Tag Archives: Film

THE COLOR WHEEL – a dark, yet brief moment

Indie artsy films where unlikable people never shut the fuck up is commonplace in a movie community teeming with film students armed with HD cameras and MacBook Pros. It takes a magic ingredient to be the standout, watchable experience.

Alex Ross Perry’s THE COLOR WHEEL should blog the recipe.

The film centers around JR, an actress with hopes of being a weather girl for a major market, and her brother Colin who has been solicited to take a short road trip from New York to Vermont to help her move out of the house of the professor-boyfriend that just dumped her.

JR is annoying. Nobody in the family can stand her. Colin is weird and can’t shut up. And in the end, they’re the only people that can tolerate each other in a world full of losers.

JR and Colin
Colin (played by Alex Ross Perry) and JR (played by Carlen Altman)

THE COLOR WHEEL marks the second time Perry teamed with cinematographer Sean Price Williams to unearth a 16mm film camera for his 2011 sophomore effort. But it isn’t just the grainy, soft, fuzzy (and totally not 1080p) look that sets it apart from other mumblers.

Nor is it simply the appreciated descent from art film sternness to goofball humor, which is sometimes delivered in a dumpy dad way. Although when the jokes stick, it’s hilarious. For instance, the scene where a millennial party goer, confined to a wheelchair due to polio, gives applause by pedaling back and forth on the carpet.

From the second we meet the brother and sister, we cannot stop watching them despite our dislike for them.

Why are we pulled? Not sure. Perry can’t put his finger on it, either: “I’ve still not been able to articulate what it is that I find attractive about someone who is ostensibly unlikeable. It’s just the part of their lives that I want to find them in is the point at which they are really at an ebb.”

“It’s not that they’re bad people,” Perry continues. “When someone’s really hurting, and they’re really doing everything they can to really just push away everyone who’s trying to help them. That’s just a phase.”

Colin and JR in a Diner

The film doubles down on the awkward when we see JR and Colin having to interact with others instead of just each other, ultimately building to the most satisfying ending I’ve seen in recent viewing.

THE COLOR WHEEL may be a movie for hardcore cinephiles; after all, most people don’t even like black and white movies let alone outdated 16mm. And maybe with unlimited streaming options, a movie watcher shouldn’t have to bear takes of young actors fumbling over their lines. Perry’s flaw is that he makes art house movies in a time where art houses don’t exist—where the living room is the theater of choice.

But cinephiles will be understanding of the long error filled takes, the moments of precious time printed to actual film. Knowledgeable viewers will note that the actor playing Colin memorizes his pages of closing dialogue better than the actress he’s opposite of because Colin is played by Perry, the writer and director.

I’m personally thankful for discovering Perry’s movies, having heard him on an episode of The Bret Easton Ellis podcast, where Ellis praises Perry for going against relatability in a time where audiences demand likability from characters.

These days, watching movies can be kind of a lonely and quiet experience. We writhe with Perry’s characters, and in the final moments, our hearts race with anticipation and thump with payoff as we, like the downward transcending siblings rim lit by headlights, grasp to whatever we have left in this existence.

And then, “Is That Loving In Your Heart” by the Lovelites plays as the credits roll at the end of a dark, yet brief moment in time.

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‘It Follows’ Review: Best New Horror Movie in Years

IT FOLLOWS-Jay in Car

It Follows” is technically a 2014 movie, but with its wide theatrical release this past weekend (seeing even popular festival movies in my local non-NYC/LA theatre is getting rarer and rarer), it is currently my reigning favorite of 2015.

David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore effort, “It Follows” is an anxious, nightmare logic horror film about Jay Heights (played by the lovely and talented Maika Monroe from Adam Wingard’s The Guest and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring) doing the deed with an older boy and now, uh-oh, she’s cursed. Mitchell’s movie is not merely about a girl labeled as a “slut” but as someone actually cursed by having sex, someone who is now being stalked by her deed in the form of an amorphous monster that can take the shape of anyone—strangers, or even people she loves. This boogey man stalks her from a distance, approaching slowly at a walk, hoping to grab hold of her and kill her off once and for all.

“It Follows” touches on the anxieties of many virgin (or not quite virgin) teenagers fixing to do the deed, as Nic Cage in “Peggy Sue Got Married” would say, “What, you mean sex? Ha ha, intercourse. You wanna have intercourse?”. Mitchell harnesses this anxiety wonderfully into an expertly crafted genre picture that is nostalgic of movies from the 1970s/1980s (for me, it touches the same nerve as the original “Nightmare on Elm Street”).

IT FOLLOWS-Mirror WS

“It Follows” looks great. Shot on the Arri Alexa and Red Epic, Director of Photography Mike Gioulakis (“John Dies at the End”) creates a cold, eerie world ripe with pretty colors and people in desolate Detroit.

As Variety put it, “As Mitchell explained at the pic’s premiere in Cannes, ‘It Follows’ marks his attempt to make a ‘beautiful horror movie’ — equal parts gentle and aggressive.  At times, his meticulous compositions rival Gregory Crewdson’s ethereal suburban-gothic photographs.”

Untitled from Beneath the Roses (2003–2005) Gregory Crewdson
Untitled from Beneath the Roses (2003–2005) Gregory Crewdson

A friend of mine commented that “It Follows” reminded him of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 proof-in-digital-filmmaking-excellence “Drive”. I was a little thrown off by this. It took reading Mitchell’s quote on a “beautiful horror movie” to understand the “Drive” reference. Just as “Drive” was a beautifully violent movie, “It Follows” is a beautifully eerie movie.

The movie starts off with a 360-degree camera pan around a Detroit suburban street as a teenager runs out of her house in her pajamas (and high heels), seemingly fleeing for her life from a presence we (and her neighbor) cannot see. The actress does a wonderful job of registering the fear in one frame, then backpedaling when she realizes nobody can see her assailant, playing it off, running back inside, and returning to speed off in the family car.

Filmmaker Magazine on the 360-degree shot: “Unlike dopamine-inducing mood enhancers, the opening sequence of unique hybrid ‘It Follows’ aims for atmosphere, not climax…It is cinematic foreplay, simultaneously tease and microcosm. Over the span of several minutes, David Robert Mitchell succinctly anticipates not only the plotline of the narrative, but also its themes and infrastructure.”

As an avid fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”, I’ve always loved the 360-degree pan. Anderson’s scripted circular shot around Eddie Adams’ bedroom early in the film is both evocative and appropriate. Like the opening of “It Follows”, Eddie’s wall posters of bikini babes and muscles cars, his massive dong squeezed into a tight pair of undies, his practicing kung fu moves in the mirror; all these elements “anticipate not only the plotline of the narrative, but also its themes and infrastructure.”

A similar nod to Anderson would be the use of an extreme close-up of Jay in a hospital bed. There are not many close-ups in “It Follows”. In fact, mostly wide angle Cooke S4 lenses are used for the film’s entirety. Paired with the 2.35 : 1 wide screen aspect ratio, we are constantly looking over the character’s shoulder for the spooky “It”. So when we do get a close-up, it packs a punch. The ECU of Jay’s bloody bandage, with its fine focus and heavy falloff, is reminiscent of “Boogie Nights” many close-ups, shot with anamorphic zoom lenses.

IT FOLLOWS-Head Wound INSERT
“It Follows” Extreme Closeup
boogie_nights_-_close-ups_objects_etc_1-1
“Boogie Nights” Extreme Closeup

The movie’s beauty is chiefly displayed when Jay has sex with Hugh in the back of his car in an abandoned lot. The shot is used prominently in the trailer and was the main image I remembered other than Maika Monroe in her pink bra strapped to a wheelchair.

IT FOLLOWS-Car

Variety said, “If ‘Myth (of the American Sleepover)’was his John Hughes homage, then ‘It Follows’ is the director’s best stab at doing John Carpenter.” The parallel to John Hughes is interesting and isn’t lost on “It Follows”. Particularly, in his regard to sex and how he treats the teenage, sometimes goofy choices of his characters with the utmost respect.

Filmmaker Magazine had an interesting look on the sex scenes: “Her (Jay) enervating encounter with Hugh and Greg’s comforting presence are catalysts for sparks of desire, with Jay at the apex of a triangle including both Greg and Paul. Atypically for teen flicks, sex among the trio is fairly pleasure-free, especially for Jay, who performs like the cold wife in I-have-a-headache jokes.”

IT FOLLOWS-Front Lawn

Sex is never really shown for pleasure’s sake, which actually makes the sex scenes some of the most interesting to date. Whether it’s Jay riding Hugh in the backseat of his car moments before being chloroformed, Greg eagerly pumping Jay in her hospital bed under the guise of wanting to understand what she’s seeing (a very clever take on the lengths men will go through to get laid), Paul’s awkward attempts to capitalize on bedding Jay finally being fulfilled towards the end of the film, or the intense sequence where Jay strips and paddles out into the water towards a boat full of men, presumably to pass the curse off to one or all of the men aboard.

The sex serves a purpose to Jay that is not pleasure. It aids the plot, so that we’re not merely watching teens bone for the hell of it. As Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”) put it, “To me, the best sex scenes are not about sex. There has to be a reason we’re watching them fuck.”

IT FOLLOWS-Underwear Mirror

Mitchell asks the question, “what happens when you have sex?” What stigmas linger after? What have you lost? What stains your soul post-coitus? What happens if you don’t have sex? Since, in his narrative, the only way to get rid of the monster, the curse, like the curse of being thought a virgin in the teen world, is to have sex with someone. Not only do you have to have sex with someone, but now that person has to have sex someone else or “the curse” comes back to you. This is a monster of spreading sexuality without any of the pleasure. It’s not about enjoying it, it’s about getting it over with.

The soundtrack and production design were both winners. The score was composed by Rich Vreeland, better known as Disasterpeace. I love the electronic score that has been playing in Adam Wingard’s movies and now Mitchell’s. It’s very cool and effective and pairs nicely with digital imagery. Electronic music, digital imagery, it’s a match!

In “It Follows”, technology is never rooted in any specific place or time. The TV sets are the old box kind with rabbit ears. There are landline telephones. The cars in the suburbs of Motor City are all outdated. Yet, one of the characters resembles a modern day hipster and is seen regularly reading from a seashell shaped, makeup compact-like e-reader that is not of this world, or maybe futuristic. The effect is that this movie is not a throwback to the 1970s/1980s anymore than it is a modern storyline. It is timeless. It is iconic.

Mitchell on production design in Filmmaker Magazine: “Those were all used to place the film a little bit outside of time, like in a dream or a nightmare, but there are elements from several decades, from the ’50s to now to things that don’t actually exist. When you watch it, you start to pick up on these elements, and it’s a little disconcerting, and in the back of your mind, you’re searching for something to ground you and tell you where you’re at. We were trying to avoid all that. I worked really closely with the production designer, and he did a great job of mixing and matching all these pieces. It leans in the direction of the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s a nice mix.”

IT FOLLOWS-Jay Pool

Mitchell is an exciting filmmaker because he seems to be going against an idea I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It’s an idea implanted in my brain by a comment Bret Easton Ellis made on one of his opinionated podcasts. He states that younger filmmakers haven’t lived life enough to make original art. To paraphrase, Ellis says younger artists choose their decisions in their movies based not on what they know about life, but rather what they’ve already seen in movies.

I’m still debating how I feel about this comment but it did get me thinking about movies that I like very much, particularly Wingard’s “You’re Next”. Going further, Wingard’s latest movie “The Guest” is an even bigger throwback to older horror movies, a blend between John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “The Bourne Identity”. You can throw Ti West’s “House of the Devil” in this mix as well, as the only thing I liked about that movie was its 1980s look and pace.

Ellis got me thinking is nostalgia for old movies I like a reason to like new movies? I’m sure in some ways the answer is yes. But it doesn’t quell the question of where will our new horror movie come from if we spend all our time referencing older horror movies? Then again, this has worked for Quentin Tarantino.

I think Mitchell’s “It Follows” is as close as any to an original horror picture. Although I think his movie is very similar to Wingard’s style (Maika Monroe, electronic soundtrack, 1980s aesthetic), at the heart of “It Follows” is something very personal to the director. And not personal the way I think things are for Wingard, which, for kids who grew up loving movies, references to movies we love are very personal.

But Mitchell taps into something deeper than love for movies, he taps into his feelings.

He taps into his own dreams: “I had it when I was very young, the nightmare. I had it several times and I still remember images from it. I didn’t use those images for the film, but the basic idea and the feeling I used. From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream. Whatever I was going through at that time, my parents divorced when I was around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

Mitchell isn’t drawing his horror elements from things he has seen in movies, (although he does know horror movies), he draws them from his own life.

The point here is that if you want to make something new and exciting, something nobody has seen before, something, I believe, like “It Follows”, then you have to break away from pastiche and get back to the roots of art, which is to express whatever you inherently know to be true, the way you know it, and the way you feel it. The way we feel Mitchell’s anxiety in “It Follows”.

6 Directing Tips from Actors

Recently I watched a video on YouTube which asks the question any aspiring/working director should want to know from an actor: what do you want from a director?

I’ve done a lot of research on directing since I started filming my own short screenplays a few years back and what fascinates me most is how to inspire actors. I love crafting beautiful shots and making a visually pleasing film but what I believe a director should focus on more than anything is the performance.

So when I research directing I hold a heavy bias on reading about how to direct actors and what actors want from a director to make their performance powerful. The video above asks twenty-one accomplished actors what they want from a director and here is a summary of what they want to see:

1. Clarity

I put this at number one because several of the actors brought this trait up so it’s worth paying extra attention to. In the video, Meryl Streep mentions that she wants a director to be clear with his direction, even if he is uncertain of what he wants to see. This is powerful advice from arguably the greatest actress in the business today because what I’ve found directing on set is that I don’t always have the answers. Sometimes I’ll watch a take and just know it’s not right but am not certain of how to make it better. Streep is saying that this is ok and a director should just vocalize he wants to see something else but he’s not sure what it is. The result could surprise both the actor and director and get the perfect take of a performance.

Rebecca Hall goes on to say that a director should have “a clear way of saying something that evokes a creative emotion.” Directing requires tricky use of language. There will be times when you know exactly what you want from an actor but vocalizing it could leave the actor dumbfounded. Communicating your direction is one of the hardest parts of the game. You must do so by being distinct, precise, simple, and clear with what you want to see yet you must say so in a way that can draw a creative response from the actor.

This is why a director should never recite a line the way he thinks it should be read. This only leads to an actor trying to robot-mimic your dialect. This is very non-creative and will leave you with stale delivery. Give tips on what emotion to evoke and they might recite a line better than you imagined.

2. Trust

One of the bonds I always want between me and an actor is unwavering trust. If an actor doesn’t trust their director, they begin to direct themselves and wonder how they’re expressions look on film or how their lines sound. This stifles their creativity and prohibits them from letting loose and living in the moment which is imperative to unique performances. Let the actor know they can trust your opinion and that you will not allow them to look bad.

Unusually an actor is a stranger at first. Trust takes time to accrue. Time to build a relationship is almost never available before filming. Never fear, Paul Giamatti claims that he will always trust a director from the get go. He respects that they are a professional and are good at their job so he trusts them outright until he is given a reason not to. Do NOT give an actor a reason not to trust you. A director and an actor are in a relationship. Remember that. Just because the relationship only lasts the duration of the project doesn’t mean you should treat it with any less respect than you do your relationship with your parent, spouse, or best friend. You do not want to hurt the bond or demean the relationship under any circumstances.

3. Passion

If you don’t have passion for a project you’re working on, you either need to immediately remove yourself from that project or seriously reconsider your career choice. Directing is a tough job and it literally demands your full commitment and enthusiasm to complete the 12+ hour days while overseeing the entire project, managing performances, accruing research, and every other painstaking task required to turn a script into a film.

Natalie Portman is possibly my favorite actress so I was delighted to see her in the video even though I was disappointed her clip was relatively small. But she made a good point that the audience is seeing the film through the director’s eyes so it is imperative that the director be an active character in the story. This means the director needs a full commitment to the project.

Actress Elena Anaya stunned me when she mentioned that actors can get very “lonely” when they feel it is their job to boost the film if the director is not taking the time to progress the story or explain the events properly. She believes passion lies in the director’s ability to unfold the story for the audience. A wonderful point made.

4. Collaboration

A film production is quite possibly one of the most beautiful examples of humans working together and intertwining talents in order to achieve a mutual conclusion: a final cut of a film. Collaboration is an almost obvious trait between director and actor. Rosamund Pike mentions that a character is created by three people: writer, director, and actor. Collaboration is needed from all three to give birth to a memorable character.

Jeremy Renner hammers in a tip I’ve read constantly that a director should never have an idea for the story or character set in stone. He should have many ideas and be flexible to changing those ideas on the spot if a better idea comes into play. Staying open leaves avenues to freshness and uniqueness. Never tell an actor every little thing he should do in a scene. It’s their job to fill in the blanks. “Give me parameters, don’t micromanage” said Renner. In regards to collaboration, Laurence Fishburne said “step back and allow me to swing.”

This video surprised me in a sense because some actors weren’t huge fans of collaboration. Willem Dafoe said he likes collaboration but over the years he’s realized he likes coming to a director’s vision of the character even more. He said, “going towards something that isn’t mine, there’s a process that fuels what you’re doing.”

Rosamund Pike believes that she is chosen for a part because the director picked her as the person to play his vision of a role so it’s her job to become that vision. “If you really trust a director, you trust his vision,” she said.

5. Courage

Noomi Rapace, star of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo franchise mentions that she wants “courage” in a director.

“The worst thing a director can be is cowardly and tasteless,” said actor Oliver Isaac.

Directors cannot afford to be timid. They’re operating on time restraints, budget restraints, and all the pressure in the world while still trying to be creative and achieve their vision. This makes courage and boldness a job requirement. You need to be able to tell actors, who are very strong willed people also by necessity, that they are doing something wrong. You need to stand up to producers and studio heads at times to ensure your vision is not being skewed beyond recognition. It can be a very scary and disheartening position to be in.

6. Efficiency

I think one of the best bits of advice comes at the very end of the video from Morgan Freeman in regards to working with director Clint Eastwood. Freeman mentions that he believes Eastwood is one of the best directors in the business because he is quick and he isn’t wasteful. Freeman expresses displeasure with a director that does 17-18 takes.

“What’s wrong?” Freeman asks. “If there’s something wrong with the camera, fix it. If there’s something wrong with my performance, tell me. Don’t just keep saying ‘let’s do it again.’”

I’ve been on sets were directors trademark phrase is “let’s do it again” and I think I get more annoyed than the actors. I always read that a director should mention some kind of feedback after every take. This is the logical way to get the least amount of takes before the desired performance is captured.

As mentioned before, filmmaking comes with many time and financial restraints. Always be as efficient as possible and try to not waste anything. Don’t waste people’s time, don’t waste money, don’t waste film, don’t waste daylight, don’t waste your breath, don’t waste anything. By doing so you’ll find that you’re a director many people will want to work with, including actors because they felt their time was used wisely, producers because they felt their money was put in the right places, and crew members because they see that you’re a director that knows what he’s doing and is on top of the ball.

Do as much prep work as possible on shot lists and scene analysis before shooting. Get rehearsal dates in if possible; whatever it takes to make the actual filming go as smoothly as possible.