Friday, 28 December 2012

Best Day Ever Review

Found footage films were never really my thing. It never made sense to me why someone would want to watch a shaky camera going around doing every day things. I know traditionally that's not all there is to it. I saw Blair Witch and I know about Cloverfield and things like that but that doesn't make it interesting. In fact, more often then not I intentionally avoid any film that looks even close to something like that. The last found footage type film that I remember being interested in seeing is Chronicle, and I still haven't actually watched it. But like most things, if a film is done right it's worth seeing no matter how it's done. The problem is that many people use the format as a gimmick because there's an audience for it instead of putting the work into actually using it for a purpose.

When I was watching Best Day Ever, I got that sinking feeling that it was being used as a gimmick rather than using it properly. I think the film differs from other found footage type films is that it presents itself like a film that really was shot by teenagers. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Mainly because at the very moment they should be doing something to grab my interest, the beginning, they don't really do anything. You end up watching as these kids sit around thinking of what to do instead of actually doing something. And that took me out of the film a bit, making the ensuing things they did less fun and the characters seem less interesting. Sticking with the film though, it earns some of that interest back as the day progresses and things actually start happening. Even then however what's key to really getting people interested is the dialogue, which while somewhat realistic for effect, again causes problems for my attention span.

I will say this though, by the end of the film I was invested in the characters enough that I actually cared what happened to them and how they dealt with the conclusion of what was set up. Kudos should go to the actors for giving enough to make the audience (or me anyway) care. That counts for a lot in my book. As I said, I am not one for found footage movies so maybe this is the standard and I just don't get it. If you're a fan of found footage films I imagine you would like this very much. If you are like me and you aren't really a fan, I will say that I did like it enough to watch it all the way through so you won't hate it by any stretch. I say see it.

You can find it on Google Play, Amazon, Youtube, and Vudu.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Anne Perry Interiors Review

Every writer has a story. Something that brought them to who they are and what they do. Sometimes they are really cool stories, and sometimes they are not. Other times they are stories that a writer has been so affected by that they just don't talk about it all that much. Never the less it is a story and it is the backbone of what makes them writers. It tends to inform the stories they tell and how they tell it. In some ways you have to have one in order to be a writer. My experience has been that if you don't, your stories don't tend to be that interesting. They come off flat and not really worth the time to read, which is not to say that you can't find a good story to tell if you work hard enough. Writing just tends to come easier if you have a story that you really need to tell. The story flows better and emotionally connects with people reading it. At least that's been my experience given my own history as a writer.

Anne Perry is a writer with a story to tell. Interestingly enough though, she seems to avoid talking about it with any great detail. You can find details if you are interested and they are put forward in the documentary about her, but it's a difficult topic to hear about. Once you do though, you can completely understand why it might be hard to say much about it. A writer internalizes most of their problems and emotions. That is why they tend to write such great stories, because what they won't say to a person, they will say in the words on the page. It can be buried under a lot of the things the stories they are telling need in order to make it interesting for the reader, but they are there if you look hard enough. For Anne Perry it seems that finding that involves reading into the opposite of what she writes about. She is searching for something deep and meaningful in her life, and many of her characters apparently reflect that reality but the reason for their search is the real prize of understand her.

Ultimately, writing is a long and difficult process for everyone. Even for someone who has written 40 books it takes time to make it feel and sound right for the people who might one day read it. This movie is a long and drawn out process but the pay off, for lack of a better way to describe it, is well worth the time and effort to get through it. Anne Perry - Interiors is a film worth watching for any writer who has ever felt frustrated sitting at a table staring at a blank page or computer screen. For anyone else, it's a deep inside look at where the urge to write tends to come from and will give you a deeper understanding of the life of a writer.

You can check it out on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and I Love

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Family Man Review: Where does The Family Man fit?

Nicholas Cage gets a bad wrap as an actor. Ever since films like The Wicker Man and National Treasure, not to mention Ghost Rider, he has been seen as something of a joke as an actor by a lot of people. Most assume that he just can't hack it as a box office draw anymore and that becomes something of a self-fullfilling prophecy because they don't go and see his movies and the box office bombs. But he's had some great movies too, like Adaptation and Kick-Ass. One of my favorite movies of his to watch though is The Family Man. I make a point to watch it every Christmas. Of all the movies and TV that I watch and rewatch over the year, I save this one as part of a group I save for Christmas.

Why? Because it's a great Christmas movie. Much like Scrooged and A Muppet's Christmas Carol which are also in the special Christmas group, it follows in the tradition of the Charles Dickens' classic of a man who seems to have everything and is given a glimpse at what he doesn't. But what sets this film apart and why it's on my list of once a year Christmas movies is that there is an element of It's A Wonderful Life to the film as well, brought to you by the semi-angelic character of Cash played by Don Cheadle. A simple act of kindness from Wall Street mogul Jack Campbell gives him the chance at a glimpse into what life would have been like if he had made different choices.

And so he's thrust into a world he doesn't understand and a life he doesn't want, forced to figure out a life he doesn't really understand, he slowly starts to wonder if everything that's good in life can really be solved with money. Tea Leoni also stars as the one that got away turned wife and mother and proves why it's a shame that she isn't given the chance to really shine more often. Much like Meg Ryan she's been less visible in recent years. She makes being a wife and mother seem both realistic and sexy, something that's traditionally very hard to do in an industry that caters to the young and available.

Where does The Family Man fit? For a film released in the year 2000, I think it should make its way into the classics like the films it appears to be based on.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Scrooged Review: Would you like to be Scrooged? - Movies, Movie Reviews, Film, Film Reviews, Film Entertainment, Entertainment, TV, Television, TV Reviews, Television Reviews

You'll notice a certain trend to the films that I watch around the holidays. There have been a lot of Christmas movies over the years and they all have something to say about the holiday season. But when you look at the movies that I watch, you notice a very obvious trend. I tend to gravitate towards those that follow in the footsteps of the classic Dickens tale. I'm sure you know the one I am talking about, and if you don't then reading my blog will most definitely give you the inside track. And so we come to  the great film Scrooged. A classic in its own right, part of a great trend of films that came from the era of the 1980s, starring the illustrious Bill Murray.

Now Bill Murray is something of a gem when it comes to the films that he is in. I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said that in the era of mid-late 80s and early 90s Bill Murray could do no wrong. From Ghostbusters to What About Bob to Groundhog Day these films are hugely popular, thanks in no small part to the performance of Mr. Murray. Whether these films stand the test of time is another question entirely, but for anyone who wants to take a look back at the world they used to live in this is a great film. Scrooged on the other hand has something that his other films don't, it adapts a story which has stood the test of time already and gives it a modern twist, or at least what was modern for the day.

Not since West Side Story's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet have people so embraced a modern version of a story that's been repeated by so many before it and many more afterwards. In part because it's very clear in watching it that the people involved understood the adaptation they were making and the times they were living in. They were smart enough to change key elements, like the names of the characters involved but never lost sight of the idea that the original characters they represented were key to making the story work. And the one major change they did make was played to perfection for the modern telling by the great Bobcat Goldthwait.

Would you like to get Scrooged? I do, and so should you. Every year on Christmas Eve as the story itself goes, and every year I am trying to hold it together through the end as I tear up through the beautiful speech at the end.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Why would someone do this?

It's a question that often gets asked at a time like this. During a crisis or tragedy it's a natural thing to do when there are so few answers. People find it hard to understand violence of any scale, but particularly on the scale of recent memory. You would think that it would be easy to understand given that so much of it happens on a regular basis. We wish it didn't and we wish it was really simple to understand. So much so that we polarize issues of violence into simple terms. The problem is one thing or another. Unfortunately, as with most things related to violence it just isn't that easy.

A lot of talk has started to go around about how we prevent tragedy's such as this from happening in the future, and it is now that we should talk about it and implement things. Where I think a lot of the talk is failing is in the single solution syndrome that develops. Things like 'If only we had tougher gun laws this wouldn't have happened' or 'We need to do more for the mentally ill and that will fix the problem'. In reality, I think that both are necessary to really make any type of difference in the world and much of the arguments that happen after a tragedy such as this are over which should come first.

Perhaps that is why nothing ever really gets resolved when it comes to the issue of guns and violence and mental illness, because in our rush to help the victims we end up forgetting the victims in the process. We are so focused on what can be done to stop more victims from occuring that we have stopped worrying about the people who are already victims of this type of violence. We brush it off as if to say 'The police and rescue workers and psychiatrists and the government will step in and help the victims so we don't need to think about them anymore, they are going to be okay' and then jump into political mode and start pushing our cause over another.

The politics of the situation are the problem that keep us from moving forward on this. We are so quick to take a political position on the subject that we force people to disagree with us rather then actually deal with the problem at hand. This isn't an issue of gun control or mental illness or more religion versus less religion in schools, it's a question of how we deal with tragedy. By which I mean we don't deal with it. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle we have over intellectualized tragedy, even among those who claim not to be intellectuals. We're so quick to analyze and discuss a problem so that we can put it in the proper context that we forget the most important context of all, the fact that people have died.

To point to an example that's fresh in my mind, a conversation arose not long after the tragedy in Newton, CT about why we are not focused on the victims instead of calling for gun control or mental health reform and a number of people came out in favor of gun control as a way of helping the victims. One person even went so far as to say that the best way to honor the victims was to push the tragedy in the faces of people who advocate for guns to show them the error of their ways. It was compared to when a dog craps on the rug.

Does that sound to you like someone who is concerned about the victims and not the political agenda they adhere to? I understand that it was well intentioned. I understand that gun control will help the situation. What I don't understand is why that analogy is at the forefront of someone's mind after a tragedy such as this has occurred. That, to me, is a problem. More of a problem then gun control, more of a problem then mental health reform, more than the media's coverage or the lack of religion in school. The idea that these people are not victims of a tragedy they are examples to be used for whatever political ideal a person is trying to put forward.

Why would someone do this? That depends on who's asking the question and who is answering it. A better question might be why is 'Remember the Victims' being used as a slogan rather than a reminder of what the real focus of the moment should be?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Bon Cop/Bad Cop: What makes a good Canadian movie?

Canada is a funny country, and when I say that I don't just mean that we have all the best comedians, because we do, but we're funny in a lot of different ways. We tend to keep a low profile on the world stage and then gripe that we don't get enough attention. We like when our citizens become successful in Hollywood or other places in the world but don't like it that they can't get famous here in Canada. Most of all we make tend to make region specific movies and then take issue with the fact that no one outside our region wants to watch them. It's an interesting contradiction we live with and if you really think about it, it's pretty funny.

We are getting better at it though, in recent years I have seen a number of Canadian films that are smarter, more relatable and better generally for a wider audience than just Canadians. In some cases we're a little ways off, in other ways we are way off. One of the films that tried to move us in the right direction is Bon Cop/Bad Cop. A film that's set and focused on Canadian culture, but with a distinctly more Hollywood feel. Buddy cop movies have been something of a lost art lately. There are all kinds of cop movies and TV shows out nowadays but buddy cops had their heyday in the 70s and 80s and haven't really recovered.

In some ways Bon Cop/Bad Cop is a throwback to those types of films but with more modern technology and special effects. Where I think that the film has issues is that it relies too heavily on Canadian stereotypes. The ones we have about ourselves like the French/English divide, with some truth to it but a lot of fiction. As well as more international stereotypes like an obsession with hockey and kindness. I have never been a big fan of playing to stereotypes, I prefer commentaries to out and out parody or exploting stereotypes, at least as a general rule. Things like Bob and Doug and Austin Powers are good in small doses but they can go too far if money gets involved.

Bon Cop/Bad Cop keeps things from going too far, but it also doesn't go far enough for a one shot movie like this. Austin Powers worked because it pushed the envelope in the comedy department but had enough held back for an extra couple of rounds. This movie doesn't go far enough for a single one much less several, not that they were planning on more but then not going far enough doesn't really make sense. It has a lot of good elements that make it fun to watch but it ultimately falls short of any serious message except that Canadian filmmakers don't have to act like Canadian filmmakers.

Bon Cop/Bad Cop: What makes a good Canadian movie? I haven't quite figured that out yet but I don't think this movie has it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Kick-Ass Review: How Kick-Ass can the sequel be?

Sequels can be pretty difficult to pull off. Take a look at films like Back to the Future, The Matrix or Ginger Snaps and you can see that things don’t always work out. Back to the Future 2 was great, The Matrix Reloaded had its issues, and Gingers Snaps 2: Unleashed did well but was handcuffed by a lot of the things that happened in the original film. Superhero sequels can be even worse. Sometimes the original was great and the sequel just can’t measure up. Other times they surpass the original and that makes it difficult for the third film in what ultimately becomes a trilogy.
All you have to do is look at The Dark Knight, Superman 2 or Iron Man 2 for evidence of how things end up. The Dark Knight and Superman 2 were at least better than the original, whereas Iron Man 2 just didn't have what it takes. Of course, part of the reason why Iron Man 2 wasn't what it should be is because it was the backdrop to start setting up The Avengers, and if you read my review you know how I felt about that film. Then you have a film like Kick-Ass, and with the sequel shooting here in Toronto right now, I thought I would take a look back at the original to see where they could go. Kick-Ass was a good film. In an age where superhero films are coming out of the wordwork, Kick-Ass is a commentary on the superhero genre. As a big fan of the superhero genre, I think it was a necessary commentary as well.

To quote a previous blog about the importance of the superhero genre and what they stand for, superheroes are designed to be updated and reinvented for the times they live in. Most of them are not the same as they were when they were created and there are examples of various updates along the way. Superhero films are much the same. They need to examine the world we live in and speak to that. Kick-Ass is the definition of such a film. If you go looking for them, you can find instances where people dressed as superheroes are going around doing work like a realistic superhero would. I can't imagine they do much in the way of actual crime fighting, but they exist. And that is at the heart of a film like Kick-Ass. An every day guy tries to actually make it as a superhero. Unlike the real world versions that are out there, Kick-Ass does in fact do some real crime fighting. There's even a super-villain for them to face but he's a realistic super-villan for today's world.

They use a lot of the traditional building blocks of the genre to tell a new type of story with a very modern angle. It works perfectly for what they are doing because the people involved understand the superhero genre. Mark Millar after all has written for various comic books in the superhero genre and he has been very well received in everything he has done by the fans. So it's no wonder why he is doing so well with his own property. But where does that leave him to go? Can he succeed where many have failed in the past? In interviews he often talks about how he prefers not to do ongoing stories because he gets bored very quickly with them but with this he can see himself doing multiple stories. The sequel then, must be the continuation of that feeling.

Based on the details which have come out regarding Kick-Ass 2, I think he has a lot of room to grow and he might just pull off the second one as well. But that leaves a potential third film becoming ever more perilous. Will he burn out on the second installment and have nowhere to go with the third? Or is he thinking big and held something back for a trilogy? Let's hope he is because I want to see this go well for him and for the actors involved.

How Kick-Ass can the sequel be? It could be really great, but it could also fall flat much like a certain winged avenger from the first film.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Beast Within Review

People have a strange relationship with animals. From the time we learned to tell ourselves apart from them we have held the idea that we live to control them. Our intelligence gives us the right to view them as lesser beings put here for our use. Yet at the same time we view them as our friends, as a companion through life that can bring comfort to us in our lonely journey through life. It's a strange contradiction in viewpoints that for many people seems perfectly logical and rational. You can argue the logic and rationality of looking at the world this way but in a lot of cases you can't argue with the results. One such result is the idea that we view them in human terms. We attach thoughts and emotions to them which they may or may not have depending on which animal you talk about and how much we know about them from a scientific perspective. This can lead to great compassion for animals, but it can also lead down some unfortunate paths. At the heart of The Beast Within, is an examination of some of those unfortunate paths. Trying to come to terms with the tragic circumstances it creates.

As much as we attach our own emotions and thoughts to animals, we also attach some basic principals of the animal world to ourselves. Chief among them is the survival of the fittest mentality. The idea that all animals fight for their survival and it's a natural process of nature to let the strong win and the weak die. When applied to other humans we often see disastrous results, but when applied to animals along with our own emotions and thoughts something even more tragic occurs. We get things like dog fights and cock fights and those who participate often see it as just as natural as anything else. Despite a drive and a focused effort by many to dispel these ideas through laws and other means it persists, people just figure out smarter ways to have them without getting in trouble with the law. So we continue to fight against it. Like many of our ancestors fought wooly mammoths and other predators to protect their families and the communities they were building, we fight against that dark part of ourselves which needs to be vanquished.

We fight against The Beast Within. If you've ever had a problem in your life, something or someone that you needed to fight against to prove yourself and your worth, this is the film to see. It's at times both a condemnation and a celebration of that struggle, and despite being at times a hard thing to watch if you've ever had a pet, but you will come away feeling better for having taken the journey. This isn't a film I would recommend for parents to show their young kids, but I definitely think it's one worth showing to a teenager or young adult who needs a good perspective on the issues they will face in their lives. It's definitely worth the watch.

It is available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Youtube. You can also stream or download it here:

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lincoln Review: How did Lincoln do it?

"Four score and seven years ago..."

Famous words, some of the most famous words that have ever been spoken in human history. Spoken by a famous man with so many words in the history books. So much of what Abraham Lincoln did has ended up in the history books and yet very few ever really know him. They don't really understand what he did and how he did it. Figures in history often have that problem. We spend hours upon hours trying to figure them out and putting them in a modern context. What would they think of what we are doing today? How would they feel? What advice would they give to us about today's problems? Rarely though do we ever look at what they actually went through in their own time. The hardship and the struggle of every day life giving us the structure of what exists today.

Which is not to say that the details aren't out there. Volumes upon volumes of text books are dedicated to these people and the lives that they led but we are always discovering new things about them. And that's because the context, both historical and emotional, can only really be understood with that often get lost over time as history moves forward. That is until the invention of film. With film, meant in broader cinematic terms rather than the physical medium, we can attempt to capture the reality of the struggle in a new and exciting way. Not to mention with technology and techniques being what they are today, the process of capturing it can be even more accurate and honest then ever before.

As a result, we have a film like Lincoln. Directed by Steven Spielberg someone that many might consider a historical figure of the modern age, and starring Daniel Day Lewis, an actor who is on his way to becoming one of the best of the modern age if he isn't already. Through attention to detail and command performances by all involved, Lincoln paints a beautiful portrait of one of the most incredible and well known men in history. What makes the film even more remarkable is the fact that littered within the film are great lessons for the modern day. A nation divided by political and economic differences shows that little has changed in the past 100+ years and yet everything has changed.

How did Lincoln do it? Even in seeing this film I'm not entirely sure because I am left with a sense of awe at the fact that he was able to accomplish anything at all. I am left with this same sense of awe after seeing this film. For all the ways in which Spielberg could have approached this film, he chose the most difficult way and yet the most relevant to modern times. Kudos to him for that.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Can the Canadian Film Industry go commercial?

No matter how you look at it, the visual art of film is a business. Whether you call it show business, the film industry or anything else one of the biggest pieces of making it work is understanding the money behind it. Where it comes from, how to get it, how to spend it and most importantly who has it. Some people don't think of it as business. They think of it as support for art or creativity. But if you really look at the way it works, I'm not sure anyone could really call it anything other than business. You spend a lot of time looking and acting like a business person and working like an entrepeneur, even when you make it to Hollywood studio level there's a certain amount of schmoozing and business. So what part of that is art exactly?

Don't get me wrong, the film industry is incredibly artistic, even in Hollywood (you can read my thoughts on that here and here). With all the creativity and thought that goes into just producing something worth selling there has to be art involved. Otherwise it wouldn't be interesting or beautiful or funny or whatever it is that the art is supposed to be. But people don't always pay money for something that's beautiful or funny or interesting. Often times the best, most beautiful things in the world are the things you don't pay money for. At least not in any direct sense. But an industry that's built upon the idea of getting people to sit down in a dark room and watch something has to be built on the incentive to do so. That incentive is usually that it's worth paying money for.

So why is it that the Canadian film industry is so concerned with the art of it all? Trying to be the opposite of Hollywood's big business model by focusing on our culture and identity that we insist is so different from our neighbors to the south. Yet despite that we live with the contradiction that we can't compete with Hollywood and the big business model. We all want the money and the fame that comes with a big Hollywood business model but have a problem with doing what we need to in order to make that happen.

Last night, I went to see Cinecoup present a pitch to the Canadian film industry in Toronto about how to change all that. Putting forward a business plan that in a sense sounds like a Hollywood idea but has its own unique Canadian twist to it. And it's a great idea. Canada needs to think more like Hollywood in its approach to film and this will definitely move the yard stick forward to thinking in those terms. The problem I see is that I don't think it will move the yard stick far enough forward to really make a difference. For many in the Canadian film industry it will be a shock to their system. It's a plan designed to get people to think about the bigger picture. To think about where your film will ultimately end up before you even put a pen to paper, metaphorically speaking, and to care about whether it might actually make money.

I love the idea, I want to be involved, and I may even apply with my own project if I can put it together. But I worry that there won't be a round two for the business model. Canadians for all their talk about a difference in culture and the pride of their heritage have a much bigger culture with a lot more pride in their culture beaming content into their laps at an alarming speed. The kind of culture and pride that at least on the surface appears to appeal universally enjoyed.

Can the Canadian Film Industry go commercial? I think it can, and recent changes suggests that it is moving in that direction. But I don't know that the speed of the industry is fast enough to really warrant this kind of program.

Kiri Wai, Inner Skin Review

I have never really understood tattoos. I know people who have them. I know people who love them. I have even considered getting some myself and I am still considering it. But that doesn't mean I really understood what makes people get them. Over the years I had many opportunities to get one or more and I always stopped myself. Partly out of fear, and partly out of worry that I won't be able to change it or get it removed when I do. It's always been something that I wanted to do though. No matter how much I worried, I never lost the curiosity of getting something that would always be true of me tattooed on my body. So when I see someone who has done it, I am always amazed.

The cultural tradition hasn't been something I had considered though. I knew that it had tradition and there were many generations who believed in doing it but I never really looked at it. And then along comes the film Kiri Wai - Inner Skin. A film which gives you a history of tattoos, or at least one aspect of it, the Moko tradition. Moko is from the Eastern island tradition first discovered by James Cook who traveled to the region during Western exploration. With time, many Western people who settled there got Moko tattoos and it has been spreading ever since. The film takes a look at why the tradition has continued and what the significance of it is. Should people from the West get tattoos like that or should we have our own? How do people who do Moko feel about how interested we are in it?

In today's modern world with everything that we have, why do we look to these traditions? What is it that we like about other cultures? Is it simply that we have lost our own? These questions are at the heart of Kiri Wai - Inner Skin. I think anyone who has ever gotten a tattoo or is considering getting one should check it out. It will give you a deeper understanding of what kind of tattoo you should get and why. If you just find the idea really painful and don't want to get into it, you can still appreciate a look at the culture and the importance of it in our lives.

It is available on Google Play, I Love, iTunes, Vudu, and Youtube.

You can also download or stream it here:

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How can we turn the Occupy movement into a cash cow?

Previously I made a blog post about the Occupy movement and my feelings on the matter, which you can read here. Since then a lot has happened, most notably the breakup of the heart and soul of the movement which is the protests congregating in public parks. The people themselves are still out there and they are actively looking for a way to affect change. During that time though came Velcrow Ripper, a filmmaker with a vested interest in the various movements that pop up from time to time and how they have evolved. I had a chance to see the film Occupy Love, a film referred to as the third in a trilogy about the importance of love in the movements and what they represent.
Now it’s worth saying that I have not seen his previous films and so the context under which I say this is primarily through what he said during the Q&A and the film itself. But given what I saw, I am not surprised that I have never heard of him before. In my previous review of the film Lost Rivers I talked about the importance of conflict and contrast in a film whether narrative or documentary. You can find out whether or not Lost Rivers had it here. But when it comes to Occupy Love, we have a different problem regarding conflict. The conflict is in a sense right in front of you, the Occupy movement had a legitimate gripe against the businesses and governments that they believe are bringing down the people and their individual ability to prosper.
But conflict doesn’t mean anything if you have no interest in contrast. Occupy Love is essentially a love story to the Occupy movement. All of the people being interviewed and discussions happening are all done through the prism of “What we are doing is awesome and the people in power are scared” without actually bothering to check whether or not that is in fact the case. Having listened to a lot of people talk about the Occupy movement in the news and elsewhere from outside the movement itself, I don’t think you can reasonably say that the movement had any serious effect on the status quo. The “powers that be” were interested in what the movement wanted and what they were doing, but the movement itself had no specific demands for them to consider.
You can’t affect change with an abstract idea and without a functional hierarchical power structure to report to, which is part of what the movement was fighting against. By the same token, a film can’t be entirely one sided without something to contrast it with. At no point did a Wall Street insider get interviewed or a politician of some kind who could have presented another viewpoint for the audience to see. They made no attempt to look at it from a business perspective or any other perspective then the one it supported. That doesn’t make a movie and you ultimately will end up losing any audience that doesn’t already agree with the perspective being put forward.
Most problematic of all when it comes to this film, is the repetition of the question “How do we turn this movement into a movement about love?” It’s supposedly the central focus of the film but it’s one that is never really answered by the filmmaker and the people he asks the question to seem to all have the same answer. After two or three times, the question becomes rather annoying, much like the film itself about half way through, the other half of which is most likely torturous to a general audience. But it won the Best Canadian Feature Film award at the festival, so I have a better question to ask.
How do you turn the Occupy movement into a cash cow? You make a movie called Occupy Love.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shame Review: Just how much Shame should you feel?

People have a lot of ideas about what’s right and wrong. There are just some things you shouldn’t do, or talk about, or acknowledge as part of people’s lives. Even those things which people know everyone is doing anyway. Of course this tends to vary between people, depending on their upbringing and personal history. It also differs between men and women generally. What’s right for some people isn’t always right for other people. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t agree that they had something they didn’t talk about. You might not be able to get them to admit what those things are, but the fact that they won’t tells you something anyway.

One of the most common things people have trouble talking about though, is sex. Recent years have changed a lot of the conventions about sex, but there are still a lot of hang-ups that people have. These ideas even exist in the porn industry. You may be able to see just about anything you could want on the internet these days, however if you take a good enough look you’ll notice that certain people don’t do certain things. In an industry based upon satisfying the urges and desires of a population no matter what it might be, there is a sense of respectability based on what you do and what you won’t. Doing one of these “wrong things” is at the heart of the film “Shame Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, they explore the concept of shame from the perspective of a man who doesn’t appear to have any. Fassbender plays Brandon, a man with a good job, a decent social life, and no real problems with women. At least that’s the way it appears on the surface. Upon deeper analysis, very much explored in the film, we see that his life might be financially and socially fulfilled, he clearly has a hole in his life that just isn’t being filled. Despite everything that he has and his ability to pick up chicks, Brandon can’t make a lasting emotional connection to his family, friends or any of the women he gets involved with, to the point that it’s almost psychologically damaging to his ability to perform.

Enter Sissy played by Carey Mulligan, his sister and a woman equally looking for connection that she can’t seem to find. Where Brandon has taken to an emotionally distant approach to people, preferring to keep them at a distance, Sissy appears to have taken the opposite view of dealing with her problems. She throws herself completely into a relationship, emotionally and physically, leaving her devastated when it inevitably falls apart. A tragic reality that seems to leave no way out.

There are people in this world who actually live this way, going from relationship to relationship searching for meaning in someone other than themselves. Or in some cases even avoiding relationships all together and looking for meaning beyond simple relationships. They even get portrayed on film from time to time, often though they end up becoming the quirky and cute character that eventually overcomes it or learns to find it all despite their way of life. Not true of a film like Shame. The director and actors take a more honest and realistic approach to people who live this way and it shows in the way the film plays out.

Just how much Shame should you feel? It’s unlikely that anyone watching this movie won’t feel at least somewhat disturbed by it in some way, but sometimes people need to be reminded of the parts of life we don’t tend to talk about that much. And this movie will definitely do that.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Accordion Tribe Review

What do you think of when I say the word orchestra? I'm guessing that most people think of the instruments like the violin, the flute or the piano. Either that or the music of Beethoven, Bach and the endless array of beautiful classical tunes that are out there for everyone to enjoy. What do you think of when I say the word band? More than likely you think of your favourite band of the moment or all time. Groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or modern bands like The Killers or Maroon 5. I would be willing to bet that most people when they hear either of these words never go directly to the word accordion. It's not generally thought of in either context. When you hear it generally you think of gypsies or a strange guy on the street doing a one man band with a monkey on his shoulder. You don't generally think of them in the sense of a group that tours around Europe playing in music halls and other venues to large audiences.

And yet there's The Accordion Tribe, an unusual group of musicians playing an unusual instrument. Each of these members, whether they are from Eastern Europe or New York or some place in between, have found a common truth in the accordion. They all love to play it and they all believe in the music they are playing. An instrument which is not quite classical but not quite modern. It occupies this weird in between place that no one really talks about but everyone knows exists. Bring five of them together and you have a group that's making beautiful music. You wouldn't think that there would be much range in an instrument which compared to a full orchestra or a computerized synthesizer doesn't seem to have what it takes. But listen to this group play together and you can't help but marvel at the melodies and compositions that come out of the group. From the style and the range of music they can play, their relationships with each other, much like their music, flows along and works in concert with each other to the point where you're never entirely bored.

The film, thankfully, is very much the same way. Each member of the group is given equal time and equal consideration to tell the story they want to tell about where and how they came to play the accordion and the group that is featured within it but you never get too much of either one to feel like it drags on in any serious way. Weaving back and forth between them you get a sense of what it is that drives them and how they make it work with each other. Music is a beautiful thing, and so is this film which at times plays like a song itself. Anyone who wants to see a fresh take on a new instrument, and a fresh look at a documentary about a music group should check this film out.

You can do that through Amazon, Vudu, Fandor, Youtube, and iTunes.

What's next for my blog?

So I started my blog about a year back now and I have done my best to have consistent content. Now it appears that I will be adding more content to the mix for the near future. I've been hired as an intern at Syndicado, which you can learn more about here, for my reviews and I am going to be uploading those reviews to my blog for them on a regular basis. I still plan on reviewing my own content from time to time and voicing my opinion on the film industry and other things whenever possible. The only major difference now is that I will have more content and links to where you can see it for yourself if you're interested.
My normal schedule for this has been to have content available every Wednesday, and that will remain the same for the time being, although I have been considering moving it to Friday and adding something else for Mondays recently. If there is a change, I will definitely be letting you all know. But for now, my blog will be on the same schedule with regular injections of content from Syndicado. Where things will seem to change is in the way I title my blogs. I am going to continue to title and close each review with a question for my own content, but the Syndicado reviews will be a little bit more straight forward.
I'm really looking forward to putting out this content for you guys to see and hearing your opinions.
What's next for my blog? At the moment, a lot of good things.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Moon Review: There are many sides to the Moon, which side are you on?

I love actors, no really I do. They have this quality about them that I like. Some might call it an intangible quality, but it’s very easily explainable. As a writer, it’s my job to create a character’s motivations. To know them inside and out so that I know how they would react in just about every possible situation imaginable. An actor has to find a way to understand those motivations and bring out the emotions they cause. The way I see it, writers and actors go hand in hand. When I see an actor take on a difficult role, it gets very exciting.
This was the case with Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Reynolds in Buried, and most recently Sam Rockwell in Moon. Another film in my long list of movies that I always meant to see but never got around to until now and again things are interesting. Where Moon is different from the previously mentioned films is that it used a visual effect to tell a major part of the story. Mainly that Sam Rockwell played several (two specifically) distinct versions of his character to play off of. This technique is one that is used often these days when dealing with characters who are twins or multiple characters.
The first time I remember this occurring is in The Nutty Professor with Eddie Murphy playing his character’s entire family with various prosthetics, but since then it has been used in movies like The Matrix, The Social Network, as well as TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville and the recently cancelled Ringer. This can be a really effective technique if used in the right way. It can also go horribly wrong if not done properly. Unfortunately I have seen both in the multitude of films and television that I watch.  When it comes to Moon, I think that it is used properly. Through most of the film I had my concerns, but as things progressed I was able to understand why they did it.
And that’s true of things not limited to the use of the doubling visual effect when it comes to this movie. The story centers around the character of Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell), a man on a three year contract to harvest the moon’s resources for clean energy that can be used on Earth. One of the main things that bugged me about the film is the idea of a single person on a moon base. If you’re going to put a mining camp on the moon why have only one person running it? This, along with most of my questions about the film, gets answered by the end and I am left generally satisfied with the story as a whole.
What really hits home for me more than anything though is the performance of Rockwell. He manages to make two versions of himself very much distinct in their mannerisms and approaches to the situations they face that you might almost believe they were entirely different people despite their obvious similarities. The only other character to play off is the full on robotic helper droid GERTY, played through voice work by the great Kevin Spacey. And even there Mr. Spacey is able to bring a certain amount of nuance to an inanimate object that has you questioning the robot’s motives much in the way that you did in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This movie is a perfect example of how acting can make or break a film. And in the case of Moon, I definitely think it makes the film.
There are many sides to the Moon, which side are you on? I honestly could tell you because they all make such a great case.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Another Earth Review: If you had the chance, would you go to Another Earth?

We all have questions about things. About our past, our future and how the things we do affect our lives and the people around us. But most of all we wonder if we had made different choices would our lives be different? Could we live in a world in which we could do that? These types of ideas are so often considered by time travel stories. After all, it is the perfect medium to explore such an idea as that kind of ability remains beyond our reach. Dramas too have it in them to talk about the consequences of actions and how we deal with the world. To combine the sci-fi and the drama then can often be one of the best ways of telling a story.

Another Earth is one such story. It’s one of those smaller, independent films that got a bit of traction but never managed to materialize as a strong contender in its theatrical release. I think it’s because of the sci-fi element that it had more trouble then it probably should have. Despite the emergence of fan culture in recent years and a vested interest in sci-fi fantasy as a more respected form of entertainment, largely thanks to recent portrayals of superheroes in big blockbuster films coming out of Hollywood studios, sci-fi fantasy is still generally looked down upon in the filmmaking community. Unless it comes out of Hollywood, or sometimes despite that fact, it’s seen as popular with a specific group of people but not respectable with a larger audience.

What’s interesting about Another Earth is that it in some ways attempts not to be a sci-fi film despite the basic premise of it. The story follows a young girl who makes an unfortunate mistake in her youth and struggles to come to terms with how she can live with herself afterwards. That in and of itself is a story worth its weight in gold if told properly in the independent film community. However where it most likely loses a lot of people is the fact that it’s set against the backdrop of a world where another earth has been discovered in space near our own. Even though the concept of the film isn’t hindered in any way by the idea of another earth and in many ways is not central to the story, I think it keeps people from considering a really great film.

Yes, the film did fairly well at the box office for what it did. With a budget of $200,000 the film made $1 million plus, but when I talk to non-filmmakers about it they haven’t really heard of it, and in some cases even filmmakers have no idea what I am talking about. I even failed to see it in theatres even though I heard about it months ahead of time and had planned on it since the beginning. And that’s a real shame, because having finally found a copy of it on Blu-ray, I can say that it was well worth the money I paid for it.

The story is simply told and the characters are pretty solid despite the fact that you don’t really get to know much about them. What sells it is the fact that the two main characters are very much focused on a single event, an event which we witness in the film so we understand exactly where each of them is coming from and why they do the things they do.

I actually had an idea that was somewhat similar to this in that it was a sci-fi fantasy story which centered around a single event or idea but I wasn’t certain it would work. After watching this film, I can honestly say my opinion has changed and I am going to have to take a crack at it.

If you had the chance, would you go to Another Earth? I think I’ll leave the bigger question up to you, but maybe this film will help you make up your mind.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Machete Review: Would you like a Machete?

Film can be a ridiculous medium. There are essentially no limits to what you can do with it if you have the vision and the determination to accomplish it, particularly in today’s world of CGI and visual effects that can be done quickly and cheaply if you know what you’re doing. It’s kind of mind boggling the things that you can do. Essentially you’re only limited by your imagination. So then of course the only question becomes, how good is your imagination? Sometimes what you envision doesn’t hold up when you put it into practice. I’ve seen that happen more than a few times. A film can also exceed the vision originally thought of, whether it’s by the filmmakers themselves or the audience’s expectations of those films.

Then you have those films that you’re not entirely sure how to feel about them. The films that you know have a good reputation and a loyal fan base but you never really got around to seeing. I have a number of such films on a rather long metaphorical list, some of which I have actually checked out after starting my blog. One of those films is Machete and I recently got a chance to see it thanks to my ongoing quest for content I can provide to my blog. It feels really good to get that kind of stuff off my “to do” list.

Perhaps to begin, I think it’s worth saying that I am a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s work. Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2, as well as Inglorious Basterds are high up there on the list of films I really admire as both an avid film fan and a writer/filmmaker myself. I wouldn’t count myself as one of his biggest fans though. While I enjoy his films I sometimes have trouble dealing with the gratuitous nature of the violence in his work. I’m not opposed to violence in film. I’m not even necessarily opposed to excessive violence in films as long as it serves the story. What often bothers me is when the violence is a little too over the top for it to serve the story. Suspension of disbelief is a necessary part of watching a movie, but unrealistic violence, even the kind that is intentionally created within the world of the story, can be just as damaging to my ability to believe something as a character or an actor acting unnaturally in a given situation.

Robert Rodriguez is someone I am less familiar with as a storyteller, although he did make two films that I very much enjoyed, namely Sin City and The Faculty. Watching Machete however, I think it often came off like a Tarantino film directed by another director, and that’s not always a good thing. This is not to say that Machete isn’t a well done film. By all accounts the story is relatively solid, the acting was decent and the political angle is pretty much right up my alley. Where I think the film loses me though is that it’s just not my kind of film. Grindhouse films aren’t something I really ever got into at any point and Machete was an off-shoot of the whole Planet Terror/Death Proof double bill. Not every great film from the past catches my fancy. About a year or so back I managed to catch Scarface for the first time and I got kind of bored watching it.

By no means was I bored watching Machete, however it feels like they made their point early on in the film and then just kept going, and going, and going. The only thing that kept it going is the increasing need for violence to solve people’s problems. That and beautiful women going around doing stuff. As a guy, that’s worth watching, but as a storyteller it just doesn’t keep me going. So…

Would you like a Machete? Because I am thinking I might just pass on the sequels.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Ballad of Hugh Review: Have you heard the Ballad of Hugh?

Music is a huge part of people’s lives. I don’t think I know anyone who couldn’t name some song they love or that inspired them in some way. You just have to look at the popularity of the iPod and other music platforms to see just how important it is to most people. And then there are those people who become so inspired by music that they decide to get into it professionally. Spending hours, days and years at a time learning an instrument of some kind or training their voice to do what most people would kill to be able to do as well as they do. Some even do both.

In some ways I know exactly how that feels. When I was younger I studied piano and found that I had a natural talent for it. Where my siblings would spend every day working and trying to get the practice music right, I would sit down with the instructor and somehow be better than I was last week without really trying. As the years went on and things got tighter though, I found that my passion for music was overshadowed by my passion for writing, a talent that requires its own version of rhythm and flow which I found to be something of a challenge to figure out. I still find it something of a challenge. I couldn’t see myself going through the struggle of booking stage performances and attracting people to come and see me play.

Though I have a lot of respect for those that do put in the time and effort to put themselves front and center the way many musicians do in the music scene. So when I had the opportunity to see a documentary about an 80 year old Toronto area musician named Hugh Oliver who has spent his entire life trying to make it in the industry, the words “impressed” seem somewhat lacking to express things. It’s a tragic reality of any type of creative industry that people spend years of their lives trying to rise to the top of the industry, or at least get themselves noticed. Hugh Oliver has spent more than most and so the idea of a documentary about him seems like a natural fit.

You would think that a documentary about and elderly citizen of our fair country would be a problem to watch. It’s not. He has had quite the journey and this has been set against the backdrop of him finally getting the opportunity to record an album. That along with animated snippets of his narrated poetry and songs which talk about things that are not your typical subjects (his songs about Facebook and Harry Potter are particularly enjoyable) will definitely make you smile.

Ultimately, this film is about perseverance and the desire to succeed. Something that Hugh Oliver has in spades. You wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about himself and other subjects throughout the film but anyone who has even made a passing attempt to succeed, whether in a creative industry or not, will recognize the focus and drive that they have felt in this man. Anyone who has ever had to question their dream of making it in a creative industry will see a reason to keep going. If Hugh can spend a half century of his life chasing a dream, anyone else has no excuse.

Not that this is the message of the film, but I certainly feel that way after having seen it.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Lost Rivers Review: Where do we find our Lost Rivers? - Documentary Reviews, Documentaries, Documentary, Movie Reviews, Movies, Film, Film Reviews, Environmentalism, Entertainment, Film Entertainment

Documentaries are not something that I tend to go for traditionally, and it’s not from lack of interest. I make a point to be informed about the world and the way people live. This is far from a perfect world and there are a lot of issues to deal with. When I want to do that I go for the news and talk/debate shows which analyze the details and give them context. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t depending on who is doing the analyzing but even from people I don’t agree with I tend to learn something. But the fact that I stay informed doesn’t necessarily mean I need to know everything about everything. In some cases I am just looking for entertainment, and that’s often the case when I go to a film.

So a documentary usually has to have something really special with it to make get me in a theater. On occasion though I get tired of the traditional way of getting information and I look for something new. When I got the chance to go to the Planet in Focus film festival recently, I got just such an opportunity. The first of such films that I got to see is called Lost Rivers. A film about the way we view water in our modern age and how that relationship is changing in recent years. Enter a group known as The Drainers, more a collection groups with a similar name that have sprung up to explore the nature of water in urban areas and how we can help solve some of the problems we have with it. They do it by exploring rivers that have disappeared from view in most major cities because the population around it has changed.

And this is where the film kind of loses me a bit. It’s true that this is an important issue and people should know about it but doing that requires a certain amount of heart string pulling that seems somewhat lacking in the film. Narrative films and documentaries are different beasts to be sure. One is the invention of emotional and physical stakes and the other is a portrayal of a real world situation. But if you look at the best of both you see some basic similarities. Usually there’s a specific focus to the film, which in narrative films refers to a main character, and there is almost always an antagonist of some kind with which to contrast the focus of the film.

Somewhat ironically, Lost Rivers is missing that contrast. Of the three major focuses in the film, none of them come up against any serious constraints to their journey. Quite the opposite is the case with one in that they went from outlaws breaking city laws to an officially recognized group before the film even started. Another group being followed seems to avoid conflict in the film because the contrast is never actually seen, just referred to. Now I am not saying that all documentary films necessarily require contrast or conflict in order to move it forward, but as an audience member I just didn’t feel emotionally connected to the characters because things don’t necessarily happen to any of them.

We follow them and learn about them and the issue they have but we don’t really care about them in any serious way. I can think of only one point in which I was really emotionally invested in the film and it was created by two people who were not the focus of the film in a strange detour into random people. To me, that’s a problem whether you’re doing a narrative or documentary film and it’s one that Lost Rivers doesn’t really overcome.

Where do we find our Lost Rivers? They are all around us, we just have to have the courage to go and look.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Lars and the Real Girl Review: Which one is more real? - Movie Reviews, Film Reviews, Movies, Films, Film, Entertainment, Film Entertainment, TV, Television, Television Reviews, TV Reviews

I have had the privilege recently to see quite a few examples of great acting in my pursuit of content to review for my blog, but I think one of the best so far has to be the performance of Ryan Gosling as the socially inept Lars Lindstrom in the strangely honest Lars and the Real Girl. Traditionally, when a person talks to an inanimate object like a life-size doll in film or television it tends to be the very strange or often disturbed sociopaths who are portrayed on screen doing it. In many ways Lars and the Real Girl attempts to challenge our ideas of what normal is and how we should deal with it and it’s done really well.

Probably the only aspect of this film that disturbed me in any serious way was the fact that I could see much of myself in the main character up until about 15 minutes into the movie. The best way to describe the character of Lars is as a functional recluse in that he has a job, he has friends, but by in large he keeps to himself and spends a lot of time alone. It’s completely understandable by the time the ‘real girl’ shows up why he felt the need to buy one. For obvious reasons, people are very much concerned about him when he starts taking the mannequin out places with him as if they were a real person, but what quickly becomes apparent in the film is that this is not a ‘sex doll’ for Lars.

He doesn’t use it for what most people would assume. To him, this is a real person with a whole life, back story and personality. Now one might assume that something like that would come off as weird and somewhat off putting. Ryan Gosling however manages to make it work. He doesn’t overplay the interaction between him and the doll he refers to as Bianca. He doesn’t come off as psychotic or having broken entirely with reality. In most cases, Lars Lindstrom comes off like a man in love with a real woman. You might even be able to say that the doll is as much a character in the film as any of the actors who worked with it.

Yes, I know that sounds really strange, but I recently had someone tell me that after seeing the movie they actually got emotional about the doll. To avoid spoilers I will refrain from saying what emotion that was, however if that isn’t a testament to the acting ability of the people involved, then I don’t know what is. A film like this tends to get sidelined from a wider audience because of the content or controversy it might create, and that can be a real shame. But one of the benefits of the online market place and DVD/Bluray is that those who go looking for it can find it.

Actors should definitely go looking for this film. You’ve heard the term “Can’t act their way out of a paper bag”? The actors in this film acted their way out of a difficult situation with this film. Lesser actors and filmmakers would have made this story about a creepy man who develops a strange relationship with a weird fetish. But they proved that you don’t always have to go there with stories to get attention. You don’t always have to be the guy in the corner who doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes you can find a way to make it out of your problems and transform yourself into a better person. Even if the way you have to do it is with a life size mannequin you treat like a real person.

So which one is more real? Lars or the Read Girl? I honestly don’t know, but the question itself is great to watch.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Informant Review: Would you hire The Informant? - Movie Reviews, Film Reviews, Movies, Films, Entertainment, Film Entertainment, TV, Television, TV Reviews, Television Reviews

Back in 2009, one of the first films that I went to see at the Toronto International Film Festival was The Informant, starring Matt Damon and Scott Bakula. I had never really checked out a film festival before and so the experience itself was rather strange. It’s interesting then that one of my first films at the festival was a pretty strange film itself. First and foremost is the fact that Matt Damon almost disappears into the role of Mark Whitacre as a bio-chemist at a middle-American corn producer known as ADM.

There are a number of actors who can’t really move beyond their fame. Actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Robert DeNiro and Woody Harrelson are the kind of actors who I can only ever see as the actors they are and not the roles that they play. There are exceptions to that rule, for instance, Woody Harrelson in ‘Defendor’, Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in ‘Fight Club’, and George Clooney as Everett McGill in ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ Matt Damon on the other hand can sometimes be a bit of a wild card in the roles that he takes. Roles like ‘Dogma’ or ‘Ocean’s 11’, while incredible, are roles in which he seems to have been cast for the fact of his status as an actor whereas a role like Jason Bourne or Will Hunting, he finds a way to disappear into the role he is playing and you almost forget who he is.

I would put ‘The informant’ in the category of one where he disappears, the subtle way in which he portrays a nervous yet simple man who believes in doing the right thing despite his co-workers views of things and business practices is nothing short of brilliant. But the portrayal is not the only good thing about the film. As the story progresses, you start to realize that things are not entirely what they seem in the world Mark Whitacre inhabits. This begins a series of twists and turns to the plot that would normally be seen in a crime drama or a political thriller but feels right at home in this rather strange and quiet comedy.

Perhaps it’s the fact that so many of the characters seem genuine and honest in the way they deal with the situation at hand, the question of price fixing in the international markets of corn, that makes some of the eventual betrayals so damning and difficult to watch yet so very funny at the same time. The film ultimately becomes one in which there is no clear bad guy in all of it. Not because people haven’t done something wrong, but because you end up caring about the characters despite what they’ve done. None of the characters really seem underhanded or angry in what they do. Perhaps that’s why when things start to go wrong you don’t really see it coming.

So much about this movie is understated and unexpected. From the acting to the camera work and the storytelling, which I think is what makes it work so well. This isn’t a movie about clear lines between right and wrong, or good versus bad. It’s about people, and the way in which people go wrong in their pursuit of success.

Would you hire The Informant? I probably wouldn’t, but I would definitely hire the people who made the film.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Switched at Birth Review: Could you live with being “Switched at Birth”? - TV Reviews, Television, TV, Television Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Film, Film Reviews, Entertainment, Film Entertainment

Quite a few TV shows recently have taken something of a soap opera approach to storytelling when it comes to creating their basis for their ideas. Most notably there are shows like Pretty Little Liars which focuses on the problems you run into while lying coupled with a murder mystery plot, Ringer which was about a twin who took over her sister’s life to escape her own problems, and Switched at Birth, the story of two families who took home each other’s daughters, only to discover the truth almost 16 years later.

This sets up an interesting twist on the concept of family and how it is defined in the modern world that you don’t generally see in a lot of places outside the soap opera genre. How does one define family? Where does the connection between you and the family you were born into begin and where does it end? This idea is taken on in many different genres and stories but it often takes a backseat to the other themes within the shows. It seems to be a foregone conclusion by most storytellers these days that family is what you make it, not what you were born into.

And that’s where this show is different. Switched at Birth takes the concept of how to define family and puts it front and center. From the very beginning, the show focuses on the two young girls who were switched, Bay and Daphne, whose life has been turned upside down by the chance decision of Bay who questioned her place in her own family. After a DNA test reveals the truth about their birth, two families attempt to deal with how their lives are changed.

Everything stems from that one moment and the way in which they deal with the fallout. The families develop all sorts of insecurities and fears because of the new dynamic between all of them. Bay and Daphne start to question who they are and who they want to be and the friends they spend time with, but also who they would be if they hadn’t been switched the way they were. Their parents, Katherine and John Kennish, and Regina Vasquez have to deal with each other and figure out a way to parent their respective children together without crossing any boundaries.

As things progress for the Kennish and Vasquez families, we are introduced to other friends and family members who have their own problems with members of the two families and this helps to broaden the characters and the way they deal with each other. That in and of itself would be enough for most television shows to sustain itself for several years, but Switched at Birth adds another dynamic to the mix which makes it fascinating for me and fans of the show. About half of the characters and some of the cast themselves are hearing impaired or deaf.

Watching the show then becomes even more interesting for someone like me as a writer, because so many of the scenes are told without any audio dialogue. It relies heavily on the actors to show the story and the character’s stress in the moment rather than tell it. They do have subtitles for those of us without a working knowledge of sign language but rarely do they tone things down for people who can’t read them as they go by. I’d also say that I have picked up a sign or two from watching it and I love that they have managed to do that for the hearing and hearing impaired alike. Ultimately they never lose sight of the truth of the show, which is the characters and the question they often ask themselves either figuratively or metaphorically.

Could you live with being Switched at Birth? I probably couldn’t, but I love watching it play out on TV.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What exactly do actors want?

This is a question I have been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve been trying to figure it out for years but recently the question has become a lot more important to understand. Like most creative people, actors are a varied group with different ideas and preferences of what they do and don’t want to do as an actor or actress. But they’ve all chosen essentially the same field, acting. They may come at it from different ways, some are film and television, some are interested in the web and others are theatre focused. And there are even different techniques for getting into those fields, all of which I have looked into in order to understand the way an actor approaches each and why, with varying results.

To focus the main question though, I want to try and put forward some of the conclusions I have come to and sort of put it to other people to tell me if I am right or wrong, and perhaps where I can modify my ideas to gain a better focus.

First and foremost, actors want to work in their field. It seems rather obvious to put forward that idea but I know so many actors who are passionate about the craft and expend an incredible amount of energy, creative or otherwise, trying to get to a point where they can afford to act 24/7 and live off that. A lot of people in a creative field can say that about themselves, but as it was put to me recently, actors are in front of the camera and in some cases that can cause problems because more than anything, the optics of being too visible can make them less in demand. I imagine that’s part of the reason that Hollywood actors don’t take every role they are offered, as I am sure once you get to a certain point you’re offered more than you can handle.

Secondly, they look for work in something they can emotionally connect to when they take it on. This is where I think actors tend to differ from others in some ways. When a grip or a P.A. or even to some extent, directors, writers and DOPs takes on a role, they don’t necessarily have to emotionally connect to the material. It’s better when writers and directors do because it shows in the work eventually, but with actors the ability to feel the character’s feelings or draw upon something that will express a similar feeling is such a central part to what they do that in many cases they have to go about creating their own content just to find something that has what they want.
And this is where I have the most trouble figuring actors out. I know how to emotionally connect to my own material and create characters that are, I hope, emotionally nuanced and interesting to an audience. But between me and the audience are the actors who bring the characters to life for that audience. Since I can’t go about sending my scripts to every actor I meet and/or connect with, I’ve been trying to figure out how to express the characters in a few sentences or a short paragraph. This is what’s keeping me up at night recently and I figured blogging about it might help me figure it out.
So far I am not really sure I have figured it out. Are there some elements to a character description that just pop out at actors? Are there certain types of characters that are just naturally popular among actors or is it all an individual preference? Should I just take a shot in the dark and hope for the best?
What exactly do actors want?

Dexter: The ultimate Nature vs. Nurture? - TV Review, Television, Television Review, Movie Reviews, Film Reviews, Dexter, TV Shows, Television Shows, Entertainment

There are some things that are just disturbing to watch. Whether it’s a disturbing image like from news of a tragic event like a shooting or a video set up on YouTube like a recent serial killer did or a more fictional depiction of tragedy like the Saw films, Scream or a television depiction like Law & Order, Bones, or Jersey Shore. However there are some things which are hard to understand why exactly you’re disturbed by them. For me that show is Dexter. You can always look at a show like this and say that what is disturbing about it is the graphic depictions of sex, language and death that are disturbing, and yes it can be tough to watch the way in which people are both killed by the main character and kill other people but often that’s the least of what disturbs me.

What usually bothers me about the show is the way in which the characters evolve over time. Most disturbing of all is Dexter who struggles to deal with who he is versus how he was raised. Each season deals with the reality of his life as both a forensic blood spatter analyst and a serial killer. Living with such a contradiction alone would be difficult enough, but trying to relate to people without revealing this contradiction is even harder for him. He does manage to make some connections to people, though they are pretty basic at first over time they evolve and grow much like Dexter himself. The thing that disturbs me most about Dexter is how much people connect with the character. And not just in the sense of the insane ones who try to reenact or mirror his crimes.

My own connection is quite a strange one. I know what it’s like to feel disconnected from the world and other people, trying to find a way to connect to people when you don’t feel connected to anyone or anything. It’s hard to care about others or have a conversation that you find meaningful when you don’t care about what other people are saying. But you keep trying because you see the people around you talking and caring about each other and you want to understand what they feel like. You want to know so bad that you start to feel something just from that itself.

Ultimately, I think that’s what Dexter is all about, a man trying to connect to others without really knowing how. He tries to connect with his girlfriend, his co-workers as well as his family and friends. Yet no matter how many times he fails he keeps trying, despite the fact that doing so is against his nature. The main reason he fails is because his natural instinct is to shy away from people and do his own thing. But he was taught to spend time with people and to at least appear like everyone else so that he can try to fit in. This creates a tragic battle within the main character that is often played out within the inner monologue/voice over of the episodes and seasons as a whole.

As the seasons progress, he learns how to manage between his nature and the way he was nurtured to embrace in life. Watching him try to live up to both perceptions of himself that he has while dealing with the people around him and keeping them from learning the truth can be both tragic and disturbing at the same time.

So is Dexter the ultimate nature versus nurture? I think it is.