Posted by: Jake | March 2, 2011

Belated Oscars Viewing Guide: Animated Short Films

So, even though the Oscars were last Sunday (and pretty damn terrible), I’ve always felt like I should check out the short films.  They have a reputation, at least, of being less commercial, and therefore more creative.  It’s a given that they’re definitely less commercial than your average blockbuster, since nobody actually watches them.  But, were they more creative?  Short answer: it depends on the blockbuster and the short in question.  Really, I just wanted to go because critically acclaimed short films are one way that people like me can make the leap into the movie business.  So, here goes:

“Madagascar:  Carnet de Voyage”  (Madagascar:  A Journal Diary)

Okay, full disclosure, I came in late and missed the first half of this one.  That, and the sangria I had with dinner means that this review should be taken with a grain of salt.

From what I gathered, this movie was basically a description of a day living in Madagascar, and not a group of cgi animals escaping from the zoo, and then escaping back into the zoo (I haven’t seen any of the Madagascar movies, so I’m just going by what I remember from the trailers).

It was pleasant enough; I thought the animation was pretty, and I also enjoyed the African music that made up the soundtrack.  It seemed like the short never really aspired to do anything more than to say, ‘look how neat Madagascar culture is.’  On one hand, I wouldn’t feel right judging this movie for not being something it had no intention of being.  On the other hand, there really didn’t seem to be a lot of substance to latch onto.

“Let’s Pollute”

This one was unambiguously the worst of the bunch.  In the style of those 1950’s instructional videos, “Lets Pollute” was a pandering, off-putting film that sarcastically talked about how awesome pollution is, and what we can do to keep up the good work.

It spent the entire time preaching to its choir of environmentalists, letting them feel smug about all the people who pollute that aren’t them.  What it didn’t do, however, was try to engage anybody who wasn’t already an environmentalist, or present any kind of narrative that actually encouraged conservation or clean living.

While we do need to do a much better job of keeping our planet habitable, “Let’s Pollute” ignored any kind of real-world grounding, pragmatism, or need to connect with people who may not already be sympathetic its cause.  In fact, it just gave them one more reason to hate us while ignoring the actual issue.

“The Gruffalo”

Other than maybe “Day & Night,* this one had the most talent coming in.  Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, with voice acting by John Hurt and several other British people, this short certainly has a pretty strong pedigree.

And there was really nothing wrong with it.  It was a cute children’s story about a hungry mouse who tries to trick other animals into not eating him.  While it does get a little repetitive at times, and it’s a little too long, it’s a well-executed short film.  It was no Up, but it was nice.

“The Lost Thing”

To the chagrin of PIXAR fans everywhere, I think this was one award that the Academy actually got right.  “The Lost Thing,” about a kid who finds a strange creature on the beach and tries to find a home for it, is simple enough.

Adapted from a children’s book by the book’s author, “The Lost Thing” creates the most unique and immersive visual style of any of the animated shorts (and let’s be honest, that’s what this award is really all about).  It’s also a pretty subtle story about a character who loses his ability to see the world with wonder.

“Day & Night”

Yes, “Day & Knight” is technically astounding.  It’s well-paced, snappy, and fun.  It’s also the only one that got to be played in a real theater, ahead of Toy Story 3.


My hesitations with this short have nothing to do with its content.  Granted, I do have self-interest in this opinion, but I always think of the short categories as ways for unknown artists to make themselves known.  For me, giving this award to PIXAR, the most respected animation company in the world, just doesn’t seem fair.  “Day & Knight” got it’s audience, and whatever up and comer made it is already going to go on and have a very successful career.  For that reason, I have no problems with the Oscar going to an equally remarkable film that would go completely unnoticed without it.

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Posted by: Jake | January 10, 2011

Why I’m Really Enjoying Avatar: The Last Airbender

Since graduation, I’ve had a bit too much spare time on my hands.  So, I did what any responsible adult would do, and blazed through my list of TV shows that people have told me to watch (Friday Night Lights, Venture Bros., Archer, Parks & Recreation, Mad Men, and How I Met Your Mother so far).  So, having run out of just about everything else to watch, I noticed Avatar:  The Last Airbender, the TV series that inspired The Last Airbender and bears no relation to Avatar, had just been added to Netflix Instant Streaming.  I’d heard its fun, and Netflix seemed very sure that I would like it, giving it 4.5/5 estimated stars for Book (season) 1, and 4.8 for Books 2 and 3.  So, hey, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Starting out, it was about what I expected.  It seemed like a generic epic about a 12-year-old chosen-one who has to save the world from the forces of evil.  It was fun, with some pretty decent action, but straightforward.  The intro will fill you in on the plot pretty well.  I’m really sorry I couldn’t embed it, but this was the only version of the intro I could find that wasn’t some damn fan re-dub.  Basically, there are four nations, each of which has the ability to control an element.  And the Aang, the Avatar reborn as the last living Airbender, can control all of the elements and end the Fire Nation’s war on the rest of the world.

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s goofy.  But it’s fun, well-executed, and extremely watchable.  But, as the show goes on, it evolves and deepens.  Some of my favorite shows feature initially unlikeable characters who, as the series progresses, turn out to be extremely deep well-developed.  Battlestar Galactica had Saul Tigh, Lost had Benjamin Linus, and A:TLAB has Prince Zuko.  Zuko, the heir to the throne of the Fire Nation, has been banished by his father for weakness.  His father challenged him to a duel, but when he refused to fight back, his father attacked him anyway, giving him that huge scar on his face.

Seriously, who does that??

He tries to capture the Avatar not out of malice or to further his country’s expansionist political agenda, but as a way to prove himself to his father.  At the end of Book 1 and beginning of Book 2, we see just how much of an uphill journey this is for him, after his more talented and ruthless sister has usurped him.  In a particularly interesting scene, he confides to an unconscious Aang that, “Everything always came easy to her. She’s a Firebending prodigy, and everyone adores her. My father says she was born lucky. He says I was lucky to be born.”  He continues, “I don’t need luck, though. I don’t want it. I’ve always had to struggle and fight, and that’s made me strong. It made me who I am.”

Zuko’s journey only gets more interesting as the series progresses.  [Spoiler Alert]  After failing to capture the Avatar, he is hunted as a fugitive by his native Fire Nation, and goes on the run.  In my favorite episode so far, “Zuko Alone,” the young prince helps an Earth Nation family from Earth Nation soldiers, who bully and extort them.  But, after he uses his Firebending to save their son’s life, he is still shunned as the enemy.  [End of Spoilers] Zuko is an innately good person who has willfully done some truly terrible things.  As the show goes on, he begins to realize this, but still suffers while trying correct his path and recover his honor.  It’s easy to whitewash the hero’s journey into a generic battle of good vs. evil.  Instead, the show chooses to develop one of its antagonists and challenge the young audience’s basic definitions of good and evil.

Bad works of fantasy keep the viewer distracted and encourage them only to keep passively consuming (I’m looking at you, everything ever made by Hanna-Barbera).  Good fantasy stokes your imagination.  Good fantasy gives you an insatiable hunger to experience more and more wonder, and sometimes even to create it yourself.  A:TLAB doesn’t just feed us another escapist battle of good and evil, it creates a deep and complex world that will help inspire a new generation of storytellers.

Not bad for a kid’s show on Nickelodeon, if you ask me.

Posted by: Jake | January 9, 2011

Technology and the New Generational Divide

I remember, during my early teenage years, when I started listening to popular music.  I had, for the most part, grown up listening to what my Dad played for me: a lot of The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles (but less so), and a bunch of other classic rock.  When I got into more modern rock, I started listening to Blink-182, Green Day, Flogging Molly, The Offspring, and that genre.  While my Dad wasn’t particularly fond of Blink-182 and The Offspring (I’ve matured to agree with him there), we were both big fans of Green Day and Flogging Molly.  When we found this common ground, my Dad would often remark how strange it was that, unlike between him and his father, there wasn’t a huge generational divide between our tastes in music.

For awhile, it seemed like our generations didn’t have a real decisive rift between them.  Sure, some people got up in arms about the rap music, and the baggy pants, and the skateboarding, and whatnot.  But, there was never really all that much of a struggle there.  Pretty recently, though, that’s been changing, and social networking seems like it’s bringing about that divide.

Our Mick Jagger

This past Thanksgiving, several people in my extended family were asking me what exactly the point of Facebook is.  My cousin and I tried to explain that it’s a way to update your friends on what you’ve been up to, see what they’ve been up to, share links and info, view and share photos, and send and receive messages all in one place.  My grandpa, in particular, seemed extremely baffled, since you can do all that via email or over the phone without sacrificing so much privacy.  We tried emphasizing the convenience of it, and how checking someone’s Facebook profile was much less intrusive than calling them, but he wouldn’t hear it.  The argument ended in a stalemate, with us agreeing that it’s a “generational thing.”

And, right on cue, you’ve got the columnists chiming in.  The NY Times ran several op-eds about how smart phones, cell phones, social networking, etc., meant the death of our alone time.  People are bemoaning how today’s youth have lost their attention spans, thanks to over-saturation in media.  And technology “rewiring our brains” has been the latest panic.  The last straw, though, was this article I found the other day in Yahoo! Finance, which lists all the obsolete things that our children will never know about.  The piece starts out unremarkably, lamenting the loss of inventions that are obsolete because they have been improved upon (fax machines, VHS, wired phones).  But the article loses me when it bemoans the loss of:

“Talking to one person at a time: Remember when it was rude to be with one person while talking to another on the phone? Kids born today will just assume that you’re supposed to use texting to maintain contact with five or six other people while pretending to pay attention to the person you happen to be physically next to.”

As a social networker with a smart phone, I happen to take offense at this.  I consider myself a competent, serious-minded human being.  If we’re having a conversation, I will talk to you, and you will have my attention.  If my phone rings, I will politely answer it and return to the conversation, and I would be offended by anybody who wouldn’t.  Yet, I use my Twitter account regularly, I will post something cool I found online on Facebook, and then I will use my vapid, self-centered blog to talk about, in-depth, an issue that is important to me.

So, to those of you who are terrified of technology rewiring our brains, I would advise you to keep everything in perspective.  The “Greatest Generation” (I don’t know what else to call the generation that served in World War II) grew up with the Devil’s jazz music, and they turned out alright.  The Baby Boomers got into Rock n Roll, grew their hair out, smoked weed, and they turned out alright, too.  My generation texts, blogs, tweets, pokes, tags, and wuphfs.  But, I assure you, we still think, we still discuss, and we will turn out okay too.*

*Unless the machines really do rise up against us.

Posted by: Jake | November 6, 2010

Review of FAIR GAME, and Tangentially Related Politics

Reviewing a political movie can be tricky.  On the one hand, one gets caught up in evaluating the subject matter, and either defending or rebuking the points it makes.  On the other, there’s still the more basic question:  is it a good movie?

I’m going to get the second question out of the way first:  Was FAIR GAME a good movie?  Yes, for the most part.  The directing is pretty so-so (while the shaky-cam has become the standard for political thrillers, it doesn’t really add a whole lot to this one), and the sound mixing won’t be nominated for any Oscars.  But, far more importantly, the movie features a killer script, and great performances from Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.  Politics aside, FAIR GAME is a great story told well enough, with some really powerful moments, especially towards the end.

I could go into more detail, but I’d like to devote the rest of the review to talking about the politics of the movie, which I will then extrapolate into an article about political coverage in this country.  I think a good place to start would be whether or not this movie has a political slant.

The movie obviously does have a political agenda, which is to tell the story of the Bush administration silencing a misrepresented source (Joe Wilson – Sean Penn) by outing his wife (Valerie Plame Wilson – Naomi Watts) as a CIA agent.  But can this be called a political slant if it’s true?  And not true in the my-professor-assigned-this-one-reading-that-said-so way.  True because a jury found Scooter Libby guilty of doing this.  I’ve heard also that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are now estranged because Bush refused to pardon Libby (Cheney’s then-Chief of Staff) after the ordeal.  And yet, you could find millions of conservatives out there who would (and did) defend the President, and doubt and harass the Wilsons.

The reason for this is that, as a society, we don’t really strive to find objective truth anymore.  The right basically builds their continuously intensifying narrative that, in a nutshell, our society is being overrun by Muslims, illegal immigrants, gay marriage, and Fascist-Communists (completely unaware of the inherent oxymoron).  I am simplifying, I admit, but it is an objective fact that the Right Wing does resort to a lot of name-calling.  And, if you’re not one of the ‘real’ Americans on that side, you’re part of the movement that America needs to be taken back from.

False.

Then, the Left does either one of two things.  Some of us go the MSNBC route, which is to try to yell a competing counter-narrative, in the process vindicating FOX’s accusations about a liberal bias in media.  And, watching their election coverage was, honestly, excruciating.  Chris Matthews:  You have a brief interview with conservative princess Michelle Bachmann, and you can’t think of any question you’d rather ask then, “Are you hypnotized?”  Seriously?  What about her intended repeal of Health Care Reform?  Plans to impeach Obama?  What areas would she cut spending in?  Would she be willing to compromise on the Bush tax cuts to create a higher bracket, say at $1,000,000?  What does she plan to do about Afghanistan?  Will she vote to raise our national credit limit or make us default on our loans?  Will she try to undo Obama’s banking regulation?  What about the consumer’s bill of rights?  Does she believe in Global Warming?  Does she have any laws to regulate emissions other than Cap and Trade?  But no, Matthews, after briefly asking about how she plans on utilizing the House’s power of investigation.  After she basically said no, he decided to go with the hypnotism route.  And that leaves the rest of the Liberal movement in a pickle.

The other course of action that Liberals tend to follow was on grand display at The Rally to Restore Sanity.  There, Jon Stewart and co. preached the need to take back the political debate from the crazies at FOX NEWS and MSNBC and meet somewhere in the middle.  While I certainly agree with that sentiment, where is the middle?  Is it a point equidistant from the two extremes?  It is, if the two extremes are equal and opposite, which is how things can seem at first glance.  I attended Oberlin, a very liberal school in which, for the first time in my life, I found my politics markedly right-of-center.  Pretentious hippies and hipsters infuriated me, and words like ‘social justice’ and ‘outreach initiative’ were just things that certain professors talked about instead of actually educating their tuition-paying students.  So, at first glance, the geometric middle of the political spectrum does seem like the right place to meet.

But, FAIR GAME reminds us that there is a better place to meet in the middle, away from self-serving narratives: the objective truth, or as close to it as we can get.  (Spoiler Alert!) Joe Wilson did report to the CIA that Iraq was not buying Uranium from Niger.  The Bush Administration did manipulate the intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.  Joe Wilson did come forward to say that his information had been misrepresented.  In response, Robert Novak did write in a column that outed his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as an active CIA agent.  Outing her did end her career.  A jury did find Scooter Libby guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  And, Libby did go to jail for it.

 

Him.

These are facts.  Facts like these are what we are not discussing when we are calling each other Communists, Nazis, Hitler, or pin-heads.  And the validity of invading Iraq is a decision that we were not talking about when we were arguing about Joe Wilson’s credibility, as the movie points out.

Our political discourse has become so muddled, and the line between reporting and opinion so blurred, that it’s become so difficult to tell up from down.  You know Cap and Trade, the emissions regulation bill that the Democratic Senator-elect from West Virginia literally shot with a rifle on TV?  Did you know that it was originally put forth by George H. W. Bush?  Or that the Public Option for heath care is supported by 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole?

In a nutshell, our political discourse doesn’t just need to be more moderate, it needs to be more factual.  When FOX NEWS says something untrue on the air, no apology or retraction is required because their TV personalities are all ‘opinion guys.’  But, last I heard, saying something untrue on the air that damages another’s reputation is still slander.  And slander is still grounds for a law suit.  For instance, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the supposed ‘Ground Zero Mosque,’ (don’t get me started) can still prove objectively, in a court of law, that his operation is not a front for terrorist organizations.  Despite his personal track record of moderation and cooperation, even with the Bush White House, people out there still believe otherwise.  Despite the shit-storm it will stir up, a court ruling is one way to unequivocally state something as fact.

As a political document, FAIR GAME wildly succeeds.  It reminds us that, while some issues are up for debate, other points–that the Bush White House manipulated intelligence to drum up support for the Iraq War–are just stone cold facts.  Given the current media climate, this point is simply invaluable.

Posted by: Jake | June 19, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3

I genuinely liked Toy Story 3. Don’t let anything I say after this convince you otherwise.  But, this is a Pixar movie; and especially after Wall-E and Up, both of which were absolutely tremendous, I hold a Pixar movie to a higher standard than most.  To paraphrase Ratatouille‘s food critic Anton Ego, “I don’t LIKE [a Pixar movie], I LOVE it.  If I don’t love it, I don’t SWALLOW.”  This review is not me dumping on an objectively very good, as well as universally beloved movie.  This is just me wondering why I wasn’t as blown away as everyone else.

Toy Story 3 is set years after the series’ second installment, when the toys’ owner, Andy, is 17 years old and ready to go off to college.  At the beginning, the toys have been neglected for years, and are growing anxious and upset as they get ready to go into “attic mode.”  After a misunderstanding, they donate themselves to a daycare center, which turns out to be a lot less utopian than advertised.  It’s here where I had some issues.

At its strongest, the movie is about Andy leaving his childhood behind, as told from the point of view of his childhood.  However, the daycare set-piece felt like a bit of a tangent to me.  There were important plot-points that happen here, mainly the toy’s realization that (spoiler alert!) their actual purpose is to be there for Andy.  But, I still felt that parts of these scenes would have been better as DVD extras.  Much of the escape scene, while technically very impressive, didn’t really seem to advance the story.  I also didn’t find metrosexual Ken or Spanish lover Buzz to be funny enough to deserve their prolonged exposure.

However, the last 20-30 minutes of the movie are incredible, although not quite enough for me to overlook my above issues.  The scene in the incinerator was subtle and moving, and did not dream of pulling any punches.  After the fast and well-planned escape, the movie changes pace completely, stopping dead in its tracks as the toys find themselves face-to-face with certain death.  They realize that, despite their best efforts to the contrary, their lack of faith in Andy has damned them.  Rather than continue to fight their fate, they learn that, when push comes to shove, all you can really do is stand by the ones you love and hope for the best.  At this point, their rescue is not a rousing success, but a consolation after they have been completely and truly humbled.

But the journey was not over.  The ending scene, where Andy gives away his toys, was incredibly moving.  It struck a chord with me, the recent college graduate, as I’m getting ready to start my life for real and leave so much behind.  The scene perfectly showed how the love of the familiar and the comfortable clashes with the need to grow up.  And God dammit, sometimes even adults need to play make-believe with their old toys.  However, this moment felt less like an emotional climax to the story than a teaser to what the movie could have been if it had stayed with this storyline more closely.  Although Andy has always been something of a MacGuffin in the series, here he showed himself to be an equally fascinating character, and I would love to have seen more of the story from his point of view.

The Good:  Toy Story 3 is, of course, a technical masterpiece, and I would expect nothing less from Pixar.  Also in keeping with their strong tradition, the story is, at its core, genuine, honest, and moving.

The Bad:  I feel like the filmmakers didn’t trust their premise enough.  As a result, the movie seemed padded with a few too many slapstick action scenes of the toys climbing up, sliding down, and jumping across things, as well as jokes that didn’t quite merit their sizable amount of screen time.  This, to me, kept the movie from achieving the same level of greatness as the first one.

The Verdict:  Toy Story 3 ultimately gave the beloved franchise and characters the send-off they deserved.  I just wish the journey getting there was a little tighter.

Grade: 3.99999/5

Posted by: Jake | May 30, 2010

Review: Across the Universe

Up until now, my reviews have been of movies that were generally considered pretty good, and involved me describing how they were pretty good. This one, I think people will disagree with me about. I’m graduating Oberlin in two days, and Julie Taymor will be our commencement speaker.  So, I figured I should watch one of her movies before then, so here we are.

Before getting this thing going, I should point out that I probably don’t like the Beatles as much as you do. Now, don’t take this out of context and say that I don’t like them. I do. The Beatles are one of the first modern rock bands, and that’s awesome. They were also one of the most consistently solid pop acts in music, and it would blow my mind if I ever heard anybody say they actually disliked them. But, I would not use the word love to describe how I feel about them. Anyway, on to Across the Universe.

If you haven’t seen it, this movie is about something or other as some people briefly talk about some stuff and go to some places in between music videos of covered Beatles songs. And there’s a guy named Jude and a girl named Lucy. You see where this is going.

The movie’s first couple minutes are, in my opinion, dreadful. It opens with Jude singing on a beach. Then a montage in a wave. Then a dance club. Then a cheerleader. Then Jude meeting his father. Ect. After the movie gets its cringe-worthy opening out of the way, it gets better as it moves on through the 60’s or something.  There’s the Vietnam War.  Then I lost track of what’s going on.  I really don’t mean to be too cynical about the plot, but it’s really not the point of the movie at all, so it was kind of hard for me to follow.

Across the Universe reminds me very much of two movies, Moulin Rouge, and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Like Moulin Rouge, it is a period epic that incorporates pop songs into its musical numbers.  Where they differ, though, is that, in Rouge, there seems to be a story in place, that the musical numbers are brought in to support the story, instead of cover it up.  The movie seems to rely much less on the nostalgic appeal of its songs, putting them sometimes in the background and sometimes even mashing them up to create a hyper-romantic yet frenetic tone that, in my opinion, succeeds brilliantly.

This movie in no way, shape, or form, made me get choked up. Don't be silly. I like football. And beer. And romantic ballads about--shut up, Jake!

This movie reminds me a lot more of Transformers 2. Like T2, Universe starts with its set pieces.  Bay starts with explosions and gigantic fighting robots clicking and whirring in an unparalleled sensory assault, as well as skinny tan women, and then kind of reverse-engineers a plot to tie it all together.  You’d have a really hard time making the case that AtU didn’t do the exact same thing with its musical numbers.  Did I mention that the main character’s name is Jude?  And the female lead is Lucy?  Yes, I think I mentioned that.  Taymor, who has an undeniably brilliant visual eye, starts with The Beatles songs that she clearly loves, and writes a period piece around them.  Like Bay, Taymor is an undeniably talented craftsperson who, in this case, puts their craft ahead of their art.  I’m not saying that this is inherently a bad thing, I saw RotF twice.  I really like giant robot explosions.

Hell yeah.

The Good:  The movie does have some truly striking standalone scenes.  After getting some bad ones out of the way in the beginning, the movie does find something of a groove, at least tonally and rhythmically.  I did particularly enjoy the “I Want You” scene.  That, and many other scenes, did have plenty of genuinely inspired visuals.

The Bad:  It’s a spectacle and a concert, but it’s not really a movie.  Once I realized this, I was able to enjoy the good more.  I do think my first tweets from before realizing this were probably unfair.  Still, I would have been infinitely more impressed had Taymor pulled a Moulin Rouge and actually made the spectacle work as a story.

The Verdict:   This movie is, in essence, a pig in a tuxedo.  I readily admit that Julie Taymor is a great tailor (to stretch the metaphor a little), and does make a damn snazzy tux.  I wish I loved The Beatles as profoundly as everyone else seems to.  Maybe then I could actually look past the pig and get swept up in the magic of it.  I don’t fault people who can.  I really do wish I could like this movie in spite of its flaws.  But, I can’t seem to silence that little voice in the back of my mind yelling, “Look at its nose!”  Okay, I took this analogy too far.  But you get the point.

Grade: 2/5

Posted by: Jake | April 20, 2010

Makeup for The Lone Wolf

Alani Gaunt, the genius behind my werewolf, has just launched a process blog, in which she writes about doing makeup effects.  Her latest entry is about my film, The Lone Wolf, and I strongly suggest you take a look.

Also, you should also take a look at her website:

Posted by: Jake | April 11, 2010

An Epic Shoot of Epic Epicness: Reflections

Well, last night I had the second to last shoot for my senior thesis.  For those of you who don’t know, my thesis is a ~15 minute werewolf movie.  The story is about the character of Alan, who, after being bitten by something, is having recurring dreams about a werewolf murdering his girlfriend, Lily, and her friend Todd.  As he grows suspicious of their relationship, the dreams start getting more violent, leading up to the next full moon.

This past Friday and Saturday night, we filmed these dreams.  They were, hands down, the hardest shoots I have ever done.  I had my classmate Alani Gaunt, who is a freakishly good makeup artist, working on creating our werewolf for months, as well as all the rest of the movie’s makeup and gore effects.  Also, we were shooting down around the edge of Oberlin’s arboretum in the middle of the night, which has no natural light to speak of.  I had originally scheduled this shoot to take place over three nights, but had to cram it into two since my Director of Photography couldn’t make it on Sunday.

Friday’s shoot was pretty straightforward.  We started shooting at around 10:30, give or take, then shot everything that didn’t require extensive makeup effects.  We were done before 2:00 am, which really isn’t bad considering the scene and start time.

Saturday’s, though, was something else.  We met up to start makeup at 2:30, and got moving at around 3.  We got the claws done around 5:30, then decided to break for dinner before tackling the rest.  We met back up at 6:30 and got the werewolf makeup done at around, well, 9:30.  It was totally worth the wait, it looked fantastic.  This kind of downtime on film shoots, I should note, almost always devolves into YouTube parties, so here are some highlights:

Chrisoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds doing a trolololo parody:

The Dark Knight Kills Christmas 1&2:

And “The Horribly Slow Murder with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon”

But I digress.  We start shooting at 11:30, knowing that it’s going to be a late night.  I stuff my trunk full of Red Bull and Lays, and we do the first of two scenes, with lots of biting and bleeding and gore.  It was fun.  We got done with that sometime shortly after 1 am, and sent our actress home early, since she wasn’t in the second scene.

This second scene was a werewolf chasing one of the characters through the woods.  In preparation for this shoot, I got a couple of LED flashlights.  They’re actually powerful enough to make things show up on camera when there is no other light source around.  Still, they don’t cover a whole lot of ground, so I  decided to pull my car up to the edge of the woods and blast the headlights onto the trees to light the background for a couple of hours.  And, being an environmentally conscientious Oberlin student, I figured that I should turn off the engine so as not to waste gas.  Those of you who are smarter than me can see where this is going.

Anyway, completely unaware of the fact that I’m a dumbass, we shoot the chase scene.  Things are looking good, we get the shots we need.  It’s awesome.  We wrap at 3:48.  Everyone is exhausted, but so relieved to have this insane shoot over and done with.  We pile back into my car, and I try to start the car, but only get that dreaded scraping sound of the ignition not igniting.  Simultaneously, all of our souls died.

Everyone else walks back to campus, but I stay with the car.  I call AAA, who reroutes me from Maryland to Southern Ohio to finally the Northern Ohio operator.  They said a car to give me a jump would be here within the hour.  Here’s where things got fun.  My car was parked on the grass, about 50 feet past the end of a few hundred foot driveway with no lights.  If I were the AAA guy, that would sketch me out.  Then I look around the street and realize there’s fake blood everywhere.  Sensing that there was about a 50/50 chance of me spending the night in jail until I can prove that I’m Jake Coburn and not the guy who murdered Jake Coburn and stole his car, I grab a thing of water I brought for the shoot and spend a good 20 minutes trying to get the dried fake blood out of the road.  After another couple of minutes, the AAA guy comes and jumps my car, and I get home.  After helping one of my actors get out of his makeup, I finally go to bed at 5:30.

Making movies is many things, but it’s seldom monotonous.  And, here’s an image from last night’s shoot.  Enjoy:

Yeahh!!!

Posted by: Jake | April 8, 2010

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

First, off, I’d like to apologize for not posting since, er, January.  Second semester started, my thesis began, and the blog got neglected.  But now I’m paying attention to it again.  Anyway, Hot Tub Time Machine:

It's like some kind of... hot tub... time... machine...

This movie, like Snakes on a Plane, got most of its publicity by having a silly and incredibly self-explanatory title that is really fun to talk about.  One of the trailer’s best moments is actually when Craig Robinson just looks at the camera and says the title of the movie (it’s 1:24 in):

But, of course, there has to be a good movie behind the cleverly stupid title.  Thankfully, there is.  This one is an ensemble cast about the recently dumped Adam (John Cusack), his loser nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), his whipped friend Nick (Craig Robinson), and their crazy “he’s-an-asshole-but-he’s-our-asshole” friend Lou (Rob Corddry).  After Lou may or may not have attempted suicide, the gang decides to cheer him up by taking him to the ski resort where they went to party when they were teenagers.  They get there, though, to find it’s in really bad shape.  Then, they get in the, here it comes, hot tub time machine, and find themselves hungover in 1986.

This is, however, only where the actual movie starts.  With Adam, Nick, and Lou inhabiting themselves as 17-year-olds as they relive one of their most formative weekends, they have to strike a balance between not changing the past and finding a way back to their own time.

The Good:  First off, this movie is really damn funny.  A lot of its jokes are low-brow, and by God I love it.  Cusack, Robinson, Corddry, and Duke are all thoroughly charismatic and turn in very strong performances across the board.  Not only were the film’s comic set pieces were surprisingly original, but seeing such unhappy adults reliving their teenage years packs a surprisingly strong emotional punch.  Honestly, I think I liked HTTM more than the The Hangover.

The Bad:  The premise, beyond being setting up a lot of good comedy, also packed the potential for some really good pathos.  The movie showed hints of fully realizing its premises potential with a couple of genuinely affecting scenes, especially the one on top of the building towards the end, as well as the ones between Adam and April (Lizzy Caplan).  I’m not sure exactly what could/should have been done differently, but if they fleshed out the emotion of these characters reliving their glory days a bit more, this movie could have gone from being surprisingly really good to being something really special.

The Verdict:  Hot Tub Time Machine is a very well-done comedy that at least hints at far more substance than you would expect.

Grade: 4/5

Posted by: Jake | January 16, 2010

Review: Youth in Revolt

I’m going to come right out and say it: Youth in Revolt is the best teen sex-comedy I’ve seen since Superbad. It’s also the only one I’ve seen since Superbad (that I can think of off the top of my head).  The reason why I generally avoid this genre of movie like the plague is that they generally feature borderline-mentally-challenged protagonists trying to score.  What sets Youth apart from these “movies” is that it’s character, played by Michael Cera, is actually relatable.  Those of you who know me will be shocked to learn that I wasn’t always the lady-killing Casanova/Don Juan I am today.  I was once a teenager who was less desirable to women than his more physically attractive, less intelligent classmates.

Alas, I digress.  Youth in Revolt is about the smart-but nerdy Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), who falls in love with the attractive but equally brainy Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) at the beach, where his Mom’s new boyfriend takes them to escape some angry sailors.  The two actually hit it off quickly (the trailers made it look like him wooing her was the point of the movie).  After Nick goes home, he decides to be bad, creating the supplementary persona of the bad mustachioed Frenchman Fracois Dillinger to help him on his crime spree that will hopefully win back his girlfriend.

The Good:  Cera plays the protagonist very well.  Although we’re all starting to get a little bit tired of Cera playing that awkward kid who we root for because he’s Michael Cera, he brings more enthusiasm to this role than he has in awhile.  Also, playing Nick’s alter ego Francois Dillinger, Cera really mixes things up a bit.  It’s almost definitely his best role since Arrested Development, although that honor is likely to be stolen by Scott Pilgrim vs. The World when it comes out.  The beginning of the movie is particularly well-written and does a great idea of developing the situation into a lot more than the cliche of the guy who can’t get the girl.  Also, the movie is genuinely funny without resorting to gross-out gags or excessive vulgarity just for shock value.

The Bad:  After the strong beginning, the movie starts to feel a bit over-plotted.  Francois appears too quickly and without enough explanation or internal conflict.  From there, the movie sort of gets lost in the twists and turns in the plot of Nick’s development.  The movie, at its core, is not about a guy who starts a fire and runs away from home, etc.  It’s about a kid who is sick of being powerless and tries to take control.  Especially during the second half, the movie seems to lose sight of that.

The verdict:  Youth in Revolt is an original, fresh take on adolescent futility.  It’s well-acted, well-directed, and pretty well-written.  From what I’ve heard about the book it’s based on, Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp, none of these problems were a failure of vision, but just problems that come with adapting it for the big screen.  I’ve just ordered said book off of Amazon, and I hope to be able to read it soon and compare the two.  I’m a slow reader without a lot of free time, though, so don’t hold your breath.

Grade: 3.5/5

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