Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Blog!

I recently, and by recently I mean ten minutes ago, started a new blog documenting the trials and successes that I experience on the road to being an adult. I will not, however, be neglecting this blog, especially since I am, at the moment, much more interested in movies than being an adult. Nonetheless, the new blog is gonna be good, so check it out!

The First Female Filmmaker

Yesterday in Editing class, I learned about Alice Guy Blache, who I had never heard of before. She was not only the first female filmmaker, but she also ran a film studio, The Solax Studio in Fort Lee NJ. Apparently (or, so my teacher told us), back in the day -- the day being the beginning-ish of filmmaking, circa 1910 -- anyone could make a film. Much like today, if you had a camera, you could be a filmmaker, no sweat. That is, until Hollywood monopolized movies in the 20s. Before that, people like Alice Guy Blache could make films easily. She made hundreds of short films over her career, though only a fraction of those remain today. I look forward to researching her further. And when I know more, so shall you. But for now, just enjoy her short film, Algie the Miner (also, plausibly the first depiction of a gay character).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A 21st Century Silent Film: Trailer of the Week

Trailer for Cannes breakout The Artist, starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, and James Cromwell.

In Other News...

My dad and I went to see Cowboys and Aliens (genre mash-up!) the other day. It was not horrible. The genre is both hindered and made more interesting by the fact that people in the Wild West haven't even the dialogue to comprehend aliens. This effort, however, bit off more than it could chew and seriously over-plotted. While there may be potential, I think the western/sci-fi hybrid has a ways to go.

And, sadly, Eureka got cancelled :(

Martha Marcy May Marlene and Me

This past week, I went to an advanced screening of Martha Marcy May Marlene. For months, the film world has been aflutter with news of this festival darling. It is one of the few films to be screened at the "Big 3" -- Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto (September 8-18).

Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a young girl, Martha, who escapes an abusive, cult-ish "family" and moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. Transitioning from the communal community that promoted living in the moment, to the excessive home of a yuppie couple proves extremely difficult for Martha, who went by Marcy May and Marlene in the cult. The title of the film describes it perfectly in that Martha and Marcy May/Marlene, two very different people, are bonded together. At all times, each one is trying to push the other out, but remnants of a past life are constantly forcing themselves into the present.

The film, written and directed by newb Sean Durkin, stars fellow novice Elizabeth Olsen. Upon entering the scene, Olsen was identified as the younger sister of twin moguls Mary-Kate and Ashley. However, after this film opens commercially, I very much doubt that her only claim to notoriety will be her famous siblings. Beyond "solve any crime by dinnertime," this was one of her first films and it was one of the best (if not the best) performances I've seen all year. Olsen flawlessly evokes the pain, embarrassment, and inner-conflict of Martha, and the confusion, devotion, and trepidation of Marcy May. Her performance is multi-faceted and refreshing.

Equally accomplished is Sean Durkin's screenplay and direction. In a Q&A after the screening, Durkin said that he researched several cults, including but not limited to the Manson Family, in preparation for this movie. The film is both believable and jarring. Due to brilliant editing and organization, the story moves seamlessly from the present to the past and back. Sporadically throughout the film there are episodes which may or may not be hallucinations. In the Q&A session, Olsen praised the film becasue "everything's left up to interpretation. Nothing's spoon-fed to you." Though this uncertainty upset some of my fellow audience members, it intrigued me because it added another element of mystery to an already unfamiliar situation.

Martha Marcy May Marlene, which also features Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulson, and John Hawkes, is an excellent film and a launching pad for two very bright careers. I would especially keep an eye out for Ms. Olsen, who has several more titles coming out in the near future.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Ledendary Senna

Earlier this week, I attended an advanced screening of the new documentary Senna. This film, directed by Asif Kapadia, depicts the career of arguably the best driver in Formula One history, Ayrton Senna. Of course, some of the impact of this film is lost on those who do not follow F1 racing, and even more on those who, like myself, don't really know the difference between F1 and Nascar. However, it is a testament to this film that, even without any prior knowledge or interest, I was able to connect with and find inspiration in the documentary.

This documentary is a masterpiece. It is constructed like a fictional piece. There are no talking heads; Kapadia uses the audio of interviews over archival footage. The amount of footage collected for this documentary is amazing as is the variety of sources, from news footage to home videos to in-car footage that shows the audience exactly what Senna saw as he was driving. These combined factors made the film captivating; the unique footage was incredible and the lack of face-to-face interviews never disconnected the audience from the story, which talking heads often do.

I also say that the film is similar to a fictional piece becasue it does so much to build the character of Ayrton Senna, so that an audience of non-racing fans have something to grab onto. Senna, who looks like the test-tube baby of Tom Hardy and John Cassavettes, is an ambitious young driver from Brazil. Kapadia puts special emphasis on the relationship between Senna and his frenemy and foil, fellow racer Alain Prost. When Prost is all about playing politics, Senna is all about the racing. They begin as friends then turn into nemeses and finally seem to end up at a healthy "shaking hands and smiling for the crowd." It's a thread throughout the movie, a friend/rival relationship that we can all relate to.


Kapadia depicts Senna as a benevolent Achilles-type character. He travels around the world, but never forgets his roots. To the people of Brazil he is a hero, a glimmer of joy in a tumultuous political and social period. In his career, he always strives to be the best and almost always achieves his goals. But like Achilles, he eventually begins a race that he knows he may not finish (in that particular race, there had already been three accidents and one death due to new F1 vehicle regulations). And like Achilles and his un-dipped heel, Senna dies in a horrific crash with only one injury--a blow to the head, which would have been harmless had it hit six inches higher or lower. The similarities between the Greek legend of the battlefield and the Brazilian god of the racetrack are striking. When Senna gets in the car for the final time, you know he is not going to get out. And when he dies, you feel as though the world has lost a hero.

And this is from someone who knows nothing about racing...

A Period Piece with Vibrators: Trailer of the Week

Trailer for Hysteria starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Rupert Everett, and Jonathan Pryce

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Silent Magic of Sherlock Jr.

Last week, after a long day at work and a strenuous workout (due to the fact that it was my first in eons), I decided to take the advice of a magazine doctor, whose article I once read while in Sleepy's. He said that, in order to have a good night's rest, I should tell my body to calm down by drinking tea and and watching a movie to relax. Sounded good to be, so I got some tea and combed through Netflix. I came upon Buster Keaton's 1924 masterpiece Sherlock Jr.

I didn't know what to expect, because even being the cinephile that I am, I sometimes find silent films tedious. And, before this, my only Buster Keaton experience was Johnny Depp's impression in Benny and Joon. But this was fantastic! It was understated, sweet, and seriously funny.

I very much enjoyed Buster Keaton. His comedy can definitely be described at slapstick, but he makes it more than that. The jokes in the film, physical and otherwise, seemed smooth and natural, like dominoes, each action setting off the next in perfect time.

In the film, Keaton's character falls asleep and slips into a dream world. The sequence in which he is first in the dream is cinematic magic, the way cinematic magic was meant to be. Keaton double exposes the film to make a ghostlike version of himself climb out of his sleeping body. Today, we would do it with a computer without thinking twice. Then, he walks into the movie theater (he is a projectionist) and steps into the screen to interact with the characters. It's funny, beautiful and clever. In a world where entire films are made using green screens, this was a refreshing reminder of the pioneers of this industry we all hold dear.