Category Archives: filmmaking

finiculi, finicula

Kickassclassical.com features a nicely organized roster of classical hits that show up frequently in movies, along with snarky commentary and samples. If you’re writing a cartoon script or need a public domain cliche for your independent short, this site is … Continue reading

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the sweet smell of success

You can borrow your friends’ houses or build a fake restaurant in somebody’s basement once. You can convince actors, even good actors, to work for free once. You can steal time in an edit bay once. You can quit your job and let your spouse support you… once. The myth of the clever, resourceful no-budget filmmaker remains charming only because most people outside of L.A. aren’t actually friends with a no-budget filmmaker. Or, to be more honest in the nomenclature, a leech. All the things that make no-budget filmmaking possible are essentially favors. And everybody’s willing to help a friend out once, especially if it’s to set that friend on a career path — even one as improbable as becoming a Hollywood filmmaker.

But imagine if you had a piano-playing friend who came to you every couple of months and asked you for a couple hundred dollars to help him rent a piano. You might justifiably wonder aloud why your friend didn’t get a job playing piano at a hotel bar down by the airport — at which point your friend would sigh and shake his head and turn away from you irritably. And you would probably begin to see piano music as less of “an extravagant gift from the heart” and more of a goddamned nuisance and egotistical waste of time. Which is what most independent filmmaking, let’s be honest, probably is.

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how to lose a gun in 10 days

I love Southland because, although it at first seems to be a fairly straightforward police procedural, it knocks down our genre expectations at every turn, providing less of the “Justice! Fuck yeah!” feeling Law & Order strives so hard for and instead showing both crime and law enforcement to be pursuits heavily influenced by chance and random opportunity. Every episode makes perfect sense, and the resolution to each is complete and correct, but frequently it feels that story has meandered far, far away from its inciting incident — which is what makes the show so fascinating.

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Aerosmith is mildly embarrassed by the hommage

I can’t tell if this is another example of the migration of independent film out of the hands of trained artists and into the hands of ordinary people, or if these guys are actually film students: This is not particularly … Continue reading

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when you don’t know a classic as well as you think you do

I had apparently never seen The Dirty Dozen all the way through. It’s one of those that has slipped through the cracks, somehow. As with The Shining, a movie I finally watched from start to finish only last year, I knew the plot and had seen certain key scenes many times. I knew the characters almost instinctively, probably because they’re epitomes of certain kinds of action movie anti-heroes: John Cassavetes’ loudmouth misfit, Charles Bronson’s quiet tough guy, Lee Marvin’s iron-jawed leader of men, Jim Brown’s dignified black icon. (Only the creepy rapist/religious maniac played by Telly Savalas seems to break out of the box, and even he is purposefully set up as the one member of the group who’s “really” a criminal.) But somehow I had never actually, well, watched the movie.

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things you may or may not want to watch, depending….

Disney’s new big-screen nature-doc spectacle, earth, is actually a condensation of the BBC/Discovery Channel small-screen nature-doc spectacle, Planet Earth. But hey, nothing wrong with that — Disney stays profitable, a bunch of British nature photographers get to move to slightly more comfortable London flats, and we all benefit from the gentle but clear lessons about disappearing ice floes and expanding deserts. But earth is peculiarly Walt Disneyesque — no, not because it features fluffy polar bear cubs and ducklings taking their first flight, but because everything gets eaten.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7sbkKsMo9s&hl=en&fs=1]

One of the first images we see in earth is that of a lonely, starving male polar bear slowly making its way across a sunless Arctic waste, migrating instinctively toward better hunting grounds. That image is everything one needs to know about the worldview of both Walt Disney and the studio he founded; as Edward Rothstein wrote in a review of Tarzan in the New York Times,

Disney films — from “Snow White” to “Mulan” — have almost always been about outsiders, like Tarzan, seeking a home in an inhospitable world. These figures are rejected, isolated, alien, the victims of jealousy, snobbery, banality and hatred.

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Posted in adventure, filmmaking, nature, philosophy, science, the environment | 2 Comments

you didn’t bring enough pigs to stop me

There’s nothing wrong with a movie in which characters do horrifically inappropriate things, as I argued a week ago. The problem with Observe and Report is that deep down it wants us to approve of its characters’ lousy behavior and to be glad when they “succeed,” as if the violence that explodes out of, say, Travis Bickle at the end of Taxi Driver was basically a really weird route to career satisfaction. And it’s never explained why Ronnie’s violent responses to ordinary situations don’t land him in jail. You can’t — I repeat CANNOT — shoot a flasher at the cosmetics counter in the mall and not go to jail.

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i couldn’t get the goat (a COTMC postscript)

On the surface, many of Cassavetes’ characters appear to be somewhere on the spectrum between hideously self-involved and dangerously insane. They make other people profoundly uncomfortable, they don’t respond correctly to social cues, they pick fights (and lose), they cry, they jabber on annoyingly, they bully, they withdraw. They give their children beer in the middle of the afternoon and teach them horrible, conflicted values. When they’re nervous, they try to make any situation into a party, singing and dancing and laughing too loud while those around them blanch in embarrassment or quietly try to urge dignity and restraint….

These people are so wearying!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIqSqbNuMTA&hl=en&fs=1]

But I’ve always felt that Cassavetes’ interest in these people isn’t voyeuristic, isn’t intended to be shocking or to show how foolish and misguided his cranks are. Where Martin Scorsese ruthlessly dissects the fantasies of his hapless protagonists in The King Of Comedy and Taxi Driver, revealing them to be delusional, I think Cassavetes was usually up to something more subtle and more revolutionary: he was challenging our right to judge these characters.

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HOUSE goes meta

with a nifty “jumping-the-shark” joke:

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stop, look and listen

My old buddy Jim Hunter, a cinematographer, posted this recently on Facebook: Jim Hunter is out of stands. We’re lit. Which, if you know the way Jim lights, is hilarious. Check out his reel here — he’s fantastic!

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