Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Relationship With Media

Media is everywhere, and, as such, I interact with it daily. Oddly, though, I interact more with my Blackberry these days than I do my PC. That's probably because I take my Blackberry with me everywhere I go, but my PC stays hooked up to its monitor. I'm a fan of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. While some people might argue that these sites make it easier for people to disengage with their fellow human beings, I find the opposite to be true. Thanks to Facebook, it's easier for me to plan nights out with friends, and Twitter helps me keep in contact with people the way mere e-mail never could.

I have been described as a media addict, probably because I spend what little free time I have watching movies. However, this is not the only way I interact with media. I don't think there's a single way in which my daily life is not surrounded by media. When I wake up in the morning, I turn on my Wii to work out. When I go to work, I use Google to research information to make my job easier. In school, I use a netbook to take notes in class, and my Blackberry keeps me up to date on all my sports teams through Twitter and text services.

My primary use of the Internet, when not working, is to read up on films. I visit Roger Ebert's website through the Sun-Times in Chicago every week to see the new reviews and other special features such as the Great Movies collection, the Answer Man column and the Overlooked DVD feature. I check IMDb to keep up with release dates and trivia on films I have just seen. I also visit Entertainment Weekly just to see what other people are talking about in the world of entertainment.

Without the Internet, and the convergence of media that is so prevalent today, I would have to work much harder, and spend countless more hours in the library to get the same information I can get just by sitting at my desk at home.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I See: Wall-E

The geniuses at Pixar are not content with merely creating some of the best animated films since the golden age of Walt Disney. It is apparent in every film that they are only interested in making great films, period. Computer animation just happens to be the medium in which they are immersed, but they do not limit themselves to the conventions of that medium. Never is this more apparent that in last year's masterpiece, Wall-E. Not only did they blend some live action footage with the animation, they applied conventions of live-action film making to their craft to make the film as photorealistic as possible and present a realistic feel within the context of their theme, going so far as to consult with Academy Award nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins on how he would light the film if it were live action. The result is a film whose atmosphere and themes are highlighted by the conventions of live-action film making.

Each setting of the film has its own lighting scheme:

-Earth is dusty and dingy, befitting of a planet abandoned by its people once their rampant consumerism left it too filthy to inhabit safely. They only truly bright and clear spot on Earth is Wall-E's home, a no longer need storage truck for Buy N' Large's Wall-E army that was intended to dig us out of the mess we made. The warm feeling conveyed by the Christmas lights used to brighten Wall-E's home at night allows the viewer to feel closer to the character.

-The Axiom: By comparison, the Axiom is bright in a clinical, almost depressing way. Here is a world in which human communication and interaction is almost non-existent. Everything is handled by computers and machines. There is even a scene in which two men discuss plans for later in the day via video chat, only to reveal that they are seated next to each other.

However, for me, the most intriguing thing about the way Andrew Stanton and his team composed their film was the way in which they manipulated focus to draw the viewers eyes to important elements of their story. Whether part of the initial design, Wall-E is a film with a strong environmental message. One of the focal points of the film is a plant which Wall-E finds on Earth and is vital to the plot once EVE arrives. Almost every time the plant enters the frame, especially at important moments, such as its initial appearance and a pivotal moment late in the film when it appears that the plant has been destroyed for good, the Andrew Stanton uses rack focus to draw the viewer's attention to the plant, and give the audience time to register the importance of its appearance. Without the plant, the human living aboard the Axiom would remain aloft in space, in their clinical seclusion. Thanks to Wall-E, EVE and the plant, they are broken free from the shackles of consumerism and isolation.

Ricky Gervais at Hunter College

On November 3rd and 4th, Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse was host to one of England's funniest men, Mr. Ricky Gervais, who was using the setting to test material for his show at Carnegie Hall for the New York Comedy Festival. Prior to this show, the following was all I knew about Mr. Gervais: he's brilliantly funny and excels at what some would consider highly uncomfortable comedy. What I did not know about him was that even while being awkwardly uncomfortable, Mr. Gervais could also be obscene, raunchy, and, to some, slightly offensive.
While I was not offended by any of Mr. Gervais' off color humor, he seemingly felt that no topic was off limits or above ridicule. He made fun of fat people, religion, charities, holidays, being charitable at the holidays, and pedophilia, to name but a few of his targets. There may always be an air of the impish about his delivery, as though he were a child getting away with doing something naughty behind the adults' backs, but his delivery was straight forward and brash. It would appear that there is a sliver of David Brent at the core of Mr. Gervais' stage persona.
Perhaps my favorite bit of the night was when Mr. Gervais decided to take on religion via the tale of Noah and the ark. He was equipped with a children's book which looked like it was from the 1960's and a video screen. As he read the book aloud, the screen showed the pages of the book so the audience could see the illustrations. However, this was not direct story time at the Kaye. No, Mr. Gervais interjected constantly, noting contradictions and how the illustrations undercut the story. At one point, he showed how the ark was too small, according to the drawing, to house all the animals, as the giraffes took up almost the entire ark by themselves. In addition, he cried racism upon discovering that the raven lost his job to the dove after only one attempt to find land, while the dove was "given another go."
It was a thoroughly satisfying evening, and if the reaction of the Hunter crowd is any indication, his Carnegie Hall show should have been a success.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Museum of the Moving Image

On September 22nd, I, along with some of my production classmates, took a tour of the Behind the Screen exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. While the exhibit provides interesting and informative stations detailing the different elements associated with television and motion picture production, the parts of the tour I found most interesting were the early development of moving images. Without these early experiments, we would not have the ever-expanding world of entertainment we take for granted.

Not surprisingly, it is a museum after all, we were able to see working examples of the thaumatrope, zoetrope, magic lantern and other items that we discussed in class with regards to the early experiments in moving images. The principles of what was required for our eyes to perceive a moving image were placed in a new context that made sense; our tour guide repeated the words light, speed and moment of rest several times during the tour. What intrigued me was the idea that these necessary items have not changed since the success of those early moving image experiments. For all the advances in technology, the mechanics of how things work remain the same.

The item that most fascinated me, however, was the Feral Fount. Located early in the tour, it is refered to on the museums website as a “stroboscopic zoetrope” and is comprised of 97 sculptures which can be viewed individually in normal light, but appear to move when a strobe light is turned on.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

2009 Summer Movie Preview - May

About 10 years ago, the summer movie season, which had, until that point, traditionally begun on Memorial Day weekend, was kicked into high gear in early May with the release of The Mummy. And thus, thanks to Universal not having complete faith in Stephen Sommers (who could blame them, really) and wanting to get out of the way of The Phantom Menace, the supreme early star to the summer movie season was born. It's with that in mind that I submit the first monthly installment of my 2009 Summer Movie Preview. I hope this will become an annual tradition on this site. I will try to make note of films I'm especially looking forward to, or have already made plans to see.

Please note: all plot summaries have been aped from IMDB.

May 1

Battle for Terra (PG)
Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, James Garner, Chris Evans, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, David Cross, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid and Luke Wilson

Plot: A peaceful alien planet faces annihilation, as the homeless remainder of the human race sets its eyes on Terra. Mala, a rebellious Terrian teenager, will do everything she can to stop it.

It looks like something custom designed for 3-D, with lasers and spaceships flying at you constantly – at least from the trailer on their website. To be honest, I had not heard of this film prior to last week, and for something going up against Wolverine, that's not great news. It supposedly has a strong environmental message, but it also envisions a race where free thinkers are outcasts, and didn't we put up with enough of that during the Bush administration?


Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Director: Mark Waters (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Mean Girls, Just Like Heaven)
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer, Emma Stone, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer

Plot: A bachelor is haunted by the ghosts of his past girlfriends at his younger brother's wedding.

I'm a sucker for a good romantic comedy, and I have a serious crush on Jennifer Garner that dates back to Alias, but nothing I have seen for this film gives me hope that this will be anything more that another cliché counter-programming idea thrown out into theaters to pander to women. What the studio executives don't seem to understand is that not all women want to be pandered to. We're perfectly content watching Hugh Jackman.


X- Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13)
Director: Gavin Hood (Tsotsi)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Ryan Reynolds, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan

Plot: Wolverine lives a mutant life, seeks revenge against Victor Creed (who will later become Sabertooth) for the death of his girlfriend, and ultimately ends up going through the mutant Weapon X program.

A “work print” copy was leaked online a few weeks ago, but despite the protest of Fox executives, it's unlikely to upset the box office. This should be the clear winner of the first weekend of the summer season. I am particularly looking forward to this based on the previous work of director Gavin Hood. Talent-wise, he's a a huge step up from Brett Ratner, which should hopefully make this a better movie than Last Stand. The heightened acting talent is also encouraging, especially Liev Schrieber as Sabertooth. With all this increased talent, the weak spot could be the script, which is co-scripted by the author of Hitman and Swordfish.


May 8

Star Trek (PG-13)
Director: J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana

Plot: A chronicle of the early days of James T. Kirk (Pine) and his fellow USS Enterprise crew members.

I probably decided last year that I was going to see this as soon as it came out, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. This looks to be the event film of the summer. Positive early buzz from fans and critics can only help what is sure to be a killer box office. Early highlights in the cast include Zachary Quinto (Spock) who has a very Vulcan look about him and Eric Bana as the villain. Should prevent Wolverine from enjoying a second week at number one.


Next Day Air (R)
Director: Benny Boom
Cast: Donald Faison, Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick, Emilio Rivera, Cisco Reyes, Mos Def, Debbie Allen, Yasmin Deliz, Sundy Carter

Plot: Two inept criminals are mistakenly delivered a package of cocaine and think they've hit the jackpot, triggering a series of events that changes ten people's lives forever

Sounds like Shallow Grave meets Pineapple Express meets Robert Altman, in a weird way. Also comes across as another lame counter-programming move. Do studio execs think that black people don't like sci-fi? Faison is reliably funny in just about anything, and Def is a talented actor, but I have yet to see a trailer for this or any online buzz, and its release is just two weeks away. I have a hard time believing that enough people go to the movies without caring what they see to make this a hit. The days of just going to see anything because the movie you wanted to see is sold out are all but over. Studio execs should wake up and realize this.


May 15

Angels & Demons (PG-13)
Director: Ron Howard (Cinderella Man, Apollo 13,Splash)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl

Plot: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) works to solve a murder and prevent a terrorist act against the Vatican.

It's only fair that I admit now that I hated reading The Davinci Code and avoided the film at all costs. That being said, I find myself wanting to see this "sequel" (based on the first book in what Brown is now referring to as a trilogy). For one thing, I enjoyed reading this one much more and felt it was a better written piece of fiction. Also helping matters, I have been missing Ewan McGregor on my movie screen as of late. If done right, this could be a nice summer surprise.


May 21

Terminator Salvation (Rating TBA)
Director: McG (Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, We Are Marshall
Cast: Christian Bale, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anton Yelchin, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Alexander, Michale Ironside

Plot: After Skynet has destroyed much of humanity in a nuclear holocaust, a group of survivors led by John Connor (Bale) struggles to keep the machines from finishing the job.

When this film was first announced, I was disheartened that someone was going back to the Terminator well. I felt the second movie was superb and tied things up nicely, and it seemed James Cameron agreed with me. I didn't even bother seeing the third film. I vowed that the only thing they could do to get me to see this would be to set it in the post-Skynet apocalyptic future - which is exactly what they did. The choice of setting, and the casting of Christian Bale (one of my favorites) in the lead role will get me in the seat. It's up to McG and his team of writers to keep me engaged. Should make boat-loads of money.


May 22

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG)
Director: Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), The Pink Panther (2006), Night at the Museum)
Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Thomas Lennon, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Bill Hader, Dick Van Dyke, Hank Azaria, Ricky Gervais, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Steve Coogan, Craig Robinson

Plot: Security guard Larry Daley (Stiller) infiltrates the Smithsonian Institute in order to rescue Jedediah (Wilson) and Octavius (Coogan), who have been shipped to the museum by mistake.

The comedic talent in this film is off the charts, as almost all of my favorites (with the notable exception of Mr. Eddie Izzard) on board. I didn't see the first film, and I probably won't see this one in theaters, but this is the first smart counter-programming choice I've seen this summer. It might be one of the smartest decisions a studio exec has made this year. Honestly, if you are a family with young children who want to see a movie this weekend, are you really going to drag the tykes to Terminator Salvation? I would seriously hope not. Should do well against the sci-fi behemoth.


Dance Flick (PG-13)
Director: Damien Wayans
Cast: Marlon Wayans, Amy Sedaris, Shawn Wayans, Chris Elliott, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Essence Atkins, David Alan Grier, Kim Wayans, Shoshana Bush, Damon Wayans Jr.

Plot: Street Dancer Thomas Uncles (Wayans Jr.) is from the wrong side of the tracks, but his bond with the beautiful Megan White (Bush) might help the duo realize their dreams as they enter in the mother of all dance battles.

Does anyone remember when the Wayans brothers were funny and smart? I still contend that Keenan's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is an underrated 80s classic. However, nothing they have done in the past decade has made me sit up and take notice. The proliferation of spoof movies has gone overboard, and while they may be quick and cheap to make, the audience for them seems to be dwindling. It seems like the death knell to release this film on this weekend as it's sure to get buried by both other major releases and forgotten by next week.


May 29

Up (PG)
Directors: Pete Docter (Monsters Inc.) and Bob Peterson
Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger, Paul Eiding

Plot: By tying thousands of balloons to is home, 78-year old Carl Fredricksen (Asner) sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn't alone on his journey, since Russell (Nagai), a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on his trip.

I have absolute faith in Pixar and will continue to do so until they disappoint me. Although this film didn't particularly excite me when I saw the teaser trailer the way that Wall-E did, the more I see, the more interested I am. Although, I don't want to see too much; I like to be surprised. I will definitely check this out, although not in 3-D.

Side note: Why does it seem that every animated adventure this year is in 3-D???


Drag Me to Hell (PG-13)
Director: Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead and Spider-Man series)
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, David Paymer, Reggie Lee, Dileep Rao

Plot: A loan officer (Lohman) ordered to evict an old woman (Raver) from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse, which turns her life into a living hell. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to the breaking point.

Sam Raimi desperately needed to do something to restore his credibility after the shlock-fest that was Spider-Man 3, and it seems he found the perfect solution - a return to his roots. The only thing that could make this a better idea is a cameo by Bruce Campbell (which probably goes without saying). Another smart choice as the audience for this and Up probably doesn't have a lot of carry-over, and those that would be excited for both would probably see both anyway.

Side Note #2: The following actors make any scene of any film awesome: Bruce Campbell, Michael Ironside, Bill Paxton and Billy Zane. (Does not count if they are the lead.)


See you next month for a closer look at the June releases, which includes, but is not limited to the following films:
Land of the Lost
Imagine That
Year One
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen