Spotlight on Shorts: ‘Truth in Journalism’

How could I do the name of this blog justice if I didn’t do at least one Spider-Man related film.

“Truth in Journalism,” directed by Joe Lynch, follows one of Spidey’s most notorious villains, Eddie Brock aka. Venom. Those of you familiar with the comics know the story well enough, if not, you can get the overall story by watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. To give you just a bit of back story on Brock, he’s an angry and envious guy who just so happens to be infested with an even angrier symbiotic organism from space. He’s got all of Spider-Man’s powers and then some, including shape shifting and the ability to manipulate his body into sharp objects.

The film follows an already defeated Brock, fired from the Daily Bugle, as he hires a film crew to rebuild his shattered reputation. They follow him as he boisterously brags about his life and career, oftentimes dodging his checkered past. Now working for a tabloid newspaper, Brock takes the film crew into the seedy underbelly of the streets, occasionally stopping a crime at his own leisurely pace. As the filming goes on, the crew becomes more and more frustrated with Brock’s lack of cooperation, focusing the film on himself and dodging the tough questions. As the crew begins to threaten backing out of the film, you can see Brock’s seething anger begin to show.

The film is an homage to the Belgium mockumentary Man Bites Dog, a dark and powerful film about a documentary crew that decides to follow a serial killer through his day-to-day routine. In it, the killer’s overbearing nature begins to manipulate the film crew, as they are pulled into his world of murder and chaos. They then begin to actually take part in the murders, becoming just like the figure they are documenting.

“Truth in Journalism” doesn’t stray too far from the formula Man Bites Dog follows. The film is also shot in black and white, with the film crew being present in most of the shots, unlike other mockumentaries like Spinal Tap, The Office, or Parks and Recreation. Brock’s personality is also much like the serial killer’s, boisterous and loud, but also very much a bully at heart. He exudes an energy that would make anyone uncomfortable, the type of person that’s always flashing a fake smile to hide his true intentions.

Some of the effects are quite interesting as well and will still manage to impress fans of the comics. At one point Brock is talking to himself in the mirror with his shirt off. He then notices the camera capturing his dialogue and shuts the door, only to immediately open it, revealing him fully clothed in a suit and tie. There are also a few hidden cuts, much like Birdman, where everything looks like it was shot in one take.

“Truth in Journalism” differs from Man Bites Dog in that the film crew never goes as far as to help Brock commit any crimes. In fact, true to the comics, Brock is more concerned with being a big shot and getting back at Peter Parker than he is at committing random acts of violence. Although, we can’t exactly speak for Brock’s other half.

Although the film isn’t shot like your traditional comic book movie, the film still manages to throw in a few things for fans familiar with the genre. Like all Marvel movies, you’ll want to wait until after the credits for that inevitable coda. There might even be a few cameos comic fans will recognize.

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Indie Intros: Robert Zemeckis’ ‘The Lift’

Last week Robert Rodriguez had on filmmaker Robert Zemeckis on his excellent show The Director’s Chair. Seriously, if you love hearing filmmakers talking about their craft, this is one of the best programs (imagine Inside the Actor’s Studio for filmmakers).

Piggybacking off of that show, we’re going to take a look at Zemeckis’ first student film, “The Lift,” a film shot in black and white, much like last week’s Christopher Nolan flick “Doodlebug.

The film is about a man going through his normal day-to-day routine until he meets his arch nemesis in the form of his apartment’s elevator. The elevator is either broken, possessed by The Devil, or maybe just hates him like your cat hates you. I don’t care if he’s cuddled up next to you right now purring his little heart out, that cat hates you and plots your demise daily.

The elevator seems to have a life of its own as it escapes him, shuts on him and sometimes traps him as he desperately tries to get to work. No matter how unpredictable the lift becomes, the man seems dead set on using it despite the hassle it causes him. Perhaps he’s trying to break it the way a trainer breaks a horse, or perhaps he’s just an idiot.

The black and white stock provides a strong level of contrast, as the film is not always lit properly. I wondered if he was using the same Kodak black and white reversal stock we used in my film school days that always managed to be overexposed or underexposed, sometimes even in the same frame. Still, Zemeckis manages to do some interesting stuff with the lighting, especially later in the film. Some of his usage of shadow seems to come right out of a film noir, with hard shadows being casted on the ground by light passing through the elevator’s grates. It kind of gives the elevator an ominous feel, further giving it a kind of sentience.

Other shots are precursors to some of Zemeckis’ later work. The opening shot of “The Lift” is a series of pans and close-ups, often focusing on appliances and clocks that furnish the main character’s apartment. Any fan of Back to the Future will recognize the similarities between its opening scene and the one seen here in “The Lift.” Either that, or Zemeckis took the DeLorean, travelled back to his film student self and told him to add the shot, forever changing the course of his life to make him the powerhouse director we know today.

Indie Intros: Christopher Nolan’s Doodlebug

I guess I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for black and white film. It was what we used when I went to film school and it always brings back a little nostalgia when I see it used. Watching a monochrome film, for me, is like opening an old book or touching an oil painted canvas.

Christopher Nolan’s “Doodlebug” foreshadows common themes he would later use in his most popular films. Insanity and the workings of the mind are on full display here. One watch will give you hints of Inception, Insomnia, Memento and other Nolan films with one-word titles.

The film follows a man who is dead set on crushing some sort of vermin that has entered his house. As the film progresses, we see his mind begin to waver and struggles to focus on the scuttling of the creature which has infested his home and the sounds of his appliances. Things descend into total bedlam when we realize the invader our protagonist is desperate to smash into oblivion, is not all that it seems.

The special effects aren’t exactly The Dark Knight, but they do the job well enough. Camera angles and close-ups dominate the screen and tell the story for us. They reflect the paranoia our main character seems to be suffering from, as well and give the film a manic pacing. It isn’t towards the end that we get a true special effect, a simple trick that has been used in films predating this one, but used in a unique way to reveal the twist at the end.

Nolan seems to have been limited to the same criteria that I was for my final student film. No dialogue, black and white film only. But he stretches the most out of those limitations, creating a visual tale for the audience. Honestly, if Nolan had the same type of restrictions we did for his final student film as we did, most of the student body would have been floored. I don’t remember anyone, especially myself, that was able to get this creative with so little.

Indie Intros: Spike Jonze’s How They Get There

Ever see a single shoe on the side of road and wonder, “Who leaves a shoe? I mean, just one shoe? If you’re going to go gutter-stomping shoeless, why not just commit and rock both those knee-highs for everyone to see?” Well, Spike Jonze attempts to answer this in his short film “How They Get There.”

While not exactly his intro into filmmaking (Jonze was a well established music video director whose contributions include such classics as “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys), it was with this film that he began to flirt with cinematic storytelling devices that would eventually lead to his first feature Being John Malkovich.

The film stars Mark Gonzales, a legendary skateboarder, who was the first to Ollie off the Wallenberg Set, a nineteen foot long, four-foot tall series of steps. For those of you not familiar with skateboarding (like myself), it means he jumped his skateboard really far and landed at a much lower place than where he lifted off without killing himself.

It also stars Lauren Curry, who I’m convinced is one of the many Zooey Deschanel clones that have been running around Hollywood lately.

Model Number 13

Model Number 13

The film is simple enough. Two strangers spot each other from across the street and begin to flirt by imitating one another. This comes to an abrupt end when Mr. Mimic is hit by, what might be, the drunkest driver ever and absolute chaos is unleashed. The girl seems horrified at the disaster she’s caused, and yet it begs the question, how many other people have lost their lives entranced by these Deschanel Doppelgangers? What is their true motive? I’m sure a quick analysis of the amount of innocents killed while listening to “Teenage Dream” will produce some startling findings.

What “How They Get There” shows is that you don’t need to get overly complicated to make a good short. In the two minutes of this film we are given enough of what we need to know, character-wise, to understand the type of guy the main character is. Little things, like a trip off the curb, show us that he’s kind of a klutz. The haphazard way he disposes of his milk tells us that his focus is easily drawn, causing him to shirk common sense habits such as using a damn trashcan or looking both ways before crossing the street.

With what could also be considered a Micro-short film, the two-minute runtime is refreshing. It shows that length doesn’t always equal content.

What I’ve Been Up To

Podcast Logo

For the last few months I’ve been hinting at the possibility of a podcast. Also, I’m sure those of you that have been checking up on the blog have also noticed that the posts have been becoming more sparse. Well, truth is these two things are connected. For the past two months I’ve been teaming up with a close group of friends, including Cody Everett, a filmmaker I interviewed early in this blog’s inception, and the fruits of our labor are finally complete.

Cult Film in Review is a roundtable podcast where we look back on the cult films of yesteryear and see if they really do deserve the recognition they receive. We even throw in a few laughs for good measure.

If you have a love for cult films, are a film lover that wants to know what cult films are all about, or just want have a good chuckle, give Cult Film in Review a listen.

You can find it here at cultfilminreview.com or subscribe to us on iTunes.

Enjoy!

Spotlight on Shorts: Punisher: Dirty Laundry


It’s been a kind of good last few weeks for comic book fans. Last week marked the release of Daredevil on Netflix along with, what I’m sure was, a spike in people taking sick days and pizza delivery sales. Then of course there was some extra Hulkbuster footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the long-awaited teaser for Superman vs. Batman (along with a leaked trailer, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Going with the trend, I’ve decided that for the rest of the month I will be devoting the Spotlight on Shorts section to comic book based fan films.

We start with “Punisher: Dirty Laundry”.

This film first screened at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con and wowed audiences with the return of the best Frank Castle (sorry Dolph Lundgren fans), Thomas Jane. The film was produced by Adi Shankar who’s made a name for himself producing such films as the survival thriller The Grey and most recently the much talked about “Power/Rangers” fan film.

The film has what I assume all Punisher fans are looking for, a large dose of violence as the cure for criminality. Witnessing a gang of thugs terrorize a city block, Castle begins the film hesitant to don the skull again (for whatever reason), simply looking to hit up the local Laundromat, grab a Yoo-Hoo, and get back to watching the final season of Dawson’s Creek. But we all know it would be a pretty disappointing Punisher film if Frank didn’t reach his breaking point, and I mean “breaking” literally.

As a non-profit fan film, “Punisher: Dirty Laundry” can take a few liberties. The most obvious one is this film didn’t appear to have to be ok’d with Marvel as their name is nowhere on it. Secondly, the entire soundtrack was brought to you by Hans Zimmer and his work on The Dark Knight, which means Shankar managed to steal from Marvel and DC in one fell swoop.

I’m sure all you Punisher fans out there have already seen this and probably chimed in on whether or not this is a fitting film adaptation to the comic. I’ll leave that for you to discuss since the only experience I have reading The Punisher is when he shows up in Spiderman comics and when he steamrolled over Wolverine. From a film lover’s perspective I think I speak for most when I say that 2004’s The Punisher starring Thomas Jane is probably the franchise’s best and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job feeling like a sequel to that film.

5 Shorts That Became Feature Films

I’m at a crossroads. As gamer who still primarily plays retro games, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the recent trailer for Pixels, a mass destruction film where arcade classics from the 80’s come to wreak havoc upon Earth. On the other hand, as a film lover, I couldn’t be more worried that it’s a Happy Madison production. For those of you who don’t know, Happy Madison Productions is the company founded by Adam Sandler, whose title nostalgically reminds us that it was responsible for at least two good films.

I don’t normally like to criticize a film before I’ve seen it, but this one stars not only Sandler, but Kevin James as well, two actors who are much like the two chemical components that Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson ran around New York desperately trying to keep apart in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Sure, alone the actors are harmless enough, but put them together and they create a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying any semblance of wishful thinking from the cerebral cortex.

What may be a saving grace is that Pixels is actually based on a relatively popular French animated short from 2010. Directed by Patrick Jean, the two-minute short is an homage to retro 8-bit era video games where classic sprites run amok throughout New York City.

This got me thinking about what other shorts have made the transition to full-length feature films, but I didn’t really want to do any research so I just cut and pasted five random links to YouTube videos in an attempt to trick the eye.

Ok, I kid, but if you scrolled down to make sure, thank you for reading the whole article and not just skimming to see the videos.

 

La Jetée

A lot of art film geeks and film students know this one. I was first introduced to it in film school. The French short is comprised almost entirely of stills to tell the story of a prisoner who is forced to time travel to the past to rectify the events that led to World War III. This is actually a pretty damn good watch, especially if you’re high because, “Dude that’s not a still! It just moved, I swear!”

Those familiar with the plot might already recognize that this film would become the Terry Gilliam classic 12 Monkeys, a film that ditches the stills and instead goes in the completely opposite direction by casting a manic Brad Pitt who never stops moving for a second.

 

The Dirk Diggler Story

Much like the feature this was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Inspired by This is Spinal Tap, the story follows the tragic story of Dirk as he begins a career in pornography only to get caught up in a life of drugs.

Of course, this film would eventually become the superb classic Wonderland starring the incomparable Val Kilmer, hot off the success of Aces: Iron Eagle 3, as well as Lisa Kudrow from the US version of the BBC series Coupling.

All right, you caught me. It became Boogie Nights and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out on a true cinema masterpiece.

 

Monster

You know The Babadook, right? If you don’t, you really should. My favorite indie film of last year, The Babadook follows the story of a single mother and her child who are tormented by a supernatural force.

“Monster” follows basically the same premise as The Babadook, with the exception of starring some guy called Trash Vaudeville who is either the lead singer of a punk infused Cole Porter cover band or a creature created from the lesser parts of John Waters’ films.

 

Peluca

“Peluca” was made for the low, low price of $500. Shot on 16m black and white film, the short also stars Jon Heder in the role of Seth, a name that would go down in history when it was changed to the titular Napoleon Dynamite.

Watching the short you can see some of the familiar character traits and plot points that would eventually make it into the quirky Napoleon Dynamite. Much like Napoleon, Seth has an infatuation with martial arts and is always there to help his friends with their follicle mishaps.

 

Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse

“Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” is less a short film and more a super early trailer for what would become This is the End. As the title suggests, the short stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who would reprise their roles for the feature.

The short acts as evidence to the amount of attention Hollywood is giving viral videos nowadays. The short apparently inspired a bidding war to eventually get it to the big screen. Garnering a budget of $30 million, This is the End would go on to make $126 million at the box office.

 

 

 

 

 

Down due to technical difficulties.

Sorry for the lack of posts everyone. It appears my computer has been having some logic board problems and as a result I have been unable to watch videos without my computer completely crashing on me. This should be rectified within the the next two weeks or so. Meanwhile, I’ll try and post a little something next week before we’re fully up and running again. Also, there are some exciting things on the horizon, including a podcast featuring yours truly. Stay tuned for details!

Indie Intros: Jay Duplass’s This is John

I’m back after a bit of time away from the keyboard. I apologize for my lack of posts over the last few weeks. I had to take a bit of time to devote to some other projects of mine that should be just over the horizon. This includes a new short film from yours truly as well as a foray into some audio entertainment.

With that, back to some discussion on short film.

I’ve been recently addicted to HBO’s Togetherness which just finished its first season and was created by filmmaking siblings Jay and Mark Duplass. If you haven’t seen this series, I would highly recommend it, especially if you’re in a relationship or marriage and want to simultaneously laugh and cry at the idea of long-term monogamy.

Jay and Mark have both directed such indie fare as Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Mark you may have seen from such film and TV as The One I Love, The Mindy Project, The League and this year’s The Lazarus Effect. Many of their films deal in similar territory as Togetherness, focusing on the hazards and roadblocks found within relationships and the neurosis that stems from them.

“This is John” really caught my eye for the clear lack of production value. It really looks like this film could have been shot on a Sony Handicam using only its in-cam mic and ambient lighting. Still, a simple plot combined with good acting manages to make this a smart comedy despite its low budget. In fact, Mark Duplass said some great things at SXSW about getting out there and shooting your ideas, budget be damned.

“This is John” starts off simple enough. A guy gets home and decides to record a greeting on his answering machine. He goes on erasing and re-recording, seemingly never pleased with the message, a still a relatable thing to everyone who has had to set up a greeting on a new cell phone. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that this message isn’t as simple of a task as one would think, as it becomes clear that John has some very deep-rooted issues that are now deciding to surface.

This film is a really good example of the type of films that I like to cover in the Indie Intros section; one that shows that you don’t need money, fancy equipment or know some VIP to start a successful film career. Despite all the canards claiming it’s who you know and not what you know that garners success in film, it’s good to see that hard work and establishing a clear voice can open up just as many opportunities.

Last Night’s Oscars in Retrospect

Yesterday, before the big night last night, I decided to post my picks for the 2015 Academy Awards. Like most people I was unable to catch all of the films nominated, but that didn’t stop me from predicting the winners of the films I had seen (and even some I hadn’t).

Let’s see how I did.

Ok, so I got one right, but to my credit it was the most important award. I liken this to going eight and eight for the season but still winning the Super Bowl. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

Allow me to take up some space on your screen and defend what was going on though my head at the time.

Best Cinematography:

I still think this should’ve went to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I understand Birdman taking this one. Certainly both films did some interesting things in the camera work department. Birdman obviously merged some surrealist elements within the film to make it a sort of Magical Realist piece. Not to mention the “one-take” method they managed to pull off. Overall very ambitious and well done. Still, my issue with the win is that Birdman primarily takes place in one setting. It’s basically a backstage dramedy. Because of this, due to the film’s enclosed space and lack of diverse settings it didn’t allow for a wide range of camera work. Compare this to Grand Budapest which moves to a number of different settings such as trains, hotels, a monastery, small villages, etc. Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman were able to bring that signature look they’ve been known for in a film that probably provided them with a number of challenges.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

I really thought this was going to be the only award American Sniper would win. A screenplay adapted from a very popular and rather controversial book to some. I’ll steer away from political contention and say that, although good, this film had no chance to win Best Picture, namely because of some questionable shot and music choices that made me feel I was watching a Michael Bay film at times.

On the other hand, I’ll turn my car right into the political discussion and drive it off the ledge by saying I don’t think this film was a victim of any sort of political stance as I’ve heard some in the media suggesting. I got the same message in American Sniper as every other war film I’ve ever seen. War is Hell, it’s fucks people up and should be avoided. Anyone that got the opposite of that, well I don’t know what movie you were watching.

Best Original Screenplay:

Again, another instance where I completely understand the Academy’s choice. Birdman is a damn good script. Still, maybe it’s because I’m an English Lit major, I just felt The Grand Budapest Hotel was written so well. Smart and extremely funny the whole way through.

Best Actress:

I admit even in my Facebook post that I had not seen Wild, but I had heard this might be Reese Witherspoon’s second grab at the golden statue since she won for Walk the Line. Based on her reaction when her name was not called, I assume she heard the same. From what I’d heard about Wild, this is a film fully propelled by Witherspoon as opposed to Walk The Line where she was basically sharing the spotlight with Joaquin Phoenix.

Still, is there a film Julianne Moore isn’t absolutely amazing in? Yet this is her first Oscar win. Surprised me too.

Best Actor:

I was just really rooting for Michael Keaton to win this Oscar. His lost reminded me of when Bill Murray’s portrayal in Lost in Translation lost out to Sean Penn in Mystic River. Both Murray and Keaton are the same type of actor in my opinion. Both have been in the game for years and primarily play roles that don’t get a lot of attention from the Academy. The stars finally align and they get that one shot late in the game only to have it swept out from under them.

This is not to say Eddie Redmayne didn’t deserve the Oscar. His portrayal of Steven Hawking had all the things the Academy has come to love; a transformative portrayal of an exceptional real-life character who is stricken with some physical or mental plight that they must overcome. Redmayne delivered in spades and it’s a life changing win for him, but, dammit, I really would have liked to see Keaton get that Oscar after the years he’s put into the biz.

Best Director:

I wrote a post pretty much outlining why I felt Boyhood absolutely had to win an Oscar. Upon seeing Birdman, despite the monumental process it took to make Boyhood, I found it to be a more solid film. Still, I think Linklater was completely snubbed on this win for the same reasons I outlined in my post. That level of commitment deserves something.

Best Picture:

The one I got right! Although I never got around to seeing Imitation Game or Selma (for some reason Selma isn’t playing in a lot of theaters out here in AZ), this was hands down a great film. Great performances from a stellar cast, an original story with enough art house appeal to make it feel fresh. Enough said.

EXTRA: Best Original Song:

I didn’t add this pick namely because I had only heard two songs, “Everything is Awesome” and “Glory”. Before the awards I was completely rooting for “Everything is Awesome”. After seeing the live performance and watching David Oyelowo absolutely drenched in tears I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.

I mean, listen to the lyrics of “Everything is Awesome”.  It’s a song about utter conformity. It’s even used in the film ad nauseam in an attempt to keep everyone in Legoland subjugated. It’s like the happy-go-lucky musical version of the Oceania National Anthem.

“Glory” is the absolute opposite. It’s a song about hope and fighting against oppression.

Here’s an excerpt:

One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh glory

Seriously, I have no idea what I was thinking here.