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Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
10:32 pm - Gone Baby Gone
I'm usually skeptical when actors decide to get behind the camera, so this one caught me by surprise.

It's always hard for me to come up with an answer when people ask me what kinds of movies I like. I love movies of all kinds, all genres, and all styles. But if I make a list of my favorite films, one consistency stands out. I seem to really like movies with ambiguous endings. I hate it when movies spell everything out or neatly tie up all the loose ends. (For example, I think Shawshank Redemption would be a much better film if it ended on the shot of the bus driving away.)

Without spoiling anything, I can say that Gone Baby Gone gets it right. I absolutely love that the movie does not draw clear lines between right and wrong or good and evil. And while the movie does spell out what probably lies in the characters' futures, it doesn't judge the characters and takes no sides on the issue of whether the main character ended up making the right decision. That's left up for the viewers to debate. I actually think he makes the wrong decision, but I could debate that with myself for hours. And stimulating debate is exactly what a movie like this should do.

It's a fine line. Watching those final scenes from a filmmaking perspective is like watching someone successfully walk a tightrope strung between two skyscrapers on a windy day. Not bad for a guy whose only other directing credit is this film!

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Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
12:06 am - Once - movie recommendation

I've seen the Irish film Once not once, but four times now, and I like it better every time. Every year, there are one or two films that absolutely hook me, and this year, it's Once.

The film tells the intimate story of a guy and a girl (you never learn their names) who decide to create music together. He's a guitarist, and she plays piano. One could call it a realist musical, shot documentary-style in Dublin. The couple performing the main roles are real musicians, not actors, and yet they give us not just great music, but also the two most touching, subtle, and genuine acting performances I've seen this year. And all this because a friend of theirs decided to make a small, cheap movie on HD, wrote an outline of a story (ala Wong Kar-Wai), and managed to get a $150,000 grant from the Irish Film Board. This is just one more example of why public funds for art are so important. A film like this would never have been made by Hollywood.

It'll be out on DVD soon. If you've ever experienced anything like the story in the movie (I know I have), you will be absolutely floored. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Sunday, February 25th, 2007
11:06 pm - Today was a good day...

It sure was cool seeing Scorsese up there with the rest of the "New Hollywood"-mafia. The organizers planning the show clearly knew whose name was in the envelope when they chose Lucas, Spielberg, and Coppola to do the presenting.

Overall, this was the least disillusioning Oscar show that I can remember. I was happy enough when Dreamgirls didn't get nominated for Best Picture, but I was pleasantly surprised when the film lost all three of its nominated songs to An Inconvenient Truth. In fact, I'm really pleased with just about every category (though cinematography should have gone to Children of Men).

Jolly good show...

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Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
11:03 am - Oscar noms 2007...
I'm actually very pleased with the Oscar nominations this year. For one thing, I'm glad Dreamgirls didn't get into the Best Picture and Best Director categories. And I'd actually be perfectly happy to see any of the nominated films win this year.

Except for one thing. It's Clint Eastwood vs. Martin Scorsese again... (Clint 2 ; Marty 0)

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Wednesday, January 17th, 2007
11:26 pm - Snow in Westwood...
A friend who works in Westwood sent out a bunch of pictures like this one today. It may have been more like hail than snow, but it's a testament to how damn cold it's been around here lately.

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Tuesday, October 24th, 2006
11:53 pm - Movies and your IQ...
I am now absolutely convinced that movies and television can have an immediate (though somewhat temporary) effect on your intelligence.

A couple of days ago, I watched Idiocracy - the new Mike Judge film that was essentially buried by the studio. And while I commend the film's premise (a science fiction comedy about a future in which mankind's intelligence has dive-bombed), I also can't deny the fact that I felt about 50 IQ points stupider when I was done watching it. And I guess that's appropriate, since the movie blames television as one of the causes of the intelligence crash.

Today I watched Al Pacino's excellent documentary Looking for Richard, and I feel I've regained a good portion of those IQ points. Thank you, Mr. Pacino and Mr. Shakespeare!

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Wednesday, October 18th, 2006
2:23 am - Two movies I saw today...
It seems like lately, all my public posts are about movies. I gotta work on that.

Americano - queso, I think you'd dig this film. It's not a "great" movie by any means, but anyone who's ever had the experience of being an American exploring Spain in their twenties should appreciate this modern complement to Hemingway. It made me regret that I spent most of my three days in Barcelona bed-ridden. (I really need to go back to Europe soon!) The only weak link in this movie is Dennis Hopper, which unfortunately is something I've said about a few of his movies lately.

The Last Kiss - This is less of a movie recommendation, and more of a warning. I remember when Closer came out, all of my friends who were married or in serious relationships hated it, and all of my single friends liked it a lot. This will elicit similar responses. It's a story that justifies being single. If you know me, you'll know what my reaction was.

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Thursday, October 5th, 2006
1:36 am - Fun with censorship...
So I was QC'ing the Thai DVD of Mission: Impossible 3, which is censored so that when Tom Cruise points a dart-gun at Philip Seymour Hoffman, the gun is blurred out. And when Philip Seymour lights a cigarette, text appears on screen that says "Smoking is bad for your health." No joke. And when someone drinks a beer, it says "Alcohol is bad for your health." It's like the Monty Python version of M:I3.

I'm surprised there isn't text over Tom Cruise that says "Scientology is bad for your brain."

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Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
9:55 pm - Sam Jackson stole my phone!

What the?!?! Apparently Sam Jackson is using my cell phone number to call random people and tell them to see Snakes on a Plane...

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Tuesday, July 18th, 2006
7:23 pm - Say goodbye to the age of standard definition...

Sony just announced two new prosumer HD camcorders for under $1500. That's about half of what the previous generation of HD camcorders was going for. And just in time for Christmas!

New HD camcorders from Sony

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Thursday, July 13th, 2006
4:39 pm - Flying United?
Just got a note from the director of "Dance With Me", a short film for which I was the director of photography. Apparently "Dance With Me" is airing on United's in-flight programming for the month of July. If anyone catches it, let me know!

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Wednesday, June 7th, 2006
1:09 am - Jarhead
I've been getting a lot of militaristic movies at work lately. Last week it was Taps (Tom Cruise goes batshit and gets blown to bits). This week it was Jarhead, which I'd missed in its theatrical release. It was in HD, though, so it was just as good as seeing in the theater. I do have a few thoughts.

Black plumes rise from burning Kuwaiti oil fields. American marines drift through the scorched landscape like zombies, as a helicopter flies overhead blasting The Doors' "Break On Through". Jake Gyllenhaal steps up into frame and pronounces: "That's Vietnam music! Can't we get our own fucking music?!" (The answer comes in another scene, in the form of Nirvana.)

And thus Donnie Darko goes to war and war movies go post-modern. Sam Mendes set out to make a Desert Storm movie, but I got the distinct impression that what he really wanted to make was a tribute to every single Vietnam movie ever made. There are references to all the major ones I can think of - even Rambo.

It goes so far as to show marines watching the "Ride of the Valkyries" sequence from Apocalypse Now. For the most part, Jarhead doesn't really make a statement about the actual Gulf War, so much as it tries to put it into context with Vietnam. As Jake Gyllenhaal says near the end, "Every war is different. And every war is the same." I suppose the movie (and presumably the book as well) is trying to portray the Gulf War as being born from Vietnam. (It's actually spelled out in a flashback scene of Jake's character being conceived while his father is "on R&R from Vietnam.")

The connection doesn't really pay off successfully, save for a scene near the end, when the returning Gulf War vets are greeted by a grungy, homeless-looking Vietnam veteran. The film does successfully portray the Gulf War as a kind of coitus interruptus of wars - with its long build-up to a short battle with little payoff. Most of the film, though, will probably seem more relevant to fans of war movies than those wishing to know specifically about the Gulf War experience. But it's all done with great visual flair, stellar 5.1, and editing by Apocalypse Now veteran/genius Walter Murch. As a certified film buff, I do recommend seeing this one, if only just once.

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Saturday, February 18th, 2006
12:36 am - Winter Passing
Sometimes you go looking for what you want. . . and find what you need.

Just got back from seeing Winter Passing with my aunt's family. The movie stars Zooey Deschanel, Ed Harris, Will Ferrell, and my cousin Robert. I knew he'd only be in three scenes, so I was surprised to find out that this was more than just a small walk-on role. In fact, he gets the girl. And not just any girl. Zooey Deschanel (who played the attractive older sister in Almost Famous) actually goes to bed with my cousin, and essentially walks off into the sunset with him in the last scene.

Robert literally plays himself. His character is called Rob, and the part was written for him by the writer/director, whom he went to school with at Julliard. If that's not impressive enough, the movie actually turned out to be quite good. It's very much the kind of film I appreciate, in that it isn't afraid to take the time to build character, mood, and emotion, without a contrived focus on plot. It reminded me a lot of Lost in Translation in that regard. And for what it's worth, Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs up, and the Wall Street Journal really liked it.

I can say that I've gained a higher appreciation for Zooey Deschanel as an actress. She's definitely worthy of better roles than the one she played in Elf, and besides, she has the most amazing big blue eyes. If they were any bigger, she'd be an anime character.

The movie also stars Amelia Warner, a British actress who bears a striking resemblance to Natalie Portman. I had just watched her play Charlize Theron's sister in Aeon Flux at work earlier today. As for Will Ferrell, he's supposedly trying to show some serious acting chops in this film, but I'm not sure how he expected to do that when the character he plays is a gay, Christian rocker who delivers lines like "Jesus is my co-pilot"! :-) Actually, he did make me laugh a few times.

Finally, I should mention that the movie also has a great soundtrack: My Morning Jacket (!!!), Azure Ray, the Shins - we're talking my kind of music here. Good stuff all around!

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Friday, February 3rd, 2006
6:50 pm - Funny and not so funny...
Funniest thing I heard all week:

While I was at the store last night, a girl was trying to convince her friend she didn't need to buy anti-wrinkle cream for her face. Her friend's response: "Dude, I turned 20 this year. I'm a hag!"

Yes, I remember when I turned 20, but I think the thoughts running through my head were more along the lines of "Dude, just one more year and I won't need a fake ID!"

Not so funny:

Doctor Dolittle 3 wins the prize for the worst thing I've ever had to watch at work. It even beats out The Honeymooners and Dora the Explorer. In fact, it might even qualify as one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and I don't make that judgment lightly because I've seen LOTS of bad movies.

Speaking of bad movies, I'm supposed to watch Get Rich or Die Tryin' today, so I looked it up on the imdb. Not only did it get a 2.3/10 rating, it's also #27 on the imdb bottom 100! Of the thousands of movies I've ever seen, only two have worse imdb ratings: The Honeymooners and Leonard Part 6. Both movies are excellent examples of cinematic excrement. I highly recommend them to anyone in need of some perspective because they think Donnie Darko or The Spanish Prisoner are the worst movies they've ever seen. Ahem... ;-)

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Wednesday, February 1st, 2006
12:29 am - Oscar noms...
"It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" got nominated for Best Song! Brilliant!

I've seen three out of the five Best Picture nominations, and out of those three, Munich is the most deserving. Of course, I may change my mind once I see Brokeback and Crash. I'm surprised Constant Gardener didn't make the list, given that it's a much better film than Good Night, and Good Luck. I thought the latter was a fascinating and important story, but as a film, it was merely good.

I commend the Academy for completely ignoring Star Wars - Episode III in the Visual Effects category. There were no visual effects in that movie! It was a friggin animated film!

Likewise, ILM got ignored for their shoddy work on Harry Potter this year. It only proves what I've been saying for years - that ILM really isn't the top dog in the field anymore. Weta and Framestore CFC now hold that honor. (Framestore did Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but unfortunately weren't asked back for the fourth one...)

Two of my favorite performances of the year got some love from the Academy: Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote and Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line. I saw Capote over the weekend, and PSH really is one of the most brilliant actors alive today. I have yet to see him duplicate a performance. The movie was also an interesting follow-up to watching Breakfast at Tiffany's at work last week. I think someone should do a faithful adaptation of the original Capote novel, and cast PSH in the part that George Peppard played.

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Tuesday, January 24th, 2006
1:22 am - Patton
Watched Patton at work tonight. I'm embarrassed to say that this was the first time I've ever seen it (I'm a huge fan of Coppola's work in the 1970s). The film is amazing, George C. Scott (one of my favorite actors) is awesome, and Coppola's script truly impressed me. My co-worker pointed out that John Milius always gets the credit for being the main creative writing force behind Apocalypse Now, but Patton proves that Coppola definitely had a hand in the matter. ("Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!")

Anyhow, on the new special edition DVD, Coppola appears at the beginning of the film for a short introduction, and talks about the fact that he was fired from the film because of the weird, unconventional things he was doing in the screenplay (like starting out with a scene of Patton addressing the audience directly).

And of course, Coppola went on to win the Oscar with Patton for Best Screenplay. He goes on to say something like "Now all you young people take note! The things you get fired for are often the things you get celebrated for later in life!"

What a great point! Having gone to film school, and dealt with grizzled old professors saying things like "That'll never work" or "That's not how it's done," I couldn't help but applaud what Coppola was saying. Every great artist that ever lived was initially laughed at because they tried to do something differently than it's generally been done. But that's what great art is all about, and film school should encourage experimentation. Unfortunately, USC film school did nothing of the sort, but that's another can of worms altogether.

Coppola also relates an anecdote about how the studio was renting one of American Zoetrope's flatbeds to edit Patton. When it broke down, the studio called up Zoetrope and asked for a repair guy. Since Coppola's company didn't have one, Coppola went down to the studio himself disguised as a repair man, fixed the flatbed, and then asked the editors what movie they were cutting. When they said Patton, he replied "Oh, yeah, I wrote that movie..." and left!

Now that's Hollywood!

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Sunday, January 22nd, 2006
9:03 pm - This blows...
The winds in Burbank right now are 40-60mph. The wind is actually blowing through the crack under my front door and rustling things around the apartment. I'm guessing my door mat is halfway to Mexico by now. Crazy...

It's supposed to last until Tuesday. Based on past wind storms we've had, I expect clean, bright-blue skies the rest of the week.

Update 9:43pm - The wind is now so loud, I'm actually afraid to go outside. I'm worried the door might get blown off the hinges...

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Saturday, January 14th, 2006
10:20 pm - More home improvement...
I've finally taken the plunge from CRT to LCD - at least as far as my computer monitor is concerned. I now own a monitor worthy of my G5 - a very nice Samsung with a refresh rate of 6ms.

Now that this archaic beast is no longer cluttering up space, I have an excuse to clean up the rest of my desk. It's funny how the last four weeks of home improvement and reorganization have actually resulted in a really messy apartment, with all the boxes and old things that I haven't thrown out yet scattered around my living room. I expect it all to be finished within the next two weeks, though.

In the meantime, the bedroom is basically done.

click to seeCollapse )

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Thursday, January 12th, 2006
12:39 am - The year of remakes...
I watched the original Poseidon Adventure at work tonight, which is just one of a whole slew of movies being remade this year. Never mind that there was a made-for-TV Poseidon Adventure-remake less than a year ago! Wolfgang Petersen is handling this one. I guess he has experience with this sort of thing, given that he directed Das Boot. Too bad the trailer emphasizes his lesser efforts (Troy and The Perfect Storm).

They're remaking The Omen this year as well. It'll hit theaters on, oh yes, 6-06-06...

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Sunday, January 8th, 2006
11:19 pm - Munich (the movie)...
I went to see Munich with Nickolay, Miriam, and Jeremy. Three out of four of us were shaken and disturbed by the film (Nickolay thought it was very good - but he's too jaded to be affected emotionally). It's Spielberg's most mature film to date, without any of the sentimentalism of either Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan. It's also his most well-directed film, and the best screenplay he's ever worked with (by Angels in America writer Tony Kushner).

But what disturbed and angered me almost more than anything in the movie was the fact that an older man sitting in the row in front of us kept applauding every time the main characters successfully assassinated someone. He must have thought he was watching an action movie, completely missing the real point of the film.

And yes, I still think it should have been titled Vengeance instead...

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