A New TV Addiction

24 10 2011

Copyright 2010 A&E Television Network

Growing up, my father took me to about every yard sale, thrift store, second-hand store, and garage sale you could imagine.  He has always been a collector and strong believer in “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  When you grow up in that kind of environment, one of two things happens: you either embrace “junk” collecting, or you are repulsed by it.  My older brothers I would say tended to stray to the latter; however, me and my young brother have embraced the “treasure hunting” lifestyle.  So, when I found out about the shows Storage Wars and Auction Hunters, I was immediately intriqued.

Both shows carry, essentially, the same premise.  They do differ a little in exactly how they are presented, but both revolve around people who buy storage units at auction.  When a storage unit’s rental price has not been paid for three months, the facility has the legal ability to auction off the entire units’ contents in hopes of regaining some of the back rent.  At the auctions, the locks are cut off the unit and buyers are allowed to look at the contents from the threshold for a few minutes before bidding commences.  Buyers are not allowed to pilfer through the contents or step over the threshold.  Because of this, there can be many unknown treasures in these units; however, on the flip side, there could also just be dirty laundry and garbage inside.  It’s definitely a gamble, but fascinating to watch what these risk takers can find in some of these units.  From pinball machines to bobcats to jewelry to Picasso sketches, some of the things the stars of these shows find is mind boggling.

If you’ve ever had an affinity towards finding that one diamond in the rough, then you will probably enjoy these shows.  Maddie and I have burned through nearly every episode of both Auction Hunters and Storage Wars in the month or so since we started watching.  I’m so hooked, it’s making me want to save up and get out to some auctions soon!  Who knows what could be found, or how much money could be lost on the bid.  Like all risks, the most fun seems to be in the thrill of the chase.


Jane Eyre (2011) Review

17 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Focus Features

★ ★ 1/2

I will be honest about two things in this review, outside of my opinion of the film of course.  Firstly, I would have never watched this film on my own volition, I did so at the behest of my girlfriend (who I obviously care very dearly for).  Secondly, I cannot stand any material that was ever produced by either one of the Bronte sisters.  It doesn’t relate to me and I find it drab and incredibly boring.  There, I am done with my prefaced rant.

Ah, the story of Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska).  For those of you who don’t know, it is about a young orphaned girl who is wrongly treated by her aunt, whom adopted her.  Being sent to grow up in a miserable orphanage, she eventually gets out and becomes the governess for a wealthy man, Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender).  They, over time, fall in love with each other and he asks her to marry him.  She obliges, and they are all set for their wedding day until a horrible secret is found out about his past that destroys her trust.  She flees his mansion and learns to make ends meet on her own, eventually inheriting a fortune from a wealthy distant relative.  Now wealthy and in good standing, she returns to her love, but what oh what will she find of him?  Without ruining too much of the suspense that is in the film, I’ll leave you with that short sarcastic synopsis.

The film was aptly directed by Cary Fukunaga, and has some very pretty cinematography.  Mia Wasikowska does do a wonderful job in the lead role, as does Fassbender as Rochester.  However, the story will always be the same, and I’ve never related well to it.  It does have some suspenseful, interesting moments, but largely doesn’t take advantage of them as key story points.  Prior to seeing this adaptation of the book, I saw the 1980s version with Timothy Dalton, and was equally underwhelmed.  Though I will say, however, that I enjoyed this adaptation more so than the previous.  For that, and for the fact that I was actually able to sit through the whole thing, I have to give it some credit.

Cabaret (1972) Review

14 10 2011

Copyright 1972 Allied Artists Pictures, ABC Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I have owned this movie on VHS for about 12 years, had it in my Netflix queue for about two, and had the DVD copy from Netflix sitting on my counter for over a month.  Because of how well-reviewed the film is, I have long known that someday I would watch it.  However, for some reason, I had in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea or that I wouldn’t find it as great as so many other people and critics.  Well, I was wrong; this a brilliant movie and I wish I would have seen it years ago.

Based off several different sources, the film takes place in Berlin in 1931.  Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is an aspiring film actress with an exuberant, though sometimes erratic, personality, currently working at the Kit-Cat Club, a risque cabaret.  English PhD. candidate and man of words, Brian Roberts, arrives in Berlin and becomes roommates with Bowles, occupying the room across from her.  To make rent, he teaches English lessons for three Marks an hour.  Over time, he and Bowles become friends and eventually lovers.  However, when Baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) arrives on the scene, their relationship is truly tested.  Over the course of being showered with presents by the wealthy von Heune, Bowles and Roberts both find an attraction to him.  This attraction and the sexual escapades to follow lead to some difficult decisions for both their future together and for their individual aspirations in life.  As subtext, the film chronicles the early rise of the Nazi regime and some of the horrors seen in plain public view, that were overshadowed by the decadence and innocence of the time.  Wonderful musical numbers appear throughout, lead by Kit-Cat Club Master of Ceremonies (Joey Grey) as well.

How I judge a truly great musical is whether or not the story itself was a great story without the visual panache of the musical numbers.  This is one of those films; it’s an engrossing story, one where you truly care what happens to the characters, and the musical numbers are just icing on the cake.  Minnelli and Grey both won Oscars for their work on this film and, I think, deservedly so.  Oddly enough, Grey’s entire performance is in musical numbers, he has no scenes of actual dialog, but his physicality and comedic timing in the numbers is amazing to watch.  As for Minnelli, her performance as Bowles is not only a great acting performance, but her musical numbers accent her amazing voice and dexterity in dance as well.  I always scoffed at the fact that this film took Best Director away from Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather; however, after seeing the movie, I can see how it happened.  Director Bob Fosse, in addition to directing, choreographed all the musical numbers himself.  This is a huge undertaking, and when you see the complexity of the dance numbers and how seamlessly they interweave with the shot selection, it makes sense how he could win the award.  In addition to those three Oscars, Cabaret won five others, making it the biggest winner to date without taking home the Best Picture Oscar (that one did go to The Godfather).

My favorite musical of all-time is still Singin in the Rain, but after seeing this one, I will admit that it is probably up in the top five now.  It’s a great story with great performances and wonderful musical numbers.  What more can you ask for in a musical?

My Name is Bond Series: Dr. No (1962) Review

13 10 2011

In wake of the recent announcement that Javier Bardem will be the villain in the upcoming 23rd installment of the Bond franchise, I have decided to create a new series for the blog here detailing reviews of all, yes all, 22 previous installments of the British super spy.  Yes, I have seen all 22 previous movies, I can name all 22 movies in chronological order and tell you all six actors who played Bond and the years they played him off the top of my head.  In short, I am a huge James Bond fan, so this will be a fun series to work through.  To start it off?  Well, let’s just go in order shall we.  

Copyright 1962 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

This is the first entry into the official canon of Bond films produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, based on the novels of Ian Fleming.  Nearly everything we have come to know and love with the series began in this film: first introduction to 007, first appearance of SPECTRE, first Bond Girl, exotic locations, Aston Martins and even CIA pal Felix Leiter.  Outside of missing the lovable Q, everything else is in place for the perfect mix of espionage and action.

Directed by multiple Bond director Terrence Young, this film stars Sean Connery as Bond, who still to this day many consider the best interpretation of the role.  I love Connery in the role, but we will find further as we move through the series who my favorite Bond actor was.  Following British Station Chief John Strangway’s death in Jamaica, 007 is sent to investigate.  After several run ins with mysterious persons on the island, 007 find out that CIA operative, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord of later Hawaii Five-o fame) is on the same mission regarding radio jamming of American rockets.  Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), a boatman, is working with Leiter and reveals that Strangway had requested several trips from him to nearby islands for mineral samples.  He also reveals a little about reclusive Dr. No, who owns the island of Crab Key.  Finding some radioactive traces in Quarrel’s boat from Strangway’s samples, Bond insists he be taken to Crab Key.  Once there, Bond and Quarrel meet the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), a beachcomber who collects and sells shells.  Ryder leads Bond and Quarrel up the swamp, further into the compound.  Further inland, the group is attacked, resulting in the death of Quarrel, and Bond and his new found beauty are taken captive.  Without detailing too much to spoil the excitement, Bond and Honey Ryder are escorted into dining with SPECTRE operative and first nemesis Dr. Julius No (iconically portrayed by Joseph Wiseman).

If Bond is your cup of tea, then what more could you ask for?  Everything that came to make the series beloved is in place; Ursula Andress is smoking hot in her white bikini, the gadgets and cars are awesome, Connery is suave and daring as Bond and Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No is a perfect, eccentric villain.  Though not my favorite Connery-era bond film, you can’t argue with how essential it was to defining the rest of the series.

Doctor Who is Pushing 50

12 10 2011

Copyright BBC

Article first published as Looking Forward to Doctor Who Turning 50 on Blogcritics.

Just over a week ago, the sixth series (or 32nd, depending on how you look at it) of Doctor Who wrapped up with the incredible episode The Wedding of River Song, posing the series-long question, “Doctor Who?”

For those of you not in the know, the original series began in 1963 with William Hartnell as Doctor numero uno and was on the air through six other Doctors until its cancellation in 1989.  Following a 1996 television movie with eighth Doctor Paul McGann, the series was rebooted by Russell T. Davies in 2005 and continues to this day on the BBC, currently in the eleventh “incarnation” of the Doctor, a now 900-something year old alien who travels through time and space in a machine guised as a police box.

Since the series six finale, the Doctor and companions will be off the air until the 2011 Christmas Special and then back in 2012 for a seventh series, continuing to star Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor.  However, it will be the following season that I am interested in focusing on, as the series itself reaches its 50th Anniversary in early 2013.

All of the produced anniversary specials have centered around the Doctor crossing his own time stream, sometimes more than once, which results in a multi-Doctor episode, bringing back former actors who have played the lovable Time Lord.  The only two anniversary specials so far in the series were The Three Doctors in 1973 (with William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee) and The Five Doctors (with Richard Hurndall sitting in for the deceased Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Peter Davison and Tom Baker, kind of).  For what would have been the 30th and 40th anniversaries, the show was off the air unfortunately.

So, in short, odds are high that we will see another multi-Doctor episode, and that is some very exciting news for Who fans.  Everyone has their own ideas how the 50th Anniversary special should go, and I’m sure many, including myself, would love to see a return of David Tennant to the role for the special.  However, when really thinking hard on the subject, I come up with a storyline that wouldn’t include Tennant, but rather eighth and ninth Doctors Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston.

When the series rebooted in 2005 with Eccleston, he had already regenerated from the eighth incarnation.  This is the only regeneration in the history of the series that we don’t actually see happen on screen or, at least, see the death of one and birth of the other.  Furthermore, it is alluded to constantly in the first few seasons that there was a Great Time War, in which the Time Lords and evil Daleks obliterated each other, leaving the Doctor as the “Last of the Time Lords.”

If I could sit down with Head Writer Steven Moffat, this is my pitch: have eleventh Doctor, Matt Smitth, recieve a distress signal from Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, through the Time Locked war, similar to the bending out of universe phenomena in The Doctor’s Wife.  Realizing he will die and cut off his own time stream if he doesn’t go for help, the eleventh Doctor enters the final hours of the Great Time War.  The eighth Doctor explains what is happening on Gallifrey and the two must work together to obliterate the Dalek, and in turn, Time Lord races to save the universe.  In the end, however, the eighth Doctor doesn’t make it out alive, dying and regenerating into the ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, where he travels to the beginning of his tenure and meeting Rose.

Not only would that create a multi-Doctor episode, but it would give Paul McGann the chance to portray his wonderful interpretation of the Doctor once more on screen in a more tightly written episode (as McGann’s only appearence was the mediocore Doctor Who Movie in 1996).  What would your dream 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who be?  Which former Doctors would you like to see return?

Bridesmaids (2011) Review

11 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

After many pleads from my girlfriend, I finally relented and watched this movie with her.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be from the title and premise, but it definitely wasn’t that entertaining of a film either.

Directed by Paul Feig, the movie focuses on the misadventures of, guess what, a group of bridesmaids at friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.  Annie, who is portrayed by Kristin Wiig, has been Lillian’s friend since childhood and the two are nearly inseparable.  Having owned a now defunct bakery and her life pretty much in the gutter, it is a bit difficult for her to hear her best friend is going to get married, but she is wildly excited when it is announced that she will be the maid of honor.  However, as the plot begins to unfurl, it shows that Annie’s ability to coordinate all the duties of being the maid of honor are far inferior to Lillian’s new friend and wife of her fiancee’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne).  The story continues through the feuding of Helen and Annie, as well as the continued downward spiral of Annie’s life, and a romance with a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) is even thrown into the mix as a subplot.

Where and when it has become acceptable to produce comedies over two hours long is beyond me.  It’s just too damn long; comedies are meant to amuse and travel at a pace that holds the comedic element.  When you drag gags and situations out too long, they quit being funny.  Furthermore, unless you have an extremely detailed plot beyond that of the mishaps of a group of bridesmaids, you just don’t have the  structure to entertain for that amount of time.  A large part of this trend, I believe, comes from the recent phenomena of comedies letting 90% of their film be improvisations.  Sure, letting actors improv in a comedy can produce some amusing elements in the film, but when you just roll cameras with an idea and let them carry on during every scene, you get some hits and a lot of misses.  When you look at the better comedies of all-time, you will notice certain elements that seemingly hold true: a tight, well conceived script that generally runs an hour and half or so, incredibly odd or amusing characters and a pacing that continuously moves forward.  This film didn’t have any of those elements.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t good.  But, again, better than I thought based on the title and synopsis.

I’m as Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore

7 10 2011

The title will probably be the closest this post gets to a film.  Rarely do I speak bluntly about my personal beliefs or core values on this blog, outside of the spectrum of film/video production.  But, recently, I have been invigorated by the protests that are going on in their third week on Wall Street.  People, many my own age, taking their time to stand up for what they believe in and show that the working and middle class Americans are tired of being treated as second rate, while we continue to line the wallets of those in the 1%.  Being in North Carolina and bound to work commitments and other obligations, I can’t make it to Occupy Wall Street to share in the warmth of the fight for what is truly right.  What I can do is offer my opinions on how to grow this front into something that truly evokes change.

One of the primary criticisms of the movement itself is the lack of focus in what the protestors are demanding.  However, in contrast to many protests of the past, this is not a protest that demands one single point of change.  We, as a people, have not been wronged by one single wrong.  We have been exploited and denied to an amalgam of rights including, but not limited to, a fully integrated healthcare system that provides for one and all, a refund on the billions of dollars from our pockets that bailed out greedy banks, an education that doesn’t set us behind financially before we can even start our adult lives, homes that can be manageably paid off and protection of our valued possessions in times of struggle or need that is beyond our control, the removal of money from our politics, and an equal tax code in regards to taxation on the rich and corporations.

Though the suits on Wall Street laugh and chide over the protestors’ “meaningless” rants and the Bill O’Reillys of the world refer to our cause as “liberal sludge,” what they don’t understand is that we are the true voices of the nation.  These types of people, however, people that are hinged on one thing and one concept: the growth of their material wealth, can only be educated in the same manner.  Hence, to get the true message across and truly incite change in our country without lending to violent behavior, we have to hit these people where it hurts the most: their pocketbooks.  How might we do this?  Who consumes their goods?  Who truly has control over the markets on a day to day basis?  Us, the 99%.  We are the backbone and the foundation of the country that keep everything from completely falling apart.

How then might our numbers truly hurt these people of power?  Shut it down.  That’s right, let’s just shut it all down, press the “off” switch, quit consuming.  A strike that involves this entire nation.  We’re not asking for justice and an economy that works, not only for the wealthy, but for the working class and middle class people as well.  No positive change was ever introduced without the willingness for taking a risk involved.  I’m not saying muddle your lives to the point of misery, but the foundation of a capitalist economy is consumption and we, the United States of America, are the biggest consumers in the world.  Continue to go to work, continue to provide food for your family, and continue to provide the necessities of life.  If we could cut out the “wants”, however, and I mean completely quit consuming or drastically cut down our daily consumption as much as possible, then the markets would start to reflect the degradation in purchasing.  The longer we could stand without, the longer we could hold off on buying extraneous goods/toys/services that are truly not needed for basic survival, the more the companies, the wealthy, the politicians, and the economy itself would feel it.  We need to show that if they will not listen and abide to our appropriate demands, then we will not abide to their greedy desires and continue to line their pockets.  They can either accept a just amount of wealth, or we will strip their capitalist economy to the bone and they will all suffer losses they have never dreamed of.

If you believe in the idea of this post , please pass along and share with others.  If you feel you could elaborate on this idea, please comment and discuss.  I’m tired of how our country is running, this is not the country I love and I want to see positive change happen now so that my children will be able to be proud of the country they live in.

Remembering Steve Jobs and Preserving His Legacy

6 10 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

I know this will likely be one of thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of blog posts regarding the passing of Apple co-founder and figurehead Steve Jobs yesterday.  Jobs passed away at the age of 56 after a long battle with cancer.  Unlike many other posts, however, I’m not going to recount a biographical essay of Jobs’s life or historically chronicle his time with Apple.  What I want to look at is what he gave us and the legacy that will continue even after his passing at such a young age.

When I think of Jobs, the word that most comes to mind is: visionary.  This was a man, whose sometimes ego-maniacal persona in regards to business, pushed products that were from the deepest points of his imagination.  Unlike many other companies whose primary creative decisions come from a web of corporate “suits”, Apple’s vision was dreamt largely from one mind and then implemented by the many departments of the corporation.  During his tenure at Apple, the company continuously released products that were 2-3 years ahead of their time, paving the way for the next generation of media consumption.   Since 2000, Apple has strategically eliminated nearly every form of popular tangible media.  With iTunes and the iPod, mp3’s have taken over the compact disc market; with the iPhone, the first integrated touch sensitive smart phone with heavy application reliance revolutionized the cell phone market; and with the iPad, tablet hardware has come to a forefront, replacing the laptop computer in many homes and just now is becoming a favored educational tool for schools around the globe.

For the first 20 years of home computing, advances were minimal in design and functionality of the systems.  However, in just over 10 short years since Apple’s introduction of the iPod and all-in-one iMac computers, Apple has effectively changed how we interact and experience many forms of media on a day to day basis, from movies, to watching television, to music, and beyond.  Being a hands-on entrepreneur, Jobs’ position in Apple has been crucial to its success in the world market.  Under his leadership, the company grew from a secondary contender in desktop computing to the largest technology company in the world.  Knowing of the severity of his illness, I’m sure Jobs has laid out a very concrete game plan for the future of Apple; one that will, hopefully, keep his vision and spirit alive, much like that of the pioneering legacy of Walt Disney.

It will certainly be a lonelier place in the technological world without Jobs’s vivacious enthusiasm and keynote addresses.  Yet, what he was able to show us could be done when you have a dream and a vision, will hopefully be preserved by not only Apple, but serve as a precedent for young minds and inventors to come.

Project Log: UNC-Greensboro Text Campaign Shoot #3

5 10 2011

My final project on the “Text” campaign for UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning and my final project during my tenure at UNCG in general has been released.  The idea behind this entry into the campaign was to mimic the trailers of 1950s horror films such as The Blob.  Various ideas were thrown out on how best to go about the project, which was to feature the idea of “Text” (representing text on a page Web sites for educational learning) taking over the country and rearing its ugly face across the nation and beyond.

The first idea was to shoot on the RED One and filmize the footage with grain, color correction and motion blur to help sell a 1950s film look.  Being the DP, I highly recommended that we don’t go that route.  The problem that arises, no matter how well done the digital manipulation is, is that it isn’t film.  There is no way to make the response of added grain natural or the motion blur properly controlled.  The second idea to implement this project was to take public domain footage from various B movies from the Prelinger Archives and other sources and cut the trailer in this manner.  After hours of looking through various footage on Prelinger and other online archives, we found that most of the footage was terribly compressed and, even though there was a plethora of B movie material available, little had the exact moments we were hoping to capture.  At this point, I recommended we just shoot on 16mm film with an older camera and older lens.  This way, there is no lifting in post; the film, mixed in with the older camera movement and 40 year old lens technology, would sell itself.  Patrick, our Multimedia Lead, brought this idea up to the Marketing Director at the Office of Online Learning, Jaap-Jan van Duin, and he gave us the greenlight as long as we could keep the budget under $1,000.  We enthusiastically agreed to keeping in budget and were excited to shoot a project for the division on 16mm film; something very few companies or organizations are doing in this day and age at all.

The first order of business was where to find a camera.  I contacted a few people I knew who owned various film cameras, but most were either hesitant to let it go for little or no pay, or had not run film through it in so long that they couldn’t assure functionality.  Having matriculated though the UNCG Media Studies program years ago, I knew they had a few Bolex H-16s in tote, so I called the Operations Manager, Ken Terres, and asked if we could borrow one for the shoot.  He was very kind and let us have one of the H-16s with an Angenieux 12-120mm lenses for the week.  Over the course of the week, we shot 600 ft. of film (Kodak Vision 3 500T and Vision 3 250D) for our little trailer in about 4-5 different locations.  Throughout filming, I tried to light in a manner reminiscent of 1950s B movies, so many of scenes are lit with hard light and very little diffusion.  Furthermore, there are a decent amount of shots that went handheld to give the extra horror “cheese” factor.  The film was subsequently sent off to Cinelab in Massachusetts, who unbeknownst to us at the time was in the process of a move.  Because of the move, it took longer than usual to get the film back, but we were very happy with their price and job on the processing and HD transfer.

Patrick Griffin and Bryan R. Higgins, by this point the only two members on the Multimedia Team at the Office of Online Learning due to state layoffs, did the edit and VFX work on the piece.  With great pride I give you the final product of our efforts:

WHEN TEXT ATTACKS!  (and you can see the Behind the Scenes here).  I love feedback, comments, criticism and questions, so let me know what you think!




The Fenix is Rising!!!

3 10 2011

No, I didn’t misspell the title, it stands for the new production company I am affiliated with that is starting active promotion today, Down Fenix Media.  The principals of Down Fenix Media, outside of myself, are Patrick T. Griffin, Bryan R. Higgins and Jon Fredette.

We were the backbone of the UNC-Greensboro Office of Online Learning Multimedia Team from July,2010, when Patrick came on board, until July,2011, when Jon and I left.  Finding a great deal of satisfaction in working together, as well as realizing the product potential, we decided to work on several projects outside the confines of UNC-Greensboro.  Following an award-winning short film entitled “Eat Me!”, which I have provided a link to on a previous post here on the blog, and several projects we collaborated on for various clients, we came up with the idea of starting our own company.  Talks began early in 2011 and the ball/idea has continuously been rolling, but it is just today that with great pride I announce the official beginnings of Down Fenix Media.  Our business cards are in tote, our Web site is live and our readiness to produce amazing content for a diverse client base is insatiable.

So, without further ado, I give you Down Fenix Media:






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