The Netflix Split: or how I should stop worrying and love Qwikster

19 09 2011

Copyright Netflix

I’m sure many of you received the email from Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, this morning.  If you did not, essentially, what was put across is a fairly sincere apology for the little notice given in regards to the price hike that cost the company 1 million subscribers over the past few months and the announcement that streaming and DVD services will now be completely split.  Streaming will continue with the Netflix name, whereas DVD services will go by the name Qwikster.  Furthermore, the the two entities will have separate Web sites and NOT be integrated in their directory content lists.

When the substantial price hike and billing split between Netflix services occurred a few months ago, I didn’t get too upset.  I merely reduced my DVD intake from three DVDs to two, which I could have stood to do earlier since I have some DVDs that sit on the counter for months at a time.  Another reason you can’t get too mad at Netflix for this price hike is that it really isn’t their fault.  They are trying to provide the best content to the general public and, to do so, they have to work with the studios and distribution legs of the television companies that produce the content.  For those of you who don’t know, distribution companies do not like services like Netflix; services that provide content the way a consumer enjoys, cheaply and easily.  Why, you ask?  Because services like Hulu, Netflix, On Demand, etc. cut into their DVD sales which is a huge profit maker for film and television production companies.  So, to remedy their “loss”, they push the licensing fees up regularly to companies like Netflix, making it almost impossible for them to provide all the content consumers want at a low price.  The same problems hit cable companies as well and that’s a large part of the reason our cable bills go up and up and up.  So, if you really want someone to bitch to concerning the price hike, call one of five major media entities that control 98% of your content, those being: Viacom, Disney, NBC/Universal, NewsCorps and Time Warner.

Now, for the second part of Reed Hastings’s letter.  The separation of streaming and DVD seems a little silly to me.  Isn’t Netflix supposed to be a company that provides Media Content in general?  Why they have to specify this and separate divisions of the company is beyond me.  It’s like buying a a DVD and the cover art/case being sold separately; it just makes no sense!  But, if you can get past the illogical point of contention in this decision and just accept it, then you get to the real problem.  That being, why are they not going to integrate the sites?  In the new format, Netflix.com and Qwikster.com will be COMPLETELY separate.  So, if you want to look up if they have a certain movie, you will have to first check their streaming site and then check their DVD site for the title.  Why kill the ease of use for a consumer?  As consumers, we care about two things: cost and ease of usability.  I can understand and accept the cost issue being out of Netflix’s hands, but to give us one more step to go through when we want to watch or find content to watch is preposterous.

Reed Hastings was brave enough to open the blog posting that mirrored his email to comments, and I admire him for that.  I just hope he will listen to these comments.  I love Netflix and its service and I hope they will be around for a long time to come, but in short, the only companies that survive the test of time are those that listen, communicate and deliver to their customers’ desires and concerns.  We are making ourselves heard Netflix, please listen to us!





Five Cinematographers Who Shaped Me

16 09 2011

It’s getting later on a Thursday night and for some reason I’m feeling kind of sentimental, so I’ve decided to write a fairly personal post for you guys.  For of those you who don’t know, my passion and calling in the world of film production is cinematography.  I have lensed a variety of commercials, award-winning shorts, promotional videos, weddings (video and 8mm film, believe it or not), industrial films and live music acts.  In short, you name it, I’ve probably shot it at some point.  In the commercial world, there are times of true creative ingenuity, but for the most part, you are limited by what the client or employer desires.  For that reason, this post definitely relates more to my shaping as a cinematographer narratively.  Who are the five most influential cinematographers to me personally?  It’s going to be hard to narrow it down and I won’t be so daring as to try to put them in any order, but here are five true artists who helped change the way I looked at motion pictures.

1. Gianni di Venanzo (1920 – 1966)

Di Venanzo with camera; Francesco Rosi in foreground

Many cinematographers will tell you that one of the primary goals in perfecting the look of an image is finding the perfect balance between light and dark.  Perhaps no other cinematographer achieved this more exquisitely than di Venanzo.  The man who shot Antonionni’s La Notte and Fellini’s 8 1/2 had amazing control over the contrast of black and white negative.  The darkness of the blacks and blazing white highlights, coupled with his distinctive mood influenced lighting style, give all of his films a certified dream-like quality.  In looking through the nearly two dozen features he shot over the last 20 years of his life, you can see his personal stamp as an artist and technician indelibly printed.  Though the bulk of his work was with black and white negative, di Venanzo proved himself equally as awe-inspiring and versatile in his color work on Fellini’s epic Juliet of the Spirits.  Di Venanzo’s work has had such a hold on me that, when filming my directorial debut last fall (which was filmed black and white), his notable style was the only cinematographer’s body of work that I mentioned to our DP in helping define the mood and style of the film.  Di Venanzon died in a car accident in Rome while shooting a picture in 1966; it’s a wonder what other wonderful images he could have provided us with had his life not been cut so short.

2. Robert Surtees (1906 – 1985)

Robert L. Surtees

Whereas di Venanzo’s work brightly illuminated his personal flourish, Surtees was that of a chameleon.  Whether black and white, color, a bright musical or dark drama, Surtees could handle it all.  Many say that the best shot movies are the ones where the images don’t stand out; meaning, the visual beauty is not so much that it distracts from the story.  If this could be said of any cinematographer, I think Surtees is a fine example.  He was versatile and talented, giving each one of his narratives their own distinct feel.  A three-time Oscar winner and fourteen time nominee, Surtees’ work spanned over four decades and included Ben-Hur, The Last Pictures Show, Oklahoma!, King Soloman’s Mines, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Sting and The Graduate.  As testament to his versatility in an ever changing industry, when he shot The Graduate in 1967, critics and fans alike heralded it as new, innovative and cutting edge in its look and lighting design; Surtees was 60 years old when he shot this film.  A brilliant, brilliant cameraman, I will go out on a limb and say that if I could aspire to any style of another artist, I would like to be as good and versatile as Surtees behind the camera.

3. Jack Cardiff (1914 – 2009)

Jack Cardiff

Another artisan whose work stands out with his personal touch stamped on each and every frame.  I have elaborated fondly on the work of Cardiff on this blog in two other posts: Directors who Started as Cinematographers and in my review of the film Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff.  To save those loyal readers the pain of my continued adoration of this wonderful cinematographer, I will keep his segment brief.  Working his way up from clapper boy in the 1920s, Cardiff became one of the most skilled, if not the most skilled, Technicolor lighting cameraman in the business.  His work with the Archers demonstrates some of the most brilliantly colorful palettes of filmmaking in existence.  When I think of the correalation between a great painter like Vermeer or Caravaggio in the film business, I think of Cardiff.

4. Gordon Willis (1931 –   )  

Willis behind the camera

People call Willis the “Prince of Darkness” due to his insatiable desire to push the bottom end latitude to the hilt in exposing his image.  His repertoire during the 1970s is almost unmatched with films like both Godfather movies, All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, Klute, The Paper Chase and Manhattan.  His style is evident in each and every one, a gritty, dark and moody negative that puts the viewer directly in the story, but still holding a visually stunning image.  His style remains very unobtrusive, yet retains a certain classic beauty that leaves viewers pondering the visual panache of the film long after viewing it.  Though you may not recognize him by name, his images have all been a strong part of our cinematic histories.

5. Sven Nykvist (1922 – 2006)  

Sven Nykvist

The second and longest collaborating Director of Photography with famed Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, Nykvist is best known for his muted colors and soft lighting approach.  His work with Bergman alone is enough to solidify him in the annals of the best cinematographers of all-time with films like Persona, Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander and Scenes From a Marriage.  But then, he came to work for American and English directors and provided us with further visual gems in films like Chaplin, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Sacrifice and Celebrity.  The muted, autumn-esque color palette and diffused, yet controlled lighting style that Nykvist incorporated create some of the richest and satisfying, yet subtle images ever put to screen.  His work is not necessarily flashy and he was a large proponent of natural lighting, but this minimalist nature, under his control, produced images that are in my opinion works of art.

Of course, there are many more DPs that I love and admire including, but not limited to, Roger Deakins, Robert Richardson, Freddie Francis, Guiseppe Rotunno, Nestor Almendros, Charles Lang, Vittoro Storaro, Gregg Toland, Lazlo Kovacs, John Alonzo and on and on.  However, if I have to narrow my influences due to personal taste and whose work most comes to mind when I think of shaping my own images, then these are the gentleman that come first.





Doctor Who: All Eleven Doctors Ranked Worst to Best

5 09 2011

So, I’ve finally had a chance to see at least one serial of all eleven doctors in Doctor Who.  I understand that this post will be completely subjective, but honestly, this is my blog, so isn’t it all completely subjective any way?  Well, here goes, my list of favorite actors who have portrayed the time-traveling Time Lord simply known as “The Doctor” from 1963 all the way up to last Saturday night:

11. Colin Baker – 1984-86 – Doctor #6

I’m so sorry, Colin.  He always gets a bad rap and, to be fair, there was a lot of pressure against the show during this time and some of the worst scripts as well.  Even still, however, something about (this) Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor just rubs you wrong.  Compared to many of the other Doctors, he was brash, (more) arrogant and sometimes just downright mean to his companions.  Not to mention, what the hell was he wearing!?!  Most of the Doctor’s outfits over the years, though eccentric, have still been pretty cool.  This rainbow infested disaster, however, wouldn’t even make the “cool” ranking of a four year old.  Again, Colin, I’m sorry, you seem like a great guy in real life, but as the Doctor, I just couldn’t dig your interpretation.

10. William Hartnell – 1963-66 – Doctor #1

I know, some of you are going to berate me for putting the original Doctor this low on the list.  It’s true, he provided the groundwork that all the other Doctors elaborated upon, not to mention he made the show famous from the beginning episodes.  This crotchety grandfather-like figure as the Doctor just doesn’t have enough fun though!  I like Doctors that know how to be serious, but also have that ridiculously zany element we’ve all come to know and love.  Hartnell’s first Doctor also seemed too absent-minded and feeble for me to completely enjoy.  In fact, unfortunately due to his poor health near his final episodes as the character, Hartnell would flub lines, so some of the idiosyncrasies of the character can’t wholly be deduced to acting.  It’s a shame he was so ill near the end and God bless the man for continuing to do what he loved for as long as he could.  A salute to you, sir, for your original portrayal and I dug the Victorian costume, but my favorite Doctors lie ahead.

9. Tom Baker – 1974-81 – Doctor #4

O.K., so I’m sure most of you expected to see the second Baker a bit higher on the list.  I’ve given him a fair shake by watching several serials, but just can’t put him any higher than this lowly position of number 9.  During his run, which was the longest of any Doctor to date, he epitomized the character with his off-the-wall elusive behavior, wild hair and elongated scarf.  In my opinion, however, I just couldn’t buy into it.  His delivery at times seems stilted and his inability to take charge of the situation was just too distracting for me to fully ingest his portrayal of the Doctor.  So, for you upset over this choice, would you like a Jelly Baby?

8. Peter Davison – 1981-84 – Doctor #5

From this point in our list on are Doctors that I really liked.  Not until our 5th entry do we get to the Doctors that I loved, but the next few entries at least get my one thumb up approval.  Davison, when cast, was the youngest Doctor to date.  In fact, he is still the second youngest even 30 years later.  With an outfit that looked like a mix of tennis court yuppie and panama jack, not to mention the curious piece of celery, this Doctor ushered us into the 1980s.  He was young, spirited and actually took great care in listening to his companions.  I really enjoyed Davison as the Doctor and think he did a wonderful job, even despite the fact that some of his episodes weren’t the best written.  His final episode, The Caves of Androzani (a bit overrated in my opinion, but still great), continues to top lists of the best episodes ever for the series.

7. Christopher Eccleston – 2005 – Doctor #9

I began the series with the 2005 reboot, so this was essentially my first Doctor (though not MY Doctor as many people state).  I have to give him some credit for engaging me in the program and helping bring me into the world of Whovians.  Though, in reality, he has been my least favorite of the rebooted Doctors.  He switched back and forth between quirky and crazy to intensely serious on the drop of a hat.  This element alone is enough to make you ask exactly what type of emotions is going through this war-born Time Lord.  I wish he would have picked a side, one way or the other, but other than that  – nice run Eccleston!

6. – Sylvester McCoy – 1987-89, 1996 – Doctor #7

I know a lot of people hate McCoy.  I know, it was with his Doctor that the series sank to all-time lows and initiated a nearly 16 year hiatus (of course, outside of the Doctor Who Movie in 1996).  To further clarify my placement of McCoy, I have only seen serials from his latter tenure which included companion Ace.  From what I have seen from these later episodes, which have consistently been rated much higher than his earlier episodes, I have really enjoyed him.  He has a dark demeanor and is very much a Sherlock Holmes-like Doctor.  Not to mention, his interactions with Ace are some of the best Doctor/Companion interactions I think I’ve seen on the show outside of Rose and the 10th Doctor.  And, trust me, that’s saying a lot!

5. Paul McGann – 1996 – Doctor #8

Outside of audio stories, McGann only had one chance on television to grace us with his portrayal of the Doctor.  Though the movie wasn’t amazing, I liked it.  What I loved, however, was Paul McGann’s awesome performance.  He was witty, eccentric, yet very much in control and concerned with saving the world.  His outfit was completely bad-ass as well!  A Victorian Buffalo Bill mixture that is elegant, yet weird.  I wish we could have seen Paul McGann grow the character onscreen a bit more.  I immediately enjoyed his portrayal, and everyone knows it usually takes several episodes before you start to warm up to a new Doctor.  If he’d had the chance, I think he could have been one of the best yet.

4. Matt Smith – 2010-present – Doctor #11

Our current Doctor, Matt Smith.  At first, I was not sure what to think of him, but he has proven himself quite well.  He is definitely eccentric and on the weird side of Doctor characterizations, but he also knows how to take control and fight back when the situation calls for it.  Furthermore, with Stephen Moffatt behind him as the creative force, his stories are becoming some of the best yet.  Smith has also single-handedly made bow ties quite cool once again!  Who knows, in time, I may move Smith up even higher on my list, but for now, he will stand at the still admirable number 4 position. Geronimo!

3. Jon Pertwee – 1970-74 – Doctor #3

Dare I say, our most adventurous Doctor?  With cape and dashing personality to match, Pertwee was the James Bond of Doctors.  He was cool, conservative and sometimes overly confident.  Forced for most of his tenure to assist U.N.I.T. on Earth, Pertwee had a great relationship with his companion, fellow researcher Jo.  Out of all the serious incarnations of the Doctor, who had little time for zaniness, Pertwee is my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong though, his witty and cynical remarks born from his ego are some of the funniest lines from this era of the series.  I can’t wait to continue working my way through Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, and remember, to always reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.

2. Patrick Troughton – 1966-69 – Doctor #2

Unfortunately, many of Troughton’s episodes no longer exist due to the BBC’s clearing policy in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  However, what is left is testament to his amazing portrayal of the character.  He was the first Doctor to not be so serious all the time, a “Cosmic Hobo” if you will.  Despite his goofy antics and somewhat aloof personality, this Doctor could be extremely effective and usually knew what was going on well before his stumped companions.  One of the subtlest actors in the role, this flute playing, Chaplinesque Doctor is one of my absolute favorite.  Now, if I can just scour the Earth for the rest of his lost episodes…

1. David Tennant – 2005-2010 – Doctor #10

This is it, the end of our list.  Here we come to MY doctor, David Tennant.  When he first arrived on the scene, I had no idea what to think of him.  As time progressed, however, Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor as a goofy, caffeine-induced super hero, complete with maroon chucks and brown duster, became my favorite.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever like an actor in the role as much as I enjoyed Tennant.  He will definitely be a hard act to follow and whenever I think of the Doctor, this is who comes to my mind first. Well, there you have it, my countdown of the actors who have portrayed the Doctor.  Until next time, Allons Y!!!

**ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT BBC WORLDWIDE**





The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Review

16 08 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

I had high expectations for this film when it came out earlier this year.  Honestly, it had been one of the few movies I was actually really excited to see once it came out on DVD.  Using a free credit through Vudu on my Playstation 3, Maddie and I rented this and watched it over the weekend.  My expectations were definitely not met, not in the least.

Matt Damon portrays junior congressman David Norris, who looses out on his bid for Senate.  On the night of his lose, he runs into free spirited dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  A connection is immediately felt between both Norris and Sellas, but their time is cut short by his losing speech and her being chased by guards for wedding crashing.  However, the next day, they coincidentally run into each other on the bus.  Following this second occurrence, and a slip up one of the “bureau’s” agent’s part, Norris sees some happenings at his office that he wasn’t supposed to see.  He finds out about an organization that works for a God-like entity known as the “Chairman,” who controls almost every facet of freewill on Earth.  They warn him to never let anyone know what he has seen; if he does, he will be reset.  Furthermore, they tell him it is not in the plan for him to be with Sellas and that he will never see her again.  They even go so far as to burn the paper she had given him that had her phone number on it.  As you can imagine, Norris becomes determined to get back with Sellas and there are repercussions with the “bureau” for such meddling and actions of free will.

That was kind of a quick written synopsis, wasn’t it?  Well, you know why?  Because the movie was abysmal.  That is a perfect word for this film and I wish I could alter my rating on this to just reflect that word.  It’s not a terrible film, it just isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.  In fact, we’ve probably even seen it before with Matt Damon!  In addition, the character of Sellas to me was just annoying, childish and two-dimensional.  I didn’t like the written character one bit, nor did I like the performance from Emily Blunt.

This is standard fare filmmaking; not one thing makes this movie unique or interesting.  I know I am being harsh, and probably wrongly so, but this is a movie I was excited to see and was utterly disappointed in the execution.  Don’t waste your time on this one, unless you have a low standard for films and don’t mind cliched science fiction rubbish.  I’m done ranting now.





Gear Review: K5600 Joker Bug 800w HMI

14 08 2011

Copyright K5600 - Joker Bug 800w Kit

Make: K5600

Model: Joker Bug 800w HMI

My use: I ordered two of these during my time at UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning.  At the time I ordered these, the division didn’t have any HMIs.  We rarely had large lighting setups, so extremely powerful HMI instruments weren’t needed.  However, I did want to build a small HMI arsenal, and wanted what we ordered to have some punch, so I went with the 800w version of the Joker Bug (K5600 also produces 200w and 400w versions).

Average Price: $6,390 per kit

My thoughts: For the type of work we used our HMIs on, the Joker Bug 800’s were a perfect fit.  They pack a sold punch lumen-wise, but are small enough instruments in regards to electrical pull that you can plug them into standard wall outlets.  One of the nicest attributes of these instruments were the compact case in which they came.  The small hardshell case was on rollers, stackable and contained everything you needed for the light: head, ballast, header cable, 4 lenses and barndoors.  Being PARs, these little guys really dished it out, and with the various lenses that include Super Wide, Wide, Medium Flood and Frosted Fresnel, you could easily shape the output for your desired look on set.  With a little diffusion, these instruments were also a wonderful exterior fill, and compact enough to not break your back on location.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Light Fixture
Rating 800 Watts
Socket (Lampholder) G22
Lens (Condenser) 4- included: Super Wide, Wide, Medium Flood, Frosted Fresnel
Mounting 5/8″ Stand mount
Weight 6 lbs (2.7 kg)
Dimensions 13 x 9 x 4.25″ (33 x 23 x 9.1cm)
HMI Ballast
Rating 800W, 110 – 240V AC, 50 / 60Hz
Cable 25′ VEAM 1/4 turn twist
Weight 8 lbs (3.6kg)
Dimensions 10 x 9 x 3.5″ (25.4 x 22.8 x 8.9cm)
Kit Weight 41 lbs (19kg)


Bottom Line
: These are extremely versatile small wattage HMI instruments.  If you are a smaller production company or a freelancer that doesn’t do too many large scale productions, then I highly recommend these units if you are looking to build a small HMI arsenal.





Scarecrow (1973) Review

30 07 2011

Copyright 1973 Warner Brothers Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Since Doctor Who has been on hiatus for the summer after their mid season break, we’ve been watching the spin-off series Torchwood to bridge the gap.  With the new job, it’s a bit difficult to watch features in addition to a series, so I’m going to pull a little known film that I am very fond of from the back log to review: Scarecrow.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this film, so I’m not sure how hard the film is to find these days.  However, about 10 years ago when I first viewed this movie, it was almost impossible to locate.  In one of my cinema history books I saw a picture from the film with a young Al Pacino and Gene Hackman.  Being a huge fan of both of these incredible actors, I was immediately interested in finding a copy of this film.  This was before Netflix, so I had to make the rounds to all the local video stores; none of the stores had the film.  Months went on with no success until I came to a Movie Gallery a few towns away.  This was around the time that VHS was being fully phased out to DVDs, so they were having a huge sale on VHS movies.  The store literally had hundreds of movies for sale for about $3 a piece.  I bought properly 500 movies that summer that were hard to find, rare or foreign, of course all VHS, but still it was some way to view these films at the time.  Deep within the droves of cassette stacks, I found a lone copy of Scarecrow.  I still have it in my collection today and feel it is one of the most underrated films of the 1970s.

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg, Hackman plays an ex-convict named Max Milian and Al Pacino plays Francis Lionel “Lion” Delbuchi, an ex-sailor.  They meet on a path in California near the beginning of the film and form a partnership as friends, with plans to go into business together when they get to Pittsburgh.  Hackman’s character has a plan to open a car wash which he is sure will be a success.  Francis agrees to be his partner in business, but first wants to stop by Detroit and make well with his wife, Annie, and the child he left behind and never saw.  Essentially, the film is a road movie between these two opposite personalities and their weird friendship that develops in their travels from California to Pittsburgh.  Max is quick tempered and aggressive in many situations; whereas, Francis is calm, conservative and child-like.  Along the way, they visit several different places, get put in a work camp for awhile and go through both personal injury and triumph.

What really works with this film is the true-to-life dichotomy between the characters of Max and Francis’s relationship.  They are complete opposites, but in some strange way need each other to survive.  They learn from the other and find the only support they have ever known in life in their friendship.  The story is shot in a gritty, realist nature which only adds to the believability of the characters and their complex relationship.  Needless to say, Pacino and Hackman are absolutely brilliant in this film.  It was at the height of both of their professional abilities and the casting choices for their respective roles couldn’t have been better.

The film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 and has been generally well-regarded by critics since it came out.  In looking on Netflix, it seems this film is still hard to locate all these years later.  However, if you can find a copy, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this 1970s gem.





Music on Film Series Reviews: The Last Waltz

23 07 2011

Copyright 1978 MGM and United Artists

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

For those of you that know me personally, you are probably already aware of my two greatest passions.  For those of you who don’t, one is obviously film and filmmaking, the other is music.  I’ve been a guitar player for about 12 years now, have had some success in the local scene over the years with several bands, most notably with Jaxon Jill from 2007-2009.  So, to bridge the gap a bit here on the blog I’m starting a new series that will have updates ever so often.  The series will be called the Music on Film Series and include popular, and not so popular, films that have either been of live concerts, taped recordings or other instances in which music is the predominant subject of the visual image.

In starting this little ongoing series, I feel it is only fitting to begin with my favorite concert film of all time, The Band’s The Last Waltz.  I remember the first time I ever heard The Band, it was truly an hear opening experience, if you will.  I was at the local Borders in Winston-Salem, which unfortunately is currently going out of business with the rest of the chain as we speak, and I was listening to various albums they had available with headphones.  I was maybe 14 or 15 years old at this time, just beginning an interest in classic rock and roll that would continue to this day.  When I came to the CD of The Band’s Greatest Hits, which at the time had just been released on compact disc, I put on the headphones and hit play for a sample of the first track, their classic hit “The Weight”.  As I continued sampling the album through “Tear of Rage”, “I Shall Be Released”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “King Harvest”, I became enamored with their style and musical influences.  Their sound is such a perfect blend of Blues, R&B, Rock and Roll, Country and Folk, and the voices of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko blend so beautifully and harmoniously, that the music itself literally becomes timeless.

Needless to say, I bought the album on the spot and it continued to be a staple of my car CD system for years to come.  As I became more and more interested in their music, I caught wind of their final concert, The Last Waltz, which was filmed at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1976.  The concert film was directed by none other than iconic Italian-American filmmaker Martin Scorsese.  Scorsese and The Band collaborating on a celebration of the music at a live concert was too good to pass up.  At the time nearing my birthday, it was a first choice for present from my parents; once received, I played it from beginning to end on the big screen TV with the sound system all the way up.

The film features not only a large number of iconic Band tunes, but also has a multitude of musical guests joining the band on stage for one to two songs.  Guests include Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan (who the members of The Band were the backing band for before going out on their own), Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters, among others.  There is nothing quite like hearing many of these songs live when the group was at the height of their fame; the energy of the performances are breathtaking.  Interspersed between the music are interviews with members of The Band about their life and times with The Band and being musicians in general.

I highly recommend this album to anyone who loves music of 60s and 70s.  This is truly a celebration of The Band’s music and the people behind the music, Levon Helm (Drums and Vocals), Robbie Robertson (Guitar), Rick Danko (Bass and Vocals), Richard Manuel (Piano and Vocals) and Garth Hudson (Keys, Organ, Sax, Crazy Musical Genius Extraordinaire).  Just to give you a sample of the film, here’s oneof my favorite tracks from the DVD:





Not your Basil Rathbone Holmes (Thank Goodness!)

21 07 2011

Copyright 2010 BBC/Masterpiece

In their down time from Doctor Who, current series head Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss set out to create a modern update on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes.  Season One of the joint BBC and Masterpiece production aired in the summer of 2010 with three episodes, each totaling 88 minutes in length.

The first episode, A Study in Pink (an obvious take-off on Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlett”), lays out the groundwork and exposition for the characters of both Holmes and his associate Dr. John Watson.  This episode also introduces the two to each other for the first time, and has them decide to be roommates at the famous 221-B Baker Street address.  Staying very true to the books, all the idiosyncracies of the characters and their backgrounds are in tact, just with modern updates.  For instance, Watson served in the recent Afghanistan conflict in this version, where he received the bullet that injured his leg.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes and Martin Freeman plays Watson; they are both excellent in their roles.  I especially enjoyed Freeman’s performance as Watson; however, I am a bit bias, as my favorite character in the Holmes’ stories is generally that of Watson oddly enough.  I mean how cool would it be to be the companion of a mind like Holmes’s, a crack shot with a revolver and an expert medical doctor all-in-one?  Plus, you get the ladies and generally stand as a voice of reason to the sometimes aloof Holmes.

Not only does the series get placed in modern London, but they take expert advantage over the situation by incorporating many technological advances into the scripts.  Laptops, cell phones and other digital media devices are made use of in all three episodes extensively, sometimes even as key elements to the plot.  In addition, the producers came up with a clever way to visually present the use of such devices.  Rather than boring shots of a cell phone screen, they have animated text appear over the image to signify various text messages, etc.

The second series will be broadcast this fall in the same manner as the first, with three hour and a half long episodes.  I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s theatrical version of Sherlock Holmes (2009) and am looking forward to the sequel later this year, but, though fun, it wasn’t a great movie.  This modernized adaptation of the classic stories is a different story; I don’t mind at all admitting that it is a brilliant, fresh take on series.  I absolutely love it.

For all you Netflix users out there, all three episodes of season one are available on Instant Watch.





My Favorite Doctor Who Episodes from Series 1-6 (2005 – Present)

14 07 2011

Above: Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston Middle: Tenth Doctor, David Tennat Below: Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. Copyright BBC Worldwide

As of two months ago I knew essentially nothing of Doctor Who.  I knew that it was a British science fiction show, that the main character traveled through time and space in a police box and that the show had been on the air forever.  After finishing a run of Twin Peaks for the second time in my life, I was looking for another television program to become involved in.  Because I generally really enjoy most science fiction and fantasy, I asked several people I know that watch Doctor Who if they thought I would like it and they all said, “Yes!”.  The second problem was where to begin.  There is a classic series that aired on the BBC from 1963 to 1989 which was produced in a serial format with each chapter being an amalgam of several 25 minute episodes.  The first seven incarnations of the primary role of The Doctor are contained within these 26 seasons of the show.  The Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann, was part of a British-American co-produced television special in 1996, and, finally, the reboot of the television series arrived with Christopher Eccleston playing the ninth regeneration of the Doctor in 2005.  The reboot of the series is currently in their sixth season and Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith.

After much deliberation, I started the series with the 2005 reboot (though I have since watched some of the classic series as well).  Just yesterday, I finally caught up with the current production schedule with the series six mid-season finale that aired last month.  The series won’t continue series six until sometime in September.  I am so glad I started watching this series and can’t recommend it enough, it’s well-written, well-directed and well-acted.  If you have any geekiness in you whatsoever or an affinity towards science fiction or fantasy, you will love this show.  Of the 81 episodes I’ve watched of the reboot (including Christmas Specials), I’ve decided to elucidate on my favorite episodes of the series thus far:

As to not spoil the episodes for future viewers or people who’ve yet to get to these episodes, I will not include much of a synopsis in the descriptions.

1. Blink – Season 3, Episode 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

If you look around online, you will see that this episode constantly gets rated in the top of the series, and for good reason, because it is brilliant.  Season 3 is during David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor (my personal favorite!), but this episode is actually what the series calls a “doctor light” episode, as he hardly appears.  The real star of this episode is Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow and the amazingly creepy monsters, the Weeping Angels.  This episode was so good that writer Steven Moffat won a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and a BAFTA Craft and BAFTA Cymru.  It’s an amazing episode and probably my favorite of them all since I’ve been watching the series.

2.  The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances – Season 1, Episodes 9 & 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

This two episode entry into season 1 is by far the best story of that season.  It takes place in World War II and centers around an extremely creepy little boy with a gas mask on that continually haunts people, asking them, “Are you my mummy?”  Christopher Eccleston is portraying the Ninth Doctor in this episode and one of my favorite companions of the series so far, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), is at his side.  In addition, the hugely popular character of Captain Jack Harkness is introduced in this episode, who goes on to be one of the leads of the spin-off series Torchwood.

3. Human Nature and The Family of Blood – Season 3, Episodes 8 & 9 – Written by Paul Cornell

This is the two episode entry right before Blink, so you know you are in for a treat once you get to these episodes, because three amazing entries are to follow.  David Tennant is the Tenth Doctor in this episode, but for all intensive purposes is that of John Smith, as he has erased his memory and reverted to a human form to escape a family of monsters who are chasing him through time and space.  Unable to remember his past, his companion in this season, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), is presented with a very difficult task of watching over him and calling him back if needed.  When the blood thirsty family find Martha and the Doctor’s hiding location, things get very interesting.

4. The Doctor’s Wife – Season 6, Episode 4 – Written by Neil Gaiman

This episode by well-known science fiction and fantasy author Neil Gaiman was to come out during season 5, but was ultimately delayed for various reasons until season 6.  This episode is extremely interesting and entertaining because it does something that the show had never done before: it allows the Doctor and his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space – his time/space traveling police box) to speak to each other when the TARDIS’s time vortex is put into a human’s form.  The witty banter between Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith and his oldest friend in human form is brilliant, and seeing them have to work together to save two companions in the series is a real treat.

5. Vincent and the Doctor – Season 5, Episode 10 – Written by Richard Curtis

Series 5 was a bit difficult for me.  David Tennant had been my favorite incarnation of the Doctor so far and I was having a hard time getting used to Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor; however, I thought this episode was great, and it might be the episode that I finally warmed up to Matt Smith in the role.  The Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), go to Europe in the late 1800s because of something the Doctor saw in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery.  They meet Van Gogh and have to work with him to tame a monster that only he can see.  The ode to the work of the great master and the beauty in which Tony Curran plays Van Gogh is exquisite.

6. Dalek – Season 1, Episode 6 – Written by Robert Shearman

The Doctor’s longest running adversary from all eleven regenerations is that of the alien race known as the Daleks.  This episode in the first season is the first time that Daleks are introduced in the reboot of the series.  The Ninth Doctor and Rose turn up in an underground bunker that belongs to an eccentric American billionaire who collects “space junk”.  His prized possession is that of a Dalek, though he doesn’t know what it is and it is currently incapacitated.  When the Dalek returns to full form, everyone’s life is in danger, not just in the bunker, but in the world.

7. The Waters of Mars – Autumn Special 2009 – Written by Russell T. Davis & Phil Ford 

There was no full series in 2009, only a series of four specials that rounded out the last episodes of David Tennant’s duration as the Doctor.  This was the third of those specials before the two-part finale and regeneration into the Eleventh Doctor.  The Doctor is by himself for this episode, exploring the planet of Mars, when he is captured by members of a space station in the mid 22nd century.  Once on board, he insists he poses no threat.  He then realizes who these members are from history, as a terrible thing had happened that killed them all.  When the wheels are set in motion, he must decide whether or not to interfere with a fixed point in time.

8. Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead – Season 4, Episode 9 & 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

In this two-parter, the Tenth Doctor is with companion Donna Nobel (Catherine Tate).  They arrive in a futuristic library that is literally a planet; it is the largest library in the world.  However, there are no people in the library, as something happened to them.  A strange little girl in a side story can see into the library when she closes her eyes, and the Doctor runs into a very important figure in his life, the character of River Song for the first time in this episode.

9. A Good Man Goes to War – Season 6, Episode 7 – Written by Steven Moffat

Starting to catch on that Steven Moffat is a pretty damn good writer on this show?  He is actually the current head writer, though several of these listed episodes he was just a staff writer under former head Richard T. Davies.  This was the mid-series finale for season 6 that is the most recent episode to date.  When one of the Eleventh Doctor’s close companions, Amy Pond, is abducted by a strange army, the Doctor calls on all his favors and goes to fight to get her back.  It’s one of the few times that you see the Doctor truly angry in this incarnation of himself and the ending of the episode leaves the audience with a HUGE surprise.

10. The Shakespearean Code – Season 3, Episode 2 – Written by Gareth Roberts

The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones end up in Shakespearean England after some strange occurrences have been happening under the title of “witchcraft”.  Not only do they arrive in Shakespearean England, but they actually must get involved with Shakespeare himself and force him to rewrite certain altered parts of his unreleased play Love’s Labor’s Won to prevent a great evil from being unleashed onto the Earth.  It’s a fun, historic romp and even has a Harry Potter reference thrown in the mix!

 

 





Film Investment Scam Doesn’t Help Filmmakers

18 06 2011

This morning, as I was eating breakfast, I noticed an article online regarding a film investment scam.  According to an AP article, 18 people are being prosecuted for conspiracy and mail and wire fraud in a telemarketing scam that raised $25 million for independent productions.

Courtesy of Aleksandr Kutsayev

Among the films completed through the defendant Cinamour Entertainment LLC and Q Media Assets LLC companies include From Mexico with Love and Eye of the Dolphin and its sequel.  The former raised $15 million, was shot on a $5 million budget and only grossed $500,000; the latter, raised $9 million and only grossed $70,000.

The defendants apparently lied to investors and promised a 1,000 percent return on the films.  If anyone has ever worked in the film industry before, they know that this is a very unpredictable market and promises of this nature cannot be trusted.  Sure, some films make investors over 1,000 percent return, but many may only break even with slight return or, at worst, not even break even.

Being a filmmaker and knowing filmmakers, all of whom have projects they would like to see off the ground, it hurts to see a swindle of this nature.  It is extremely difficult to raise funds for independent projects because of the concern and relative unknown by investors when they come to a project.  The business plan, which if done right, should explain all the projected income a film could make, but also the fact that it may not make a return at all.  This outline of the film’s projected market, treatment, attached cast/crew, etc. is the only thing we have to show that we have done our work and feel this could be a good and profitable project.  Situations like this completely discredit our field and hurt the people out there trying to get legitimate projects off the ground.

Unfortunately, people that may have been willing investors before a situation like this, may opt for a “safer” bet.  I hope, for any of you potential investors out there, that you will not be discouraged from all films because of news like this.  Most filmmakers are very honest about returns and you should be presented with a well thought out and complete business plan before furnishing any money for a project.  Also, don’t ever let anyone promise you a return unless there is a contractual sale of the film already in place.

 








%d bloggers like this: