Awards Season

 

As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another awards season let us take a moment and reflect on why we, people who have nothing to do with these damn things, care? And let us also add another item to this mental exercise – acquisition formats.

In the past three months the number or articles, tweets, posts, messages and smoke signals I have seen about films like Carol, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and, yes, even Star Wars has been so staggering that even my daughter, who does not use the Internet has become familiar with several of them.

Although she has not asked me if this will be Leo’s year to finally win the Oscar I cannot help that it is not far off. She goes to school now and the things from popular culture that already filter down to a Kindergarten student are somewhat astounding. So while Star Wars has made its way to her the debate of film vs. digital has not.

Which again makes it even more apparent that many of these discussions and debates are just advertising and marketing and promotion and nothing of much value. The number of reviews and comments I have seen about The Revenant that say much of anything of value I can count on one hand. More has been said about the acquisition format of the films I have listed than about the qualities of the films or the actors or even whether people like them.

As someone who is interested not only in watching films but also in making them I find I am interested in these aspects but even still only up to a point. That The Hateful Eight is being presented in 70mm in some locations is less interesting than the “roadshow” aspect of these presentations. Which are not one and the same. Yes, it will look different but that the film will have an intermission, that there will be a printed program, that the filmmakers are making an active push to say, “This is why you should see this film in a movie theater and have a shared experience with your fellow human beings,” is much more interesting.

Yet all anyone can say is, “boy the frame is really wide!” and “he did it for interior scenes” because “it makes the blocking really noticeable!”. Which is all well and good from a technical point of view but very little is being said about whether the movie is any good. Or whether people are finding the movie-going experience to be interesting, new, rewarding, worthwhile or anything else. Very little is being said about this aspect, which is what we should all be talking about.

The same is true of The Revenant. The experience is “immersive”, the bear attack is “realistic” and shooting only with natural light is “neat-o”. But then all of the comments concerning the film itself are either snarky and flippant, to one writer being thankful to have made it through the film (which is clever because their experience seems to mirror that of the main character…dear lord) or just that most in general found the film to be difficult to watch and grueling. Because, of course, when you watch a film that is about one man’s incredible tale of survival against all odds you expect it to be light and chipper and float on by.

Because, of course, The Revenant is not trying to offer a unique filmgoing experience with anything other than the film itself. Which is not to diminish the film, the filmmakers or what they have achieved. But you cannot help and see that although these two films, which have in a way become pitted against each other (one for resurrecting not only a forgotten acquisition format and the other for being the first to make use of a cutting-edge technology) are getting attention for parts of their productions that are perhaps not the most interesting thing about them. That they were acquired under harsh conditions using these interesting technologies maybe isn’t what we should spend all of our time talking about.

The same can be said for Carol, for different reasons and even the new Star Wars. Article after article has been written and shared about the formats chosen, the reasons why and what wonderful results have been achieved. Except, of course, the results we should be focused on are the films themselves. Not excluding the lighting and the look and grain structure but absolutely not limited to these aspects either.

I am ranting now and I try not to do that with strangers so forgive me. I have been paying more attention that usual to the state of film, largely because all of us are (I believe). What I find odd is that I am not sure what is being presented (the end is nigh) reflects that actual state of things. When The Walking Dead, Carol and fifty other well known television shows and films are making use of the super 16mm format is it really dead or about to be? When Kodak announces the release of a new, hybrid super 8mm camera are we living in the end times?

I know that many filmmakers are currently being asked to weigh in on the future of film and that is why the endless articles are appearing but it would seem, and forgive me if I am wrong, that the timing of this is about two years too late. Filmmakers and studios bonded together to give Kodak a reprieve. Now, indie filmmakers who had previously embraced low budget technologies to inexpensively make their films are choosing to make their new movies shooting using actual film.

Perhaps it is healthy that this issue is near constantly mentioned. That unlike two years ago when few were speaking or reading about it and the future of this format was truly in jeopardy now people are paying attention. I do not know.

What I do know is that so much attention is being paid to how the movie was acquired or how it is viewed but so little is being said about how people like or dislike the movie.

Perhaps that is what this award season is good for, with categories for the technical achievements as well as acting, direction and things like costumes it allows us to filter and sort through these different aspects. I am not sure.

What it feels like, as does nearly everything these days, is that it is just another marketed aspect of movies. Because we don’t talk about whether Carol is a better film than the new Star Wars. We don’t compare them for so many different reasons. I used to think this made sense. Cliffhanger should not be pitted against Casino, they are different kinds of movies with different aspirations. Yet we lump Carol with Tangerine and Sicario because of their budgets or subject matters or who the filmmakers are behind the films and, obviously, that makes much more sense.

See it Again – Bottle Shock

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In honor of Alan Rickman’s passing I am doing this “extra” See it Again. I have been meaning to write about Bottle Shock for some time and sadly it took his death to properly motivate me.

What You Should Know

This is a small film with an amazing cast telling a (mostly) true story. It is about wine, snobbery and growing up. I think Technically Chris Pine is the lead of the film but watching the film I think you would be hard pressed to agree with that statement. This is an ensemble film with a cast that plays their parts and does not try and outshine one another.

Why You Should Reconsider

My guess is you never heard of the film. Like so many smaller, comedy/somethings these get widely ignored. They don’t win awards or set the box office afire. What they do is provide interesting, satisfying stories with moments of levity.

Alan Rickman is perfection in this film (as always). Cast, I think, as an Englishman living in Paris who operates a wine store/school that is widely ignored. It is perfect casting as you get to experience all of the wonderful shades of Mr. Rickman – contempt, scorn, snobbery, weakness, compassion, loyalty and passion.

His friend, fellow business owner and advisor, played by Dennis Farina is yet another piece of perfect casting and their scenes together are terrific. Evenly matched, perfectly off-balance, like so much of this film, there is a never a sense of watching a formulated story.

I won’t go into detail about the rest of the cast but everyone delivers and they do so in unexpected and interesting ways. The casting is well done, as the familiar faces bring comfort to the viewer but to unfamiliar roles.

Misconceptions

I imagine the idea of a wine comedy does not appeal to many. The film, though portraying a rather snobbish character, is anything but. It is a centered, earthy movie that lacks pretension and strives for naturalism rather than being “artistic”.

Some of the actors involved come with their own baggage, especially now with people like Mr. Pine. I think this, along with the film Stretch, is a great film to see if you wish to change your perception of him. The characters in this film are not paper-thin, yet this is a comedy, so while there is some misery and drama the touch is light and confident.

I am writing about this today, as I said, because of Mr. Rickman’s passing. There are several films he is well known for and sadly this is not one of them. It is a shame because in this role he is allowed to present several different sides of this character and he does so brilliantly. There is something very human, touching and real in this performance that helps elevate this film without shifting the focus to land squarely on him.

If, like I imagine many people are right now, you find yourself wanting to watch something with Mr. Rickman in order to remember him I would recommend giving Bottle Shock a try. It is a rich, rewarding film filled with unexpected moments and ultimately a warm, full heart.

 

Computers, Technology and Hoopla

I would like to be a tech savvy person. I would like to sit down at a computer, any computer, and immediately be able to do all the tasks I wish to do and never need to touch the mouse. I would like to pick up a digital camera and effortlessly navigate the menus in order to arrange all of the settings and presets so that my pictures rival anything out there.

I would like this and it will never, ever happen. My experience with technology is, I think, much like everyone else’s: a big game of catch up. Whatever the piece of technology is I am attempting to figure out the “right” way to be using it. Which is to say I figure things out, mostly, but there is usually something I am not doing quite right. Even if I do not know that I am doing something incorrectly.

Which brings me to one of my many current technology related problems – iPhoto. A while back I bought a DSLR (technically a DSLM but that really is being pretty picky) and I started taking pictures. A lot of pictures. Everything I have read about being a “real” photographer (who is shooting digitally, because there still seems to be a pretty big debate over film vs digital and “realness”) told me that I should be shooting in the RAW format. Yes, you have to write RAW in all caps for some reason. I have heard it and I have forgotten the reason and so should you. Just write the word in caps.

Anyway I have done this and I have then used iPhoto to try and store and manipulate these photos. Which has caused near exponential growth in the size of my iPhoto storage. Which has caused all kinds of computer problems. Which has lead to me playing catch up as to what is going on and how I can fix it.

As far as I can tell I can’t really fix the problem. Or I can but it would involve deleting most of the photos, which isn’t really a solution in my book. So I have begun looking at alternative programs to replace iPhoto. And I have found them. They just cost money and I am adverse to spending money I do not have to on computer programs. Call me cheap. That’s fine. I can take it.

Anyway, I do a fair bit of video work on my computer and now time lapse photography, which is where I ran into trouble with my hard drive space. So the reason I have written this long and not terribly exciting account of my photo woes is that even when a cheap person like myself finds solutions, which I have (Darktable is a free, RAW image editor) it seems you simply replace one set of problems for another.

So I spend three days trying to find an iPhoto solution that does not involve me deleting all of my photos and it leads to a new program. I use the new program and can find no way to make it pull photos off of my external hard drive. Now the point of this rant, if there is one, is when does it end? At each step of trying to do something (because believe it or not I am sparing you the video component of the time lapse saga that goes hand-in-hand with this) there are more obstacles, more problems you did not know existed to then find solutions and encounter a new set of problems.

Which is really another way of saying – I am tired of working for my technology. We all take pictures now and lots of them. Our old system was imperfect but the storage of the photos was rather simple. If we printed the pictures we then stuck them in an album. We kept the negatives in something or other and pretended that twenty years later we were going to find those negatives and do something with them. Maybe we made a large print of a picture we liked and put it in a frame. That was it. You found a place to put your albums and then every once in a while you took them out flipped through the pages and then put them away.

Now I have three external hard drives on my desk and slow desktop because I tend to dip below the recommended level of storage on my internal hard drive and this is a no-no. My photos are now technically stored in the “cloud” so that they take up less space and I can access them on all of my devices that I have linked to the “cloud”. This is also supposed to be a safer way to keep them should anything happen.

Now I will end here but I want to share my silver lining to this problem and my working through this problem. I started writing this post a year ago. I stopped did other things and came back at various points. In that time I glommed onto this idea of how things used to be. I watched a film called Side by Side which talked about the perils of digital and chemical process filmmaking. And something clicked for me.

At the moment the only future-proof format that motion picture films (Hollywood, baby) have is film. Analog. You put it into canisters and store them in those climate controlled dust free something or others. There is a system, we don’t really know what it is but people do and you do it. And then, you can play it on any device that plays that format of film. Even if that particular piece of machinery is already 100 years old.

So how does this relate to my pictures? I spent about three days, sifted through 20,000 digital photos and chose about 900 I cannot lose. I then order 4×6 prints of each picture bought some albums and put them on my shelf. They had been there for about six months now and already I have sat down with my five year old daughter several times and flipped through them, like I used to do with my parents. And I know, if there were some catastrophe and I had time to rescue something from my home I would not try and grab my iMac, I would grab these albums of pictures and run outside.

Television – The Americans

(This is a post I wrote a year ago but for some reason did not share. I have since seen seasons one and two and think they are excellent but I like the simpler point made here by…me. What a guy!)

I would like to discuss the television show, The Americans. Now it may seem silly to try and discuss a show that has not finished and it will seem even sillier when I add that I have not finished the first season. So why discuss this show? Because it is one of a handful that gives the impression it was fully realized before they started making it.

This is a big claim and it is entirely possibly that the rest of season two might make what I am writing absurd. I will take that chance. In particular I want to say a little something about the pilot episode of The Americans.

What I feel sets a pilot episode like this apart from so many others is that you get the sense that they characters are fully formed. You meet your central characters, their relationship is not immediately explained and then through a series of events you come to know who they are. It is interesting and arresting television. The story is intriguing, it is engaging and what I enjoyed most is that the little details are simply put out there for viewers to either notice and understand or to be lost.

Making a show set in the early eighties that does not stop and point at each and every detail of clothing, hair, music etc., but rather attempts to recreate the world as it was without having a character stop and say, “Isn’t this earpiece absurdly large? We can’t hide the fact that we are wearing earpieces. If only someone would make them smaller.” allows the viewer to be swept up in the story being told. It is refreshing and rewarding to watch a show that does not call attention to itself, that does not feel the need to point and say, “Don’t you see now, thirty years on, that Regan was a bit of a …” but rather have the characters be as they should be and do as they do?

See it Again – Red Belt

 

What  You Should Know

When you watch the trailer or see some of the posters for Redbelt you get the impression that this is an action movie. It is, but not in the same sense that The Transporter is an action movie. The fighting is limited, the pace is somewhat slow and the focus is not on outwitting bad guys and fighting to the death. Redbelt is a film about integrity, opportunity, greed and choices. That the main character is a  Jujitsu instructor means that the conflict, ultimately, centers on fighting. It does not mean that the film moves from action sequence to action sequence.

Why You Should Reconsider

First the lead is Chiwetel Eijofor. The rest of the cast is quite exceptional as well. The film is written and directed by David Mamet, which is either a selling point for you or a reason to run and hide. This is an understated, reality-based film that is character-driven. 

Misconceptions

To be honest I would think most misconceptions concern the depth of the film because everyone is of the opinion that David Mamet is a really big deal. Or that he is subtle and nuanced and oh boy that dialog.  All of that clunky, “no one on the planet really speaks like that” dialog is in this film (spoken by a less well known Jake Johnson no less!). Ricky Jay, again is in this for no apparent reason. So for those that love all the usual Mamet-isms you got ’em. Enjoy! For those that find all of those to be terribly qualities in the film I give you Mr. Chiwetel who is by now a much better known actor.

He does wonders with his dialog and conveying the inner life of his character. His interactions with his wife, Alice Braga, are natural and believable. The plot is….something. I like the film and I think you will, too. Just don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the story, of they who’s and the whys of it all because that path leads to bad feelings.

Instead focus on your lead actor, his actions and interactions and enjoy the way he navigates his world.

See it Again – Tin Cup

 

What  You Should Know

This is a Kevin Costner sports movie. It is a a rather straight-forward, enjoyable film about golf, taking chances and spending time with your buddies.

Why You Should Reconsider

For some reason, be it The Postman, aspects of his personal life or the way his hair looked on Tuesday, Kevin Costner fell out of fashion. When you transpose your feelings about a film, because of an actor you liked in it, and let it bias other films they appear in, you make a mistake. You may have loved Bull Durham and hated Field of Dreams but none of that is relevant to For Love of the Game. Each film is its own animal, even if your leading man happens to be the same person (and they all deal with baseball).

With that being said Tin Cup is, for me, a film that plays to all of Kevin Costner’s strengths. He is at his best when he plays normal people, not the best or brightest, and when sports are involved. Usually films about golf are concerned with the metaphor of golf being life. A person could find that message within this film (much like you could in any sports film) but what is directly presented to you is not trying to intellectualize that point. This is not a serious film. It is not pretentious. This is a comedy, filled with mostly likable characters and centering on golf.

Where this films differs is that the drive of the main character, his “personal truth” concerning the sport he plays, is not about being the best. This is not a story about being the best or winning the championship so much as it is about realizing what it is you want.

Misconceptions

For the reason I just stated I think many people are confused by Tin Cup. A sports movie that is not centered on winning is weird. Sure, you have the typical trope of “It’s not whether you win or lose,” and that certainly applies here. Where this film will trip up viewers is that our hero already learned that lesson and may or may not remember that he knows it. What I mean to say is so much of the charm of this film is that it does not adhere to any of the strict formulas for sports films.

Kevin Costner is not the cocky golfer who has to lose in order to learn how to win. Or the veteran golfer who is being challenged by the young upstart and searches out a former mentor to reconnect why he plays the sport in the first place. No, he is a golf pro working at a driving range that does very little business. He is happy with this (maybe) but then he meets a woman and something clicks for him. I do not wish to go point by point here but I would like to state this is not paint by numbers sports film.

See it Again (reborn)

A few years ago I had the idea to try and create content specific for different social media sites. I had been paying attention to the online articles and advice columns that all said the same thing: if you want to be a successful X you have to use social media and use it well.

So here we are, a few years later, and I am not really using social media much, or well. The fault lies with me of course but also in the second, more important (and left unsaid) part of this advice – be yourself. I could quote Hamlet or 50 other well-known and somewhat pretentious sources to make my point but my guess is you already get it.

I have attempted to find people whose work I know and respect, filmmakers, writers, comedians, musicians, actresses and actors to follow on social media. By and large I have either quickly unfollowed these people because I dislike the way they use social media or I could not find them using these sites.

The reasons I stopped following people I am sure you are familiar with: either all they did was promote their work in a steady, uninteresting stream of posts or tweets or they shared personal information and images that I would have rather not seen.

What should they have been sharing? I am not sure. I follow Olivia Wilde on several sites and I generally likes what she posts, even though nearly everything fits into the two categories I listed above. Why do I still follow her?

I believe I still follow her because she is honest and truthful and (seemingly) not using social media to promote her “brand”. Perhaps she is and she is excellent at making self-marketing feel like personal interactions.

In either case, it works and that is what I wanted to get at here – authenticity. So much of what I have attempted to share has not been authentic, has not been me in most regards, because I don’t like the notion of sharing your personal life with strangers.

Have I posted pictures of my children on Instagram? I have and feel weird about it and writing it here makes me think I should take them down. Do I post one line movie reviews on Twitter? Yes and I feel dirty afterwords and often delete them.

Because what should I be sharing? This. Long, long posts where I share my thoughts and thought processes about things that interest and concern me. Or I write about things I love, or hate, in great detail. Because that is who I am, it is what I do and if it does not interest you then it would be best if we part ways.

I gave this post a title which most likely does not make sense. I created a category of posts called “See it Again” in which I write about a film that I feel people should give another chance despite poor reviews, low profits or just negative feelings overall. I added the reborn in parentheses because I want to start over with this category. Allow me to explain why.

I don’t care about box office returns and unless you stand to profit from a film, neither should you. This is some weird, oversharing, marketing technique to make people care or be interested in films simply because they are successful. It makes no sense. Just today I saw this article – How Avatar made $2.7 billion and garnered almost no fan base. Which I think sums up this point somewhat well.

Critics and their reviews of films I think are equally unimportant. They become exponentially less important when you lump them all together, give their scores a rating and then average these scores together. To not take into account who the critic is, what they like and dislike and what they actually said is to diminish an already marginally interesting and important activity into something of equal value with an infomercial. If a pretentious, literate, snobbish fop who only likes a fraction of high-brow art films reviews something like Mission Impossible and comes away with something positive to say, this is slightly interesting. To then take their B- grade and throw it in with the rest renders their review meaningless.

Finally I have no idea how you measure negative feelings, especially of the general population. As we are learning the Internet does not reflect the general attitude or mood of anything (other than the Internet). A strong online fan base for a filmmaker, who then creates a film based on their ravings and support does not mean that any of them will actually watch the finished product. The examples are endless and you know many yourself. So how do we measure this general attitude? We can’t. We can pay attention to the media, or advertising or the Internet or what people at work say. The truth is we don’t really know, which is why I am throwing this by the wayside.

So instead I will leave all of this off, the ratings and the earnings and the lack of awards (I forgot that one but then I think they are best forgotten) and just be using my own, strange internal criteria to determine the films I think you should give a chance (second or otherwise). And you, of course, are free to pay me no mind.

This strikes me as a much more rewarding system and one which I hope to make better, fuller use of.