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.
A strange thing happened this morning. I woke up with an idea for a blog post. I was thinking about how esoteric Paul Thomas Anderson’s style has become and how different it is from his “Hard Eight” and “Boogie Nights” days. I would call it “from fun to form” and track the director’s work from colorful giddiness to stark formalism. Then I jumped on Twitter and saw a tweet by Matthew Seitz that said: “Very good piece on the evolution of Paul Thomas Anderson’s style, by Jason Bailey.” His tweet shares this link to “The Atlantic”‘s article: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/to-get-to-the-master-paul-thomas-anderson-needed-adam-sandler/262361/#. I was kind of dumbfounded. The article I was just about to write has already been written? I’ve been scooped! The term hardly applies, considering the disparity in readership between this blog and “The Atlantic,” but you get my point. The good news is that Bailey’s piece is very well written and informative; the bad news is that he basically said everything I was going to say. He looks back 15 years ago to the Toronto Fest screening of “Boogie Nights,” where Anderson was hailed as “the new Quentin Tarantino.” Back then, the comparison was an apt one. Now, it’s not. Bailey writes that “Django Unchained” looks like it was made by the same guy who gave us “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill.” Tarantino’s style has been generally static, but Anderson’s is constantly evolving. “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood” are worlds apart. With his continually moving camera and infectious energy, Anderson once recalled Scorsese and Tarantino. With his ensemble inter-cutting, he once recalled Robert Altman. But he now recalls a far chillier filmmaker: “In the years since his key influence’s [Altman's] passing, his style has less approximated Altman’s than Kubrick’s—less loose and busy, more idiosyncratic and uncompromising” (Bailey). Early reviews from “The Master” confirm what we could have easily surmised from the trailer: this is the Anderson of “Blood,” not “Boogie.” Bailey describes the difference this way: “Its peculiarities are par for the course, and by now it’s no surprise that the giddily participatory camera of Boogie Nights has been replaced by one that is almost anthropological; even the wildest beats are viewed with a muted remove.” He’s no longer the young, hip PTA. He’s Anderson, the god-like tactician increasingly distancing himself from his audience.
Is this a bad thing? No. “There Will Be Blood” is brilliant, and by most accounts, “The Master” is too. The former film is a big, cold, strange work of art, and its compositions are assembled with tweezers. I love the gall of it, the refusal to look like anything else being made right now. And, of course, I can’t wait for “The Master.” I’ve been looking forward to it for almost three years, after all. I’m excited to see Anderson distill his formalism into something abstract and audacious. Personally, I appreciate that in the same oeuvre, you can find the energy of Tarantino and the reserve of Kubrick. You can find heart and art…films to be studied and films to be cherished. I greatly admire the achievement of “There Will Be Blood,” but my favorite Anderson offering remains “Magnolia,” which is just shot through with feeling for these broken characters. From an aesthetic standpoint, “There Will Be Blood” deserves its place in university film courses for years to come. But even its fiercest defenders couldn’t make valid claims to emotional engagement. If I were on a desert island, I’d rather have “Magnolia.” Bailey rightly points to “Punch-Drunk Love” as the turning point in Anderson’s career. Strangely enough, an Adam Sandler comedy represents his transition from emotional involvement to poker-faced artistry. The film is a warm, quirky love story on one hand an expertly crafted piece of art on the other. The editing, cinematography, and production design are as meticulous as you would find in most awards bait. This wild story is captured with such exquisite formalism. Then, of course, “There Will Be Blood” comes along and announces this new Anderson as here to stay. He no longer caters to audiences. He no longer cares what they think. He’s not one of us anymore. He’s risen above us. So the argument goes, I guess, but I think there’s a danger in being too categorical about these things. Yes, Anderson’s style has evolved, and perhaps it’s easier to admire his more recent works than to love them. But he’s still the same freewheeling, independent wunderkind he’s always been. And if he does “Inherent Vice,” we might see a “regression” to his fun days again. We shouldn’t be too definitive about directors’ trajectories. Anderson’s style might have changed, but many of his themes haven’t. He might be a different director, but he’s indisputably the same writer. Based on early word from “The Master,” the thematic material is very much in line with things going back to “Hard Eight.” So while Bailey’s article is completely accurate, perhaps he’s neglecting the ways in which this Anderson is the exact same one. As a student of cinema, I welcome the director’s foray into chilly artistry. As a subjective moviegoer, however, I wouldn’t mind having another “Boogie Nights” or “Magnolia” before another “There Will Be Blood.”
“The Master” opens wide in less than a week. It’s difficult to describe the joy I get from typing that sentence. Two years ago, it looked like it would never get made. But here it comes, and we finally get to see Anderson’s singular voice onscreen once again. Early word is that you need to see it twice to really get a grasp on it, so I’m sure I’ll be doing so. And I hope to write as much as I can about it, especially with regard to how it thematically fits with the director’s previous work. But for fans of Anderson’s pulpier origins, let’s hope that “Inherent Vice” adaptation actually happens.
It is a common criticism that Judd Apatow comedies (produced and directed) tend to overstay their welcome. “The 40 Year Old Virgin” (116 min), “Knocked Up” (129 min), “Bridesmaids” (125 min), and especially “Funny People” (146 min) might have benefited from a brisker running time, while “Superbad” (113 min), “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (111 min), “Pineapple Express” (111 min), and “Get Him to the Greek” (109 min) could have used a bit of tightening. I often don’t find Apatow’s proclivity toward over-length as frustrating as many critics do. A run-time of less than 100 minutes is appropriate for silly, SNL-sketch-like comedies such as “Anchorman” (94 min), “Step Brothers” (98 min), and “Walk Hard” (96 min)—”Talladega Nights,” meanwhile, stretches itself thin at 108 min. These movies are light on story and heavy on stupidity, and they’re simply funnier by being shorter. They can hardly be compared to offerings like “Knocked Up,” where we’re hanging out with likeable characters and there’s drama in between the hijinks and it’s okay if we have a few scenes without laughs. In “Anchorman,” less is probably more, but in “Knocked Up,” the concept of “more” somehow enriches the experience, even if its laid-back vibe sometimes resembles narrative shapelessness. “The Five-Year Engagement,” clocking in at 124 min., seems like it would benefit from the “more is more” model that Apatow thrives on. It is directed by Apatow’s friend Nicholas Stoller, who was a writer on “Undeclared” (which Apatow created and Segel appeared in) and “Fun with Dick and Jane” (also produced/written by Apatow). He directed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (written by and starring Jason Segel), wrote and directed “Get Him to the Greek,” and wrote “The Muppets” along with Segel. “The Five-Year Engagement” was written by Segel and Stoller, and it stars Segel and Emily Blunt. Here’s what Segel had to say about the aspirations of his film: “I find romantic comedies very predictable, and that’s what most people don’t like. The movies that I love and model after — like Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, and, in particular for me, Broadcast News — [have] the tone of life, which isn’t a set-up/punch line every two minutes. I think you get bored of that movie” (NPR). So “The Five-Year Engagement” is meant to portray a realistic couple, conflicts and all. It seeks to have “the tone of life,” as it balances comedy and drama and chases names like Woody Allen, Rob Reiner (or Nora Ephron), and James L. Brooks. If ever you had the perfect formula for rom-com-revisionism meets old-fashioned laughs and sobs, it sounds like this would be it.
And yet, “The Five-Year Engagement” just doesn’t succeed with this formula, not for me, at least. It’s one of those rare times where the over-length in an Apatow-produced film really nagged at me. I must say that I can relate to this comment by Joe Morgenstern: “Sometime around what I guessed to be the one-hour mark in The Five-Year Engagement, I checked my watch and honestly thought the battery had given out.” I remember looking at how much time had elapsed and expressing audible shock; the half-hour mark felt like an hour, and the hour-mark felt like two. Peter Travers says it “drags and sags.” Steve Persall writes that “Apatow hates leaving anything on the cutting room floor. You could excise entire chunks of The Five-Year Engagement…and never miss a beat.” It’s not quite fair to credit Apatow with the cutting (or lack thereof) of the film (what about the editor? Or Stoller?), but the point is taken. I’m glad I’m not alone, I guess. I just couldn’t believe how much of the movie sort of sat there. And for all of its potential for revisionism, “The Five-Year Engagement” is unable to be shaken out of its familiar rom-com trappings. Sure, it’s more realistic than “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” or something like that, but it’s a far cry from the titans it seeks to draw from. “(500) Days of Summer” might have stolen a few too many pages from “Annie Hall,” but at least it dared to be creative in different ways. Segel and Stoller’s latest effort gives us all of the conventions without effective disruptions of them. You have the parallel happy couple, the stereotypical “other guy” and “other girl,” the fight, the break-up, the make-up, the happy ending, etc. There’s nothing wrong with producing a solid example of a genre rather than an upheaval of it, but for a genre as tired as this one, Segel and Stoller could have gone off-map much more than they presumably thought they did.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t good things in “The Five-Year Engagement.” The principle cast is in top-form, with Segel giving us another superb manifestation of the naturally funny everyman and Blunt giving us a warmer portrayal than what we’re accustomed to seeing from the occasionally chilly actress. Chris Pratt of “Parks and Recreation” has some knock-out moments, and Alison Brie of “Community” continues to prove that she’s one of the most committed, versatile actors working today. There are some truly funny scenes, some clever lines of writing, and some heartfelt chemistry. A few of the sight gags work, but many of them play too broadly and wildly to hit home. Too much of the attempted humor stems from cardboard-constructed secondary characters who act exactly as you expect them to. And too many moments take “heightened reality” into the stratosphere. There’s a stronger movie somewhere inside “The Five-Year Engagement,” but as it is, it only comes off as slightly above average. I’m probably being too hard on it, but considering the talent involved, I wanted to like the film much more than I did. I have nothing against effective, unapologetically standard-issue rom-coms, but Segel and Stoller hint at making something more real (both in interviews and the film itself). Emerging as more real than “The Wedding Planner,” however, is not a considerable achievement, and there’s still a long way to go to even approach top-drawer Ephron, Brooks, and Allen. Sadly, “The Five-Year Engagement” is another film that I like in theory much more than in practice.