Blog

Greetings to all cinephiles, digiphiles, hipsters, grifters, and friendsters. Hopefully that covered everyone and more than one moniker can be applied to each of us. From here San Austin Productions will share our Cineaste-level love, geek out a-plenty and tell you more about our current projects.

July 10, 2015 — In the Field

by C. Rousseau

Let me begin by saying this is not intended to be a political entry, but a human one.

Most of May and June, I had the opportunity to be on an XCTC (eXportable Combat Training Capability) project through SRI International for the National Guard. The task of our team of four (in a crew of give or take 30) was to edit After Action Reviews for quality assurance; collaborate with other filmmakers in the field capturing the training/review; and film and edit sizzle-reels/documentaries for internal use within SRI and the National Guard.

On a particularly hot and humid day (this season’s unseasonal deluge had recently subsided), I found myself seated in the back of a humvee behind a lookout, beneath a gunner, and next to a Lieutenant. The Sargent sat at the wheel. He had been told earlier in the day to expect movement around this time. Somewhere beyond the half acre of brush hiding our vehicle was a unit in training. And very soon our unit would be given the go ahead to charge upon them, firing blank rounds, and putting their training to the test as we served as the Opposition.

But for the moment we were in a holding pattern until further notice.

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While I double-checked a mental equipment checklist and shot-list silence drifted over us. General chit-chat proceeded: “Where ya from?” “Oh, yeah, I’ve lived there.” “Have you ever eaten there?” “Oh, yeah. How bout there?”

For a moment we all forgot about the kevlar, helmets, and five-ton aluminum shell surrounding us.

The Sarge mentioned he was from Chicago. I mentioned I’d never been. “Really?” he asked astonished. I reassured him.

“I’d give anything to spend a whole summer there again.” He began to describe Chicago and before anyone knew it (the Sarge included) his words laced across the interior of the humvee like perfume in the air.

He described boats on the lake, their white sails reflecting whiter than foam of passing speedboats; the pungent smell of food from “everywhere known to man” baking over the summer city. The thick glazed finish on bars old enough to have been speakeasies could be felt under the cushion of our palms; our fingertips wrap around a perspiring cocktail. Summer elegy floats over the city as its street festivals and square concerts serenade. All these smells and sounds coalesce in the background as Pakistani and Indian cab drivers play cricket in a lot next to the airport and girls with recently applied makeup lineup on the pier as sailors come in to dock, dusk settling over the water.

The lookout, Lieutenant, and I watch this vision unfold before our eyes. We’re taken there. We want to go there. We want him to go back there.

Because of the nature of our work, it is only after he has performed this soliloquy that I get his name — after I’ve experienced the essence of the man.

It is in a moment like this that I remember why I do what I do. Strip me of the technical aspects, the aesthetic, the paperwork, the development, and you find a man fortunate enough to live his life exploring everyone else’s.

We are all a lens and if you’re up for it, I wouldn’t mind borrowing yours; putting it on my camera to see through your eyes.

September 15, 2014 — The MARVEL[ous] World of Modern Blockbusters

by C. Rousseau

“I’m learning, because I want to learn animation, I want to learn video games, I want to learn every… I want to learn book publishing and I want to learn TV. Why? Because, as a storyteller, I’m convinced that in the next five to ten years, we’re going to need to know all of that.”

-Guillermo del Toro

Historically within the realm of the cinema, Hollywood has always combated new storytelling technology that threatens their ticket sales with robust gimmicks: Cinemarama; Cinemascope 3-4 hour epics; Hitchock’s ‘Required you see PSYCHO from the beginning’; Smell-O-Vision; and 3D. Can it be possible that the same system that usually combats emerging TV and streaming technologies is actually embracing them?

Marvel Comics has always been about characters caught in epic web-like stories expanding beyond the realm of their own 32 pages. The plots explode from one frame to the pages of another title. Namor and the Human Torch battle for New York, Spider-Man encounters the Fantastic Four, Hulk matches Wolverine…50+ years later and the universes built upon expanded multiverses can’t be contained within the scope of a single panel, page or…movie.

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This summer’s successful Guardians of the Galaxy has proven the marketability of Marvel comic fan favorite properties. The hedged bet has paid off. The foundation has been laid and statistically proven for an interwoven ‘Marvel method’ franchise story. In this way, the movie universe is becoming the most true to the comic-book form in cinematic history. But the geekery doesn’t end there…

The tools for telling a story have never been as numerous as today (and there will be more tomorrow). Marvel Studios/Disney/Marvel Publishing has embraced this fact to the fullest extent yet seen.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is being expanded through multi-platform storytelling: movies with in-film nods/context clues to other heroes and events; post-credit “to-be-continued” “buttons”; five short films; a TV series; a soon-to-be Netflix original series, and (coming full circle) comics. These mediums aren’t being used as disconnected entities for adaptation, but as another outlet for a continuation of the same story. With the amount of content being produced, the fan experience journeys into virtually every form of entertainment, each piece building upon the last and creating multiple perspective to the same story.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. second season airs September 23, 2013. The first season of the series guest starred characters from the cinematic universe like Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury; Thor franchise’s Sif and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. The narrative was affected by the events of Thor: Dark World and hijacked by the events of Captain America: Winter Soldlier. The first season ended hinting that not only is the TV’s narrative malleable by theatrical happenings, but a reciprocal relationship where the events of the TV show could affect the movies is at play…

This interactivity between platforms will be getting even more intricate in May 2015 when Netflix will be binge-dropping on us the release of a Daredevil series.

Ultimately this interconnected multi-platformed story raises geektastic questions: when will ‘stand-alone’ (non-Avenger) films sort out budgetary restraints and host character crossovers that mash genres as do the pages of the comics? Or are we to believe the only time Thor is willing to help out buddy Cap is every three years when Hollywood producers call them to the same set? The events of Captain America: Winter Soldier implies Marvel Studios/Disney isn’t afraid of raising story stakes that irreparably disrupt the franchise story. Congruently, Guardians of the Galaxy expands the franchise’s universe beyond space and time. So…narratively is this an expanding universe or a climatically imploding one? And could the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe model for multi platform storytelling be applied to other stories and genres outside of comic books? After all, the big bang isn’t necessarily the ending but another beginning…

September 4, 2014 — An ATX Double Feature

by C. Rousseau

There are two films being released here in Austin, TX tomorrow, both with capital ties and both pushing for wider releases. Both deserve it.

The One I Love

Director Charlie McDowell and star Mark Duplass say they were blessed with an audience at Sundance that hyped their film afterward without spoiling its mystery. That turned into their marketing campaign and a riveting trailer that through choosey editing tells just enough…and that is exactly what the finished product does as well.

It isn’t spoiling the fun myself to say that what cast and crew have created here is a psychological thriller dramedy flirting with science fiction for adults. The film excels through: improv acting that sells the less believable plot points; photorealistic visual effects work that never stray into the outlandish; and an emotionally resonant dynamic between the main two characters that goes after the very heart of anyone who has loved and lost.

When it’s all said and done, in the closing moments the audience has been taken on an emotional rollercoaster anchored by truthful humor that makes the hurt hurt all the more. We end camera seated at a distance from Ethan (Mark Duplass) as he has a realization. The camera rolls, we watch his wheels turn and just as he seems to have made a decision…the film ends. His pondering in the closing seconds is ours as well. Everything that has come before this moment can be interpreted in multiple ways. By ending the film before a definitive answer can be made to the cinematically raised question, the film has become something more than just a movie – it has become a dialogue.

No No: A Dockumentary

Whether you’ve heard about Dock Ellis and his LSD induced no hitter or not, you haven’t experienced the man in the way this film presents him. Social iconoclast, hot-head in curlers, drunk, drug-addict, son, husband, best friend, motivational speaker: these are just a few of the many people Dock Ellis was to those in his life and often more than one at the same time – despite contradictions.

 

Jeff Radice and producers have crafted an inside look into the psyche of a man whose facets are infinite. The film is paced by a genre-bending mashup soundtrack by Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz and propelled by beautifully stylized animation (both character and graphic based) and character building stories from Dock’s closest friends, family and teammates. The end result is a portrait of the man that unfolds naturally and honors his legend without sugar-coating and redacting.

The deeper this film digs to arrive beneath all the layers at the heart of the man, the more complexity we find. Through such earnest investigation we find the best and worst of ourselves wrapped up in a portrayal that is nothing short of human.

April 2, 2014 — Four Star General[-admission] to Captain America: Winter Soldier

by C. Rousseau

First allow me to say this blog is examining Captain America: Winter Soldier as a single entity and only briefly dips into the deep waters of its place within the Disney/Marvel Studios Universe.  If you are interested in an in-depth analysis of said ‘Multiverse’ and a theoretical discussion of its effect on our own universe please stay tuned for a future post at a later date.

Also, no spoilers will be discussed. With that out of the way, here we go:

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The reason behind most butts plopping into a seat for this show is delivered: the action. And while the majority of the action is some of the best choreographed and edited in a long time, the source of its effectiveness might surprise you: clumsiness. Allow me to explain…  

The action is not clumsy on the actors/stunt doubles part, but clumsy on the part of the characters.  The filmmakers have given their characters room to make conscious decisions (and mistakes) intercut within a breakneck bullet-proof ballet. Subconsciously this seems to make it easier to empathize and jump out the window alongside Cap to enjoy the free-fall.

Example: Attack on Nicky Fury (Sam Jackson). [Again, I am not one for spoiler-ing your experience. So no comment on whether said attack is successful].  The success of this scene’s execution is through mounted tension anticipated through visual clues. The direction/editing continually elbows us with a “nudge nudge wink wink”  that an ambush is percolating right beneath Ole Nick’s non-patched watchful eye.

Before the action sequence commences Nick contacts Agent Hill (Colbie Smulders) via his high-tech government issued OnStar system to tell her she is needed in D.C.  When she replies she will need four hours, he says she has three. He was sorely mistaken.

After being hit and cornered by four cop cars, Fury requests backup from his vehicle’s onboard computer. The computer tells Nick there are no cops in the area. The conspiracy thickens.

The assault on Nick Fury’s pimped out S.H.I.E.L.D issued Tahoe is a moment of modern warfare escalation. The battery of his driver side door is equal to the storming of a castle. Every brutal blow on his vehicle is a blow to the audience. Not only does Nick Fury have a history of hundreds of thousands of comic book pages and five recent Marvel Studios movies…but at this very moment, he is the only character aware of the full extent of the threat against S.H.I.E.L.D and the safety of his world. 

Every battering ram reactionary cut to Nick is a realization. BOOM. He is a keymaster whom we have not seen open a door. BOOM. He has yet to walk the walk for which he continually talks the talk. BOOM. It seems his fate is sealed and we’ve never seen him in true mortal combat that would render…say a missing eye…

Like baby caught in a corner, Nick releases his fury on his attackers. At the moment when the diegesis of this film would tell us he is toast and his vehicle has taken all the damage it can – “Now!” he yells. The computer thrusts into his hands a gatling gun brandishing a hail of bullet fire that frees him of his assailants and his vehicle onto the streets of Washington D.C.

The following chase sequence thrusts us into the action through the use of quick cuts between Fury, chasers, and traffic hash marks flying past on concrete inner-cut between swerving cars from camera angles that don’t leave ground level. Some might scoff, but I would go so far to say the scene is as effective as the iconic French Connection chase under Brooklyn bridge (and more than likely was inspired by that scene).

Referencing French Connection seems appropriate not only because that is the sort of thrilling territory this movie reaches multiple times, but because that is the sort of movie to which the filmmakers seem to be writing a love letter.

Following the chase scene, two characters type out a message on a phone’s text message display while music plays to avoid potential eavesdroppers. The scene plays out much like this one:

Coincidence that Robert Redford also stars in this film? Statistics would say no such thing as coincidence — and so would the characters tumbling down Captain America: Winter Soldier’s rabbit hole. Elements are present in this film reminiscent of not only All the President’s Men and French Connection, but Three Days of the Condor, War Games, Marathon Man, Manchurian Candidate and The Boys from Brazil.

The filmmakers work within this context to spin a yarn with more to say than one might expect from a comic book movie. It is a message regarding the development of military technology, security threats within organizations, the gray area between constantly vigilant dedication and over prepared warmongering. At its heart is the story of an antiquated symbol of a supposed “simpler time” attempting to survive in today’s complex world.

The presented answers to these complex questions are much less intricate, but it is refreshing that such ponderances seem to be on the film’s mind. In the end, the good outweighs the bad in this summer-starts-early blockbuster. Its successes are driven by analogue choreographed action with stakes and characters beneath the maelstrom. And that is something worth checking out.  

August 5, 2013 — Fast Food Blogger’s One More Scene: Dancing Hazard

by Fast Food Blogger

One More Scene is a celebration of my favorite moments in cinema. Every first Monday I will analyze one or two scenes from a movie and explain what it is that I find so remarkable and challenging in them. Don’t just expect classic films. Even the worst films have great moments, and that’s all part of the fun. At this point in history, we dine in an ever widening buffet of movie scenes. We can pick and choose whatever we like whenever we like from wherever we like. These posts will be an “I’ll take one more of those please.” Come join me at the table.

I’m not spoiling much with the clip above. It could be easily separated from the film it’s attached to, though it is also a very appropriate ending. Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco is one of my favorite movies. It contains many of my favorite scenes. The ending credits being among its best because it embraces life’s greatest philosophies and needs—-the rapture of chaos, the joy of dancing, the love of love, the increase of personal strength, forgetting.

To quote Nietzsche: “I would only believe in a god who could dance. And when I saw my devil I found him serious, thorough, profound, and solemn: it was the spirit of gravity—through him all things fall. Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!”

It’s okay for you to dance too. You know you want to.

July 1, 2013 — Fast Food Blogger’s One More Scene: Dancing on Black River

by Fast Food Blogger

One More Scene is a celebration of my favorite moments in cinema. Every first Monday I will analyze one or two scenes from a movie and explain what it is that I find so remarkable and challenging in them. Don’t just expect classic films. Even the worst films have great moments, and that’s all part of the fun. At this point in history, we dine in an ever widening buffet of movie scenes. We can pick and choose whatever we like whenever we like from wherever we like. These posts will be an “I’ll take one more of those please.” Come join me at the table.

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Like all of Masaki Kobayashi’s leading characters, Shizuko is held captive in a broken system. Black River makes several post-WWII commentaries, but its most poignant criticism is directed toward the societal prison that women still find themselves in today. Before she can pursue a relationship with the student Nashida, Shizuko is played, roped into a love affair with gangster-rapist Joe the Killer (Tatsuya Nakadai). Nashida, unlike Joe, is the honorable type, always fighting for justice, not willing to compromise.

It might be easy for a viewer to be angry with Shizuko for not “following her heart” or not going to the police after being violated, but we should temper our moral judgements with a good dose of reality. We may want to believe that someone can walk on water, and yes, Nashida because of his position in society may be able to. But few are.

What Kobayahi understands is that Shizuko is trapped in a misogynistic world. Without asking for it, she gains the attention of nearly all the males in town. Even if she’s out of a relationship with Joe, she still has other men ready to take his place (though, yes, she does want the next man in line). Her life sadly revolves around men. Her desire to keep up with society’s expectations (expectations put in place by patriarchy) actually sends her deeper into the corrupt world she was first forced into. She descends so far that at one point in the film she is willing to kill in order to be set free.

Enter my favorite scene in the film:

While considering whether she really wants to go through with her plot to kill Joe, Shizuko is reminded of her situation. She sees the umbrella from the night when she was abducted. She picks it up and walks out on the balcony pretending to be drunk, laughing, continuing to seduce the two men in her life who are standing bellow her on the street. She asks her onlookers to buy her. Joe entertains the idea and shows his superiority over his competition by challenging Nashida to bid. Nashida, of course, continues to act in his typically virtuous fashion despite the woman resting in his arm.

But then Shizuko does something fascinating.

She provokes Joe with the memory of the umbrella, the umbrella “covered in blood.” In that moment the audience feels both her excruciating pain and her terrifying power. We can’t help but recognize that under the surface she has also challenged good-natured Nashida, for she has taken the more daring approach to life: Shizuko isn’t trying to walk on water, she’s decided to dance on it.

 

June 19th 2013 — The [High] Definition of Love

The number of tools for producing high quality video content grows exponentially every moment. By the time this is posted the photographic digital revolution will be one step closer to establishing a new standard for high resolution, to a more efficient compression rate, and to a new innovation tool that will re-write all the rules of the production & distribution of the visual medium…

Thus, the importance of Love and Passion is all the more pertinent.

Hence, we at San Austin Productions, give you: San Austin Weddings. Your destination for heirloom cinematic quality films capturing the tender moments surrounding the best day of your life to pass on through the ages. The moving image is a memory and this one will last you a lifetime and beyond. Handcrafted, these films are a time capsule preserved by the future-proof RED Cinema raw format.

Love is eternal and San Austin Weddings is here to express it through the lyrical poetry of cinema…

-Christian Rousseau

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June 3, 2013 — Fast Food Blogger’s One More Scene: Death of a Giraffe

by Fast Food Blogger

One More Scene is a celebration of my favorite moments in cinema. Every first Monday I will analyze one or two scenes from a movie and explain what it is that I find so remarkable and challenging in them. Don’t just expect classic films. Even the worst films have great moments, and that’s all part of the fun. At this point in history, we dine in an ever widening buffet of movie scenes. We can pick and choose whatever we like whenever we like from wherever we like. These posts will be an “I’ll take one more of those please.” Come join me at the table.

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My favorite movie scenes seem to exist in a strange world of contradiction: I often watch movies to escape the overwhelming weight of reality, but then my favorite scenes almost always draw me into a greater sense of that same reality I am trying to escape. Sometimes that feeling is evoked artificially, even through fantastic means. Other times the weight of reality is presented plainly—no matter how difficult it is to sit through—through the documentation of an actual event. This last category of movie scenes contains some of the most deeply imprinted images in my mind.

One example of this is the slaughter of a giraffe in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil(1983). At just over an hour into the film we briefly see a giraffe running through a lightly treed savanna. The camera then cuts back to a series of shots capturing the public mourning of a panda in Tokyo. The narrator explains that she sees in the eyes of the Japanese children an attempt, “in order to understand the death of an animal, to stare through the partition” that separates life from death. The camera cuts to a character hidden under a large black cloak firing a pistol. The camera cuts again to the giraffe now falling violently to the ground as the sound of a gunshot echoes through our television speakers.

The giraffe stands up, drunken to its senses, and tries to run again before it slows down to a wobble. Then it comes a full stop near one of the blood colored trees. In this moment a second bullet strikes it through the neck.

The ensuing gore and fight for survival is nearly unbearable to watch—it feels comic-bookishly surreal and disorienting, but it is actually happening. Reality can in fact be more terrifying than the imagination. The shot continues with the ultimate death of the giraffe followed by a brief insertion of the mourning ceremony in Japan again. Marker then concludes the scene with vultures swooping down and feeding off the giraffe’s eye.

 Due to the quality of this video, you cannot see the horrible amount of blood pouring from the giraffe’s neck…and that may be for the best.

Why there “should” there be more scenes like this?

In my opinion, and I hope there are always people who disagree with me, often revenge and violent death are among the most loved aspects in film (and I admit to loving them as well). By showing real violence and pain, directors might awaken their audiences senses to the responsibility humans have to other living creatures. I’m not saying animals or humans should be harmed in the making of a movie, but I am saying that, if applicable, including real footage like this can improve awareness for certain subjects. These scenes can cause us to question why we like violence in the first place.

May 29, 2013 — A Word from The Human Jib: ASOS Lounge at SXSW 2013

Christian Rousseau has honed his camera work for the past several years on a variety of productions. His experience as a shooter and his weirdly agile spine allows him to replicate many complex camera movements without the assistance of devices like cranes, jibs, sliders and steadicams. When working on streamlined productions or on recreational projects, San Austin Production’s mild mannered CEO transforms into – The Human Jib!

Hey Hey Folks,

During Southby this year, in between movie screenings, binging on the newest apps & sites in the tech sector, and shooting our filmmaker spotlight , we enjoyed an awesome opportunity to get coverage of the ASOS Lounge. It served up a combo a Street Fighter aficionado would die for: event & live music + free tacos — Hadouken!

One of the many pleasures of SXSW is being exposed to bands and artists one might not normally come in contact with and discovering a new favorite. The ASOS Lounge allowed us to take a breather from production and do just that — while taking advantage of RED “Wizard”‘s compactness/maneuverability with the help of a stabilizing lens & RED’s sturdy side handle.

We had a great time, although my “gearhead-edness” ultimately got the best of me. I was unable to take a real vacation from the work we were doing because of potentially missing a great shot on the RED. Thanks to the impervious Mr. Sean Foster for passionately working on putting this together in between projects — it’s a great example of the fun we get to have when we’re not already having fun at work!

– Christian Rousseau a.k.a. The Human Jib

 

May 6th, 2013 — Fast Food Blogger’s One More Scene: A Brief Meditation While Watching The Hunter

by Fast Food Blogger

One More Scene is a celebration of my favorite moments in cinema. Every first Monday I will analyze one or two scenes from a movie and explain what it is that I find so remarkable and challenging in them. Don’t just expect classic films. Even the worst films have great moments, and that’s all part of the fun. At this point in history, we dine in an ever widening buffet of movie scenes. We can pick and choose whatever we like whenever we like from wherever we like. These posts will be an “I’ll take one more of those please.” Come join me at the table.

The-Hunter

The most devastating moments in my life have been when I realize that the world I believe to be real, the world I want to be real, is only a product of my imagination. There is a scene in Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter that captures this experience exactly.

Subjectivity: Lucy (Frances O’Connor) gets out of bed on hearing her husband’s old Springsteen record play. She has been asleep for the first part of the film due to depression and medication. Her husband has been missing for sometime. She is entranced by the music and the thought that her life might be coming back together. She slowly makes her way outside to meet her husband in his old outfit under the lights of the tree. Their children are laughing and playing on his shoulders. She embraces him from the back, and pulls him around to kiss him. He is the object of her desire. For a moment she meets the love of her life again.

Recognition: But it is not her husband. It is a stranger in her husband’s clothes playing with their children. She is horrified and confused. Who is this man? How could she mistake him for her husband? This man, Martin (Willem Dafoe), is also in pain. He has interrupted this woman’s life and the life of her children. And yet we can see in their eyes, both Lucy and Martin have made an important connection with eachother. Should they pursue this relationship at all? Is hell like Sartre said “other people”?

[  Note: if this scene intrigues you, check out the rest of this great film on Netflix!  ]

This scene is not representative of the entire movie. The Hunter is generally very quiet and meditative—it’s also about a man trying to capture the last Tasmanian tiger—but this moment does capture the essential lyric nature of the film. In a powerful way, it is also a compelling analogue to the various relationships we make in life. Though most of us have never personally experienced anything like Martin and Lucy’s mistaken identity episode, we all do create realities that are fragile and require other people to play parts. Sometimes we hurt people in the process, often we hurt ourselves, but we always plunge deeper into the terror and beauty of the world and our facticity.

April 11, 2013 — A RED Dawn: San Austin Partners with Guerilla Gear

Cinema-teurs,

Fatefully in line with NAB and RED “Dragon” news this week we are proud to announce that we are now partners with Guerilla Gear here in Austin, TX. As RED Cam users, admirers, and warriors we gleek out at the creative use of RED tech and our personal cam’s use here in the turning tide days of the filmic digital revolution. We look forward to accommodating filmmakers’ Cinema quality needs through a collaboration with Robert Ansley and Guerilla Gear. Strap on the gear and get shooting here!


– Christian Rousseau

REDlogo2

 

April 1, 2013 — Fast Food Blogger’s One More Scene: An Ocean of Bad

by Fast Food Blogger

One More Scene is a celebration of my favorite moments in cinema. Every first Monday I will analyze one or two scenes from a movie and explain what it is that I find so remarkable and challenging in them. Don’t just expect classic films. Even the worst films have great moments, and that’s all part of the fun. At this point in history, we dine in an ever widening buffet of movie scenes. We can pick and choose whatever we like whenever we like from wherever we like. These posts will be an “I’ll take one more of those please.” Come join me at the table.

oceanofbad1

Though there is no end to the number of quality scenes in Battlefield Earth, none better exemplifies the word “great” than the moment when alien warlord Terl (John Travolta) downs an intergallactic martini and heckles his friend at the bar with the line…. April fools.

Battlefield-Earth-Scene-00081

This month’s real pick, The Witch Who Came From the Seais not a great film either, but it does make use of bizarre imagery and conflicting emotions. The opening scene is particularly devastating, even though it is a simple establishing shot. For me, it deserves repeated viewing.

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The audience is set on top of an empty beach to view the length of the shoreline. We see thin green credits flash on and off the screen. We hear the sound of waves rolling in and out. Though a bit grey and brown, things seem calm enough. If we were unaware of the film’s title, we might even believe the shot is modestly asking us to reflect on some childhood memory.

Then, in an instant, the camera is struck by a giant black wave. Our vision is shaken and blotted. We briefly see the consistency of the water as it rewinds: it is crummy. It leaves splatter on the camera as it pulls out to sea again. We hear two minor notes burst out from an offscreen horn. This sound repeats twice more. Then we are told to rethink things again, when we hear the peaceful whistling of a flute. In the distance we see a woman and two children running along the water’s edge toward us. They are playing innocently, unaware of the shadow that might await them. Occasionally, the horn plays again as the family comes closer.

But the ocean never changes. The waters roll on top of each other incestuously, brother and sister wave mixing themselves, smashing up against the resilient and ever silent sand. The sea never touches the camera again, but the audience is not comforted. We know something is brewing. The greater percentage of the earth’s surface is inching in on the lesser, incessantly like an abuser. Out of the murky ocean the witch is coming. She is coming with a vengeance.

Check out the whole film bellow:

March 21, 2013 — Filmmaker Spotlight on SXSW Director Robert Ansley

Behind every good film is an equally captivating story about its maker. In the following Filmmaker Spotlight, we explore the truths surrounding SXSW director Robert Ansley’s first cinematic fiction. Bearing the rigors of a neurological condition with dignity and humor, he faces every day with an earnest smile and a passion for filmmaking and film instruction at the Austin School of Film. We hope you are compelled as much as we are by this man who is usually behind the camera but agreed very graciously to appear in front of ours.

March 18, 2013 — Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Brown Producer: SXSW 2013

Avee Chaudhuri is San Austin’s producer. He explores new markets, manages accounts and makes a mean swiss, avocado and turkey sandwich (on wheat: celiacs, we can work something out).  You may have seen him downtown this past week, wandering the streets with armfuls of equipment, loitering in the Driskill Hotel with a cup of coffee or playing concierge to people looking for a good burger bar.

Hands on hip. Surly. Dehydrated. Typical Avee.

Well, we nearly reached critical mass here in Austin, Texas during the week plus of SXSW.  This faithful producer has had enough complimentary Red Bull (courtesy of ASOS Lounge) to kill a small horse. My internal chemistry aside, it was an amazing week for all of us at San Austin Productions.

In the space of about a week, we met Norwegians, New Yorkers, Social Media Mavens, Tequila Peddlers, Techies, Shakespearean Scholars and everything in between. Two stops on the Cap Metro rail line and one finds himself drinking cold beer at the center of the universe. Visitors to our fair city keep insisting (usually after sampling genuine queso for the first time) that Austin is the preeminent place in the sun, and in turn we keep telling them that what makes Austin truly exceptional are the creative and generous people who make it their home.

One of those individuals is Robert Ansley, a fellow filmmaker, friend and all around badass. A former police detective (who never lost a case) and well traveled security consultant, Robert became a filmmaker after a car accident forced him into unplanned early retirement. Beyond his filmmaking career, Robert also teaches at the Austin School of Film and runs Guerilla Gear, a company he founded with his wife, Angela, that rents equipment to Austin’s grateful cadre of independent filmmakers.

In our first ever Filmmaker Spotlight, we followed Robert as he prepares for a screening of his short film, Tanning Dead, at SXSW’s Community Screening at the Boyd Vance Theatre in beautiful East Austin. It’s a compelling piece about the cathartic nature of doing and teaching what you love and we’re very excited to share it with you in the coming days.

After we wrapped on the Spotlight and spent a day in post-production, Christian and I headed to ASOS Lounge at the Cedar Door Bar and GrillASOS is an online British retailer beginning to gain traction  in the States. Are we poised for a new British invasion? I certainly hope so. The folks at ASOS, along with their partners at BMF Media and Giant Noise, were extremely gracious hosts.

As many of you know, my fashion sense is very limited and my socks hardly ever match.  I was out of my element until I discovered the complimentary Don Julio tequila, Asahi beer, the aforementioned Red Bull, Vita Coconut Water and plenty of the Cedar Door’s savory tacos.

We grabbed some great performance footage at ASOS Lounge. It was a streamlined, two man operation with Christian running and gunning on the RED and me running sound with one hand and holding a Don Julio Poloma in the other.  Highlights included San Cisco, The Neighbourhood, Ghost Beach, Little Daylight, Jetta and Youngblood Hawke.  I must admit the bands we weren’t familiar with we youtubed in anticipation of their performances;  however, nothing could prepare us for this:

My jaw literally dropped and I was uncharacteristically effervescent for the rest of the evening.  This is only a short tease of what we captured.  I encourage you to check back in next week for more rad footage from SXSW.

Having lived and worked in Austin for the last seven years, occasionally and perhaps far too often we lose sight of what an amazing place it is. I readily admit that the crowds, traffic and other logistical problems of Southby require more thoughtfulness and action on the part of the City and festival sponsors, but you have to love the humanity and the beauty of it all.  We can’t wait for next year. My apologies to the Driskill for pilfering their coffee and sugar.

*Tyler Perry still has no affiliation with this blog.  

March 4, 2013 — Fast Food Blogger’s One More Scene: Nietzsche’s Potatoes

by Fast Food Blogger

One More Scene is a celebration of my favorite moments in cinema. Every first monday I will analyze one or two scenes from a movie and explain what it is that I find so remarkable and challenging in them. Don’t just expect classic films. Even the worst films have great moments, and that’s all part of the fun. At this point in history, we dine in an ever widening buffet of movie scenes. We can pick and choose whatever we like whenever we like from wherever we like. These posts will be a “I’ll take one more of those please.” Come join me at the table.

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I sometimes hear a terrifying rumor that Friedrich Nietzsche’s insanity was a result of his atheism. From this telling we are asked to imagine Nietzsche as a modern Prometheus cursed by the gods for his arrogance. Even his ex-lover Lou Salome spread this superstitious warning — the added sting being that she was a psychoanalyst. But if fear is the ultimate goal for spreading such an idea, one need not make it theological. Nietzsche’s supposed last sane words capture any great thinker’s worst nightmare: “Mother I am dumb.”

To me, it is far more interesting to focus on the possible messages behind Nietzsche’s last public act. In the end, when having to pick between protecting the dignity of a man (god’s greatest creation) or the dignity of a horse, Nietzsche chose the latter. Was this just a side effect of his madness, or was it his final indictment against Christian divinity? Knowing his rare proclivity for public spectacle we might still ask another question: what kind of horse could bring Friedrich Nietzsche to such tears and infant clinging? Was the whipping that cruel?

SCENE ONE:


The Turin Horse gives its audience a plausible hypothesis with its opening scene: Both the animal and its predicament would make even the most emotionally reserved weep.

The heavy creature, its face and chest nearly pressed up against the movie camera, its mouth twisting, its fur matted down by sweat and blustering wind, huffs out air and struggles to drag the wagon and the old driver down a path of wintered trees. The camera tracks to a profile shot of the horse and wagon. For a moment the viewer must focus on the driver, who looks like a retired disciple. He struggles to control his animal and vehicle. Only later do we learn that he is crippled having lost control of his right arm and part of his right eye. Then the camera shifts back to the creature lowering its head and shoulders, straining to pull the load. By this time we start to imagine that the horse is losing all the life in its eyes, or is this actually happening? The answer does not really matter. The creature has bewitched us in an instant. We now know that when this black and white masterpiece is not haunted by the shadow of Nietzsche, it is haunted by the shadow of his horse.

SCENE TWO:

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My favorite scene, however, has nothing to do with horses. It has to do with potatoes.

Twenty minutes into the film we see a pot set to boil. Two potatoes cook inside. We watch the water sizzle and steam off around them. A wooden spoon rests intentionally on the left side of the pot. From this arrangement, we know the woman who has placed it there, the driver’s daughter, is extremely meticulous. When she comes to stir and remove the pot she does so ritualistically, as if she were performing a last supper for the hundredth time. The meaning has been lost somewhere along the way, but she carries on methodically without question. She grabs a simple wooden bowl. She scoops in the potatoes. She sets the family table plainly. She looks vaguely religious—a strange mix between an emaciated mother of Jesus and common beggar. “It’s ready,” she says harshly to her father who rests in bed. This is the first moment of dialogue in the film.

What follows is the old man—once he makes it to the table—transforming into a wild dog. He grabs a potato like lightning, peels the skin off with his one good hand almost equally as fast. He does not care that it is too hot too eat comfortably. He smashes it in with his fingers and blows on it violently but weakly. It gets into his beard and mustache. He licks his lips and fingers. Less than two minutes after grabbing the potato, he has finished it. The camera pans again and we see his daughter. She has has been eating her food this whole time, studying each bite before she puts it into her mouth. She is not enjoying her food. She stops eating and cleans the dishes.

In this brief scene the audience learns an enormous amount about the two title characters. We see how they face life individually and silently even while eating together. Though this is the first meal in the film, it feels exactly like the last. The tension is eerily high, though this is not a scene about death. It’s about life, the most horrifying kind of life. You want to to tell the characters this. You want to shout it into your television. Then again, you do not tell it to yourself. The shadow of Nietzsche seems to be lurking somewhere in the background. Perhaps it would be whispering, “Evaluate. Create. Change. Dance,” if its main attention was not resting on the withering horse inside the barn.

February 20, 2013 — Tyler Perry’s* Diary of a Mad Brown Producer: Adventures in Animation

Avee Chaudhuri is San Austin’s producer.  He crunches numbers, manages accounts, explores new markets, writes and does most of the worrying.  He started this blog for your amusement because he loves you.

“The great thing about animation is you can do whatever you want.”

San Austin Director Christian Rousseau and Chief Animator Sean Foster taking a final look at the storyboard.

San Austin Director Christian Rousseau and Chief Animator Sean Foster taking a final look at the storyboard.

 

I said that last month in a meeting with an e-commerce client, and have repeated it since to several Austin business and tech leaders (usually while shouting over the house band or jukebox at an industry happy hour).  We enjoy working with companies that are unique and combine otherwise diverse and often complex elements into a single cohesive entity.

So why is animation great for that?  Well, it’s one of many tools in our belt that we use to create cost effective and visually stunning content that conveys new ideas to an audience that is becoming more practiced and self-assured with each second. Let’s say your business represents the next stage in disruptive innovation for your market, and that it’s eco-friendly, that it creates new jobs in America while vastly reducing the cost to the consumer, that it employs new technologies skirting the frontier of science and transforming luxury into happenstance, and lest we forget, your customer service is the best around, not in a nominal sense but that you’ve actually made it a working reality.  Our task, as the film and video production wing of your outreach efforts, is to turn that impressive array of information into a 60 second spot that people find endearing, and we’re ready for that challenge.  Within a limited time frame and with a more streamlined budget, we will animate a world defined by your company’s ethos and iconography.

Now admittedly, this is my first animation production as producer, so I had to learn on the fly exactly what my role would be in this particular field. The refreshing thing about animation is that traditional moviemaking logistics are no longer in play.  If San Austin’s Director Christian Rousseau says, “Hey guys, I want to restage the Rumble in the Jungle with a zombie Muhammad Ali and a vampiric George Foreman,” it would require weeks of intense planning on a live action production.  However, animating such a bizarre (and awesome) fight is a much simpler process.

Some of our characters in their initial design phase. Even with a mostly digital system, our production still starts with paper and pencil.

Some of our characters in their initial design phase. Even with a mostly digital system, our production still starts with paper and pencil.

The job of figuring out how to accomplish the visuals is one we all share, but the most expert suggestions are made of course by our chief animator (and editor), Sean Foster.  Christian and I trust Sean to tell us what’s possible and what’s five minutes away from being possible. Sean’s ability to communicate with us effectively, primarily through our shared lexicon of film and television references, is a large part of what makes him a talented animator (and editor).

Christian comes up with the visuals, puts them in a narrative sequence and works with Sean and myself on an animation strategy for each specific shot. The fact that Sean focuses more on how to manage the action displaces my customary producer’s role somewhat, but it gives me an opportunity to work more on the creative end with Christian, whether it’s fine tuning the script, defining our visual aesthetic or finding ways to integrate real life imagery and texture into the project. Fortunately, my director is a willing collaborator on most projects (except for his long secreted Marvel vs. Capcom script).  The fact that he listens to and implements my ideas and Sean’s (and Amanda’s) is more validating than the paychecks bearing his signature.

Thinking creatively about animation has taken me back to childhood. The first movies we fall in love with are often of the animated ilk.  For me, it was The Thief and the Cobbler (even then I was rabidly anti-Disney). Animated movies are simply fun and colorful and oddly reflective of the flesh and mortar world in which we live.  The best ones follow their own superlative natural law. You can run in midair, until you realize there’s nothing underfoot.  The trick is to look ahead and keep going.

* Tyler Perry has no affiliation with this blog – yet.

January 25, 2013 — When Life Gives you Liz Lemon…a (mostly) Non-Cannibalistic Ode to 30 Rock

by Avee Chaudhuri

“More than jazz, more than musical theater and morbid obesity, television is the true American art.” – Kenneth Parcells, NBC Page Program

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The funniest cast on television, except for the unintentionally hilarious panel on ‘The Talk.’

It seems like I was never present for the end of TV shows that really matter to me. I’ve had to view them as historical texts, and anyone who’s read any Foucault knows the inherent dangers of that (sorry for the heady reference, but I wanted to assure the reader that we at San Austin also read books on occasion). When The Kids in the Hall ended, I was eight years old and still watching the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, a show that made a generation of young boys want to play the flute (the Green Ranger anyone?).  I wasn’t even aware of The Larry Sanders Show or Alan Partridge until six months ago. Saturday Night Live became a phenomenon worthy of academic attention, fizzled out and then settled into its now familiar state of dependable mediocrity, alleviated by brief and infrequent spurts of genius, all before I was born.

But thankfully I’m here and present for the end of 30 Rock (series finale January 31), which I believe has been the funniest and most influential show on television during its seven year run.  Series creator Tina Fey and her team of writers built an absurd world with its own unique logic and mythology that still manages to be the best reflection of our times, sad and chaotic as they are.  If we fall into the old and familiar trap of assigning each episode in a sitcom a theme (i.e. the Different Strokes about child molestation, the Family Ties about alcoholism guest starring Tom Hanks), then 30 Rock has the farthest and most biting range of any show on television. Here’s an extremely abridged list of topics that 30 Rock addressed: the politics of adoption, socialized medicine, the dangers and assumptions of white liberal guilt, the vacuousness of a youth-driven culture, questioning the true metrics of success for a woman, sexual intercourse as a battle (thank you, Jack Donaghy), corporate excess, minstrelsy in the internet age, philosophy of the will, and finally EGOTing. If I had the space and time, the list would be a hundredfold.

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Of course, 30 Rock’s insightful nature is driven by its wonderful lead characters.  Jack Donaghy, played to perfection by Alec Baldwin, is the scotch swilling, eminently quotable world beater we all desperately want to believe exists in real life Corporate America.  And how much more can one possibly say about Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. The cultural critics and feminist theorists have already gotten ahold of her.  Well let me say, on behalf of the doomed segment of my generation who watch television with the hopes of one day making television, that we learned a great deal from Liz Lemon, not because she was an icon of gender subversion or female empowerment, but because she was funny – in the purest, most scathing, sex-neutral way possible.

I mean, I could go on in earnest. 30 Rock deserves volumes in its honor.  The supporting cast is also incredible.  But for now, I’ll simply say good bye, 30 Rock.  Hello, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot starring Wiz Khalifa?

January 11th, 2013 — There’s a Reason this Season to See Some Movies

Day 4
This Fall & Winter has been blessed with many a movie to check out at the cinemas and just about every one of them has been subject of much public conversation. Over the next couple days we’re throwing our two cents into the jackpot.

A Ruddy good time.

A Ruddy good time.

This Is 40
C: Judd Apatow as a director is well on his way to becoming a combination of Woody Allen & John Landis. His films are punctually funny, yet they are becoming increasingly personal — this film of which seems to be the most personal. Paul Rudd’s character Pete (from Knocked Up) might as well be a stand-in for Apatow since he’s behind the camera. But if you’re going to have someone fill your shoes is there anyone more charming than Paul Rudd? The story feels so well done that if Pete’s character was a filmmaker instead of a record exec. this would be called “Inside the Apatow House”. Leslie Mann is a bold comedic actress. She’s always been willing to push the envelope comedically and she does what according to DeNiro is the hardest thing as an actor to do: play oneself. She is not only funny in this film, but delivers an emotionality not previously seen: the moment in the car by herself after she finds out she’s pregnant is case in point. Her daughters Maude & Iris Apatow (who play her character’s daughters) are becoming wonderful comedic & dramatic actresses as well. Iris is in the background most of the film, but delivers a line at a poignant moment that drives the last half of the film. Jason Segel is a good deal of fun here as the foil to his normally Marshall Eriksen classically good-guy. Watching him put Megan Fox in the palm of his sexy hand is hilarious. Chris O’Dowd as Paul Rudd’s assistant rounds the cast out wonderfully. He’s quickly becoming the funniest supporting actor to fill in the cracks of Hollywood ensemble comedy and should be in just about everything.

The D is silent.

The D is silent.

Django Unchained
Sean: The theme of my reviews this season has got to be knowing when to end your movie (see Lincoln review). Django Unchained is a compelling and very fast-paced (by Quentin Tarantino standards) adventure story chock-full of interesting characters and a vibrant visual representation of the deep south during the mid 1800s. The acting is great by all, though Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson (who refreshingly doesn’t play himself) really stand out. The only issue I have with the movie is that it is just too long. There are several scenes or groups of scenes that either should have been trimmed or cut altogether, starting with the last 25 minutes which include a comically bloody shootout to a Tupac song, an awkward torture scene, and an even more squirm-inducing cameo by the director. Without giving anything away, it would have served the movie much better, albeit with a different outcome, if it had ended 25 minutes earlier. That aside, and looking at the film as a whole, Django Unchained is one of the best movies I’ve seen in the last two years.

C: I have mixed feelings on this one. The film is incredibly well put together and in some ways I feel a comparison to this year’s Moonrise Kingdom is justified. Both are made by modern day proclaimed auteurs and in some ways both films are their director’s most accessible films to their most broad audience to date. The editing and pacing of this film was the most refreshing from Tarantino in a long time. His trademark dialogue, attention to detail, and grind-house style cinematography is still there. Yet any lengthy monologues that he used to be renowned for are used sparingly and when justified thematically. Because of how much I love Pulp Fiction and its cast it is hard to say, but this may be the most likable of his main characters he has created. I felt more emotionally invested in Django and Shultz — and rightfully so. If we didn’t then the story would not have been given the treatment necessary for a slave seeking to rescue his wife. What held me back from loving this film is its last half hour of runtime. From the moment that Shultz seals his own and Django’s fate, we fall into the pratfalls of exactly what we have come to expect from Tarantino: bloody mayhem. The gore is a fusion of a Sam Peckinpah western and the best of the zombie canon. The blood dollops like molasses — and by all vengance standards most of the bloodletting is deserved. However, Django, whom we are supposed to cheer on doesn’t only kill the men who stand in the way of him escaping safely with his wife, but everyone in his path including men who offer to help him. This is where I feel ideologically opposed to Tarantino as of late. While I appreciate the pastiche art of what he does, I would truly like to see nuance in his work that doesn’t feel as if every issue can be resolved by blowing everyone away. Django Unchained is a satire that delightfully manages to straddle the line between emotionally resonate, comically farcical, and thought provoking while being fun and entertaining despite being about one of the most difficult times in American history. It raises a lot of questions eloquently, but whether it has any answers is for the viewer to decide.

January 10th, 2013 — There’s a Reason this Season to See Some Movies

This Fall & Winter has been blessed with many a movie to check out at the cinemas and just about every one of them has been subject of much public conversation. Over the next couple days we’re throwing our two cents into the jackpot.

Day 3

Epically caught in between two studs.

Epically caught in between two studs.

Anna Karenina
Christian: Visually this film was stunning. Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice; Atonement; & Hanna) is a director that has managed to apply distinctly different voice and style to classic stories. His films border on the experimental just enough to be accessible to a mainstream audience and this film pushes that to the nth degree. Due to the longstanding theatrical, ballet, and cinematic tradition of adapting this story, Wright manages to pay homage to such traditions by creating a visual treat that is somewhere between cinema and live theatre. We watch as stage hands push props on screen and backdrops slide into place from above and the wings. Although at first it may take the unprepared viewer a moment of adjusting, by the end of the film it makes the humanistic story elements stand out even more. One feels an overwhelming sense of understanding that they are watching something passed down from generations and what keeps it alive are the elements that are so real they hurt. Keira Knightley  fills the shoes of the title role adeptly, Jude Law  delivers a heartbreaking performance as her husband, Karenin, and Domhnall Gleeson(son of Brendan Gleeson) gives a wonderful performance as Levin, whose story works splendidly as a foil to Anna’s. Having never been familiar with this story of Leo Tolstoy’s, this was a fantastic introduction to a character so humanistically flawed and real that her journey is painful to watch and a cast of supporting characters almost as epic as War and Peace. This film is for anyone in want of an adaptation of classic literature that is not afraid to experiment with the form of a classic while still maintaining the themes, detail, and substance of the source material.

Adventure right out the front door.

Adventure right out the front door.

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey
Christian: Surprisingly, splitting up a smaller of the Tolkien books into 2 movies (with a third to bridge between this tale and Lord of the Rings) seems to allow more room to retain the details of the source material. There are spots (most notably the opening with Bilbo & Frodo) that feel like nods to devout fans rather than using precious screen time in an already long film wisely. The action and visual effects are handled spot on as Peter Jackson and company always do. The miniature work blended with the CG in the Goblin caves is a spectacle to behold. Speaking of CG: Azog the Pale Orc may be the most immaculately constructed computer animated character since Gollum (physically). While Azog doesn’t have the dynamicity that Gollum’s character has, expanding his role in the story creates a more conducive storyline for this first outing & creates more tension on the Dwarves and Thorin that was not as apparent in the novel. Ian McKellen back as Gandalf the Grey feels like a visit from your favorite crotchety uncle whom you love to watch get flustered. He serves up Tolkien’s morality with an earnest performance and twinkle in his eye. Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo. He’s just the right amount of snarky as an uppity hobbit, while maintaining the innocence necessary for his version of Bilbo to journey through his own transformation.

24fps 2d vs 48fps 3d: For the record anyone who is skeptical of 3d, needs to see the Hobbit projected at the High Frame Rate of 48fps 3d. It’s a moment in cinema history that can’t be missed. Is it a refined use of the technology that exceeds expectations? No. There is clearly still kinks that need to be worked out. It is the best clarity I’ve seen in 3d ever (Avatar & Hugo included). The doubled frame rate gains the detail that has always made 50% of audiences squint & moan. However that same frame rate makes certain actions appear slightly awkward and too quick. One’s eyes adjust by the end of the film for the most part, however certain camera moves & physical actions still come across wooden with the doubled visual information. It was a privilege to watch our camera’s big brother, the RED Epic, be put to such magnificent use and I for one look forward to the honing of 48fps 3d cinematography.

Avee: Loved it. One of the most prominent criticisms of The Hobbit is that it’s too long.  Frankly, I don’t understand this argument.  It’s not as if Peter Jackson is putting hot coals to your feet or forcing you to watch his version of King Kong (sorry, me and that movie just don’t get along).  He’s taking you back to a crisper, more fully realized Middle Earth.  It is a pleasure to behold.  Who would want less of it?  Maybe it’s my tenuous grip on reality, but I wouldn’t mind a four and a half hour version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, provided there was an intermission so that I could use the restroom.  The side stories which supposedly weigh down the narrative add, as Christian comments, a wonderful level of detail to the mythology of Middle Earth.

Good for Martin Freeman.  People should recognize him from Sherlock and The Office (UK). I’ve always enjoyed Freeman’s good nature and disarming wit. It’s nice that he’s being given such a great opportunity. Warms my heart.

Jackson and his team undoubtedly spent a lot of time, money and effort creating the visual effects for this film.  The opening sequence where the lost kingdom of Erebor is introduced is quite breathtaking.  But in spite of the millions spent on miniatures and CGI, the most awe-inspiring part of the movie is the natural landscape of New Zealand. Is there a prettier place on Earth?  It’s a good lesson for all of us aspiring Peter Jacksons out there, biding our time in our respective hobbit holes.  No combination of computer and craftsman can trump Mother Nature. I think I’ll go look at a tree now.

To see the face of God.

To see the face of God.

Les Miserables
Christian: Some of the best acting all year is in this film & they’re singing while they’re doing it! Anne Hathaway will rip your heart out, but you’ll still be crying so hard you’ll wipe your tears with your own ticker before you realize what happened. Hugh Jackman: not the strongest of the cast voice-wise (especially for Jean Valjean). However, where he lacks in vocal range he makes up in his ability to deliver a believable performance of an inwardly broken man with the physical strength of an ox. Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen were born to play the Thenardiers period[.] Eponine (played by Samantha Barks — seemingly the only of the cast from Broadway) takes the heart out of your hand and breaks it in half just to make sure you’re still watching. Then Eddie Redmayne steals the show as Marius, in that he gives the most complete performance rounded out by stellar acting and incredibly strong singing. Overall, I found this to be the most inspirational film this winter. It was emotionally resonant, visually gorgeous, epic in scale, and yet intimate in its performances and detail. Its finale, the words to which are “to love someone is to see the face of God”, reminded me how important Victor Hugo’s work is to humanity and how important this story and theme is worth revisiting often in its many forms.

January 9th, 2013 — There’s a Reason this Season to See Some Movies

This Fall & Winter has been blessed with many a movie to check out at the cinemas and just about every one of them has been subject of much public conversation. Over the next couple days we’re throwing our two cents into the jackpot.

Day 2

Abraham Day-Lewis.

Lincoln 
Christian: I felt incredibly let down by Lincoln. There’s a lot here to like, but unfortunately I felt like the cast was misused. Daniel Day-Lewis breathes life into Lincoln excellently and is supported by a wonderful cast – most notably: David Strathairn, Sally Fields, and Tommy Lee Jones. The relationships Lincoln has with his family rounds the film out in a more intimate portrayal of him as a man and Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens makes for an intriguing bit of history unknown to me previously. However, I would have liked to see Abe’s journey to getting the 13th Amendment passed in a more gut wrenching portrayal. The journey feels as if all the actors are playing to its end. I felt as if it could have felt more like a struggle. This portrayal (especially in the cinematography, editing, and direction) of one of the most historic moments in American history felt flat, comedic at times, and uncompelling. Lincoln himself was taking the law into his own hands and through backwards dealings bribing the Democratic congressman in order to get the Amendment passed. The film portrays this in a comically foppish way. This was a great opportunity to show the struggle he had to go through to change history and instead of it feeling like a battle of wills, ethics, and a sacrifice it feels like a politically charged war run by the Three Stooges. All in all, while still an intimate portrayal of the man, Lincoln didn’t feel as though it packed the punch that this legislation did in changing this country for the better.

Avee: Watching Lincoln is like reading a high school civics textbook. A bunch of rah rah. I know the myths about Lincoln, every American does, or should.  Honest Abe and so forth. In Spielberg’s  version, we essentially get more of the folk legend, and none of the gritty political reality. I agree with Christian, who through his diligence and work ethic beat me to it: it’s a light, unfairly comedic, morbidly cornball treatment of the passage of the 13th Amendment, one of the most vital to the Constitution. Here are the facts: Abraham Lincoln, the scion of truth in America, was wholly complicit in a conspiracy to bribe Democratic legislators to vote for the 13th Amendment, which would ban the practice of slavery. Noble ends, unsavory means. One of my favorite Spielberg movies is Munich. A group of Israeli commandos clandestinely kill those responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. But it’s not exactly the Guns of Friggin’ Navarone. There’s self-doubt, there are questions about righteousness, morality, justice, forgiveness, do the ends justify the means? This is what Lincoln ought to have been: a story of people who meet in the dead of night and carefully plot to sabotage the democratic process – for the betterment of mankind.  We would get to see a conflicted, tortured Lincoln, which I have no doubt Daniel Day-Lewis could have executed with aplomb.  Instead of being stuck in a dusty White House with an obese, unpleasant Sally Field underfoot, we would be whisked away to Washington’s dark underbelly, it’s bellum brothels and smoky rooms. And the damndest thing is, Lincoln was cast for the movie I wanted. John Hawkes and James Spader as two of the operatives charged with bribing Democrats – their abilities were squandered. John Hawkes is John Hawkes, and James Spader was a great actor who fatted himself on the calf of a terrible show called The Office. Apologies to no one!

Sean: Since this movie is titled Lincoln, I’ll ignore the fact that it is more about the passage of the 13th Amendment in Congress, and instead focus on what I think was a missed opportunity to give people a different and possibly more realistic interpretation of Abraham Lincoln. As time has gone by, Abraham Lincoln as we know him in American culture has dissolved into somewhat of a folklore caricature that most of us first learn about in elementary school as a tall, quiet man with a stovepipe hat who abolished slavery and was shot in a theater. Though this films takes steps to avoid that and show Lincoln in a more intimate fashion as the brilliant, yet flawed, human being he probably was, it is few and far between the too many metaphorical anecdotes that continue to keep him at arms length from any kind of emotional connection the viewer might want to have with him. The few and far between moments I refer to are the scenes in which Lincoln is interacting with his family, specifically his wife and his oldest son, Robert. These are the moments that allow us to see him as a flawed and relatable person and really give a refreshing, if not multi-dimensional, look at the man that most of us haven’t really seen. The truth about this film though is that it is not a character study or biopic, but a sampling of the most important years and months of Lincoln’s presidency leading up to the ratifying of the 13th Amendment and the end of the Civil War. In what is ultimately a triumphant and uplifting look at this moment in history, there is really no reason to include his assassination at the end. Most, if not all, people who will see this movie know Lincoln was killed, and to throw that in without any explanation or necessity felt cheap and was a missed opportunity to show him go out on top for once. Throughout all of this, though, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Lincoln is fantastic and worthy of recognition. He completely owns the role physically, from his appearance, to his movement, to his voice, and I have no trouble at all believing him as the 16th president. On a side note, Tommy Lee Jones does a bang-up job as well.

Not the most life-sustaining partner in that lifeboat.

Not the most life-sustaining partner in that lifeboat.

Life of Pi
Amanda: So I did not read the novel before watching Life of Pi, but this movie made me want to read the book ASAP (I’m 2 for 2 on books I need to read after seeing the movies)! Surprisingly, I loved this movie and was not expecting to, because the previews made the storyline and visuals look so cheesy. I will say the “writer” character was not a strong point and he was a little off putting. I loved the character depth they created with Pi and how they presented his ups and downs. He had such a humbled and dynamic presence on the screen that I was constantly drawn in. The movie presents the viewer with several different options in how to interpret the story and religion. All in all, Life of Pi uses faith as a large theme, but I respect how positive it was presented. All too many times movies about faith come off as pushy and annoying. Great movie and one I will be buying for my movie collection to watch again and again! 

January 8th, 2013 — There’s a Reason this Season to See Some Movies

This Fall & Winter has been blessed with many a movie to check out at the cinemas and just about every one of them has been subject of much public conversation. Over the next couple days we’re throwing our two cents into the jackpot.

Day 1
Cloud Atlas
Christian: Take one of these multiple storylines singularly and they are not nearly as cutting edge, but laced together in one magnum opus and you have something truly original. Upon a first viewing there were moments that the makeup felt incredibly non-pc and oddly racist, but taken with a spoonful of the message behind the piece suddenly everything makes a little more sense. Anyone curious about this film should see it not only for the overlying message, but the stellar editing. I’ve never witnessed this many different genres juggled so harmoniously. I found the result stirring, funny, thrilling, mysterious, and compelling. This film will raises questions that will challenge your expectations of film, art, and the world. It is a narrative puzzle and may not be easily accessible for the casual viewer, but for those willing to take the ride it is a  fantastical journey that ultimately examines us as human beings.

Multi-face[ted].

Multi-face[ted].

Amanda: I was totally impressed with this movie and would like to read the novel too! I walked into Cloud Atlas prepared to feel bored with its long runtime. However, that was not the case! I thought the timing of each storyline change was planned perfectly. There were moments that felt forced that I didn’t particularly love, but after talking to my husband (who did read the novel) he revealed that most of those elements weren’t even in the book. Halle Berry and Tom Hanks had more chemistry than I expected, which added much to that particular storyline. I would say Cloud Atlas is a lot like a box of Cracker Jacks, just when you think you’ve adjusted your palate to its caramelly goodness you have a surprise waiting for you.

Flight
Avee: Have you seen the trailer for Flight?  I’m personally a sucker for anything with ‘Gimme Shelter’ playing over it  (by extension that makes me a sucker for about two thirds of Martin Scorsese‘s filmography). The Rolling Stones aside, the Flight trailer promised that the ensuing movie would be an examination of addiction, the media, the American bureaucracy, survivor guilt, the illusions of safety and control, fate, etc. The movie is about two of these things: addiction and fate. An alcoholic airline pilot saves a plane from crashing after a mechanical failure. He’s drunk at the time, and this event, and a subsequent tox screen at the emergency room, force him to deal with his alcoholism. Not a great film, but solid, certainly not the epic one might ascertain from the trailer, but can we cast aspersions on the movie for the sins of the trailer? It will come as no surprise that the best part of this movie is Denzel Washington. No one plays backed into a corner better  than he (the last five minutes of Training Day). And he’s played a drunk before (Man on Fire), so he’s used to the terrain of slight tremors, stunted speech and sudden vitriol.

Skyfall Alone.

Skyfall Alone.

Skyfall
Christian: I really enjoyed Skyfall. Bond’s “resurrection” feels like not only that of the character, but the franchise. There appears to be an overwhelmingly difficult question posed by the film and the court directly: is Bond (and the franchise) still relevant?  Is old world espionage dead? The answer: there is a new kind of threat — one that is all around us and whom we cannot see through cyber-terrorism. M’s response to the court through Tennyson is not only compelling, but a majestic feat of cinema through the editing’s juxtaposition. As Bond runs through the streets of London we witness his devotion to his country in his eyes. He is a necessary tool sharpened by his loyalty. The retreat to Skyfall is a logical answer to the cyber threat — “go back in time”. (How do you keep a hacker from getting info? Type it on a typewriter.) On a first viewing the attack on Skyfall felt a tad Home Alone-ish. But his retreat makes sense to Daniel Craig’s Bond and his final transformation. He is attempting to hold on to the one thing that keeps him young (his mother figure) and retreats home to protect her, but he can’t. He is forced to become the iconic Bond we all know. His transformation is now complete and aptly timed with the 50th Anniversary of Dr. No. Craig in my opinion is on par with Sean Connery and even better, he is supported by a new hip cast of characters (who coincidentally are the old cast of characters): Moneypenny’s here with her own origin story for the first time; young hacker-Q is MI6’s cyber ace in the hole; and Mallory (the new M) is a war vet willing to bleed on the British flag to keep its red cross. I won’t jump on the bandwagon and say it is the best Bond and one of the best movies ever made. But I do think it does a damn good job of paying tribute to the best elements of the franchise.

Amanda: Skyfall left me entertained but definitely not impressed. I enjoyed the action and the actors, however, felt as though the storyline was lacking some strength. As always, they have made a wonderful motion picture that is styled excellently, I just wish the storyline matched the quality of everything else.

Avee: My initial reaction to Skyfall was extremely positive – not unlike how I would feel after two or three vodka martinis – shaken not stirred (nudge nudge, wink wink). But as always in life, the dreaded hangover ultimately appears and in the cold hard light of the morning after, I realize my enthusiasm is rooted simply in how competent Skyfall is when compared to the entire Bond series.  Remember the third nipple? The horrifying Madonna cameo? Duran Duran’s theme song to A View to Kill  (okay, it’s kind of catchy). As exceptional as the character is, Bond the franchise has been largely mediocre and at times truly a disservice to motion pictures. Conversely, the Daniel Craig Bond films have been examples of assured filmmaking. Even Quantum of Solace was better than the whole Pierce Brosnan lot put together, save GoldenEye.

But upon further examination, Skyfall needs to be taken to task, because it was so close to being a great film and a transcendent Bond movie. The writing is superb. Javier Bardem as Silva is the best villain I’ve seen on the big screen since you know who.  We witness a Bond who is physically broken down, a step too slow, and unsure of his role in an increasingly digital world.  In the first act, the audience questions his competence. He’s played pitch perfect by Daniel Craig in these scenes, stoic but clearly falling apart and gripping tenuously to the ethos, “Never let them see you bleed.”

Here’s my problem with Skyfall. The last two acts are incompatible with the first.  We go from Bond breaking down to Bond efficiently back in action. There’s a William Tell sequence that sort of fits with the theme of decline, but for the most part it’s too back in the saddle again. Secondly, I thought the movie should have ended in London, in that chamber where M reads Tennyson (“though much is taken, much abides”) and thusly summarizes the themes of the film: decay, redemption, necessity, vitality, and so on.  I could not get over the Home Alone (to borrow a phrase) aspect of the third act.  When I was young and impressionable, I read somewhere that there are two types of stories: the quest and the siege. Bond abruptly switches from quest to siege without establishing organically the importance of the place. In fact, Albert Finney has to show up just to provide exposition about Bond’s traumatic childhood. I’m not saying you can’t do a quest to siege switcheroo (the new Hobbit franchise should pull it off with the Battle of the Five Armies in the third film), just not in the space of two and a half hours.

Plus, so many Bond films end in some exotic fortress; it would have been nice if he could stay home for once.  There it is folks, an imperfect review of an imperfect movie.

January 1st, 2013 — Happy New Year.

Well this is awkward…we kinda bought into that whole Mayan end of the world thing.

Over the summer we received a firmware upgrade to our in house RED Scarlet-X, opening the door to all sorts of higher & lower frame rates (most notably 120 frames per second). So we decided why not go out with a bang! We began assembling a record of civilization in high def slow motion to assist the aliens that discover Earth in the future in their anthropological attempt to piece together what this place was all about.

But since that didn’t happen the footage makes for a fun New Year treat showing off the variable frame rates on the “video camera of the year” by Photo District News.

With all this in mind we’ve decided our New Year’s resolution is: “We solemnly swear to use Slow-Motion responsibly and not to induce Michael Bay-eque nausea”:

December 19th, 2012 — Christmas Time is Here…

We at San Austin attempted to engineer by meticulous design and discussion what only occurs naturally: an awkward family Christmas photo to send to our beloved clients, friends and family. The process was a welcome step back in terms of rigor from our normal production schedule. A bit of a commentary on the finished product: Christian was really hamming it up, trying his best to perfect what a kid who is high on sugar and possibly methamphetamines looks like on Christmas morning. Amanda most closely resembles her character in real life: a cheerful personality who knows how to accessorize the hell out of anything. Sean is asleep, whereas he is usually only sleep deprived as our editor extraordinaire. Avee looks underwhelmed, like any good producer.

In all, we took eighteen photographs. Although we could only choose one to send out, we believe they are all winners and worthy of your attention. People (mostly our parents) often ask, “What do you do all day at a scrappy start up?”  Well, see for yourself…

October 31st, 2012 — Hell-o Hall-o-ween! 3 Days of The Best Scare-Tastic Movies!

DAY 3 — 80’s-tastic Monster Bash:
Monster Squad – This is your movie if you love the escapades of The Goonies and would jump at the chance to see a group of kid-warriors faced-off against the classic Universal Studios Movie Monsters: Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. With the help of the tough kid in school, who smokes and shoots a bow and arrow, a German Holocaust survivor, and Frankenstein’s Monster the kids battle the forces of evil in order to open the time warp and zap the monsters back to their time. Great for both kids and adults, this one was written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and the upcoming Iron Man 3). Find out why the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin shows it every October!

Pumpkinhead – Teenagers need to be told that when you go on a road trip to a mysterious locale it never ends well — especially if you accidentally take a man’s only son from him. Any man would go to extraordinary lengths to bring his son back to life, but Lance “BISHOP” Henriksen seeks out a gnarly [literally] cajun witch who promises mortal retribution as well. It spawned many sequels, but be sure to check out the mayhem that ensues when Stan Winston, Legend of makeup and practical effects, gets his own directorial debut.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space – Speaking of makeup and effects.

Is there anyone that actually finds clowns funny and not the most creepy thing on the planet? Ok. Now what if they came from outer space to suck our brains out with crazy straws? The Chiodo Brothers, effects and makeup guys from Tim Burton’s early works, spin this cotton candy sugar rushed Magnum Opus. The characters and acting are so bad they’re good, but with a protagonist named Mike Tobacco, I don’t think they were pushing for any Oscar-nods. It is a cult classic and it delivers the promise of its title alone [and then some].

Evil Dead & Evil Dead 2 – Sam Raimi…there’s no one like him. He has said that his goal as a filmmaker when he began was to combine the gore of George “Night of the Living Dead”/”Dawn of the Dead” A. Romero with the Three Stooge’s slapstick humor. The outcome? Earnestly zany horror from the pages of the Book of the Dead. Once one has explored the tone and commonalities of Raimi’s career suddenly Spider-Man 3 makes more since — not saying it is as good as the first two, but just saying suddenly everything seems slightly less misunderstood.

Clue – Movies made from boardgames are probably the most tragic facts to face when it comes to the movie industry. Are they really that much out of ideas? And Clue is the exception. The filmmakers, writers, and actors seem to have fully embraced the material. This movie is the sort of laugh out loud fun that one hopes to have at a murder mystery themed party, but never really does. But then again who has someone as hilarious as Christopher Lloyd and Madeline Kahn at their party? If you’re not down for demons, gore, or monsters this one matches the tone, costumes, and plot twists of a mystery with crisp delightful humor. When released alternate reels were sent to the movie theaters with different endings so one could see it more than once and have a surprising experience — it is a mystery why we don’t still do things like that today!

NOTABLE QUOTABLES – These flicks didn’t meet the criteria for the blogposts this week. But they had to be mentioned — if you haven’t seen these they come HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

Army of Darkness & Drag Me to HellIf you took our word for exploring the horror of Sam Raimi and you can’t get enough check out these two.

Shaun of the DeadTruly inspired parody seemed dead before Edgar Wright and his dynamic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost brought it back from the dead. Almost every trope, cliche, and signpost to Zombie filmmaking is in here — one great ride.

ZombielandMore than likely wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Shaun of the Dead, but that may be a little too theoretical to say definitively. With great comedic chemistry, heartwarming at moments, and one awesome celeb guest, it manages to overcome the squeamish reservations that some audience members could have toward Zombie flesh-eating.

For Kids: MONSTER HOUSE! I can’t shout out enough praise for this movie. It is classically adventurous in true Spielberg-style, whitty, and wonderfully animated. It will remind any boy or girl who grew up spinning the mythology of the haunted house across the street of simpler times when hauntings were real and they could be overcome with Mountain Dew and water guns.  

                                                               
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Hope everyone found some movies that they will enjoy for many Oct 31sts to come.

October 30th, 2012 — Hell-o Hall-o-ween! 3 Days of The Best Scare-Tastic Movies!

DAY 2 — Under the Radar:
This second batch I would equate with the creepy scarecrow we all remember sitting on our neighbor’s porch. You confidently dust off the shoulders to your [Batman/Catwoman] costume and strut to the front door. You think you know what is in store for you but – ARRGHH! You are pleasantly surprised [when the scarecrow is actually a 35 year old dad who enjoys scaring the restroom out of small children]:

Already seen the Classics? Check out these awesome flicks that you may not know about:

Deep RedThe Italians know how to make pulpy, noir infused, goopy, bright red-blood horror [in fact they have their own genre called giallo] and director Dario Argento is one the masters. He’s mentioned in the same breath as Lucio Fulci & Mario Bava. Who is truly the master is debated amongst horror fans. Deep Red will provides all the thrills, chills, and freudian contexts as a Hitchcock classic plus a 70s glitz, glamour, and soundtrack. This one will stay with you!

SuspiriaAmazing expressionistic red, blue, purple, and yellow lighting? Check. Equally bombastic score by a band called Goblin? Check. Conspiracy Theory that your foreign exchange school is being run by a coven of witches? Double check. If you’re not ready to watch this movie right now I don’t know how to convince you.

Peeping TomCame out the same year as Psycho and is equally perturbing — if not more so due to the unspoken psychology that is expressed visually and without Hollywood style exposition. It would seem as though it was panned by most audiences in America because of its Hitchcockian similarities in 1960, but audiences have since then become increasingly more apt to watch similar films in the same year [ala Armageddon/Deep Impact; Ants/Bugs Life; The Illusionist/The Prestige; etc.]. Director Michael Powell has had a huge influence on the art of filmmaking, including on Mr. Martin Scorsese and this film does an excellent job of exploring the voyeuristic demons of the filmmaking craft itself.

Ed WoodPeeping Tom is a nice segue into this flick – both are equally grounded narratively in the world of filmmaking. Have you already seen Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, & Nightmare Before Christmas a bagillion times and you’re looking for your next Tim Burton fix? Check out Johnny Depp as Ed Wood, a real life schlock[y] director of campy Sci-Fi/Horror movies. Great fun & sweet homage to a man that was pushed under the rug — was that because he was actually a hack and master of exploitation? That’s up to you to decide.

The Devil’s BackboneAnything by Guillermo del Torro at this point in his career is fitting for a Halloween night. But this one doesn’t get nearly enough love. Equally a humanistic drama, this grotesque tale of terror will surprise you at every turn. No one is as they seem, everyone has a dark secret, and the real monster is not the bleeding ghost that haunts the young boys at this Spanish private school…

Trick ‘r TreatAre you a fan of anthology horror? Do you miss the days of Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchock Presents, Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt [and all other iterations leaching off such success]? Trick ‘r Treat is Michael Dougherty’s (writer of X2 and Superman Returns) homage, love song, and mashup of such material. It is fun, orange tinted, and never got its due theatrically. Every tale manages to surprise, pay tribute, and bend its genre into something new. If you’ve got a short attention span this one’s for you – each tale is maybe fifteen minutes long – but you’ll wanna see the whole thing!

Tomorrow is HALLOWEEN — come knock on our our door for the final batch of Tricks and Treats! 

October 29th, 2012 — Hell-o Hall-o-ween! 3 Days of The Best Scare-Tastic Movies!

Day 1 — Go-to Halloween Movies:
I would say these movies are the equivalent of the ghost costume made from a sheet with two holes cut out for eyes: they are reliable, effective, and you’ve probably seen one or two:

The Classics

Psycho – 1960’s Hitchcock Classic. This one is bound to get some play this year with Anthony Hopkins recreating the infamous director in the new Hitchcock, biopic surrounding the making of Psycho. Due to the fact the shower scene is so heavily ingrained into our culture, it’s quite amazing how many people feel like they’ve seen this movie without ever watching it. It has survived the test of time quite well, mostly due to Hitch’s direction and Anthony Perkins’ incredibly modern performance as Norman Bates. If you haven’t seen this film, prepare yourself for watching cinema history — this one single handedly has been crowned the father of the “Slasher” Genre.
P.S. Only mess with the Gus Van Sant remake if you want to literally see a modern shot-for-shot remake with nothing new except a 90’s walkman. It feels more like an experiment than a movie.

The Exorcist – Probably the most popular flick to spin on the 31st. Certain elements may seem tame by today’s slashing, gashing, torture-tastic Saw/Hostel horror scope. However, the steady buildup of character development and tension created by Ellen Burstyn’s performance as the mother character pulls one in close to the screen only to have it demonically spat up on…I believe they used pea soup for that btw. Director William Friedkin supposedly implemented some equally horrifying scare tactics on his set in order to get reactions from his actors such as firing off guns, slapping people, and freezing the set down to 40 below. Tons of horror stories about scary stuff going on set of horror movies float around, but rarely can one deny that this film is earnestly disturbing.

The Omen– Speaking of character driven mounting tension, this one hands down will make you rethink having children. You think you’ve met the devil incarnate? Gregory Peck and Lee Remick literally give birth to him. Haven’t seen the most recent remake, but didn’t feel necessary since this one is CLASSIC. If for some odd reason you’re not digging this movie — wait for the final seconds before the credits roll — one bold and frightening final statement on the filmmakers/writer’s part

Benchmark Baddies: The following have spawned series, spinoffs, mashups, and re-makes. Rarely do said re-hashes measure up to the originals. Although, the franchises do provide fun mythology building on occasion [most notably Nightmare on Elm Street]. But if you haven’t seen where these Halloween icons come from – you should. They are a ton of fun and none of them seem to be killable: Halloween; Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th; and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.                      

                                          

Comedy: If you’re looking for something a little more light hearted this Halloween, you can’t go wrong with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s dry-whit classic: Young Frankenstein.  It’s fun, quotable, respectful of its source material, and now a musical:

For kidsSpielberg and company provided a lot of kid friendly scares back in the day, but these two are probably the best. Adventurous, touching, equally as well made as pictures for “adults” and probably defined a generation: E.T. and The Goonies.

                                                                             
Tune in tomorrow for some under-appreciated Horror faves!

October 19th, 2012 – Mastering the Loop of Argo

Part Three: Argo – Ben Affleck continues his journey stealing jobs from directors, who didn’t start as actors.

This film, based on real events, for the most part embraces the realities of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. It is mostly evident in the use of real news footage and a strong implementation of impeccable casting and makeup choices for the actors playing the hostages. The recreation of their journey in Iran feels authentic. Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) historically convinced the CIA to allow him to pretend to be a producer for a Science Fiction film in order to sneak the hostages out of Iran. Because of this, the film is injected with enough Sci-Fi and Film Geektastic details to drool over.

The Argo-nauts.

Film buffs are bound to be tugged in by the opening minutes‘ use of the vintage late 70’s Warner opening credit screen and the following historical montage explained with the use of animated storyboards. The Geekgasm continues in the form of John Goodman’s character: John Chambers, Academy Award Winning makeup artist for Planet of the Apes and Star Trek the Original Series.As if experiencing what planning a CIA op from the cover of a trailer filled with retro monster masks and robotic prosthetics wasn’t fun enough, enters Alan Arkin. As his character’s name (Lester Siegel) would suggest Alan Arkin serves as an amalgam of the 70’s film producer. The filmmakers apparently didn’t have the licensing to say who really was involved in putting together the fake Argo production in 1979. So it is fun to watch Arkin throw his character’s weight around Hollywood and flaunt his career as a nod to the audience, making one wonder who the real producer might have been. On top of this, all true-believers will grin widely at a cameo from Michael Parks as classic Marvel Illustrator Jack Kirby.

The cast’s cracks are filled with extremely strong actors who collectively have been in anything else you’ve seen this year: Bryan Cranston and Zeljko Ivanek as the operations CIA directors, Kyle Chandler as Carter’s Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan, and Chris Messina as Cranston’s right hand man.

The end result is a journey of whispers in the dark leading to the inevitable harrowing escape. Science Fiction is presented literally as an escape from life’s realities and the hostage situation is presented with grim prospects. But the film’s best moments are not the interactions between the hostages hiding in the Canadian Embassy. When this film really shines is in the more humorous moments when poking fun at the film industry circa ‘79 and watching Goodman, Arkin, and Affleck put on the farcical film production in Hollywood in order to ground the cover story for the rescue in Iran. The narrow escapes and planning stages in Iran can be stirring, but for the most part the actual mission feels unintentionally uninspired and mostly by Affleck himself. For such a well put together film (all due directorial credit to Affleck), the reality of this true story would be so much more effective with someone else playing Tony Mendez. Without even getting into the fact that Affleck isn’t Hispanic, this is what Tony Mendez really looked like:

Tony Mendez and President Carter.

This film could have had an amazing weight to it, if anchored by an actor that looked and felt like an everyday man doing something extraordinary. As the credits flaunt with side by side comparisons of the real people and actors, everyone else in this film is aptly cast and delivers believable performances. However, most of the time I couldn’t help wondering what Ben Affleck was doing in this movie — which if the story on screen is executed properly should be the last thing on our minds.

October 18th, 2012 – Mastering the Loop of Argo

Part Two: Looper – Rian Johnson’s time traveling brain-boiler & high octane action bender. 

Rian Johnson is a name you may not know. However, his feature film debut, Brick, might have found its way through your Netflix queue – if the algorithms have picked up on your tendency to check out Indy Thrillers. Now he has re-teamed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who apparently is now making it a competition unto himself to see how many quality movies he can be in in a year) to bring to us a film about what happens when time travel becomes illegal in the future and therefore the only organization using it is the mob.

In a future where Joe shoots blind-folded victims sent to him from the mob even further in the future, the only one rule is don’t miss your target. Everything goes askew when Joe’s future self breaks this curve and attempts to prevent his own death when zapped to the past for “ending his loop.”

Ending One’s Loop.

Any moviegoer worried about the believability of the makeup designed to make Jo-Go-Levitt look like Bruce Willis (playing the older version of Joe), need not be — Levitt’s performance more than rounds out the character’s believability. In fact, the exchanges between them are quite fun. The world created by Johnson in the first hour is extensively thought out and delivered. It is familiar enough to resonate and intriguingly different enough to create the want for more. Thus, when the flow of the narrative is thrown upside down by the time traveling twists and turns the audience is left scrambling to make heads or tails along with Joe (Levitt).

Bruce Willis gives a reliable performance in the sort of role that he’s played for decades, Paul Dano lights the screen up in a secondary role and glues the film’s beginnings in reality, and Jeff Daniels presents a fun performance as the haggard head mobster antagonist, blind to his own villainy.

Without spoiling anything, a curve ball is thrown in the film’s plot halfway through in the form of a character referred to as The Rainmaker that feels like an homage to  Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life” [and all its equally classic Twilight Zone iterations]. This plot line dominates the second half of the film and is mashed with a little Terminatorlogic: if Bruce Willis can kill the Rainmaker who is destined to wreak havoc on the world, he believes all is not lost. It is this darker nuance to Willis’s Old Joe that makes him not so John McClane-esque.

Much action and time traveling twists ensue that are bound to raise one’s blood pressure. However, what makes this film worth more than the box of popcorn devoured during its viewing is the way the filmmakers treat their audience with respect. Although it suffers from the paradoxical nature inherent in the science of time travel, it doesn’t take such matters for granted or talk down to us. Much of the logic of the film is explained visually and allows us to come to our own understanding without any Doc Brown chalkboard moments. The film uses time travel to raise several tough questions regarding the lengths to which someone might go to secure a healthy future. With the arrival of the last explosive moments, all loose ends are wrapped up nicely with a ray of hope in a world that feels doomed by its unescapable future and strangely malleable present. This being Rian Johnson’s most expensive and lucrative outing yet, hopefully this means his fever dreams will be given a more high quality paint brush for now on – he’s proven he’ll paint a picture more interesting than the average Hollywood work-horse.

Part Three landing on this moon tomorrow! 

October 17th, 2012 – Mastering the Loop of Argo

There are 3 films in theaters right now that are quite Sciencey with their Fiction. Over the next 3 days we shall discuss all 3 movies. They are a triad of entertainment not to be missed made by master storytellers – hope you enjoy!

Part One: The Master – A Nod, Nod Wink Wink and Tip of the hat/wag of the finger in Mr. L. Ron Hubbard’s direction.  

Paul Thomas Anderson consistently makes the type of films of which most filmmakers are envious. His control over telling a story is apparent within a single frame from his given body of work. It is said that it was Hitchcock’s intention for his own films to be capable of communicating to the audience even if the sound went out. Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker whose films (and I use the word film intentionally, because if you’re lucky enough to catch this one on the 70mm format you’re in for a visual treat) could tell a story without the sound.

Keep your friends close…

The Mastercreates a visual venn diagram between Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell  and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd. It is riveting to watch two actors of such caliber throw themselves into these characters. They live and breath in a way that they can’t not be real. Phoenix’s brooding, drunken, mumbling stuporous veteran provide’s an emotional rawness that makes it impossible to look away from the glorious train wreck that is the man’s life. When it would seem as though he can sink no lower he literally jumps on board a ship with Hoffman. It is here that the dance between these two characters [and actors] begins. Hoffman’s charm and confidence as Dodd exudes enough gusto that one can see why people follow him, and the performance is honest enough that he never feels villainous or deceitful. We are never given a reason to believe that Dodd doesn’t 100% believe what he says he believes. It is this earnestness that pulls us in along with Quell [Phoenix] as he journeys further into the world of Dodd’s The Cause.

The Laws of Physics could not have projected the outcome of the relationship between the two immovable objects that are these two men. By the end of their journey together, one is left wondering who is causing more detriment to themselves and those around them. Is it the alcoholic with a paint thinner cocktail in his flask, whom society has forgotten and appears to believe in nothing? Or the “writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, theoretical philosopher” who is surrounded by followers, but constantly struggles with his own perceived martyrdom?

And your enemies closer.

The film is beautifully shot, edited, written and performed. It is bleak and realistically raw in the same vein as Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film There Will Be Blood. In fact, the only thing seemingly possible of stunting this film’s effect is its similarities to There Will Be Blood. Both films are period pieces about driven men that [in Daniel Plainview’s own words:] “have a competition in” them. Daniel Plainview and Lancaster Dodd find their foils in Freddie Quell and Eli Sunday [Joaquin and Paul Dano respectively] leading to an inner struggle based on their own misunderstandings and challenges presented by the opposite’s existence. The films are equally calculated and boiling under their surface, but inevitably The Master feels less fresh only due to the fact a comparison can be drawn. If this sort of filmmaking becomes a Paul Thomas Anderson trend, perhaps we’ll have a thematic trilogy on our hands about the inner machinations of 20th century America. He’s already covered oil & cult, whatever is next we guarantee our butts are in the seats.

Tune back in tomorrow for Part Two! 

October 2nd, 2012 – High-Points of Low-Light with the RED Scarlet-X

Hey Hey! [to quote Krusty the Klown]

Every day spent working with RED Digital Cinema’s Scarlet-X is a day well spent here at San Austin. We can’t thank the company enough for giving the independent film-world such an amazing chipset and their constant care in supporting the film community through their cameras’ adaptability and modular-ness [if that’s a word]. We have a blast working with ours, admiringly named RED “Wizard.” Yes, all you gamers, that is a Gauntlet reference [circa 1987]. “Red Wizard in need of food badly.” Anyone? Okay, our bad for g[l]eeking out.

More than likely every photographer or videomaker brother in arms roaming the battlefield out there with a DSLR, prosumer or digital cinema camera slung over their shoulder, is  looking for the camera with the latitude, dynamic range, and contrast ratio for their own purposes and aesthetic. We’ve been incredibly impressed with “Wizard”’s handling of lowlight and would like to take a moment to share some 4k stills that illustrates just that from our recent shoots [ click pics to see in stellar 4k! ]:

Dont Look Into the Light

Half Deserted Streets

Chop-Chop

Break!

To The Moon

 

August 23rd, 2012 – Summer 2012 at the Movies

…so production gets busy during the summer, but that didn’t keep us from being at a movie almost every Friday. In order to slap some catchup on this summer’s burger, for the next few days we will be dishing out San Austin Productions’ impressions:

DAY FOUR
The Amazing Spider-Man
Vicky: I’ll take Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker over Tobey MaGuire any day – he played a cooler Peter Parker. The Amazing Spider-Man was better than Spider-Man (2002) mostly because of the awesome chemistry between the two leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy). I thought the special effects were typical of a summer “blockbuster.” The movie focused a lot on special effects and it was more action packed than the 2002 version. I love Andrew Garfield, I plan on marrying him…he just doesn’t know it yet. This Spider-Man explained how Peter’s parents died, tied up more loose ends than the first one, and the bad guy was a lizard. He looked really fake. It felt like the same idea as the Green Goblin – he injected himself. Since it was shot on 4k the visual effects were much more fake looking. The scene where Uncle Ben dies isn’t as sad as the first one, but the ending was heartbreaking when Andrew Garfield breaks it off with Emma Stone. Definitely open-ended. Apparently there is a new villain out to get Spider-Man. This Spider-Man was the same content-wise, but the way they went about it was different. More suiting for our current technology…I plan to propose to Andrew through Twitter.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Amanda: Man this is a tough one for me. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with this movie. Without a doubt, the actors are incredible and the director does a great job developing the characters, resulting in not forcing the audience to focus on the fantasy aspect of the movie. He [Director Benh Zeitlin] was able to create a grounded fantasy that gave more insight into Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis). Also, I loved the ending – it was perfect. Now onto the hate side of our relationship. I wasn’t a fan of all the child abuse. I know it happens everyday, but I’m just not a fan of seeing it ever, especially to make a point in a film. I’m still wrestling with that aspect and I think I’ll be unraveling this movie for some time!

 

Hushpuppy and the Auroch.

Christian: One of my favorite films this year – maybe ever. Absolutely brilliant. It is a limited release, but this is one that people should seek out. Extremely well edited – I was tugged in from the opening montage and couldn’t look away for a second. What kept me watching was the emotionality. I’ve never seen two performances as riveting and real as that of the main two actors, Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry – both of whom have never acted before. The bleak real world that Hushpuppy and Wink live in juxtaposed by the fantastical and metaphorical imagery of the aurochs makes for quite an inspirational ride. I never for a second doubted the sweaty, drunken, and grimy yet nuanced and beautiful world created by this film. It is rare to see a film that is capable of opening its lens to the reality of the world while simultaneously crafting imagery surreal and emotionally charged.

Brave
Vicky: RED BOX FILM. The protagonist had nice hair, but otherwise a typical princess story. The girl rebels because she doesn’t want to be a princess. Most Pixar movies have more interesting protagonists. I usually love Pixar films, but this one was just “eh.” Worth 99 cents.

Amanda: LOVE IT! If you have seen this movie – you may have just rolled your eyes. I know it wasn’t the perfect Disney-Pixar movie, but hear me out! The beginning was fairly slow and the Mother should have transformed a lot quicker. Also, I feel as though the magic component of this story should have been developed more and not just used as a crutch to get the end result they wanted…Aside from that they developed this princess brilliantly and differently from most other Disney princesses! Brave doesn’t end with a picture perfect wedding and a prince coming to rescue her. Can I at least get a Hip Hip Hooray for that!? I love how they instead focus on the mother-daughter relationship and the “bravery” of this spunky red head! As cheesy as this may be – it reminds us to be ourselves when other people try to force us to be something or someone else.

Ted
Sean: Basically same movie as I Love You, Man, all the way down to the 1980’s superhero cameo, though with more laughs. An hour-and-a-half long Family Guy episode without the familiar characters (though they do find a way to get most of the actors from the show in this movie). The story isn’t anything special, but is occasionally made up for it with the jokes. Overall, I’d give it a C.

The Campaign
Christian: All you comedy fans out there who have been waiting for a Zach Galifianakis vs. Will Ferrell movie – here it is. Yes, as all the promos promise you get to watch Will Ferrell punch a baby. And no, the filmmakers do not cut away from that shot – they actually show Will Ferrell punching a baby in the face (through CGI effects of course). However, if that is the scene that tugs you into this one there is much more comedy in store for you. The film is aptly timed with election season and for the most part feels like an ‘R’-Rated version of a Daily Show/Colbert Report sketch. Once one realizes we are going to live in a Ron Burgundy-esque world of politics and see how far these two actors can push their parody of today’s climate the brashness ramps up with every joke. Zach Galifianakis appears to be playing a different shade of his Between Two Ferns “Seth” Galifianakis cousin character and Will Ferrell is creating a re-mix of his version of George W. Bush. The race for the election becomes a battle of comedy between the two protagonists, spurred by a taciturn performance by Brian Cox as Galifianakis’ father, John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd toy with an homage to Trading Places’s Duke Brothers; and Dylan McDermott gives a hilariously dry supporting performance as the campaign manager to Galifianakis. The satirical crassness is pushed well beyond the point of no return, but perhaps that is what has to be done in order to say something about modern politics.

August 22nd, 2012 – Summer 2012 at the Movies

DAY THREE
The Dark Knight Rises
Christian: Not sure if I can currently talk about this eloquently…it may be awhile before me and The Dark Knight Rises get over the heartbreak and can truly discuss our relationship maturely. I did not hate this film. But that might have been an easier task. I wanted to like it, but perhaps that is why it hurts so much. This film (unlike the “trilogy”‘s predecessors) felt like a mixed bag. I enjoyed Catwoman thoroughly. Going in I wasn’t sure how she would fit within Christopher Nolan’s Neo-Realistic Batman. However, I couldn’t take my eyes off a character that used every tool available to her (including her femininity) to survive. I could have watched her internal conflict all day. The brutal beating of Batman by Bane: when the soundtrack falls out from underneath it all, I felt the punches. And I have to say, Mr. Nolan pulled one major real world application of a Prestige-style deception by planting years ago during an interview that he would never use ‘Robin’ in a film. At the end of this film he does exactly what he said he wouldn’t. Tip of the hat, sir. HOWEVER, for every detail that felt right there were plenty that felt half-baked — most of the time within the same scene. This time around the story explores exactly the type of unrealistic subject material the previous two films avoided altogether: a nuclear bomb plot and virtually the entire police force has been trapped underground; Bruce’s broken back is fixed by being punched in a prison; Batman doesn’t consider aiming a packed punch at Bane’s Vader-inhaler on his face until the final showdown; and in the final moment just when it felt as though Bruce would achieve what he set out to do — sacrifice himself for Gotham, he survives a nuclear blast at point blank range. Did Nolan miss everyone’s new use of the term “Nuke the Fridge”? With this being one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer (and maybe ever) why wasn’t the script that we saw on the screen considered the rough draft? How did the “Night Court” with the Scarecrow and “let’s chase Batman down again on his mancylce with no hope of catching him”-scenes make the final cut? Again, like I said, I want to like this movie so much, but everything felt as though the writers and filmmakers were trying so hard to raise the bar that they forgot what worked so well in the first two.

If Jumping the Shark isn’t enough — Nuke the Fridge!

Amanda: Meh! Don’t get me wrong, this movie was good at moments and terrible at moments. Just a little too much happening the whole time and not all of it was entertaining. The epic moments were developed (Batman VS. Bane) but not consistent. So I walked away feeling a little let down, because The Dark Knight pushed all the right buttons and pulled our strings all at the right moments and I expected the same. I thought Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were incredible, and I wish I had seen much more of them and less of Bane just walking around. For the most part, a decent end to the trilogy, but should have been made into at least 2 more movies.

Vicky: I loved The Dark Knight Rises, but not as much as The Dark Knight. Nothing can top Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. I couldn’t understand Bane and I didn’t like the bass to his voice. It was cool to see Anne Hathaway play a strong role, but I will always view her as Mia from The Princess Diaries. Hathaway was a major badass in this film. I wasn’t expecting her to act as well as she did. Allowing Batman and Catwoman time for a kiss before they saved the world was a very “Nolan” thing to do. I enjoyed how the film was closed ended, but the introduction of Robin still allowed room for a sequel. I felt like most of the questions throughout the trilogy were answered and the conflicts were resolved. Another Batman remake wouldn’t be able to one up Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. It was funny how quickly Batman was able to escape from the prison and get back to Gotham to save the city.

Taylor: I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises. It maintained my attention and I found the special effects pleasing – which is a little uncharacteristic of me. Bane’s voice drove me completely crazy though. It was WAY too loud compared to the rest of the sound design. He had a mask on… not a microphone. His voice was louder than the crashing plane in the opening scene! I was also bothered by the false information that was given. During the scene where Bane is fighting Batman in the underground sewer, Bane says, “Oh, you think darkness is your ally. You merely adopted the dark; I was born in it.” BUT later we find out that Bane wasn’t really the one who had escaped from the prison like we were led to believe. This wasn’t a plot twist, the writers just lied to us. I was pleasantly surprised by Anne Hathaway’s performance as Catwoman. It was interesting to see her perform such a conflicted character. She teetered on the edge of good and evil, but she eventually helped Batman save the day (just like we knew she would). Sure, The Dark Knight Rises is your typical blockbuster superhero movie, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Scott: The Dark Knight Rises was the one movie I was anticipating for summer of 2012. After walking out of the theatre three hours later, I was entertained but not completely satisfied. Although I feel that this film concluded the trilogy pretty well, there were several moments that felt unnecessary and over-the-top. This was the only film from Nolan that had major plot holes, such as sending 99% of Gotham’s police force into the tunnels. Not to mention the whole internal struggle Bruce Wayne went through in the first 45 minutes of the film. I enjoyed the movie greatly but I had to look past a few loopholes. As a Batman film, I am only sad that this was the conclusion from Nolan and his cast.

August 21st, 2012 – Summer 2012 at the Movies

DAY TWO
The Dictator
Christian: What can I say? I’m a sucker for Sacha Baron Cohen’s audaciously raucous humor. While this was definitely the weakest of the films he has been involved in, it did achieve something that almost every other movie this summer lacked: the courage to say something bold. As always Cohen does not hold back any of his punches. In fact, biting jokes about 9/11, the current economy, and Bin Laden are delivered so willingly that most of the time the audience seemed unsure whether they were ready to laugh about such things. Overall, a good time if shock humor is your bag.

The Dictator mourns over Kim Jong-il.

Moonrise Kingdom
Taylor: I love Wes Anderson. His style is entertaining and unique – to say the least. I knew I would enjoy this film just from watching the trailer. My only complaints: some of the scenes were a little too close to child pornography + I could have gone without the underdeveloped love affair between Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand). Overall, this film is very aesthetically pleasing and the storyline is adorable. I would recommend Moonrise Kingdom to anyone and I plan on owning the DVD in the near future.

Moonrise Kingdom Cast.

Christian: It feels rare that when a filmmaker dubbed an auteur makes a film slightly more “mainstream” than their previous work that it is accepted by both audiences and critics alike. However, it seems as though this achieved such a status and was just what I’ve been wanting to see from Wes Anderson. He has always made fresh work when it comes to the zeitgeist, but this film feels fresh to his own territory. This go-around Anderson’s distinct style and aesthetic choices feel more justified than ever before by a story as playful and colorful as his child protagonists living in the 1960s. The acting of the main two actors may feel flat (and intentionally so) at times. But by the end, it is a visually rich journey presented in classically Wes Anderson dry non-sequitur that feels like the movie he was destined to make.

Amanda: Love it! An orphan gains a family and an old lonely man gains a son. What more could you want? Plus, young (but perhaps) inappropriate love unveils before our eyes. Granted I did ask immediately how old the young actors are in the film and I gasped when I heard. However, most human beings start to take quite a curiosity of sex right around this time. And we do get more of an explanation that little Sam has never had a male influence to teach him how to be kind with a lady. I thought this film was wonderfully made with a ton of vibrant colors and full of emotions we can all relate to. If there’s one thing I’d change — it would be to see more of the record-loving little brother who was bursting with some swag!

August 20th, 2012 – Summer 2012 at the Movies

DAY ONE
Snow White and the Huntsman
Taylor: I walked into Snow White and The Huntsman expecting to sit through the only facial expression Kristen Stewart is capable of making for two and a half hours, but luckily I walked out of the Alamo Drafthouse with a full stomach and some interesting perspective: Snow White and The Huntsman expressed a painfully conflicted view on feminism. Ravenna (Charlize Theron) represented a strong, yet extremely evil, woman who believed that men intentionally suppressed and possessed beautiful women. Her main motive throughout the film was to remain youthful, beautiful, and authoritative. She tried to achieve her goals at all costs. No man stood in her way. On the other hand, we have Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who is the “heroine” of the film. I wish I could say that Snow White was as badass as the writers intended for her to be, but unfortunately she depended greatly on The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), the Dwarves, and William (Sam Claflin) to stop Ravenna and restore peace to the kingdom. A vast majority of the time Snow White was more a damsel in distress than a heroine. I would have enjoyed this film more if Snow White could have defeated Ravenna without the help of anyone else.

Christian: I agree with Taylor. The message on beauty did feel contrived. It felt as though the writers and filmmakers knew they wanted it to have a message, but didn’t know what that message should be. As a popcorn flick, if you’re interested in seeing what the story of Snow White would be like with a Lord of the Rings aesthetic you’ll get what you pay for out of this. Ravenna’s bouts of anger and beautifully crafted CGI mirror are fun to watch, the Woodsman lights up the screen as the arrogant anti-hero with a heart-felt backstory, and the Dwarves pull off some fun Gimli-style shenanigans, but they all end up stealing the show from Kristen Stewart’s performance and a flatly written lead protagonist.

Watching Snow White and the Huntsman drives Robert Pattinson to eat Ben and Jerry’s.

Prometheus
Taylor: I wasn’t expecting to like Prometheus… and I got what I bargained for. I was really annoyed by the existential crisis that Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) experienced throughout the film, but I LOVED her acting in the alien baby C-section/abortion scene. I was really confused by David’s (Michael Fassbender) character. He was supposed to be an emotionless robot, but he came off as vengeful instead. The line between curious robot and vindictive jerk isn’t that fine. I don’t think it should have been crossed. I probably won’t watch Prometheus again. (Disclaimer: I’m not a huge sci-fi fan).

Sean: Didn’t really understand the motivation of any of the characters, especially David (Michael Fassbender) and Meredith (Charlize Theron). Why did he [David] contaminate Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) with the alien, and why was Meredith on the ship to begin with? Her purpose seems to be to antagonize every other character for no evident reason. Pretty spectacular visual effects, though I forgot it was in 3D fifteen minutes into the movie. Very typical Alien/Matrix ship crew, in which you know exactly who’s going to die, wasn’t at all refreshing. All that aside, the C-section scene is an absolute classic, though I was wondering how it is she recovered so quickly afterward. Good performances by both Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, however I’d have to give it to Idris Elba for most compelling character in the movie. Finally, I could have done without the very last scene with the alien being born. I realize this movie is supposed to be a prequel to Alien, but that scene for me was the only connection, and felt forced and crowd-pleasing. I give it a C+.

Christian: This was visually one of the most beautiful movies I saw this summer. On a 4k projector I felt like a kid in a candy store watching the opening nature shots, the amazingly crisp and sharp planetary arrival shots, and overall the detail on the explorer’s LED lit space suits and flame-throwing tanks. Such visual detail of course made for even more room for the bloodletting later. I thoroughly enjoyed the dichotomy inherent in the relationships between David and the humans as his creator, and the humans and the aliens as potentially being their creator. I loved the blend of both practical and CGI effects – it was movie magic. However, I definitely wanted more character development from our crew. I wanted to believe that they were Earth’s best scientists — not just lambs for the slaughter that make incredibly bad-horror movie decisions (See Cabin in The Woods!). I’m hoping this is somewhere is Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut. As much as I enjoyed the film I couldn’t overlook that the script felt trapped into being respectful of the original Alien film and taking us on a similar but subtly different journey rather than exploring new territory.

 May 31st, 2012 – “For Realz Acting.”

Biopics can be a cry for an Oscar, but it can also be extremely fun and invigorating to watch an actor fully embody a public figure with whom we are all familiar. We still believe the best Biopic was Walk Hard, however these guys may be giving John C. Reilly a run for his money. Without knowing anything else about the projects they’re attached to, we are certainly excited to watch these actors play these icons:

Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix.

Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.

May 11th, 2012 – “Avenged.”

Part Two of a Joss Whedon Double Feature Review!

A good friend and peer of mine noted that the first 7mins before “The Avengers” title screen (usually referred to as a “cold open” in television writing) felt like showing up for a highly anticipated sundae and being forced out the door (ding-ding) of the parlor, and asked to enjoy his treat outside. I couldn’t agree more. The introduction of Loki’s arrival to earth, felt more like an afterthought realization that Nick Fury needed his own action sequence, and Loki needed a more prominent introduction to audience members who skipped out on Thor. However, if you can just sit tight and wait for the pleasantries to unfold (have a couple handfuls of popcorn or Reese’s Pieces), because once we arrive in Russia alongside Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), the rest of the film is both calculated and tight.

In fact, the only other moments in the film that could possibly be mistaken for the standard monologuing between heroes and villains, are immediately redeemed by characters’ clever deception and something greater at stake. It is this underlying complexity that makes this film more than a “let’s get the gang together” ploy to get our butts in seats.

The characters we’ve followed on their own separate journeys continue their solo struggles, whether that be familial drama (Thor), struggle with his humanity and ego (Tony Stark/Iron Man), adapting to being plucked out of the past (Captain America), and fighting the inner rage demon to become a contemplative man of science (Bruce Banner/the Hulk). Collectively they make up what Banner calls not a team, but a “ticking time bomb.” He is exactly right, but what they all fail to see is that when an impenetrable cataclysmic galactic force  bears its weight atop Earth, a time bomb (perfectly timed) is exactly what mortal man needs.

The packed punches are there and the action set pieces (most notably the attack on SHIELD’s flying base and the finale attack on New York) unfold like ballet. The only time “wasted” might be the gathering of the team in the first hour. But it is just too freaking fun to watch the battles most of us comic book kids were only able to stipulate in theory would look like — until now. It’s taken decades, but we now can watch a Thor vs. Iron Man battle, sprinkled with Captain America intervention (God vs. Technology with America stepping in — how perfect); Thor vs. the Hulk with the best upper cut use of a hammer I’ve ever seene (far better use of the hammer than used in Thor’s solo movie); and ultimately a long take scene of Whedon’s Avengers coming together as a team.

Nonetheless, it is not the action that is done best by Whedon (although it is Geek-Tastic). What sells the whole film is the family dynamic between these privately angsty individuals and collectively conflicted team. They assemble because they need each other despite how much time is spent convincing one another that they don’t. They all bring their baggage and scars to the sleek black SHIELD table, where they can work out their psychological disorders through wrestling each other, while arguing in delicious Whedonistic dialogue. It is the most fun you’ll have at the cinema in a long time. And if you don’t agree just make sure to stay for the last 15 seconds of the film after all the credits have rolled. Best coda tag on the end of a film I think I’ve ever seen — its “less is more” delivery is priceless.

by Christian Rousseau

Also, what if they all posed like Black Widow?

May 10th, 2012 – “Don’t Go Into the Cabin in the Woods…But definitely see it.”

As I watch this film for the first time the audience stirs nervously the first couple minutes as actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford deliver the banal details to their mysterious job with dry whit. These two appear to be an amalgamation of religious nuts, NSA agents, and the Truman Show’s Christof (played by Ed Harris).

Whedon (writer) and Drew Goddard (director) start their long-anticipated love/hate letter to genre fans and audiences alike, by taking two steps back from what we expect in the opening scene of a horror movie. The audience leans forward asking themselves if they have strayed into the wrong movie. But just as such questions are being raised in the theater, the dialogue answers with hints of an underlying current of something askew and raise more thematic worries: what is it these two guys are doing? Why are they talking about projects going on across the globe? Is it governmentally sanctioned? Is it cultish? Before such questions can be answered the “Cabin in the Woods” title credits pounce upon the screen like the Zombie Youtube scare tactic.

From there we start from scratch, with the opening scene to the movie we thought we’d signed up for: five college students half-heartedly fulfilling horror movie archetypes as they collect their things for a weekend in a cabin in the woods. Anyone that could possibly doubt the sharpness of the tools being implemented in this film need go no further than this setup scene. By the end you will find none of the characters meet the criteria of the archetypes pinned on them by the “ritual” and “Director”: Dana (“the Virgin”) is introduced standing in an open window with no pants discussing that she is having an affair with a professor with Jules (“the Whore”), who decided on a whim to bleach her hair blonde (and seals her fate, as it is noted it is seeping into her follicles). Curt (“the Athlete”) enters into the conversation holding his own about a sociology book, while Holden the real athlete is later deemed an “egghead” as a pair of glasses mysteriously find their way on his face and he suddenly knows Latin; and Marty (“the Fool”) is the most intelligent of them all, stripping down the context of the film around him with every line and being hyperaware that they are being watched the whole time. Every typical response to the ensuing horror from our characters is designed to throw our expectations in our face and say, “you asked for it, you get it.” And that is one of the greatest strengths of this films: it is a deep fried Snickers bar covered in ice cream, dipped in chocolate-covered nuts, fried again, served on a flat bed truck sized cookie cake — end result: you know you want it, but you will die a little bit with every bite. And all the while the cook devilishly smiles.

Yet as the characters transform into the stock players of yet another cinematic journey into the woods, where all us wiser beings stare at the screen yelling, “Don’t go into the woods! For the love of God, lady, don’t go in the basement!” a force stronger than us is manipulating the situation. The closer the college students get to the cabin, the less control they seem to have over the situation. From their hidden fortress of technological mind control, Jenkins and Whitford are two steps ahead leading them into their own deathtrap. And on top of the implementation of spies, hidden cameras, and mood altering inhalant drugs — they’re betting on the outcome. The irreverently-humorous (and most telling)  moment in the film is when Jenkins points out to a fellow coworker the lack of difference between the horror trope of Redneck torture zombies (itself feeling like a reference to The Hills Have Eyes) and any other on a whiteboard list of the many forces that could have been the crux of the grads deaths in the woods.

The homages to horror films are a plenty: the design of the cabin and black blood screams Evil Dead;  the trinkets in the basement where the gang select the tool of their fate are clearly haunted items (a cube resembling that of Hellraiser) and yet our characters are mysteriously drawn to them (comically I might add); during a quick check on “the ritual” in Japan the footage resembles the Ringu and Ju-On films (we laugh because it implies that these are the only tools that can be used to attack Japanese children); and then…Pandora’s box of horror movie tricks opens up as the survivors of the cabin take the fateful elevator down into the complex built to kill them: we get The Strangers-esque masked murderers, The Shining-style blood elevators, werewolves, killer klowns, faceless ballerinas, Creature from the Black Lagoon mermaids, and much much more.

If you’ve ever found yourself watching a film (it need not be horror) because you know exactly what to expect from the film and it gives you everything you need at that moment then this film will challenge you — in a good way. Cabin in the Woods, by ceasing to pretend to be a smart movie inversely ends up being more intelligent than the average film. Whedon and Goddard decided to give us exactly what we came to the theater to see, while satirizing the very reasons why we enjoy it, our relationship to it, and ultimately the danger of getting comfortable with our expectations being fulfilled.

By the end any unbelievers with half the willingness to accept the journey created for them will want to start from the beginning to watch the pieces shift into place and see how the stereotypes implemented in the film closer resemble daguerreotypes, as superficial shadows of previous films re-hashed to ultimately serve the narrative’s message. And that message is: we are a shallow race (movie-goers that is). We demand the same fodder over and over. An audience that wants to see the same movie over and over should do exactly what Marty and Dana decide to do in the end, sit back and embrace a different world where Gods rise to rule the earth, because well…that would be different.

Same bat-channel tomorrow, true believers,  for “Part-Two: Avenged!”

by Christian Rousseau

 

April 12th, 2012 – “I Spy”

For your viewing pleasure our first blog post is complete with a puzzle! Click on the photo to blow it up. Download it, pull it into Photoshop, get out your magnifying glass – use the clues to search for the hidden treasures however works for you. The 3 winners that have the most correct answers by Cinco de Mayo get a rad prize.
Godspeed and good luck!


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