Shame (2011) Review

18 12 2012
Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

One of the few well regarded films of last year that I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to see. After literally months of two Netflix discs (yes, I still get discs because the selection on instant would piss me off if that was all I got) sitting on my kitchen counter unwatched, I finally sent in for some replacements — this film was one of the two that arrived. The other was Magic with Anthony Hopkins (a pretty scathing review forthcoming on that).

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in this NC-17 drama. A successful New York businessman, he spends his days at the office watching porn, his nights at home watching porn, masturbates incessantly and is constantly on the prowl for his next sexual encounter, whether that be through a random hookup or a paid escort. When his somewhat estranged musician sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves in with him out of despair, he finds her desire for a more meaningful relationship with him a hindrance on his routine sexual escapism.

This film is a very slow, yet well-paced study of an addiction that is not nearly as touched upon in mainstream media as many others. Brandon’s character and world are very ethereal, and the artistic approach of the film help elucidate this fantasy-esque overtone in its pace and cold visual style. Fassbender is excellent in the title role, a role which required a great degree of comfortability in the character, being that many sexual scenes are shown quite explicitly and nudity is prominent throughout. Carey Mulligan is wonderful (isn’t she always?) as his depressed sister who longs for a stronger relationship between herself and her brother.

There are a lot of things about this film that seem like they shouldn’t work so well on the surface, but yet, somehow they do. It’s a terribly interesting character study and a film that engrosses, even at its very deliberate and slow pace. I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a deep, intense drama; however, I will strongly warn of high sexual content and physical nudity that may offend or upset certain audiences.

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Lincoln (2012) Review

9 12 2012
Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

★ ★ ★ ★

Catching up a bit here, so expect to see about 4-5 reviews over the next week or so. On Thanksgiving Day, right after a wonderful dinner with my family at Bermuda Run Country Club in Bermuda Run, N.C., my brothers, Maddie and I, went to see Lincoln at the theater.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring the always fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, Lincoln chronicles a very specific time in the 16th President’s tenure. The film begins in January, 1865, and continues through Lincoln’s assassination in April of that same year. The focus of the narrative heavily revolves around the passage of the 13th amendment, a revolutionary amendment to our Constitution that abolished slavery in America. Even without the presence of the southern states in Congress, the passage of this amendment was, surprisingly, still extremely difficult to pass in the House of Representatives. This was largely due to heavy opposition from the Democratic Party of the era (interesting how the Democrats of this time seemed the more conservative and the Republicans more liberal in their stance; a direct opposite of our current state in America today…) Though the passage of this amendment is the primary focus of the film, the viewing audience does get a glance into Lincoln’s private life during this time, as well as how efficient an orator and politician Lincoln could be through persuasion and motive.

The first part of this film was a bit slow for me. However, I quickly became engaged in the narrative, due largely to Day-Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of Lincoln. Without much reservation, I consider Day-Lewis one of the best and most well-rounded actors of our time. His credit list, though not large, encompasses an array of interesting and brilliant performances. I always look forward to his films, whether a brilliant opus like There Will Be Blood, or independent Irish films like Jim Sheridan’s wonderful dramas My Left Foot and  In the Name of the Father.

Spielberg, for me, sometimes gets unduly praise for his work. Yes, he is a brilliant director and has given us a wide range of amazing films; however, his praises sometimes go beyond a reasonable measure, in my opinion. This film, for me, was one of his better in recent years and, being a biographical period piece, something he seems to excel at. Likewise, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was quite pretty, and though not the most visually stunning of his career, it was perfect ambience for this film.

I definitely see this film taking home some awards this year, and highly recommend it from both an entertaining and historical perspective.





My Name is Bond Series: Diamonds are Forever (1971)

13 11 2012

Copyright 1971 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★

After a one picture hiatus in which Australian model/actor George Lazeby briefly picked up 007’s licence to kill, Sean Connery returned for his final portrayal as Bond, at least, his final portrayal that falls into the official canon of Eon Productions films. He did pick up his Walther PPK one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, an interesting re-take on Thunderball that only came to fruition because of some sticky copyright dealings.

One of Bond’s arch enemies, Ernst Blofeld, this time portrayed by Charles Gray, is supposedly murdered early on in the pre-title sequence. However, with experimentations in facial reconstruction surgery, it soon becomes apparent that Blofeld was not as easily killed off as originally thought. In the meantime, Bond is assigned to a case involving a supposed smuggling ring in the South African diamond industry. To intercept the targeted diamonds, Bond travels to Amsterdam disguised as smuggler Peter Franks. It is here that he meets the primary “Bond girl” of this film, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), a liaison in the smuggling circle. When the real Franks shows up, Bond kills him, and switches identities in Case’s eyes by saying the dead man is British agent James Bond. The diamonds are then smuggled to Los Angeles via the real Franks coffin, and later, through to Las Vegas. As he becomes involved deeper in the disappearance of the diamonds, he realizes that the true cause is much deeper than just depressing the diamond industry as originally thought. The diamonds are being used in a contraption within a top secret base that belongs to billionaire recluse Walter Whyte (Jimmy Dean, taking cue from real life billionaire Howard Hughes). As Bond digs deeper, he realizes his supposedly deceased foe, Blofeld, may in fact be behind the whole operation. Furthermore, he has a pair of sadistically witty, homosexual assassins, Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (bassist Putter Smith) on his tail.

Whew, gotta love writing a synopsis for a Bond film. This one might be more convoluted than most, however, with a story that kind of weaves in and out of direction as the movie progresses. Of all of Connery’s performances as Bond, this might be one of the weakest, if not the weakest. The villains aren’t particularly novel, Jill St. John is not a very well-rounded Bond girl as neither really an adversary, nor a solid ally, and the suspense that Bond gets himself into is not particularly exciting. It’s not a terrible film, but it doesn’t capture the magic of early Connery movies like Dr. No, From Russia with Love or Goldfinger. Directed by Bond alumnus Guy Hamilton, this is a novel effort to recapture the magic of Connery’s early era as Bond, but somehow misses the mark and falls short of full potential.





My Name is Bond Series: Skyfall (2012)

11 11 2012

Copyright 2012 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Even though it’s only been released in the US for a couple of days now, it feels like I finally got to see the new Bond film.  Coincidentally, I saw it on the heels of The Living Daylights last night, a selection from the Bond 50th Blu-Ray series which was my birthday present from my sweet girlfriend, Maddie.

OK, so the 23rd Bond film, and Daniel Craig’s third go round in the part. Upon hearing of the production of this film I was wildly excited, first because one of my favorite DPs, Roger Deakins, was going to be shooting the film, but even more so, that it was being helmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. Granted, an acclaimed artistic director doesn’t always make a great Bond film (Michael Apted and Marc Forster…ahem), but I have consistently been amazed with Mendes’s work over the years (outside of Away We Go, which was terrible.)

This paragraph of my reviews is usually reserved for a synopsis of the film; however, for this film, I feel I would be cheating you, my reader, by divulging much of the story. This film carries nearly all of the staples of a classic Bond film, yet if I gave you too much of an overview, it would spoil the brilliance of its execution. So, I opt out of this usual section of my review format (you’ll thank me later).

What I can say, is that this is one of the best Bond films in many years. I will have to let it all sink in a bit more, but it might actually be one of the best Bond films of the entire canon. Daniel Craig seems quite comfortable in the role now, even more so than his previous two installments. The script is sharp, the action sequences are breathtaking, the direction apt, cinematography exquisite, the villain is evil, really there is nothing I can say bad about this film. It fits the Bond formula to a tee, but also manages to add something new and invigorating to the mix. Its achievement in doing this, make it a very fitting film for the 50th anniversary of this iconic franchise, and I think, proof that Bond will continue for many generations to come.





The Master (2012) Review

16 10 2012

Copyright 2012 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ 1/2

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with this: When P.T. Anderson is “on,” he’s on fire; when he’s “off,” he has missed the mark by a mile. As much as I wanted this film to fall under the former half of my opinion on his career, it sadly, fell under the latter.

The Master is loosely (can I really even say that?) based on L. Ron Hubbard and his cult-like religion of scientology. Rather than saying the word “scientology”, we get “the cause”; rather than “auditing”, we get “processing”, and so on. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a repertoire actor in P.T.’s films by this point, plays the part of Lancaster Dodd (i.e. L. Ron Hubbard), a self-professed philosopher, doctor, writer, raconteur, etc. He has a group of followers who abide closely to his ideals and processes, which include breaking yourself from your past lives through the method of “processing”, and other pseudo-psychological means. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), is an ex-seaman, having served in the Navy during World War II, who not only harbors a good deal of agression, but also has an unhealthy drinking problem and some mental instability. By chance, Quell stows away on a yacht that Dodd is borrowing for his daughter’s (Ambyr Childers) wedding, and the two strike an odd friendship, ultimately leading to Quell becoming one of Dodd’s most devout followers. The remainder of the film follows each of these bizarre personalities as they weave in and out of each other’s lives.

There are elements of this film that work, but for the most part, this is a large, disjointed mess. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful, and, yes, Joaquin Phoenix gives a wonderful performance (despite the fact that I hated his character with a passion). But, all in all, this film is all over the place. It’s just one big, pretentious, boring mess, and it hurts when I see someone as talented as P.T. Anderson put out such a horrid film as this. This guy gave us Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood for Christ’s sake! However, he’s also given us Punch-Drunk Love, which for me, was a big turd. One point of note that is a great high point for this film, however, that must get due mention, is Amy Adam’s knockout performance as Dodd’s fourth wife, Peggy. She definitely deserves a nod from the Academy for this one, and I’ll honestly be very surprised if she doesn’t.

Bottom line: don’t go see this film. Save yourself the time, the money and, most of all, the disappointment of seeing a respected director create such a terrible mess of a film.





A Separation (2011) Review

24 09 2012

Copyright 2011 Hopskotch Films

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I finally got around to seeing this film recently and, if you haven’t seen this one yet, stop what you are doing right now, go to the local redbox, and rent this tonight.  Seriously, it’s the best film of last year, and I don’t mind saying that in the first sentence of my review, which says a lot.

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, this now Academy Award-winning film, stars well-known Irania actress Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi as couple Simin and Nader.  Together, they have a adolescent daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  They reside in Nader’s father’s apartment, who is essentially an invalid due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  When Nader refuses to leave their native country and his father, Simin demands a separation, to which he readily agrees.  With Simin leaving the household, Nader hires a sitter for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat).  However, after having to clean up an accident his father has on her first day, she tells Nader she can no longer do the job; the drive is too far, and she has religious concerns over touching his father to clean him up if he soils himself.  She, however, recommends her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who is out of work and deeply indebted to creditors.  The following day, when Hdjat can’t make it to the house due to a court appearance, Razieh, who is pregnant, returns with her young daughter to do the work.  However, she leaves his father unattended during the day for personal reasons.  When Nader comes home to find his father tied to a bed and nearly at a point of death, he blows up at Razieh when she returns.  The scuffle includes a slight physical interaction on his part; she, subsequently, miscarries her child.  It’s left to the court and the families to decide whether Nader is responsible.

This film, made on a minuscule budget compared to even independent American films, is a powerhouse dramatic effort.  The acting, directing, editing, cinematography, and most of all, wonderfully dramatic story, come together to create an engaging, passionate and engrossing film that will go down in history as a classic.  It’s once in a blue moon that you get to view a film that is as truly cinematic as this, and its always a special occasion that will be savored in an your mind long after it’s running time is over.

It’s films like this that renew my hope in cinema whenever the general Hollywood “fodder” has be down about the industry.  I can only hope that I can be a part of a film as special as this one day.





Latest Commercial Project Wrapped!

2 09 2012

For those of you who don’t know,  I serve as the Video/Web Specialist for a privately owned commerce company in Winston-Salem, N.C., Inmar, Inc.  One of the recent projects that I worked on was a commercial spot to try to explain exactly who we are and what we do.  Here’s how trying to answer that question usually goes (hang in there): We are a B2B commerce company that operates three individual, though collaborative, networks; those being Supply Chain, Healthcare and Promotions.  In the Supply Chain leg of our business, we handle recalls, remarketing, reverse logistics, returns, hazardous waste management, business intelligence and supply chain consulting.  For Healthcare, we operate much the same, but with emphasis on healthcare and pharmaceutical businesses. For Promotions, we reconcile and offer a multitude of services for both paper and digital coupons.  Gets a bit verbose, eh?

To remedy this situation a bit, I was tasked with creating a :90 to 2 minute spot that helped condense this down and make it more manageable for the everyday person who was unfamiliar with our business. The average person, however, doesn’t always understand the intricacies of a B2B business, so what would be the best approach?  Well, I thought about it for a bit, and what is the one thing we all are?  Consumers.  With the idea of basing the project from the point of view of the consumer and how we touch the transactions that consumers use everyday, we entered into a series of meetings with our writing team and VP of Communications.  One of our writers, Steve Eller, was nominated for the actual writing of the script.  Once his first draft was in, several revisions were made by various people in the company, and within about a week we had a solid script in place.

The script was to a final draft in very early August.  However, a goal was set to allow our CEO to take this video with him for the GMA Executive Conference – that conference began on August 25th.  The script broke down to approximately 9-11 roles, 4 locations and a voiceover underneath.  I was pretty confidant in being able to find the actors, but the 4 locations, which included a residential home, grocery store, pharmacy and returns counter, would prove more difficult.  Furthermore, I was directing, shooting, producing and editing the project; but, not the first time I’ve been on a tight deadline, so I was happy to take the challenge.

The first order of business was casting our lead actress, who ended up being someone I’ve worked with as both a DP and a director in the past, Lisa Sain Odom.  Getting an actress, who appears in every scene of the spot, that I was comfortable with, and who, likewise, was comfortable with me, was paramount.  From there, I hired out another actor I’ve worked with on several occasions, Tommy Trull.  For their children, we used one of our graphic designers, Kristen Hansen’s, kids.  Knowing the residential home would be the easiest location to fill, I set out asking around the office who was open to a small crew and cast taking over their home for a day.  Our head writer, Shannon Hanington, graciously obliged.  For help that day, I hired out longtime colleague Dan A. R. Kelly, who is literally a film production extraordinare, to be my second set of hands and eyes on set.  Our writing team, Greg, Shannon and Steve, were also on hand to help out.  The first and last scenes were shot at this location, and the first day proved a smooth and easy day for both cast and crew.

The second day on the books ended up being the returns counter segment.  At first, I was very concerned about finding this location; well, let’s be honest, I was concerned about all the other locations outside of the residential home.  But, luckily, Inmar has an in-house digital display that our clients can go through that helps show how our software and technology systems work.  Steve and I went over to see if this looked close enough to what a returns counter would at a store, and thank goodness, it looked great.  Being on site at our headquarters, it was easy to book this location, and the two actresses for this part were none other than our gracious host for the residential scenes, Shannon Hanington, and our Communications Intern, Karla Barnes.  Outside of having to send Greg out for some tough green to match the overhead fluorescents, we had another easy setup/easy shoot day.

Now, we get to the hard locations: a grocery store and a pharmacy.  After multiple false starts on both of these locations (who would have thought a grocery store and pharmacy would be so hard to get permission to shoot in?  We even had a budget for the locations!), I finally found two that would work.  The first, was a member of the IGA, Cedar Lodge in Thomasville, N.C., who I can’t speak highly enough of.  They were so gracious and open in letting us shoot at their store, I really can’t thank them enough.  Being that we needed to shoot once the store closed, our shoot day (night) for that ended up being from 8pm-midnight.  Knowing I didn’t have enough in the budget to replace overheads with color balanced tubes, or cover with 1/4 magenta, I had to use the fluorescent fixtures overhead as part of the scene.  I supplemented the ambience with a Jokerbug 800, gelled with full plus green, bounced into beadboard, and accented backlight with two in-house ARRI 650w fresnels, gelled with a 1/2 blue as well.  For this day, as well as the pharmacy shoot, another longtime trusted film colleague was on set to be my extra set of hands and eyes, Shane D. Smith.

My supervisor found us a pharmacy in her hometown the day before we were going to loose our lead actress due to availability – what luck!  The pharmacy we used was Mt. Pilot Drug in Pilot Mountain, another perfect location, and likewise, very gracious owners who didn’t mind our taking over the place for a few hours after closing.  Again, we shot in the late evening, and a very similar lighting setup was used for these scenes as was done in the grocery store with the Jokerbug 800 and the ARRI 650s.  Since the shoot took place over 5 separate days, over a two week period, I had already begun assembling the cut.  Furthermore, I got the voiceover done by professional VO artist Mark Cardnella (http://cardnella.com/), very early on so I could layer footage as it came in.  So, post on the last few scenes wasn’t too rough.

I ended up finishing the project about 3 days ahead of schedule.  Of course, there were some revisions needed as with any project of this size and scope; the final revisions were submitted Thursday late evening before our CEO was to leave the following day.  But, the video made it with him to the conference and, from what I heard, went over very well.  That’s all that really matters in the end, and makes all the stresses of a tight deadline all the more rewarding.

For those interested, here’s a link to the finished cut:


TECH SPECS:

Camera: Sony NEX-FS700 with 18-200 stock E-mount lens

Capture Resolution: 1920×1080 24p

Post: Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with process shot and outro graphic composed in Adobe After Effects CS6.  Grading completed in Adobe Speedgrade CS6.








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