Dancing over to a new home!

20 02 2009

This blog, like Frown Town Evasion, has officially moved to www.serenae.com. Be sure to update your RSS reader!



storyboarding experiment

9 11 2008

In addition to the more traditional storyboards, I thought I’d try a photographic approach for a couple of early scenes in my new film. (With the help of my lovely assistant Em, of course.)

EXT. ALLEY

Alley in town, angled light. GIRL enters, looking around sadly at the ground, searching.

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Passes a HOMELESS GUY,

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who is tracing/drawing the outline of a shoe on the ground with a piece of chalk over and over, around and around, while staring at nothing.

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EXT. TOWN SQUARE

GIRL enters a square, crosses it, sits down.

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SHE peels a clementine, the peel spiraling in one piece.

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SHE looks at a closed door nearby.

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Looks down.

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Stands and slowly makes her way over to the door. Knocks.

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No Country for Old Men

30 09 2008

I watched “No Country for Old Men” last week as part of my independent study (more about that later). This post has been floating around in my head for some time, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write it out.

The most striking thing–for me, at least–about the Coen Brothers is their unwavering attention to shot composition. They do everything well, obviously, but I think their very strongest point is the way they excel at creating form, rhythm, style, and meaning through something as small as a single shot. They’re so successful because they put an immense amount of effort and thought into every single shot in each of their films. I tend to believe that each shot in a film should be treated as an artistic composition. Just because you’re not painting or photographing doesn’t mean that those elements of art go out the window. It’s even more important, in fact. So naturally, I’m most impressed by directors who believe the same thing.

Take, for example, this shot from the first few minutes of the film:

They could have shown the whole body. They could have shown the dead man’s face. But instead, they sum up the whole story about the violence that’s just occurred in this one shot. Legs surrounded by scuff marks. And that’s it. That’s enough. And, after watching this scene, which leaves the greater impression– the actual struggle between the police officer and his killer, or this shot alone?

Later, when the main character is investigating out in the desert, we get this brilliant sequence of shots:

This produces a unique effect. The scene itself is slow, languid, gradual. Shots are long, subjects within the shots are few. They really take their time with this one. But it’s also charged with suspense, as you don’t know who’s hiding behind those trees, or if they’re going to start shooting at our hero suddenly. The Coen Brothers alternate back and forth between these shots of the two trees in an empty landscape and the protagonist, watching and waiting. By structuring their shots this way and continually returning to the trees at different distances, they build up suspense while maintaining the excruciatingly slow feel of a stakeout. Other filmmakers might handle this by including ominous shots from between the trees, or behind a stranger’s head, creating an ominous feel, but they know better. This isn’t horror; it’s suspense. And suspense captured in a way that exaggerates and stylizes reality, rather than departing from it to adhere to cinematic conventions.

How about this shot of a warmly lit motel beneath a beautiful sunset:

It’s peaceful, and even beautiful (for a motel). But as soon as the killer’s car drives in, it changes the whole feel of this shot.

The motel isn’t warm and friendly anymore– it’s dangerous! The directors didn’t have to have that sunset in there. It could easily have been late at night, or with a blue sky, or maybe just a normal cloudy sky. But the sunset lulls the audience into a false sense of security. We know he’s coming, but this beautiful sunset makes us forget, just for a moment.

They also use shot composition to frame their subjects throughout the film:

And occasionally, the subject in the shot is even used as part of the frame:

This concept of incorporating a character into the physical structure of the scene is one that I’d never really thought about before, but it works perfectly. Are we supposed to notice him? Is he an important character? Why is he there? What will he do next? All of the lines in this shot, including the curves of the man’s hat and coat are angled towards a single vanishing point. In artistic terms, he evens out the composition by adding balance to the right side, without disrupting the directional flow. It’s magnificent how they’ve done so much with just this one shot.

Finally, one of the best scenes, and probably my favorite (pay attention to the way the two characters are framed, the length and distance of each shot, and even the color choices within the scene):



Creature flick event idea #1

20 08 2008

Sometimes, the perfect companion to a cheesy shark movie is a post-it note.

These particular ones sprang from a rousing viewing of Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. (View one of its most hilarious scenes here.) Post-its, especially when inspired by awful movies, are a beautiful thing.

The nonsensical dialogue was, of course, a collaborative effort:

Inspired by spirited discussions of the vagina dentata film theory. Also see Teeth.

So gather your friends, a bad movie, and a stack of post-its. You won’t regret it.



cinematic triangles

22 03 2008

I have a friend. Actually, I have more than one, but this particular one is special. We both started out as psychology majors, then made the switch to English. And we both have an intense passion for film. I’d never really analyzed this before, and perhaps it was the tangential late night mentality, but I suddenly wondered if this was significant.

Why?
Is there a connection between these variables? Or just coincidence?
What is it about film that draws us, specifically, in?

Film is a combination of the two, which is why we find it so appealing. Not a middle ground, but a culmination of the combined influence of—and ideas behind—both fields. Something higher. (Not more important or lofty, but on a different plane entirely. Like apples and typewriters.)

Film does three things:
1) analyzes us (human nature and interactions) …just like psychology
2) serves as a static (if that word can even be used in reference to film) text ….just like English
3) influences (manipulates) us …the missing third element in the triangle of inspiration, creation and reaction

In setting out to produce a reaction from us, the viewers, filmmakers are doing something surprisingly uncommon. Public speakers aim to produce reactions. Psychologists analyze. Writers describe. (This is—obviously—an immense simplification.) But how often do all three of these come together?

I would argue that in the filmmaking process it is necessary not only to create art, but to consider every fraction, every frame of what you’re creating. It’s analysis. It’s text. It’s manipulation.

I don’t want to discriminate. This can, of course, be applied to the arts as a whole. But I also believe that film is in an exceptional position in terms of its capabilities of combining these three elements in a way that no other art form can begin to approach. Not that film is better at it, but that film is uniquely suited to it. The potential is there. Sometimes this potential is explored, and sometimes it’s not. (Mostly not.) But when it is, oh. What you get, what you experience, is something new and nearly intangible in its ability to simultaneously inspire, challenge, and even unsettle.

What’s better than having your frame of mind disrupted by art, regardless of whether this disruption is temporary or enduring?


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Stephanie Goes to the Oscars

28 02 2008

Bullet article 2/28; co-written with Stephanie Breijo

Sunday evening. A fateful night for one lionhearted UMW journalist.

Confronted with an endless sea of crimson velvet and sparkling Hollywood starlets, Stephanie Breijo, UMW junior and bosom friend to the famous, took her first step onto the fuzzy, life-changing surface of Hollywood’s red carpet.

“Well, attending the Oscars is actually a family tradition. We come from a poor Slavic background,” Breijo said. “We’re pierogi farmers and in order to attend each year, we have to sell our livestock and barrels of pierogi and take a ship to America. I was the only one of my 12 siblings to be chosen this year. I was honored to represent both my family and The Bullet.”

After losing her tape recorder batteries during the tumultuous taxi ride, Breijo borrowed Regis Philbin’s microphone to conduct her red carpet interviews.

“It’s past my bedtime, but I would just like to say that it’s been really great to be able to wear this tight-fitting dress and red-light district makeup style,” Miley Cyrus, the Hannah Montana Disney star told Breijo. “I’m thrilled that the academy acknowledged me as a presenter tonight, as well as a great role model for kids.”

Recognized instantly as a member of the UMW press corps, Breijo was escorted to one of the coveted first row seats in Los Angeles’ spacious Kodak Theatre.

Sparks flew between Breijo and three-time Oscar nominee George Clooney, who was seated to her left, as he spilled popcorn on her lap and attempted to lick it off. Breijo valiantly fended off Clooney’s advances, seeking conversational refuge with sunglass-clad Jack Nicholson on her right.

As Daniel Day-Lewis’ name was announced for Best Actor, Nicholson tilted his polished head towards Breijo and whispered, “That bastard always gets the nomination.”

Day-Lewis’ win for “There Will Be Blood” was his second Best Actor award and fourth nomination. French actress Marion Cotillard carried off the award for Best Actress and the near-superhuman Coen Brothers won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture for “No Country for Old Men.”

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As Breijo was busy necking with “Little Miss Sunshine’s” Paul Dano in a corner, the award for Best Foreign Film was given to “The Counterfeiters,” an Austrian film about ethical dilemmas in Nazi Germany.

All the culinarily-inclined rodents in the world felt vindicated and spontaneously committed numerous health code violations in celebration of “Ratatouille’s” win for Best Animated Film.

A dazzling variety of custom-designed ensembles graced the theater, from Anne Hathaway’s toga-like dress, complete with garishly matching flowers across one shoulder, to Day-Lewis’ gold hoop earrings coordinated especially to match his award.

Clooney, misled by Day-Lewis’ flamboyant jewelry, whispered something in the recent award-winner’s ear, but received a less than desirable response and apologized profusely.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Clooney, “How terribly awkward of me.”

Day-Lewis smiled apologetically, wandering off to locate his wife.



When dolphins go bad…

6 12 2007

I was image hunting for Gardner’s 295 class, and happened upon this priceless picture:

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Giggling a little, I googled the title and found out more. Ready for the tagline? “Unwittingly He Trained a Dolphin to Kill the President of the United States.” No, I’m really not kidding. Also described as “the most amazing outdoor adventure ever filmed,” and with IMDB keyword “exploding boat,” this is one movie I don’t want to miss. Anyone seen it?



Disenchanted with Enchanted

26 11 2007

(Because maybe if I make the headline as corny as possible, they’ll actually use it.)

ENCHANTED (2007)

No amount of Disney magic can redeem this misguided modern fairy tale. Enchanted, Disney’s most recent attempt at reclaiming its former glory, is the story of a beautiful fairy tale maiden, Giselle, who is thrown—or, more accurately—pushed into the chaos and cynicism of real life in the big city.

About to be married to her one true love, Giselle, played brilliantly by Amy Adams, suddenly finds herself in New York City as a result of the jealous machinations of her predictably evil queen mother-in-law to be.

Unable to grasp this strange new world, Giselle is eventually rescued by Robert Philip, a lawyer, and his 6-year-old daughter, Morgan. Hijinks ensue as Giselle attempts to reconcile the real world with her idyllic storybook worldview.

The opening scenes of the film are promising, with an animated Disney princess-style Giselle waltzing around her room with assorted talking animals in an obvious parody of older, more traditional Disney films. It’s clear—and refreshing—that Disney is ridiculing itself. This self-deprecation continues when cartoon Giselle becomes live action and enters the city, thoroughly bewildered.

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People are unfriendly, the weather is imperfect, and her dress is too large to fit through doorways. Salvation comes from an unlikely source, in the form of jaded divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey). Any originality that was left in this film flies out the window with an assortment of New York pigeons, which are more adept at vacuuming floors than you might imagine.

As Robert and Giselle spend more time together, it is obvious where the movie is going. She even effortlessly fulfills the long-absent mother role in his daughter’s life. The mandatory musical number in Central Park punctuates their attempts to reconcile romanticism and cynicism, and the plot inches even further into the sparkling depths of Disney predictability. And don’t forget the helpful talking squirrel.

When dashing but intellectually deficient Prince Edward (James Marsden), her supposed soul mate, arrives to save the day with perfect hair and fancy tights, Giselle finds herself torn between two opposing realities. Our conflicted characters are soon joined by the evil queen (Susan Sarandon) as she pursues Giselle with single-minded, homicidal intent.

The main problem with this film is not its predictability, That in itself does not necessarily doom a movie, and many classics follow expected storylines. However, it seems slightly self-defeating for a movie that so clearly ridicules Disney idealism to turn around on itself and emulate the exact thing it seemed to be criticizing.

Enchanted’s brief moments of originality just don’t outweigh its heavy-handed modern chick flick ending. I’m not asking for tragedy and gloom; simply consistency. The protagonist does not undergo a significant change, and remains static. She is allowed to retain her rose-colored view of romance despite her presumably life-changing immersion in “reality.” In the end, this film just doesn’t do anything new.

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BRIGADOON (1954)

Mixing fantasy with reality is not a new concept, in literature or film. Some movies just do it better than others. One shining example is Brigadoon. Nobody does optimistic idealism like 1950’s filmmakers, and this movie is no exception. What makes it unique, however, is its brilliant cast and music.

Gene Kelly plays Tommy Albright, a cynical American in Scotland on a hunting holiday with a friend. After getting hopelessly lost, they manage to stumble across the secret, magical village of Brigadoon, which only appears to travelers every 100 years.

More importantly, Brigadoon is home to Fiona, played by Cyd Charisse. Tommy and Fiona fall hopelessly in love, and he finds himself torn between the sleepy, timeless village and his busy life in New York.

Kelly and Charisse, two of the best dancers of their day—or any day, really—are dazzling in this bewitching musical. Brigadoon has charmed audiences for generations with its beautiful songs, stunning dance numbers, and highland flair.

If you want enchantment, this is where to find it.



10 Ways to Get Your Movie Fix (A Guide for the Cinema-Deprived College Student)

12 11 2007

Perhaps I’m the only one on this campus who is obsessed with movies. I crave the excitement, the suspense of the silver screen. A chill runs through me each time I insert a DVD into the Playstation I keep stealing from my suitemate. And don’t even get me started on aspect ratios.

But on the off chance that other people love movies too, I thought I’d put together this handy little guide.

1. Go to the movie theater. This one should be obvious. There is a theater in Central Park. Go there. Watch. If you lack transportation, there are still many choices. For example, you can trick a friend into driving you, or take the Fred. I recommend the former.

2. Cheap Seats. I know this is astonishing, but it turns out there is a student organization that shows recent releases each weekend in Dodd Auditorium. Not only that, but you can view these cinematic masterpieces for only one dollar! Try to contain your excitement.

3. Clubs. Sometimes students love movies a lot. Sometimes those students decide to start organizations. And sometimes these organizations show movies. There are three film clubs on campus. What does this mean for you? Three different opportunities to see films you may never have seen before. French Fliques shows foreign films, Frames Per Second shows independent, obscure, or otherwise marginalized film, and Classic Film Club shows old movies. But how do you access this goldmine of cinematic wonder and discovery? They all have Facebook groups, e-mail lists, and websites. New experiences are good. Be brave.

4. Class screenings. If you do a bit of investigation, it’s fairly easy to find movie screenings set up by professors in various departments. Many professors put up flyers in their respective building announcing such events. While you may not want to crash a documentary about rare insects of North America, there are plenty of other movies available throughout the semester, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and other delicious flicks.

5. The language lab. You know that room on the second floor of Combs that you really hate because your French professor makes you go there and complete pointless workbook exercises? Well, it also houses UMW’s movie collection. Trust me, it’s a lot of movies. The best part is, you can check out any of these DVDs, as long as they’re not on reserve for a class. Numb the pain of exams with endless blissful hours in front of your television.

6. The public library. Despite popular opinion, downtown Fredericksburg can be a wonderful place. After all, it does have a library. And this isn’t just my inner bookworm talking. The Rappahannock Regional Library on Caroline Street has a huge collection of DVDs available to borrow, as well as hosting movie screenings every once in a while. All you need is college student-friendly library card—in other words, free—and you’re good to go!

7. The big city. Mary Washington is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Washington D.C. If this hop, skip, and jump are into a car, bus, or train, that is. E Street Cinema is the best place to go for foreign and independent films, while downtown museums and cultural centers also show great movies. Perfect for Sunday procrastination.

8. American Film Institute. About 45 minutes north of D.C. by Metro, the American Film Institute (AFI) in Silver Spring, Maryland showcases hundreds of classic films each year as well as many current ones. The theater is beautiful, and the films shown are well worth the traveling time.

9. Culpeper. Yes, Culpeper. And what’s so special about Culpeper? One of the oldest movie theaters in Virginia, the State Theater, is being renovated and is set to open in 2008. It will become a cultural arts center, housing a wide variety of films and performances. A reason to be excited about Culpeper…who would have thought?

10. Movie marathons. It is an indisputable college fact that when in doubt, large dorm-room gatherings involving movies are the way to go. General enjoyment of these events increases exponentially with the number of fellow students crammed into the room. An endless supply of popcorn and pizza also helps. To maximize laziness, obtain all DVDs ahead of time and enough food to last the weekend. Then you’re all set to spend 48 hours sprawled on the couch, bed, floor, or fellow students, rapturous eyes glued to the television set. Movie marathons require a significant amount of stamina, but are ultimately much more rewarding that writing that 15-page history paper. You will be revered in social circles, provided that you ever emerge from your room.

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Across the Universe / A Hard Day’s Night

11 10 2007

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (2007)

The official website for Across the Universe proclaims in proper Beatles fashion that “all you need is love.” All this film needs is a more cohesive plot, proper character development, and greater depth. Oh, and perhaps a replacement for Eddie Izzard, who provokes a significantly greater amount of terror than laughter.

Jude, played by Jim Sturgess, leaves his Liverpool home for America in search of his father, who he’s never met. Once there, Jude stumbles across rebellious Princeton student Max (Joe Anderson) and his attractive younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). When Max drops out of college they move to New York City and, like nearly all unsuspecting movie protagonists in films of this nature, are rapidly sucked into Vietnam-era hippie culture. Drugs, antiwar protests, tinted eyeglasses, and garishly painted vans abound. Hendrix-style guitar solos also included.

Their sultry landlady is Sadie, a singer with fiery red hair and matching temper. Other housemates include JoJo, a wandering guitarist, and Prudence, a runaway lesbian who first enters through the bathroom window.

The war in Vietnam escalates around Jude and Lucy, who are caught up in the blissful throes of young love. When Max is drafted, the friends are faced with an unpleasant reality that no amount of illegal drugs can quite obliterate. Despite his vast repertoire of draft-evading schemes, Max is unable to avoid recruitment and leaves for Vietnam. (After Eddie Izzard’s performance, perhaps combat is a relief for Max.)

Jude and Lucy’s once idyllic relationship begins to suffer as the political atmosphere intensifies, and many of the other characters become disillusioned as problems close in around them. Will Jude and Lucy prove that love really is all you need? Will Sadie stay sexy? And will JoJo finally get back to where he once belonged?

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Generic romance plot #3 provides the main structure for this film, supplemented by several convoluted, but nevertheless entertaining sub-plots. Plot twists in Across the Universe are more like plot corkscrews, spiraling madly but never really changing direction from clichéd predictability. This film is driven by our current culture’s perception of the 1960’s, and is therefore prone to occasional inaccuracy and oversimplification.

Rarely deviating from the expected, Jude and Lucy’s romance also progresses in the usual formulaic way. There’s a shy initial meeting, followed by the gradual falling in love, perfect relationship and (presumably) great sex. Toss in some conflict contrived simply to provide the conclusion with increased emotional impact, and you’ve got their relationship. While it has every necessary structural element, this romance is sometimes hard to buy. Despite the movie’s character-driven plot, not enough time is spent on character development, and for a romantic film, it doesn’t seem to have much focus on the intricacies of relationships essential to the plot. More effort seems to have been spent on presentation rather than depth, for the most part.

An especially frightening sequence, both in terms of its style and placement, is one in which Eddie Izzard sings, or rather, talks “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” with an assortment of trippy, masked extras revolving in the background. However, the scene’s main problem lies not in its absurdity but in Izzard’s irritating rendition, which has probably left Lennon rolling in his grave.

Although Across the Universe is inconsistent, there are a few brilliant scenes that make it worthwhile. Expect oversimplification and a manufactured plot, but also dazzling cinematography and passionate performances. The film is stylistically unique, emotionally charged, and has excellent pacing. Think ear/eye candy with a little extra kick. And Beatles fans, give the music a chance. It’s not quite bad enough to make you cry.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

Ready for some real Beatles? Billed as “the greatest rock and roll comedy adventure,” A Hard Day’s Night is fun, hilarious, weird, and generally more fun than a barrel of monkeys. After all, monkeys bite. DVDs generally don’t. The minimized risk of rabies alone makes it worth your while to run out and rent/buy/illegally download this classic movie.

See George, John, Ringo and Paul—in order of personal preference—frolicking onscreen and, of course, singing beautifully. Shenanigans! Screaming fangirls! Dirty old men! Catchy music! Trouble with law enforcement officials! Excessive use of exclamation marks! This movie has it all.

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