My entry to the Against the Crowd Blogathon: A battle of two Sword-and-Sandals Movies

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Wendell over at Dell on Movies is reprising his blogathon from a year ago. Since I didn’t participate at the time, I knew I had to do it this time around. Dell’s idea is that this is our chance to tell the world about our love for a movie everyone else hates and the other way around.

1. Pick one movie that “everyone” loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that “everyone” hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on rottentomatoes.com. Should a movie you select not have a grade on rottentomatoes.com, use a score of at least 7.5 on imdb.com for ones you hate and less than 4.0 for ones you love. Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the tomato meter scores of both movies.

I always like this ‘against the crowd’ idea because it happens all the time that my taste doesn’t align with critics or other moviegoers. Heck I actually enjoyed the latest video game flick Agent47 but I kinda knew the critics’ gonna trash it.

Well, I’ve sort of already made a list for both categories, Ted & I collaborated on 12 *rotten* movies we secretly adore and I picked five movies everyone loves that leave me cold. But for the purpose of this blogathon, I thought it’d be fun to pick a film of the same sword-and-sandal genre.

Now, let me preface this list with the fact that I think *hate* is a strong word. But it baffles me why this movie is regarded so highly as I could barely finished watching it. I have already included it the ‘movies everyone loves’ list above, but I’m going to pick it again because out of that list, this is the reigning *king*  as I even shudder thinking how much I don’t care for it…

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I’m a fan of swords & sandals genre and I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which came out the year before. Now, whilst I saw Ben-Hur years ago as a young girl and it has since became one of my favorite films of all time (not just from this genre), I could barely made it through this one. My jaw dropped when I found out just how high the score is after seeing the film. I saw this a few years ago and I could barely made it to the end.

Firstly, I simply don’t buy Kirk Douglas as a gladiator slave for a second. He just isn’t tough nor ruthless enough I’d imagine the character to be and he (as well as Tony Curtis) looked way too healthy to play a supposedly desolate and malnourished slave. Despite what some may called wooden acting from Charlton Heston, it was easy to root for him to get back at all the injustices that befell him and I was fully invested in Ben-Hur journey throughout the film. I really didn’t care for Spartacus as I was too distracted by how I think Douglas was miscast. Even the great Laurence Olivier and couldn’t save this movie and it didn’t help matters that Douglas had zero chemistry with the lovely Jean Simmons. I couldn’t stop laughing at the awful, fake looking backdrop wallpaper they used for the romantic scene.

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As of 2008, this movie was ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Epic.” Seriously?? The only epic thing about it is the epic squabbles behind the scenes that you can read on IMDb trivia about the falling out with not one but TWO directors and all the studio meddling due to everyone having a huge ass ego.

In regards to his casting, later on Douglas himself admitted that he made this film partly because he didn’t get the role as Ben-Hur (he was offered the role of Messala but refused to play second banana to Heston). “That was what spurred me to do it in a childish way, the ‘I’ll show them’ sort of thing.” Heh, clearly Ben-Hur‘s director William Wyler made the right decision as I doubt Douglas could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the title role! It’s common knowledge that director Stanley Kubrick disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that pretty much explains it.


Now, I’m going to contrast that with a much lesser-known film that’s released last year. I know that most of you haven’t even heard of it as it barely got a theatrical release and went straight to VOD/Blu-ray.

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Yes ok so naturally the fact that Stanley Weber is in this automatically makes me want to defend this movie to the death, ehm. But hear me out. I initially doubted this too, thinking that even my undying love for this French Adonis still wouldn’t make me enjoy it. But then it came to Netflix earlier this month and I decided to check it out. Voilà! I actually like it a lot and have seen it four times since.

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It’s a visually-driven genre film that doesn’t pretend to be deep or philosophical. The mysterious protagonist, only billed as Shadow Walker, quipped ‘Vengeance is my only belief.’ And you know what, he lived by that rule in the movie. He didn’t seek out to be a hero or has aspiration to lead a nation or anything like that, he just wants vengeance. It’s as minimalistic as it gets, so if you go in expecting a whole lot more, then you set yourself up for disappointment.

Stanley Weber is freakin’ bad ass in the lead role, sporting a historically out-of-place corn rows but who cares, it looks so damn cool! Apart from that hairstyle, he looks suitably grim and gritty, and his rugged costumes look believably soiled and grubby. His character is the strong silent type who’s as efficient with words as he is with his sword fighting. He’s like an 11th century John Wick!

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The movie has the look and smell of the dark ages, the set pieces look appropriately harsh and gritty, the fact that it was shot on location in Serbia in the middle of Winter. Even from the opening sequence when we first met Shadow Walker slaying off people in the rain, I love Jim Weedon‘s style and his use of music. It’s decidedly modern, even sounds a bit like John Wick‘s score, but somehow fits perfectly with the action. Weedon started out as an award-winning commercials director who also worked on some SFX work for films like Gladiator (the Elysian Field sequences).


Obviously I dug Stanley in the lead role but I also like his fellow French actor Edward Akrout who co-starred with him in BBC’s The Hollow Crown Henry V. There’s a great mano a mano sword fight between the two that’s fun to watch, but my favorite scene is the one in the woods where the Shadow Walker get to show his action hero prowess. Annabelle Wallis might not be as convincing as a leader of exiled rebels, but she has a nice enough chemistry with Stanley.

Sword of Vengeance is stylishly-shot and the decidedly stark, bleak color scheme actually looks quite artistic in contrast to all the red of the spurting blood from those who get in our hero’s way. But I think the simple, no-frills plot suits the piece. I mean the title says it all, obviously the protagonist is seeking vengeance and once it’s revealed what’s taken from him, you get why he does what he does. Yes, a bit more character development is always nice, but at a brisk 87 minutes, it was entertaining enough without overstaying its welcome.

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Glad that I’m not the only one liking this flick, this THR reviewer also said nice things about Stanley: “…the chiseled, handsome Weber, whose beautifully coiffed cornrows suggest his character had time for long hairstyling sessions between battles, is a suitably taciturn, macho hero in the Eastwood tradition, even managing to make such declarations as “Vengeance is my only belief” sound convincing.” Indeed!

So yeah, I have no qualms about liking this flick. It’s not for everyone but if you like this type of genre flick, I’d say give it a shot. I love seeing Stanley as an action hero, it just shows just how versatile he is as an actor. He did this movie whilst juggling a yet-to-be-released French WWII drama and a French stage adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, so obviously he can handle a variety of roles.


Ok so I’m sure you have an opinion about my picks. Let’s hear it!

April 2015 Blind Spot – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001_bannerAs far as film blind spot goes, this is perhaps one of the most glaring for me given its iconic status. Well, better late than never right? Forty seven years after its release, I finally get what the fuss is about. Now, I’m not saying I *get* the movie, mind you. In fact, it’s the kind of movie that is fun to read about afterwards. According to IMDb trivia, the film apparently prompted a large number of people to walk out from its premiere, including star Rock Hudson who said “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” Ahah, I can totally relate. Per IMDb, the film’s co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke once said, “If you understand ‘2001’ completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.” So I guess I don’t have to feel bad that the movie left me scratching my head.

SPOILER ALERT! Just in case some of you still hasn’t seen this yet, be mindful that I’ll be talking about some major plots in this post.

I guess I’m lucky that I was able to keep spoilers at bay in regards to this movie, as I had no idea there’s actually apes involved in this movie, and the Dawn of Man sequence was almost a half an hour long! I knew that the movie would be slow and there’d be long sequences with no dialog, so I’d imagine it’d be something like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, so I was prepared for that. In fact, I quite enjoyed watching the gorgeous imagery set to sweeping classical music (more on that later) and boy, what a visual treat it was.

2001_Apes_monolithI have to admit that I nearly fell asleep a few times as I was already so tired when I started watching it, so I had to stop after about an hour or so, and continued the next night. I don’t usually do this but I figured the film deserved to be seen with fresh eyes.

When the film’s over, my first reaction was ‘well I could see why this film was so beloved even four decades later.’ It’s not the most emotionally-gratifying film as I there’s really no character development, but visually speaking, the film truly set the bar for sci-fi and no wonder it’s been an inspiration for so many filmmakers since. Even other iconic sci-fi works like Blade Runner, Star Wars, Star Trek, all the way to recent ones like Interstellar have been inspired by Kubrick’s magnum opus. I mean, the ‘Star Gate’ sequence alone is so similar to the wormhole scenes in Interstellar. I read afterwards that that extended sequence of that funkadelic sequence was popular among young adults who love watching ’em when they’re high. Ahah, I bet that’s still true today.

2001_Hal9000There’s something so timeless about the production design, especially the HAL 9000 computer with its omnipresent red eye. Kubrick and Clarke made the right decision making it so simple, instead of going with a mobile robot they initially set out to do. I think it’d have looked more dated than the simple but ominous red eye. Despite its simplicity, it manages to be quite terrifying at times, especially during the time when Dave (Keir Dullea) was trying to get back into the main ship. The film isn’t an *acting* film per se, as the actors aren’t exactly given much to do, but I think Dullea did a good job nonetheless, and the scene of him trying to dismantle HAL is quite memorable. It’s a pretty suspenseful scene and Dullea conveyed the dread and terror very well.

It’s a testament that creating a certain atmosphere is crucial to depict genuine suspense and there’s certainly a horror-like vibe during the entire scene. I literally gasped when the LIFE FUNCTIONS CRITICAL lights came on… then followed by LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED in the scene where HAL systematically killed the rest of the ship’s crew in hibernation. It’s just one of the many minimalistic scenes that made such a huge impact in the film.

2001_Dave2001_Dave_disablingHalThe cryptic nature of the film, with its various metaphors and allegories, certainly sparked all kinds of theories. My hubby and I watched a two-part Youtube videos on the meaning of the monolith, which argues that the monolith is basically “an advanced television teaching machine.” It’s quite a fascinating argument and I’m sure there are others, but I really don’t want to go into that rabbit hole.

I have to mention the music here, which is crucial given there’s such few dialog in the film. I’ve heard that opening theme Thus Spoke Zarathustra soooo many times, as it’s so overused in popular culture that it’s become a cliché. But hearing it in the context of the opening sequence made me appreciate just how iconic it is. Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube (composed in mid 1800s) is also one of my favorite classical piece, which somehow fits the tone and feel of this film it’s as if it was made especially for this project.

2001_spaceshipSo what’s the verdict?

Well, I’m glad I finally saw this film. I didn’t fall in love with the film, I think it falls under the category of ‘films I appreciate but doesn’t quite love.’ I was bowled over by what Kubrick achieved in 1968 – he is a true visual artist with an exquisite eye for details. Nearly every frame is like a work of art and it still looks modern even by today’s standards. Yet it’s not an emotionally-engaging film, which to be fair is probably not what Kubrick intended it to be anyway, so it’s not something I’m eager to watch again. That said, I still give it a high rating because I do think it deserves its classic status and it’s a film that every film fan should see. It took me a while to get here, but I’m glad I finally did!

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The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


What are your thoughts on 2001: A Space Odyssey? 

Five movies everyone seem to love that leave me cold

RonSwansonBannerThis list has been on my draft folder for some time. Well, now seems as good a time as any to counter all the the applause for movies as one award after another is getting announced. This post is inspired by Abbi’s list, as well as Kristin’s who posted her own list. Now, I don’t totally abhor all of these films, but like Abbi said, I really don’t get all the praise and for me at least, it did NOT live up to the hype.

I use IMDb rating and Rotten Tomatoes score just to show how critically-acclaimed these films are. Two of the classic films listed here are even considered iconic masterpieces which is even more baffling to me. If you happen to LOVE these movies, well I wish I could say the same but I think they’re awful, sorry!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

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IMDB rating: 7.1 | RT Score: 87%

I actually enjoyed the first Hellboy and that’s the reason why I was excited to see the second one but heh, my hubby and I actually turned it off after less than a half hour. For some reason I just couldn’t figure out why we liked the first one but this sequel is so boring. All the peculiar creatures and fantastical setting we found amusing the first time around just feels derivative, it feels like a studio obligation instead of a passion project from Guillermo Del Toro perhaps because that’s really the case here. I like Ron Perlman in the role though, but I’d rather just watch the first movie again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 79%

Just like Transformers, a string of horror series and young adult adaptations, I never get the appeal of Pirates of the Caribbean from the get go. Johnny Depp‘s flamboyant, Keith-Richard-inspired Jack Sparrow is amusing for maybe a half hour tops, but for some reason people just can’t get enough of it that the fifth movie is now in the works [face palm]. Alas Depp can’t seem to shake that role either now, it’s as if Sparrow became his acting *curse.* I haven’t bothered watching the sequels, though I had to endure the second one (or was it the third??) when I was at a friend’s house and it just reminded me how awful this franchise is. I wince every time Geoffrey Rush show up, but I suppose a big paycheck from this type of drivels allow him to do something worthy of his talents. As if these movies aren’t unbearable already, we also have to endure watching Orlando Bloom doing poor imitations of Errol Flynn!

Spartacus (1960)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 96%

Spartacus_romanceMy jaw dropped when I found out just how high the score is after seeing the film. I saw this a few years ago and I could barely made it to the end. Now, I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which I have seen time and again over the years and it still held up, and as a fan of swords & sandal genre, I thought I’d enjoy this too. But heck, I find it corny, dull and boring. I don’t buy Kirk Douglas as a gladiator slave for a second. He just isn’t tough nor ruthless enough I’d imagine the character to be. Sure some might’ve called Charlton Heston a wooden actor, but he at least look the part as Ben-Hur and he made me root for his character. Not so with Douglas, and the romance with Jean Simmons have zero chemistry and the backdrop wallpaper they used for the scene is so awfully fake looking I couldn’t stop laughing!

So apparently Douglas did this movie to show William Wyler that he could do a Roman epic of his own, as he didn’t get the Judah Ben-Hur role he wanted. Per IMDb trivia, he was actually offered the role of Messala but he refused to play second banana. Heh, I thank the Lord he’s NOT part of Ben-Hur, I doubt he could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the lead role!! I also think Tony Curtis is completely miscast here as well.

Stanley Kubrick apparently disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that explained it. Seems that this movie resulted from *too many cooks spoil the broth* syndrome.

The Getaway (1972)

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IMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 85%

This was my intro to Sam Peckinpah as my pal Ted S. LOVES his work. Sorry Ted, but I really don’t like this film, like AT ALL. It’s also my intro into Steve McQueen who’s supposed to be this suave and cool hero, but meh, I find him to be blank and stiff. I saw some clips of him in Bullit and he’s pretty much acting the exact same way. Now, I like a tough, brooding hero as much as the next gal, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on internally in his character to make me care. Same with Ali MacGraw who’s gorgeous but doesn’t really have much going on otherwise, and the romance is as lifeless as a dead fish.

TheGetawaySlappingSceneThis film is labeled a thriller but I don’t find it suspenseful at all. Even the shootout from a supposedly celebrated violent action director is so lackluster and on a few occasion it made me laugh! The color of the blood here looks so obviously fake too which doesn’t help matters. Al Lettieri did look menacing as the villain but for the most part he’s more annoying than scary. Plus the whole creepy sex scene with Sally Struthers, forcing her own husband to watch her cheat with a criminal is just plain revolting. What bothers me most here is the violence against women by not just the villain but the hero, as there’s a scene where McQueen slaps MacGraw several times and I read that he actually did it spontaneously so her reaction looked real. Heh, there’s nothing cool or ‘macho’ about assault of any kind and it’s even more shocking that this film is rated PG!!

Interestingly enough, this is yet another movie disowned by the director himself, as apparently he butted heads with McQueen who wanted a different version of the story and the studio backed the actor.

To Catch A Thief (1955)

ToCatchAThiefPosterIMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 95%

The poster promises ‘shocking suspense and sizzling romance’ but we’ve got neither. Apart from the gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera – as well as Grace Kelly’s exquisite beauty – this film hasn’t got much to offer. Kelly’s soooo beautiful here that it’s actually distracting, and I was  also distracted by how tanned Cary Grant is in this movie, especially compared to his alabaster co-star. It feels more like a rom-com than a mystery romance, as it lacks any real suspense or even believable chemistry between the two leads. Perhaps the fact that Grant was 50 playing a guy in his mid 30s have something to do with that. It’s almost as tedious as Torn Curtain, another disappointing film from ‘the master of suspense’ director Alfred Hitchcock.

The premise sounds promising on paper and you’d think with this cast, this could’ve been far more entertaining. By the time the twist was revealed, I no longer cared who did what to whom. I suppose this film is worth seeing for the lush scenery and glamorous costumes (done by Edith Head, natch!), but as a film, it’s more window dressing than an intriguing piece.


Well, those are five movies that everyone seem to love but me. What do you think? Let’s hear it!

Interstellar on IMAX 70mm VS. Standard 70mm

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Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar is now in theaters and it might be the most divisive film that I could remember in a long time. Some loved it (including yours truly), some didn’t care for it and others just thought it’s way too long and/or boring. That’s what great about films, we all have different opinions about them and if we all like the same thing then the world will be quite boring.

Since Nolan is a huge proponent of film, Paramount and Warner Bros. decided to release the film in 6 different technical formats, it maybe the first time in history that Hollywood studios had released a film in so many formats. Here are the different formats the film was released in:

  • IMAX 70mm with aspect ratio switching between 2.39:1 and 1.44:1
  • IMAX Digital with aspect ratio switching between 2.39:1 and 1.90:1
  • Standard 70mm with constant aspect ratio at 2.20:1 (my favorite aspect ratio and I use it for my mini home theater)
  • Standard 35mm with constant aspect ratio at 2.39:1
  • 4k and 2k Digital with constant aspect ratio at 2.39:1

As you can see the studios spare no expense when it comes to pleasing Nolan and of course us the paying customers. Since I saw the film on IMAX 70mm and standard 70mm, my review will only cover the two formats and which I think is the better viewing experience.

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I first saw the film on IMAX 70mm, Nolan shot over an hour of footage with IMAX cameras and I think this might be the best IMAX presentation I’ve seen yet. Although I have to admit that some early scenes bothered me with the quick switching back and forth of the different aspect ratios, thankfully that problem went away as the film progresses. To me digital presentation cannot match 70mm’s bright and vibrant color, the contrast and black levels were so much better too. I forgot how much I miss seeing film’s texture since so many movies today were shot and presented in digital form. Two sequences in the film that just blew me away were the tidal wave in the water planet and when they tried to dock the space ship to the main one, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who have yet to see the film but for those who saw it, you know which scenes I’m referring to.

[Ruth’s note: I found this photo posted on a tweet that seems appropriate to include on this post]

Seeing those sequences on the tall 7-story screen and bright color of 70mm, I felt like I was in the movie with the actors. With so many scenes ripped right out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I now know what it must’ve have been like seeing Kubrick’s masterpiece for the first time on the big screen back in those days.

Another reason why I love seeing this film on IMAX is the loss-less surround sound. Nolan mentioned that he really want the audience to be part of the movie so he and his sound designer created the most immersive surround sound I’ve heard since Gravity, it’s really too bad that he didn’t use Dolby Atmos for this film. I’m planning to see this film again on IMAX 70mm because it’s truly was an experience.

So a couple of days later, I’ve decided to go see the film again, this time on a standard 70mm screen. For anyone who wants to know more about 70mm, you can go here. Alas, their website is horrendous looking, but I got in touch with the site’s owners and told them I’m willing to redesign it for free, so once I have some downtime from my full time job, I’m going to redesign that site and it will look much better! Anyway, back to 70mm, the format was quite popular back in the 50s and 60s, some of the epic films from those eras were filmed in this format including Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Patton, Cleopatra and much more. Heck even Quentin Tarantino will shoot his new flick The Hateful Eight in 70mm, so I can’t wait to see that.

The local theater here in MN is one of the only 9 in the whole country that’s currently projecting Nolan’s picture in 70mm so it’s definitely a treat to have experienced it. Also, I haven’t been back to this theater in over 20 years because they stopped showing films in 70mm. Unfortunately though, the viewing experience wasn’t as immersive as it was on IMAX. The smaller 2.20:1 screen didn’t really give the visual grandeur like on an IMAX screen but I still love the rich color and brightness of 70mm. Also, this 70mm theater uses an old DTS surround sound and it just couldn’t hold a candle to IMAX’s lossless surround sound.

InterstellarIMAXSo my recommendation is if you want to see Interstellar like it’s meant to be seen, please see it on a true 70mm IMAX and if there’s a standard 70mm theater near you, you might want to check it out too. Of course I understand not many people are able to see it on these formats since there aren’t a lot of IMAX and 70mm theaters around. Nolan said in an interview that if the audience felt like they were part of an experience in his film then he succeeded, that I totally agree with. Sure the film has its flaws and some of the scientific mumble jumble didn’t really make a lick of sense to me but it’s still one heck of a ride.

Final Scores:
IMAX 70mm 5 stars out of 5
Standard 70mm 4 stars out of 5

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So which format did you see Interstellar in? Are you a fan of seeing films on IMAX?

TCFF 2014 Interview with Bradley King & George Finn for sci-fi thriller ‘Time Lapse’

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Twin Cities Film Fest picked a truly awesome film for our closing night! Time Lapse is one of those mind-bending sci-fi gems that delivers big impact on a shoestring budget. Director Bradley King and actor George Finn were in attendance and participated in the Q&A afterwards. The theater was packed and the audience gave a loud applause when the credits rolled. I thought it was really well-done, a character-driven piece with a nice blend of humor and suspense.

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FCInterviewBannerI was lucky enough to be able to chat with them at the Marriott Hotel in the afternoon before the screening. It was just the three of us in this huge lobby, and there was no time restriction and no other interviewer present, which was very cool indeed!

George_Bradley_TCFFInterviewThis is yet another impressive directorial debut I saw at TCFF, perhaps even the best. If Time Lapse is any indication, I sure hope this is the first of many from Bradley King. I sure hope the big studios take notice, because if he could do something THIS good on a small budget, I’d love to see what he could do with something that has ten times its budget.

This could be the big break for George Finn as well, who displays a strong screen charisma as well as acting range, seamlessly alternating between a grungy slob to a sly & sinister young man. It’s truly a pleasant surprise to see him channel his dark side convincingly, as the actor I met earlier in the day is so affable and charming … not to mention devastatingly beautiful. A native of Tbilisi, Georgia, Finn is tall, with striking blue eyes and tousled jet black hair, he looks like a cross between Cillian Murphy and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Ok I could go on but let’s get to the interview, shall we?

Ruth: So Bradley, how did you and [co-screenwriter] B.P. Cooper came up with the story idea?

Bradley: Well I wish I could take credit for it but actually it’s Cooper who came up with the idea for the machine. He actually had seen a movie where someone put a camera inside a machine. So we thought well, what if the machine and the camera were the same thing? So I kinda took that and thought well, that’s awesome but how could we do that and make it into something that’s low-budget in one location, so I guess that’s how it came out of. It’s a practical beginning really, how about if we make a low-budget sci-fi movie, I mean we both love science fiction so this is really what came out of that idea.

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R: I know you came out from short films background… I mean you’ve directed a lot of them. So what make you decide that this is going to turn this idea into a feature film?

Bradley: Yes I’ve directed a lot of features and Cooper has produced a few features, so I guess we’re both were at a point where we wanted to make a movie together and so we’re consciously looking for a film idea that we can do with the means that we have. So once we came up with this we soon realize this would fit the bill.

R: And how was the casting come on board… I mean how did George come on board and all that?

Bradley: Well let’s hear George’s story on how he came on board and I can help fill in the rest…

George: Well, Rick Montgomery who’s the producer of Time Lapse is also a well-known casting director so I read with him a few times and he sent me a pitch packet with a script and the entire layout of what the time machine look like and kind of a storyboard almost. So I read the script and I fell in love with the character Jasper. I remember when I was first reading it, I completely understood who he was. I mean there are certain individuals who sort of resonated with me and I was really getting into it. And the more I read it I found myself getting lost in the story and was really hooked. So by the time I went to read with these guys [pointing to Bradley] I really wanted the part. I met them and in this room there were a lot of storyboards and some yarn lines kind of telling us what would happen after what … I think it was sort of a prototype of the big room. And so I met with them and luckily, it worked out.

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George Finn, Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary in ‘Time Lapse’

R: This film reminds me a bit of Chronicle, which is also a small-budget sci-fi. I mean it’s different plot-wise but it also have three young people dealing with having some kind of superpowers, whilst the people in Time Lapse discovered a machine that’s supposedly have some kind of powers. So is it kind of a cautionary tale about when someone gets a certain power, how the human nature comes into it?

Bradley: Yeah I think pretty early on, we knew things weren’t going to end up well. I’ve always liked cautionary tales especially in sci-fis. We had other potential endings y’know, but it just, the theme of people being obsessed with the future that it sort of ruin their present is something that both Cooper and I can relate to. I think a lot about the future. I think I’d be more like the Finn character [played by Matt O’Leary], I worry a lot about what my next project’s gonna be, whether the next idea show up or whether I’m gonna sit here and stare at a blank page for y’know, however long. So yeah, I used to think that you could decide the theme first then write the story out of that, but usually it’s the other way around. You start writing the story then as you’re writing it, then you realize that ‘oh this theme seems to be strong’ and at the end, usually it becomes clear. Then you go back and see if we could adjust to make that theme even clearer and stronger. So we rewrite things a little bit after you realize the “meaning” of it is. At least for me as a filmmaker, I don’t know that everyone who watches it would take that away but for us, but for us, that’s definitely a strong theme.

R: One of the reviews of the film that I read talked about the visual and the sound kind of give the audience that claustrophobic feeling, you know, being in a small set. So can you talk about a little bit about filming in such a small space and how you got it down to how you wanted it to be.

Bradley: I’d be happy to, but I’m curious how George feels about acting in such a small set and how it affects his performance.

George: Yeah I think it enhances everything in the sense that because we’re all there and we’re kind of so close, we all fell into our roles. It was easier to develop our relationships and figure everything out. And when you’re watching the film, you mentioned the word claustrophobia, you really… umm, I’m trying to find the words on how to describe it… well the claustrophobia adds and intensifies everything.

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R: Cool. I mean you kind of want the environment to be part of the story, don’t you? 

Bradley: Yeah I was worried y’know, as a filmmaker, would it stay interesting? Would it be too claustrophobic? I mean you’ve seen some movies set in one location and you get bored, y’know and by the end, you’re like, I’ve seen this wall a thousand times already. So y’know, so it’s a challenge for everybody. We talked to the DP y’know to keep the lighting fresh, do we want to add more contrast towards the end, darker, or whatever and I think Jonathan [Wenstrup, the cinematographer] did a great job keeping things fresh. I mean yeah, we wanted the film to feel claustrophobic because they kind of trapped in this weird little bubble. Not just in the apartment but the complex itself, ’cause everything happens right there. We’re very lucky that we got this 20s-style series of bungalows that we could take the whole place over. People could do things and move around outside but they never really left, I mean they don’t even know what city they’re in. I like it as a creative limitation. Once we’re able to find the place. Cooper said it was a nightmare until we found it as we spent weeks and weeks trying to find that stupid location.

George: I think one of the coolest things about that location is the fact that where we were, right across from us you actually the camera. The location is exactly what it is. I mean there’s this one movable wall but everything that’s there is really there.

Ruth: So you don’t have to imagine things?

George: Yeah I think as an actor I feel that because of that, it made it a lot easier to understand the character and get into ’em because in that world, we got to really immerse ourselves into it and be comfortable in it and explore all the fun things that we did get to find.

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Time Lapse Concept Art

Source: Howie Things Blog

R: So how long was the shoot?

Ah, the actual shooting was 27 or 28 days. We’ve been giving both answers during Q&As [laughs], Cooper knows exactly how long, but I think even he’s been giving both answers. So it’s like 27, then we had to add one more day, so 28.

R [for George]: You’ve done some films and a few TV work, I know you’re in The Mentalist [season 6 final episode: Blue Birds]. So is this your first sci-fi genre?

George: Yeah it is. This is my first sci-fi film. I mean I couldn’t be more proud of a film, I think [laughs]. I’m really, really happy. I mean, I got to see a lot of Danielle’s and Matt’s stuff, but there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to see. So when I finally got to see it, I was able to remove myself enough to really appreciate it. From the feedback we’re getting and things I’ve heard, I know I’m really proud of it.

R: Last question for you Bradley. Who’s your filmmaker inspiration?

Bradley: Oh boy, that’s tough as I don’t think I have just one and it changes depending on the project. As we got into this one a lot, now I’ve been a big Hitchcock fan and this movie has a bit of Rear Window tone to it. I certainly study him. There are so many others that the list would go on forever. I think it’s easier for me to point to movie influences in this one. We also took a look at films with relationship dynamics where there are three people who are really close and things go really bad. So we looked at Shallow Graves, that was the one we watched a lot, and also A Simple Plan. We also revisited Time Crimes, Back to the Future, and Twelve Monkeys. We just wanted to make sure just what are the rules about time travel, even though there isn’t really time travel in our movie but there is that time themes so you know, we just want to make sure we handle this in a way that’s palatable for people who like this sort of thing. So I guess those are the main influences.

But then when we get to post-production, my editor was a bit Stanley Kubrick fan and so we talked about him. I mean, we didn’t want to make this machine alive but at the same time, it is sort of this Hal-like thing across the way where he’s watching people and in the end, it’s like y’know, the last man standing. And also, once the composer came on board, we started talking about Bernard Herrmann, and sort of going back to Hitchcock and how to deal with a score that could be an old school suspense vein but also feels modern.

R [for George]: And you worked with your brother a lot … [Nika Agiashvilli] So what’s next for you? You have a project you’re working with him right now, correct?

George: Yeah we have a project that’s in early pre-production. It’s a bit of a passion project of ours. We finally getting close to how we wanted to make it. It’s called The Short Happy Life of Butch Livingston. That’s most likely going to be next. I’m also working on another one with Ron Perlman called Savage Mutts, it’s a gritty revenge thriller. It’s a lot of fun, we’re excited about that so whichever one of those shall be my next project.

Ruth: Well, thanks so much guys. I don’t really have any more questions. So do you have anything to add about the film?

Bradley: Ummm I don’t think so, how about you George?

George: Well, go see it! [laughs] Thank you for having us here.

Ruth: No thank you! It’s been fun chatting with you both and I’m super excited to see the film!

TimeLapseCameraDuring the Q&A, someone asked Bradley about the design of the Camera Machine itself, here’s his answer:

Bradley: Up front I knew that I wanted it to feel retro and a bit steam-punk-y. I worked with a concept artist named Howard Schechtman, and I made it clear I didn’t want any LEDs or lasers or computer chips etc. He started coming back with great sketches, and probably the 3rd one is the one we went with. At that point we didn’t really expect the physical machine to end up resembling these sketches (because of budget, it just seemed improbable) but then we discovered this fabricator named Dave Mendoza, and he and a scenic artist Thibault Pelletier worked together over the course of the shoot to build the machine as you see it in the movie. They were sourcing parts from all over the place – an airplane junkyard, hardware stores, some parts even came from the abandoned apartment complex itself. By the end of the shoot they had really captured the magic of the concept sketches, and I was extremely pleased.


Congratulations Bradley & BP Cooper + the entire cast for Time Lapse winning the Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award!

George Finn & Bradley King accepting the TCFF Indie Vision Award
George Finn & Bradley King accepting the TCFF Indie Vision Award

 Check out Time Lapse‘s trailer


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Bradley & George!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Has anyone seen Time Lapse? I’d love to know what you think!

Classic Actor Spotlight: Sterling Hayden – Variations On A Theme

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Greeting, all and sundry!

After taking a step back as the latest addition to The Hunger Games sweeps through theaters near and far, I’ve decided to tidy up some loose ends. With a pinch of Paula’s What A Character Blog-A-Thon. And a subtly expressed desire to learn more of the machinations of director, Stanley Kubrick.

To that end. Allow me to introduce a superb character actor. Who was born poor. Lived large and rich. Was something of a swashbuckler during World War II. And brought that vast experience to countless roles. This offering will cover four of his most popular and memorable characters. Under the assured touch of three historic directors:

Sterling Hayden: Variations On A Theme.

Who first grabbed my attention at a very tender age. Playing the towering, gruff, often dissatisfied thug, Dix Handley in John Houston’s The Asphalt Jungle. A 1950 film that is notable for its time in revealing crime being anywhere. And everywhere!

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

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From the corner diner and soda shop run by a hunchbacked ex convict, James Whitmore. To insurance companies with policies on diamonds and other precious stones. To monied families led by Louis Calhern as Alonzo Emmerich. Who pads his family coffers through bank rolling high end heists. When not spending obnoxious sums to his his pampered girlfriend, Angela Phinlay (Marilyn Monroe).


To keep afloat, Emmerich moves on a diamond heist that requires a master “Yegg”. (Safe cracker). A small crew. And an expendable hooligan in the form of Dix Handley. Who walks into the conspiracy with eyes wide open. Seeing a chance for some quick money and a one way ticket back to Tennessee and his Quarter Horses.
Dix uses his height, voice, bulk and ominous shadows to diversions to a minimum. While taking on the role of just paroled, “Doc” Erwin Reidenscheider (Sam Jaffe’s) personal protector. The prep for the heist in the basement of a jewelry exchange is well detailed. With diagrams, maps and layouts. Lookouts are set. The vault is drilled for Nitroglycerine. An alarm goes off. Police arrive as the thieves are making their escape. shots are fired. One criminal goes down. So does a cop. And Emmerich is none to pleased to see “Doc”, Dix and two others with a satchel full of stones. And wanting their cut. NOW!

Emmerich stalls. One of Emmerich’s associates draws a pistol. Dix drops him, but catches a shot to the gut. Emmerich gives up what cash he has. Dix goes to see his girlfriend, “Doll” Conovan (Jean Hagen) for a cross country trip home. As “Doc” sedately takes the slow route home in a taxi. With a side stop to a diner and a comely young lady who catches “Doc”‘s eye. Before being recognized and pursued by police.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role?

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A solid Rock Of Gibraltar upon which to build a wondrously devious tale on the intricacies of high end crime. With Dix bullying his way when necessary. Yet unaware that his benefactor, Emmerich is spending money he doesn’t have for maps, tools and expertise required. And hoping to buy the stones cheap and sell them dearly. To remain solvent for another year.

All this is Greek to Dix. Who is willing to take the risk. For an immediate payoff. And is not really surprised when angers rise and things head south after the heist.

***

The Killing (1956)

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Which lays a decent foundation for a very early Stanley Kubrick ode to a “sure thing” race track heist, The Killing from 1956. Put together and overseen by Mr. Hayden as Johnny Clay. Who is much smarter than he seems and plans for every contingency as his crew comes together. Hot headed, womanizing Val Cannon (Vince Edwards). Over the hill, former race track cop, Marvin Unger (Jay C. Fliippen). Nebbishy numbers guy, who knows a reasonable fence, George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.). And creepy as Hell looking, budding sociopath, Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey).
The men gather. Talk about non specific specifics regarding the heist amongst smoke laced, still air and naked, shadow casting light bulbs above a poker table. Each has a task. either inside the race tracks terminus and betting windows. Or beyond in the parking lot that skirts the backyard stretch. Everything depends on the day’s last race. Plus time for the losing bettor’s money to be gathered and put in the Counting Room. And afterwards the vault. The trick is for Clay and his crew to intercede after the count and before the vault. To the tune of two million dollars. Serious money, indeed!

Secrecy is essential. But men will be men. Egos will be egos. And Clay and Peatty have girlfriends. Clay’s girlfriend, Fay (Colleen Gray) is frightened of her man. While Peatty’s wife, Sherry (Acid tongued and cheating, Marie Windsor) has other plans. Courtesy of Val Cannon in a classic double cross.
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The day arrives. The races are run. Money is gathered. The last race comes up. Nikki waits with a rifle in his red convertible as the gates opens and the race starts. The diversion occurs at Nikki’s hand. Everything goes as planned. Though a guard does manage to get shot and Johnny is wounded. Double crosses happen. Members of the crew are killed. Clay and fay seek any of numbers of ways out of the city ahead of news reports. Airline tickets are purchased and their suitcase full of money is weighed, tagged and sent on its way to the waiting, idling airliner…

I’ll leave it right there. Lest I move into spoiler territory.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role as Johnny Clay?

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An iron fist inside a somewhat clumsy glove. There are members of Clay’s crew whom he knows. And others he does not. Using greed and the allure of big money, he does get them to work together. When a few aren’t busy working their own angles. To claim their prize at the end of the rainbow. Those whom Clay cannot intimidate. He sometimes brow beats as dents and small problems are worked out.

Refreshingly, the ladies, or dames in attendance are often just as greedy and clever as the men. With Marie Windsor’s setting the standard for ruthless molls to come.

In a straightforward, B&W shadow filled and close to Noir heist film. That looks and feels like a procedural. Completely from the criminals’ point of view.

***

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1965)

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Which brings in a later, 1964 Kubrick film. A Doomsday, Black Comedy filled with superb, deadpan comedic talent. And a heavt hitting supporting cast much more recognizable for drama. Yet excelling at comedy. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

Mr. Hayden’s role is mostly dramatic. As the commander of a Strategic Air Command Base, General Jack D. Ripper. Who has sent his wing of B-52s off their “Fail Safe Points” to bomb Moscow and cities beyond. Encompassing all the physical attributes, gestures, pauses and enunciation of Four Star General Curtis E. LeMay (The Grandfather of SAC). As he explains in his own warped logic, his reason for eradicating Russia from the map. To a befuddled, prim and proper RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers in one of three diverse roles).

Mr. Hayden’s General Ripper is one of the few straight dramatic roles. And gets the ball rolling to an at first nervous, then frightened and near Panicked Pentagon. Its War Room, Big Board. Russian diplomats and dryly funny use of “The Red Phone” as solutions (Outside of the Army overrunning and taking back the SAC base and arresting Ripper) are sought. Cutting between the Pentagon and the lead B-52 piloted by Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) as it dodges missiles and gets ever closer. Then back to the War Room and the besieged Burpleson Air Force Base. And Ripper supplying offensive fire with a .30 caliber Browning Machine Gun pulled from a Golf Bag (Don’t ask!)With cuts getting shorter, tighter and more suspenseful as new courses and targets are selected by Kong for his bomber.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role as Gen. Ripper?

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One the most accurate physical portrayal of an American Military icon in cinema. Shot from low set cameras angled high to bring forth the full measure of a man feared and respected more than the Presidents of two administrations in the early 1960s.

Mr. Hayden’s and Ripper’s soliloquy to Peter Sellers’ Mandrake regarding Clemenseau. The Military Generals, Politicians and war could easily have been uttered at any time during Kennedy’s embarrassing “Bay of Pigs” invasion and fiasco. Or his later mediocre redemption during The Cuban Missile Crisis. Which, I believe is one of the reason the film works and has aged so well. The possibility of “What if?” taken to first, dramatic and later, comedic extremes.

***

The Godfather (1972)

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Which created an eight year sojourn into smaller films and larger plays. Creating the opportunity to fulfill a small, but essential role as corrupt, bought and paid for Captain McCluskey in Francis Coppola’s landmark, The Godfather.

Though Mr. Hayden isn’t on the screen very long. He makes more than the most of each scene. Radiating intolerance, arrogance and bullying legal brute force. From the moment McCluskey pushes through the clutch of uniformed cops to confront an equally arrogant and sarcastic Michael Corleone. (Al Pacino). Before breaking a sinus and jaw while clocking him into the next time zone.

Throwing down the gauntlet for all to see. Before inching back as Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall) rolls up and disgorges an equally large group of plain clothed, licensed and armed “investigators” to protected the hospitalized and moved Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). In that fleeting moment there is a palpable hate between the two. Enough to tinge Michael’s later compound strategy with Tom and Sonny. To a bit more “personal” than “business” regarding the expedient demise of Sollozzo and McCluskey.

What Does Mr. Hayden Bring To This Role in The Godfather?

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A thoroughly unlikeable character in Captain McCluskey. Who seems to tower over most with rigid posture. A thrust out chest and chin. And enough experience intimidating others to be openly snide with his comments. Especially his “punks like him” comment after frisking Michael on the way to the restaurant summit and double homicide.
Was I pleased with Mr. Hayden’s performance? Absolutely! I couldn’t come up with a comparable actor for the role while reading Mario Puzo’s novel. And I felt more shock than surprise or sadness when McCluskey met his fate.
***

Overall Consensus:

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Sterling Hayden epitomized the Hollywood “Tough Guy” through the 1950s and 60s. Often down and out and with few options. Who could deliver and take punches on the same level as Robert Mitchum. And handled firearms with respect and familiarity. And full knowledge of what they could do.

Overbearing? Sure. When the character required it. Though there were smarts in abundance behind that steely gaze. Either from experience or the school of hard knocks. Very much like Burt Lancaster. Though not nearly as physical. Willing to play unlikeable characters. And never apologizing for it.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews



Thoughts on Sterling Hayden and/or any of his roles mentioned above?

Musings on Dolby Atmos Cinema Sound Technology

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Dolby Labs has been supplying Hollywood films with their audio system for years, the first film to have use its technology was Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. By the mid 70s most major Hollywood films started using Dolby sound and today it’s still the most widely use surround sound system in theaters across the world. It’s also a stable in home video such as DVD and Bluray discs. Although the last couple of years, Bluray have been using Dolby’s competitor, DTS or Digital Surround Sound as the primary sound coding for movies in that format. DVD still uses Dolby Digital.

Dolby always try to come up a new surround sound format to get the audiences back into theaters, throughout the 70s and 80s, Dolby Surround Sound were used in most Hollywood produced and some foreign films. But in the early 90s, they came out with a new sound format simply called Dolby Digital and the first film to have been recorded in that format was Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. My first experience hearing Dolby Digital was in 1995 when I saw Crimson Tide, right then and there I fell in love with this new surround sound. A few years later, they came out with another surround sound format, this one was called Dolby Digital EX and the first film to have used that sound was Star Wars Ep.1 and I was fortunate enough to have experience hearing that sound in a theater and again I fell in love. Well fast forward to 2012 and Dolby decided to introduced the world to another surround sound format, this one is called Dolby Atmos and the first movie to have been encoded with this new sound was Pixar’s Brave.

I’ve been reading about this new format for months now but since I don’t live in a big city, I wasn’t able to experience it until our local theater Showplace ICON here in Minneapolis, MN decided to revamp the theater and included Dolby Atmos. The movie I saw was Gravity. So what is Dolby Atmos you might ask. Well if you really want to know all the technical stuff about it, you can check out Dolby’s site where they explain in more details.

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Basically, a typical theater have a 5.1 or 7.1 surround speakers set up, center, left/right and sub-woofer speakers are hidden behind the screen and the surround speakers are placed on the left/right and back of the theater. But with Atmos, they included additional speakers on ceilings to make it a more immersive experience (see image at the top). Now before I experienced this new sound format, I didn’t think I would hear any difference from other surround sound, to me I still think IMAX’s loss-less surround is still the best in cinemas today. Well after experiencing it, I think it may be one of the most immersive surround sound I’ve ever heard. I first saw Gravity at digital IMAX theater and I thought the surround sound there was perfect. Boy when I went to see it with the Atmos sound, it totally blew me away.

“Just as 3D offers added visual dimension, Dolby Atmos creates a virtual reality of sound, which fully immerses the audience in the aural journey,” Gravity‘s director Alfonso Cuarón said in a statement, as quoted by LA Times.

The separation of each surround channel was so discreet and clear that I felt I was in space with the character in the movie. The opening scene where the music came on and then the title of the movie appears was loud (not in a bad way) and clear that I felt the sound in my stomach and chest, it’s hard to explain but you have to experience it to know how it feels. Also, when some of the characters speaks, the sound was able to place their voice where it should be. For example when Clooney’s character was talking in one scene, he’s in top left corner of the screen and we hear his voice from the top left corner of the theater, it’s pretty cool! I know most surround sound can do that effect but with Atmos, you feel like his voice was right behind you, it’s so clear and didn’t feel like gimmicky to me at all. I think this sound format goes well with the spectacle you see on the screen, especially 3D effects. The explosions and clashes also sounded so realistic that you’d think you’re in the space ship with Sandra Bullock. If there’s a theater in your area that’s equipped Dolby Atmos, I’d highly you go check it out, it’s an quite an experience. Now I think this kind of surround sound only work with spectacle movies like Gravity, Thor, The Hobbit and other big tent pole pictures. I don’t think it would sound any different if they use it for comedies or dramas.

Currently Dolby Atmos is only available at the cinemas, there’s been some discussions that Dolby might consider bringing it to home theater and I can’t wait for that to happen. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to see more movies with this new soundtrack. Now I still think IMAX’s lossless surround sound is still the best but maybe I’ll change my mind once I see more movies with Atmos sound. In fact, I’m looking forward to comparing the two when I go see The Hobbit 2, it will be shown at both IMAX and Atmos equipped theaters.


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Well that’s my thoughts on Dolby Atmos, have you seen a movie with this new surround sound format? Would love to hear what you think of it.