Author: friendlyneighborhoodfilm

The British Film Institute’s Library is a Film Lover’s Dream Come True

That video above is a copy of Alice in Wonderland from over a hundred years ago. It was found and restored by The British Film Institute, an organization that has made it its mission to restore old British and World films that, left unchecked, could have been lost to us forever.

Many of the films are from the early 1900s and cover a wide range of genres from coverage of old sports events to large fairs and celebrations. There are even a few silent dramas and comedies.

These types of films are always a pleasure to study and can really be used as a marker for some of the early, fundamental camerawork that have been replaced by the CGI and digital camera tricks we are more used to today.

Taking a glance at the film above you can see some old tricks such as forced perspective to make Alice appear large or small compared to her surroundings as well as the type of rudimentary cuts used to splice the film together. Not to mention the costumes. I mean, wow. The White Rabbit is the stuff of nightmares and looks like something right out of Donnie Darko. And if you thought the kids in The Shining or Children of the Corn were frightening, nothing can prepare you for the fear induced by a large group of kids dressed as playing cards chasing an innocent young woman through the countryside.

If you’re a fan of old films and how the art of filmmaking was used in the days before sound was introduced, you should really go through some of the treasures in this library. You can find the rest here on YouTube.

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Spike Jones Directs The Late Show Intro

 

Spike Jones hasn’t made a film in a few years, so in a way, this guest intro to The Late Show with Steven Colbert acts as the first piece of work we’ve seen since 2013’s Her.

Entitled A Short Film by Spike Jones, the intro does have some similarities to Her. We find a man, lost in the world, in search of himself. Along the way he meets a muse in Sesame Street alum, Grover. Although Grover and Colbert never enter into a relationship that could be considered romantic, Grover still helps Colbert find the man he needs to be by showing him that his strength lies in the very thing that has been plaguing him, his ability to make people laugh.

Colbert eventually finds his way home to the stage where he belongs. It’s here where he can finally be himself… or wait, is he himself? What’s with all the political guests? Is this still satire? Does he even know anymore? Who is the real Steven Colbert? Did he ever even exist in the first place? Who knows? All I know is that even after three long years out of the game, Spike Jones still can take audiences on a journey that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

It’s Ok to Dislike Great Movies

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In 1976 Martin Scorsese released his timeless classic, Taxi Driver. Arguably one of his greatest films, it’s wonderfully written, beautifully shot, and impeccably acted by Robert Deniro. My first experience seeing this masterpiece was when I was eighteen.

I’ve never had it in me to see it a second time.

Everything I said earlier I truly believe. Taxi Driver is a masterpiece, but man did it take a ton out of me. For me, Taxi Driver is like when I ran cross country in high school. I have fond memories of it, I’m proud that I finished those races, but even the thought of trying to do that again starts to give me heart palpitations.

Much like running those races depleted me of all energy, after watching Taxi Driver I remember being emotionally drained of all happiness. It’s tough to watch Travis Bickle descend further and further into madness, yet still desire him to right the wrongs of society, while also questioning whether he’s just as bad as the criminals he’s trying to bring to justice. It’s much like a rollercoaster except it’s your heart in the front seat and by the end of it it’s puked out any remaining faith in humanity.

It should also be noted that I hate rollercoasters.

Society as a whole can, at times, be a cruel companion that will tear you down at the first sight of unconformity. Want to see this in action? Next time you’re at a party conversing with a group of people, casually mention that you don’t like Star Wars. Even if you adore it (odds are you do), try it anyway, for the sake of science. I guarantee you at least 85% of that group will go slack jawed and demand an explanation, but don’t bother, there isn’t one. You might as well say you hate puppies or Tom Hanks. It’s a taboo of the highest order and in some cases the punishment for even hinting at it is nothing short of social extradition.

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But the truth is there are plenty of reasons why a person wouldn’t like Star Wars, yet still acknowledge that it’s a well made film. Maybe you don’t relate to any of the characters, maybe science fiction isn’t your thing, or maybe (like myself with Taxi Driver) you just don’t like the emotions it elicits. These are all perfectly reasonable, if perhaps solely personal, excuses to dislike a film.

Battleship Potemkin is considered one of the most influential films of all time and is routinely shown to film students as an example of the fundamental uses of the montage. The impact this film had on history is undeniable, but by today’s standards it’s a tough watch to say the least. I don’t think I’ve ever ran into a film buff who has even casually listed it among their favorite films of all time.

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The fact is, a film’s exceptional qualities are mutually exclusive to the enjoyment you get from watching it. You can outright hate a film, yet still recognize that it might have expert level visual qualities or spot-on sound design. Take Transformers, a film most serious film fans will say they despise, but suggest to them that Michael Bay has mastered the explosion and they’ll be forced to reluctantly nod in agreement. He should have by now, there hasn’t been a movie he’s made without a minimum of ten. I’m pretty sure he even managed to sneak in twelve small explosions in the background of Pain or Gain.

There is no rule that states that great films need to be enjoyed, no Amendment to the Constitution that makes it unlawful for you to personally dislike a widely accepted pièce de résistance. Just like it’s possible to accept that Michael Jordan is a great basketball player without ever taking a liking to the game, it’s perfectly fine to dislike Unforgiven if you can’t stand Westerns. It’s important as a film lover to acknowledge when greatness has been achieved, but that doesn’t mean you should have to wire your eyelids open through repeated views of a film like Alex from A Clockwork Orange to prove it.

Spotlight on Shorts: The Fly

No, not that Fly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous.

On the surface, ‘The Fly’ is a British gangster flick in the vein of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but with a twist. Directed by Ollie Williams, it won Best Comedy at the Plymouth Film Festival and garnered a Best Actor nomination for Jack Doolan at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.

The plot of ‘The Fly’ is easy enough to recognize from the very first line of dialogue. A group of bank robbers are attempting a heist while the lonely getaway driver awaits their return so they can make off with their score. Simple enough, but he finds an obstacle in the most insignificant of creatures.

We get that this particular fly is going to be a problem from the dire way the title of the film is introduced. Loud and in big, bold, seizure inducing red letters, the four-second title sequence might as well be introducing  fire breathing King Kong. At first the insect is but a mere nuisance, but as the film goes on it becomes much more; an antagonizing force hell bent on ruining this heist.

Jack Doolan’s performance is done well, but it’s the camera work that really stands out. Many of the shots gives us an almost voyeuristic view of the action, with some shots taking place outside of the car looking in and some that make you feel as if you’re sitting in the back seat. The cuts between these angles come frequently. As the driver becomes more irritated with the fly’s presence, the cuts come more and more rapidly giving the film a chaotic feel to accompany the mayhem going on inside the car.

It’s a one joke movie to be sure, but at a little under five minutes, it never overstays it’s welcome; a byproduct of keeping your shorts, you know, short. ‘The Fly’ shows what you can do with a short if you keep the idea simple and the running time low.

Nicholas Sparks Movie Posters—Analyzed!

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At times, everyone needs a good old standby. That one piece of banality that we feel safe going back to. It’s why McDonalds has over 6 billion hamburgers sold. Although just barely satisfying the criteria of what we consider edible, they also come with a sense of safety. We know what to expect and we know it’s never going to change.

Nicholas Sparks has made Hollywood nearly $600 million off this strategy.

Much like the Big Mac, Nicolas Sparks has found the winning ingredients that audiences keep coming back to. Mix one part southern hospitality, add a relationship with the odds stacked against it, and make sure one of the characters is stricken with some form of terminal condition like Alzheimer’s or Leukemia. Oh and don’t forget—white meat only.

Any good marketing strategist knows that it’s not just about letting an audience know of your presence, but also to capture the essence of your product. As a result, the marketing teams behind Nicholas Sparks films know that it’s paramount to adhere to that conformity that makes his novels so popular.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the two types of Nicholas Sparks posters that draw hopeless romantics to the screens:

The “Within Safe Arms” Poster

We’ll start with the less popular style of Nicholas Sparks poster, but by no means less effective. This style of poster focuses on that sense of safety mentioned above, that kind of dependability you can only get from the familiar. Here it’s displayed by the type of security you find in the strong arms of a sensitive lover.

Also beaches.

 

Message in a Bottle

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Message in a Bottle was the first Nicolas Sparks movie and marks the first time “Within Safe Arms” was used. You really get a sense of where Nicholas Sparks posters were going artistically as Message in a Bottle sets the template for future ad campaigns. Here we find themes that would be used time and time again in the future, such as extensive use of white-as-fuck people in candid moments and large bodies of water.

 

A Walk to Remember

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We get the sense that Mandy Moore is certainly secure in Shane West’s capable embrace, but the camera is zoomed way in opting to focus on the reactions of our lovers rather than the cascading waves that are absolutely in the background. What this poster lacks in sea-foam and sand it makes up in star power as studios most likely figured, “Hey, it’s 2002 and we have Mandy Moore. This film will sell itself!”

 

Dear John

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After Dear John (2010), the “Within Safe Arms” poster wouldn’t be seen for another 5 years till it’s triumphant return in The Choice. No real explanation can be given as to why this was the case. It certainly has all the makings of a classic Nicholas Sparks poster. A beach is present, as well as Channing Tatum, an actor who’s, quite possibly, a Frankenstein-like creation begat from the DNA of Stockard Channing and Tatum O’Neill to produce a form of super-caucasian with acting prowess to boot.

 

The Choice 

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The Choice was just released this year and harkens back to a time where Nicholas Sparks movies had the appeal to pull in big names like Mandy Moore. Here we see a return to those times. Happy, smiling faces are the focus here, so the camera is pulled in close. Although a beach is not visible, their bathing suits, as well as the sunglasses they stole from the band LMFAO, say surf and sand aren’t far away.

 

The “Almost Kiss”

The most famous of these posters is the “Almost Kiss.” It involves a traditional, white, cis couple aged 18-55 coming damn close to locking lips, but not quite.

To better illustrate the yearning these people have for one another, it’s imperative they never actually kiss. It’s also necessary to point out that by staying but inches away from each others’ mouths, it retains that air of mystery that really doesn’t exist in the first place.

Are they ever going to kiss? Of course they are. But like that asshole at your BBQ that pretends to throw the ball to your dog for the sheer enjoyment of seeing the poor creature run 50 yards only to realize it’s still in his hand, this poster is only targeted at the most oblivious theatergoers on the planet. 

 

The Notebook

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The one that started it all! This poster is truly a masterpiece. The passion, the yearning. It’s no wonder this is the greatest film in the Nicholas Sparks series as reflected by Rotten Tomatoes’ 52% aggregate rating. Not only is this couple on a beach, but the body of water is seemingly falling on top of them; a torrential downpour despite the fact that there is barely a cloud in the sky.

 

Nights in Rodanthe

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Nights in Rodanthe came out in 2008, and could have been a kick ass fantasy novel had they just put a “K” in front of “Nights.”

Nights of Rodanthe hits all the marks necessary for a good “Almost Kiss” poster, but here we’re also given a ridiculously oversized beach house in the background.

Richard Gere doesn’t even bother to take of his sunglasses. It’s a move that says, “I’m mysterious!” or simply, “Who gives a fuck?”

In return, Diane Keaton gives a look to Gere that’s either saying, “You’re my everything.” or “Really? You’re not even going to try and take them off?”

 

The Last Song

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The Last Song came out in 2010 and stars a pre-twerking Miley Cyrus and that other Hemsworth that isn’t Thor. Unlike most “Almost Kiss” posters, Miley is actually smiling here. These kids are enjoying themselves! No mystery here. Much like the setting sun in the background, it gives us a warm, comforting feeling that we hope won’t disappear over that horizon anytime soon.

 

The Lucky One

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The Lucky One asks one simple question: Who’s the lucky one here? I mean look at these two. Zac Efron’s gaze is fixated, unflinching. You just know there’s no other woman for him. On the hand, the eyes of Piper from Orange is the New Black are facing down, yet just barely open. She has that look that says, “This guy smells SO FUCKING GOOD! Where is that coming from?” Whatever Zac Efron is wearing, it clearly has that musky-but-not-quite-a-musk smell. Is it cardamom? Who knows.

 

Safe Haven

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Safe Haven stars two people who are white and are on a beach, proving yet again that some classics never die.

Beach houses make a triumphant return.

 

The Best of Me

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The Best of Me amps up the Sparkiness by showing not one, but two white-as-fuck couples almost kissing!

 

The Longest Ride

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Finally, The Longest Ride came out in 2015 and marks the most recent “Almost Kiss” poster. Scott Eastwood (Somebody) and Britt Robertson (Someone else) star. This poster tries something new by moving our subjects further apart, yet still maintaining that certainty that they are totally about to make out.

Robertson’s hat also guarantees that at least one horse will be making a showing in this film.

Indie Intros: Tim Miller’s ‘Rockfish’

Before the recent success of Fox’s Deadpool, Tim Miller had only directed two animated short films. His debut ‘Aunt Luisa’ won him and co director Paul Taylor a Jury Award at the Ojai Film Festival. His second film, ‘Rockfish,’ won an honorable mention also at the Ojai Film Festival for Best Animation and came in second for Best Animation at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

Since then, Miller worked his way into Hollywood, namely for visual effects, as an Assistant Director for Thor: The Dark World’s opening sequence and as a Creative Supervisor for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Miller’s career proves that just because you specialize in other areas of entertainment, such as animation, doesn’t mean you can’t transition those skills into live action film as well.

In ‘Rockfish,’ we follow what appears to a miner and the first incarnation of Puppy Monkey Baby from this year’s incredibly disturbing Super Bowl commercials. All of this takes place on Tatooine or maybe whatever world the video game Borderlands is set on.

Miner and Monkey-Alien are blue collar guys doing their blue collar thing, digging a large hole and running a long metal wire down it as space miners do. Everything seems to be going according to plan until the wire hits a snag and the entire crane contraption attached to it goes for an incredibly destructive ride.

‘Rockfish’ attracts audiences with this vagueness; luring audiences by their curiosity and slowly answering their questions through visuals rather than exposition. As we hope for our heroes to survive this dangerous predicament, we are also hoping the outcome will reveal a little more about their characters. In this case, we find that the miners aren’t actually miners at all, but hunters of a different sort. I won’t give away the ending, but all is made clear in the end.

Although the animation probably looks dated by today’s standards, the low-res shouldn’t undermine the way the story is revealed. For any of you that have seen Deadpool, this might have actually worked out in his favor, as the kind of bare bones animation used to make Colossus kind of works to reinforce the tongue in cheek feel the movie manages to create so well.

Why You Should Support the Voice Actors Strike

When we think about voice acting, we tend to think more of animation and giving speech to CG work, but those who are not gamers may not realize that many voice actors look to the video game market for work.

Over the course of the last decade video games have proven to be as a legitimate form of narrative with big budget numbers to prove it. According to Gartner, a technology research and advisory firm, the video game industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. In 2013 worldwide video game sales reached $93 billion and it’s estimated that in 2015 sales will reach $111 billion. In 2013 Grand Theft Auto 5, one of the most popular and controversial video game titles, sold $800 million on the first day of its release. Granted games are a bit more expensive than a movie ticket (about $60 dollars compared to $7-$13) but if you compare that with this summer’s blockbuster Jurassic World which made $81 million on its first day, you can see the video game industry is nothing to scoff at.

Many of the biggest video game titles such as Metal Gear, Elder Scrolls, and Grand Theft Auto require a large cast of voice actors to bring their characters to life. Even veteran film and TV actors such as Mark Hamill, who voiced the Joker in the Batman: Arkham franchise, have turned to the industry for work. With these titles taking in millions, voice actors are now demanding more in terms of compensation as well as treatment.

SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents voice actors, is mulling over a strike in an attempt to get the video game industry to meet actor’s demands. Many prominent voice actors have also taken to social media under the hashtags #PerformanceMatters and #IAmOnBoard2015 to voice their support for the strike.

Here’s what they are asking for:

Performance Bonuses:

It’s common for film actors to receive back-end bonuses in the event a film does well. With the video game industry growing at such a high rate and popular titles rivaling blockbuster film titles, its only fair interactive performers also get a piece of that.

SAG-AFTRA outlines this as such:

“We’re asking for a reasonable performance bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/subscribers. That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR bonus payments for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.”

Vocal Stress:

Voice acting for video games comes with its own dangers, particularly involving characters that have loud or otherwise difficult voices. For instance, horror games may require lots of screaming and yelling which could stress the vocal chords that could lead to injury and possible loss of future work.

SAG-AFTRA is asking for stunt pay, much like film and TV actors ask for when they decide to perform their own stunts, for vocally demanding roles.

Stunt Coordinator on Performance Capture Volume:

It’s sometimes the case that video games studios will require voice actors to perform motion capture along with their vocal performance, otherwise known as a full performance capture.

Just as film and TV actors who do their own stunts are often provided with a stunt coordinator to monitor safety, voice actors who are asked to provide motion capture are demanding the same. Interactive performers have complained that they are often not told what type stunts they may have to perform, such as wirework that could cause potential injury. Voice actors are simply demanding they be provided with a safe workplace.

Transparency:

Due to secrecy regarding future game releases, game studios may not reveal to the actor what they are working on or what their role pertains. This may include vocally stressful roles and potential motion capture as stated above, but also includes things like offensive content that actors may be uncomfortable performing.

SAG-AFTRA is asking that more transparency be exercised so actors have a better idea what their job entails before they commit to a role.

It seems only reasonable that interactive performers be treated to the same benefits as their film and TV counterparts. No one likes a strike, but if that what it takes to guarantee that voice actors receive proper compensation and better working conditions, so be it.

Spotlight on Shorts: ‘Timelike’

 

Found footage films have gotten a pretty bad rap as of late. The genre has been a mainstay in horror since the popularity of The Blair Witch Project, but can be seen as far back as the 80’s with films like Cannibal Holocaust. Since then we’ve been given a slew of found footage films, such as Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, VHS and REC.

Often seen as an overused gimmick by some, “Timelike” proves that you can still use an old trick provided you do something new with it.

“Timelike” is written and directed by Richard Boylan, a cinematic designer for video game developer Bioware where he worked on the Mass Effect series.

“Timelike” starts off like most found footage films, with a cameraman who, for whatever reason, never shuts off the camera and insists on filming everything. The first character we are introduced to is Madeline, who has just been accepted to college. After receiving the good news, she and the cameraman, her boyfriend Rich, decide to celebrate with a bottle of wine. In the midst of their celebration, a stranger knocks on their door delivering a mysterious message. From there, things begin to go awry as time and space seemingly begin to unravel.

It is here where “Timelike” separates itself from other found footage films. As time begins to go out of whack, the footage we see begins to reflect this, repeating over and over as we the story is slowly revealed. It’s a simple technique that proves to be used to great effect, both telling the story and letting the audience experience the discombobulation associated with time coming unglued. What results is a film that entertains through the use of suspense rather than scares.

Those of you familiar with physics can probably decipher what happens in the film by the title. For those science lovers out there that are curious, you can try to make heads and tails of it here, but I would suggest watching the film first to get the full mind fuck effect in all its glory.

Indie Intros: Tim Burton’s ‘Doctor of Doom’

Tim Burton is one of those directors whose talents were immediately recognized, yet difficultly placed. After studying at the California Institute of Arts, he was immediately given fellowship by Disney where he worked for a short time. This led to the short “Frankenweenie,” which was never released by Disney, but was nonetheless still seen by Paul Reubens who wanted him to direct the cult hit Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. From there Burton’s story is fairly well-known, going on to direct Beetlejuice and becoming one of the most unique and in demand directors of the 90’s.

“Doctor of Doom” is one of Burton’s early shorts which he directed along with partner Jerry Rees. Burton also stars in the film as Don Carlo along with a variable who’s who from the Disney roster. Brad Bird, who won two Oscars for Disney/Pixar first for The Incredibles and another for Ratatouille, provides the voice of Don Carlo. Another Disney Oscar winner, Chris Buck, is most recently famous for directing the animated hit Frozen and plays the character of Pepe in “DoD.”

If you’re expecting some cross between the Burton style of filmmaking and Disney’s signature style like A Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ll be disappointed. “DoD” is more like something Burton’s hero Ed Wood would have devised. “DoD” is an homage to old B movies, possibly influenced by the 1963 Mexican horror film of the same name.

In it, a mad doctor is invited to dinner by a group of people who have clearly never eaten tacos before. He is shunned and decides to get his revenge by creating a creature that is a cross between an elephant and Greedo from Star Wars. The group manages to stop the creature, mainly because it’s worthless at terrorizing and because they’ve studying the fighting art of the WWE.

At first viewing the short appears to be plagued with problems. The dialogue, recorded separately, is almost incoherent. Everything is spoken as if a chipmunk on speed was called in to do ADR. There is even a moment when the cameraman attempts to shoot through a mirror, but is clearly visible for a good two-seconds. But now knowing Burton’s influences, it’s clear that many of these “mistakes” most likely done on purpose.

“DoD” does give us a sense of the filmmaker that Burton would become. The title font alone screams Burton, with that “it’s always Halloween” feel to his films. The film also combines horror elements presented as comedy which has become Burton’s signature.

Indie Intros: Ron Howard’s ‘Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death…’

Some people are just born to be filmmakers, I guess.

It’s common for a child to want to pick up a camera. I remember my father filming every Christmas at the house. He would simply set our VHS camcorder onto a tripod and let the thing roll, totally static, no need to get tricky. I always wanted to get my hands on that camera, but my father wouldn’t let me even touch the remote to our TV let alone a camcorder. Still I often wonder if I had the foresight to do anything worthwhile with it. I mean, I was only a kid. Still, had I been able to get my hands on that camera, the world might have had a video record of The Great War of 1986: Greyskull vs. Cobra.

One thing I can guarantee is my film probably wouldn’t have been as good as “Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death…” by a young Ron Howard.

By the time Howard had begun shooting this film he was already well established as child TV star. Shot in 1969, The Andy Griffith Show had already wrapped and he was taking roles on Gunsmoke.

I’m not going to pretend like “Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death…” is some sort of amateur masterpiece by a fifteen-year-old phenom. It looks pretty much like what I kid that age would shoot if you gave him an 8mm camera. Still, it’s clear that he possesses some early film skills that aren’t common at that age that I would like to acknowledge.

The film centers around three kids dressed in western attire reenacting the famous saloon poker game. In one particularly high stakes hand, one kid lays down his cards and attempts to celebrate an early victory before another player stops him and lays down a stronger hand. Being ever suspicious (or just a sore loser), the first player calls the other a cheat and shoots him in the chest. The third player, played by a young Clint Howard who looks pretty much the same as he does now, decides he having none of it and proceeds to shoot the first player. It all seems like Clint has come out the victor till a kid in a black hat shoots him from behind because he hates gambling or is just an asshole. What we’re left with is a gory scene of bodies and blood-soaked poker chips.

Some of the interesting things to not e about this film is how Howard uses some fundamental film techniques to tell his story. The opening shot is your standard establishing shot, a close up of the poker chips as we tilt up to a shot of the first player. It’s elementary, but advanced for a fifteen year old and a better opening than some indie films I’ve seen from much older. The rest of the shot is done in one take as it pans to the second player, then back down to the chips, then to a bottle that we see the third player take a drink from and finally back to first player who shoves some chips into the stack. What results is a kind of tracking shot that introduces the characters by their interactions with the props.

The first cut we see is the smiling face of the first player as he is certain he has the best hand.

The special effects are clearly lo fi, but effective. To be honest, when the players are shot, I still can’t tell if the actors are in control of the blood or someone is shooting them with a water gun filled with red liquid from off-screen. I want to say the latter, since Clint Howard is shot in the back and doesn’t seem to be at an angle to spray himself.

The film ends with a shot of a lone poker chip lying in a pool of blood, which, even in its simplicity, is pretty cool final shot that symbolizes what the whole film is about.

I got to give it up to Ron Howard for releasing this film. It was apparently a bonus feature on the special edition DVD release of The Missing. It’s rare to see a filmmaker of Howard’s status to release their very early work, which is a shame because I believe aspiring filmmakers can learn a lot from them, even if they’re horrible.