Monsters & Aliens

February 20, 2011 - Leave a Response

A friend of mine recently recommended Monsters to me, explaining that it was an alien movie that looks like it was made by Sofia Coppola, (one of my faves). Just to be clear is is not a Coppola film. Just a little indie written and directed by Gareth Edwards and a couple of undiscovered actors. So, of course I hunted it down on Netflix. Here’s the plot from Netflix:

Six years after aliens invaded Earth, a security force maintains tenuous control in the Infected Zone straddling the U.S.-Mexican border. Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, is documenting this war-torn area when he’s interrupted by an unexpected rescue mission. Samantha (Whitney Able), daughter of a media mogul who just happens to be his boss, needs an escort home, and Andrew reluctantly takes on the job.

It’s true that the film moves slowly for a story that revolves around aliens, which was the curious draw for me. What I loved about it is that it’s not really about the alien creatures at all, it’s about the relationship between the journalist and the girl. Although the script has some serious problems, (wayyy too much exposition, and dialogue that doesn’t ring true at times), the idea is pretty great. I think that Mr. Edwards hit on some very good points along the way, but was not able to bring those out. It ended a little abruptly. I really wanted at least a little epilogue.  For a film that was done for less than 1 mil. it looks freaking fantastic though. If I can find a DP like this for my stuff, I would be ecstatic. Definitely something to check out.

I was also able to catch a pre-screening of PAUL with those crazy guys from Shaun of the Dead. It was so much fun! From IMDB:

Two British comic-book geeks traveling across the U.S. encounter an alien outside Area 51.

I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t write a lot about it. There were definitely laugh out loud moments and the whole film is chock full of sci-fi references, some of which I’m sure I missed. Paul, the alien is voiced by Seth Rogen. It’s nice to hear his voice and not see his face. He’s not my favorite actor, but he is funny. The entire cast is a win for me: Jason Bateman, Sigourney, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch… it just keeps going. The film is out on March 18th. Definitely a fun one to catch.

These alien movies make me really excited for Aliens & Cowboys which will be out July 29th. Oh yes.

Black Swan Psychosis

January 16, 2011 - Leave a Response

Finally saw Black Swan after months of seeing the trailer and weeks of listening (or trying not to listen) to people talking about it. Aronofsky tugged at my heartstrings with his last film, The Wrestler. Knowing the premise of Black Swan, I was expecting something more on the side of Requiem for a Dream, but hoped for a little of the soft-edge we saw in The Wrestler. Black Swan finds its place somewhere in between.

A ballet dancer wins the lead in “Swan Lake” and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan, but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like the evil twin sister of the White Swan, the Black Swan.

Aside from the intensive ballet training that Natalie Portman did prior to shooting, her acting is simply amazing. There are moments (any mirror scene) where my jaw literally dropped. My only complaint, if I’m allowed to have one – there were so many extremes in the film. It could just be my love of subtle storytelling, but there little things that bothered me about the plot. Between the come-ons from the ballet director, the ridiculously overbearing mother (this was such an extreme, it made me uncomfortable), the relationship with fellow ballerina played my Mila Kunis, it was a just a bit much. I realize that all of these situations are contributing factors to Nina’s psychological undoing and have to be there, however the extremity of all these facets got under my skin. Maybe I started to go a little crazy, too.

The things that I loved about it: it was visceral. Every time something physical was happening to her body, whether it was her toenail splitting in her point shoes, or pulling out a black feather from her skin; it all felt real. I flinched and squirmed as I watched.

It was beautiful. Even the scary parts were beautiful. (I say scary, but you should know I mean all the parts that reflect the character’s psychosis.) The moment she came out as the black swan and “let go” as everyone had advised her, it just gave me goosebumps. Not to mention the audio in this film is perfection. Sound effects so subtle, yet packs a punch when paired with the visuals.

The film also drew really accurate and wonderful parallels on several levels. The story of Swan Lake is woven throughout the film’s narrative, not just in the ballet, but every relationship draws back to that story. Instead of a prince, Nina’s desire fluctuates between pleasing the director (who could be construed as the prince) and protecting her new role as prima ballerina. (Although, I didn’t see a whole lot of rivalry between Nina and Mila Kunis’ character, Lily, as advertised). It’s all really just in Nina’s mind. Ultimately, she desires perfection resulting in her unfortunate turn. Nina’s transformation into the black swan completes the story as she kills the white swan that she used to be. There are some notes in there regarding Nina’s psychological state even before she gets the lead role, which makes me wonder if there was as much character arc or if she always had something akin to multiple personalities, that perhaps had just been suppressed with the pressure of the ballet company lifestyle. (I’m referring to the beginning where she sees someone who looks remarkably like herself on the train, but doesn’t get a good look at the woman.)

Oh yeah, and Winona Rider. So glad she’s back.

In the end, Aronofsky made a film that stands up to his aesthetic style, not without flaws, but still a work that sets itself apart. Even if only for all those parts that made me uncomfortable. But isn’t that just the name of the game? Making the audience feel?

Part of Nina’s black swan performance: note the audio plz.

2011: Looks Good on You

January 9, 2011 - Leave a Response

I am looking forward to many, many things in 2011. New classes, new experiences, new movies and renewed creative juices. We’ll see, anyway. It seems there’s a huge amount of remakes, prequels/sequels (no surprise), movies about aliens, superheroes, assassins, ghosts, and multiple personality disorders. Here’s the short list of what I’m looking forward to seeing this year:

The Green Hornet - Jan 14 – why? Michel Gondry directs.

Ip Man 2 – Jan 28 – The first one is the best kung fu movie I’ve ever seen. Hoping part deux will be just as good.

Sucker Punch – March 25 – It looks pretty badass, but during the course of watching the trailer, I changed my mind about 5 times.

Hanna – April 8 – Coming of age assassin story. We’ll see how it plays out.

Water for Elephants – April 22 – purely here because I heard good things about the novel. Possibly interesting to see Pattinson in something where he doesn’t have fangs.

The Hangover, Part II - May 27 – The first one cracks me up. My hopes are not as high for this, but I’ll still see it.

The Tree of Life – May 27 – First Malick movie in a long while.

Super 8 – June 10 – Directed by J.J. Abrams, who still seems to be on an alien kick.

Green Lantern – June 17 – Ryan. Reynolds.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II – July 15 – The last chapter.

Cowboys & Aliens – July 29 – Cats and dogs living together… mass hysteria!

Columbiana – September 2 – Another assassin story penned by Luc Besson.

Here’s what I haven’t seen yet from 2010, but hope to catch soon.

1. black swan

2. true grit

3. blue valentine

4. tron

5. tangled

6. the fighter

7. winter’s bone

8. somewhere

9. the king’s speech

10. howl

11. 127 hours

Anything that I’m overlooking that I should see??

Art and the Artist

December 29, 2010 - Leave a Response

Process… an artist’s process has always been something of an intrigue; to see how something can flow out of a person’s cranium and onto paper, canvas or a cement wall is simply fascinating because everyone does it differently. The process of becoming a popular artist, while you’re still alive is something of an art in and of itself. However, there are more respectable ways of achieving this than others.

I recently saw Exit Through the Gift Shop, a doc about graffiti art, during which I was hoping to see a bit of how famed graffiti artists do their dangerous work. Instead, I was met with this little french man, Thierry Guetta, the amateur filmmaker, amateur graffiti artist, and amateur everything.  Although I am not opposed to documentarians inserting themselves into the stories they are telling, Thierry was walking a fine moral line. Using his family connections with French graffiti artist, Space Invader, Thierry weasels his way deep into the underground, secretive world of Banksy and Shepard Fairey, (two of the most famous graffiti artists ever) and in so doing, decides this is what he wants to do with his life. He is a pure opportunist and puts everything at risk to make art that people started buying into, with Banksy and Fairey’s blessing, of course. Or at least a quote that Thierry used to promote himself.

The thing that bugs me the most about this film: Thierry has nothing to say. Nothing. He is simply obsessive and doesn’t give a damn about art. Or at least art in the sense of passion. What he makes is art for art’s sake. This is something I have no respect for. Banksy and Shepard Fairey speak to the camera and I think very well not just about their own work and the messages they are sending, but about why they do it. They were also candid about Thierry’s methods. Banksy: “Most artists take years to develop their style, Thierry seemed to miss out on all those bits.” What makes me very very sad is that ridiculously interesting people like Banksy are deterred from inspiring others to make art because people like Thierry have not earned respect, found their voice, or create anything remotely interesting with their own two hands. Banksy says near the end of the doc, “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don’t do that so much anymore.” When he said this I almost cried. And then I became outraged at the awful art that was being sold for thousands of dollars a piece to a person who hired an army to create the art itself and who calls himself, Mr. Brainwash. UGH.

Photo Courtesy of Ericka Nelson

I did love seeing footage of Shepard Fairey and Banksy, (who must have had a hand in funding the film since it says “A Banksy Film” right on the front.) Their work amazes me and right around the time that the doc came out, a friend and I went hunting for one of 3 Banksy walls in Boston (see above). In the film you see how both of them work. Shepard at Kinko’s cutting his own stencils with the help of 1 assistant. The only reason why I can see Banksy would support this film is if it was a joke. Read the New York Magazine article here.

It also made me think of the documentary My Kid Could Paint That about a 4 year old artist who’s paintings were selling for a pretty penny. It was argued that the little girl was being prodded by her parents to paint more, (feasible after the cash started coming in.) But the question of art for art’s sake and making art because you love it, or making art as therapy or making art as whatever your process happens to be… is it still art? And who decides the value? As a filmmaker, I’m still finding my own voice and style and working very hard at it. The fact that a man can travel with the best graffiti artists in the world and then do it himself, as successfully as he did, makes me wonder how many filmmakers ‘made it’ this way. Additionally, out of those, how many do I love their work? There’s no way to answer these questions unless a documentary was created, wink wink.

Total side note, I love Shepard Fairey and there is a permanent collection at the ICA in Boston. Check it out if you’re in the area!

Surprising Premieres

September 27, 2010 - Leave a Response

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I love TV. And as in previous posts, I’ve discussed my issue with ‘trying new thing’ TV-wise in the past. This season, I’m trying a little bit of everything! (Via Hulu, of course. How else would a grad student be able to catch all these great shows?!) The fact of the matter is TV has grown immensely in quality of shows over the recent years. More and more innovative ideas are coming through the small screen… and i LIKE it.

Here’s what I’ve been absorbing:

Community

A delightful, absurd comedy about community college. The first season was pretty fantastic and I really loved that it became more of an ensemble cast then totally focused on Joel McHale. (Joel, I love ya, and the whole ‘will Brita and Jeff get together?!’ thing kept my attention, but it’s not the entire show, which I appreciate.) Not to mention the premiere this season has an appearance by none other than the infamous Betty White! If you’re ok with absurdist humor, please please check this show out! Also if you watch no other episode from season 1, watch “Modern Warfare.” I have no words.

My Generation

This show could go one of two ways: very very dawson’s creek (plus 10 years) or the comedic route. Hulu categorizes it as a comedy, which I’m not totally feelin’ yet. Why, Ericka, are you including this in your blog, then?? Awkwardness of seeing folks from high school, plus the fact that the characters are aware of cameras and often break the fourth wall, mix in a lot of drama, and you’ll start to see why ‘My Generation’ is an interesting show. The creators have forged it as a documentary series that followed 9 seniors from a high school in Texas and following up with them 10 years later as they run into each other and their lives seem to be entirely criss-crossed. (Strangers on a Train, anyone?) In any event, the idea of a fake documentary (in the vein of fake footage in general, a la Cloverfield, I’m Still Here, etc.) holds some interest. Thinking that the characters are real, or could be real, they could be you or I, gets the viewers emotionally invested early on. We all had high school crushes. We all have nostalgia for at least some part of our youth. What I want to know is, what would this look like if it were a real documentary? (probably boring, albeit I do enjoy seeing where all my high school classmates are now via facebook.) For ‘My Generation’, I have not decided yet, but perhaps it is worth keeping up with, at least via the interwebs.

Glee

It should be no surprise that I am a “gleek” as it were. I can’t help myself. I love the music. The drama is a little over the top, but again, I’m ok with absurdity. Last season was fantastic, and I’m glad that recording artists are somewhat supportive of the show and making music accessible, dance-ible, and super entertaining. The characters are super saturated and let’s face it, their voices are amazing. I could do with a little less Lea Michele though.

There have to be at least a half dozen other shows that I’m forgetting about. The Office (last year w/ Steve Carrell!), 30 Rock, Mad Men (of course!)… the list goes on. Tell me what your favorites are, what am I missing out on??

You Don’t Even Know, Kids

June 25, 2010 - 3 Responses

So I just found out, and maybe you all have heard this before me…. They are REMAKING the classic 1984 film Footloose. I’m beside myself.

Not only does this chill me to the bone that Zac Effron and others auditioned for the remake to be released in 2011, but the fact that they are beginning to remake classic 80′s films at all. I fear they will now begin to remake my favorite films that I grew up with. What would you do if they remade Pretty in Pink,  The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

One reason why this might be so bothersome  is that these films were originals in their own time. They hold nostalgic meaning for me and I will show my kids the originals even though the quality might be crappy, that is the way they were meant to be seen. (Just as I will show them the original Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

I am seriously worried. The director set to do the new Footloose is Craig Brewer, the very same Craig Brewer that directed Black Snake Moan. Draw your own conclusions as for what that will mean for this project. Also I’m a little outraged the the Reverend Shaw Moore will be played by Dennis Quaid! Not happy. Quaid is too gentle to play a raging, abusive, legalist.

In any case, I really hope this remake bombs so they will not remake any more of my old favorites. Seriously, Hollywood, get some WRITERS who will write ORIGINAL things. Hire any one of my screenwriting friends!

Also on this note, I heard that there will be a Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo due out in 2012, headlined with none other than Daniel Craig, George Clooney, and Johnny Depp. This one has at least a better director – David Fincher, but really Hollywood? Can’t we just let Sweden have it’s time? This story came out of their country and the movie was completely produced and distributed worldwide before Hollywood decided to do the copy cat thing. This makes me quite sad, and I really think that there are some amazing stories out there that have not been tapped. The question is, Hollywood, will you be brave enough to tell them?

TV Reluctance

June 22, 2010 - One Response

As promised, a post on TV shows that my boyfriend makes fun of me for loving…

This all started with my love of Nancy Drew. It’s true. Carolyn Keene was one of my favorite authors as a young girl and showed me that lady detectives are pretty bad ass. She along with Poirot and Masterpiece Theater grew my obsession with the mystery genre.  A friend of mine from Emerson had recommended an old, out-of-commission WB series called Veronica Mars. Kristen Bell’s foray into the small screen, which was her gateway to the big screen prior to Forgetting Sarah Marshall and whatever other ridiculous films she’s worked on. Veronica Mars is a witty character, smart as a whip, and tries to do the right thing, not unlike my old friend, Nancy.

I borrowed the first season (Thank You Megan!) and loved every second of it. I was hungry for more and quite addicted watching a few episodes every night before bed. Megan was out of town and I had to find other means of watching seasons 2 & 3. Thank goodness for the Internets. Found them on the WB website. Crisis averted. Series finished. And I wanted to watch it all over again, but didn’t.

Now I have nothing to watch. Back to books. Until, wait… yup. I’ve had friends tell me that True Blood is an excellent series and one that I need to watch. I had tuned into the HBO series once before and was appalled by the acting and the script and the effects. Ewww.  Through my OnDemand menu found a half hour briefing on season 1 by none other than Alan Ball, the man responsible for the writing and directing. After that, I knew enough about the characters and the world they lived in to try out season 2… It was gritty and dark, and surprisingly captivating. I understand now why people are so taken with the vampire series in an time when vampire stories seem to be everywhere with the advent of the Twilight film series.

All of this frivolity with shows I wouldn’t have switched on makes me wonder what else am I missing out on. I know people have recommended 24, LOST, even Battlestar Galactica. Maybe these should be next on my list of things to try out. As much as I love movies, its over in two hours and I have nothing to look forward to. I may have to rethink some things in the direction I’m taking with my own projects. Perhaps episodic is the way to go…

At the end of the day, my boyfriend still  chides me for letting myself get wrapped up in vamp soap operas and high school detective shows. At least he likes Dexter :)

Triumphant Return

June 21, 2010 - One Response

Dear Readers,

Please forgive my nine month absence. I have just completed my first year of film school. What did I learn, you ask? Mostly, that I need to keep my eye on the prize (MFA degree in hand, and job offer waiting in my inbox) and ignore all the dumb, political, administrative BS that higher education institutions impose. This has become a bit of a challenge, no doubt. Along the way, my comrades and I have been forced to view some heinous films which I will share with you, momentarily. I hope to keep up with Let ‘Em Riot over the summer, but may be forced to take a break once classes resume in the fall. We shall see.

Awful, No-Good, Should Never Be Seen Films of the 09-10 Academic Year:

1. The Pillow Book

Reason for screening: theories class- avant-garde

Why it’s awful: Although there was a reason to view some of this film to get the experience of a neo-classic avant garde film from Peter Greenaway, there was absolutely no reason to watch the entire film. The style was interesting, picture in picture, overlays, etc, but nothing that held meaning or evoked any emotional response. It’s a twisted story and I truthfully did not enjoy. No offense to all you Greenaway fans, it’s just not my cup of tea.

2. The Thirteenth Floor

Reason for screening: theories class- new media studies

Why it’s awful:  Another version of The Matrix (sans Keanu,) depicts a virtual reality within a virtual reality (within a virtual reality?) I actually liked this movie  but that doesn’t make it a good one. It actually came out the same year as The Matrix and poses many of the same questions. Great choice for the class, if you don’t want to screen The Matrix again. There has got to be other movies out there that discusses new media/programming in connection with social studies.

3. Birth of a Nation

Reason for screening: history of media class: early american films

Why it’s awful: Holy Racism, Batman! The movie explores the South after the Civil War, SILENTLY. Over three hours of silent film, plinking piano soundtrack, and all the blacks were white actors with bad makeup. The inter-titles were helpful to understanding the circumstances, but they were racist nonetheless. I realize this movie was on the 1997 AFI Top 100 list coming in at #44, but thankfully it was removed for the updated 2008 list.  If as a professor I ever chose to screen this film, I would only screen a few scenes. Not worth viewing unless you’re into historic, DW Griffith type stuff. This is one of his best.

And that my friends are the top 3 Worst Screenings of the past year. A few that I surprisingly enjoyed are listed below… if you can find them, I’d recommend them.

1. The Cruise (1998)

Documentary about a tour guide and the city he loves.

2. La Jétee (1962)

Still images tell the story of a man post WWIII.

3. Passionless Moments (1983)

An experimental film dedicated to those moments that aren’t usually shared. I have a short essay about the coherence of the piece if anyone is interested.

4. Rebecca (1940)

The 1940 Academy Award winner for Best Picture and first Hitchcock directed in America.

If I think of any more I will post them.

Next blog post: TV series I never thought I would enjoy and my boyfriend makes fun of me for.

Enlighten Up!

September 8, 2009 - Leave a Response

Finally, I was able to catch an elusive screening of Enlighen Up! at the Cabot Theater in Beverly. Mid-week matinees are fantastic if you hate crowds. In any case I was drawn to this doc even before it hit the festival circuit, mainly because it stems from a Boston/Somerville production company. I am interested in the local talent and wholly support independent film. More on this later…

Enlighten Up! is about one of the producers, Kate Churchill and her quest to prove that yoga can transform anyone, even a skeptic like Nick Rosen, her “guinea pig.” Nick is a journalist from NYC who comes from an interesting family background and makes himself open to all different kinds of yoga practices, all different kinds of theories about yoga and ultimately spirituality. It is organized chronologically by Nick’s journal entries. I sort of wished we could see more of what he wrote especially when tension rises between him and Kate.

They travel around the world in search of true yoga practice and interview dozens of instructors and yogis. It was really impressive that the managed to do all of this and actually get interesting bits and pieces. Their trip to India was especially fascinating for nothing if not just the cultural shift. The photography was beautiful, but maintained the shaky documentary feel. The documentary itself fell a tiny bit flat in the middle. I, like Kate, wanted to see more of a character arc. The only other thing I felt was missing was a little more detail about yoga. I don’t practice it, but the film seemed to be speaking to people who already knew the language. If it were directed to a broader audience and maybe charted different kinds of yoga practices so the layperson may be able to understand better what some of the terms mean. Part of the confusion perhaps is that there ARE so many different intentions/reason/kinds of yoga ranging from purely physical to reaching nirvana. But I still wished they explained it better for those of us who don’t know what yoga is.

In any event, it was extremely interesting to watch. Do I think that the film succeeded in transforming a person? Somewhat, but not enough that it is going to make any great impact on the yoga community. Or the community at large for that matter. Nick reaped the physical benefits of practicing yoga, but of his mind, I couldn’t tell.

As mentioned earlier, this particular film was of interest early on, mostly because it was produced by a Boston-based company. It gives me hope that I will be able to work near my home without having to move my life to L.A. or some other city in order to work in film. It is also great because I start grad school this week at Emerson College. Watch out, Boston! It will be wonderful to start his new endeavor, a little scary, but I have confidence that it is where I am meant to be.

Readers, beware that I may be posting my papers to the blog and less movie reviews. This is possibly more for my sanity than for your benefit, but maybe you can glean more out of academic adventures.

Bigger, Faster, Stronger… and smarter?

August 26, 2009 - 3 Responses

Today I viewed Bigger, Faster, Stronger, a 2008 documentary about whether or not steroids are ethical to take, in sports, in competitions, in medicine, in life. The director and host Chris Bell struggles to grasp some answers as he interviews athletic superstars, olympians, and people who’s lives have been touched by anabolic steroids. Here’s the actual synopsis from IMDB:

The documentary examines the steroid use of the director Christopher Bell and his two brothers who all grew up idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone, and also features professional athletes, medical experts, fitness center members, and US Congressman talking about the issue of anabolic steroids.

Steroid usage has become a serious issue which our government has strived to figure out how to regulate. Medically, some kinds of steroids are used to keep people alive, including some HIV survivors, so making them illegal all together wouldn’t be acceptable. Anabolic steroids are the kind that athletes take to beef up. I’m sure you can think of more names than I can of celebrities who have admitted to taking some form of stimulant. And it’s not difficult to pick out those who were/are on the ‘roids.

The story was most interesting to me when Chris Bell let us into his world. He discussed growing up idolizing Hulk Hogan, Schwarzenegger, and Sly Stallone. When he discovered that both of his brothers were on steroids, (one for olympic lifting, the other for aspirations of WWE stardom,) Chris had a moral and ethical dilemma. He was taught not to cheat and body enhancements were cheating, right?

This doc is not one to be watched lightly. There’s some serious stuff in there but it’s left open-ended for the viewer to make their own decision. I wish there was a definite answer from Chris about which side he ended up on, as he was a user for a short time also. The footage was great, it was expertly edited and the characters we meet along the way are memorable. I strongly recommend this film to anyone remotely interested in fitness and health or documentaries in general. Someone at my gym recommended it to me and I wished I watched it earlier. I feel more educated on the subject and understand a little bit more of why our country, why our athletes and our celebrities feel the need to use steroids. But they don’t stop there…

Is Tiger Woods’ corrective eye surgery cheating since he now has better than 20/20 vision? Do musicians and performers who take drugs in order to reduce anxiety cheating? (Maybe if it’s an audition…?) American air force pilots frequently take adderol type substances to keep them awake, alert and focused. (The American air force are the only air force in the world that are allowed or even encouraged to take drugs. Elsewhere, everywhere, they are not permitted.) Students take the same kind of caffeine pills to stay awake, study more and cram for the next exam.

On the one hand, I feel that, yes, it is cheating. Definitely. The argument made in the movie is mostly, “well, everyone is doing it so it’s a level playing field anyway.” And “You need this to reach your FULL POTENTIAL.” If that’s really the case, and there are no super humans who can run the 100 yard dash in under 9 seconds, then what do we do? On the other hand, there has to be some talent for athletes/musicians/students, etc. to perform. For Arnold to come to America and become an actor, maybe not so much. But everyone starts somewhere. He just happened to start as a bodybuilder.

This doesn’t change my mind about steroids. I hope Chris Bell feels the same way, despite his close connections to the issue. Feel free to comment about it if you have any stories. Watch the movie and tell me what  you think.

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