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Showing posts from 2017

Watch: "It’s A Wonderful Hitchcock"

Video Essayist Philip Brubaker has released his latest moving image work It's A Wonderful Hitchcock, a tantalizing reimagining of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Brubaker expounds on his piece at Vimeo:

"Alfred Hitchcock's unmistakable cinematic stamp is the inspiration for this re-imagining of It's A Wonderful Life. Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo serves as the key ingredient to bring out the tension, anxiety and anguish of Frank Capra's film. Allusions to other Hitchcock films arise when this Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart is recut to feel like an offering from the Master of Suspense."

The result is a fascinating rendering that challenges our predetermined image association with Capra's film. The key crossover element here is Stewart, who stars in both Vertigo and It's A Wonderful Life.

Brubaker here speaks to the larger dialogue of Video Essayists challenging the vault of moving images, meaning that as viewers are pr…

Review: "All The Money In The World"

When Sony Pictures decided to abruptly pull their latest film All the Money in the World from AFI Fest in November, people were surprised. Then when director Ridley Scott announced he planned to replace the film's star Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer a mere month before its scheduled Christmas release date, people were downright shocked. And now, in the most impressive of ways, Scott actually pulled this last minute reshoot off in only nine days!

But what about the film itself? Outside of all this behind the scenes drama, is it any good? I’ll give you the short answer: Yes.

All the Money in the World is based on the later years of real life American industrialist J. Paul Getty (Plummer), who went a long way from his Minnesota roots to become—at the time—the richest private citizen who had ever lived (which with inflation today would be close $9 billion). The central plot focuses on an infamous and publicly-followed incident where one of Getty’s grandsons (played by Charlie P…

Watch: Film School Rejects and Sight & Sound Magazine's Best Video Essays of 2017

For cinephiles, December is filled with year-end best lists of films and more specifically, overlooked moving image content. As the video essay form continues to grow in popularity, more and more online media outlets continue to highlight and engage with the high volume of video works churned out by cine-essayists. Over the last couple of weeks both Film School Rejects and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound International Film Magazine revealed their picks for the best video essays of 2017.

In regards to Sight & Sound, I was honored to be included among the video essay practitioners and scholars who submitted their favorite video essays from this last year; I was even more honored to learn that my fellow peers in that same poll picked some of my own video works on their personal lists. In addition, two other video works of mine were included in the Film School Rejects list as well. With the enthusiasm behind video essays today, I can't help but acknowledge the …

Review: "I, Tonya"

On one level, Craig Gillespie has grown into a director with an agreeable work ethic. Specifically, I mean that in how he adapts his sensibilities into whatever project he is working on, for better or worse. The first film I saw of his was Lars and the Real Girl during the 43rd Chicago International Film Festival. Gillespie was there for the post-screening Q&A where he mentioned his background in commercial work before transitioning to feature films. Lars was an assured piece of filmmaking; quiet, introspective and smartly laced with delicate humor. I looked forward to seeing how the Gillespie film canon would grow. Unexpectedly, the next film Gillespie made was the remake of the 1980s horror comedy Fright Night, starring Colin Farrell. It in no way shared anything close to the special subtle drama of Lars (although I admit I enjoyed Fright Night on a superficial level, mainly because of my soft spot for vampire films). Since Fright Night, Gillespie switched gears again and did t…

Review: "Downsizing"

Earlier this week I was reading about how President Donald J. Trump shockingly removed climate change from the list of global threats in the latest rendering of his administration's national security strategy. "Fake News" has reached critical mass, it would seem. As 2017 comes to a close, and the axis of the Earth and human existence spins wildly closer to extinction, along comes this imperfect, well-meaning, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately touching motion picture from Oscar-winner Alexander Payne. The film is Downsizing and it stars the face of the American white male: Matt Damon. Whatever public relations shit storm Damon may find himself in during the days leading up to the film's release shouldn't detract from what really is a golden and quietly surprising performance. This is good work by the former Will Hunting.

Downsizing takes place in the near future where a group of Norwegian scientists have successfully created a procedure that shrinks people do…

Watch: A conversation with Catherine Grant at Videographic Film Studies Now

One of the leaders on the forefront of studying and articulating the moving image, Catherine Grant's impressive and serious work both in the academic and the publishing realms has been invaluable to the greater visual essay canon for the last several years. Her site Film Studies For Free is an invaluable resource for video essay curation and education, while her online publication [in]Transition has been a successful Herculean feat of visual essay content aggregation, assignment and analysis.

Earlier this year University of Reading professor John Gibbs sat down with Grant for the Videographic Film Studies Nowworkshop and filmed this nearly hour-long conversation that is a must-watch for video essay creators and enthusiasts.

Trailer Alert: "Sicario 2: Soldado"

When Sicario came out in 2015, it ended up being my pick for the best film of that year. It surprised me even. I walked in expecting a decent thriller about the war on the drug cartel but what I watched was something much more cerebral, carnal and contemporary in spirit. The screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who directed this year's fantastic Wind River) presented a story that was surprising and engrossing. It became a prestige action picture, if you will.

Sicario was also that rare critical darling of being both an R-rated drama and a commercial success. So, now we have the sequel Sicario 2: Soldado. There are several key players not returning for this film: Director Denis Villeneuve, Cinematographer Roger Deakins and co-stars Emily Blunt and Daniel Kaluuya (who also starred in this year's hit Get Out).

Although the omission of such talent can be a red flag, the sequel does bring back an impressive core: actors Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, plus Sheridan as screenwriter again…

Watch: What if Guillermo del Toro directed "Lady In The Water"?

Guillermo del Toro's latest film The Shape of Water (my review) is currently cleaning up with accolades and guild nominations during this awards season. Shape of Water is essentially a love story, with the unique spin being that one of the players is an amphibian who learns to communicate through sign language. After reflecting upon the film during the weeks since I first saw it, I started thinking about a forgotten film from the 2000s, M. Night Shyamalan's much-maligned Lady in the Water. The unexpected similarities between Shyamalan's bedtime story and del Toro's film were hard to ignore.

Both films feature protagonists who are custodians with communication disabilities. In Shape, Sally Hawkins is a janitor at a government laboratory and a mute. In Lady, Paul Giamatti is an apartment building superintendent with a bad stutter. They both live lives of solace (Hawkins lives above an old movie theatre and Giamatti lives alone in a tiny pool house). Their love interests …

Review: "Call Me By Your Name"

Luca Guadagnino has become the J.D. Salinger of Italian cinema. I mean this in that he tells stories about affluent high society people, with lots of money and resources at their disposal, who still suffer from a failure to establish meaningful connections in their lives. Holden Caulfield felt such a void in Salinger's "The Catcher in The Rye." Similarly, Guadagnino's previous films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash followed protagonists (both played by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton) who were in a purgatory of disenchantment, the former for physical affection and the latter for desired privacy. Guadagnino is not a novelist but fortunately as a filmmaker he knows how to fill the page of the screen, usually with drop dead gorgeous locations and an impeccable ear for using music (remember Ralph Fiennesdancingto "Emotional Rescue" by The Rolling Stones?).

In his latest feature Call Me By Your Name Guadagnino presents to us another illustrious group of high class indiv…

Review: "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi"

There was something electric in the air when that first teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens premiered back in 2014. A sinister voice on the soundtrack asked, "There has been an awakening...have you felt it?" Then there was a barrage of clips teasing something familiar for Star Wars fans. That familiarity was the style and look of the original trilogy's western frontiers, with a kick of space cowboy bravado. It was void of the prequel trilogy's green screen approach and cutting edge technological risks (though I will defend those jubilant George Lucas entries til the end of time). Unfortunately, J.J. AbramsThe Force Awakens ended up being a pleasantly mild carbon copy of A New Hope, recycling tropes and story situations from that film as some gesture of assurance for a new generation of fans; if anything, it was setting up a dutiful cover song trilogy. So when it was revealed that writer/director Rian Johnson was going to helm Episode VIII, I …

Review: "The Post"

Much of what you'll read in the coming days about Steven Spielberg's supremely entertaining The Post will no doubt focus on how timely the film is in regards to the current administration in the White House, the freedom of the press (or lack thereof I should say), the ballooning of "fake news" and the dwindling presence of actual newspaper offices. All those parallelisms are valid, and were no doubt the primary themes screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight) set out to establish, but now that I've watched The Post twice I think there's something else being pulled into focus here. More on that later.

The year is 1971 and The Washington Post publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is on the eve of taking her newspaper company public. The paper has been in her family since the dawn of time, and following the passing of her husband (the paper's previous publisher) Kay's been tasked with securing the future of the business against the pressing rea…

Review: "The Shape of Water"

A big reason why Guillermo del Toro is so loved by cinephiles (myself included) is that his passion for cinema is evident in almost every frame of anything he makes. Whether it's the stunning cinematography that fills the screen canvas (usually in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to 2.35:1) with a treasure trove of production design details and movie homages, the memorable music scores (e.g. you can literally hum the score for Pan's Labyrinth) or the parable-like quality some of his stories have (Crimson Peak, Cronos), you know within the first five seconds that you are watching a Guillermo del Toro film. His signature screen voice is memorable. Other popular filmmakers with signature voices include Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow. You know each of their cinematic screen voices because they are distinct -- and because those voices are real. They come from a place of deep affection, curiosity, pain, wonder, fear and conviction. It's why they endure as artists…

La Gran Tristeza: How "Coco" Is Everyone's Latina Grandma

Coco opened over Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States and I'll confess: I didn't rush out and see it. That's because Coco had already set an unrealistic expectation in my head. Prior to its U.S. release this latest venture from Pixar became the highest-grossing film in Mexican box office history (and it's also the setting for the film). Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com had given it a four-star review calling it a "classic." The buzz on social media was already awarding Coco the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar and at the same time, in the arena of film criticism on Twitter, there was uproar over the lack of Latino and Latina film critics writing about it (resulting in the hashtag #FilmCriticismSoWhite).

In short, for me, Coco ballooned into a larger than life movie that it couldn't possibly live up to. Then came the weekend after Thanksgiving and I finally went and saw it. It was a Sunday matinee, with a decent audience size. The film was pre…

Review: "Wonder Wheel"

These days with almost hourly revelations of high-profile men -- albeit in the media industry or politics -- getting called out for sexual misconduct allegations, it's hard to ignore director Woody Allen's own controversial past (he married his stepdaughter) when gauging his new film Wonder Wheel. Of course, the idea is that we critique the work and not the artist. That is fair. And yet, in a stroke of cosmic cynicism, it turns out that Allen doesn't need any shade from his personal past to hurt the intended success of Wonder Wheel because the film is just plain ol' bad.

Wonder Wheel stars Academy Award winner Kate Winslet as Ginny, our disillusioned and itching-for-another-crisis heroine. Ginny, her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi, bless him) and her son Richie (Jack Gore) live in an apartment looking over the boardwalk of Coney Island. It's the 1950s. Summer is winding down, resulting in less attendance and therefore less money for our boardwalk inhabitants. Someone …

Watch: Christopher Plummer side by side with Kevin Spacey in "All The Money In The World"

When Ridley Scott made the announcement that he would be replacing all of Kevin Spacey's scenes with actor Christopher Plummer in his upcoming film All The Money In The World, the idea was pretty unbelievable and shocking. It's been less than a month since that news broke and Scott has made good on his word.

A new video spot promoting the high-profile film was just released and it offered us the first glimpse of Plummer as J. Paul Getty. Of course, I couldn't resist putting clips of Spacey and Plummer side by side to see the before and after visuals.

It makes the trailer's voiceover that much more haunting: "To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing...we *look* like you...but we're NOT like you..."

Review: "The Disaster Artist"

If you were to glance at the Instagram page for James Franco's The Disaster Artist, you would think it's another polished Judd Apatow comedy (who also appears in the film, in addition to Apatow-regular Seth Rogen). If you were to watch the trailer for The Disaster Artist, it looks like the latest art project in Franco's prolific filmography as a director. If you were to read media coverage of The Disaster Artist, some film writers and pundits would like you to believe that this is an actual dark horse for the Oscars. Now that it's been some time since I've seen the film, and have mulled over what the hell it categorically is, I can tell you that none of the above descriptions accurately paints the picture. It's a strange film, with some seriously cynical and unnerving undercurrents, starring some of the most likable and good-looking movie stars currently working. I don't know if it's going to achieve the affectionate success that its source material al…

Watch: The Blair Witch Facebook Live Project

A key component to the success of Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick's low budget indie horror smash hit The Blair Witch Project was that it was released in the summer of 1999 aka pre-social media. There was a cloak of mystery around this faux documentary, so much so that a good portion of moviegoers actually thought this was a real found footage film, therefore adding to the onscreen terror its protagonists endured during their doomed trip to the woods.

In today's moviegoing climate, there aren't too many movie secrets or surprises. We live in an embargo-fueled, spoiler-feared, film snob-Twitter era where everyone's an expert and pop cultural cynicism is at an all time high.

Coincidentally, we live in a time where a lot of online users are also content creators, and more specifically, video creators (or at least are video engagers and enthusiasts). We are a species that thrives on visual communication after all, so that makes sense. And with social media, our need to …

Review: "The Man Who Invented Christmas"

One of my favorite holiday films is Richard Donner's 1988 black comedy Scrooged starring Bill Murray. In that film, Murray's Frank Cross character is a modern incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens' classic novella "A Christmas Carol." Like its source material, Scrooged follows Cross on Christmas Eve as he's visited by three spirits who teach him life-changing lessons and ultimately help him turn a new leaf, ditching his cynical demeanor in exchange for a warmer heart (and what not). It's a testament to Dickens' prose that "A Christmas Carol" singlehandedly won over readers in Europe (and the Yankees across the Atlantic) enough to revitalize the Christmas holiday itself. The fact that movies still borrow inspiration from its pages shows the timelessness of its ideas and themes -- not to mention its structure of implicit time travel. And now comes The Man Who Invented Christmas, which gives us the behind the scenes story of &q…

Watch: "Rampage" Arcade Version

Chicago sure makes a gorgeous backdrop for sci-fi fare (Divergent, Jupiter Ascending) and big action spectacles from Hollywood (The Dark Knight, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), so it's no wonder that (arguably) the current biggest movie star in the world Dwayne Johnson has set his next sure-to-be blockbuster in the Windy City as well. Johnson's latest special effects extravaganza Rampage is based on the 1986 arcade game of the same name from Bally Midway. The game itself has gone through revamps over the years, appearing on platforms such as Atari and Sega Master System.

As I watched the first trailer for this live action adaptation, I marveled at how striking my beloved home city looked in several shots, but then I began to have a stasis of image association in my head. The flat 2D look of the original "Rampage" game struggled to surface in my conscience. So I did what I do best and I worked with the moving images in my latest video essay and rendered this new fil…

Watch: #MovieQuotesRedux

There are certain movie quotes that are instant classics. People quote them in their day-to-day conversations. Some are on t-shirts. Some are on coasters. Hell, there are even some that are immortalized as tattoos. That's the power of movies -- they connect to us.
Every so often, some movie quotes even become enveloped into the movie universe's own pop cultural Zeitgeist. For my latest video #MovieQuotesRedux I explored some of these quotes. You'll note that at the start of the video certain actors reinterpret their lines in later comedic films they star in but then I literally hit the stop button and then play some scenes where other actors are rendering these famous quotes in their own fashion.
Enjoy!

Review: "Mudbound"

Dee Rees' Mudbound opens with a scene that is a figurative baptism of sorts. It's the 1940s and a torrential rain pours down on two brothers -- Henry and Jamie McAllan -- as they dig a grave for their late father on their Mississippi farm. After some time the younger brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) finds himself overwhelmed by the fast rising water in the grave he's standing in. Jamie's older brother Henry (Jason Clarke) is no longer in his field view at the top of the grave. It's cause for panic. The water is so harsh that Jamie is quickly victim to the muddy waters washing over him in defeat. Then, a beat later, a ladder appears and Henry lifts his drenched younger brother from the grave. Upon first viewing, the elemental forces at work here give subtle imagery to a resurrection of the body. But by the end of Mudbound, this scene takes on a deeper meaning for the reckoning of sins and a thirst for forgiveness. In short, Jamie is plunging himself into the rainy wa…

Watch: THE USUAL PLUMMERS (Christopher Plummer in “The Usual Suspects”)

In an unprecedented move yesterday, Ridley Scott announced that he will remove Kevin Spacey entirely from his upcoming film All the Money in the World, where Spacey played J. Paul Getty. The trailer for the film had already been released and it was supposed to play at AFI Fest next week. This is the latest fallout that has landed on Spacey since the recent allegations of his sexual assault towards several victims.

And what about the film? Scott said that Oscar winner Christopher Plummer will take over the role of Getty, leaving Scott only weeks to reshoot all of Spacey's scenes with Plummer before All the Money in the World's Christmas release date next month.

So with that cavalier spirit in mind, I thought I'd reimagine another one of Spacey's films (The Usual Suspects) with Plummer taking over the reigns. In my video "The Usual Plummers" Chazz Palminteri slowly realizes that it was Plummer -- not Spacey -- who was Keyser Söze all along...

Video Remix: Terence Stamp in Soderbergh's "The Kryptonian"

Steven Soderbergh is an envelope pusher. Always has been. He's also been a video essayist himself in the past. So I thought it'd be appropriate to do a little remix on one of my favorite entries in the Soderbergh canon, his 1999 Terence Stamp-starrer The Limey.

What I did here was reinterpret Stamp's character of Wilson as an older version of General Zod from Superman II. I used the final minutes from The Limey and Soderbergh's jump-cut flashback structure to incorporate moments from Zod's visit to Earth in that 1980 film. It gives the scene a different kind of resonance and reflection.

Watch for yourself.

Review: "Lady Bird"

There is a sequence about halfway through Noah Baumbach's 2012 film Frances Ha where its heroine Frances (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote Frances Ha) makes a trip home to Sacramento, California from the east coast for the holidays. During this section we get the sense that Frances is quietly happy to be home but she also suffers a mute desperation while reliving the origins of her youth. For example, her mom rushes her while she seeks privacy in the bathroom, she's obliged to sit through church services with her family and an entertainment excursion involves some thrifty clothes shopping for deals. Coincidentally, all of these settings and sequences serve as showcases for Gerwig's directorial debut Lady Bird (which she wrote as well). It's no wonder that this new film begins with a quote from Joan Didion: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
Starring two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in the title role (although he…

Video Essay: "Doug Liman: Opening Moments"

It struck me while watching American Made a month or so ago that Doug Liman really cares about every moment in most of his movies. I mean this literally. In several of his directorial efforts he's started his films off with an energy or stylistic trait that's hard to ignore.

To shine a better light on this, I created this video essay that walks you through a handful of his films to convey an often overlooked feat that Liman does almost without effort. Take a look!