Friday, December 31, 2010

Films Viewed in Past Months

Watched many flicks in the past weeks. Now, with some, I don't even recall how they were. Nevertheless as I make notes, google, memory comes back & so I write.


Exotica - 28th

Egoyan creates an intense tale that plays with mystery in a backdrop of an erotic night club; however eroticism is less of a subject than the subtleties of a fragile mind fighting inner demons photographed slowly & enacted as if in pauses.

Days of Heaven - 26th
Terrence Mallik creates an indelible environment, in which the story shapes as if poetry in motion. It's slow and silent but fueling up inside to tell a passionate love story.

Chloe - 23rd
Julianne Moore is one of the finest. And i got treat-after-treat-after-treat - watched her in three back-to-back films; all different roles, all different takes and tremendous in each. Atom Egoyan is an expert in creating solemn atmosphere and nails it here too. The film grips you though the last act moves too quick and doesn't scale the heights. The surprise is Amanda Seyfried who is bewitching to watch.

A Single Man - 23rd

Colin Firth is stupendous in this character-study of the gay man, whose love has passed-away and lost all hope to live life.

The Kids Are All Right - 22nd

An enthralling flick that has great acting from all of its cast. A lesbian family's children befriend their sperm donor and complications ensue that makes for a captivating story.

Never Let Me Go - 19th
Carrey Mulligan shines in this film slated as a dystopian drama. Based on the background of organ donors / donation it's a love story that spans decades from being kids to young adults.

Burning Plain
Guillermo Arriaga (screenwriter, Amos Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) turns a director with trademark non-linear film with trademark brooding subject. The film isn't in the league of his films directed by Inarritu however it keeps you involved and provides a pleasing experience.

Dark City - 5th
A unique, intriguing sci-fi film about man living with no sun under the rule of extraterrestrials.

Winter's Bone - 3rd
Grey surroundings. Snowy weather. Shady dealings. A teenager trying to hold on to her family amidst the gangland while looking for the body of her missing father. An effective tale seeped into realism.

L.A. Confidential - 1st
Watched it after many years since I couldn't recall the film and boy...what an experience - an ensemble cast in full form in a gripping flick.


The Producers - 29th

Entertaining comedy about a Broadway producer ending up with a super hit when he wants to create a sure-shot flop. The film seemed extended; the screenplay won the Oscar.

Salt - 28th

Quite a masala. Jolie is flying across every where. Not a bad one-time watch.

Good Night Good Luck - 23rd

Watched the super film again after some years.

Sicko - 21st
Moore in his elements as usual. Creates an effective entertaining experience.

Lost Highway - 19th
Typical Lynch. Typical strangeness. Typical brooding Pullman. Interesting & enjoyable film.

Chaplin - 16th
Great piece of acting by Downey Jr, however not too captivating a film.

Bigger Stronger Faster - 12th
Solid documentary on the ill-effects of use of steroids to pump up your muscle.

Julie and Julia - 12th
Amy Adams displays her charisma as Streep nails a quirky character in a very charming film.

Mission Impossible III - 11th
Not in the range of the earlier films but nevertheless an enjoyable action-flick with Cruise on the mark as ever.

The Notebook - 11th
A love story that pans many years tries to be an epic but falls short in its attempt to go cute.

Visions of Light - 10th
A rare insightful documentary. It has top cinematographers talking about their art and its progression over the years. A must-view for a student of cinema.

Five Easy Pieces - 9th
This is an effective slice-of-life kinda film, with Nicholson in top form. Has a sad, somber feel following life of a working man; quite a character study.

The Social Network - 7th

Absolute solid piece of work - screenplay, direction, acting....a fascinating, insightful flick with many themes on display - friendship, betrayal, social acceptance, ambition reflecting our fast-paced, heavily networked though lonely world.

About Schmidt - 6th
Not a bad subject about a man struggling to live his retired lonely life. Seemed contrived; with Nicholson at his antics that is quite likely to happen.

Blade Runner - 6th
A neat sci-fi riding with symbolism by Ridley Scott.

Zodiac - 4th
Ambitious film by David Fincher. It tends to slow down at times, is long but is quite an impressive flick to watch.

Iron Man 2 - 3rd
Not in the league of first, but still pretty entertaining. Robert Downey Jr. was as captivating as ever.


The Thin Blue Line - 31st
A thriller of a documentary by Eroll Morris.

Fearless - 30th
Interesting flick on the subject of death by Peter Weir.

Fog of War - 30th
About former US Secretary of Defense, McNamara. Quite a revealing documentary of the man and the history by Eroll Morris.

I Am Love - 29th
Quite a solemn feel of the flow of the film with super acting by Tilda Swinton.

Solitary Man - 29th
Good subject. Contrived treatment. Not a bad watch though.

Gates of Heaven - 28th
A unique, funny documentary that can be seen as contemplative; Errol Morris's debut documentary on two pet cemeteries.

The Damned United - 28th

A fun, energetic film on the English football league manager, Brian Clough; great chemistry between Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall to highlight the camaraderie between Clough and his assistant, Taylor. Screenplay adaptation by good ol' Peter Morgan.

The End of Violence
Interesting depiction by Wim Wenders in a captivating film in which Bill Pullman does his typical brooding role.

State of Play
Though not great, an enjoyable Hollywood masala with Russel Crowe playing a journalist probing the state of affairs in Washington regarding corporate mess-up and the death of his friend's (Congressman) mistress.

Don't Look Now
Narrative flows back-n-forth in a film that's a psychological drama combined with a thriller in an off-beat treatment, creating eerie effects amidst solemn story-telling that focuses on a couple who have lost one of their children.

The Town
A thriller-romance that flows well, does okay but tries to play too cool.

25th Hour
Strong performances, strong cast with the likes of Edward Norton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a Spike Lee film about a guy's last hours before he goes to jail early morning.

Money Never Sleeps

Sequel to Wall street that is too over-the-top and not so effective. Gekko is too subdued.


Found it okay in the first viewing. On second, found it better. A deliberate total-masala flick of Salman Khan that had much more potential than it delivered. Got too cute and didn't delve much into the character, when it actually had a good plotline going.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (on TV)
Didn't expect much but was pleasantly surprised ignoring some of the cliched situations and dialogues. SRK rocks in such characters and he shone brightly in this enjoyable flick.

Hitchcock is bang on in this film chiefly set-up in one house. Solid evidence on Hitchcock's amazing craftsmanship and story-telling skills.

An Education
A touching film with solid performance by the young Carry Mulligan on a subject of growing-up when the world is full of opportunities and yet.

Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle's impressive debut film about weird characters and incidents that end up changing lives of the folks involved. You can see Trainspotting coming after watching this film!

Mesrine - Parts I & II French)
Deadly performance by Vincent Cassel portraying the real-life criminal. Fast-paced & violent, it's quite a riveting film.

Being There
Satire about a slow-in-the-head gardener, played by Peter Sellers, who befriends a billionaire and earns admiration of the USA president as they take his simplistic manners as a man of great wisdom.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Look for the Holes | Psychology Today

This is interesting stuff. Critical for consideration when developing characters. To figure out their 'wounds' and 'blind-spots.' The whole film would chiefly be about the 'holes', which would need to be dug open, immersed-in, enabling the arc of the character/s.

Look for the Holes | Psychology Today

So what are the holes in your own life? What don't you want to talk about? What relationships do you ignore? What emotions are you reluctant to feel? In the balancing of body, emotions, reason, and spirit, what is most left out? By approaching what you resist, dormant aspects of yourself come alive; energy that has been used to hold these back is released.

Look for the Holes | Psychology Today

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BAFTA Podcasts - The BAFTA site

Great link to podcasts of film folks. Includes one by Peter Morgan, screenwriter Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Damned United & Hereafter amidst other stuff.

BAFTA Podcasts - Access All Areas - The BAFTA site

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Went Wrong with Hollywood Romantic Comedies? | indiWIRE

Anthony D'Alessandro lists five reasons why the rom-com has lost its mojo::
1. Studios spent too much.  The majors may have curbed their spending on dramas to a $25 to $40 million cap, but they miscalculated profit ratios on rom-coms. These relationship films aren't suppose to be expensive. They have minimal to zero VFX shots and are set to profit on home turf with foreign takes as upside gravy. Brooks didn't need to shell out $50 million on How Do You Know's dramatis personae. Actors are clamoring to work with him. Like Woody Allen, he can name his own price for talent, just like he can demand final cut. Some studios keep stepping up to higher rom-com bills as leading ladies' paychecks spike with each hit.  As Heigl's payday swelled from $6 million to $13 million between The Ugly Truth ($88.9 million) and The Killers ($47.1 million), so did the film's respective budgets jump from $38 million to $75 million. 

Likewise, Sex and the City 2 ($95.3 million domestic B.O.) was 54% more expensive than its first chapter, which cost $65 million and grossed $415.3 worldwide. The real ugly truth is that just as A-grade actresses get paid more, their films often bomb. Marshall was able to keep a $52-million rein on Valentine's Day by minimizing shooting days for Roberts and Hathaway. Studios looking to launch fresh faces and break formulaic rules gambled less: frugal Screen Gems spent just $8 million on Easy A.
2. Filmmakers mismatched genres. Comedy-dramas can pose marketing challenges and mislead audiences. Edward Zwick's Love & Other Drugs ($30.2 million) was sold as an adult sexy comedy in its posters, but critics were put off by the melodramatic Parkinson Disease plotline centering around Hathaway's character.  Moaning mid-life crisis protags proved unattractive and unfunny in How Do You Know.  And what exactly is The Tourist ($30.6 million domestic B.O., $100+ million cost)?  Sony's trailers pitched it as a suspense thriller, but director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck told the Hollywood Foreign Press that it's a comedy.
3. Marketers sent the wrong message. Rom-com ad campaigns fell short in lucidly selling their plots.  What message was Paramount sending in its Morning Glory outdoor/print ads?  The question asked in their one-sheets was: "What's the story? Morning Glory." What did that mean? Most Witherspoon vehicles carry a catchy title with a clear idea of her film's premise: Legally Blonde easily conveys that it's about a ditzy blonde attorney.  How Do You Know's print ads were as confusing as the stars' facial expressions. The promos for Sex and the City 2 pried the film from its New York roots and core fans by playing up its Abu Dhabi setting. One distrib exec cried, "It's not called 'Sex and the Desert!'" One effective poster was Fox's Date Night campaign, which displayed Carell and Fey muddied up and dressed to the nines – clear proof that the comedy was about a romantic night gone wrong.
4. Bad timing.  Rom-coms largely serve as counter programming on the release schedule.  However, there were potholes on the calendar.  Memorial  Day weekend is primed for family/tentpole fare, not femme-driven films like Sex and the City 2.  Warner Bros. succeeded with the bow of the first Sex and the City by making its non-holiday weekend an event for its fangirls. Love & Other Drugs and Burlesque could have padded their ticket sales by staying out of each other's way during the crowded Thanksgiving weekend. Both attracted women over 25.  On the other hand, Fox's Date Night showed impeccable timing, catering to adults after kids' spring break. Unopposed by frosh studio bows, the pic chalked up a solid $25.2 million start during the April 9-11 weekend.
5. Relying on tarnished star power. Lead actors are supposed to be insurance against bad scripts; assets that lure financing and solidify decent projections. Brooks' How Do You Know has thrown a monkey wrench into those formulas, proving that the team of Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson and Paul Rudd did not trigger a stampede. The film's paltry bow demonstrates that audiences are savvier in the social media age, read more web reviews and aren't easily duped. The star system works only when romantic stars are well-matched.

Fox caught lightning in a bottle by toplining Date Night with two popular NBC sitcom stars, Fey and Carell.  Strong marquee stars are essential, especially when their partner is not an event-driven commodity like Roberts (who ably carried Eat Pray Love).  Thus Josh Duhamel didn't work wonders for Kristen Bell (When in Rome: $32.7 million domestic) nor Katherine Heigl (Life as We Know It: $52.2 million domestic). However, Vince Vaughn saved the day with last year's Couples Retreat: $109.2 million). Several date movie stars need to regain heir footing: Aniston must pick a better crop of directors/projects that translate to the masses and critics. Meanwhile, Heigl, one of the few femmes who can get a romantic comedy off the ground battles a bad diva image and sliding ticket sales, off significantly from her 2007 high, Judd Apatow's Knocked Up ($148.8 million).

Rom-coms are not yet dead: but they're in need of serious repair. 

The full article by Anne Thompson: What Went Wrong with Hollywood Romantic Comedies?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Producer Spotlight: Paula Wagner

Go Into The Story: Producer Spotlight: Paula Wagner

Myer's Observations:

* Wagner concurs with the conventional wisdom about the market catering to big movies and small movies with mid-range budget films being squeezed out due to economic considerations.

* Myths, legends, history, contemporary culture: Nice confirmation of the focus I put in my teaching on Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung.

* Wagner's definition of great moviemaking: "Their content, their story and their characters – they take you to somewhere you've never been." Print-worthy quote, don't you think? * "Making a film takes two things: money and distribution. Everything else will fall in place if you have those two." Believe me, producers have those two issues front and center every time they read a script. Can I get funding for this project? Can I get it distributed?

Go Into The Story: Producer Spotlight: Paula Wagner

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Exclusive Photo: George Lucas' Legendary 50th Birthday Party

"With a little help of my friends..."

Boy...what a group of pals. What a real life story:

Lucas' Legendary 50th Birthday Party - The Hollywood Reporter

Critics pick the best movies of 2010

2010 Film Critic Top Ten Lists  [Updated Dec. 18]

Current Top 10

1     The Social Network
2     Winter's Bone
3     Black Swan
4     Toy Story 3
5     Inception
6     Carlos
7     The Ghost Writer
8     The Kids Are All Right
9     Dogtooth
10   Another Year

2010 Film Critic Top Ten Lists

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scott Myers: Yet more reasons why Pixar are the best storytellers today

A nice LAT article yesterday featuring the director and co-story writer of Toy Story 3 Lee Unkrich.  You should read it all including the front part which describes how Pixar approached doing a sequel to a movie (Toy Story 2) which they felt already had a perfect ending.  What I want to focus on are two scenes in the movie.  First what Unkrich has to say about the riveting conveyor belt scene:

Yet, Unkrich, screenwriter Michael Arndt and the rest of the creative team never backed away from raw truths, either. When the toys find themselves on a conveyor belt heading into a landfill incinerator, it would have been easy, Unkrich says, to have Mr. Potato Head crack a joke or to have inserted a series of silly sight gags as the toys tried to scurry to safety. Instead, they clasp hands, look into each others' eyes and face their demise with a quiet grace and dignity.

"When I talked to my animators about it, I thought, 'If I were on an airplane with my family and something happened and we were in an emergency, what would I do?'" Unkrich remembers. "Would we be screaming our heads off? I don't think so. I think we'd get very quiet and we'd gather as a family and I'd hold my children and face what was about to happen."
Then what in my estimation is one of the best cinematic denouements ever:
And, in those closing moments — a scene that proved so adept at opening the tear ducts of viewers that Unkrich and company had to scramble and craft a closing-credits epilogue to give moviegoers a chance to compose themselves — Pixar fashioned another perfect ending.

Because, despite what Woody said at the end of "Toy Story 2," we see that, all these years later, he's still so attached to Andy that he can't see the writing on the wall. The other toys know Andy isn't going to play with them again, but Woody's almost delusional in his devotion.

"I love that by the end of the film, not only does Woody learn to let go of Andy and see that one of the most loving things you can do sometimes is let somebody go, but also his feelings from the beginning of the movie are completely vindicated," Unkrich says. "Andy plays with them again. We created this safe environment where Andy can do that, even though he's 17 years old. We kind of got our cake and ate it too."
Those two scenes and the rationale Unkrich provides for them say so much about why Pixar are master storytellers:

* They embrace the humanity of their characters.  Even if they're not human, Pixar characters each have qualities with which we, as moviegoers can identify.

* They don't shy away from emotion, recognizing that a viewer's emotional resonance with characters and moments is a big part of a story's meaning.

* They treat emotional issues both honestly and restraint, not going over the top, but simple moments: on the conveyor belt, wordlessly holding hands as they approach their presumed doom; a teenager and a little girl playing with toys in a front yard.

* They think about story themes: life, death, separation, belief, community, family, tradition, each of those is at play in both of the scenes referenced above and the movie itself.

* They embrace beauty, finding it over and over and over again in the lives of their characters and the key moments they share.

Important lessons all for screenwriters.

Why do you think Pixar are such great storytellers?

For more of the article, go here. j

Inception: Nolan’s Hand-Drawn Map

Thompson on Hollywood

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Michael Arndt Digs Into Toy Story 3 and the Genius of the Pixar System - Thompson on Hollywood

Michael Arndt Digs Into Toy Story 3 and the Genius of the Pixar System - Thompson on Hollywood


This is the whole genius of the movie, that you're going to let time elapse in real time, so that Andy will have grown up, and he's going off to college, so ten years in real time is ten years in screen time, and that way you are giving your characters a real problem.

Now, it's not like the toys go to outer space or Japan or something like that. The toys have to deal with what seems to be the end of their natural life, and facing these fears of obsolescence, of being replaced or being disposable.

When I first got there, I was like, 'is it the people or is it the system? Where's the genius?' And to a degree it's the combination. Obviously you have a lot of smart, hard-working people all over the place, and you also have animation companies that use the same animation system, so it's this combination of the two.

It really is to a degree like lightning in a bottle. I mean, every Pixar film…I've been there when films weren't working, and you go 'Oh my god are they going to be able to pull this off?'

And it's so collaborative, and I don't think that you can actually point to any one person. The metaphor I could use is that writing one of these scripts or making one of these films is like building a Cathedral. It really is the expression of a whole creative community.

Until you get there you can't imagine how much work goes in, and not even just making the movie, just putting the story together is such a laborious process. And it's really because you make the film like seven or eight times.

There were some scenes where I wrote sixty drafts, just because you are always honing and honing and polishing so that it just works.

You never want your second act or the whole movie to just be this relentless march towards its goal. You want things to take the audience by surprise.

AT: How long did that take? It took three years to write?

MA: Yeah.

And then—and this is always sort of the hardest scene to write in screenwriting—you have your fun in the beginning, and then your characters actually have to sit down and have a conversation.

As soon as you have something - well, they start boarding almost immediately. Almost immediately they bring in people to start boarding stuff.

You do sketches of an entire film, you do initially scratch recording, then you start layering the characters, you do scratch music, you do sound effects, and you basically create a movie in a rough form.

And then—this is what's so crucial to the process of animation and what makes it so different from live-action, is—I'd actually finished my script, I sent it out to everyone, everyone reads it on their own, and reading is sort of a private experience, you know, and everyone writes up their notes on their own, and it's a hub-and-spokes system.

Everyone sends their stuff back to me, but it's everyone's individual reactions, unmediated by anyone else's experience. And at Pixar, you show it in a big theatre with everybody sitting there, so when everyone laughs you feel the laughter, or when everyone is bored, you feel the rustling, or hopefully, when it's moving at the end, you can hear people sniffling. Just as a writer you get a sense of what's working and what's not working.

AT: So how many times does that happen?

MA: Seven or eight.

AT: And that's the whole movie?

MA: The whole movie. In a very rough stage, but with the thematics. But as problems start getting solved, for example there's that one scene that I did seven drafts of and we're like, 'its done, it does what it needs to do.' And then you can go, 'OK this is approved for production.'

I'm still writing, which means you're still going back to the actors for recording dialogue, and you're still going back to guys sketching and just throwing it up on screen to see if it will work. It is such a luxury as a writer to be able to make mistakes, put it up on screen, go back, have a huddle and try again.

And then the last part of the process is you screen it in public and you get together in a room and you've got John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Pete Doctor, you know it's like, my metaphor is that it's as though the Harlem Globe Trotters are in your living room, and you just have ideas like flying all over the place and jokes flying all over the place and you can—I've said this before- - you can feel the story getting better on a minute-to-minute basis, because a lot of times when things are going well you just feel this energy in the room.

The great thing about the animation process is that is goes from, I write the lines, it goes to the actors, the actors bring a whole world to that, they bring the characters to life, then it goes to the animators, then it goes to the editor who cuts it together and then you screen it and it goes back through the system again.

So that all these pieces of the machine are all talking to each other at the same time, it's like a real dialogue. In live action you do all your writing, then you do all your production, then you do all your editing, and if you're a writer, a lot of times you just get thrown out, so that's why it's very gratifying to be a voice in that process, a part of the ongoing process.

AT: At what stage do your pages get turned into animation?

MA: What happens is you break the script into twenty-five sequences, so it's like these are all solid, don't worry about them, here are your problem sequences, work on them.

So lets say I'll attack three or four scenes, and what I'll do is I'll write a draft and hand it in to Lee the director and he'll go, 'eh, X, Y and Z.' So then I go back and I'll go through that very small two-person feedback loop for five or six passes, basically, until Lee finally goes, 'OK, I think that's it.'

And then he'll take it from me and hand if off to the story guys and they'll start sketching it and they can add jokes, they can add visual stuff, they figure out how to frame it, if there is a way you can communicate information visually rather than verbally, so I was embarrassed sometimes to find the scenes come back to me shorter because things can be done visually instead of having to rely on dialogue.

Michael Arndt Digs Into Toy Story 3 and the Genius of the Pixar System - Thompson on Hollywood