Sorry for the absence guys, but we’re back online and back to life! I realize we missed quite a few big things in December and early January but hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up.
What things you may ask?
Red Ray Player
Red 4k Distribution
World Didn’t End
You know, minor things We’ll be back with all that shortly. Thanks for sticking with us!
When I popped in, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” my perspective on the film was just a bit tainted as I have grown weary of the “quirky, indie comedy/drama.” They seem to be boiling over the Anti-Hollywood crockpot and they have begun to feel as widespread and annoying as Instagram and Hipsterism. I feel like everyone is getting a camera, picking a filter and shooting whatever suits their weird sense of humor and then calling it indie film (which, strictly speaking, it is, but only in the way that Instagram is considered creative photography)
However, it didn’t take long for the honest and unpretentious tone of this film to resonate so deeply with me that I came out calling it, “One of the Best Films I’ve Seen This Year,” and, really, one of the best indie movies I’ve seen since I’ve watched indie movies.
What saves Safety Not Guaranteed from the pretentious monotony or presumptuous quirk is that it never feels like its trying to be different, it just succeeds at being so.
Part of this is due to some impressive acting on all counts. But it is also the interweaving of these characters and their subplots that is so sparingly yet evenly paced that you can’t kill your never ending curiosity to want see them all resolve
The conclusion is so very smile-inducing that anyone who doesn’t at least smirk by the end of the film should probably just go ahead and be honest with themselves that they are in fact the snob they always feared becoming.
5/5 for Safety Not Guaranteed
One of the best 2012 offered
Cameras and blog posts about cameras have been on an exponential rise for the last 2 years Red, Arri, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Blackmagic, Panasonic, and JVC all introduced or made very innovative changes to their current camera catalogue. Blackmagic cam out as the underdog toppling the champs by introducing their cinema camera that challenges the big 3 (Red, Arri, and Canon) at a much lower price point ($3k) and with very cool, pro features.
The trend was to pack the biggest punch into the smallest pack possible (thank you Apple). Red with Epic and Scarlet, Arri with the new modular Alexa model, Canon with the compact-handheld redesign of the Panasonic and Sony DV and P2 cams of old (old being 5 or 6 years ago here), and of course Blackmagic with its pivot from the Red model of design taking the squared prism to a more wide, monitor-like form factor with the look and touchscreen design of Apple.
With all of these innovations, true originality was becoming something of an old-wives tail. No one complained though as the camera makers were packing in some serious stuff for very reasonable costs in mostly pleasant form factors. But Aaton, who had been working a bit under the radar over those two years, were cooking up something truly, disruptively unique in their once film-camera-only world.
I could run about all the rich histories Aaton played a part in but I will let you peruse the great google if you want to truly know (it is, indeed, a great story). But instead I’ll introduce you to the latest Cinema Camera revolution since the Red Scarlet: the Aaton Penelope Delta.
I had known about this camera for sometime after perusing the reduser forums over the last several years, but it has made some serious progress since then and the features and design are amazing. If you want to check out a full breakdown, head on over to No Film School!
What did Argo mean to me? 1 thing, to be perfectly frank: I’m a coward.
The film was so well crafted that I really only had time to react in the moment. I felt every decision, consequence and dire circumstance the characters did. Normally I’m analyzing, digesting, really thinkgin on what I’m seeing. Not so with Argo.
I’ll give a you a very compact review
1. This is arguably Ben Affleck’s best film (out of 3 very very very good films)
2. The editing is precise and the storytelling is surely swift.
3. The casting is brilliant and the acting is superb
4. The story is unbelieveable
5. The unbelievable part is, the story is true
What I walked away from Argo thinking was that the actions and decisions of this group of people was so antithetical to people in general. I would say that people tend to be more courageous in groups but what we see here is the bravery of individuals who go for the best of many bad scenarios.
What a scorn to me and my cowardly way of throwing my hands up when a difficult situation doesn’t have an easy answer.
As a believer I felt a conviction that people who, for all I knew, had no spiritual awareness or at least no spiritual conviction were able to risk their lives for each other. Could I do that?….Can I do that?
If anything this film has taken me from a place of apathy where I wait for the spiritual fighto to come to me while I border myself up in some sort of spiritual “embassy.”
Wake up! ( I say to myself)
The situation is not good but your God is, and He gave you a good and clear answer to your issue; stop pretending you have anything to lose and start living like you have everything to gain: eternity with Jesus
I urge you all to go see “Looper,” which opened on Friday. Since I’m hesitant to talk about specifics, this post stands as nothing more than a recommendation to see a great movie. I’ll be writing another post about it which will delve into spoilers and plot points, but for those who want to go in with a blank slate (which I strongly suggest), I’ll write-up my initial reactions. First, the acting is terrific. Joseph Gordon-Levitt mimics Bruce Willis (with some help from makeup) to an alarming degree and brings heart and believability to a character we’ve more or less seen before. Emily Blunt does something very different here but no less effective. The occasionally austere British actress gets to dive into broad character strokes, only to breathe new life into them much like Gordon-Levitt does. The young Pierce Gagnon has astonishing presence. Jeff Daniels has a blast in a small role. And Bruce Willis does what we might expect, but he’s good nonetheless. The acting, however, is only one of the treasures that “Looper” offers. Every once in a while, the rare film comes along that works as both genre and revisionism, as both what it’s doing and a commentary on what it’s doing. “Looper” is such a film, as it fulfills certain familiar tropes and overturns others. It trades in genre tenets before reversing your expectations and emerging as all the more satisfying as a result. I was amazed by how “Looper” appeared to be its first 45 minutes—a smart, fast-paced, gimmicky science-fiction yarn—and eventually becomes something bigger, deeper, and more emotionally resonant. It keeps you interested throughout as it drops new information on you at every turn. And it’s constantly morphing itself into another kind of movie, which could have felt disjointed but feels appropriate and substantive.
For me, “Looper” kind of has it all. Gritty neo-noir. Pulpy dialogue. Heady time-travel science-fiction. Bloody action. Archetypes that eventually become great characters. A surprising amount of depth. A great blend of quiet contemplation, writerly banter, and showy set pieces. A believable existential struggle. Some romance. Some comedy. And even a bit of western thrown in there. I was stunned by how absorbed I was, how much I cared about what was going on and the emotion that it carried. It sets up a futuristic world without too much exposition. It deals with the paradox of time travel while recognizing it as a paradox. It contains expansive character work, especially since you’re seeing the same person at two different stages in life. And it has one of the best montages I’ve seen in a long time. Obviously, I really loved this movie and can’t wait to see it again. In a year that already includes “The Master” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” is it heretical to say that “Looper” might be my favorite so far? Check it out and tell us what you think.
Now that “The Master” is out, it’s time to examine thematic trajectories in Paul Thomas Anderson’s output. Critics have been doing this since the Venice Film Festival, and it’s given me a whole new admiration for Anderson. Since his films are so different from a perspective of style and story, I have been missing many of the themes which now appear to be obvious. The writer/director is a true auteur in the sense that he continually returns to his pet fixations, of which there are many. “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master,” of course, do not look favorably on religion, as the former equates it with capitalistic greed and the latter does so with deceptive, hollow mysticism. But I plan to focus on what is sort of an amalgam of different themes, which gets to the heart of PTA cinema and represents (I think) why I respond so immediately to this director. In reviews of “The Master,” many critics have described a particular brand of relationship that repeatedly appears in Anderson’s films. Guy Lodge puts it this way: “For his part, the feckless, psychologically stunted Quell never seems as invested in Dodd’s philosophies as he does in Dodd himself: like ‘Boogie Nights,’ ‘Magnolia’ and ‘There Will Be Blood,’ ‘The Master’ powerfully delineates the influence, for better and worse, that men can wield over boys.” Scott Tobias defines it a little more concretely: “The Master extends a tradition of Anderson films about fathers and sons, whether of the real or surrogate variety: Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly in Hard Eight, Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood.” This father-son/influencing-influenced dynamic opens up a lot of doors. Reilly’s John becomes fascinated with Hall’s Sydney in “Hard Eight.” He admires him, and he eventually grows to love him. Wahlberg’s Eddie does the same with Reynolds’ Jack in “Boogie Nights,” and Phoenix’s Freddie does the same with Hoffman’s Dodd in “The Master.” This observation, however, is just a starting point for me.
My interest is not that these boys become enthralled by men but why they do. It’s because they have nothing and no one. They have often been rejected and damaged by their parents. They are loners. It’s here where I begin to see why Anderson adheres to me so diligently. He combines bleak, 1970s-era American loner cinema (Taxi Driver, The Conversation, Five Easy Pieces, etc.) with the hopeful grace notes of Woody Allen cinema. Films like “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” portray relationships (and particularly their outcomes) realistically but not really negatively. They contend that coupling is a good, healthy thing. Just don’t pretend it can never go sour, and don’t expect it to completely save your life and rescue you from yourself. The characters in Anderson’s films are hurting. They have been hurt by those who claim to love them. Some, meanwhile, and hurting those they claim to love. Generally, the biological father-son dynamic is portrayed scathingly. Earl Partridge abandoned his family years before the events in “Magnolia” take place, and Rick Spector pressures his son Stanley to a repulsive degree. Sometimes the surrogate variety is a favorable alternative (like in “Hard Eight”), but sometimes it’s just as terrible. Day-Lewis’ Plainview, for example, coldheartedly abandons his “child” in “There Will Be Blood.” It’s interesting to note comparisons and contrasts between Frank’s return to Earl in “Magnolia” and HW’s return to Plainview in “Blood.” Sometimes the “son” disappoints the “father” (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights). Sometimes the father disappoints the son (Blood). Sometimes they both disappoint each other (The Master). Sometimes the relationships are restored, and sometimes they’re damaged beyond repair. But Anderson cinema is not just about fathers and sons in various forms. It is about the wider, universal dynamics of being alone vs. being coupled, of rejecting love vs. accepting it, of self-destruction vs. redemption.
Guy Lodge is right when he says that “The Master” is more a romance than a father-son story, but then, in their own ways, so are all of Anderson’s father-son movies. The pattern of enthrallment, love, disappointment, and restoration/destruction repeats itself in so many permutations. This idea of loners latching onto someone is not confined to boys and men. It extends to Jim and Claudia in “Magnolia,” and, of course, Barry and Lena in “Punch-Drunk Love,” the director’s only overt romance. This is where I see that I respond to Anderson because he uniquely deals with the human condition. I interpret his output’s thematic amalgam as something like this: Left to our own devices, we will destroy those around us, make of ourselves an island, and ultimately destroy ourselves. But if we are willing to step outside of ourselves, to love and be loved, we can be redeemed. Put more succinctly, we will naturally be Daniel Plainview, but if we open ourselves to the world, we can be Barry Egan. The problem with this is that we can’t put all of our faith in people, because, well, they’re people. But I still love Anderson’s ultimately hopeful perspective, which even the bleakness of “Blood” and “The Master” can’t diminish (he’s going after different targets there). Left to our natural desires, we will be Freddie Quell. We will isolate ourselves and pursue addictions, like Claudia (who really is where the soul of “Magnolia” can be found). We will think we are better than everyone and beyond reproach, like Eddie Adams. We will smash up bathrooms and break windows when we don’t know what to do with our anger, like Barry Egan. We will be consumed by greed, vices, pride, and hatred until we abandon those who love us and run from all possibilities to love. Thankfully, we don’t have to be this person. It’s just the person toward which we will naturally gravitate. A professor of mine once said that “Magnolia” is two hours of hell and one hour of heaven. And I agree that there’s something powerfully, almost spiritually redemptive about the movie. But the key question is whether hopeful, loving coupling can ultimately suppress our self-destructive, immoral, base impulses. The movie ends but our lives continue. And the truth is that Anderson’s humanistic answer to life’s pain only temporarily saves us from ourselves (or seems to). The Daniel Plainviews and Freddie Quells are still lurking within us, just waiting for the right time to unleash themselves and wreak havoc once more.
I remember immediately responding to “Magnolia” so intensely, but I didn’t understand why. And I’ve since become a devotee of Paul Thomas Anderson, even if I still don’t completely understand why. But now I’m closer to doing so. Something about Anderson’s thought processes line up with mine. Something about his stylistic sensibilities line up with mine. Something about his thematic fixations line up with mine. More significantly, though, I feel that his worldview mirrors mine to a degree. We both recognize how terrible the world can be and how terrible we as people can be. We both also recognize that the world and people can be different than this, can be better. There is a hope at the end of Anderson cinema that I respond to. But again, humans are too frail of creatures to handle the weight of our faith. They might hold out for a while, but they will eventually buckle beneath it. We need something greater, something supernatural and superhuman. Anderson’s latest treatises against religion rightfully point out flaws within it and potential dangers of it. But until we move beyond criticizing “religion” to acknowledging a God greater than ourselves, then we will continue to grasp at straws, like all of Anderson’s hurting, searching characters.
This is going to be quick, very quick. My thoughts on “The Master” are sketch-work at this point, so my first post about it will be as well. I have to echo critics who have walked out of the film genuinely flummoxed. Of course, many critics love it, but those same critics express the need to see it at least once more. I’m a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, and I follow “Cigarettes&RedVines” on Twitter. The tweets of actors and directors who have seen the movie are very interesting. Melanie Lynskey was amazed by Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. Rian Johnson called it “one for the books.” Etc. But I have to fall in line with writer Damon Lindelof’s comic tweet: “I went to see THE MASTER last night. At least…uh…I think I did. Did I?” I can’t recall who said it, but someone tweeted something like “I can’t say that I got The Master, but it definitely got me.” The thing is I’m not even sure about that one. Few films leave me speechless, but this was one of them. And I wouldn’t call it completely complimentary in this case. Like “The Tree of Life” last year, I feel that I must absolutely see it again before I say a single word about it. But I like to write, so that’s going to be difficult. These are my knee-jerk reactions as they come to me. I have trouble saying this, but “The Master” is almost too strange. Too arty. Too elliptical. Too resistant to audiences’ satisfaction and conventional storytelling. And I say that as someone who usually loves strange, arty, elliptical movies that refuse to placate viewers and follow typical plotting. A lot of people are going to be turned off by this. As with “The Tree of Life,” I admire what the movie is doing, but the actual viewing experience can be frustrating.
Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are amazing. These performances are truly “for the books,” even if the movie isn’t. The cinematography is stunning. I completely loved the first half, but the second half loses some momentum. It just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. And it doesn’t know how to end. It’s a bit too long, a bit too slow, and a bit too spare from a writing perspective. This sounds like a negative review, right? Well again, this isn’t a review, and I would never call my thoughts on the film “negative.” I need to see it again to really flesh out how I feel about it. But this is my knee-jerk: The performances alone are worth more than the price of admission. I like the film’s ideas in theory (the duality of man, our animal instincts, the deception of religion). But in practice, the actual experience of watching this film is not entirely satisfying. Not because it’s not entertaining or because it doesn’t have things blowing up. But because it didn’t do much for me either as a narrative or as a character study. And yet, I still love the first half, within which is (at this point, at least), I think, one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen (you’ll know the one I’m talking about). Joaquin Phoenix’s face actually moved me to tears. And I certainly respond to ideas relating to our animal instincts and the struggle to contain them. I would never call my opinion “negative.” I would call it positive, with qualifications, but difficult to articulate and certainly admiring from a perspective of ambition and craft. Sorry for the sketch-work, but that’s all I have for now, and I wanted to write something. Stay tuned for another take.