This week on the /Filmcast, we review The Discovery. For more insight, I’d also recommend Jeff Goldsmith’s interview with the writers of the film.
Amanda Peet, writing in The New York Times, on why she never reads reviews of shows that she’s in:
When I was 26, I made the mistake of reading a review of a play I was in. “Whale Music” is a little-known gem by Anthony Minghella, and I still had three weeks left in the run. We were an all-female cast, and everyone got a nice review in The New York Times, except me.
Anita Gates wrote that I was “trying” to play my character — who was the bohemian sidekick — “as a sort of British lower-class Joan Rivers.” I love Joan Rivers, but this was an intimate English drama about 20-year-olds on the Isle of Wight…Over the next three weeks, I tried my hardest to be the opposite of Joan Rivers. By the end of the run, nobody could hear me.
A critic’s opinion had infiltrated my performance, and, as much as I resented her for making me so ashamed, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Every night, I was performing against her review — trying to prove her wrong — instead of doing my job.
I vowed never again to read another review.
Peet’s essay is a reminder that there’s always someone on the other end of that review — a person who likely worked their ass off to be there, and who has aspirations and feelings too.
It’s also a testament to the fact that, if you’re a performer, reading reviews can be a taxing and unrewarding experience. Peet hasn’t read any reviews of her work in many years, and I’m sure it hasn’t hurt her life or career one bit. In my opinion, only those who significantly benefit from intense self-examination should read their own reviews. I’m not sure I include myself in the latter category.
[This post contains some plot details from the new Ghost in the Shell]
I saw the new Ghost in the Shell last night, and while I don’t think a faithful adaptation of the original animated film would’ve done well in the U.S., what we ended up getting instead was a generic sci-fi action film with a cookie cutter plot and wafer-thin characters. Sure, the production design and visuals are pretty great, and there are one or two decent action scenes, but the film is otherwise completely forgettable.
And don’t even get me started on the racial issues this movie brings up.The movie takes place in a city that clearly is supposed to evoke Japan (New Port City), but most of the primary characters are white. Scarlett Johansson not only plays a role that was originally brought to life as the Japanese character Major Motoko Kusanagi, but we learn in the film that she actually has a Japanese woman’s brain inside her. Her white body is literally replacing a Japanese person’s!
There will be TAKES left and right on this one. And there should be. I just wish Ghost in the Shell felt more worth getting worked up about.
A few other notes:
- I was occasionally impressed with how streamlined the plot felt compared to the original. Gone are the 1995 film’s references to internecine government warfare and its lengthy philosophizing about the nature of man and machine. Instead, Major is the primary character in this film, and it’s her journey that we are meant to relate to the most. For good or ill, the new film rises and falls on the characterization of Major — and I don’t think it works out super well on that front.
- Some of the action scenes do feel, shall we say, heavily inspired by the animated film. But hey, might as well use that valuable IP to the fullest.
- There are numerous references/easter eggs that relate to the animated film. Those who are fans of the original will find a decent amount to keep their attention here.
- The action set pieces are pretty impressive. You get a sense of Major’s physicality and how good she is at immobilizing and killing people. But the combat always felt super brief and didn’t really build to anything satisfying. Don’t see this movie expecting a great action film.
- The ending of the new film is drastically different from the 1995 film. I won’t say what exactly happens, but the 2017 film feels like what people are referring to when they use the term “Hollywood ending” in a derogatory fashion.
- Kenji Kawai’s music for the Ghost in the Shell animated film is iconic and irreplaceable, but composers Clint Mansell and Loren Balfe do an admirable job translating that sensibility into this futuristic action film.
- Ghost in the Shell has the look of the original, but not its brain
- Ghost in the Shell has become a must-hit movie
- Mamoru Oshii has no problem with live-action remake
- Asian actors too busy to fret over Hollywood ‘white-washing’
- Why it matters that Ghost in the Shell is Japanese and Scarlett Johansson isn’t
I had a chance to see Jordan Peele’s Get Out last night and I thought it was great. A few (non-spoilery) observations:
- Do yourself a favor: don’t see the trailer before you see this one. I went in almost completely fresh and I think I enjoyed it much more as a result. Also: since there are a few big surprises in the film, I’m going to be as vague as possible with my thoughts below.
- Both Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele showed on Key and Peele that they could master virtually any genre stylistically, from hard-core action film to irreverent comedy. It’s one thing to be able to imitate a style for a two-minute sketch — it’s another to be able to sustain a horror film atmosphere for a little over two hours. Peele definitely does that here. As a debut film, Get Out is stylistically solid. Thematically, it’s spectacular.
- There are so many layers of allegory here that it’s astonishing Peele was able to fit them all in. According to Peele, the target of the film is racism. “We were living in this post-racial lie. So I wanted to call that out,” he said in an interview with CNN. I look forward to discussing this further after the movie is out in theaters.
- There are several memorable performances here for actors that weren’t really on my radar before: Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson both have amazing moments, but LilRel Howery really steals the show.
- A few people have asked: is the film scary? Are there a lot of jump scares? I’d say there are very few hallmarks of conventional horror films here, like gore, body horror, or jump scares, though they are there in judicious amounts. It’s not a particularly violent film (although I definitely wouldn’t take a child to see this movie, like someone did for our screening last night). Instead, what the film does well is projecting an atmosphere of menace throughout.
- If you can, see the movie with a lively crowd. This is one of those horror films that benefits from audience participation.
I also shared some thoughts on Periscope about it last night, so do check that out as well.
I had a chance to see Logan this week and review it for /Film. It’s my favorite X-Men film. It might even be my favorite superhero film. It’s up there with The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2. I loved it:
What makes Logan special is how it effortlessly navigates different genres and tones. It’s a road movie, but it’s also an action film with ambitious set pieces. It’s a sci-fi superhero film, but it’s also infused with a lot of humor and tenderness. Most importantly, it’s a fitting conclusion for one of the most iconic comic book character portrayals of the past 20 years.
I’m a Slack junkie, so I was excited when they recently announced they’d finally be rolling out a Threads feature. I was particularly keen to try it out since I recently launched a Slack community for the /Filmcast podcast. Would threads make it easier or more confusing to organize conversation in a freewheeling channel with hundreds of users?
Slack threads allow users to essentially convert any message into a thread, and then add replies to that thread. Replies are only one message deep (they cannot go further), and show up on the right-hand pane, which is otherwise used for giving info on the thread as a whole.
Slack also compiles all threads into a handy “All Threads” view that lights up whenever someone responds to any of your threads.
This feature is particularly beneficial for replying to earlier messages in channels. If a message appeared hours ago and the entire channel has moved onto a different topic of conversation, it’s a lot easier to make a thread and reply — the original user gets a notification, and the conversation can continue on that topic while the channel is blissfully unaware.
Overall, I think the threads work really well and help to declutter conversations when they are used correctly. However, there are a few issues with threads right now as they are currently implemented:
Converting messages to threads – The ability to convert any message into a thread doesn’t work too well with how people typically use Slack. In many of my Slack Teams, thoughts come out in a series of incomplete messages, often with crosstalk. A single one of these messages would be inappropriate to start a thread with. Thus, being able to group multiple messages into the start of the thread would be helpful.
Moreover, it would be really useful if the user could give some kind of cue (via the UI or otherwise) when they want to start a thread. In our Slack, we’ve taken to putting “Thread: [Topic here]” or something similar. But it’s not always clear what’s better as a thread, or what’s better as further conversation in the channel. Sometimes people use both to respond, creating confusion.
Ways to resolve
– Develop some kind of usage convention, or educate users on proper etiquette when it comes to creating threads
– If possible, allow users to group multiple consecutive messages into a thread
The “Also send to #channel” button – Slack offers you the ability to send any message in a thread back to the general channel. Let me be clear: This button is an abomination and must be changed or destroyed. It’s not that the concept of sending a thread message back to the channel is a bad one; it’s more that the messaging around it is very confusing.
Most people, when they see that checkbox, are going to want to send the message back to the #channel. Why wouldn’t you? Your message is important and the channel should read it, right? We have a lot of first-time users in our Slack and initially, every single one of them clicked on this checkbox. This resulted in exchanges like the one below in the channel itself:
The threads were making the actual channel much more difficult to read. Thus, we had to lay down a ground rule about not checking that checkbox. The results have been much better since.
In short, “Also send to #channel” is terrible messaging. It should say something like, “Do you think this message is important enough that you want to barge into the main conversation with it, interrupting everything else going on over there? Then check this box.” But I understand why they didn’t put that there. Maybe a happy medium would be appropriate?
Ways to resolve
– Do more to explain the dire consequences of sending a thread reply back to the channel
– Remove the button completely
Other thoughts: In addition to blanket “no sending threads back to channel” rule, our Slack has also developed some channels that are “thread only.” This means every single message must be a thread-starting message. This has led to much more organization and readability in channels like #oldermovies, where you can just scroll up and see a bunch of movie-specific discussions to dive into. It would be ideal if there was some way to “force” people into threads for certain channels, or get them to understand that by posting a message, they are actually starting a thread.
Overall: I really like the Threads and I hope Slack continues to take steps to improve their usability. But I think that a lot more education could have gone into the roll-out, which would’ve saved a lot of confusion and headaches.
Inkoo Kang rails against Silence’s unfortunate undertones:
At my first screening of Silence, George Lucas introduced Martin Scorsese’s new Japan-set spiritual drama at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre by praising it as a film that belongs in the 20th century. Whatever Lucas meant by that, Silence feels far older, even archaic, bemoaning as it does the arduousness of European colonialism. “It’s Hard Out Here for an Imperialist,” the period piece could be subtitled. Or, perhaps: “Sympathy for the White Devil.” That Silence asks its audience to care more about the narcissistic crisis of its Portuguese protagonist than the welfare of the 17th-century Japanese populace is howlingly infuriating and racially insulting.
See also: Jen Yamato’s excellent review.
I agree with many of the issues Jen and Inkoo bring up. I was quite torn about the film myself. You can hear my thoughts on the /Filmcast.
I’m still working on that blog re-design, but in the meantime, check out my video review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Friends: I’m hoping to redesign this blog soon and start posting again more frequently. In the meantime, here’s my video review of “Don’t Breathe,” a film I absolutely loved.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently passed Avatar at the box office to become the number 1 domestic grossing film of all time. Upon hearing this news, a lot of people had the same reaction: “Avatar was the #1 grossing film of all time? Oh yeah…”
Listeners of the /Filmcast will know that we’ve been discussing Avatar for a few months already. Specifically: how could a film rapidly become the highest grossing film of all time and leave absolutely no cultural footprint? (Side note: hundreds of people have already sent me the link to Scott Mendelson’s piece on this topic. If I get it one more time, I fear I may have a Col. Miles Quaritch-esque freakout. That’s an Avatar reference, for those of you who have no idea what the characters’ names in Avatar are).
Awhile ago, a listener gifted me an Avatar Blu-Ray, and after all the Avatar conversation recently, I felt I should revisit the film. So yesterday I popped in the disc and tried to see it through fresh eyes. Here are a few of my reactions:
In my opinion, the CG still holds up – James Cameron pioneered some pretty amazing filmmaking techniques for this film, which allowed him to use/position a camera as he would in a conventional filmmaking environment but see a reasonable approximation of the final product on-the-fly. This allowed the film to “feel” like it was being shot with actual cameras on Pandora, with the weight movement that those cameras would bring to a real-world shoot. Moreover, while the world of Pandora is very clearly CG and a bit too shiny/clean to look totally photorealistic, the blend between the practical and the CG elements felt really seamless to me. And what never gets lost are the characters’ emotions. Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) is still this movie’s best special effect.
Everything is great except Na’vi Sigourney Weaver. She creeps me the hell out.
James Cameron still knows how to direct action like nobody else – The final hour of this film is a spectacular series of set pieces, with the destruction of Home Tree, the battle between the Na’vi and the marines, and then Quaritch’s final face-off with Jake Sully. Great sense of geography, pacing, and stakes throughout. Awesome action choreography.
James Cameron is not subtle – The Na’vi’s connection with the forest is not just metaphorical. It’s LITERAL. As in, there’s actually a neural network IN THE ACTUAL PLANET. Oof.
The Avatar Blu-Ray is terrible – Remember when Blu-Rays used to force you to stream special features? Because they might get updated in the future? Yeah, me neither. Awful.
The arc of the whole movie is just bizarre – It’s not too much of a stretch to assume that Avatar is an allegory about white people and Native Americans. The film invites us to relive the colonization of America, only this time, from the POV of the natives. And as Sully and the Na’vi brutally ruin and kill the appendages of the American military in the film’s final set piece, we as the audience are invited to cheer them on. It all just felt very…weird.
I was reminded of Annalee Newitz’s great piece about how Avatar and the fantasy within it is a distinctly “white” fantasy:
These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color – their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.
I remember seeing The Last Samurai and how that was a movie about someone who not only adapted to the ways of the samurai; he mastered them. The same happens in Avatar. Jake Sully doesn’t just barely squeak in as a member of the tribe; he rides Toruk to victory, which is considered one of the greatest honors and almost an impossible feat within Na’vi culture.
What does it say about white culture that it seems to be the only culture producing these kinds of narratives about redemption via assimilation into and mastery of other cultures? The film made me wonder. (P.S. If there’s, say, an Asian film about a guy who not only becomes assimilated into white culture but a master within it, leading a bunch of whites into victory, please let me know).
James Horner’s score is still beautiful – Still love the work of this brilliant man. RIP.
Mad Max: Fury Road is out in theaters this weekend, and if you haven’t yet, you should go see it. Walking out of Mad Max, I felt like I did when I’d first seen movies like Jurassic Park or Star Wars – a feeling like what I’d just seen was genre defining, and that all future films would be compared to this one.
This movie was satisfying in ways that the vast majority of summer blockbusters are not. While most films are happy to create entire worlds in shiny CG, George Miller apparently filmed hundreds of hours of vehicular action in Namibia, and did a lot of it practically. We feel the danger that these characters are in, and that’s probably because the actors and stunt doubles portraying them were also in danger too.
When it comes to visceral thrills, gorgeous composition, and spectacular action choreography, nothing will beat Mad Max: Fury Road this summer. Maybe for the next few summers. Probably also for the past 10-20 summers.
Anyway, here are a bunch of random moments from the film I really enjoyed. This is FAR from an exhaustive list – there were many dozens of moments that I thought were incredible. Spoilers ahead.
Opening chase scene, which ends with a spectacular car flip
Mad Max is led away in chains as Immortan Joe’s thugs drive towards the Citadel – the ultimate reduction of the titular character to rock bottom
Tornado absolutely rips apart many bad guys driving through it
SOME DUDE DOES THIS
Imperator Furiosa creates the most memorable tableau from the film as she recognizes the futility of her journey
Monster truck does spectacular jump in front of the War Rig, with people HANGING OFF THE SIDE
This quiet moment, representing the transition from the past to the future
This guy gets absolutely owned
My favorite shot from the film – the ultimate confluence of all elements in an action scene
I really enjoyed counting down my top 10 films of 2014 with Jeff and Devindra on the /Filmcast. Check it out here! My list itself is below:
1. The Babadook
2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
5. The Raid 2: Berandal
6. Gone Girl
7. Under the Skin
8. Blue Ruin
9. Edge of Tomorrow
10. Grand Budapes Hotel
Here’s my video review of Interstellar for /Film. Seeing this movie in one of the 54 IMAX theaters in the world that can project at native IMAX aspect ratio was almost certainly one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had this year.
I had a great time watching Gone Girl this afternoon at Seattle’s Sundance Theaters in the U-District. A few stray observations, in advance of the our /Filmcast review (which I’ll update this post with when it goes live in a few days):
- Overall, I really enjoyed the film, but it’s definitely one that I’m still considering and turning over in my head. It is so perfect in its depiction of the media being gripped by missing white woman syndrome that it doesn’t even feel like satire (which might have been the intention).
- My friend/colleague Peter Sciretta points out (and I agree) that this film is primarily about media and public perception. Society is engineered to expect people to behave in certain ways when they are in the spotlight. Any deviation from that expectation is met with righteous, irrational anger. Why do we engage in these behaviors? For us, cable news has made real-life into a television show. We invest emotionally in these character arcs just like we would for The Sopranos, forgetting that actual lives are at stake and that these people will exist long after the spotlight has departed them. Gone Girl holds up a mirror to us and asks: Is this kind of thing productive? Is it fair?
- The film complicates the concept of modern marriage in America. Sure, marriage can be fun and meaningful, but if you think about it, it’s also kind of insane: you join in a bond and partnership that you will only break in the event of one of your death, no matter how much the other person changes, or no matter how horrible they become/behave. And you become so emotionally invested in this person that you are willing to do unthinkable things for them. You may be willing to kill for them. That is kind of nuts, and I like how Gone Girl explores that dynamic.
- This movie twists and turns in ways that I did not expect. It’s not an exaggeration to say it becomes several different types of movies during its 150-minute runtime.
- On that note, it was refreshing to me how Fincher chose to end the film. That’s all I can say without spoiling anything.
- Fincher remains a master craftsman and his attention to detail is on full display here. I’m particularly impressed by the work of Set Decorator Douglas Mowat and Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who are able to create some a pretty intense, effective juxtapositions of quaint suburban life and its seedy underbelly.
- There are several sequences make great use of the close-up. Sometimes the close-ups come so fast and furious that you barely can register what is being shown before we’re off to the next thing. Love the details that the filmmakers are able to bring out of each scene and location.
- This film probably has the shortest opening credits sequences out of any David Fincher film, but the way it’s done feels very purposeful. Can’t say any more than that for now.
- This is far from my favorite Fincher film (that’s probably still Se7en), but there were definitely several moments in it when many elements of the film lock into place and create an exhilarating thrill of discovery. Nice work by Fincher and Editor Kirk Baxter in crafting these.
- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do scoring duties again and acquit themselves well. The score is really understated this time, but still quite effective.
- Tyler Perry is great in this movie. Great. Seriously. Probably my favorite character in the film.
I had the honor of shooting a friend’s wedding last weekend in British Columbia, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to try doing a professional gig using the Panasonic GH4 and my brand new Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 lens (a full review of that lens will come later, hopefully). I’ve shot dozens of weddings in the past, but I’ve used a Canon camera for every single one (occasionally supplemented with a Fuji X100). Could a Micro 4/3rds camera measure up to full frame?
Here are some of the pros and cons of shooting a wedding with a GH4, compared to, say, a Canon 5D Mark III.
Weight – WOW this setup is light! You can pack a single small camera bag with the Panasonic GH4, a 12-35mm lens and a 35-100mm lens (the rough equivalent of a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm on a Canon 5d Mark III) and switch between them all day without feeling any impact on your back and shoulders. Those who have shot weddings using Canon gear will know the pain of which I speak. (One of my mentors actually got a pinched nerve from all of her gear!) By far this is the hugest advantage of using the GH4 compared to any full frame camera.
It also has other implications. Since you’re traveling lighter, you can carry more stuff and be more nimble and experimental when it comes to finding the right shot. For instance, the photo at the top of this page was taken using a bare LumoPro flash, remote triggered from behind the couple. But it was done in haste between group photos. If I’d had a heavier setup, I might not have been able to move as quickly to try and snap this shot.
Cost – Buying a Canon 5D Mark III and a 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens will cost you roughly $7000, give or take $500 or so depending on whether you buy all the stuff new. Through some deal-hunting and eBay-ing, I was able to purchase a GH4 with lenses of equivalent focal lengths to the above for about $3500 total. That is a huge difference in price, especially if you’re just starting out.
Drive mode – The GH4 can shoot up to 12 frames per second. It is SUPER fast. And at a wedding, this can be particularly useful when you’re trying to capture specific moments during a ceremony, or with interactions between the couple and their guests. Whenever I saw something interesting happening, I’d just let the drive mode rip and then have a ton of options to choose from in post.
File sizes – RAW files on the GH4 are significantly smaller than on the Canon 5D Mark III. This means fewer cards and more photos (P.S. This is also a negative, as I will discuss below).
Shallow depth of field – I’ve already discussed this in previous posts, but obviously the shallow depth of field on the GH4 will never measure up to what you can get on a full frame camera. That’s particularly unfortunate for a wedding, because a lot of clients are looking for that creamy bokeh in their wedding shots. This camera, even at a 200mm focal length, really struggles to deliver on that front. You’ll have greatest success when there’s a lot of physical distance between yourself and the object.
Aesthetics – As of this writing, the GH4 retails for $1700. But because of its size and weight, it certainly doesn’t LOOK like a professional grade camera. People expect to see a Canon/Nikon-size full frame camera at weddings. It’s hard to look “legit” when you are toting the GH4 around. I realize this isn’t really a con from a photography perspective, but it’s worth noting for people considering this as a tool to build a career on.
Low light performance – The GH4 does just okay up to ISO 3200, but a Canon 5D Mark III blows this camera out of the water when it comes to low light performance. I took tons of shots in low light situations that were just completely unusable. Honestly, I wouldn’t go above ISO 1600 on the GH4, which is practically impossible at weddings (nearly all of which involve at least some low light situations).
On that note…
Megapixels – The GH4 has about 16 megapixels. The Canon 5D Mark III has around 22. I’m aware that megapixels don’t necessarily determine picture quality and that there were other factors involved, but there were definitely instances where I took photos with the GH4 that I needed to crop, and on a smaller sensor with fewer megapixels, you definitely “feel” that crop a lot more in terms of loss of quality. The resulting image can be muddier or noisier than the same image would have been on the 5D Mark III.
So overall, is this a setup I would recommend for weddings? Yes and no. This gig was for a friend, so it wasn’t a conventional client situation. I was pretty happy with the photos that I got and so was the couple. But I also was able to enjoy the evening – the camera was so light that the process of taking the photos wasn’t onerous at all from a physical perspective. This can’t be understated.
If you are already a videographer/photographer who has decided to go with the GH4 for the advantages that it provides, you should definitely feel good about shooting a wedding with it (but only if you have the 35-100mm lens). The drive mode in particular can be an amazing benefit, and the photos obviously have great focus and sharpness.
However, if you’re still deciding between a GH4 and a full frame or APS-C camera for wedding photography, there’s nothing that’s going to beat a larger sensor for getting great low light photos and shallow depth of field. If I had to choose only one type of camera to shoot weddings with for the rest of my life, it’d be a full frame camera. I’m fortunate to not have to choose, so I will probably use the two for different scenarios as time goes on, based on which advantages from each are important to me at the time.
Nonetheless, it was a moving, jubilant experience. I felt like my childlike dreams were being fully realized, hearing the works of Randy/Thomas Newman, Patrick Doyle, and Michael Giacchino in their full symphonic glory. If you have even a passing enjoyment of movie music (and an abiding love of all things Pixar, like me), do check this out if/when you have a chance.
I also realized that some heavy stuff happens in the openings of many Pixar movies. Here are events that occur in the first 10 minutes of Pixar films:
- Ellie from Up finds out she’s infertile
- Ellie from Up dies
- Nemo’s mother and family is killed
- Nemo is disfigured
- Mr. Incredible heartlessly spurns a young admirer, who ends up becoming his murderous enemy
- Remy almost gets killed by a woman with a shotgun in Ratatouille
- Fergus loses his leg to a bear in Brave
Pixar: Mixing childhood joy with incredibly horrible tragedy since 1986.
I’ve written up some thoughts on Orange is the New Black: Season 2 over at /Film. Check’em out.
Love this show!