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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Embrace The New Entertainment Landscape or Die

I grew up wanting to write and direct films. I'd hide away in my bedroom night after night watching every film I could find. Hollywood films, European films, anything and everything. I found what I loved and I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it's informed everything I've done since.

But if that sounds like an inspiring sentence, it isn't, because I did the wrong thing. I fell in love with a concept; with the two hour movie being king.

But it's nearly 2015. People like YouTube. They like interactivity. They like games. They like multi-tasking. They like short bursts of six second Vines and they like thirteen hour Netflix seasons.

It's not that nobody likes movies anymore, it's just that they don't shape or inform our society like they used to. The marketers pretend that 'Gone Girl' is a cultural phenomenon, but it doesn't even make a dent.

The generation that came before me gets to continue making movies. Spielberg doesn't need to change. Tom Hanks can keep being Tom Hanks.


"You got here just in time for the death rattle, last gasp, last grope."
-Lester Bangs in 'Almost Famous' 


And the teenagers coming up now, they have an instinct me and my peers just don't have. They're plugged right into the social media paradigm and they have millions of subscribers. They know what they're doing.

And the ones in the middle only make it when they admit to themselves that the game has changed! There's new rules now. You can't be static. You can't just make a lump of a project and expect eyes to land on it.

But technology is only half the battle.

"You're coming along at a very dangerous time for rock n' roll. The war is over, they won."
-Lester Bangs in 'Almost Famous'. 

Hollywood became an industry that champions the dollar. Sure, it was always a business, but somehow art still crept through. But now you find that even an upcoming independent director in LA is more than likely to want to make a film by committee, to give 'notes' and to try to develop something 'marketable'.

And when everyone is chasing marketable, art dies.

Reminds me of a blog I wrote about Ben Stiller's 'The Watch' back in 2012. It was called 'Most Movies Are Made Just To Give People Something To Do'.

And this is what Hollywood does. Makes broadly generic films to appeal to pre-determined demographics. If Star A guarantees pre-sales in India and Star B guarantees huge press in China, then Star A and Star B get cast. And if the entire continent of Europe keeps going to see action movies, then that same action movie will keep getting made, and it'll star A and B.

The best writers bled to TV. And the next Spielberg is probably making Christmas adverts for Honda and McDonalds because that's where the work is.

And for those who stood their ground and stayed with the two hour movies, they're beginning to wake up and realise, there's no-one here. The audiences upped and left and so did most of the creative talent. There is more innovation in some kid from Detroit's 6 second Vine than there is on our movie screens.

My domain was always feature films. But in recent years, I've felt my passion dwindling. Not my passion to create, it's always been there and I hope always will be. But instead of looking around and embracing the great opportunities that technology bring, I've been clinging on to that me that hid away as a kid, watching movie after movie in my room.

Well that kid needs to go outside and learn how to Vine, otherwise I'll be forever left behind.

Care to share?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Palisades Park on a Sunday Morning in July

"Lovely sometimes changes us, sometimes not."

What is the definition of a movie? What is a music video? In fact, what is a song? For years we've been force fed art in a particular way. A movie in a bloated two and a half hours in an over-expensive cinema, and a song in a committee-written, scientifically-proven concoction ready-made for the charts.

But the internet has blown things wide open. Nobody even knows how to distribute and promote anymore. And sure, you can push a track on me through advertising, but it just doesn't get through to me in the same way. 

I found this new video by accident, only five days after the band published it. 



Here's what happened. Neil Young had just played a gig in London. I turned down a ticket to do something else instead, but checked the setlists to see what I'd missed. Then I looked at some of his other tour dates, just to see what he'd played. Then I took a look at what Pearl Jam had been up to during their recent concerts.

And then I checked in on my favourite band, Counting Crows. They're touring and they're playing all these tracks I'd never heard of. So naturally I wanted to hear them. The new album comes out in September but I just can't WAIT!

So I looked up the song 'Palisades Park' and this video come up. An official release. The music video for 'Palisades Park' and it's nearly 10 minutes long.

And this might just be the most beautiful movie I've seen in some time. Or music video. Whatever you call it. I don't know. I don't really care. It's a story, that's what matters.


But just listen to that opening trumpet - it makes you dream. And then you see the guys sprinting through the streets, running from police and having the time of their lives and it reminds you of every great thing you ever did.

I'm always attracted to nostalgia. What is it about amusement parks that connects to your soul somehow? Something about rollercoasters and rides that I just connect with. This video has shades of Adventureland, which makes me love it even more.

Bill Fishman wrote and directed the video. how much input did the band have? I've no idea. Fascinating though. The song tells its own story, Adam Duritz's songwriting and voice are both always so evocative. And the sounds of the band are so deep and layered it's unlike virtually anyone in music, as creative and heartbreaking as the E Street Band.

Does the video tell the same story as the song, or is it just an interpretation? Who knows. Will the video mean the same to you as it does to me? Probably not, because I don't even know what it means to me.



It's easy to bemoan the changing of films and distribution, or to bitch about the death of great music. But real art is out there. Like Richard Linklater secretly making a movie over 12 years about a boy growing up -- who saw that one coming? Counting Crows and Bill Fishman have delivered a piece of art which, at the time of writing has close to 300,000 views. That's nothing in the modern day of mad viral hits - but for a piece of non-attention grabbing, thoughtful-art, it's a hit to me and it'll be a hit for you. Put ten minutes aside and enjoy a beautiful song-film-musicvideo-thing.

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dito Montiel's 'BOULEVARD' - A Review

It's 2.00am and I'm exhausted but I need to tell you about this film I just saw at the Tribeca Film Festival

I was excited about Robin Williams returning to television with 'The Crazy Ones', but could never quite get into that show. And the world is currently buzzing about the prospect of a 'Mrs Doubtfire' sequel, but if you really want to see Robin Williams excel, you need to see him in 'Boulevard'.


Dito Montiel's debut feature, 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints' was about youthful energy, exuberance and pain. 'Boulevard' feels like what comes years later, when you wake up 60 years old and realise you've closed your eyes for all of your life. 

Robin Williams is so heartbreaking in this movie. In real life he's manic and hilarious, but he's also a very deep guy who's had many troubles. It's in all too rare roles like this where his complexity really shines. 

And not through any big acting moments. It's all in the subtlety. It's all in his eyes. And Montiel is wise enough as a director to just get out of the way - to let his actors steal the scenes.

The first person I ever interviewed on this blog was Jake Pushinsky, who has edited all of Montiel's movies. When we first got in touch he'd only cut a handful of movies, now he's a seasoned pro and this is some of his best work yet. I feel like making movies is much like managing a sports team. It's tempting to go out and sign new people every year, but the best results come when you find the players who suit your system, and build a team around them.

Robin Williams excels in this because of the directing and because of the editing. And the music - wow. The music is hypnotic. It draws you into the world of the movie to the point where you feel you're sitting in the room with the actors. Credit again to more of the director's long term collaborators, David Wittman and Jimmy Haun. Wittman's music in particular I have always loved -- he creates these melancholy, tender pieces, that permeate through the most important scenes in all of Dito's projects. 

I just love it when a movie clicks. When it all feels like it's in the right place. It's precisely what I felt didn't happen with Montiel's previous film, 'Empire State' - which is the only film of his I've not enjoyed. But with 'Boulevard', it all comes together wonderfully. Here are some highlights: 

KATHY BAKER - You could be forgiven for thinking she's just sleepwalking through this film. But then towards the end, during a confrontation with Nolan (Williams) she let's it all out. But not in some over-the-top-way. When I say she let's it all out; I'm overstating it, because she also holds a lot in. We see a woman who has made compromises, and who has secrets of her own. Baker nails it. 

ROBERTO AGUIRE - Had never heard of him before. Plays one the main characters in the movie. We always feel there's more to him and his background than is being let on. Credit to Aguire for his convincing turn as the difficult and troubled Leo. 

BOB ODENKIRK - Quietly hilarious throughout. Full of subtlety. (I realise I'm overusing the word subtlety in this review, but that's just how it's going to have to be).

ELEONORE HENDRICKS  - Another example of the filmmaker's loyalty. He's cast Hendricks time and again; and the difference between her in 'Saints' and her in 'Boulevard' shows her acting talent. 

ANGELA MESSINA - Great production design. Helps Robin Williams's character come to life among the drudgery of his bland home and cramped workspace. 

DOUGLAS SOESBE - The writer. Crafted a great story; unusual and deceptively slow-paced. A screenwriter whose tale is perfectly suited to the style of the director. 

I have purposefully not said much about the plot of the movie, because I'd love it if you were as surprised as I was. What should I tell you? Nolan Mack (Robin Williams) is a regular guy, with a regular job. He doesn't have a breakdown or anything. He just gets offered a promotion, and his wife wants to go on a cruise. As the prospect of getting even more trapped in a life that doesn't resonate with who he is dawns, mixed with his Dad being close to death; he faces up to the difficult truth of who he really is. 

This is a great movie that fulfills the promise Dito Montiel showed with 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints'. That movie was bursting with overt creativity and an onslaught of ideas. 'Boulevard' is more restrained, refined even. This is Dito Montiel but it's him ten years later. 

My favourite scene is a scene between Robin Williams and his father. It's a beautifully crafted scene that brings together all the things I've been talking about; delicate editing, nuanced music and the best acting Williams has done in decades. I can't tell you the content of the scene, because it would ruin the power of it when you see it. I'll refer to it as the 'beach' scene and those who have seen it will know what I'm talking about. Interestingly this scene was cut out of the movie until two weeks before the release. I talked to Douglas Soesbe, the writer; and he said it was partly his fault. The scene as written appeared earlier in the film, which took out a lot of the dramatic tension. For that reason, it was cut out -- only to reappear finally, later on in the edit. I'm glad it's back in, because the scene is incredibly moving. 

How well 'Boulevard' will do when released, only time will tell. I think it's more accessible than many of Montiel's recent films, including 'Son Of No-One' which was seen by absolutely no-one (but I loved it). Dito is a real artist and I'm glad that he's in the system making films, and with big talent like Robin Williams, too. Long may it continue, I can't wait to see what's next. 

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

WOODY ALLEN In FADING GIGOLO

What a fun film! We get to see Woody Allen being Woody Allen.


My favourite film of his is 'Manhattan Murder Mystery', because it's just so darn funny. The jokes fall out of his mouth like a breeze and you don't even realise he's making a joke until you notice that you are in absolute hysterics.

But Woody tends to hide from the fact he's one of the funniest people alive. He goes for complexity. That's fine, he's good at it, but things are really GOLD when he just goes for FUNNY.

'Fading Gigolo' is not a great movie. But every time Woody is on screen, things just lighten up. His facial expressions, his delivery, no-one can do what he does. No one at all. Incredible.

It just so happened that the screening I attended was full of people in their 60's and 70's. These were clearly Woody Allen fans. Like me, they know his humour, they know his work. And I think that's the key to appreciating Woody Allen,  it helps to know the work he's done in the past. It gives you an affection for his on screen persona. Things are funny because you feel like you know his characters and what they're going through.

In the early 2000's Woody decided he wasn't going to act as much any more. You can understand why; he's getting old and writing and directing is enough of a challenge. So it's down to people like John Turturro to get Woody on the screen in the way we like to see him.

'FADING GIGOLO' is a sweet and unusual film. It risks running out of steam on numerous occasions, but just about holds on to you due to its kind heart and great acting performances. If you're a Woody Allen fan, you just HAVE to see it. It's Woody doing the funny in a way we've not seen in years! Here's the trailer:

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

A FRAGILE TRUST

It's 7pm and I have no plans for the evening. So I look up what movies are playing. See a documentary I'm intrigued by, 'A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times.' It's starting at 7.30pm at the Quad so I jump on the Q train and head into Manhattan.


Just as the movie's starting I leave my seat near the front and head to the back, because this couple down the front just won't shut their mouths.

The film stops after three minutes and the screen goes black. A woman next to me says, "they're gonna fix the sync right?" and an older Jewish guy down the front deadpans, "it's over?"


We sit for five minutes then the movie starts up again. And it's exactly the type of documentary I'm intrigued by. It's about Jayson Blair, the infamous New York Times journalist who fabricated most of his stories. He made up quotes, he wrote about places he'd never been to and people he'd never met. These were front page NY Times stories.



It's like the recent doc 'The Armstrong Lie', you sit there in awe of Lance Armstrong, how did he have the balls? Jayson Blair was different, it was just as hard to fabricate as it was to tell the truth. He wasn't just taking himself down but he was corrupting the hierarchy of the Times too.

Jayson Blair is a fascinating subject. But the documentary frustrated me at times because it was so content to sit on the fence. In one moment it's carefully and hilariously detailing the incredible deceit, and the next we're seeing Jayson blame it all on drugs, alcohol and mental illness. The film spends the bulk of it's time jittering back and forth between condemning the guy and offering up his excuses, never once daring to have a thought of its own.


The film ends and the director and her publicist are there for a Q&A, I didn't even know this was happening. 


There are 16 of us in the audience. The old Jewish guy offers up some questions along with various witty quips. The guy across the isle is one of the ones I've moved away from due to the chattering. Turns out he works for the New York Times himself.


We spent what must have been an hour in a fascinating and intimate question and answer session. It was full of opinion and conflict in a way the film itself so carefully avoided. Fair play to the director, Samantha Grant, she wanted the film to evoke discussion, which it did. And the old Jewish guy is clashing with the authoritative and condescending tone of the NY Times reporter, who amusingly calls his employer a 'smug' organisation without realising the word perfectly describes himself, too. Ain't that ironic!


I'm in the midst of a wonderful event. An engaged audience that cares about the topics at hand: journalism and ethics. People think the important audiences are the ones with paparazzi and red carpets, but the real joy of cinema is when a handful of strangers come together on the Lower East Side to discuss a documentary.


I leave the cinema and I hear the Jewish guy talking to the NY Times guy. He says, "I'm a documentary filmmaker too", and I could swear he says, "my name is Irving Fields". I know that name?


I Google him. Irving Fields is a 97 year old pianist. Is that who this Jewish guy was? Surely he wasn't that old? Maybe this guy is making a documentary about Fields. I probably just heard things wrong.


Who knows.


Who knows anything? That's what I take from 'A Fragile Trust' and that's what I took from 'The Armstrong Lie'. Some people cheat. Some people get caught. In the end, what price did these individuals pay? I guess that's what most interests me. Apparently, Jayson Blair now works as a life coach. What? I wish the documentary had delved into that side of things, to really see where this guy is now. Deception is one thing. Getting caught is another. But the important thing is, what happens after? 



I remember watching a documentary years ago about Auschwitz. It was horrifying; and you clamber to make sense of it all, to grasp where the fairness is in everything. At the end, there was a stat; it said that 7200 people worked at Auschwitz concentration camp during war-time, and of those 7200 only 15% ever stood trial for their crimes. 

HUH? 

We are taught to be good people, to stand up straight, play by the rules, and for the most part, we do. These documentaries show the flip side of that - they show people who don't play by the rules. What makes them interesting is that their subjects all kind of get away with it. Sure, they're found out, but so what? If Jayson or Lance or the Nazis can live with themselves, then they haven't really suffered. We need a documentary about THAT.

Care to share?