A film student's recommendations, reviews and essays on motion pictures new and old
Hello readers of the ReelScope! Principal photography for Blue Fox begins tomorrow afternoon. I’m excited to see what I will hear from my first interview subject, Mr. Dean Dickson. Dickson’s parents were the ones who first started the Blue Fox Drive-In way back in the day. Dickson and I have spoken on the phone and from what I can tell, he seems like a great individual who has plenty of information and life to add to this project!
I’ve recently experienced a liberation from a burden that this project has generated. You see, in the preproduction phases for Blue Fox, I had this vision for what I wanted certain parts of the project to look like. There were these images in my head that, even though I didn’t quite realize it at the time, require complicated camera maneuvers involving tripods and/or makeshift dollies and crane systems to adequately pull off.
So, I arrived at this dilemma: I either had to search some of my favorite indie film making websites to find the blue prints of a make shift system like the ones previously mentioned, or I had to say, “screw the tripod!” and press on with the available resources I have.
Let me explain.
So here I was, weighing my options. Should I build these rigs, so that I can achieve this high budget Hollywood look? After all, it will be so cool! (Or, so I thought). Well, when I finally decided to be honest with myself, I realized, no, I’m better off without them.
My decision was fully confirmed when I suddenly remembered a great article I read some time ago while browsing film critic Roger Ebert’s website. The article was about the late cinema director, Richard Leacock, a pioneer documentary filmmaker who developed two revolutionary techniques in cinema called Direct Cinema and Cinéma vérité. Now extremely popular and widely used in both documentary and narrative filmmaking, these techniques are similar, but have distinct differences. However, essentially, they are both camera techniques that the cinematographer uses to represent raw reality in a truthful and realistic fashion.
From what I understand, Leacock’s philosophy and style of filmmaking is one without expensive rigs or complicated engineering. One can see where this technique would be useful, especially in documentary filmmaking. Sweeping crane shots and perfectly stable images, some think, take away from the purpose of documentary filmmaking. Which is what? Well, I would say that a documentary’s purpose is to take a story from the real world and bring it to the screen for others to learn about and enjoy, with as little distraction as possible.
Here’s an interesting quote from the article on Ebert’s page. The following was said by Chicago digital filmmaker, Nelson Carvajal, on his appreciation for Richard Leacock’s techniques.
“‘Anyone who knows my shooting style knows that I’m not a fan of tripods. To me, most static “pretty” shots that I see from other indie filmmakers represent an analogy for an elusive Hollywood-esque model of moviemaking. Ever been on a student film set and notice how much of the day goes to laboring over a shot that really doesn’t grab you in the end? We go to the movies and are swept away by the big budget vistas and then for some reason we’re convinced that our camcorder, a tripod and a light set will accomplish the same feel. And when it doesn’t, we’re surprised. But we shouldn’t be. At the end of the day, it’s all about the content of what we’re trying to show, say or provoke in an audience’”
For Blue Fox, I’m not saying that won’t use a tripod in any of the scenes. But, in the spirit of Richard Leacock, I am saying that I will proudly embrace my status as an amateur filmmaker, complete with my limited budget, supplies, and crew.
Leacock’s techniques have been taken to the extreme in many recent, popular narrative hollywood films like Cloverfield and The Blare Witch Project. Even though the cinematography in these films stems from the work of Leackock, I doubt that he was considered as an inspiration to their shooting style. Nevertheless, as a result of the extremely shaky cinematography in these films, Leacock’s techniques have sometimes been modernly referred to as the “shaky cam” or the “queasy cam”. But fear not, because in my movie, I can assure that the footage will not make anyone sick!
Kids on bikes, summer time, and a mysterious monster that wants to go home; J.J. Abrams’ nostalgic summer blockbuster, Super 8, is a throwback to the good old days of the quintessential summer movie. In fact, the techniques he uses in Super 8 are considered by many to be a direct tribute to the master of that genre, Steven Spielberg. Abrams’ work in Super 8 is a much needed breath of fresh air and change of pace from the current trend of seemingly endless comic book sequels and bad novel adaptations. Super 8 is certainly not “original,” and it makes good use of cinematic techniques that have been around for decades, but it works because of its distinction from the all too familiar material that we’ve been presented with in more recent times.
The movie is about a variety of things and according to writer and director J.J. Abrams, it’s a love story, an adventure story, and a science fiction mystery. In fact, he mentioned that with Super 8, he had the opportunity to make his “favorite type of movie.” Here’s an excerpt from an interview Mr. Abrams did with the Los Angeles Times:
“As the process went along I realized I had the potential makings of my favorite sort of movie, which is the one that is the hardest genre to define,” Abrams said. “That because you could say — and be right — that it’s a science fiction movie; or you could say — and be right — that it’s a love story; or you could say — and be right — that it’s a comedy; or you could say — and be right — that it’s a special-effects spectacle. That sort of cocktail is for me what I love about movies … that was the beginnings of this movie coming together.”
In the opening shots of the movie, Super 8 introduces us to the small town of Lillian, Ohio. We get the feel that it’s a pleasant town. A safe town. A place where kids would want to live. The evening hillside point of view shots showing the layout of Lillian’s streets and homes are very similar to the techniques Spielberg used to introduce us to the rural landscape of E.T.
The film’s hero is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a thirteen year old make-up artist who is working with his friends in the production of their new zombie film, which they hope will make the cut for a local film festival. The director of the film within the film is Joe’s best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths). He’s an animated and enthusiastic believer of the film he’s working on, and he’s striving to give his movie “production value.” After all, as Charles tells the crew, “… there’s gonna be sixteen year olds in this festival!” He needs material that will hold its own against the films the older kids are making; films with cars and higher budgets.
So, with hopes of getting some much needed production value, Charles adds some emotional depth to his Zombie script and recruits a new actress to bring it to the screen. He also scouts out a great new shooting location near a train station. Location location location right? The new cast member is is Alice (the brilliant Elle Fanning), and the way she pulls off the newly written dialogue completely entrances the boys and also sparks the beginning of Joe’s affection for her.
Geez who am I kidding, it almost made me tear up too. Elle Fanning’s performance in Super 8 is magnificent.
Shortly after Alice finishes her lines, Charles calls for a second take of the scene as he hears a rumbling train in the distance. He figures that the passing train will add to the shot’s overall what? Production value of course! So, the boys hustle to get the camera set up and the lights in place so that they can re-shoot the scene. However, during the second take, the enormous train derails and wrecks in what I believe is the most invigorating action scene I’ve witnessed in a movie since… well, a very long time. Believe me, it’s impressive.
During the days following the wreck, strange occurrences begin to happen in the small community of Lillian. Missing people and pets, destroyed car engines, and power outages are but a few of the odd developments that occur following the wreckage. Joe’s father, who is also the town’s deputy, knows that things are serious when the Air Force occupies the town and refuses to release information to the public.
Charles’ Super 8 film footage survives the wreckage, and when the boys get it back from the lab, what they discover provides for the mysterious core of the film. We know that it’s some sort of creature, but in Spielberg-like fashion, we as the audience aren’t given the satisfaction of seeing it fully revealed until the film is well into its third act.
For me, Super 8 consisted of those magical ingredients that create my favorite type of movie, and like J.J. Abrams, I too enjoy the movie that is impossible to define via one genre. Super 8 made me nervous, laugh, (almost) cry, and all in all, remember what a great summer movie is supposed to be about: adventure, youth, excitement, and wonder. Super 8′s greatness is also achieved through the stellar performances of its young cast, which consists of mostly unknown talent. One of the greatest is Elle fanning; she’s just as good, or if not better in this film than her sister Dakota has been in any of her previous efforts. Joel Courtney performs the difficult role of the film’s hero with excellence and Riley Griffiths is also hysterical as Joe’s best friend.
Super 8. It’s a wonderful date movie, it’s a good movie to watch alone, or even a great picture to see with a giant group of friends. Seeing the pattern? Super 8 is just great fun; a perfect summer blockbuster. It’s not quite a family movie, and though it’s been compared to E.T, it’s darker and more frightening, but, nevertheless, still extremely enjoyable.
Fans of the X-Men series will breathe a sigh of relief after viewing X-Men: First Class, the X-Men series newest installment. Right from the get go, First Class sheds the recently damaged “X-Men reputation” and reconciles with the audience by taking them right back to the beginning. How so? Well, for one, the film is actually decent. But also, it reflects much of what made the first X-Men so successful. For those who haven’t seen any of the X-Men films thus far, worry not, because First Class is a great place to start, and may very well be better than most of the previous efforts.
As hinted by the title and the taglines of the film’s trailers, X-Men: First Class explores the origins of the mutant characters portrayed in the previous X-Men films. Who are the mutants? Well, they’re like humans, but different. Mutants are unique because of the “mutations” in the structure of their DNA. Their mutations grant them the ability to do things like read minds, take on the appearance of other people, and/or move large metal objects.
Okay, get the picture? Cool! Anyways, about the movie…
When a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp is forcefully separated from his mother, the guards stand in awe and confusion when the boy bends the barbed wire rimmed gates of the facility as he extends his arm towards her. This peaks the interest of one of the camp’s doctors, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw is interested in harnessing the powers of mutants for himself through DNA experimentation.
Year’s later; the young boy in the camp is all grown up. His name is Erik (Michael Fassbender), and he’s tracking down Shaw, seeking revenge for the atrocities he committed against him.
For the sake of those who haven’t seen any of the previous X-films, Erik is also the mutant known as Magneto… before he actually became Magneto. Okay moving on!
Charles Xavier (the future Professor X) is a gifted telepathic mutant and he discovers Erik. He invites him to join a division of other mutants that work for the CIA to help protect humans. He also councils Erik on his damaged past and helps to reform his current revenge seeking thought process/ lifestyle. There are arrays of other mutants involved in Charles’ mutant crew, but the plot’s dominant strength is undoubtedly Erik and Charles.
The whole film is building up to its visually impressive, yet far-fetched climax; a battle between Shaw’s “evil” mutants and Professor X’s “good” mutants. Their showdown takes place directly in the middle of the Cold War’s most unsettling time, The Cuban Missile Crisis. Shaw sides with the Russians and has them convinced to take nuclear action against the U.S.
Xavier, Erik, and their crew are ready to defend both “good” mutants and the human race. After all, they have been training for this critical battle for hmmm… three weeks? I thought the mutants rise to glory seemed a little formulaic, especially the Rocky-esque montage training scenes.
Anyhow, overall, I thought the film was very entertaining, especially the story lines involving Professor X and Magneto. However, it seemed that the mix of other characters was a little overwhelming. They were there to fill a place in the script. Unlike Magneto and Professor X, no character development is given to the other mutants to draw us into them. In fact, most of their powers and abilities aren’t even enough to make them interesting.
The film’s climax is also flawed. The SR-71 Black Bird that Professor X’s mutants use to battle Shaw and the Russians hovers and performs helicopter-like maneuvers. Do they even do that? Also, the scene where Shaw uses a submarine’s nuclear reactor to harness energy for himself is flat out ridiculous. In fact, a friend of mine who studies nuclear engineering at West Point Military Academy informed me that the “nuclear reactor section” of the submarine is not a room full of mirrors with two handles (perfect for grabbing!) in the middle of it. I thought that seemed odd.
With X-Men: First Class, it seems that what should’ve been the capstone to an otherwise great movie left us with doubts about what we just saw and that’s disappointing because it was so cool before that!
Attention readers/viewers! This article’s purpose is to announce the upcoming release of The ReelScope’s first original online short film, Blue Fox. The Film will explore one of Oak Harbor’s most cherished landmarks, The Blue Fox Drive-In. In it, I’ll speak with the owners of the theater, interview fans of the drive-in, and ultimately strive to show what makes the Blue Fox Drive-In so special not only to our community, but the whole Pacific Northwest! I suspect that filming will be completed by the end of the month. Hopefully, post production and editing won’t take long and I will have this up as soon as possible! Until then, keep reading the ReelScope and keep your eyes open for Blue Fox.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a film filled with dazzling visuals, a strong story, and a bunch of laughs. I’d say that even if you’re an adult, Panda is a film that will capture your imagination and pleasantly pluck your heartstrings.
In the beginning of the movie, we learn the history of the evil Peacock Lord Shen, who long ago became determined to use the powers of fireworks as a weapon to rule China. However, Lord Shen’s medium and fortuneteller warned him that a creature of black and white would one day put an end to his villainous plot. In response to the vision, Lord Shen attempted to exterminate China’s panda population.
Meanwhile, years later, Po (Jack Black) is basking in contentment and satisfaction as he lives happily in his new life as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace. Yet, the nature of Po’s content sometimes borders on flat out laziness, and his distaste for hard work is the subject of numerous jokes. (As is the case with any Jack Black movie) But, nevertheless the recycled Jack Black humor still works and the innocent context makes it that much more enjoyable.
However, soon, Lord Shen and his gang of wolves victimize the citizens of the Valley of Peace as they search for scrap metal and other materials to build weapons. During Po’s effort to stop the wolves, he sees a symbol on one of the thieves’ helmets and experiences a flashback during which he remembers the day he was separated from his parents. What ensues is Po’s quest to find out why his dad is a goose, what his destiny holds, and ultimately how to find inner peace.
The film uses distinct styles of animation throughout, all of which are equally impressive. For example, informative flash back scenes involving Lord Shen are animated in a dark “cave art” like fashion, filled with bright coloring and hieroglyphic-like, two-dimensional figures that eerily transform as the narrator speaks. Painful illusions to Po’s separation from his parents are animated in a peculiar way as well. The colors in his flashbacks are dark and heavy. In his memories, his parents lack the realistic lighting and perfect rendering that the characters in the present time have.
The craftsmanship of the animation is also admirable in the way it makes use of each of the animal’s physical features. The artists had a field day with Lord Shen, for example. He uses his brightly colored fan for a number of cool kung fu purposes. A few of which include a shield, a disorientating technique, and a forceful striking weapon.
But, aside from its snazzy graphics and numerous hee-haws, Kung Fu Panda’s biggest strength is the way it deals with the concept of family, and more specifically the question, “What is home?” It’s the best animated picture I’ve seen since last summer’s Toy Story 3 and I recommend it to parents and children alike.
If you’re looking for a fast paced summer action flick that will leave you smiling afterwards, then go see Fast Five. I’m going to be honest, this is the first “Fast and the Furious” movie I have ever seen. But, I feel that judging from its limited-dialogue-action-based-self-explainable plot, it seems as though I’ll be able to give this film a fair review.
Fast Five cuts straight to the chase with a high-speed, stylishly executed freeway prison bus breakout conducted by Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and his girl friend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster). The couple is out to reclaim Mia’s brother Dominick Toretto (Vin Diesel) who, along with a number of other inmates, is being moved to by bus to another facility. It was during this point in the film that I noticed Fast Five’s characters supreme confidence, or maybe superhuman ability, to survive scenarios in which they do things like: drive cars off cliffs, leap from rooftops, run through showers of gun fire, and fly. Yes, fly. Is their flawless execution of seemingly suicidal stunts and immunity to the laws of physics a little farfetched? Of course. But it doesn’t matter because Fast Five doesn’t for a minute hint that it wants to reflect any sort of realism. In fact, it’s for this reason that it’s so fun to watch.
Okay, back to the movie. Following the successful breakout, Dominick, Brian, and Mia flee to Rio de Janeiro and take refuge with a close friend. They are in rough shape. As wanted fugitives, their names are at the top of all sorts of bad lists and they’re looking for a way out of their on-the-run lifestyle. Dominick has the answer to their prayers. The plan? To topple the empire of Hernan Reyes, Rio’s most powerful drug lord. Dominick and his crew plan to buy back their freedom by stealing the entire sum of Reyes’ $100 million dollar drug fortune.
The man sent to stop Dominick’s sensational plot, and also one of the film’s biggest strong points (pun intended) is United States DSS agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). With every ounce of his performance riding on his glistening biceps and short, hostile snippets of dialogue, he seems well within his comfort zone, and we as the audience appreciate it. Well, at least I did.
Agent Hobbs is sent into Rio with a few other big muscled super-cops to track down Dominick and his team. The chase sequences involving Diesel and Johnson add to both the films absurdity and its high level of entertainment. Seriously, for the entire duration of the film, I was anxiously anticipating a testosterone-jacked showdown between the film’s two brawny heroes, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the film’s final action sequence is worth the price of the ticket. Disclaimer: I know I’ve stated this before, but I can’t reiterate enough that it’s likely that over 60% of what happens in Fast Five is not humanly possible. So, if well crafted dialogue and thought provoking subject matter is your cup of tea, Fast Five may not be for you.
Hmm… Fast Five. Let’s see. I think that by now, most viewers know that the Fast series is filled with action, and there’s definitely plenty of it in its newest installment. But, I would say that Fast Five is more of an expertly crafted, chaotic type of art form that I believe will bring a smile to any destruction loving movie fan. The film also offers other enjoyable plot elements, like an array of entertaining supporting cast members and a lightly handled, pleasant love story. I’d say it’s worth your time.
Hello everyone and welcome to The ReelScope! A place, or better yet, a tool that you can use to learn and receive down to earth advice about films new and old, good or bad. Readers can think of me as a trusted source of information that will be of assistance next time you decide to go to the theater, browse the aisles of your local video rental store, or sit on the couch with family and friends searching Netflix for a night of cinematic entertainment.
Films will be reviewed on a classic grading scale rating system: A through F. This type of system is pretty easy to relate to for most of us and especially for a guy like me who is in the heat of his academic career.
This September, I will be entering my freshman year of college, studying film and creative writing. Aside from being a long time lover of movies, I guess I ultimately decided to pursue this art form for that same reason so many of us love movies to begin with, and that of course is the excitement, the emotions, and the memories all associated with the movie experience. In fact, I believe that when we boil the cinema down to its core, we find that we love it because of its ability to completely draw us into the worlds of characters and predicaments previously unknown to us, and make us care about what happens to them.
So, as I conclude my preview of what you can expect on this blog, I’d like to thank all future readers for viewing any articles, stories, essays, or recommendations I upload to this site. All opinions and discussions are welcome and I greatly appreciate the time you spend as you visit The ReelScope.
-Samuel Harrison Wolfe