Some observers have said the plot of Upstream Color is "impossible to describe." I beg to differ. I will, in fact, proceed to describe the plot below. What is difficult to describe from writer/director(/co-editor/producer/composer/actor) Shane Carruth's followup to Primer is the presentation of the narrative, which is fractured, hypnotic, pretentious, frustrating, surprising and ultimately unsatisfying.
The movie contains almost no dialogue, which is good, considering how often the dialogue is read in a flat, unconvincing monotone that only David Mamet could love. The visuals are sometimes fascinating -- as with the macro photography -- and the sound design is weirdly wonderful, as with a sequence where the villain records sound samples in nature and musicalizes them. The story also has many interesting elements, which I will now describe, but these elements, in my experience, were not brought to a satisfying conclusion. I will not say spoilers follow, because if anything reading a description of the action may aid in enjoyment of the film.
Martin Scorsese is not only known as one of the greatest movie directors of all time, he is also renowned as a great movie historian. His own personal film collection is reputed to run into the hundreds of thousands. Scorsese has spoken many times about the films that influenced and inspired him. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the master's favorite films:
This British film about the long friendship between a German and an English military officer was released smack in the middle of WWII, against Prime Minister Winston Churchill's objections. Consequently it was not initially well-received and was re-cut many times through the years with no thought of preserving the filmmakers' original vision. In a 2013 Q&A at a National Endowment for the Humanities, Scorsese was speaking about his personal hand in restoring the Powell & Pressburger classic:
Scorsese: The problem was that by the mid-50's, England had changed ... and their [Powell & Pressburger's] films fell out of favor to the point where I didn't even know-- Nothing was written about these two men. And so we began to search them out. And one of the key films was this Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
The main reason is that it was originally two hours and forty-six minutes. A beautiful epic.
Kent Jones: Yeah, and cut to ribbons.
Scorsese: It was re-edited, many times. So I only saw it in black and white at first, finally in 16mm color on PBS in New York, a two-hour version where they straightened out the storylines, 'cause there were a lot of flashbacks, and that sort of thing. And it was still pretty interesting, and very moving, too.
Jones: Andrew Sarris came to love it more than Citizen Kane...
Scorsese: There's no doubt that Kane, you know looking at Kane changed my life, when it was on TV-- Cassevetes' film Shadows-- There were a number of key films. On the Waterfront was the first.
But, um, I gotta tell you. In the past ten, fifteen years the film I watch like listening to a piece of music is Blimp -- the Colonel Blimp film -- more than Kane, more than the others.
In a 1993 Cinemax documentary, Scorsese talked about his love for the classic John Ford western:
Certainly one of my favorites is The Searchers. ... I began to realize what a director did, and that is translate ideas into images, using the lens like a pen.
To listen and to shut up.
Director Ingmar Bergman was famous for pulling world class performances from his actors. In one of the many excellent documentaries on the 5-disc set of Fanny & Alexander ("Ingmar Bergman Bids Farewell to Film"), the elder Bergman relates a key piece of advice about working with actors that he was given as a young man:
My old teacher, Torsten Hammarén, whom I met as a young director at the end of the 40's, taught me everything about the theater. He said a director's two primary duties are to listen and to shut up.
I didn't quite understand it then, as I was rather garrulous.
He means he didn't shut up and listen much in those days. In the documentary Bergman Island, he tells a story about when legendary Swedish silent film director Victor Sjöström had to stage a sort of intervention, walking him around the Swedish Film Institute studio lot for an hour lecturing him on being more collaborative. But back to the interventions of his other mentor, Hammarén: (more...)
In his commentary track for Indecent Proposal, director Adrian Lyne talks about his philosophy when shooting sex scenes. In the scene in question, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson's characters have just thrown a bunch of clothes around the kitchen before getting frisky. What the audience sees, but they don't, is that a pair of undies has landed on a hot range burner and is beginning to smoke:
I always think that love scenes tend to make people embarrassed, tend to kind of make an audience feel a bit awkward, you know? And they tend to want to titter and laugh.
So I think it's very important to give them something laugh at, you know, like the line coming up when she says "Your pants are on fire."
Because if you don't give them something to laugh at, they tend laugh anyway at you so it's important I think to give them something to laugh at.
Lyne talks further about how he directs a sexy scene: (more...)
Trance, a.k.a. Better Version of Side Effects, is a psychological thriller directed by Danny Boyle and starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel. It is also a noir story, an art heist story and a couple other things -- but you're better off going in cold to this one.
Surveying co-writer Joe Ahearne's IMDb listing, Trance (2013) appears to be based on a TV movie of the same name that he wrote in 2001. The other co-writer is frequent Danny Boyle collaborator John Hodge (Shallow Grave, A Life Less Ordinary, Trainspotting, The Beach). Trance shares the heightened reality of these other Boyle/Hodge collaborations, including but not limited to exploding genitals, talking half-heads and perhaps the first plot to hinge on the art history of pubic hair.
Lest you worry that Danny Boyle has gone into the uplifting Oscar hinterlands with Millions, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, his wacky and excessive Olympic opening ceremonies and this film will disabuse you of that concern. In fact Trance's principal photography was done as Boyle was also working on the Olympics, and then continued with additional photography post-Olympics.
Rosario Dawson, who spoke at a talkback after my screening, said you can tell the scenes where Vincent Cassel is noticeably tanner and more buff. It's hard to talk about Dawson's role in the film without giving too much away, so... spoilers ahead. (more...)
This is a fun short that riffs on the old monster movie tropes. A security guard plays a prank with a squid monster costume, but finds himself mistaken for a real monster.
Simple concept, great execution. I particularly like the sound design, which at times drops you into the characters' state of mind, and which does a great job selling sticky, slimy, gooey substances in true lagoon creature tradition.
The filmmakers have kindly put up a six minute making of video as well:
They found the costume was much heavier than expected, creating many challenges for lead actor Paul Hassal in the filming. Co-director/co-writer FX Goby says, "Sometimes I just closed my eyes and tried to get the shot done. And I think that was a bit painful for Paul."
Via No Film School comes a set of videos showing off a new gyro-stabilizer called Movi. What's a gyro-stabilizer? It's puts your camera on a gimbal, similar to how a steadicam works:
Using this new device, DSLR guru Vincent Laforet and his team have come up with some clever ways to pull off some interesting shots. First, watch the demo short:
Now, watch the BTS video to see how they pulled off these shots. Hint, tricks may involve handoffs and rollerblades:
This system can also apparently be mounted on a quadcopter, as with these shots:
The company that makes this, Freefly Systems, looks like they specialize in helicopter rigs.
The Movi M10 rig will cost $15,000. Apparently, they are working on a lighter one that will cost $7,500. I could find no release dates online and an email to Freefly asking when they hope to have this available for purchase generated an auto-response saying they would release details during NAB 2013, which begins today.
Celebrate a laugh.
On the commentary track to the political satire Wag the Dog, director Barry Levinson talks about his approach to telling the story:
I always thought it needed to be very driven, that the dialogue would be the action in the sense that you had to move it, in a way. It had to be in motion all the time. You didn't want to just sit there and take a kind of slow kind of rhythm to it, so that it was constantly muscular and always in forward gear in a sense.
It's moving all the time so they're talking very very quickly. And my feeling is that you'll get the laughs that you get, and if you miss some, you miss some. And if you're in a theater and you lost a few of the laughs, you'll come back again. But there's nothing worse than celebrating a laugh.
Better that we enjoy it in its context rather than celebrating any given laugh along the way. So the piece waits for no one.
Wag the Dog fits into a grand tradition of dark comedies at the intersection of media and politics like A Face in the Crowd and Network. The script, by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, based on the novel American Hero by Larry Beinhart, is equally prescient. Shortly after the movie -- (more...)
Gale should know, his YouTube Channel boasts a whopping 33 million views, two thirds of them for the viral sensation "The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon".
Here it is, for the uninitiated:
At time of writing, this 10-minute fake movie trailer's 22M+ views put it well ahead of, say, last week's top network T.V. show, NCIS (which maxed out less than 20 million views Live+SD). Or, as Gale put it in his presentation: "10 mins. X 22 million views = 220,000,000 minutes or 418 Years people have spent watching 'The Horribly Slow Murderer'. To watch 'HSM' 22 million times, it would take one person, watching day and night without a break, from 1595 until 2013."
More important than statistics on raw views, Gale has developed a community of fans surrounding his work (70,000+ Likes on facebook, 93,000+ Subscribers on YouTube). These spoonistas create homage videos, artwork and get permanent tattoos celebrating the universe Gale and his collaborators have created. But what blew me away most in Gale's presentation is that imagery from his short film has become so recognized the world over that a hooded figure in fright makeup attacking things with spoons has become a political protest symbol in multiple countries:
So what's the Best Kept Secret to YouTube Success?
Famed British New Wave director Lindsay Anderson's breakout film, If.... (1969) examines British society in the 1960's through the lens of a stuffy boarding school. Starring Malcolm McDowell as a rebel schoolboy, it was hugely divisive among the film critics of the day. In the bonus features on the Criterion disc for the film, Anderson's producer Michael Medwin describes Anderson's brilliant strategy for putting both the critical cheers and jeers for If.... to good use:
It got mixed-- It got some rave reviews, and some ghastly reviews-- needless to say, from the establishment. And Lindsay produced a most wonderful poster, which was cut down the middle. --BBC's Cast and Crew, hosted by Kirsty Wark
The poster he came up with became a touchstone in movie marketing: