Picture this is how you start your school day: You wake up, you get dressed, you have breakfast. You're packing your bag when the bus comes. You go to grab your shoes but they are not were you left them. You search everywhere and still can't find them. Your dad moved them the day before when he was vacuuming the carpet. You yell at him that you missed the bus. He drives you to school. The end.
But what if the bus crashed on the way to school? You'd love your dad then right? If he didn't move your shoes, then you'd be a goner. But maybe...maybe he's only vacuuming because your brother or sister tracked dirt through the house. And maybe they only got dirt on their shoes because they were stuck outside when you forgot your key to the front door. And maybe you forgot your key to the front door because you left it in your science notebook. And maybe you didn't take home your science notebook because your teacher moved the test back until next week, and you didn't need to study. And maybe they moved the test back because...
This could go on and on and on...
Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? The butterfly effect relates to chaos theory, and is the dependency on a set of conditions where a small change to those conditions will disrupt the very being of their existence. This is a very common trope in science-fiction films involving time travel. If you go back to the past, anything you change could alter the future. We've heard that before I'm sure. This film tells a simple story which takes this concept to the extreme, all while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
I said things were going to get a little weird for my next selection, and this will be a nice change of pace from previous films. Remember, the idea is to get exposure to things that you normally wouldn't watch, and to learn as much as you can from those films. A common trend among filmmakers is that they spent a lot of their time as children and students watching as many movies as possible. I bet this one makes their list.
Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)
Director: Tom Tykwer
Written by: Tom Tykwer
Staring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu
Released: August 20th 1998 (Germany)
June 18th 1998 (USA)
The first you'll notice is that as soon as Lola leaves her apartment, the scene becomes animated. Just for a minute or so as she runs down the stairs, and leaves her building. Odd choice but it works. It disrupts your notion of normalcy, and prepares you for anything. In fact there is a nice mix of media here. One scene is animated. The scenes with Lola and Manni are shot on film. And scenes with anybody other than Lola and Manni were shot on tape. So each scene has it's own feel based on the method in which it was shot. Here, the director was trying to isolate Lola and Manni in their own universe, where outsiders had their own artificial universe. A very forward way of thinking back then, as the industry has shifted and rarely (minus a few exceptions) uses film anymore.
I could go on and on. Color is everywhere. Red being the dominant one as there is red in almost every shot, and excluding her hair even, almost ALL the shots with Lola in them. Yellow follows Manni, in the phone both, the store he wants to rob, even his hair has a yellowish blondish streak in it. Then the music. The music is literally the pulse. A steady beat of techno, and drum and bass that play constantly, and keep the film moving. It's only jarring when it stops, and it only does so for brief intimate moments.
This film may be a bit harder to find, so I'll happily lend out my copy if anybody is interested. That being said, if you want a real tense suspense film. This is it. The story is simple but the execution is unique and well done. It's a film that doesn't lay it all out right in the beginning. You need to watch to understand. It's a smarter ride, and one that you won't regret if you buy a ticket.
I have been eyeing three films for my next review. Well four technically, and while I have several on the docket these three are part of a trilogy. The fourth, well it's not, but it comes from the same director and is a fantastic film in it's own right.
Trilogies are tough. I mean, its a hard business to take part in. It seems that nowadays trilogies are being planned way out in advance. This seems to have changed a bit since things were done in the early 80's and 90's. If a film was popular, studios would try and find a way to create a story for a second installment, with varying levels of success. Films like "Weekend at Bernie's" certainly did not need a sequel, but there was money to made. The sequel to "Mannequin" was so bad they stopped moving forward on a third one. Or you'd have the odd case of an unexpected hit like "Back to the Future" where it took off in popularity after the original, that they negotiated a way to shoot the sequel and third installment at the same time. Nobody cared about "The Hangover 3", yet "Iron Man 3" saved the franchise after an abysmal second putting. Like I said, trilogies are tough.
So now, movie studios want to ensure a films success down the line before they start the first one. "Harry Potter" was a sure fire hit after book sales exploded, and with 7 books to make movies from they cashed in! The Hunger games could have been a gamble and after a shaky start (that was overlooked mainly because of the books popularity) the sequel righted the ship, and we have two more films to look forward to. "Divergent" and the upcoming movie "The Maze Runner" are trying to cash in on similar success and have had luke-warm reactions.
My personal favorite, is the "it's been a long time since the second film in a series, here is a third one wayyyy tooooo laaaaate" scenario. Do we really need a THIRD "Night at the Museum" movie FIVE years after the forced sequel?
The answer to that by the way, was no. We don't. The answer is no.
So this trilogy I was speaking of, isn't a trilogy in the traditional sense. Same actors. Same director. Same brand of Ice Cream. Different movies.
I of course am referring to what is referred to as "The Cornetto" Trilogy. Films that are totally different, yet very similar in style. Each is a take on a very specific genre of film. Not a mock mind you, but a very loved acknowledgement. For my next review, I'll start where all stories start. At the "Beginning".
Shaun of the Dead
Director: Edgar Wright
Written by: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Staring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Bill Nighy
Released: September 24th, 2004
Genre bending isn't a term that's used lightly in Hollywood. If it bends a genre it means one of two things. It's going to be hard to market/advertise a movie if they can't clearly describe it in one word. Action, drama, romance, horror, musical, period-peice, comedy, etc. Or two, if it's not clearly defined as a specific genre the odds of it being a successful film are low (John Carter, Cowboys and Aliens being two quick examples. There are others). Obviously there have been bent genre's like romantic comedy, that have become a genre of it's own. You might even argue movies like "The Avengers" is kind of an Action-comedy. Shaun of the Dead tries to infuse its comedy with an unlikely pairing: Zombies.
See what I mean? This style is used frequently and keeps the film moving at such a brisk pace, that it feels like it's over before it even started. The intent in this example, is to make the mundane tasks we do daily, like brushing our teeth, getting dressed, making breakfast, look and sound more interesting. The style is very action oriented even though the actions aren't that dramatic. He makes them seem more intense than they really are. And as filmmakers, aren't we supposed to try and entertain in every frame we shoot?
He also uses a technique called object wipes. Object wipes combine two shots in what feels like one, by dollying the camera from a subject until the shot is obstructed by a physical object, then making a cut in post production at a frame in the second shot that is similarly obstructed. As long as the dolly is in the same direction, and the object you are using as an obstruction are the same, (or similar) then you will be fine. I will try to cover this in TV2 classes this year.
There are also a lot of recurring images and set pieces in the film. Shaun's walk to the store pre zombie break out and post zombie break out are shot exactly the same, except for the obvious difference being the zombies. The second one makes for one heck of a long take too!
If I asked you who your favorite musician was, what would your answer be? Would you pick a solo artist, or a band? Which genre would you pool from? Are you picking your go-to answer or flavor of the week? Can you have more than one? Doesn't favorite by definition mean its a personal best amongst a crowd of others? So then by that logic the phrase "one of my favorites" can only really exist in a sea of different categories, and yet we have so many favorites don't we?
I think it's because we as humans don't want to alienate the things that affect us on a personal level. Why have a favorite band, when you can say they are one of your favorite bands. Who do we offend when we say we like one artist over the other? The artist? Doubtful. I think intrinsically we don't want to say one of our favorites is better than any other than our favorites. They all made the list, that should be special enough right? With that in mind, I present to you one of my favorite directors of all time.
Have you ever heard the first 2-3 seconds of a song and instantly recognize it, title, artist, album and all? Then what? You make a quick judgement if you want to hear the rest, or skip to the next song. There is something so unique about each artist that makes them instantly identifiable. Film is a little more difficult in that regard. Only a small handful of directors have achieved a style so unique that they are instantly identifiable within a few moments of screen time, and Director Wes Anderson is on the top of that list. What he does with framing is in my eyes so simple and masterful at the same time, but more on that later. First, the selection.
Director: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Staring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward Bruce Willis, Billy Murray, Francis McDormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton,
Released: June 29th 2012
Moonrise Kingdom takes place in the fictional New England island New Panzance. A rustic yet scenic take on an isolated 1960's lifestyle. The main character Sam, meets a girl, writes to her and they make plans to run away together. In a nut shell, it's a boy meets girl love story, but as with many of Wes Anderson's work, there is so much more going on. Sam is a recluse, and the girl of his affection, Suzy, has anger issues. Together they are in complete harmony. Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) have issues. A lone police officer (Bruce Willis) is not only looking for the missing children, but also personal voids in his life. The former Scout Master of Sam, Ward (Edward Norton) is also using the hunt for the lovebirds as a way to prove to himself he is a capable scout master. All the while, young love prevails.
One of the things I would like to do over the summer is highlight films that can help you become better filmmakers and storytellers. Periodically, I will be sitting down to watch some films and take some notes and share some thoughts with you. I will try my best to do so spoiler free (you know how I feel about spoilers) but I encourage you all to try and track down and watch as many of these films as you can. Hopefully you will find them inspiring from a production/storytelling standpoint, but if not, at the very least maybe they will expand your horizons on what is possible in film. Plus as aspiring filmmakers there is never a thing as watching too many movies. Keep in mind that one, these will not be in depth reviews of the films; I would obviously try not to talk about a poor film. The goal is to showcase a film that has learning potential, or encourages motivation to study existing work in an effort to motivate you to think differently about your own work. Secondly, I may be discussing films that are rated R or feature mature content. Naturally, I don't condone a majority of the content deemed worthy of a "R" rating. Since many of you have discussed with me in some level the recent film "The Wolf of Wall Street," I'm using that as my barometer. Now, onward!
For my first entry, I have chosen the film Garden State.
Garden State: Written and Directed by Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm
Released: August 20th, 2004
First, let me tell you why I've selected it.
I was driving today, and heard a song on the radio that typically does not get radio play. I knew I recognized it but it took a few seconds to realize where. It was from the movie Garden State. Instantly I was reminded how much I enjoyed that film. Then, as that instant passed, I remembered a lot of film students (in college) talk about how overrated it was, and how it was this dressed up pretentious film. So I decided to re-watch it. Interesting fact, they were wrong.
If you do watch, or have seen it in the past, get a discussion going in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts or answer your questions on story elements or shooting techniques. Side note, this movie has one of the best soundtracks to come along. Coldplay, The Shins, Nick Drake, Iron & Wine and more, every song here fits the tone of the films so well. Give it a listen.
It's Mr. Leonard. Teacher, Videomaker, Professional Goofball