Monday, November 29, 2010

Start the Revolution

When you walked into your local cineplex this past Thanksgiving holiday, which I'm sure many of you did, you probably plopped down around 10 bucks per ticket. Roughly half of those 10 dollars goes back to the studio, while the remainder goes to the theater, who uses about 95% of that half to facilitate the operation of the movie theater. So when you consider that theaters make a profit of less then 5% of the total ticket price you pay to get in, then you can start to see why they charge 7 bucks for cheap nacho cheese that barely covers the measly amount of chips that accompany it.

When you choose what movie theater to go to when watch a film, you are making a choice to support the artist who make the film and the exhibitors who pay an arm and a leg to show you that film. We've all been to a crappy movie theaters in our respective town and the only reason those theaters are still in business is because A) they exhibit films that a large percentage of audiences want to see and B) a large portion of the population surrounding that theater choose to visit that theater when they watch films. The world of cinema economics is a complex topic that I hope to share with you over the course of this blog and the e-magazine, but for now I just wanted to touch upon about the importance of being aware of how our cinema dollars are spent and who benefits. Specifically, I want to talk here about supporting your local film initiatives.

What do I mean by "local film initiatives"? Good question, reader. By local film initiatives, I'm referring to any sort of film related "event" that is put on by local companies, organizations, individuals, etc. For example, recently the Dallas Film Society put together a fundraising dinner in Dallas, where film lovers would get an opportunity to hear an intimate conversation with Robert Duvall. Proceeds from the event went into various programs that the Dallas Film Society actively produce, such as invigorating local students to follow their passion in the film arts. I volunteered to work at the event, to show support for ventures like this one and I was lucky enough to shake Robert Duvall's hand. And as I did, all I could think about was how proud I was for him to know that yes, even in the "red" state of Texas, there are intellectual film lovers who know his body of work.

A months ago, The Herculano & Elida Hernandez Foundation put on their 11th Annual Vistas Film Festival here in Dallas. Now this festival isn't as large at the DIFF, but it has survived throughout some tumultuous years and it showcases films that might not otherwise be seen in this part of the country. I caught several films at the festival and had the opportunity to chat with many of the filmmakers themselves. Being in the midst of that festival, I was once again filled with pride that a scrappy festival such as this one still exists and is unique to our city. However, I was disappointed at the low turnout at some of the screenings and at was a shame that the Q&A for some of the producers and directors was virtually empty. Marketing for the event may have something to do with it, but I was surprised that film students and enthusiasts didn't take advantage of these intimate settings to speak with some prestigious film makers. Heck, I got to talk with the director of "Angels in the Outfield" and heard candid stories from the set of that film; stories that I'm sure are not on any DVD commentary track or any book. These type of priceless moments are only discovered within the communities that events like these create.

I'll be the first to admit that there are a slew of Hollywood blockbusters that I'm looking forward to seeing this holiday season, and more than likely I will be seeing these films at a chain theater (although I always make it a point to visit the independent film theaters like the Angelika or the Inwood theater). Our society has become too familiar with the Hollywood movie experience to totally give it up, and that's okay. But, as a consumer, specifically a consumer of entertainment, it's important that we spread our dollar around to include the filmmakers and organizations around our communities that need our support much more than the big Hollywood boys do. We don't spend all of our money at chain restaurants like McDonalds, do we? No, sometimes we visit the mom-n-pop, hole-in-the-walls in our neighborhoods that serve food that you would never find at a McDonalds. We crave that variety and the quality that can only be found from local passion. The same should be said for our cinematic entertainment. And with the advent of the Internet, there is no excuse to not know what is happening within your local film community. The cinema initiatives in your area depend on the film enthusiasts of that community to forgo their consumption of mass media and partake in the communal nature of enjoying least once in a while.

Tonight I'll be going to Downtown Dallas to see an exhibition of 3D cinema being projected on a large scale. It may be gimmicky, it may be commercial, it may just plain suck. But its sharing a cinematic experience, produced by a local organization, that matters. And when I'm standing outside in the cold tonight, watching light and shadows dance on the wall of a skyscraper, I'm hoping to feel a kinship with all those people, a hundred years ago who stood in nickelodeons and in the back rooms of parlors, experiencing the magic of a new art form that, if nothing else, is bringing people together.

If you live in Dallas, hope to see you there. If you don't live in Dallas, find the nearest cinema event, put on by local people, and watch, discuss and experience.

Show them that the revolution of cinema is starting with you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Second Time Around

One of the only things I've ever won on the radio was tickets to see the re-release of Star Wars, back in 1997, when ol' George Lucas decided to remind us all that the original in his space saga was just the beginning of his camp-fest, with three more cheesy prequels on the horizon. I was in that minority, back then, of movie fans who had not yet seen any Star Wars films. As a kid in the eighties, I had t-shirts, lunch boxes, and video games all tied to the Star Wars universe but I had never seen any of the original films. So when I won tickets to see the first one on the big screen, I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew at the time was Dark Vader was voice by James Earl Jones.

I remember not being too terribly excited to see the film as I walked into the megaplex that day. I took my father and my cousin along with me, neither of whom were Star Wars fans either. As I sat there in the theater and watched the film, trying hard to not snicker at the dated special effects, what mainly dominated my thoughts was one simple notion: I was glad that I was watching this film in a movie theater and not at home on my un-HDTV.

Now I'll say this upfront for all you Star Wars fanatics: Star Wars in a revolutionary film that practically single-handedly created the big budget, special effects extravaganza film genre and it deserves its place in cinema history. But in my opinion, the original Star Wars is one of those films that dates itself and continues, throughout the film, to draw attention to this fact. When you break it down, the actual story at the core of Star Wars is simplistic and extremely predictable; the film was a success at it's initial release not because of it's original storytelling but because it was ambitious in pushing the limits of what grand special effects could do for a simple story. Lucas has balls, that's no doubt, but when watched in hindsight, none but the hardest cored fan can resist from admitting that Star Wars looks almost laughable to today's standards. The cinematic technology hadn't caught up to Lucas's vision yet but he did the best he could with what he had to work with. That he did this was admirable but doesn't necessary make for an enjoyable watching experience today. A film should bring you to the brink of reality and allow you to lose yourself into the world of the film. I'm sure that was possible watching Star Wars in 1977 but despite it's innovation, it was all too obvious in 1997 that the light sabers looked like flat neon sticks.

But the thing about these technological misgivings was that sitting in the theater that day watching Star Wars for the first time...I didn't care about that. I didn't care that the explosions looked stupid or that Darth Vader looked dorky. It was a cinematic experience, enhanced by the dark room of the theater, the booming sound system and the cheers of the other audience members who were clearly Star Wars fans. For me, the lights of the big screen and ambiance of the theater made Star Wars what it couldn't be on the standard definition television screens of the enjoyable cinematic experience.

This enjoyment could have only happened in the theater; if I had watched Star Wars for the first time at home, I might not have understood what all the fuss was about. But going to the theater and actually seeing the film as it was intended to be seen made all the difference. This is why I am a huge advocate for seeing a film in a movie theater, when possible. Screw rising tickets prices, lackluster service at the concession stand or sticky theater floors...if a film you missed is being released at the theater and it's a film you wanted to see, then you should make every effort to see it in its intended format.

I often go to Saturday midnight movies at a local theater in Dallas that show a range of different films from years past. I took my girlfriend to see Pulp Fiction one night at this theaters and initially she didn't understand why I would spend money on a movie that I owned at home. But as we enjoyed the movie splashed on the big screen, listening to the killer soundtrack through loud theater speakers and sitting next to several Pulp Fiction fans in the theater who were enjoying the film just as much as I was, I hope she realized that it wasn't about simply watching a movie.

It was about experiencing a movie.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unnecessary Trailing

Movie trailers are a topic that deserve discussion and for some time now I've had an extensive article about the triumphs and pitfalls of movie trailers brewing in my head. It's still brewing. I'm compiling a list of good trailers, bad trailers and everything in between in order to intellectually and knowledgeably write a comprehensive article that tackles various aspects of the art behind the infamous motion picture trailer.

But until then I have something to say.

I'm noticing a current trend in film trailers that both confuses and aggravates me, and seeing as how I just ran across this weird occurrence in a trailer I saw today for Scott Pilgrim vs The World, I decided to at least get this off my chest.

Has this ever happened to you? You're watching an interesting trailer on television or on the Internet and then all of a sudden, the director or the producer or the movie star pops up on screen and proceeds to tell someone off camera what the movie is about, as if he or she is being interviewed about the movie in some obscure press junket.

Why they #$@!?

Has it come to this? Are we, the "audience" that stupid now that we have to have someone explain our movie trailers to us? Is it necessary to have a member of the production crew tell us exactly what the trailer should be telling us already? It's like watching a commercial about a commercial that we're already watching. It's like having a singer talk over their own song and explain what the song is about. Its like watching an episode of The Real World and seeing whatever media whore they cast that season act out dramatically on camera, then having that same person tell the camera, interview-style, they were "pissed". No shit you're pissed, we just saw you slap another cast member and throw a vase across the room. I think we get the picture.

I don't understand the necessity to include the director and or any other production member in a film trailer. Is it a new clause in entertainment contracts? Do the studios feel that confessional style interviews are what the audience want, seeing as how we've become a society of reality television. Or do they just think we won't get what the film is about from the trailer alone. If this is the case, interviews from the director isn't whats needed...firing of the trailer editor is whats necessary.

But of course, this is most likely the not the case. What most likely is the case is that studios are simply attempting to put a fresh spin on the" movie trailer" by including these clips of production member interviews because it not only makes the film more accessible to a wider audience but it also make the film seem more of an "event" that needs to be experienced because hey, the director is right there telling me to go see it! Now, I applaud the studios for trying to think outside the box when it come to marketing their films, and they ultimately have the right to do this. But the film enthusiasts in me cringes every time I see a trailer that does this. It makes the trailer draw attention to the marketing scheme behind the movie, rather than focusing on the movie itself. A trailer's main purpose is to tease and inform the audience on what a particular film is about, not who made it or why. The why's and the who's is great information to know, but there are already avenues for which the public can seek out that information; it's place isn't in the movie trailer.

I realize that I'm most likely in the minority here but I'm okay with that. I'm sure plenty of people will watch these types of trailers and think nothing of their obscurities. And truth be told, I can endure them, particularly since thankfully I have yet to see an official film trailer use this marketing ploy; I'm talking about the film trailers you see right before a feature presentation at the theater. Thankfully those movie theater trailers stick to their own obscurities and flaws...but that's an article for another time.

What's your opinion on this?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Finding Cinema

This is not a normal blog entry.
This is a personal entry.
As personal as ones and zeros get.

I found Cinema at a very young age. I had several guides along the primitive road of motion picture discovery; Steven Speilberg, John Hughes, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Quinton Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Howard Hawks, Darren Aronofsky, The Coen brother, Christopher Nolan, etc...

I found Cinema during a fascinating time for the art form. I have this satisfaction in common with two of my favorite "guides" through my motion picture education; The Lumiere Brothers.

The Lumiere Brothers found cinema in 1985 because their blood and sweat created cinema itself. A integral component in bringing the cinematographe, one of the very first film cameras, to fruition, the Lumiere reign as technological and innovative pioneers in the early period of cinema's birth. Their 1985 short Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon was one of the first recorded images ever to be seen on film the world over. They developed the perforated film stock that would allow film to run through the reels of a camera and projector; a process that is still used today. By showcasing private screenings in public coffee houses in France, the Lumiere brothers in essence created the film festival. It can be argued that The Lumiere Brothers fathered the art form of cinema.

Lumiere, translated into English means light.

Cinema is various shades of light illuminated on a white screen in a dark room.

The audience in that room is illuminated.

But after the film ends, and the lights come back up in the dark theater, is the mind of the audience still illuminated?

We live in a time of fragmented media, of digital communication and an age of limitless knowledge. However, and maybe because we live in this era, we are still sitting in the theater, not noticing the credits role; leaving contemplation behind with the discarded popcorn bag and empty soda cup. We are sitting in that coffee shop in 1985, sipping coffee, glancing at the flickering Lumiere images on the wall and turning back to our table, giving up the opportunity to see beyond the "screen". Now is the time to see the light behind the images; watch it pass from the projectionist booth behind us, filter through the air above us and cast a myriad of colors and shadows on the blank wall.

It's time to let a bit more light into the theater. Enough light to leave an impression on the audience. Enough light to keep the film going. Enough light. Lumeire.

In retrospect, I did not find Cinema. The Lumeire brothers and the other early film innovators who had a dream of capturing the essence of life, they found Cinema. They found it and unleashed it's brilliance of light, interpretation, beauty and infinite possibilities on the rest of the world.

Cinema in turn found me. It found you as well. And now its up to us to open our third eye to the lasting wonders of the world of cinema.

Because cinema has been good to us, it's time to be good to cinema.
It's time to be resourceful and knowledgeable.
Time to be both an intellectual and casual spectator of the motion picture.
To be an alternative viewpoint, to be a faithful critic to this young form of art.
To be a contributor to the work started over a hundred years ago.
To enable the continuance of light.

For those of you who have followed this blog, know that this entry marks the beginning of the venture beyond. Its time for the trailers to end and for the audience to embark on the journey of the feature presentation.

Be Cinematic.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Incepting The New Summer Blockbuster

The blockbuster movie is as classic to summer time as the slip-n-slide was to us kids growing up in the 80s and 90s. It's just a great time to go see a motion picture, especially if you're in the south like I am and the heat outside is unbearable. This summer has been no different; big budget movie after big budget movie have been churned out by the studios at a steady pace this year and it's no surprise that each one looks and feels like a summer blockbuster. However, being at the movie theaters this past weekend has shed some light on a surprising revelation that brought a smile to my face.

It seems, and I hope I'm not wrong, but it seems that audiences might actually be getting more sophisticated and smarter.

Case in point, Inception opened this weekend to a gross estimate of $60 million, while Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice earned a measly $17.3 million in it's first three days. As one online critic put it "Suck it, Bruckheimer".

Now while these two movies were obviously targeted at two different age groups, it's still interesting to note that analyst predicted that The Sorcerer's Apprentice would take top seat this weekend at the box office because Inception seemed to "heady and vague" for the typical audiences. But instead The Sorcerer's Apprentice took third place, on it's opening weekend! Of course, Inception took first, but what was the second highest grossing film this past weekend? Despicable Me. And that film came out last weekend, before The Sorcerer's Apprentice. So what does this say about audience trends?

Of the few people I asked, no one knew that The Sorcerer's Apprentice was a remake, or rather a spin off, of Disney's Fantasia film. Since Fantasia, The Sorcerer's Apprentice has been remade several times on film and television. So basically, it's been done and despite the fact that Disney threw a ton of money at Jerry Bruckheimer to make an eye-popping special effect driven family flick, it's still doesn't appear inventive enough to be considered something "new and original". I admit, I didn't see The Sorcerer's Apprentice this weekend but truthfully, the trailers and the clips that I had seen of the film didn't appeal to me whatsoever. It looked like Harry Potter meets Mardi Gras, or The Last Airbender meets Every Bad Movie Nicholas Cage Has Done. From the trailers it looked like Nick Cage was just phoning it in and the script sounded like a string of hollow one liners. Nothing drew me to the film, and it's not because it's geared toward a younger audience. Harry Potter is basically a kid's flick but the trailer for the Deathly Hollows totally peaked my interest.

Now Inception on the other hand...well, to be fair, I'm a huge Christopher Nolan fan. Have been since Memento. So it was safe to say that as soon as I saw "written and directed by Christopher Nolan" I already knew three hours of my summer were going to be dedicated to this movie. And again, to be honest, Inception, didn't surprise me either. Why? Because I already knew before going into the theater that Inception was going to be a smart, creative, well acted, well directed, suspenseful, artful film that would be a hit with critics and audiences. And it was. But as I said, I knew that before hand and from the box office numbers of the Thursday midnight showings of Inception, it seems that a lot of people knew that too.

So again, what does that say about audiences? That maybe audiences are again flocking to films made by their favorite directors instead of who stars in the film or what studio produces the movie? That maybe audiences are actually paying more attention to smart marketing and passing over predictable film plots? That maybe audiences want to actually think when they watch a film? I think so. I think if this weekend proves anything to Hollywood it proves that bloated, glossed over Disney-like films cannot always be counted on to win the hearts of movie goers. It proves that audiences are fickle and even though sometimes they choose the dumbed down version of entertainment, if offered, sometimes they will go for quality. It proves that business and art can co-exist and that if you build it, they will come.

Now if only Christopher Nolan would cast Nicholas Cage in Batman 3, then finally he can get some decent work.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Remix...or more accurately, Remastered

We've all done it, at least once in our lives.

Couples do it. Friends do it. Even colleagues.

Going to see a film that you didn't really want to go see but you went anyway because someone else wanted to see it.

I did, last week. Saw The Karate Kid. I had no particular desire to see it. I loved the original, not because it was a good film but because I was a kid when it came out and I was enthralled with everything cinema. Regardless, the original Karate Kid was a classic because it was new and different; it had a spark that captured the awe of all young movie goers. And with Hollywood's recent obsession with reviving old films and television shows through less than stellar remakes, you can imagine how "stoked" I was when they announced the new Karate Kid. I was glad to see Jackie Chan getting work but I had no desire to see Jaden Smith act after seeing how cocky the kid was on talk shows. So, yeah, it was safe to, I didn't go in with high hopes.

The thing about remakes is that ultimately, you've already seen the movie. Maybe that's why the majority of remakes make a decent buck at the theaters. Movie goers already know, for the most part, what to expect. No one went into this year's remake of Nightmare on Elm Street expecting to see a romantic comedy and everyone knew that Willy Wonka was a little "Micheal Jackson" crazy when going to see Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. A cinematic remake is like having a romantic reconnection with an old flame; you already know what to expect and it seem strangely familiar. But...does that mean we should enjoy remakes? Better yet, is there artistic value in analyzing them?

There is a quote out there somewhere that says that every story that can ever be told has already been told, meaning that every since story since then is basically a varied iteration of an original idea. Or in other words, there ain't nothing new under the sun. So in theory this should mean that every film ever made is technically a remake or a rehashing of a particular theme that, in all probability, has been rehashed to death. Does this mean that film analysis is moot and should only apply to purely original content? Of course not. If that was the case, criticism of a story would have ended with the early Greeks.

So then we come back to The Karate Kid...and that cocky little movie star. I went in the theater feeling like somehow I was cheating on Ralph Macchio. And sitting there, watching as director Harald Zwart pulled inspiration from the original classic but in genius fashion set the film in the breath taking vistas of modern day China, I had reminiscent feelings of the 80s. Seeing Jackie Chan return to more serious acting chops that elevate him to the esteemed status he previously held in his old Hong Kong films of the 90s, of which I am a huge fan of, made me feel even more at ease. Then, when it was all said and done, and it turned out that the film actually took itself seriously and didn't pander to current cinematic trends, I had to admit to myself...I actually liked the movie. It wasn't perfect but it wisely avoided the missteps that current Hollywood remakes take. It was respectful of the source material and, perhaps more importantly, respectful to the inspiration behind the original story- martial arts. Even Jaden sort of grew on me, despite the fact that I cheered a little inside when he was getting the crap knocked out of him on screen. Still, he too took the film serious and I appreciated that.

Seriousness is something Hollywood sorely needs these days. But hey, at least it had the decency to not release this Karate Kid remake in 3-D. That would have killed it for me.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In The Time It Takes...

How long is too long? (Thats what she said)

A friend of mine claims that "The Dark Knight" was a little too long; I, on the other hand, didn't want it to end. So what proceeded was a conversation on just how long is too long for the run time of a film.

I'm a film purist and I totally believe in the medium's ability to tell a compelling story. And telling a compelling story should not have a time limit. I believe filmmakers should take as much time as needed to tell the story they want to tell. Of course, this doesn't mean that a filmmaker should cram in as much story as possible simple because he can. Storytelling, or more specifically good storytelling, is an art and as such a storyteller should be as concise as possible to garner and sustain an audience's attention. Human beings, sadly, are not known for their tolerance of time consuming media, particularly now in the age of quick "bite size" entertainment. So a story, no matter what medium its told in, should be digestible for the average person ... but this doesn't have to be a rule.

Somewhere along the road of film's history an hour and a half to two hours became the norm for the length of an average movie. There have been exceptions to this norm over the years, but films of that nature are typically regulated to the "experimental" or "art" films genre. Take for instance, Andy Warhol's films "Sleep" and "Empire", which lasted five hours twenty minutes and eight hours five minutes respectively. These two films were basically experiments on the "long take" ("Sleep" consisted of five hours of a man sleeping and "Empire" was eight hours of the Empire State building at night) but their length tested the limits of what an audience would accept as a "viewable" film. Many would argue that the films being unwatchable was exactly the reaction Warhol was going for, however they retain their importance as prime examples that cinema, at it's very core, should not be bound by length. Of course it does say something when out of the nine people in the audience to watch Warhol's "Sleep", two left after the first hour. Apparently audiences want a concise story. Who would have thought.

A concise story, I believe, can be a film like "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", which ran three hours and twenty minutes, which, in my opinion, did not run the risk of losing its audience because of length. I do however believe around three hours should be a "quasi" limit if a film is to be consumed in one sitting; I mean let’s be honest, who can sit still for longer than that to watch a film. I admit, I am irritated sometimes when a person dislikes a film purely on length alone; a friend argued that “The Matrix Revolutions” was unsuccessful because of its length. If a film's story isn't compelling enough to sustain the film's length, then yes length can be a deciding factor in critiquing a film badly; however judging a film because it tried your patience is something else. Films are not supposed to fit in nice neat boxes to please audiences; they are created to stand on their own and to be taken as is. No one ever criticizes the artwork of the Sistine Chapel as being "too much to take in at once" because of its immense detail. Its excepted simply as is.

Here's to hoping that one day we can break free of the lifestyle we've become accustomed to; the lifestyle of quick, easy gratification. There is something to be said for endurance and patience.What’s that old saying?

“The best things come to those who . . . watch.”

Send me a comment and let me know your thoughts on film as it pertains to the argument of length!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Dallas International Film Festival

And then Lou Diamond Philips walked in.

Okay, rewind ten seconds.
I'm sitting in a room that looks like a convention center meeting room, but in reality it’s a theater at the Studio Movie Grill in North Dallas; it just looks odd because the lights are all the way up. Theaters in movie houses feel strange when all the lights are on; maybe it’s because we spend so much time there in the dark.
Anyway five seconds later, I'm commenting to my girlfriend that the movie we are about to see is a low budget film and could serve as inspirational food for thought on our future projects. She agrees and she tells me "I love cinema."
I turn around in my seat to look behind me and Lou Diamond Philips walks in.

Its in this moment that I realize that my girlfriend is right; we love cinema and in turn we love film festivals. Why? Because film festivals, much more than a casual outing to the movies, nourishes our need to be around other people that also love cinema. Everyone in that theater was there to see a small independent film that could in no way compete monetarily with the Micheal Douglas piece that was playing across the hall and was also a part of the festival. That theater, I heard, was completely full. The theater we shared with Lou Diamond was about 75% full. But it was completely full with interesting people interested in the story telling power of cinema.

The festival was the Dallas International Film Festival. For the past three years it was known as the AFI Film Festival and although it was spearheaded by the Dallas Film Society, the AFI foundation no doubted called the shots back then. I attended a few screenings the first year the AFI Film Festival was in Dallas and I have to say; I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the DIFF much more. Maybe it's just that I like the new name (it paints Dallas as a stronger beacon for quality cinematic events) but it actually felt like the air around the screenings was less stuffier. Which is saying something in Dallas. So kudos to the Dallas Film Society.

I caught a few screenings at the DIFF this year. One of them I can recommend the other...well, lets just say I've seen better films on youtube. That particular film was a low budget, psychology gore fest called “Walking Distance” directed by Mel House. The story centers around a small community where everything is within walking distance and deep, dark secrets are buried in the earth, not to mention within the psyche of some of the town's inhabitants. The films begins somewhat promising, if not cheesy, but quickly spirals downward from there. Questionable casting, a confusing script and spastic editing make “Walking Distance” barely enjoyable. I'm a big horror fan myself and when the director stood up at the beginning of the film and said that “Walking Distance” was similar to “Nightmare on Elm Street”, I was excited. Sadly, it was nothing like Nightmare. I can only recommend this film to hard core gore-fest fanatics who won't care that the film could have been salvaged with a little creativity.

The other film, the one I can recommend to just about anyone, was called “Transparency” by director Raul Inglis, starring Lou Diamond Philips as an ATF security guard who uncovers a deadly prostitution ring that victimizes young Russian woman. When Lou attempts to help one of the victims, he then becomes the target of the powers that be, forcing him to fight for his life and the safety of the woman he befriends. Lou Diamond said it best in the Q&A that followed the screening: “Transparency” is basically an updated “Deathwish”. Remember that Charles Bronson flick? Lou Diamond even grew a moustache as an homage to the cult Bronson franchise. It looked good on him.

Tansperancy” will not be winning any Oscars; it’s entertaining but simple. Hell, I doubt it will be given a limited release in theaters. More than likely it will go straight to DVD, which may be a good thing; renting it for a few bucks and watching it at home won't make you feel cheated by paying an expensive movie ticket. But I’ll tell you, it will make you believe in Lou Diamond Philips again. Stay with me on this: for years now I've been saying to myself "Where the hell is Lou Diamond Phillips?" Where's the guy that I grew up with as Ritchie in “La Bamba” or Angel in “Stand and Deliver” or Jose in “Young Gunz”? I hadn’t seen him since the “The Big Hit” back in '98 and even then I just saw him in the trailers, I never actually saw the damn thing. I don’t know why, but I felt like I knew Lou Diamond and respected him but hadn't seen him in a while . Apparently he's big on the Stargate television show but I've never seen that program. So imagine my joy when I saw a great acting performance in “Transparency” by none other than Lou himself. AND he kicks some serious ass in the flick, Jason Bourne style. I half expected him to knock some thug out and as he stood over the body, mutter "Ritchie's Back, Bitch."

So thank you, Lou Diamond, for reinvigorating this Cinema fan. Thank you Dallas Film Society for giving Dallas a cool film festival name. And thank you Tracey Dowling for giving me the opportunity to experience the festival in the first place. Last but not least thank you, yes you reading these words right now, because this one’s for you.

“I love cinema.”


Monday, April 12, 2010

Finding Meaning In Cinema or How To Do Your Cinematic Homework

I asked my goddaughter once if she ever used a physical encyclopedia to do research and she looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. When I mentioned "wikipedia", her face lit up and she knew exactly what I was talking about. Now of course, a discussion about this could venture out on a number of topics that stem from that conversation, but when it’s all said and done, the simple point that really does come across is that no matter what means are used, the act of research is still alive today.

Lately, I've found myself, more and more, researching films long after their credits have rolled. I discover new intricacies that went into various aspects of production. I uncover hidden meanings proposed by other fellow viewers. I can even find a list of all the inaccuracies that appear in any particular film, if I wanted to. When you think about it, this is actually an extraordinary practice that wasn't readily available to cinema fans liek myself, even as long as a decade ago. Before the world wide web, when you wanted to learn anything about…anything, you had to turn to those books my goddaughter knows nothing about ... the encyclopedia. And they weren't updated often.

In the age of the latest iGadget, it's a privilege that we have access to so much wealth of information, and not only is it easy to find out additional information on a particular film, it's practically a shame to not take advantage of technology to further one's understanding of a film or cinema in general. Not to mention, it’s rewarding to simply extend the enjoyment of a work of art ... if the opposite was true, we would never stick a painting inside of a frame for display purposes. True, some films may not seem to warrant prolonged study (a good example off the top of my head would be any of the Final Destination films, with all their “deep” meanings) but even for the casual viewer, there can be enjoyment derived from researching, at the very least, ideas presented in these types of films.

I've made a habit, for better or worse, of going to or similar websites after I watch a film to learn facts or trivia that I didn't get from the actual viewing of the film. A good example from my recent "cinema" outings is the film Watchmen. I was ignorant to all things Watchmen before I saw the film, and it intrigued me so much that not only did I do web research to learn more about the concept of bringing a graphic novel to screen, but I also took it upon myself to read the graphic novel Watchmen to better understand the ideas presented within the story. I had no real intention of doing this before I watched the film but the ideas and the overall experience of watching the film drove me to find out more about the story because it was so different. And I have to say, I appreciate the Watchmen lore and the journey of bringing Watchmen to the silver screen much more than I preciously had because of my “research”.

Recently I suggested David Lynch's Mulholland Dr to a friend of mine who would typically not be a fan of such surreal cinema. The movie freaked him out, as I had predicted, but it was a "positive freak out" in that it inspired him to go the web and read up on all the theories and the back story of the film. His appreciation for this absurdist film grew because he took the time to do his own "homework" and answer his own question about the movie he had just watched.

Anyone who seeks to appreciate cinema can learn from this example; the most difficult things to appreciate in life, can sometimes be the most rewarding thing because of the journey taken to truly discover them. And this doesn't mean that encyclopedias or internet connectivity is needed to study what is beyond the images on the celluloid. Sometimes, all it takes is talking, discussing or merely contemplating the ideas expressed through cinema. Some of the greatest conversations about film no doubt took place over a cup of coffee in a brew house in early 20th Century France; not on chatrooms or in film journals.

So find your proverbial "coffee house" and make a truly enjoyable film experience last longer than you thought possible by continuing the film in your head, on paper, on the internet or with another person in discussion. I know I am looking forward to the day when I can have an adult conversation with my Goddaughter about her favorite film.

I just hope it's one I've seen.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Movie Reviews

Leave it to the Russians to be so bleak.

“Their smiles are lifeless, even though their movements are full of living energy and are so swift as to be almost imperceptible. Their laughter is soundless although you see the muscles contracting in their grey faces. Before you a life is surging, a life deprived of words and shorn of the living spectrum of colours - the grey, the soundless, the bleak and dismal life.”

That was a quote from one of the earliest film reviews in the history of cinema, by Maxim Gorky, a Russian. Now, it may be true that unbearable climate and a long history of cruel communism can give one a less-than-optimistic viewpoint on art, but Max, as I like to call him, had a valid reason for giving the film in question such an ominous review. The review was for a collection of silent films by the Lumiere brothers, a couple of French cats who were early pioneers in not only the artistic birth of film as a viable medium but also in terms of technological advancements. They were basically the Wachowski brothers of the 1800s.

What’s important about Max's film review is that not only was it ahead of it's time, but its also an excellent example of how useless a film review can be. Let me explain.

Published in 1896, it would be years before the cinema would be taken seriously as an art form worthy of critical merit; in this regard Max was ahead of his time. But when it's read today, the review itself , although seeming like a "downer", is historically important, not to mention revolutionary, because at the time it was written, film was a new art form and it's full potential had not even begun to be realized. In its day, this critique accomplished what many film reviews have accomplished since ... the delivery of one person's opinion. An opinion that may have been too limited to go beyond the scope of Max's possibly vodka-influenced mind.

See, when I read this review, I not only respect it for what it is, but I'm also reminded of how much I value movie reviews ... and it's not very much. Reviewing film can be as useful as asking someone what their favorite type of weather is; you're going to run the gamut of answers. On average, I'm willing to wager that most people will claim to enjoy bright, sunny days, and detest, grey, rainy days. Those people are entitled to that opinion; I on the other hand really, really enjoy the grey, rainy days just as much as the bright sunny ones. It really is up to the person how the world around them is perceived.

So with this is mind, think about film and movie reviews. How much weight can you put on the value of one person's opinion about something as objective as film, or any other art form for that matter. I do believe that films can be broken down and it's various components dissected(cinematography, editing, writing, directing, etc.), but to give a film as a whole a thumbs up or a thumbs down seems like calling a baby cute versus ugly; it's all in the beholder. There are plenty of films that I cherish, even despite their poor critiques from critics. And on the flip side, I've loathed plenty of films that are beloved by many. Crash, Gladiator and Ironman come to mind. But again, its all in the beholder.

Now I won't mislead you; I read film reviews on a regular basis, however I read them like I would hope most people would...with a grain of salt. Just because I read a negative review, it doesn't mean I won't enjoy the film. And to me, that’s the beauty of the cinema; what one man loves another can hate, but both men can fully appreciate the experience of watching a film. This experience is exactly what ol' Max tapped into all those years ago in Russia (was it even called Russia back then? I don't know, I studied film in college, for God's sake); the experience of watching a film and recognizing it's ability to touch the human soul. In this way, I think a new "type" of film review can be born, a review not merely about a film's worth but rather an examination on it's impact on the person, on society and the world in general, whether that impact be good or bad.

During the course of this blog, I will be writing various types of film reviews in an attempt to create this next evolutionary step in the subtle art of critiquing film. Now whether or not I succeed in this, will be up for debate. And I know what your thinking, "He just said, how much worth is there in film reviews" and I still stand behind that posed question, but keep in mind, if Max can be a revolutionary ... maybe we can too. Take that, red communism!

Be on the look out for my first film review. It's coming soon. In the meantime, here is a miniature film review from my good friend Robert Leal on the 2009 Best Picture "The Hurt Locker."

"Don't See it!" - Robert Leal, modern day Max Gorky


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Open Your Cinematic Third Eye


It's one of those words that can have different connotations depending on who's using it and who it's being said to. Ask an advocate for the humanities or a museum connoisseur what Cinema is and undoubtedly you will spark up intellectual conversation about the nature of film as art. Ask a casual drinking buddy about Cinema while sharing a pint at the local pub and you're more likely to receive the question "Why are you calling it Cinema?! Just say 'Movies' you artsy fart". The great thing about Cinema is that both of those situations are valid, each touches on what Cinema is truly all about.

Whether you are aware of it or not, the world of Cinema is going through a change, as any revolutionary art form should every once in a while. However it's not the kind of change one would expect. This transformation is not about new genres (like the teeny-bopper vampire flick genre), or new cinematography techniques (3-D), or new forms of exhibition (online streaming) or even about the state of the medium in general. No, this revolution in taking place within.
Within us.

Since it's scrappy roots as traveling sideshow phenomenon in the 1800s, cinema has changed and evolved into a multi-billion dollar, world-wide entertainment industry that has become as much a part of our lives as the automobile, the internet and iPods. Everyone, young or old, male or female, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation has experienced cinema in their life time. However during it's evolutionary journey, Cinema has in many ways, become disconnected from the audience experience; films, in our current times, are often little more than monetary-driven, mass produced escapism that doesn't necessarily need to evoke a substantial experience within it's viewer. If you have any question about that just check out the lastest listing at your local movie theater and tell me how many of those films are not A) big-budget blockbusters, b) are shameless star-vehicles C) are produced by Disney or D) star Johnny Depp/Robert Downy Jr/Jennifer Aniston. Not many, right? This is why we, the movie going public, are changing; this is why this blog was created.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not some pseudo-intellectual that thinks that in order to enjoy a film, I have to be in an art-house theater, sipping on wine, wearing an argyle sweater and sporting thick black-rimmed glasses. Far from that. I enjoy all genres and types of films. What this blog is all about, is more an alternative for those of you like me who are awakened to our analytical mind and who enjoy rationally thinking about film. Most importantly this is about the change I was speaking of earlier. The change within us. More and more I run into people who are not just simply "watching" film anymore but are instead talking about it, dissecting it, debating it and truly experiencing it. This is extremely encouraging and this is the true revolution in the world of cinema that no one is talking about. But I'm changing that.

This blog will not be an argument advocating cinema as art, although there will be blog entries about that from time to time. This blog will not be about reviewing movies, although there will be plenty of my own brand of "movie reviews" to come. This blog will not be about the latest exploits of movie stars or what studio is scheduled to produce which film, although there will be discussion from time to time about the state of the movie business. This blog will not be about movies . . . it will be about Cinema and everything that comes along with that.

Its appropriate, I think, that Cinema comes from the Greek word Kinema, which means movement. Its appropriate because in no other current art form is there such an important need for constant movement, growth and revitalization, then in Cinema. Its consistently evolving and as the audience, our opinions and thoughts towards it should also be in this same state of flux. We owe it to the early pioneer writers of Cahiers du Cinema.

And if you don't know who or what that is . . . you will. Just keep reading.