Monday, May 31, 2010

Donut Shop

This is a short documentary about what happens in a donut shop. Simple idea. I love it. One of the best ways to get people to talk is to ask them about what they love. And generally, what they have to say is pretty interesting. So go find people who love weird things and talk to them. Such as, people who live at Starbucks!

Sparrow Songs - Episode 5 - The Donut Shop from Sparrow Songs on Vimeo.

If you like that, you might check out the other films. Its a project by director Alex Jablonski (Blue Boy) and his goal is to make a new documentary short every month for one year. The products are manic little testaments to the joy of film making. The narration is often a bit overt and sometimes uneven but I like it. Its raw.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Tea Party's Robin Hood

Errol Flynn is not in this movie. Sorry to break your hearts but this is not a re-make or even a re-telling. It is a separate work to be appreciated on its own and free from comparisons. Its gritty. It drinks mead. And much like the story of English folklore, it is told not only to entertain but also to carry rhetorical message.

I am convinced many films are born out of whimsy. Danny Boyle really wanted to make a Bollywood movie and thus we have Slumdog Millionaire. Likewise, Riddley Scott thought it would be really funny if Robin Hood was a hero of libertarian principles. Libertarian ideas are popular in film. Look at Iron Man.

Crowe's Robin Hood has two notable opportunities to deliver his political view of the world. In the exposition, he declares that the common man has the power to make England rich. In the conclusion, he preaches the values of liberty and the natural rights included within the American constitution. He was truly ahead of his time, wasn't he?

Also, the evil power hungry King John has a beautiful scene in which he blames his predecessor's futile war. He says he inherited so many problems. Sound familiar? He also concludes that the kingdom has no choice but to tax its way out of debt.

This is a story about politics. To keep your attention, Mr. Scott delivers plenty of action and cinematographer John Mathieson gives us all the glitter and glamor we expect from a meticulously crafted story.

Scott is obviously planning for a sequel. The entire film feels like exposition and thus it feels shallow and simple. The philosophical scenery is painted in broad strokes of black and white. If Brian Helgeland's story is to develop this story, he wants to lay a thick foundation and save the subtle touches for the sequel. The irony being, there probably won't be a sequel. If Scott was serious about making a sequel, he should have dropped some Easter Egg clues to the potential development.

Negative reviews such as from The Village Voice express a lament over the film's failure to deliver on the initial hype of the film. I see opportunity to make right on these wrongs in a sequel. What we have is the groundwork for blockbuster sequel of Matrix proportions. What the Larry and Andy Wachowski did for Descartes, Riddly Scott has the potential to do for John Stewart Mills.

Scott's Robin Hood ultimately failed with critics because they are unable to separate the folk lore from its previous interpretations. Errol Flynn's gaiety and Disney's cute Socialist undertones are difficult icons to overcome because they are so ingrained into pop culture and remain powerful after several decades.

My question is, why does Robin Hood fail where Batman succeed? It is strictly politics?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Precious Blind Side

, moFinally got around to watching The Blind Side and Precious. I watched them back to back because it felt like the thing to do. The comparison is natural. They're both films about poverty and redemption and the power of education. The first was hyped by the studios in the traditional mass appeal fashion while the later was more of an independent project backed by Oprah. And to no surprise, liberal newspapers hated The Blind Side and loved Precious.

I was hesitant to enjoy The Blind Side. Having read and enjoyed the novel by Micheal Lewis for its insightful analysis of football strategy and economics. The Lewis novel structures the history and background parallel to the personal narrative. Needless to say, I was hesitant to watch a movie about benevolent white people. The critical response to the film did not help, either.

In watching the movie, I must retract all initial impressions. As with many book adaptations, the film offers a smorgasbord of moments while failing to deliver a full meal and yet the film's soft vignettes offer their own sweet satisfaction.

On surface level, you get a series of vignettes about as heartwarming as a precious moments gift-ware. You know, that stuff on QVC? And the running joke of the film is: what if a precious moment scene randomly featured a token black guy? And honestly, you can get quite a bit of mileage out of that joke.

Beyond that, there is a story about white guilt and the intangible rewards of charity. You get a subtle nod to the color blind nature of the free market. Football does not care about your politics, your religious upbringing or your political orientation. Football cares only about the value you can bring to a team.

Precious offers a much more gritty picture. Its a pretty stiff contrast to the lifetime gloss of The Blind Side and your mom probably won't like it.

Also, Precious shows the inner workings of volunteer powered outreach programs, which appeals to liberal people. If The Blind Side was pitched to your average blue state conservative, Precious is aimed at your average metropolitan social worker and enlightened cynic.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn paid special attention to the use of color in this picture. The yellows feel dreamy. The blues feel defensive. The browns feel secure.

The characters of The Blind Side may have been based on real people, but the characters in Precious feel more real. This is not a film about rhetoric and it has no political agenda. Precious is a story about people and interpersonal relationships.

If The Blind Side is a story about redemption, Precious is a story about pushing through when there is no redemption. Precious boldly points to the source of the problem but is slow to offer any solutions. Again, it's non-political. It's interpersonal. Precious favors the acclimation of little victories over the grandiose.

Neither film is smarter than the other. Neither film uses less stereotypes. Neither film is brilliant. But both films are worth watching and both films will offer conversation fodder. Good times.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thoughts on Steven Spielberg's Duel

Duel is Steven Spielberg's debut made for TV feature film. It is a film about a man who encounters a psychotic truck driver along a sparse California highway. The film works for commercial television because of its high concept. Middle class suburban man versus truck driver.

Steven goes to extra length to strip the story down to its bare essentials. He doesn't want to concern you with the answers to those superficial questions: Who is the truck driver? Why is he so crazy? Steven's refusal to answer our questions heightens the tension. The identity of the driver is almost completely obscured in shadow except for his arm, which he uses to menacingly beacon David to pass.

The dialogue is sparse. Obviously, dialogue is unnecessary to tell the above story but the addition of language gives us some subtle clues as to how to interpret the story of David's Plymouth Valiant versus the giant Peterbilt 281.

In the introduction scene, David is listening to the radio. We hear an advertisement for some gentleman's product like hernia creme or something. Then we jump into a talk show in which a man is confessing his embarrassment of not being the head of his household. The female talk show host assures the man that there is no shame in being a stay at home dad. When we realize this conversation is within the context of a census form, we begin to see the full scope of the themes discussed in Duel. That is, unbridled masculinity versus the industrial system.

Coming out of Christopher Voler's book The Writer's Journey, I was looking for the character archetypes. David is on a journey into his repressed animal nature and the truck driver is his shadow mentor. The people David encounters on the road are brought in to benchmark David's descent into his manhood. And David's wife acts as a threshold guardian, reminding him to come home in time to receive his visiting mother.

Issues of gender power dynamics are most apparent when David attempts to discuss with his wife, the situation in which a man made sexual advances towards her. The manner in which she avoids open discussion illustrates her low expectations of him. I don't want to talk about it, she says, because then you'd get upset and we wouldn't want that.

This is the only scene that feels real to me. It is almost as if this one dramatic scene is a separate short film surrounded by a surreal thriller about a man up against something larger than life, something he cannot control. And the only way to defeat the thing is to...

You get the idea.