Saturday, August 30, 2014

the Directors: Francis Ford Coppola

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

In Character: Illeana Douglas

You don’t forget Illeana Douglas once you’ve seen her. With that distinct face and playfully nasal voice, Douglas has a natural eccentricity that makes her continuously fun to watch. But Douglas is capable of far more than simply playing the comic relief. Born into cinematic royalty (her grandfather was two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas), Illeana Douglas has long since proved that her talent extends far beyond Hollywood nepotism. She’s a performer all her own, one that I always enjoy watching.

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

Filmwhys Podcast: Dead Poets Society and Darkman

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

Top 10 Hitchcockian Films

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.

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.

Wednesday, August 20, 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.

Monday, August 11, 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.