Friday, November 25, 2011
3-D is commonly employed poorly in live action films. It sometimes works well, Avatar being a nice example (although, really, one could easily consider Avatar a computer animated film), but it is usually used for movies that would otherwise have nothing interesting to offer. The producers fund a lousy film under the promise that the swords will come flying out the screen and the three to four dollar surcharge will come flying out of wallets, not because the film's story can be modified in any way by this extra dimension. Avatar made such an impact because the world James Cameron created felt completely immersive. The film was about virtual bodies becoming real, dreams becoming tangible. The third dimension added a layer of depth to the overall intent of the film. I cannot say the same for The Green Hornet, Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender, or any other totally valid reasons that people often give for not liking 3-D. Why pay the extra money? It's never worth it.
Here's the problem. 3-D technology is extremely impressive. When used effectively, the technology can add depth and wonder to the cinematography of a film. However, when used poorly, the technology faces extinction. We are in a transitional period. Like the introduction of color, we are faced with low-caliber variations of a phenomenal tool. For instance, many people believe that The Wizard of Oz was the first color film. It wasn't. People just believe that because the color was used to aid the story, to give the land of Oz depth, and to show people how the technique can revolutionize the way moving pictures can be experienced.
In a way, this is the story of film. When the Lumiere brothers made their first film of a train moving toward the camera, filmmaking was seen as a triviality. A sideshow gimmick. It took decades for film to be as respected as it is today. And, in some circles, film is still not quite as appreciated as literature or painting.
Which brings us to Hugo.
Martin Scorsese has made a name for himself in recent years for spearheading an ambitious film preservation society. He has given numerous talks, and made several documentary shorts, in order to spread the news that old films are disappearing each day. And, as one of the most knowledgeable film historians in the world, Scorsese has done pretty well with the campaign. And when I saw Scorsese's masterful, gorgeous new film Hugo, I couldn't help but wonder if any other filmmaker could have pulled off such a watchable educational film concerning cinema preservation.
Movies are at the heart of Hugo, Scorsese's first 3-D film, and he uses the medium not only to wow audiences with impressive visuals, but to also comment on the film's overall message.
The film concerns a forgotten silent filmmaker whose entire filmography has been destroyed for the sake of shoe heels (it makes sense in the movie), and how devastating this treatment of film was to the genius filmmakers who were left behind after the world wars.
Hugo is about film as an art form. It is about the director as artist. It reminds us that there was a time when special effects were new. That the visual wizardry of filmmaking was once shocking, surprising, awe-inspiring. That filmmakers used to be scoffed at for making populist drivel, even while they were producing some of the most incredible work of any artist at the time. At its heart, Hugo is about the relationship between an artist and his/her tools. For the early filmmakers, their tool was considered nothing more than a gimmick, a phase, a temporary distraction from real art. And, as I said earlier, 3-D is the new gimmick.
Scorsese, one of the most celebrated living filmmakers, was criticized for choosing to make his newest film in 3-D. The fad, as some say, has worn out its welcome. I beg to differ. The fad is not wearing out its welcome, bad use of the technique is. Now that we're finally getting master filmmakers behind 3-D cameras (Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, to name some Germans), audiences can now decide for themselves whether 3-D is their thing.
Hugo utilizes 3-D in a way that I have never seen outside of a theme park. The opening shot actually turns your stomach, in the best way possible, when it zooms through a busy train station and weaves around halls and ladders. The photography is kinetic and exciting. The depth is incredible, the shot compositions perfectly suited to the technology, and Scorsese feels right at home with the extra responsibility.
Also at home are Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz, the two young leads of the film. Butterfield in particular, as the titular character, brings warmth and emotion to his role--much needed elements for the mostly silent performance he gives. Moretz plays the opposite of her Kick-Ass character, Hit Girl, as she is an innocent, bookish girl who is terrified of getting into mischief. Moretz grounds the film with her calm, old-soul presence. The two leads play well off of each other, and they are benefitted from the excellent script by John Logan.
Hugo is a beautiful film. I highly recommend that you go see it, and I cannot stress enough how great the 3-D is here. But you have to meet the film halfway. If you don't want 3-D to be used as a gimmick, don't expect it to act like one. The extra dimension is just that, an extra dimension. This does not mean stuff flies in your face constantly. This means that there is an extra layer of depth to the screen. The shot compositions have become more complicated, and more interesting, because of this technology. Okay? Okay.
I give Hugo 9/10 released Krakens
Friday, November 11, 2011
|Parody? It's up to you.|
Okay, to be fair, there are some good tracks on Lynch's LP, which dropped earlier this week, but the other tracks are plagued by a hollow core. Lynch is a filmmaker first. That is his true talent. He can play a mean guitar, he can create an excellent aural texture, but he does not understand what it takes to craft an album. At least not yet. But Karen O. tried. And that's all that counts.
So here we are. In a world where David Lynch, one of the premier American filmmakers, retires from the medium that made him famous so he can sing into a vocoder about red shirts. And on top of that, your favorite movie blog just released an article on music. It's a sad day. But chin up, because you might find yourself downloading these artists on itunes before you know it.
My fifteen favorite albums of all time (in no order)
The Final Cut--Pink Floyd
Even though I can safely tell you that nostalgia is 50% of the reason behind this album's inclusion, I can still get behind some of the tracks. Pink Floyd (lets face it, Roger Waters for this one) managed to somehow make an entire album predicated on one emotion--fierce devastation. Every song has the emotional capacity of an entire Lars Von Trier film in only three minutes. The title track is still a favorite of mine, even after all these years, for its sheer arena-rock balladry. While this album is certainly a departure for the band that brought you "Jugband Blues," it's also a real treat for those who want a good cry. Highly recommended.
TOP TRACKS: The Final Cut, Your Possible Pasts, The Fletcher Memorial Home
Have One On Me--Joanna Newsom
TOP TRACKS: '81, Go Long, Jackrabbits, Esme
The Age of Adz--Sufjan Stevens
TOP TRACKS: Vesuvius, All For Myself, Futile Devices, Impossible Soul
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--Kanye West
TOP TRACKS: Monster, Runaway, Lost in the Woods, Blame Game
Fever Ray--Fever Ray
TOP TRACKS: If I had a Heart, Seven, Keep the Streets Empty for Me
Stop Making Sense--Talking Heads
There are few things David Byrne can't do. Make a terrible live album is one of those things. Stop Making Sense is not only the perfect setlist made during the peak of Talking Heads' talent, but the album itself works as the single best introduction to the Talking Heads possible. Match the album's amazing setlist with the fact that it is a miraculously good concert film, and you've got yourself a Friday night.
TOP TRACKS: Heaven, Once in a Lifetime, This Must Be the Place(Naive Melody), Found a Job
Live At The Royal Albert Hall--Bob Dylan
TOP TRACKS: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Mr. Tambourine Man, Ballad of a Thin Man
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea--Neutral Milk Hotel
TOP TRACKS: Oh Comely, Two-Headed Boy Part 2
Achilles Heel--Pedro The Lion
TOP TRACKS: Bands With Managers, Arizona, Start Without Me
Songs From a Room--Leonard Cohen
TOP TRACKS: The Butcher, Tonight Will Be Fine, The Partisan
Celebration, Florida--The Felice Brothers
TOP TRACKS: Fire in the Pageant, Ponzi, River Jordan
Bone Machine--Tom Waits
Like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits tries to do something a little different with each of his albums. With Mule Variations, waits went for the dust bowl sound. In Rain Dogs, Waits tried to recreate the immigrant experience, and so on. Bone Machine is his album about death. From the opening track "Earth Died Screaming," there is no mistaking the album's apocalyptic themes. Waits waxes poetic about various aspects of death, ranging from bodies turning into dust to the tragedy of dying young. He rants about not wanting to grow up and get old. He refers to bodies as machines made of bone, performing their functions until they have to shut down. However, even with the somber subject matter, Waits finds a way to make it fun with his inventive percussion and beautiful songwriting.
TOP TRACKS: Earth Died Screaming, Who Are You?
TOP TRACKS: Nebraska, Atlantic City, Highway Patrolman
The Crying Light--Antony & The Johnsons
TOP TRACKS: Aeon, Daylight and the Sun, The Crying Light
TOP TRACKS: Hand Me Down, Witness, Birdcage
What are some of your favorite albums? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
The film's structure is unsound. Sometimes the looseness of the film feels intentional. There are scenes where the narration is the only thing keeping it together, as if a mistake in the filming forced the documentary in a direction that Kuenne was uncomfortable taking. There are interviews that are ripped to shreds in the editing because it's clear that the wrong questions were asked. The timeline moves back and forth with no order. Inserts of home movies interrupt the flow of the film in ways that startle the viewer. The editing actually distracts from the picture, making everything feel crowded, fussy, and unprofessional.
When I started watching the film, I realized that there was a serious problem. It begins with a narration by Kuenne where he describes his relationship with the subject of the film. The subject, Andrew Bagsby, was murdered in the early 2000's, and Kuenne decided to make a film in tribute to Andrew by documenting the years following his death. The film includes hundreds of interviews and home movies concerning Andrew. It becomes clear early on that Kuenne's affection for Andrew is strong, perhaps too strong, for the kind of documentary it appears to be.
The film--at least the first half--is a parallel narrative that documents Andrew's early life as well as the investigation of his murder. While the bits about his early life are charming, they definitely lean on the side of sentimental. Swelling piano music fills the soundtrack every time somebody mentions Andrew, and this style begins to wear on the viewer. The film tries too hard to make us immediately love Andrew, and it seems to not trust that we can do it on our own without the amateurish techniques employed by the filmmaker.
However, I decided to keep watching, seeing as the film has been getting rave reviews almost unanimously for three years. And I'm happy that I did.
To be clear, the film is not kidding. Its sentimentality is sincere, almost too sincere, and in this way the final half of the film is a devastating blow. I don't want to spoil the story for you, as the development of the increasingly complicated plot is half of the brilliance of the documentary, but I will say that Dear Zachary turns into a surprisingly upsetting, and shocking, piece of documentary filmmaking.
It takes on an impressionistic form. The awkward editing and schmaltzy piano is turned against the viewer as the film continues. As Kuenne's story becomes more unbelievable, so, too, does the way in which he tells the story. The talking heads begin to speak over one another. Various visual and aural motifs begin to repeat themselves in interesting ways. The film begins to fold in on itself. Something magical happens.
What begins as a pretty standard dateline episode turns into a wrenching true story told in an explosive way. That's not to say that the film doesn't have its problems, but that Dear Zachary is one of the more fresh documentaries I've seen in a while. And part of its excellence stems from its unpretentious style. From its unpolished esthetic.
I highly recommend the film, which is on Netflix Watch Instantly, and runs 90 minutes.
I give it 7/10 excellent second acts.