Thursday, August 21, 2014

In Character: Roy Scheider

Plenty legendary names dominate the conversation regarding ‘70s American cinema. And as far as I’m concerned, a name that should be continually thrown into that conversation is Roy Scheider. Scheider will forever be best known as the dutiful police chief in Jaws, but his impressive filmography (in the ‘70s and later), is stacked with iconic performances. With his ceaseless smoking, slender frame and piercing gaze, Scheider had an old school disposition that made him endlessly compelling. To put it another way: Scheider was featured in 14 films in the 1970s, and nearly half of them are listed below. That there is one hell of a run.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


How do you raise a child who is behaving badly? A teenage boy who is violent at home and rebellious in the streets? Hundreds of films have been dedicated to answering this question. Some movie parents enforce strict rules to set their kid straight. Others mask their fear by giving in, being cool, letting shit slide. Many attempt to introduce a positive new variable, such as a competitive sport or a noble trade.

The parents represented in the fantastic and chilling new indie film, Coldwater, are different. Having suffered their son’s misdeeds, they call a private organization and arrange for their son to be sent to a juvenile camp called Coldwater. “Sent” isn’t exactly the proper word, as we see early in the film, a young man named Brad (newcomer P.J. Boudousqué) is abducted from his home, thrown into the back of a large van, and taken to the isolated Coldwater compound. Once there, Brad and a handful of other inmates (that’s the proper word, believe me) are introduced to Frank Reichert (James C. Burns), a retired Marine Corps Colonel who oversees the grounds.

Monday, August 18, 2014

No Cameras Allowed

In 2010, a USC film student named James Marcus Haney snuck into the Coachella music festival in southeast California. While there, Marcus became hooked on the intoxicating frenzy of the moment. He documented his experience with the many cameras around his neck, and knew he had to relive the experience again as soon as possible. In the months following his Coachella break-in, Marcus successfully snuck into Bonnaroo (in Tennessee), Ultra (in Miami), Glastonbury (in England), Coachella (again), and more, documenting his exploits the entire time. No Cameras Allowed is the fun and frantic feature length documentary of his adventures.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WAIT: An Update on My First Feature Film

I haven’t written about my first feature film, Wait, in nearly eight months, and I’d finally like to tell you why. For the past two and a half years, this film has occupied my nearly every waking moment. What began as an incessant idea filled with stark images of dark bedrooms, chance scenes of melancholy, and sharp lines of dialogue, turned into the best script I’ve written. Once I moved to L.A., I fast tracked the film into production. Auditions, location scouting, props, schedules – everything rolled smoothly. When I began shooting the film, I started and ended each day high on creative inspiration. The first few days of shooting went better than I could’ve dreamed (there were a lot of sleepless nights leading up to filming), but about a week into shooting, production began incurring problems that I wasn’t sure the film, or myself, could overcome.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

In Character: Robin Williams

What can be said? It’s been three days since Robin Williams passed away, and the enormity of his loss still hasn’t fully sunk in. I’m opening my In Character column up today, making room for the roles that best captured Williams’ unique and profound range. Because really, if there is one guy to break the rules for, who better than the wild man himself? May you rest well, fine sir.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams and the Look that Changed My Life

I didn’t have the easiest childhood. We’ve all endured troubles, fears, and nightmares, but at a very young age, my nightmares began living themselves out in my days. And so it goes. This isn’t the proper forum, nor the appropriate time, to divulge further details, but that brief insight is a fitting introduction to explain what Robin Williams means to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jaws: A Visual Essay on Why Continuity Doesn’t Matter

The first scene of Jaws is, technically, one of the most error-riddled famous sequences ever filmed. The scene is huge. Timeless, iconic, and has been viewed by nearly everyone, including people who haven’t even fully seen Jaws. It’s one of those sequences that is impossible to avoid; embedded in culture (not just pop culture) for, seemingly, ever. But, continuity wise, specifically lighting continuity, the scene doesn’t make a bit of sense. When I rewatched the film last night, I was stunned to see how erratic the lighting of the sequence is. Literally, none of the coverage in the scene matches. At all. And the beauty is: it doesn’t matter. Why? I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s first dive into the lighting continuity issues of the scene itself.

Friday, August 8, 2014

In Character: Melissa Leo

Few modern actresses play strong as consistently as Melissa Leo. And, sadly, words like “strong” “determined” and “independent” are words we can rarely apply to the bulk of an actress’ filmography. (This is because of crappy, male-driven writing, mind you. Not the talent of the actresses currently in the game.) Melissa Leo is the exception. She’s living proof that there is a demand for strong female characters. Characters who stand on their own, expressing their opinions and thoughts and fears as loudly as they damn well please. I adore Melissa Leo’s work, but I also love what she (purposefully or otherwise) represents as an actress.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Top 10 Robert Elswit Films

I often generalize a cinematographer’s craft into one short phrase. Gordon Willis, master of the dark. Emmanuel Lubezki, God of the fluid tracking shot, Robert Richardson, ruler of hot light, and so on. There are, of course, many more attributes that make these DPs so great, but the best way I can sum up my thoughts on Robert Elswit is that he is a master of proficiency. There’s tightness to his cinematography, a precision that feels wholly authentic. Elswit rarely relies on filters, shadows, or shaky camerawork to capture the narrative. His films look as crisp and real as possible. Granted, as you’ll see below, this isn’t consistent throughout his entire body of work, but it is apparent in many of the best films he’s lensed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Top 15 Performances in Roman Polanski Films

Roman Polanski knows how to direct a great performance. In particular, he knows how to get the best out of his female actors. Many of the characters below are not defined as good or evil. They have gray to them; mystery, allure. You really never know what to expect from a classic Polanski character. Just one reason of many that I find a great number of his films endlessly compelling.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired & Odd Man Out

People have a right to their own opinions about what happened, but they don’t have a right to their own facts.”
This is something Roman Polanski’s lawyer, Douglas Dalton, says early in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. It’s a perfectly stated quote about how people tend to forget that opinions and facts are indeed separate things. The fact is, only two people really know what happened on the afternoon of March 11, 1977 in Jack Nicholson’s Beverly Hills home. It was in that home, on that day, that famed director Roman Polanski was photographing 13-year-old Samantha Geimer for French Vogue magazine (Nicholson was out of town). From there, a shared fact ceases to exist. Polanski says the two eventually drank champagne, took a Quaalude and had consensual sex. But, according to Geimer, the drugs and sex were both forced on her.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

the Directors: Roman Polanski

A Roman Polanski Film is A Roman Polanski Film. There’s simply no other way to describe his trademark tone, foreboding subtext, subtle humor and well-balanced atmosphere. Polanski has been prolific throughout his career, delivering everything from classics that will be forever studied and revered, to surefire misses that went away as quickly as they appeared. For all his hits (and, what the hell, his misses too), I’ve always hailed Polanski as one of my favorite filmmakers. I had a great time making my way through his filmography, and I hope you enjoy my thoughts on his entire body of feature film work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Character: Michael Parks

Michael Parks has a distinct quality about him. A unique magnetism that makes me smile whenever he appears on screen. A serious and prolific player since the early ‘60s, Parks appeared in dozens of TV shows and films before earning a career resurgence at the hands of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Since then, he’s adopted a sort of hard ass, tough guy persona and made it his own. The Michael Parks Persona, if you will. And whether he sticks to his familiar on-screen identity, or abandons it completely, there is no end to the joy I get from watching him work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Origins

The Brit Marling School of Cinema is something every young filmmaker should take note of. A few years ago, Marling drove cross-country with her friends, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij. Their destination, Los Angeles. Their dream, to make films. In 2011, after severing time amidst the Hollywood struggle, the trio premiered two separate movies at the Sundance Film Festival. Both films, Cahill’s Another Earth and Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice, were small-scale, high-concept sci-fi tales that were financed independently and featured Marling in lead roles (she also co-wrote each film). Within a year, Batmanglij was developing his next film with Ridley Scott (which turned into The East), while Marling was stealing scenes from Richard Gere in Arbitrage (and, later, from Robert Redford in The Company You Keep).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon

Nostra, the uncontested master of blogathons, has created another great one, this time tasking bloggers with connecting film artists in six steps or less. The rules, in Nostra’s words: You will get two names of either actors/actresses/directors or movies and what you will have to do is make a link between them in a maximum of six steps.