Top 5 Director Departures

Have you ever seen a film, find out the director and thought ‘wait, how can that guy be associated with this?’  Where something in their cannon is outside their usual fare.  To qualify, the film that is a departure had to be one I liked (so Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack is out). And because I like you all so much, this is actually a top 10 list.

  • Ang LeeCrouching Tiger, Hidden DragonEat Drink Man Woman? Sense and SensibilityIce Storm?  Nope, didn’t see this one coming either.  One of the best action movies – in any genre – ever made.  Engrossing and epic in scale, with unique stunts (mostly wire work).  If only The Hulk were this good.
  • Doug LimanBourne Identity. Before Jason Bourne, there was Trent.  After Swingers came Go.  Two very indie movies.  This definitely came out of left field.  But in doing so, I think Liman solidified his standing as a director that could cover any topic.
  • Ridley ScottThelma & Louise.  Come on, really?  If he’s not on your list for this then I’m not sure you actually watch movies.
  • Spike Lee25th Hour. The first time a Spike Lee joint felt like someone else’s joint.  And it remains his best film.  I know there is a lot of love for Do the Right Thing, but it’s not a film I admire.  He did also make Inside Man a few years after this, which is another departure.
  • Brad AndersonNext Stop Wonderland.  The Brad Anderson I know has directed some of the coolest and spookiest films… The Machinist, Transiberian, Session 9, episodes of The Shield and The Wire… but one of his first features was this rom-com done documentary style (before that was in vogue).  It’s a good little film.
  • Curtis Hanson – 8 Mile.  The River Wild, LA Confidential (an awesome noir detective film) and a weird little somewhat-gay movie in Wonder Boys… and then a down and dirty rap film set in Detroit.  Starring Eminem, based on his life. I give the team behind this a lot of credit for hiring Hanson.  That is serious foresight.
  • Peter Berg Friday Night Lights.  Up until this movie I had known Berg as an actor, specifically the cokehead from K-12.  Then he goes and directs the best football film ever made.
  • Gus Van SantGood Will Hunting. On the surface this may seem odd… a very indie director known for much darker material like Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho and To Die For, crossing over into what is essentially a feel good movie – but Good Will Hunting is very much ground in a stark reality. Van Sant brought that out and turned what could have been a good film into a great film.
  • Paul Thomas AndersonThere Will Be Blood.  It’s not that PT didn’t have it in him, he’s at the top of the food chain… but nothing he had done previous was an indication that he would take on this near-perfect period film.
  • David FincherCurious Case of Benjamin Button. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Fincher is a guy who I’d classify as a living legend. But the other films he’s made are dark thrillers, so coming out and directing a drama about a man aging backwards seemed odd.  It’s a really good film and you can see his fingerprints all over this one.

Movie Review: Insidious

If you can’t tell, I’m on a bit of a horror/demon kick.  I can’t even say that I’m a huge horror fan.  I love the horror from the 80’s – Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street… but I’m not fond of many of their sequels.  Maybe it is the cold weather months that puts me into a funk and I gravitate towards this type of material… either way I finally caught up to James Wan’s smash-hit Insidious.

Made for $1 million, the film grossed over $100 million.  No matter how you cut it, that is a monster hit.  And Wan is now behind two of those – as the architect behind the Saw series.  This was a real film, with no horror gimmicks, so I thought there had to be something behind this in terms of quality.

It’s a well-made film in just about every regard. The lighting is moody and sharp, the sound is done well (particularly the creepy lullaby that keeps popping up) and the acting is all solid.  But for some reason the film just fell flat with me.  I was interested throughout, but there was almost no emotional impact or connection where there should have been.  I think maybe because I never felt that the stakes were all that high.  Or maybe I didn’t get to know this family at the beginning, especially Dalton.

And the directing was good – but that is it – good.  Some moments that could have truly been scary, like any time we saw the demons or malevolent entities, just kind of came and went.  Even when Patrick Wilson goes to the ‘further’ and is battling the scary looking entity, we are at arm’s length.  I was never on the edge of my seat.  And the same for the demon, who could have really been horrifying. It was all plastic. I never felt he was ever in real danger. He kept saying ‘you’re not real’, and it sunk in for me.  Okay – they’re not real.

Although this contradicts with the ending of the film.  The ending itself, as a contained 5 minute thing, was cool… but ultimately didn’t make much sense. We see the demon/entity floating away from him as he tells her to beat it… but then he comes out of it and he’s possessed by her. Even killing someone.  How?  How did it take over his body so easily when he was putting up such a great fight? They couldn’t take over Dalton’s body and the kid was chained up by a demon. It kills me when you spend 90 minutes of a film buying into their logic and world and then they tear it down in the last 5 minutes.

I mentioned the acting and just want to point out that I’ve come to really respect Patrick Wilson as an actor.  He takes on cool movies, such as Little Children, Hard Candy and films like this.  And he can play this role with ease.  Rose Byrne I’m still not sold on.  She was unwatchable in X-Men: First Class.  Abhorrently terrible. Here she was okay.  So I’m split with her still. But she’s pleasant to look at.  And where most actresses could have given performances that would have made me want to claw their eyes out, she is somewhat understated here.  As understated as you can be when you’re losing your mind and your kid is in a coma.  But she never hit the level of ‘bitch’ that I was expecting – thankfully.

In the end, this was okay.  But I was just thinking to myself, especially in the ‘further’, how much better would this be with Guillermo Del Toro directing?  Or someone that can really amp up the scares and also bring something like that to life.  I guess I’ll keep wondering…

Movie Review: Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, The

I’m always game for a good drug romp.  The drug culture fascinates me.  How people can just wake up and repeat the same mayhem each and every day.  So when Netflix recommended The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, and I needed something I didn’t have to fully absorb while working, I clicked ‘play.’

From the description, this seems like it would have a bit more action. Basically, all of the crime has already happened.  This plays more like a double episode of Intervention revolving around an entire family.  I like Intervention so I didn’t mind.  But as a feature it was a real let-down. There were no fights, not even the hint of a fight, no crime sprees – in fact, no crime at all other than drug use.  The drugs were rampant, but it was in the form of prescription pills crushed and snorted.  Give me hardcore meth use.  Give me something more. We barely even got a glimpse of what Boone County, WV was like other than the confined spaces of their homes.  In more skilled documentary hands, this could have been pretty enthralling.  As it is, it’s 90 minutes of fluff.

Enter… a Cut of White Space

This past weekend, Eric Potter finished a cut of White Space.  There is a lot of outstanding previz that may (and will) affect the edit slightly and we are still waiting on notes from the director and other two producers… but for the most part, it is done.  To say it is night and day from the first cut I saw (with a different editor) would be a drastic understatement.

Without a doubt, the two best hires of my short film career are Production Designer Jessee Clarkson and Eric.  I always knew we had a good film in there, but I was definitely feeling down-and-out about where the film was headed.  There were people involved with the film that wanted to move forward with the edit as it was.  I went through a similar experience (although during the development phase) on my first film. I strapped my seatbelt on and refused to do it again…

From the first emails about the film, Eric understood exactly what needed to be done. He was highly recommended from a friend whose opinion of production/film I hold in high esteem, and although Eric and I had never worked together – not once did I doubt that he’d come through. He stepped into a tough situation and just killed it.

This movie is a beast. Now that the story and characters sizzle?  It is going to blow people’s minds in terms of what we were able to do with what he had.  I honestly don’t think people will believe us.

Movie Review: The Last Exorcism

I’m not sure why I’ve been on a ‘reality/found footage’ kick lately… maybe because I’m toying with the idea of doing something low-budget in that realm… but I actually did not know that The Last Exorcism was a docu-style feature.  I had just watched an actual documentary, so I guess I was in the mood.

While I think the idea of trying to sell these as real ‘found footage’ films seems a bit odd, I did recognize some of the actors in the film.  Particularly Caleb, played by Caleb Landry Jones.  He was in Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights and played Banshee in X-Men: First Class.  They also used Becky Fly, who isn’t that recognizable but bears a very striking resemblance to Zelda Rubinstein from Poltergeist – both in appearance and voice.  I’m assuming this was done on purpose.

I think this was unique in that the preacher/exorcist in this film was someone who was a scam artist. He knew he was full of shit from the start. But, as is wont to happen in these films, he runs into an actual demon. However, they don’t believe any of it until it is probably a bit too late.

While there are no scares on the level of a Paranormal Activity 3, there are more layers to this film than most.  Like most of these types of movies, it is a slow build until the last ten minutes of mayhem… but there are events throughout that keep your attention.  And the ending is odd enough (in a good way) that I almost want to go back and watch to see if there are more clues throughout.  Smaller players come back in a big way and one of the kids is involved in a manner you wouldn’t expect.

This isn’t a mind-blowing film, but it isn’t a bad way to spend your time either.  With a glut of these films coming down the pike – this is on the higher end of the spectrum for sure.

Movie Review: J.Edgar

Clint Eastwood’s J.Edgar really threw me for a loop.  I went in expecting a thriller along the lines of DeNiro’s The Good Shephard, but with more gravitas because Hoover was such an enormous figure.  Instead I got an epic love story between Hoover and his #2, Clyde Tolson.

Where a movie like Brokeback Mountain was able to craft an engaging film around their romance, one the filmmakers didn’t dance around – J.Edgar plods along at an excruciatingly long length with almost no appeal.  If not for Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance, this could be labeled a giant, flaming turkey.  He really gave it his all, immersing himself in the character… but everyone around him looked to be walking through this like zombies (some literally).  Especially Clint and Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson.  Hammer, for the most part, was fine. But he was living a double life.  During the day he was a dashing second fiddle at the FBI.  At night he was J.Edgar’s dashing boy toy.  I’m being a bit sarcastic, because J.Edgar never actually goes there.  They pull all of their punches, whether it be his personal life or professional life.  And this is what ultimately derails this movie. Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter, and Clint Eastwood needed to go all in here. If this is a love story between these guys – show us.  Give us the love story.  If this is a story about the rise and… rise of Hoover – give us the juicy details.  The film glosses over all of it and therefore comes up empty handed.  The directing lent itself to this approach, keeping us at arm’s length.  All of the choices were made with an icy cold detachment, from the angles to the color palette.  This only works if the script is exceeding good… and here, Black tries to cram 50 or so years, 8 presidents, a few national crisis’ and an epic love story in 2.5 hours.  It just doesn’t work.  Everything feels short changed, making me think this could have worked much better as a mini-series.

As I said, Hammer was okay… right up until he actually needed to act.  I believe he’s a good looking, happy guy.  That, to me, isn’t acting.  When he is called upon to act, specifically the scene in their hotel room when a quarrel turns into a wrestling match turns into a kiss, he is completely exposed.  There is no depth there.  There is nothing but over the top emotion.  And it all falls so painfully flat.  It was cringe inducing and somewhat laughable.

The film spans a large amount of years, which requires make-up and prosthetics.  Hoover’s took a bit of getting used to, because at the end of the day this is Dicaprio under there.  Armie Hammer’s on the other hand was a trainwreck.  He looked about 100 years old.  And it was more like a zombie face – completely unmoving. This did not help his stiffness in any of the scenes featuring them as senior citizens. Particularly the dinner scene where Hoover touches him on the shoulder and it looks like he is having an orgasm in his pants.  The whole thing was a bit weird.

Would I recommend this film?  In a word – no.  Dicaprio’s performance holds this thing together, but it isn’t worth the time.  You can see him act in films that are actually good.  Ultimately, you glean very little about the formation of the FBI from this film, and even less about the man J.Edgar Hoover.

R.E.M. Artist Zsombor Huszka: Welcome to the Family

It is with a lot of excitement, and a bit of sadness, that I am announcing Zsombor Huszka as the artist on the graphic novel R.E.M. 

For those of you who have been reading this blog regularly for some time, you may remember I announced Budi Setiawan as the artist a few months ago.  However, Budi was diagnosed with cancer.  We waited it out… he went into remission – but then it came back almost immediately.  He’s very weak and unable to draw. My prayers go out to him and his family as he battles that monster. As soon as he’s back up and drawing we’ll find another project to work on. He’s an extremely talented artist (and the cousin of Sigit Nugroho, who is drawing Chasing Rabbits).  Sigit actually credits Budi with teaching him how to draw.  That’s one artistic family…

Hailing from Hungary, Zsombor is ready to throw R.E.M. into a rear naked choke and dominate. Yes, an artist who also does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  He actually received his degree in architecture from Budapest University of Technology andEconomics’ Department of Architecture. After his first art exhibit in 2010, he waschosen to participate at The National Exhibition of Digital Artworks.  He has worked on projects for a variety ofHungarian pop-stars and illustrated Hungarian advertising campaigns. He is currently working on the music videofor pop-star Linda Kiraly, as well as writing and illustrating the graphicnovel The Sultan’s Beast.  Although currently a BJJ fanatic, Zsombor was a professional fencer – on the Hungarian National Fencing Team.

We will eventually have to roll together.  Until then, we are going to make an amazing graphic novel. Here are some of his previous works…