thrown in the mix. One reason, not touched upon, but in the mind of the viewer, would be that Susan, like Arin, are exhibitionists. It does boggle the mind how much recording taking place. Newest fetish: videoblogging!?

Like all of their earlier podcasts, they are honest about what is going on but not truthful. What I mean is that they are stating and describing what is going on. But nothing else. They have added what must be the most annoying cutaways to enhance these statements. But they stop there. What could be incredible conversations are cut short by a montage of beat-over-the-head physical illustrations of what has already been said.

Still following, still interested. As I have plead to the creators of Lost in the past, be easy with the fill.

Episodes nine, ten, eleven, twelve.

Photograph from Susan’s flickr account.

Review of There Will Be Blood

Wow! Director Paul Thomas Anderson flexes some serious filmmaking muscle in this film. This is the Raging Bull of our times, less optimistic (imagine that), less character arc but they do share the same theme: a strong character who cannot escape from himself. In Raging Bull, the redemption or the self awareness comes, in There Will Be Blood, there is not even a hint of such notions.

The obvious checklist: great acting: check; best acting performance by Daniel Day Lewis: check; incredible detail to costumes and times: check; great supporting cast: check; great directing: check; great cinematography: check; fantastic editing: check; powerful story: check.

So all the great reviews you have read about this movie are true.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the film that you will not hear about:

- Daniel Plainview comes to a small farm to check out a family who are sitting on a valuable oil reserve and don’t know it. He shows up with his son pretending to be shooting quail. The family patriarch, Abel Sunday (played by David Willis) comes out to greet him. The scene is slow and awkward but real. Anderson and the actors weren’t simply recreating an awkward moment, they are recreating a moment from the early 1900′s (I can only guess, of course). David Willis is simply incredible, he manages to play a character without a brain, a simple minded man. Of all the great acting in the film, his performance manages to stand out.

- Another great piece of acting from David Willis is the close-up shot of him eating, right after Daniel Plainview has beaten up his son. At first, he seems to have taken a stand against Daniel but the following close-up of his son (played by a wonderful Paul Dano) indicates that he is actually standing up to his son. Willis manages to show his simple minded choice of ignoring the problem but all the while knowing what is at stake. Fantastic.

-  When the baby strokes Daniel Plainview’s face on the train. Such an easy moment to indicate that he is going to father the child. Simple, no fancy shots of paper signing or whatever.

- The bowling alley in Plainview’s house is one of the best set pieces I have ever seen. Seriously, how cool is that. And Daniel chasing Paul around the back, it is playful. You forget how powerful those bowling pins can be. Which is wonderfully relevant to what happens next.

- The final line “I am finished” can be interpreted in so many different ways. From what is just happened to what will happen in the future to the actual movie.

- When Daniel talks about the peachtree dance hall and his brother can’t remember. My reaction to the information mimicked Daniel Day Lewis’.

One of the greatest movies of all time.

Watch the Oscar nominated Animated shorts online

Just like last year, I have been able to find most of the Oscar nominated Animated shorts online. I have been generally happy with the Oscar nominations this year. However, I think Atonement deserved a best picture nomination (update: it did get nominated, what was I smoking?) and I think Kate Blanchett did NOT deserve a nomination for Elizabeth. The animated Oscar shorts nominees are quite strong. Certainly, a lot stronger than last year.

Moya lyubov (My Love)Moya lyubov (My Love) Part one, two & three – A moving painting that captures love in all of its longing. And like some of the other nominees, the style of animation is so bloody unique. This short would be tremendous on the big screen with all of those moving pixels/ paint strokes. No English translation available but the visual imagery tells the story for the most part.



Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven) - oscar nominated short
Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven) – The only 3D animation in the bunch which comes as a surprise as it has become the dominant form. I think the slapstick story fits that style perfectly.



Peter & the WolfPeter & the Wolf (Part one, two & three) (divx version) – A cute story about a little boy with no fear. Again, the technique is tremendous. I am not sure it is all claymation. Some of the background and even some of the objects look 3D. It is especially hard to see the difference when watching it online.



Madame Tutli-Putli - oscar nominated shortMadame Tutli-Putli – The plot and scenes move along slowly, giving us enough time to invest attention on every detail of the frame. In my opinion, in terms of style, this short is heads above the rest. And that may well be the case with any animated film you compare it to. It is simply that good.



i met the walrusTrailer for I met the Walrus & Official site – Couldn’t find the film online. It looks like an elongated motion graphics experiment coupled with some choice quotes about war and peace.




Great selections, one from every animation sub-genre. I am having a harder time finding the live action shorts, any tips would be appreciated.

Review of Atonement

The book by Ian McEwan is one of my favorite books of all time. Surprisingly, the movie lives up to the book. I expected the film to be decent, not great, as I haven’t heard much of a buzz for this film. However, after seeing it, I’d be shocked if this film doesn’t get a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

One of the fears I had about the movie was it would abandon the beautiful structure that McEwan devised to tell the story. Thankfully Christopher Hampton, who wrote the script, not only keeps the structure but also manages to keep some of McEwan’s poetics. The scene where Briony sees her sister and Robbie near the water fountain is exactly how I had pictured it from all of the various perspectives.

A lot of credit should also go to Director Joe Wright. This easily could have been a film that we as an audience could watch from a distance. Instead, almost everything is seen through the eyes of a character. Everything is laced with a character’s subjectivity. To switch perspectives, there is no fade to black or any other visual device. It is a stream of consciousness that switches back and forth. So well done!

The biggest difference, in terms of emotions, is the beginning of the second half of the book/movie. The book’s second half numbs you to the pain from the 1st half. One of the greatest scenes in any book I’ve ever read. The movie sadly disappoints here, why wasn’t there more walking? more brown? more carnage?

The acting ensemble is solid. I am not entirely convinced of Keira Knightley as Cecilia, however, James McAvoy as Robbie is picture perfect. To many, this might seem like another stuffy costume drama. This is as modern as any film you will find. From the story to its character to the film’s style, there is a lot of risk taking. Go see it, this is one of the great tragedies of our time.

Our list of Best Online Videos for 2007

This is our second annual “best of” list. Like the 2006 list, this isn’t one of your neat and tidy “best of 2007″ lists. It is not like I have a problem deciding, after all we have posted over 1360 posts (and some posts have several video links), but I think all of these videos listed below are too deserving to be slighted. So if you see a strange category, you can attribute that to the video’s insistence on being heard.

While 2006 seemed like a banner year for online video, 2007 seemed to bring out a lot of pessimism that mainly revolved around the question of profitability. Also, the online video market continues to get saturated with content, just like old school blogging did. It seems like every blogger has some kind of podcast feed now. The word Youtube is synonymous with online video like Google is with internet search (scary?).

It used to be that among my circle of friends, I would be one of the initial people to find out about an online video phenomenon. This is no longer the case. I cannot tell you how often I feel l am either late to the party or missed it completely. The internet has become the biggest, baddest, most chaotic cable channel in the world and everyone is getting hip to it.

SHORTS

We had some great shorts this year, some from the years past but we found them online this year, so it officially fits our very loose guidelines to be eligible for our 2007 list.

Best Short: One Rat Short (Post) – From the story to its execution, this short is flawless. It is a dark tale of romantic love between two rats that steals from Romeo & Juliet as much as from Pixar.

Best Abstract Short: The Outlaw Son (Post) – There are no rewards in this film, you can choose to be in the moment or not. The One Rat Short showed how much can be done with excess, the Outlaw Son shows how much can be done with minimalism.

Best Animated Short: Jojo in the Stars (Post) – I saw this years ago at Resfest. The online experience is not the same, to say the least. Those rich blacks are washed out and the little animated touches are almost completely lost. Nevertheless, what a film! The animation is breathtaking. When she makes her appearance from the disco ball, I remember wanting to jump up and scream.

Best Comedic Short: The Shovel (Post) – Another film, I was lucky enough to see at a festival. Many films possess bigger, funnier set-ups and jokes but this comedy stands out because of its restraint.

Other notable shorts:

MUSIC VIDEOS

2007 has been a great year for music videos. Mainstream stuff is still all about the cinematography but the independent videos are all about the ideas. There is also a return to linearity versus the 90′s simple-minded non-linearity where a video cut back and forth between locations and scenes with no development of any kind.

Among the major video forms, this format seems to be the only one concerned with formal elements in video. Some of that is seeping into shorts but the rest of the film world is largely vanilla.

Best Music Video: Grizzly Bear “Knife” (Post) – Also, the most original video of the year. I am convinced the video was invented by an alien of some kind. For much of it, the video looks like it is concerned with mythology more than the song. And though many believe that the video desecrated the song, I believe the opposite is true.

Other notable music videos:

COMMERCIALS

What constitutes a successful ad has changed in the last couple of years. The focus is to create a buzz online. A lot of this has already become quite tiresome.

Best Commercial: Epuron (Post) – Simply brilliant.

Most sophisticated ad ever: Martin Scorsese’s Key To Reserva – The plot seems to play with genre than anything else. Is it a documentary? a short? an ad!

VIDEOBLOGGING

I am somewhat disappointed with the general direction videoblogging seems to be taking. Talking heads with a lot of personality get the views.

Best Videoblog: Alive in Baghdad – I am amazed at the result as much as how it comes about.

Best Post: Banana Bus – I award myself in all humility. So far, there is not a person who I have met who has not been seduced by the little bus.

Best Series: Young American Bodies – Some of the most daring videos from any medium.

Best Comic Series: Psycho Bob – Scary as much as funny.

OTHER AWARDS

Best Viral: Ninja Warrior (Sasuke) Makoto Nagano (Post) – Read the comments from our post to witness its effect.

Best Stop-Motion: Pes – Sneaux “Skateboard” ad (Post) – Pes = Stop-motion. No surprise.

Sexiest video: Room Service (Post) – Boing!

Best Photography Slideshow: Minutes to Midnight (Post) – A great journey highlighted by even better photography.

Best Graphics: Herr Bar “Clark” (Post) – Little to do with FX dexterity as much as prettiness of the images.

Best Video on Art: Paul Rand Tribute Film (Post) – When content and form meet perfectly.

Best Adaptations: Billy Collins Inspired Videos - Can online video bring poetry back to the spotlight? These videos sure do that.

Best Parody: Wheels (Post) – Trailer, parody and short all at once

Best WTF video: Chocolade Haas (Post) – Some have listed as their favorite video of the year.

Second Best WTF video: Nodern’s video (Post) – We are clueless as you are.

Best Documentary: Michael Moore’s Sicko (Post) – Yes, it was available online, illegally obviously.

Coolest Video: Visual Effects on a Trampoline (Post) – I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen it.

Hippest video: Hipster Olympics – If you been to Williamsburg, you know.

Best Mash-up: Put Your Hands Up for Detroit (Post) – Was in the running for the sexiest video of the year as well.

Best Action: Ryan vs Dorkman, part 2 (Post) – George Lucas has nothing on these guys.

Best Action Comedy: Deadly Finger (Post) – Jackie Chan, meet finger!

Best Television: The Office “Dunder Mifflin Ad” – This is a very personal choice. I love The Office and thus this scene.

Best Feature: Four Eyed Monsters (Post) – They put their film online this year. A daring move, much like their work.

Dek has also compiled a list of his favorites which in some ways is different from mine. He has become the primary blogger on this blog, don’t know what we or I would do without him. TickleBooth continues to grow at a healthy pace, 8 times as much traffic as the previous year with less big hit posts and more steady growth.

Thanks to all the submissions, comments and general support.

Review of No Country for Old Men

Review of No Country for Old Men

There is nothing wrong with No Country for Old Men!

In terms of directing, editing & writing, this film is as perfect as you get. I will rent the movie when it comes out on DVD. I will dutifully look at the filmmaking techniques, get an education and move on. One day, I will catch it on TV and wonder what the big deal was. I hope I am wrong because I seriously loved the experience, mainly the suspense. But suspense as a genre loses its power after the initial viewing.

Hitchcock’s The Birds was on TV this weekend, following that was Psycho. Two classic suspense films. I couldn’t help wonder why The Birds had no effect on me. None. Part of it was the special effects were several generations behind and it was hard not to laugh at it at times. But other part of it was that film was essentially dead, it was lifeless, kept half-alive by Hitchcock’s skill as a director.

Psycho, on the other hand, still lives. Not nearly as suspenseful but it still remained captivating, especially the first half. In a sense, both Psycho and No Country for Old Men have similar plots: central characters on the run because they have turned to stealing. While Norman Bates is someone we begin to understand, Anton Chigurh is a wall, we are never let to peer into his being. That is why I believe No Country for Old Men will meet the same fate as The Birds. It might be simple-minded to want an understanding of people but it also allows these characters to haunt an audience. What caused the birds to attack in Hitchcock’s is never revealed. It is frustrating, at least for me, to leave a movie without any closure. The point of suspense is that there is something to be had at the end, it is not like other genres where an open ending can push an audience to be socially proactive or to contemplate on what was missing and why that was important.

No Country for Old Man is based on a book by Cormac McCarthy. I have heard the ending differs in the book, I am somewhat intrigued to read it. The film should pick up a couple of Oscars, it is a critical success and for the most part I am in agreement. This is the best Coen Brothers film in a while. Javier Bardem and the rest of the cast are all incredible. However, I would like to also point to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s negative review of the film in the Chicago Reader. The questions he raises weren’t the thoughts that ran through my head while watching the film but maybe it should have been. Rosenbaum:

One reason I tend to dislike movies about psycho killers is that I can’t respond to them with the devotion I feel is expected of me. I’m too distracted by the abundance of these characters on-screen when they rarely appear in real life, and by how popular they seem to become whenever we’re fighting a war. What is it about them that people find so exciting? Reviewing The Silence of the Lambs over 16 years ago, I was troubled by the way the thriller tapped into “irrational, mythical impulses that ultimately seem more theological than psychological,” and how critics who loved it seemed “better equipped to regurgitate the myth than to analyze it.”

I was especially bemused by the ready acceptance of Hannibal Lecter’s supernatural powers—his ability to convince a hostile prisoner in an adjoining cell to swallow his own tongue, for instance, or to know precisely when and where to reach Clarice, the movie’s heroine, on the phone. Anthony Hopkins’s Oscar-winning performance may be stark and commanding, but it wouldn’t have counted for beans if the audience hadn’t already been predisposed to accept this murderer as some sort of divine presence.

The trailer for No Country for Old Men.

Review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Many have compared Andrew Dominik’s direction of this movie to that of Terrence Malick. I can see it: long, beautiful shots in outlaw country with wistful meditations on the nature of death and violence. If you like Malick, you should like this movie (do I have to spell out the entire title? Theater tickets read Jesse James!).

This is the second great Western of 2007, the other being 3:10 to Yuma. Both movies are wonderfully different, celebrating a different part of filmmaking. 3:10 to Yuma’s story is the focus, the director’s objective was to let that aspect come to the fore. With The Assassination of Jesse James…, the focus is on the moment to moment trajectories of its characters. Both films feature two males who have a fondness for each other. One mythological figure and one who aspires to be one. Their relationships are riddled with paranoia and distrust. Maybe in a different time and place, they could have been friends. It is impossible for me to say which of these films I like better, it is like deciding between water or air.

The Assassination of Jesse James…, as expected, much of the plot can be found in the title. Yet it never fails to be intriguing. The why over the what. Why is he going to do it? Why? Why? Why? And the answer is never promised in a neat psych class term paper. It is to be expected from the start that the answers are more subtle but nevertheless there.

Ultimately, the film concerns itself with myth. Not in a myth but in the unraveling of it, the results of that unraveling. Meaning, we learn many myths when we are young, things that spark our imagination but eventually as one breaks, we seek to break another. At first, we break them inside of us and in other times, we seek it to break it for others permanently. In many ways, this film mourns those losses.

My recommendation is to see the film in the theaters. Do not wait for DVD, you will miss so much of the cinematic beauty. The editing is wonderfully daring. At times, I couldn’t help thinking how they got away with keeping so much of the film. Great ensemble cast. I am always amazed how Brad Pitt invents ways to bring attention to his mouth. Casey Affleck is perfectly casted, it would have been a shame if the Coward Robert Ford were portrayed by another actor.

Review of Across The Universe

Review of Across The Universe

My Wife and I went back and forth on what to movie we should see this past weekend. A lot of last minute negotiating went on, we would say things like “if you see your movie this weekend, then you have to see my movies the next two weekend.” This went on for a while before we finally settled on Julie Taymor’s Across The Universe.

I accepted because it runs along similar themes that I am working on in my script. My wife liked the trailer. Looking back, the trailer is not a good indicator of how good the movie is. The trailer borrows a lot from the graphic oriented montages, which to me are the weakest elements in the film.

Director Julie Taymor is a genius with theater costumes, masks and props. If you think I am misusing this word genius, I suggest you look at her book on her work with costumes. She went on to direct the Lion King on Broadway and features such as Frida and the Oedipus Rex. I haven’t seen Frida but Oedipus Rex was a disaster. Subtlety is not a suit that Taymor possesses. So when I read that Across The Universe was structured around Beatles songs, I rolled my eyes. This ploy was either going to be painfully cheesy or emotionally powerful.

Walking into the theater, I warned my partner that the film was going to be visually striking but emotionally cold. The film’s visual sense lives up to my billing. There has not been a film in recent times that possesses such visual poetry. Taymor is clearly more adept in speaking visually than aurally. There is dialogue but most of the power and meaning is deferred to the Beatles songs. A very smart move because I believe without the songs, the film would have been decidedly stilted. The Beatles gives the film a sense of warmth and familarity. Their lyrics are ingrained in our collective psyche, in the best parts of ourselves: the idealistic, the hopeful, the communal. The film not only channels those feelings but also gives it a story thus bringing out the colors of the lyrics that I have not witnessed before.

I have heard “Revolution” so many times but I have never realized its true meaning. I just kinda went along with the song but clearly had not paid attention to what and who Lennon was attacking. Both me and my wife commented about this afterwards.

My favorite scene in the film is when T.V. Carpio sings “I want to hold your hand.” It happened early but I knew when I saw it that this was going to be my favorite scene. To explain why this was special is difficult because the magic lay between the performer and the camera / microphone. I was transfixed, I looked around and saw the same. I don’t want to hype this moment too much, see it, tell me if you feel the same way.

The first half is a classic, a great film. The second half is riddled with over-directing. The graphics play out like music videos. As matter of fact, I rolled my eyes every time the graphic department took over the reins. The spoken word all but disappears. One song leads to another. Some songs should have been deleted (excellent example: Dear Prudence). It was all too excessive, much like those times. However, I am not sure the aesthetic was meant to infer that.

All the war scenes feel silly, like high-school theater. Bombs blow, guns shoot, soldiers scream on crimson skied backdrops with dramatic footlights. It reminds me too much of the scene from Rushmore when the high school puts up a play on the war in Vietnam. The hospital scene (featuring Salma Hayek) is another clunker, the lowest point in the film.

The well casted team of actors did all they could. Music video acting can be limiting. The editor carves out a performance from the little-quirk-expression basket. A note about the editing, I wished someone had told the editor that he didn’t have to use every angle that was shot. It is perfectly ok to use a couple of shots in a scene or to stay on one shot. The audience doesn’t have a watch in its hand waiting for the next cut or a calculator on how much money is being spent. For f*ck’s sake! Taymor is as responsible in this as the editor. The scenes with longer takes work better than the faster cut ones. The film is so grand that it needed more grounding.

I am not a big fan of musicals, this coming from someone who grew up in Bollywood land. My suspense-of-disbelief gene does not cover the musicals. Sorry! This film, however, possesses the best music ever recorded. The friggin’ Beatles! I would pay money to see the songs performed over a pile of dung. So this certainly works. I plan on buying the awesome soundtrack when they decide to include all the songs and not a select few. (Bono not only appears in the film but has a couple of tracks as well.)

Overall, this film is a mini-classic. For all my complaints on Julie Taymor’s over-direction, I believe a lot of the film’s greatness would have been lost if she weren’t at the helm. She has courage beyond any other working director. Nobody else would have even entertained such ambition. She is one of the few directors who lives up to the label of “groundbreaking.”

Watch the under-whelming trailer.

Update: “I want to hold your hand” audio is available on Youtube!

Wes Anderson’s Hotel Chevalier

watch Wes Anderson’s Hotel Chevalier

This has been flying all over the internet, never realized there were so many Anderson fans. Hotel Chevalier is a teaser / short for Anderson’s upcoming film Darjeeling Limited. The short stars Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman. The preceding hype for this short was Natalie Portman’s nudity. The hype isn’t disappointing.

The bigger question in regards to Darjeeling Limited was whether Wes Anderson can expand his quirky style. Can it be more substantial? The last two films were disappointing even to me, an Anderson fan and more specifically a Bottle Rocket afficionado. Since Rushmore, Anderson seems to have added spectacle to his quirkiness. I don’t blame him, Hollywood is ready to pay him anything to see his vision. But that isn’t what Bottle Rocket or Rushmore were like. There were about the smallness in people. Small battles, with no significance, happening in some small little place. I think Darjeeling Limited is a return to those roots. I hope so at least.

What struck me as Hotel Chevalier started to play was how much I missed Anderson’s quirkiness. I savored every taste, I dreaded the quickly approaching end. His style is so pleasant, not in a television-comfortableness kinda way. More like how you wish the world would be. Silly surface with a tinge of seriousness that is only appears when connected with love. Unlike the truth where it is serious on surface and silliness never nearly makes an appearance.

I share Anderson’s love for lonely hotel rooms (another reason I love Bottle Rocket). On trips, I enjoy the first look-around in a hotel room or spending elongated time in silence & darkness ruminating. I love imagining there is intense drama happening on the other side of the wall. I love the borrowed space and Anderson loves it too. The third character in this is the Hotel. And boy, what a hotel, it stinks of intimate decadence.

Schwartzman seems to have two acting styles: one for Anderson films and one for the others. His eyebrows mimic a child pretending to be serious. It works! Portman has done so many crappy films in a row, I forgot she can act. Good to see her live up to some of that potential.

The link is to the free download at the iTunes store (the link open iTunes automagically). This means that iTunes has to be installed on your computer. I am sure it will be popping in other places very soon, when it does, we will add it here.

Watch it

Update: It is available on Google video. Dead.

Here’s a full quality version on Megavideo, found by Noctos. Thanks! Dead

Update 2: LaTimes interview with Wes Anderson on the movie.

Re-update: Available again in Flash Video.

Filmmakers! answer this…

If you are a filmmaker, an aspiring filmmaker, a closet filmmaker, a successful filmmaker, an unsuccessful filmmaker, not a filmmaker but like to pretend to be one, a videographer, a videblogger, a vlogger or anything other type of visual artist; this questionnaire is for you.

Please pick 5 questions from the following list of questions to answer. If you send me an answer for every question, I am simply going to ignore it. You can, of course, post all your answers at your own blog. Some questions have more than one question, if you can, answer them both. If you have films that can be seen online and would like to use these as examples, please do so.

Your answers (with a link to your site) will be posted in a directory of answers. If one of your answers is totally rad or whatever, the answer will be posted under its question as one of the best answers. These questions are not designed to insult people, this is meant as a fun exercise. Read more

All about Brando

All about Brando

Marlon Brando’s Screentest for Rebel without a Cause. One of the earliest recordings of Brando, handsome in all his boyish looks. He is not the effortless older self that we are accustomed to but he is still pretty convincing.

Photos of Marilyn Monroe and Brando by Milton H. Greene promoting a production at the Actor’s Studio.

Brando appears in Monty Clift’s home video. The playful side.

Brando and Robert De Niro improvising a scene for The Score. If you have ever been part of an improv, you will immediately recognize why these actors are so special. So relaxed, so “in the moment.” There is a general plot in the conversations but each take has something completely different.

Brando plays with cheese in The Godfather’s fake screentest.

Robert Duvall talks about The Godfather and then gets into Brando’s acting techniques. Part one & two.

Interview with a young Brando. Never knew Brando had such drumming skills. A very different interview style from:

Interview with Larry King. Part one, two, three, four, five, six.

Meet Marlon Brando. Part one, two & three. Another fascinating look into Brando’s strong personality. In many ways, Brando was very repetitive. This film was made by the Maysles brothers. Probably the most truthful portrait of the actor.

Christian Brando (Marlon’s Son) on how well he coped as a celebrity child, this was before he messed up and daddy saves him. It is so weird watching both his sons imitate their fathers.

His speech (not a video) for refusing the Oscar for The Godfather read by an American Indian Woman.

Brando’s entry in Wikipedia, it reads like an incredible story.

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