Archive for July, 2007

Go Meat!

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

In a world with a growing population of vegans, vegetarians, and raw foodists, men have a rally cry and that cry is, "Go meat!"

Runtime: 29 sec

Economics of Screenwriting

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Craig Mazin has a great article up about The Economics of Screenwriting, which is better (and more number-specific) than anything I would have drafted.

Craig is basically a smart entertainment lawyer who happens to be a really good writer. Consider it a must-read if you’re curious how screenwriter-folk get paid.

Alan Watts, South Park Style

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

I’m an Alan Watts fanatic. I have listened to countless hours of his lectures, and I’ve read several of his books. There’s just something about the way the British-born philosopher in 1960s America saw the world that resonates with me at a deep level.

watts.jpg

Apparently, I’m not the only one. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker tapped animators Chris Brion and Todd Benson to create a series of animations set to snippets of Watts’ lectures. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but alas, they beat me to the punch.

They’re simple, fun and serve as a great introduction to Watts’ take on the world. Enjoy.

Via FEED

New stuff: DEMO

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

New stuff: DEMO

Transfatty Screening NYC: mark your calendars!

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Transfatty Screening NYC: mark your calendars!

Baby Wee

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

An anatomically correct baby doll that pisses, what more could a little girl ask for?

Runtime: 19 sec

Rachel Ray Before Her Breakfast

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

If this is what Rachel Ray is like before her morning cup of joe, then God help those who are around her after.

Runtime: 29 sec

DVD Review: Renaissance

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Combining the look and feel of movies like Sin City and Blade Runner, first time director Christian Volckman delivers a movie that is ultra-stylish, although the story itself does not feel all that special. Despite the familiar feeling, the film brings a bold, fresh look to the animated film genre. It is a science fiction tale of cops and criminals, kidnappers, and the misuse of science for personal gain. More than anything, the film is breathtaking for its use of motion capture and rotoscoping, utilizing the concept of adapting a graphic novel to the big screen, sans graphic novel.

The year is 2054, the place is Paris. This not terribly distant future finds most of the citizens employed by a cosmetics company called Avalon. This company seems to have their hands in all sorts of things, and they are massive. Avalon sort of reminds me of Resident Evil's Umbrella Corporation, or in the real world, Microsoft or Apple (which is funny considering IBM has credit for their technical support of the film). A young woman named Ilona (voiced by Romola Garai) is one of their most promising young scientists, that is until she is mysteriously kidnapped. The police detective assigned to the case, Karas (voiced by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig), sets out to find her. Along the way he meets her boss, Jonas Muller (Ian Holm), a gangster named Farfella (Kevork Mialikyan) who has a past with our hero, and his love interest Bislane (Catherine McCormack), who is also Ilona's older sister.

The story moves along in a straightforward manner; nothing is terribly deep, but Renaissance is nonetheless captivating. In some films, the lack of a deep story ultimately brings the film down a few notches, despite whatever else it may offer in interesting setting or style (see Perfect Creature). Renaissance does not have any big twists or turns; it is refreshingly straightforward as Karas moves forward in his investigation, as Bislane does some searching of her own, both intent on reaching the end and finding Ilona.

Karas is interesting even if he is cut from the same cloth as most other brooding heroes. There is something about him that hints of a tragic past, and ties him to Farfella. Actually, the character is not unlike Daniel Craig's other character, James Bond, a man of few words, a man of action, and a man willing to bed women while in the pursuit of his objective. There is even a scene early on where he gets the assignment which plays out like a meeting between Bond and M.

In the end, Renaissance seems less concerned with the story (although it is good), and more concerned with the style, the look, the environment, and the details. Yes, the world of 2054 Paris is completely immersive. The detail is spectacular, a science fiction noir with carefully thought out camera placements, interesting use of light and shadow, and it feels very real, like you could reach out and touch it. It is much like the way Sin City and 300 were shot, but taken a step further. Instead of just shooting the actors in front of a green screen and adding in backgrounds, the actors' movements were motion captured, manipulated in the computer, and placed within the CG-constructed Paris. It is a striking look, and the decision to use purely black and white is one that pays off in spades. The details just jump out, and the facial expressions and movements look very natural.

Audio/Video. Both English and French language tracks are included; the film is from France and was only dubbed for the US and other non-French markets (obviously), but they did a good job of bringing in very good voice talent that fit the nature of the characters here. I listened to the English track, a Dolby 5.1 track that sounds quite good, well representing the dialogue and score. Video is a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. It just looks fantastic, no complaints from this viewer.

Extras. A single extra is included, but it is a good one. It is a half hour 'making of' featurette that looks into the origins of the story, and how the concept centered on the idea of a motion captured black and white animated film, with the story coming later. It follows through the design, shooting, and post production phases. It is much better than a fluff piece, I only wish we had more.

Bottom line. I really liked this movie. I wasn't sure at first as it did open a little on the slow side. Still, the characters were interesting, and I just wanted more of this black and white world filled with people who live in the grey area in between.

Recommended.

Christopher Beaumont spends much of his time writing about entertainment when he isn’t sitting in a movie theater. He is known around the office as the “Movie Guy” and is always ready to talk about his favorite form of entertainment and offer up recommendations. Interests include science fiction, horror, and metal music. His writings can be found at Draven99′s Musings, as well as Film School Rejects.

DVD Review: Night And Fog

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Let me get this out of the way. I am not an anti-Semite. And Night And Fog is not a good documentary, assuming it can even be called a documentary.

I say this because the near universal praise for Alain Resnais’s 1955 black and white, and color, film is ill-founded. Most of it has to do with a) the seeming impolitic nature of criticizing anything that displays Nazi butchery, and b) the fact that the 31-minute long film was the first "real" attempt at categorizing the Nazi horrors of World War Two to the world at large. This was long before canonical terms and figures like "The Holocaust" or "six million" dead Jews were prevalent in pop culture. This film, however, is more agitprop than documentary, from the almost facile way it treats its subject matter, with quick edits to the ponderous, and badly written attempts at poetic narration, voiced by Michel Bouquet.

It would be another few decades before the detailed savagery of the Nazis would get its filmic due, with Marcel Ophüls’ 1972 four-plus hour long The Sorrow And The Pity, Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 nine-plus hour Shoah, and the BBC’s 1974 landmark 26-hour long documentary, The World At War. All three of these films, plus many others, have made Resnais’s film look quaint, to be kind.

That’s not to say that Night And Fog is an outright bad film. It’s not. It’s just not that good, both stylistically, and more so, factually. If the style were brilliant, the mangling of history would not be so bad, and if the reverse were true, the same would apply. But, here, a mere ten years after the war, Resnais makes a definitive claim of nine million dead in the death camps. In the years since, Nazi and Holocaust deniers have denied everything, while Nazi fetishists – is there any other word to call those so obsessed with such degradation? – have claimed thirty million or more. Jews have clung to the canonical Six Million figure, to the exclusion of the millions other dead, and the masses killed by Communist regimes, under the likes of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Pol Pot, which dwarf even the highest amounts attributed to the Nazis, have been given almost no scrutiny. In recent years, with the release of supposedly classified Nazi archives from Germany, the death tolls have again been claimed higher than the accepted ten to twelve million total, approximately half of which were Jews.

Yet, there is a certain flippancy that one sees with such historically important claims, and, after the seriousness of the Nuremberg Trials, the almost blasé approach of Resnais to this film is a bit unnerving. Of course, stürm and drang is not necessary, merely an incisive look at the reality. That requires no bad poetry and a bit more time. This blame has to fall on writer and minor poet Jean Cayrol, as much as it does Resnais. And yes, they were explicitly making an agitprop film for the French government, which chose to hide its Vichy complicity, as Resnais notes in a radio interview included on the Criterion Collection DVD of the film. There is one still photograph of a Nazi death camp in southern France, where French police can be seen. This was obscured upon the original release but included in the DVD. Yet, if that was done to the film, one can only imagine what other compromises were made, thus effectively nullifying the film’s artistic and historic impact.

If artists and writers in the Soviet bloc countries of the time could figure out ways to outsmart their censors, so should have Resnais. On the positive side, Resnais has claimed he wanted to make the film more than just a look backwards at the Second World War, but a comment on the then current French-Algerian war. Thus he called the death camp inhabitants deportees, not Jews, and used a larger figure for what he believed was the total amount killed (Jews and others) — nine million people.

Of course, the manifest flaws in the film’s structure, some badly synched images and music, and the bad narration, did not deter those of a Leftist bent from praising the film for its statement rather than its art. French film director Francois Truffaut called Night And Fog the greatest film of all time. Well, no. Often, when dealing with war films, or Holocaust films, there is a tendency to trivialize mass murder, by making patriotic excessiveness a virtue, or dripping the story in melodrama. Night And Fog comes down in the middle, yet still misses its mark, because it seems as if Resnais had no real target, despite his claims about the Algerian Resistance.

Yes, we see bodies plowed into holes, stacks of skulls and mounds of human hair, and while that may have shocked years ago, one must be aware that Bela Lugosi’s original turn in 1931’s Dracula, by Tod Browning, was also considered by some to be far too scary for film. Now it’s hokum, and Night And Fog is the documentary equivalent of Dracula. One might argue he’s not to blame, since time and history have swept by his film, but a truly great artist knows that his work will stand up not only upon first peek, but decades later, centuries after that, and as far into the human future as one can envision. This is why the best of Greek tragedies speak to a reader today, and why Night And Fog fails.

And, a final word on the narration, written by Cayrol and voiced by Bouquet. Aside from the pseudo-poetry, there is a condescending tone throughout. Oftentimes, Bouquet chides a viewer for not believing what is being shown (an unwitting invitation to Holocaust deniers in years hence), and then offers platitudes like, "Words are insufficient." Well, not really, not in great art. And while, at 31 minutes, there was obviously no attempt to be comprehensive about the death camps, much less all of World War Two, there is not even an attempt to distill the experience. This lack of focus and air of flippancy make a strange combination for the viewer to chew on, for there is no reflection, no analysis, and what is presented seems almost parodic.

The film’s score is no great shakes either, often being wildly out of touch with the images onscreen. Hanns Eisler plays flute and woodwinds against horrific images, which only further underscores the film’s seeming California surfer dude approach to the subject matter. Music need not be didactic and ponderous, thus recapitulating a terrible image of the dead, but it need not flounce lightly off the carcasses, as well.

Other than the five minute Resnais radio interview, there are only a few essays on the film. As Resnais was still alive at the time of the DVD’s release, one wonders why there are no interviews with him, nor even a commentary. And, as usual, Criterion really flubs it when they use only black and white subtitles, half of which wash out when the white of the black and white segments are shown. All in all, Criterion really shafted the public on this release.

Night And Fog is an interesting curio from the late post-war period. It was made at the height of the early Cold War, and the beginning of the end of Colonialism. While Resnais’s attempt to link the Nazi genocide with Colonialism’s many genocides was ahead of its time, the actual work of art has to stand on its own. It simply fails on all the counts enumerated. Heavy-handedness cannot replace deftness, purples prose cannot replace spare description, and poor scoring cannot replace the sometimes necessity for just an image and quietude. And while poor critical thinkers might believe criticizing a film like Night And Fog is tantamount to blaspheming the memory of the Nazi victims (Jews and others) I would caution those with that view to cogitate on just what such a facile and flippant representation of the dead, by Resnais, says. I claim not anti-Semitism, just not too good art. Unfortunately, these days, even saying that can get you called a Nazi.

Now, what was that saying of Santayana’s about history and doom?

Dan Schneider is the founder and webmaster of Cosmoetica: the best in poetica.

Insight on RhinoFX MB Spots.

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Insight on RhinoFX MB Spots.