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.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Discuss: Why not superhero movies for our up and coming filmmakers?

A short while ago, I posted an article someone wrote that talked about the idea of new and upcoming filmmakers taking on superhero films as a way of financing smaller projects and whether or not that’s a good thing. Many of the details of the article suggest that having filmmakers, up and coming or not, doing superhero movies is a problem. That they should use their success to fuel more independent projects then superhero films. One of the examples given is Darren Aronofsky going from the success of Black Swan into his ultimately canceled participation in The Wolverine, a loosely based sequel to the film X-men Origins: Wolverine.
But why should that matter? If Aronofsky or any other filmmaker who takes on a superhero project is doing so because they care about the material and want to use their independent success on a superhero film, then shouldn’t we let them? Of course, if the filmmakers are only taking on these projects because of the paycheck and don’t really care about the film then I can understand having a problem with it. But the Hollywood system which is creating all these films isn’t really at fault for letting someone take on a project of that magnitude if they believe the filmmaker can do the characters justice.
After all, a superhero project does have enormous potential for the filmmaker in question, and I am not just talking about the paycheck or the box office boom that comes with it if the filmmakers do it properly. In some of my recent blog posts I have spoken about the idea of superheroes as a modern mythology, the idea that there are all kinds of disparate elements to the superhero story that can cross genres and be relevant to even non superhero fans. This has never been more true than in what I am talking about now. Consider for a moment, the idea of Superman. Some look at a character like that and just see an alien with powers and outdated ideals, but I see the ultimate immigrant story.
Superman is the modern retelling of the story of Moses. A child set among the intergalactic river to live with a new family, who grows up and develops incredible powers to set people free from the pain and suffering they go through every day. Batman is the story of Hamlet, a man struck by tragedy that swears vengeance against the person or people who destroyed his father and ends up consumed by it. Spiderman in some ways is a combination of both. The stories of Moses and Hamlet are considered by many to be universal truths. Why not then their modern equivalents?
Many comic books have dealt with a story similar to that of Black Swan, yet Aronofsky should be praised for one and looked down upon for another? This goes back to the bias or stereotype which some filmmakers have about the potential for superheroes or comic books in modern storytelling, a problem which largely comes out of the fact that these films have to come from Hollywood because they are too big to be played out anywhere else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. To point this out, I need only to paraphrase a quote from Joss Whedon, a man who not only created one of the biggest films of all time and a monster at the box office, but during his spare time in the filming of which he directed and self-financed a film in 12 days based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
“The film industry has become very much about the big budget blockbuster or the small indie film, there isn’t really an in between anymore. There is no real middle ground, and I’m cool with that. I love doing both.”
And so I say, why not superhero movies for our up and coming filmmakers?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Silver Linings Playbook Review: Can you find the Silver Lining in your life’s Playbook?

“Life is a struggle that no one actually survives.”
It’s a difficult thing to do, figure out how to cope with the world around you and the problems you encounter. Things are hard, they take work and even then there aren’t really any guarantees you’ll achieve anything. Is it any wonder that people go a little crazy? How crazy can things get though? Perhaps what’s crazy is the world around us, or even the people in it. No matter what it is some people can’t cope, or they don’t cope very well. At the core of Silver Lining Playbook is the question of what do you do then. How do you deal with a world that makes you crazy?
The story centers around Pat, a guy recently released from a mental institution after a traumatic incident sent him over the edge with a condition he didn’t know he had. Now living with his parents, he struggles to figure out how to move forward when in some ways he is still very much stuck in the life he left behind. With no job, no prospects and a town full of people who know what happened to him, he tries to find some aspect of his life to hold onto while managing his condition. What he ends up holding onto is his wife. Very much out of his life since the incident, Pat becomes focused on the idea of getting his wife back despite the reality that he isn’t allowed to communicate with her.
Sufficed to say this proves to be more difficult then it seems to him and he begins looking for a work around to this problem through his very supportive friends and family. There’s only one problem, his friends and family aren’t the benchmarks for normality either. And this becomes the perfect mix for a family rom-com with an interesting twist on it. It’s long been a staple of the romantic comedy genre to question the idea of normal. Stories from the 80s and 90s were big on this kind of theme, particularly in the realm of the high school drama version of a romantic comedy. Since then many stories have tried to establish what normal is, or at least what we want normal to be with some success here and there.
For Silver Linings Playbook however, normal is in fact the abnormal. Most of the characters have some strange way of dealing with the world. But in particular what makes it all work is the quirky way in which Pat, as played by Bradley Cooper, lives in the world. He is very honest and direct with people about what he sees or feels yet he does it with a kind of charm and openness about himself that it’s hard to feel insulted by him. Topped off by the fact that he has learned to try and look for the silver lining in even the most horrible things.
What’s interesting is that because of the unusual nature of the characters, I was never quite sure where they will end up. Romantic comedies have a tendency to go in certain ways. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. More recently they’ve tended to get a little ridiculous with their storylines. This film feels neither ridiculous nor cheap. It goes for the emotionally honest moments and with Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker and Bradley Cooper in the roles they manage to hit them pretty well.
Can you find the Silver Lining in your life? I can honestly say that this movie is something of a silver lining in my life right now.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Why did TIFF go younger this year?

Anyone who takes even a basic look at the schedule for TIFF this year will notice a bit of a difference in the type of films which were scheduled to play. In the past you would have seen a focus on independent films and Hollywood films which would focus on a more experienced, filmmaker focused audience. You had films like “The Ides of March”, “The Informant” and “Shame”. This year however you can see more of a skew towards a younger audience with films like “Spring Breakers”, “Dredd 3D”, “On The Road” and even “Much Ado About Nothing”. What’s the significance of such a move? Is there a reason for it? What can be done about it?
The answer to most of those questions is yes, all with the exception the last one. Mainly because I’m not sure they need to do anything about it. Long time patrons of the festival might look at the people involved in this year’s films and say why do we need to appeal to a younger audience? Why do we need films starring Kristen Stewart, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens? Aren’t they all just attention grabbing Disney stars with no real talent? First and foremost I would say that anyone who insists upon saying such things probably hasn’t taken the time to actually watch any of the work of any such stars and I am a big believer in the idea that you can’t judge a person’s talent if you haven’t taken the time to give it a shot.
I’ve actually seen some of their work, including some of the films I mentioned earlier, and I would say that they have real talent. It’s a little on the rough side in some areas but they aren’t supposed to be seasoned veterans of the craft because they aren’t yet old enough to have put in the kind of time a seasoned veteran would need to appear as such. Plus in looking at some of these films, they may have actually done so. They’ve been given the opportunity in many of these films to stretch their acting muscles and turned in pretty good performances.
Some might say that TIFF has to be careful not to alienate its core audience of filmmakers. But who’s to say they did? “On The Road”, while starring Kristen Stewart, is based on a Jack Kerouac novel. Hardly the tween fluff she is often accused of doing. As I said in my review, Spring Breakers was a film by Harmony Korine maker of such films as “Kids”, not exactly someone known for creating films that teenagers are encouraged to see. In fact Selena Gomez actually encouraged her younger fans not to see it given its more adult content, even as hundreds of younger girls sat in the audience after the screening while she said it. These are not exactly films which betray many of the ideas that TIFF built its reputation on.
Even if it were, why is that so wrong? I’ve said it before and I will say it again, film is not a uniform media. It’s not required to conform to a particular idea of what a good film is or who should be in such films. Some filmmakers and their films may present themselves that way, but that’s only one of many narratives available to creators in the visual arts. The most prominent narrative is that film is a reflection of society, and if TIFF wishes to stay true to that above anything else, then it has to be willing to broaden its appeal to more than just its core audience.
TIFF has to stay relevant to the audiences of today and not all of them are 30+ filmmakers who remember Sylvester Stallone as Rocky instead of The Expendables. At a certain point you have to recognize the bigger audience and figure out if you can appeal to them as much as those you admire.
Why did TIFF go younger this year? I think that much is obvious.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Glee Review: Do you sing with the return of Glee?

There are some shows that are just strange. Shows that are strange in a bad way like The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle and Dollhouse, all three of which I watch (or watched and enjoyed for what it was in the case of The Secret Circle and Dollhouse that got cancelled early on). You also have shows that are strange in a really good way. Shows like Dexter, Episodes, and just about every British TV show that tiny island manages to put out. And then there are shows like Glee, shows that not only border on the absurd, but actually embrace it when the story calls for it.

A show like that tends to be very divisive, there are people who hate it and people who love it. But those that love it often do so with incredible passion and devotion. This can be both a good and a bad thing depending on which you are, particularly because there are those who fall somewhere in between. I have experienced this in other fandoms. Incredibly devoted fans can begrudge the less fanatic members for sometimes being critical or less than enthusiastic about the show. As a result these “more moderate” fans can feel less engaged and drop off from a show if it becomes too much for them to handle.

Social media platforms can be the bridge that keeps that from happening, and one of the things that Glee has done really well is embrace social media like Twitter to keep people interested. Most of the cast is on Twitter like Lea Michele, Naya Rivera, Kevin McHale and others, though they seem to be the most prominent members on a consistent basis. The fans appreciate it no matter what your level of devotion, but then I count myself among those who are more moderate in my opinion.

One of the best aspects of the show though is the music, the way in which music is both the focus of the story and the thing that makes it different from others. Before the show came on the scene four years ago, musicals were a rare thing. There were occasional successes like Moulin Rouge and West Side Story, but in general they were something to be ridiculed and looked down upon in the film community, then came Glee. A show that preyed upon the nostalgia of music from the 80s and 90s, making the music cool again for the current generation. It even managed to revive some long dead tunes that were themselves ridiculed and kind of weird.

This too is at the heart of the show. It’s about a group of misfits who are constantly made fun of and fight tooth and nail to get respect from people who don’t want to give it to them. As I was reminded quite well recently, everyone loves an underdog. People love to root for the guy or girl who had it rough but manages to succeed anyway. Succeed despite the detractors and critics, despite the authority figures trying to keep them down and despite everyone who might otherwise have an obvious advantage.

With more number 1 hits then they can count, over 36 million digital single sales and 11 million album sales worldwide, I would say they certainly achieved their goal. Interestingly enough, the show reflects that success in many ways. As the show gears up for season 4, its characters have achieved success and are now wondering what is next, and I am too. But more than that I am curious...

Do you sing with the return of Glee? I have in the past, and I am going to be doing it again this year.

How far should you go for Mr. Viral?

It goes without saying that I see a lot of films, except for the fact that I just finished saying it. I’ve seen some really good films, some really bad films, and films that fall somewhere in between. Being a filmmaker I have seen films that have started from scratch and had trouble getting traction with an audience, I have seen films go from concept to production and then disappear into oblivion. I’ve even had occasions where films have      gone on to do really well. It’s hard to tell what audiences will react to, whether positive or negative, but there are certain fundamental things which we all generally react positively to.
Mr. Viral understands this quite well. After all, it’s a film about marketing. More specifically it’s about viral marketing and the effectiveness of promoting things on the internet. It’s also written and directed by a man who spent years of his life in the marketing industry, the great Alex Boothby. I would be disappointed if he didn’t understand the basics of impulse control and how to manipulate it. What’s interesting is that as much as the film is about that side of ourselves and the potential dangers that giving in to such impulses, for profit or otherwise, the filmmakers clearly attempt to prey upon some of those basic desires within its audience as well.
For all the sex and violence and exploitation that a lot of the characters go through or have done to them, the film itself is not gratuitous. So much of what goes on that would turn the film from an R rated film to an NC-17 rating is off screen or implied more than anything. The characters get more and more depraved as the story moves forward, yet we as the audience are never entirely given a full view into just how far things have gone. Which is exactly what most filmmakers should do, particularly a former marketing guy turned filmmaker.
The story moves along quickly enough that you’re always wondering what’s going to happen next and yet you spend more than enough time with each character that you actually care and kind of worry about what will happen to them. Even as some of the characters become less and less likeable, you still care enough about them to worry about what they have gotten themselves into. This is great as well because, having read one of the earlier scripts, I wasn’t sure that they were going to achieve that. After seeing the finished product though I can see that they clearly had a vision and a focus that I didn’t really plug into at the time.
What’s interesting to me as well is that I can actually see this film being a much bigger movie if it couldn’t be done. And this is not said to detract or to be critical the film or the people involved, the actors and filmmakers did a fantastic job and I really do hope that this launches their careers, but in numerous places I could see characters being played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, or Mary Steenburgen or Wallace Shawn. I hope that the people involved take that as a compliment, because it’s intended to be. This isn’t a film that comes off like a bunch of guys with a video camera trying to make it in the industry. It comes off like a group of filmmakers with the potential to handle a big Hollywood project. I have no doubt that when it goes to the Calgary film festival and beyond it will be enjoyed by all.
How far should you go for Mr. Viral? As far as you can take it. This film is going to turn some heads, and most of the heads are going to turn to the filmmakers and ask... what’s next?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

How Great should your Expectations be?

I have had the privilege of seeing some really great films at TIFF this year, a number of which are adaptations of some of the greatest writers to have ever put words to page. Namely William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” adapted by Joss Whedon, and Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” as adapted by Mike Newell. Incredible feats for most filmmakers to take on, not only because of the authors’ powerful works themselves but also because they have been done repeatedly over the years, some to great success and others to great failure. As a result the immensity of such an undertaking is not lost on many who might see the film versions.
One might even say it is almost impossible not to have great expectations about this kind of attempt. Yes, I know that’s an incredible obvious thing to say and kind of dumb but as the programmer who introduced the film said it’s hard not to go there with such an obvious set up.
This is not my first viewing of a Dickens adaptation and I doubt it will be my last. However this is as far as I can remember my first viewing of a version which is in many ways faithful to the original version. This seems to be a trend of sorts in the filmmaking community as of late. “Much Ado About Nothing” was using the original text and it seems that “Great Expectations” also did so. Where they differ is in the setting itself. Much Ado was set in modern times where the characters had cell phones and computers and such, whereas “Great Expectations” took great pains to be period specific in nearly every aspect. Yet both have managed to do interesting things with the material.
I should say that my only other experience with the story of Great Expectations was in a South Park episode where one of the characters they supposedly based on Pip, the main character of the Dickens story, had his back story told in the form of “Great Expectations”. The basics of the story were there and many elements stayed the same but they went completely off script with the ending for comedic effect, but it did get me curious the other works of Dickens as I was most familiar with “A Christmas Carol” up until then which I watch every Christmas as well as several modern day adaptations.
Director Mike Newell took no such liberties with the story, although there were a few characters which were removed in order to keep the story moving according to the director’s Q&A afterwards. Despite that, I think that the film is a beautiful adaptation of the widely heralded story. One of the audience members who managed to ask a question of the director was the head of a local chapter of the Charles Dickens’ society, remarking that he believed that Charles Dickens would be very happy with this interpretation and while my opinion probably holds less weight, I would have to agree. He managed to make characters that were almost all miserable, angry and at times unlikeable people into sympathetic characters who you can at least understand the motivations of.
Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger embodied Dickens’ classic characters in their adult roles. While Helena Barlow, Toby Irvine and Charlie Callaghan as young versions of the main characters managed to set up everything that their older versions needed really well for their ages.
How Great should your Expectations be? To quote Estella…
“I am bent and broken, though hopefully into a better shape.”
This film has been made into great shape.

Frost/Nixon, the new power couple?

Anyone who reads my blog has probably noticed that I’m a fan of politics. From real political situations like Kony2012 and gay rights, to the fictional kind like Boss, The Newsroom or The Daily Show/The Colbert Report (it is considered fake news after all), I love hearing other people’s views on controversial issues. Even if I don’t agree with everything they say, I usually find something in them worth learning from or at least considering. So when I sat down to watch the Ron Howard movie Frost/Nixon, I was really looking forward to it. The whole Watergate scandal is well before my time, but the effects of it has pretty much changed the face of politics ever since. Finding out the details brought a lot of context to how politics work in this day and age and the way in which people overuse the suffix “-Gate” every time some political scandal pops up these days.
Of course, Frost/Nixon isn’t really about Watergate as much as it was about the political fallout and aftermath of the scandal getting out, how people dealt with it and the part that the interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon played in the healing process. It’s interesting to realize that for all the controversial elements of the Watergate scandal, most of which remain somewhat unresolved, no one ever seems to talk about the fact that Gerald Ford pardoned the disgraced former president for wrong doing that he might have done. From a political perspective, I can understand why a president would do such a thing. The late Richard Nixon put a black mark on the presidency, and politics in general, and not doing something would have been so much worse than what he did.
The film begins with one of the biggest events in political history, watching the only American President to ever resign from the most powerful position in the free world. It shows the reaction of David Frost to the event and from there you watch almost voyeuristically as these two men take the journey towards their eventual clash. Now what’s interesting about the film is that while many historical or political films would strive for the actor who looks most like the figure they are playing, Ron Howard has gone for more of an interpretation of those involved then an imitation of the figures themselves. Part of the reason for that appears to be one of the historical messages of the film. Howard has made a point of saying that one of the reasons he wanted to make the film is because of the political climate of the day, post-Bush administration.
He wanted to draw parallels between the loss of political trust that occurred after both Watergate and the invasion of Iraq. That may be part of the reason that I didn’t really connect with the material as much as I would’ve hoped to. It tried to walk the line between a huge generational gap and it didn’t entirely keep its balance all the way through. While there are a fair amount of similarities between the two situations, Vietnam versus Iraq, wire tapping and clandestine investigations of citizens without their consent and invasion of a right to privacy, I don’t think we are far enough away from the Iraq war (we’re still fighting it in 2012 and the movie was released in 2008) to truly give it the historical context that it deserves.
Because of that, I’m not sure that the film has the emotional impact that it’s going for. Then again, it may simply be that I have too much emotional distance between both events that I simply can’t get as angry or invested in the tragic reality of the circumstances these two characters are living in. So is Frost/Nixon the new power couple? Unfortunately, I don’t think I care enough about them to say yes.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Can "Writers" write from anywhere but the heart?

I have been a long time believer in the idea that a writer that is worth the words they write does so from a place of passion. A place where they care about the material they are creating and the ideas they are talking about through it. But is that actually true? Do you actually have to write with your heart and soul or do you simply get better at it if you do it often enough? Not long ago I watched a speech given by acclaimed TV writer Matt Nix, creator of such TV shows as Burn Notice. In it he looked at the idea of art and how he went about it. He spoke of some of the most common advice that any writer gets when he or she starts out. Primarily, that you should write what you know. Some of the most fundamental things about ourselves that we know is how we feel, how we think and how we act, even if we can’t quite articulate all those things in the moment itself. But is that the same as writing what you know?
Are writing what you know and writing from the heart the same thing? Is it possible to do one or the other, or do we do both at the same time? Watching the new film Writers from Josh Boone, I had to ask myself that question. The film is based on the personal experience of the writer/director himself and I think it really shows in the story being told. Starring Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly as well as younger actors like Lily Collins and Nat Wolff, it’s the story of a family of writers struggling to express themselves to each other after the parents of the family get divorced and the mother has remarried. Thankfully, each of them has writing as a way of coping with their lives. Three of them have taken to writing to express themselves in some way, perhaps not to each other or about each other directly, but to someone.
Each of them writes about the experience of their lives and the way in which it has shaped them and their ideas about the world. To quote from the film, “Writers are the sum of their experiences, go have some”. When a person writes however, they often aren’t talking about the situations themselves. Personal experiences can be used in and modified to fit for a story, but there is usually a deeper truth in the experiences that is at the core of the story being told. Sometimes the meaning is that there is no meaning, but by and large a combination of such experiences overall is about life or love or culture. Rarely is it the case that these ideas aren’t somewhere in the script or book or film.
This film is very much about coming to terms with those experiences, which is what most writers do through their work. A lot of films focus on the ultra dramatic moments in life. The moments in which someone finds out their spouse has been cheating on them, or the moment two people meet and fall in love. “Writers” is very much about the moments in between such events. It’s about that second when you realize “Oh wait, that’s what I learned from that mistake” or “Now I realize that this is how I dealt with it and moved on”. And aren’t those the moments in which you truly understand what was going on with that experience? Those are the times when you feel comfortable enough to write down what it is that happened and how you feel about it now. That’s the point where what you know and what you feel meet, and I think that’s what “Writers” is in fact about.
Can writers write from anywhere but the heart? I think they can, but the heart always has to enter into it somewhere, and watching a film like “Writers” is one of the best ways to explore that about yourself.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Much Ado About Nothing Review: Much Ado, Much Ado, Where For Art Thou Much Ado?

I have to admit, part of me considered doing this entire review in Shakespearean English for added effect. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but there’s a reason why Shakespeare is considered by many to be the greatest wordsmith of all time. He is the most human, human that there is and perhaps that there ever will be and quite frankly as a writer I will never measure up. So I figured I would save myself the incredible embarrassment and do a more traditional review, and I suspect by the end of this review I will be glad that I did.

Anyone who has read my review of The Avengers knows that I am not a diehard Joss Whedon fan. He’s not always perfect and what he does may not always work. However when he does get a chance to do things well there are very few who can measure up in today’s world of film. Shakespeare on the other hand has no equal when it comes to the written word (or spoken word, as his plays would most often be performed live in front of an audience). There’s a reason why some of the biggest actors of note have a Shakespearean theatre background. If you can master Shakespeare, assuming such a thing is even possible in the first place, you can master just about anything that the world of art can throw at you. That doesn’t always mean that you’ll make the best films or you’ll choose the best parts but at the very least you know what it is that you’re doing when you get one.

To put the words of Shakespeare into the hands of a filmmaker like Joss Whedon, a man who regularly invites his actor friends over to his house to act out scenes from The Bard’s work, makes the possibilities endless. Speaking of his house, for those that aren’t aware the film was entirely shot in and around his own house over a 12 day period during a break from his filming of The Avengers. That more than anything very much concerned me, how good could a film like that be given those extreme constraints? It doesn’t matter how good you are as a filmmaker, rushed is rushed and unless you are extremely careful it can come off that way. In all honesty I was very nervous going into that theatre, wondering if I was in for another heap of disappointment.

I could NOT have been more wrong. With Joss Whedon at the helm and a host of actors any semi-fan of his previous work would recognize in a heartbeat, Shakespeare comes alive in a way that simply has not been seen since The Bard himself was walking around. There have been many adaptations of Shakespeare’s work in the last 300 years since then, and even more since the advent of film and television. Few can hold a candle to the film I just witnessed.

Shakespeare had a subtlety of purpose in his words and a thoughtfulness with which he moved from comedy to drama to intrigue and deception. Using The Bard’s original words but setting it in a somewhat modern time with cell phones and the internet, Joss Whedon puts it all right there on the screen for you to watch, and laugh, and cry at with equal measure.

Each of the actors involved in this film are so perfectly suited for the roles which they play that they jump right off the screen at you. He plays the actors off the long time fans like nobody’s business. Anyone who has seen all or part of his other works will love the fact that he put the characters in the roles they have in the film and I suspect the diehard fans will feel incredibly vindicated in a number of ways, although because it’s Shakespeare you don’t have to be a fan of Joss’ work to understand the chemistry between them.

And then, Nathan Fillion happened.

None of these actors are better suited for their roles then Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. Every moment that man is on screen you can’t help but smile. Every time his character opens his mouth and speaks you’re forced to laugh. No matter how many times Tom Lenk as his partner Verges threatens to steal the scene from Nathan, and he very nearly does throughout the film, Nathan slaps him down with another fantastic moment... metaphorically speaking of course.

The title I used for this review is a reference to a sense of longing which I feel after having seen this film, much like the character I am paraphrasing, a longing for the fact that I can’t go somewhere and watch this film right away again. It’s been a long time since I have had that feeling about a Joss Whedon film, or any film for that matter, and it’s great to know what that’s like again.

Thank you Joss for a masterpiece of film that as far as I am concerned should be taught in schools as an introduction to Shakespeare. Once a year Joss should take some time out of his schedule to adapt one of Shakespeare's plays and premiere it somewhere (hopefully at TIFF again for everyone to see).

It seems only fitting that I leave you with...

Much Ado, Much Ado, Wherefore Art Thou Much Ado? Everywhere and nowhere... a pox on those who do not see it, a curse on he who speaks ill of it, may the wrath of Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare be visited on those that do both.

Being Erica Review: What is the importance of Being Erica?

Really good Canadian television is a bit of a rare breed. Truthfully, even though I was born in raised in Canada, most of the TV that I watched in my childhood was American made. Up until a few years ago, I can honestly say that I can’t name a single Canadian drama or comedy that I watched and it never really bothered me all that much. Then came the writer’s strike of 2007 and Canadian TV started getting picked up by American networks to fill the content gap left by those fighting for the rights of content creators everywhere in the American industry. Suddenly, I found a reason to watch Canadian television and I’m very glad that I did.

Because then came Being Erica. A show about a down and out woman whose life just hasn’t turned out the way she planned it. A woman who can’t help but think that if only she’d made different choices in her past, her life would’ve ended up being so much better then it ended up being. And of course, who hasn’t felt that once or twice in their life? Who hasn’t taken a look back at their life so far and said “If only I could go back and do this differently, my life would’ve been so much better.” But is that in fact true? If you could go back and change it, would it actually be better or just different? Are you sure you wouldn’t make it worse? Even more importantly, are these moments really the things that have kept you from being happy?

These are the central questions at the heart of the show that is one part comedy, one part drama, one part sci-fi/fantasy, all blended together to tell a story of strength and personal growth, championed by the great and talented Jana Sinyor. While occasionally feeling like an ensemble cast, the show never loses sight of the quirky, smart, funny, and powerful yet feminine Erica Strange (played by the fantastic Erin Karpluk) who is on a journey of self discovery that never lets her take the easy way out.

It’s worth noting that in the middle of the show’s four year run, Erin Karpluk had the opportunity to work on an American TV show, and did, as a supporting character on a show called Life Unexpected but eventually had to leave in order to continue with Being Erica. I don’t think there are many people in the industry who would argue that if you want to make it in the industry today, Hollywood is where it is at. So the fact that she for all intents and purposes left an American TV show for a show in which she starred in being watched by a much smaller audience, means there has to be something pretty special about the show, and I can honestly say that I understand why.

She was once quoted as saying that people who watch the show have come up to her on the street and told her that Being Erica has encouraged them to make changes in their life when they weren’t happy with it before. Given the way in which it has affected me, both as a writer and on a personal level, I have no trouble believing that other people have felt the same way. Whenever life gets me down or I start to worry about much I have yet to accomplish in my life that I want to do, I turn on Being Erica and I remind myself that no matter how bad things might feel, they are never as bad as I think they are. There’s always a way to salvage things and make the most out of a bad situation.

And so, what’s the importance of Being Erica? That’s the importance of Being Erica.

Can a family survive the story of Ginger and Rosa?

Family, it can be a bit of a strange thing to deal with. On the one hand they can be the best people to turn to when life gets you down sometimes. That blood relationship is a powerful one and it can be a great comfort in times of horrible stress. However I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I said that they can also be the source of that stress at times as well. For Ginger and Rosa, family is something of a combination of both in their lives. Against the backdrop of 1960s London England, they don’t have the most traditional kind of family, or at least not by any standards that would have come before such a time in society. Nowadays this type of family dynamic is somewhat common place and as a result there are quite a number of parallels and metaphors to be drawn about today’s world through this look into the past of any uncertain family.
Ultimately, the film is focused on the story of our main characters, Ginger and Rosa. Two young girls who grow up almost like sisters. After all, the film begins with the birth of these girls. Their mothers (played brilliantly by Christina Hendricks and Jodhi May respectively) lying together in the same room as they seem to be in labor at the same time, friends seemingly united against all the odds in a world that is rapidly changing after the devastation and pain of the Second World War. It seems only natural then, that their daughters (played by the young and incredibly talented Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) would grow up united by a common truth and a common pain that through the 1960s, a time of turbulence and upheaval, at least they have each other
Or do they? Sisterhood is not without its difficulties. Particularly as you grow up and you experience new things, the bonds which held you through your childhood become harder to hold onto. These are the types of things that Ginger and Rosa struggle to figure out as time goes by in the film, and this of course is set against the struggles of a world in which the very real truth of ultimate annihilation by nuclear destruction becomes a true possibility. It’s a difficult thing to watch, not because there’s anything in the film that’s particularly gruesome or violent, but because you can see the cracks start to form in these relationships as the story moves along and part of you wishes that you could do something to stop it.
In today’s modern world, these cracks in our family are something that all of us have had to deal with at some point or another. What’s interesting is that, much like Ginger and Rosa and their families, it’s often much easier to see the cracks in someone else when you’re not involved then it is to see your own. As the audience we understand what it is that they are facing and how they could stop it if they only tried to deal with their problems, but in the 1960s it was harder to do that. For all the talk of that time and the repeated insistence of freedom and personal conviction, these guiding principles can also be the thing that tears Ginger and Rosa’s families apart.
Can a family survive the story of Ginger and Rosa? You’ll have to buy a ticket and see, but I have no doubt it will be worth it.

Spring Breakers Review: Anyone up for partying with “Spring Breakers”?

What goes through your head when you read the names Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine and Ashley Benson? For people who follow pop culture the first word that comes to mind is the word Disney. Often for filmmakers the words “pre-packaged Disney kids stuff” or some variation there upon is what they say. In either case it is something that can put people off when those names pop up on the metaphorical marquee of a film’s cast list. They can take a step back and say ‘you know what, that’s not for me’ without even giving the film a chance.
Suppose I were to add another name to that list. What if the next name on that list was Harmony Korine? I imagine there would be a few filmmakers reading this who would suddenly find themselves more interested. Those who might be somewhat less initiated should know that Harmony Korine’s film credits include such ground breaking and somewhat controversial films as “Kids”, “Mister Lonely” and “Trash Humpers”. Names which carry a bit more weight in the indie scene then some of the films associated with the previous four names I mentioned above. Of course this broader scope will lead people to another negative comment which sounds like “Oh look, a bunch of Disney sweethearts trying to break out of their squeaky clean image by being edgy and shocking people”. And this always leads me to... why the heck is that?
Why do we as a society, and in particular filmmakers, automatically jump to such conclusions about the people involved in a project if their history is one that is associated with Disney? Why do we place people like Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson inside these boxes when history tells us that they are going to try and break out of them eventually? Perhaps those boxes we put them in never really existed in the first place. Maybe these actors were always serious about their work and we just couldn’t see it because we’d rather shove them in a corner. The film industry is a brutal business. No matter where you get your start, whether it’s Disney or through some other aspect of the industry, you don’t get into it unless you’re serious about succeeding. Does it really matter where that success comes from?
I try not to carry any such baggage into a film when I go to see one, which doesn’t mean that I don’t have any such baggage when going into a film. It is often the actors or filmmakers involved in the film that will lead me to wanting to see it in the first place. There’s no denying it plays a role in the decision making process of putting my rather limited funds into buying a ticket. But when I sit in the seat and settle in to watch, I try to let that experience stand on its own. A lot of people out there will have to try and do that in order to get them in that seat, but if they can then they will be pleasantly surprised. If they can’t, then by the end of the film they will be forced to reevaluate what I think is a fundamentally flawed perspective on the actors involved.
Because I honestly believe there’s no other way to come out of this film. The story is such a fascinating and well told one. The actors so very clearly embody the roles they play. Of particular note is James Franco in the role of the gangster named Alien, but I don’t think that his performance works without the great work of the other four young actors who accompany him. Spring Breakers is smart, funny, disturbing and emotional, sometimes all at once in a really beautiful way.
That doesn’t happen without the solid and emotionally honest performances of his co-stars. Harmony Korine is known for edgy and controversial films, and Spring Breakers is no exception. There are a number of scenes which are difficult to watch and the fact of the actors involved makes it fairly controversial. What sets this film apart is the way in which the event of spring break and the story become so well integrated.
He spoke during the Q&A about the idea of micro scenes and repetitiveness to tell the story he is trying to tell, but I would liken it to a deliberate attempt to give the audience an experience much like spring break itself. The non linear micro scenes and repetitiveness give you the feeling of a drunken, drug filled orgy of sex and violence masterfully controlled from the filming, editing and post-production. And so...
Anyone up for partying with Spring Breakers? I don’t know about you, but I had a rocking good time.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Should you fear Dredd because he is in 3D?

You often hear the phrase thrown around in the industry that “remakes are a dime a dozen in Hollywood these days” and what a horrible and creatively bankrupt thing that is. But there’s an obvious question goes along with that statement which doesn’t really get asked all that often, and its “Is that actually a bad thing?” Anyone who reads my blog will know that I have gone on record in my dislike for this whole indie versus Hollywood divide which is thrown around in the film industry a lot. Often in the vein of a conversation that says independent is good, Hollywood is bad. I don’t really understand that sentiment

Here we have a bit of a different situation though. We have a movie which in some cases is considered a remake of a film made not 15-20 years ago. A movie which I am old enough to have remembered the original release of the film I saw when it did. I can understand people’s hesitation in going out to see the film. I went into the film with low expectations of what it might actually do because of the fact that I remember the first Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone. There is a case to be made for remaking a film too soon. Much like a mourning process, it’s a good idea to wait an appropriate amount of time before trying again. What that waiting period should be is open to interpretation. Personally I think that a minimum of 10 years is required to truly get a film out of someone’s mind before taking it on.

A person who is a big fan of an adapted work might disagree with that assessment, but like I said that’s open for debate. However, suppose for example that something was done badly the first time. Should a shorter waiting period be implemented? Many of the fans of the Judge Dredd comic book weren’t very big on the 1990s adaptation to a feature film. Do you listen to them and try again quickly or do you wait until someone who really understands the material comes along and adapts it properly? How does one even find such a person?<

In the case of Dredd 3D, I think they have found those people. Director Pete Travis and star Karl Urban clearly care about the material they are involved in and they worked together to make it what it is. During the Q&A, the writer said that this was one of the most collaborative projects he had ever worked on. Speaking from personal experience I know that sometimes that can be a drawback in a project, particularly in one where the makers have such strong feelings about the subject in question. But with the right kind of people and the right kind of vision, sometimes it can be a great thing.

Dredd 3D is such a project in my opinion. There are people out there who have seen the Judge Dredd from the 90s and will automatically avoid it for fear of another dud. Unfortunately, those people are going to miss out on something that is absolutely worth seeing. Karl Urban’s portrayal of the infamous Judge Dredd is worth the watch alone. Olivia Thirlby as Anderson and Lena Headey as the villain Ma-Ma manage to elevate Urban’s performance even further if only because a man like Dredd is focused and driven, something that Urban does well, and he needs someone to play off of. Thirlby in particular adds the human element to the story without being a helpless victim for Dredd to constantly save. She can save herself if she has to, and trapped in a 200 floor tower full of criminals? I think it’s safe to say that she has to.

This kind of story marks a turn in the way people are being portrayed on screen. In some ways it’s a return to the good guy versus bad guy storytelling that was common up until the tragic hero and the anti-hero became the popular way to tell a story in recent years, but with one major difference. We have moved beyond the “hero rescues the girl” or the “helpless love interest” female character that was also common of the pre-tragic hero story and we are looking to do something new with it. Dredd 3D is the beginning of what comes next, and personally, I am glad to see it. So…

Should you fear Dredd because he is in 3D? Absolutely not, in fact I think you should cheer him on.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Who wins?

Comic book movies are by no means unique in this day and age. There are so many of them that you’d almost think that comic books and Hollywood studios are the same thing. Of course, in some ways they are given that the biggest comic book producers, Marvel and DC Comics, are both owned by major Hollywood studios (DC by Warner Brothers and Marvel more recently by Disney). However when it comes to comics, they are by no means the only game in town. You’ve got The Walking Dead being published by Image, Hellboy and R.I.P.D. and many others by Dark Horse, and of course Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by Oni Press.
What all these comics have in common, obviously, is that they have been or are being adapted into feature films or in the case of The Walking Dead, a TV show. But I think one of the things that might make Scott Pilgrim different is that in a way it’s not just a comic book adaptation. In a way it’s also a video game adaptation. This is where things start to get interesting because as much as comic book adaptations have a bad reputation in the filmmaking community video games have an even worse reputation. A reputation that is not entirely undeserved. Many video game adaptations have gone horribly wrong in their transitions from game console to (most often) large scale live action film.
Going into this film then, I can certainly understand why people might not rush out to see it since just those two things already creates two strikes against it. Unfortunately for those that didn’t (in which I count myself), those two strikes are part of the reason you should have seen it, particularly if you grew up in that bit of a sweet spot era when comic books and video games were a central figure of your childhood. The film manages to blend those two worlds together almost seamlessly while not taking away from the reality of the film elements of today. Having never read the comic book on which it’s based myself, I can’t really comment on just how faithful it stays to the comic book or the video games for which it makes numerous references throughout, but from what I can gather the creator of the comics was heavily involved in the production of the film and he seems quite happy with it based on what I hear.
It strikes the right balance between the simple, quiet, character driven moments that are necessary for us to care about the characters we’re being introduced to, some of us for the first time, and the epic battle sequences that are littered throughout to ramp up the emotional adrenaline, all of which builds to the dramatic climax that both video game and comic book based films are often known for. The film is a visual masterpiece just in the way that all the graphics and special effects are more often than not a part of the story and enhance it in many ways. At its core though, the film is about an awkward teenager who falls in love with a woman that has a lot more baggage then he was probably expecting to deal with when he asked her out.
If you’ve ever been in love with someone you weren’t sure how to, you will understand this film. Or wished your life and relationships were a lot more fun than it is, you will understand this film. And if you’ve ever experienced both, then this movie is definitely for you.
So, in the epic battle of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, who wins? The audience wins.