Chris Kyle was a highly decorated Navy SEAL who, during his four tours in Iraq, reportedly became the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. That’s the kind of meaty material I would expect to produce a blazing action war film. Something generic, packed with eye rolling bravado, ceaseless explosions, gruesome violence. Chris might be played by a former pro wrestler, he’d show little emotion, boast about his kills, crack unfunny one-liners. Instead, director Clint Eastwood has created a film of emotional depth and impressive restraint. A film as concerned with in-county battle as the horrors those battles leave behind. American Sniper is one of the finest films made yet about the War in Iraq. It’s a film that, perhaps for personal reasons, I assume I’ll like more than most. Which is fine. By this point, I’ve learned that the films I connect with emotionally aren’t always movies that the masses are drawn to.
Monday, December 29, 2014
Filmmaking is all about challenges. When I set out on a new project, I’m always thinking of ways to test myself. And I’m not talking about the common challenges that plague most every shoot (money, schedules), or the technical challenges that can enhance the material (long tracking shots, fancy lighting). Moreover, I’m talking about challenges with the material. For example, early in the process of writing and developing my first feature film, Wait, sex was something I couldn’t get out of my mind.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman is a fantastic film that feels sadly destined to disappear. Despite being in competition for the Cannes Films Festival’s coveted Palme d’Or last May, The Homesman suffered a piss-poor theatrical distribution, and will likely soon fade out of theaters, thereby slipping past audiences.
The film is a revisionist western about a lonely and depressed woman named Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) who volunteers to transport three insane women from their homes in Nebraska to a mental health care facility in Iowa. There are potential risks on this journey. Bad weather, vengeful Native Americans, rapists, thieves – you name it. Shortly into the film, Mary Bee saves the life of George Briggs (Jones), who in return, agrees to help Mary Bee make the trip.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
In the middle of making four modern masterworks – beginning with the brazenly entertaining Boogie Nights and Magnolia, followed by the meditative and emotionally brutal There Will Be Blood and The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson created a weird little film called Punch-Drunk Love. The movie doesn’t get enough credit for being so wildly unlike any other film Anderson has made. It’s short, fast and loose; a film I never tire of. With Anderson’s whacky Inherent Vice current making the rounds in theaters, let’s take a look back at the pulp fiction unconventionality of Punch-Drunk Love.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Sunday, December 14, 2014
As I sit moments away from seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, Inherent Vice in 70mm, I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at some of the unsung performances from his pervious films. There are many, many other performances that could be listed here, so do feel free to share your favorites as well.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
The 2015 Oscar race kicked into full swing over the past two days, with the respective releases of the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe award nominations. By and large, the noms are what I expected, but there were thankfully a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Here are my thoughts on both sets of nominations, be sure to share your feelings as well!
Monday, December 8, 2014
Conrad L. Hall was beyond simple classification. He’d shoot with piercing light in one film, then natural light the next. His films could have an ice cold palette (the way A Civil Action does), or be bathed in a warm glow (like The Day of the Locust). Hall was nominated 10 times for an Academy Award, winning three for his unparalleled work. He’s also one of those rare artists who delivered some of his finest efforts at the very end of his career. Here’s a look at the work of one of film’s finest cinematographers.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Tom Sizemore owned the ‘90s with his penchant for playing menacing tough guys. Much of the fun of his work is that you can never tell how far his characters are going to go. Whether he’s a cop or criminal, soldier or bank robber, there’s a persistent danger to his work that is immensely appealing. By this point, Sizemore may be equally well known for his troubles with substance abuse. For a while there, it looked like his demons were going to get the better of him. Thankfully, he’s still going, and while his work now may not be as strong as it was then, there is never a bad time to go back and revisit his best roles.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
There’s a scene in Bennett Miller’s new film, Foxcatcher, that I can’t figure out. It’s an early scene, one of the first in the film, and it has dominated my mind since I saw the film some days ago. At the start of Foxcatcher, we’re introduced to a large, solemn man who we come to learn is Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Mark doesn’t say a lot, but in these introductory scenes, there’s really no need to. He eats ramen noodles in his dingy apartment, struggles through a speech to elementary school kids, then goes to work out at the gym. And here’s the scene I want to talk about. Mark arrives at the gym and as he makes his way through the locker room, many of the other wrestlers look at Mark disapprovingly. Miller doesn’t linger on the shot, but it’s clear that when Mark enters the room, a shift in tone occurs.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is yet another dull tortured genius biopic in a very long line of dull tortured genius biopics. Before I get into my analysis of these types of films, I want to be clear about something from the onset. The Imitation Game is not an inherently bad film. In telling the story of how famed mathematician Alan Turing cracked the Nazi’s unbreakable Enigma code, thereby helping the Allies win World War II, Tyldum has made a perfectly average film. Tyldum, writer Graham Moore, and star Benedict Cumberbatch, spend 114 minutes capturing the full and tortured life of Turing, resulting in a safe movie that will surely tap directly into the hearts of many Oscar voters.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Friday, November 21, 2014
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Monday, November 17, 2014
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than Good Job.”
These are words of discouragement from Terence Fletcher – renowned conductor, accomplished musician, teacher from Hell. By the time Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) utters this phrase in the thrilling new film, Whiplash, we have a full understanding of who he is: a maniacal tyrant who pushes his students at the Juilliard-like Shaffer Conservatory to the brink of emotional collapse. The harder, longer and louder he berates his pupils, the easier it will be to weed them out. If they manage to survive his cruel tutelage, then Fletcher knows he will have crafted a truly great musician.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
The new Swedish film, Force Majeure, concerns itself with a fascinating concept known as fight or flight. That is to say, how do people respond to catastrophe? A question we love to debate over, but one that we never really know the answer to until we’re thrown into such a situation. We’re all guilty of sitting in the comfort of our air conditioned homes and yelling at the television when we see movie characters respond to situations in a way we don’t approve of. We call Corporal Upham a coward as he lets Private Mellish be stabbed to death in Saving Private Ryan, we argue that we could’ve formulated a better plan while the passengers of United 93 storm the cockpit. And on and on. We think we know, but do we really, truly know how we’d react when faced with certain death?
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar opens in an undisclosed place at an undisclosed time in the future. And though the setting is opaque, the film makes it immediately clear that life on Earth is running out. Cities are unseen, populations are low, the military is nonexistent – all that remains is the need for steady farming, and the will to combat the dust that blankets every feasible area. The dust is so thick on Earth that a thin layer of it can be seen on most every surface. On the kitchen table, in the principal’s office, in the car, on the pillows – it’s everywhere. And by now, it’s killed every crop except corn, which we soon learn is too in short supply. Corn is how we’re introduced to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer and single father of two who gave up his career as an engineer, to literally help cultivate the Earth.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Christopher Nolan doesn’t get enough credit for his casting. Sure, most of his movies are headlined by very popular and very talented stars, but if you dig deeper, you see that his films are almost always fully cast to perfection. As I sit mere hours away from watching Nolan’s new film, Interstellar (in 70mm!), I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at the supporting players who helped make his films so good.
Monday, November 3, 2014
John Carpenter’s Halloween is a horror classic, quite nearly my favorite film ever produced for the genre. Interestingly enough, upon revisiting it this past weekend, I found myself most taken with its modesty. For being such a groundbreaking film, it really went about achieving its terrors in a rather subtle way. I hope you enjoy my thoughts Halloween, do be sure to share your favorite aspects of the film as well.
Friday, October 31, 2014
If things ended differently for Travis Bickle and his unrequited love, Betsy, their son would’ve turned out like Lou Bloom. Lou would’ve grown up knowing that in life, no one gives you anything. If you want something, you have to work for it. If you work hard enough, and still nothing happens, then you take what is rightfully yours.
That’s the Lou Bloom we meet in Dan Gilroy’s devilishly entertaining new film, Nightcrawler. Lou, as inhabited by a ferocious and fearless Jake Gyllenhaal, is a smart, wildly articulate, slender beast of a man who spends his nights roaming the bloodstained streets of Los Angeles. After failing to find purpose (which we assume is something he’s failed to find for a long time), Lou discovers a freelance profession of filming crime scenes and selling the footage to the highest network bidder. Nightcrawlers, as these people are known, cruise L.A. all night, stalking police scanners in hopes of being the first one on the scene with cameras rolling.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous when Sati of cinematic corner, passed the Best Superhero Movies of All Time relay on to me. The relay, created by Bubbawheat of Flights, Tights & Movie Nights, is a really fun concept, but one I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do justice. In general, superhero movies aren’t really my thing. But participating in this relay has been an interesting experience, because what I’ve been reminded of is that very good films exist in every genre of film. Before we get into which films I cut and added, let’s go through Bubbawheat’s rules for the relay:
The Child’s Play franchise kind of fascinates me. Personally, as a kid of the late ‘80s–early ‘90s, the first three films were staples of my childhood. I also think it’s very unique (and kind of great) for a horror franchise to run for 26 years without including a remake, prequel or reboot. But most of all, rarely has the overall tone of a horror franchise varied so drastically. The Child’s Play films have gone from dead serious to moderately humorous, silly to absurd, parody to dead serious (again). And look, by no means am I saying that these films are good, I’m just saying that, more often than not, I tend to have fun with them.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Search for the best long takes in cinema, and you’ll find the usual suspects. The Copacabana shot in Goodfellas; the opening shots of Boogie Nights, Touch of Evil, and Gravity; action scenes in The Protector, Hard Boiled and Oldboy; the car shootout in Children of Men; the TV station shot in Magnolia; the conversation in Hunger; the jog in Shame; the conclusion of The Passenger; the raid in True Detective. You’ll read about the extended use of long takes in movies like Rope, Timecode, Irreversible, Russian Ark, and, soon enough, Birdman. And the thing is, while all of those shots deserve to be hailed as some of the best long takes ever captured, the internet is oversaturated with praise for them. I’ve written about many of those shots on this blog before, so in an effort to branch out, here’s a list of excellent and vastly underpraised long takes in film.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
In the 15 years Alejandro González Iñárritu has been making films, I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between Iñárritu’s work and my cognitive gratification. The masochist in me is enamored with the emotional brutality of Iñárritu’s films, and the filmmaker in me is continually inspired by his audacious methods of storytelling.
I was in high school when I saw Iñárritu’s first feature, Amores Perros. I started the film late one night, and when it ended in the early hours of a new day, I was unable to form a coherent thought. I was so moved by its power, so troubled by its intensity. A few years later, I walked out of a screening of 21 Grams in a haze, my mind stuck in the emotional hell that film created. From the moment Babel finished, the film became, and remained, one of my top films of the decade. My experience with Iñárritu’s Biutiful was different. Biutiful wasn’t as raw and alive as Iñárritu’s other work. But it grew on me. And with time, I came to love it.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is about perspective. Perspective of the relationship that Connor (James McAvoy) has with his wife, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain). And perspective of the relationship that Eleanor has with her husband, Connor. If those perspectives sound like they belong in the same movie, writer/director Ned Benson has made it very clear that distinction between the two is key.
Ten years ago, Benson wrote a script called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which was about a crumbling marriage as seen through the eyes of the husband. He gave the script to a young actress named Jessica Chastain, who liked it, but thought the wife role was underwritten. A few years later, Benson gave her another script of the same story, only now the marriage was viewed from the wife’s perspective. Benson said he planned to shoot both scripts simultaneously, and release them as two separate feature films. Such is the genesis of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and its counterpart, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. Two films, two perspectives, one vision.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Breaking the fourth wall: when a character becomes aware of their fictional nature. That’s the definition given on Urban Dictionary, and despite the source, it is an entirely accurate one. Usually fourth wall breaks are executed with the character looking directly into the camera and talking to the audience. Sometimes, they’re far more subtle.
However, a character looking into the camera because the lens is doubling as a mirror or another character is not a fourth wall break. Tyler Durden looking into the camera as he tells a police commissioner, “Do not fuck with us,” is not a fourth wall break, because Tyler isn’t looking at us, he’s looking at the police commissioner. The Narrator telling us about Tyler’s job as a projectionist is a fourth wall break because The Narrator is talking to us.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
When Frank Langella is on screen, you pay attention. His presence demands it. With his towering frame, steely gaze and impeccable bravado, he’s the kind of actor who is impossible not to notice. But the thing I love most about him is that, despite his imposing figure, he often prefers to inhabit his characters in a more nuanced and restrained manner. Watching Frank Langella break bad is plenty of fun, don’t get me wrong. But watching Frank Langella threaten to break bad is infinitely more appealing.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The girl is missing. So discovers Nick Dunne on the afternoon of July 5, when he walks inside his suburban, Midwestern home and notices that his wife, Amy, is nowhere to be found. A living room table rests flipped and smashed, but no other sign of struggle is apparent. The police arrive as quickly as they’re called. They notice things. A little blood splattered on the kitchen cabinet. An iron that’s still somewhat hot. Nick’s mostly blasé attitude. And so begins the search for Amy Dunne. Amy Dunne, a kind and confident American sweetheart from a well-to-do New York family who met Nick at a party all those years ago. An intense relationship was formed, one based on intellectual stimulation, passionate sex, and ease of wealth.
Friday, October 3, 2014
“[My wife] was extremely vociferous, for instance, when she said, ‘Don’t make The Game.’ And in hindsight, my wife was right. We didn’t figure out the third act, and it was my fault, because I thought if you could just keep your foot on the throttle it would be liberating and funny. I know what I like, and one thing I definitely like is not knowing where a movie is going.” – David Fincher, Playboy (Oct. 2014)
What we have here is a very rare instance of me disagreeing with a great director who is bashing their own work. I love The Game, and I love how its intricate puzzle begins to come together in the third act. I’m very surprised Fincher has such big problems with it, but so it goes. In honor of the release of Fincher’s latest film, Gone Girl (which is fantastic, but more on that in a future post), I thought it’d be fun to dive back to one of his more overlooked movies. A film that, apparently, isn’t as liked by its maker as I once hoped. (Please note that this post contains major spoilers.)
Thursday, October 2, 2014
David Fincher knows how to direct actors. More specifically, he knows how to give a character actor a great, meaty role. Unfortunately, many such performances are often out shadowed by the actors who headline Fincher’s films. Despite this, each of the roles below deserve specific praise. And although I’ve already highlighted many of these performances in my In Character column, this work merits continued discussion.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Every scene of David Fincher’s The Social Network is memorable for its own specific reasons. The Larry Summers sequence, for example, contains what I consider to be the best four consecutive minutes of writing that Aaron Sorkin has ever done. It also features Armie Hammer’s best acting in the film, and a delicious cameo from veteran hardass Douglas Urbanski. I’ve commonly regarded that scene as my favorite in the film, but after watching the entire movie last night, I realized that while that sequence contains great writing and strong acting, the Facemash scene is pure fucking cinema at its finest.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
There’s something so amusing about watching a handful of friends (or complete strangers) sit down and have a seemingly pleasant meal crumble before their eyes. I don’t know what it is about that situation that I enjoy so much, but below are my favorite film dinner parties gone wrong. I’ve taken liberties with some inclusions here; most occur over the course of an evening, some are spread out for a weekend. Few are about the food, many are about awkward social conventions.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Do me a favor and think about a recent time you got together with a friend to hang out. Maybe you went to happy hour, maybe you had dinner; you’re meeting up with someone you likely meet up with often. You shoot the shit, tell jokes, share laughs. Now, think about what you really said to this person while you were with them. You’ve known them for a while, so there was probably no reason to, for example, keep repeating their name back to them. Or recall stories you’ve already told too many times. You don’t need to do these things, because there’s a shorthand to your interactions. An ease that makes hanging out with them enjoyable. If a camera were present to film your time together, what was captured may not make a lot of sense to people who don’t know you. We wouldn’t have any context to help us better understand the familiarity you and your friend have.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Seven years. I can’t believe I started this blog seven years ago. And the funny thing is, And So It Begins was born out of necessity. When I was a journalism student in college, one of my professors demanded that each of her students start a blog. She didn’t require us to buy textbooks for her course, and, according to her, the tradeoff was that we create own our blogs and update them regularly. We were allowed to write about anything, so, naturally, I began writing about film. Several years later, after numerous changes to layout, design, and my personal taste, I decided to do something I was honestly hesitant to do, and that was discuss my own filmmaking.
It’s a name that echoes throughout Curtis Hanson’s masterful modern noir, L.A. Confidential. It’s a name that changes minds, reveals guilt, and displays shame. But, of course, the beauty of the name (and what a fine name it is) is that, technically, “Rollo Tomassi” means nothing. Who he represents is real, a purse snatcher who shot and killed Detective Lieutenant Edmund Exley’s father some years ago, but the name itself was made up by Exley, just to “give him some character.”
Monday, September 22, 2014
listening to this while you read. It’s more fun.)
Friday, September 19, 2014
Kevin Bacon gets a lot of crap. There’s the game and the blasé attitude and the rock band and the mediocre films. But beyond all that, I’ve always thought that Kevin Bacon was genuinely one hell of an actor. His range is never given enough credit, which is why, in highlighting my favorite Bacon roles, I’ve chosen performances that explore the many facets of his talent. From funny to sad, smartass to asshole, martyr to monster. Here, for my money, is Kevin Bacon at his best.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
There is no contemporary filmmaker currently making better, more important films about women than Andrea Arnold. As far as my tastes go, Arnold’s films are simply unmatched. Her frank and necessary use of sexuality, her understanding of the lower class, her unyielding respect for women – all reasons why Arnold is one of cinema’s most unique voices.
Beyond the stories she chooses to tell, it’s the way Arnold chooses to tell them that is worth praising. Arnold’s last two feature films, Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights, were shot in the 4x3 (or 1.33:1) Academy ratio, which means that the films are essentially projected as a square, as opposed to a widescreen rectangle that we’re used to. This is a very deliberate and very bold way to display a modern film, especially if you’re not using it as a gimmick, as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel did. According to Arnold, the 4x3 ratio gives the film a specific type of intimacy that widescreen lacks.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Lucky Bastard is a found footage film about a fan who is invited to have sex with his favorite porn star on camera. But shortly after the fan arrives on set, it becomes very clear very quickly that this whole setup is a bad idea. I found the film to be an unnerving and brazen experiment of a tired idea. The bulk of Lucky Bastard takes place in a house that is used for actual porn shoots. The set is rigged with dozens of cameras, leaving every area of the house documented. Much of the footage in Lucky Bastard comes from these stationary cameras, thereby giving the tired found footage motif a nice, organic twist. I dug the film when I saw it, but it wasn’t until last week that I became engrossed by the process in which Lucky Bastard was made and released.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
No cinematographer inspires my own filmmaking more than Steven Soderbergh. I have difficulty explaining it, but the simple way Soderbergh pans to reveal an office sign, or colors physical settings differently, or shoots upside down (because why not?), or… well, I could go on and on. When I watch Soderbergh’s films, I refuel my creative drive. The impact his work has had on me is unspeakable.
Monday, September 8, 2014
One of the things I love most about character actors is that the great ones really can play anything. Stephen Tobolowsky is a perfect example. Looking through the roles I’ve highlighted below, there isn’t a common thread among them. We have psychopathic murders, goofballs, straight-laced business execs, zany film producers, and so on. The man has 232 IMDb credits, most of which defy the notion of typecasting. Very few of his best roles are alike, but damn near all of them are enjoyable. Stephen Tobolowsky is one of the best, most recognizable character actors currently in film. Below are just six of many reasons why.
Friday, September 5, 2014
One of the easiest ways to make a movie for cheap is to set it in one interior location. But one of the hardest things about creating a cheap movie is to make it for cheap, but not cheap looking. The new micro budget headtrip, Coherence, accomplishes both feats. The entire film is set in (and directly around) one home, and takes place over one particularly troubling evening. Rather than let its minimalist setting work against it, Coherence embraces its own physical claustrophobia. It traps you in its unsettling atmosphere and dares you to pick it apart.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Making-Of documentaries can be compelling for a number of reasons. They can reconfirm your love for a movie you’ve always enjoyed, or act as a cautionary tale for what not to do while working on a movie. Whether they’re shorts included on the main film’s DVD, or standalone features, a great Making-Of documentary will teach you about film and filmmaking. Below are my favorites, but considering there are thousands to choose from, do feel free to list your favorites as well.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Few filmmakers have endured a career arc as varied as Francis Ford Coppola’s. He started small, making flicks for Roger Corman with next to no money. His transition into the ‘70s was a legendary one, releasing four consecutive masterpieces and helping establish the ‘70s as the best decade of American film. From there, he churned out a handful of smaller films – some obscure, others noteworthy, none truly great – before retiring for 10 years all together. He’s returned with a trio of independent films that, while puzzling in their own unique ways, fully embrace what modern technology can bring to film.
Coppola’s career evolution is a fascinating one. Since becoming a legend, he’s actively fought to make the films he wants to make, the way he wants to make them. I don’t always like the results, but I respect the hell out of his methods.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I’m fascinated by moral dilemmas, particularly with watching a compelling one play out on film. But it’s a tricky game. Push too hard, and you’re preaching – you’re the do-gooder, the Message Movie, the cinematic sermon. Avoid risk, and you’re portraying a dilemma audiences have likely seen many times before. John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary finds a perfect balance. Its core dilemma is a new and interesting conundrum, one that viewers are likely to mull over for days. This is a film that puts all the questions in the open, but doesn’t begin to suggest what the proper answers are.
Monday, August 25, 2014
A few weeks ago, Nathan (perhaps better known as Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights & Movie Nights) asked me to partake in his inventive Filmwhys podcast. As the guest, I was permitted to choose two films to discuss: a classic Nathan hasn’t seen, and a superhero movie I’ve missed. At the time, I was on a Polanski kick, and instinctually chose Chinatown as our classic, followed by Sam Raimi’s Darkman as our superhero flick. A few days later, Robin Williams passed, and I asked Nathan if we could swap Chinatown for Dead Poets Society, which Nathan graciously agreed to do.
Friday, August 22, 2014
When a movie is hailed as Hitchcockian, it should be taken as a badge of honor. Such a label means the film deserves to live in the shadow of Hitchcock’s revelatory tone and atmosphere. Below are my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films that Alfred Hitchcock never actually made. They’re ranked in terms of their “Hitchcockianness,” and they are just a few of many films to choose from. If I’ve omitted a Hitchcockian film you love, do feel free to share it.