Sunday, September 30, 2012

Water's mise-en-scene a look at props, misogyny, and cultural constraints

The following is a research paper written for my Film Aesthetic and Analysis class my freshman year.  Deepa Mehta's film "Water" sheds light on the untold stories of Hindu widows in India during the late 1930's.  This film dives into the cultural and political aspects of the time period as well as the pressing issues of cultural discrimination.  After having re-watched this film I now plan to watch "Earth" and "Fire" (the other two films in her "Elements" trilogy).  This paper focuses on the use of a particular symbol, the green caged bird, to convey the overall theme of the film in relation to the societal contrasts placed on widows and misogyny in Hindu culture. Having written this paper for a class I have never been able to publish my analysis of this film.  I feel as though this blog dedicated to all things film would be the greatest outlet to do so.

                   Water's mise-en-scene a look at props, misogyny, and cultural constraints
             The concept of using props in mise-en-scene to help depict a film’s theme is a widely used technique employed by filmmakers around the world.   This film element is used to help convey the main idea of a film, as known as the theme. Filmmaker Deepa Mehta utilizes props in the “the third part of [her] ‘Elements’ trilogy” (“Water”).  Her film Water greatly relies on props to help convey widows’ feelings of being “caged up” and their desire for escape from the cultural constraints of their Hindu society. Mitthu, the green caged bird in the film can be seen as a central prop that clearly displays the hardship and societal constraints placed upon women in a traditional Hindu society.
            Mitthu is not simply an instrumental prop but has metaphoric and symbolic meanings.  The bird’s green color is symbolic in itself; green often represents nature, fertility, and life.  The coloration of the bird serves as counterpoint in that the widows are being deprived of freedoms in a matter that could be deemed unnatural.  Traditional Hindu cultural beliefs have taken on the role of the “natural” or the norm within society, which ironically lead to inhumane and “unnatural” treatment and discrimination against women. Hinduism deems “sutee” to be an acceptable and “natural” practice when in actuality it is disturbing and anything but natural. Sutee also known as sati is “the Indian custom of a widow burning herself, either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband or in some other fashion, soon after his death”(Sutee (Hindu Custom)-Encyclopedia Britannica).  This ancient practice is an extreme example of the discrimination against women in Hindu society, but at the same time, it is this discrimination that is deemed to be as “nature” intended. The Hindu culture among many Indians goes unquestioned and is considered to be “just the way things are” or natural. The Hindu culture has been around since 1500 BCE yet still has over 1.5 million followers, this growth and retention rate clearly shows how ingrown in society Hinduism has become (Hinduism: The World’s Third Largest Religion).  The fact that these traditions are so old may explain how they have come to symbolize nature or the natural state of things in Hindu society; such traditions, Hindus believe, should serve as guidelines to how society should conduct itself.  Most of the widows in Water particularly the elders who were brought up unquestioning the society they were apart of may believe that the discrimination they were experiencing is in fact “natural.” The color green’s meaning of fertility is ironic as well with regards to the cultural constraints placed upon widows in Hindu society that forbid them to remarry or to pursue their sexual desires.  Even the thought of remarrying was considered a sin. Finally and perhaps the most extreme case of counterpoint depicted through the caged bird’s green color may be that although the color green represents life, the bird, and by extension the widows, are not experiencing life at all.  The weight placed upon them by their Hindu society isolates them from the rest of the world and takes away their freedom. Corrigan and White describe props as being used to express a character’s “powers and abilities in the world”(p.69); with no power or ability the widows have no strength or say, and by extension, no life.  The society they are a part of views them as worthless and has no respect for their life or well-being. This religious misogyny strips them of their humanity. 
The bird is also seen as a pet and as such there is implied ownership.  The bird belongs to Madhumati and is trapped by her and the traditional beliefs she stands for—just like the women are in the widows’ temple, known as an ashram. Madhaumati assumes the role of the “enforcer” and makes the widows stay true to their religion as prescribed in the Vedas (BBC - Religions - Hinduism: Scripture).  She sees to it that all of the widows, like the bird, are kept in a cage of sorts locked away from the outside world.  This concept is physically exemplified in the film by Kalyani who is physically locked in her room in the ashram, cut off from the outside world, and forcibly constrained by the traditional Hindu beliefs.   The bird’s isolation from the outside world is a parallel to the alienation the Hindu widows feel in their society. 
The Hindu culture relies on the caste system, or “gotra,” this Hindu system of social stratification is based upon lineage and creates divisions among different social ranks (“Gotra (Indian Caste System)”). The caste system’s brake down into social ranks directly relates to the restriction and say one has in society. Water is set in the 1930s when this belief system, along with traditional Hindu customs, were very rarely questioned; therefore, once one is placed in their social rank it was all but impossible to advance in society ("I Have a Right To... | BBC World Service”). This system cast widows among the “untouchables,” the lowest caste, creating such a stigma against them that in extreme cases, such as in the movie, people would avoid their shadows to avoid becoming unclean. There is no escape within the system, as the bird can demonstrate.  This caged bird helps to demonstrate the theme of exploitation and social restriction placed upon women by their society as well as the strain some Hindu traditional beliefs can place upon those in the caste system, in this case specifically widows. The bird is a prop that condensates a large amount of meaning beyond what it physically is.  This prop embodies the trapped lifestyle of the widows being confided to their “cages” by their society.   The prop also serves as counterpoint to express the aspects of life the widows will never experience while being discriminated against by cultural and religious traditions.
            The caged bird not only displays the constraints placed upon widows by their society but also the futility of any attempt to escape the caste system, social regulations, and the stigma against widows in the Hindu culture. Madhaumati, Hindu culture, and a cage trap the bird.  The bird does, however, experience freedom shortly as it is pulled from the cage by the protagonist—a little girl named Chuyia—but is quickly killed. This can be symbolically related to the death of Kalyani who for a brief moment experiences freedom but is ultimately unable to stand up to the pressures of her society and finds suicide to be her only escape.  The bird’s death once out of its cage can represent the difficulty, if not impossibility, of those restricted by the caste system to escape their societal constraints and may also represent the difficulty of improving one’s quality of life in a system where social stratification is so great.  The inability for the widows to survive, as we can see through Kalyani’s death, can metaphorically be shown through the crushing hands that kill the newly freed bird.  We can see the clear parallels between Kalyani—symbolically representing widows in the Hindu society—and the bird; the bird is freed and its isolation is lifted, however, left in the hands of an oppressor it is unable to truly be free.  Similarly when Kalyani leaves the ashram, she cannot make her way in society, improve her caste standing, or have the chance to remarry. These restrictions have been built into Hindu society, and even though for a time Kalyani and her would be husband Narayan plan to marry and break with tradition, they are doomed to fail.  The use of the bird as a prop illustrates how difficult it is to break with cultures and traditions that are firmly built into a society.  The bird’s function as a prop in mise-en-scene helped to develop this theme and the poor outcomes of attempting to go against traditions within a society even if that society is wrong. 
            The use of the green caged bird as a prop can be interpreted to demonstrate the misogynistic social norms that exist in Hindu society as well as the rigidness of the traditional Hindu caste system. The bird’s momentary freedom followed by its death can also metaphorically represent the hopelessness and difficultly of breaking free from the “cage” that the caste system and Hindu religious traditions can force upon the individual.  Deepa Mehta’s cinematic piece Water relies heavily on that which is within the scene as described by Hayward;(253) props help convey the theme of the film and challenge audiences to question traditional discrimination against women and the dangers of drastic social stratification—and specifically—certain radical aspects of Hindu society.

Works Cited

"BBC - Religions - Hinduism: Scripture." BBC - Homepage. Web. 06 Dec. 2011.  

Corrigan, Timothy, and Patricia White. Film Experience: An Introduction. New York,
            NY: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. Print.

"Gotra (Indian Caste System) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia –
Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 09 Dec. 2011. <>.

Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: the Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

"HINDUISM: The World's Third Largest Religion." Web. 06 Dec. 2011.       

"I Have a Right To... | BBC World Service." BBC - Homepage. Web. 06 Dec. 2011.      

"Suttee (Hindu Custom) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica           Online Encyclopedia. Web. 06 Dec. 2011.    <>.

 "Water: Deepa Mehta Completes Her “Elements” Trilogy  / The Digital Filmmaker."
Welcome to The Digital Filmmaker /. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <>.

Waking Life

It is hard for me to describe in a short blog pot the movie Waking Life. However, what I can say is that the movie blew me away. Although at times I had to stop the movie and watch parts of it over again, or come back to it later, when finished the movie is truly a master piece. 

The film takes place in two different types of worlds, one is dreaming and one is in reality. This is shown through a type of animation I have never seen before. I had to look it up and it’s a technique based on rotoscoping. Basically this means that the director juxtaposed animation on top of the images actually filmed. This plays into the major themes of the movie and the state of mind the main character is in (reality and dreaming). The final effect of this is very surreal since each scene is differently animated. 

Most of the film is random characters and their discussions about philosophy, the protagonist enters these conversations to watch and listen, sometimes to discuss with them. Each character has a different view and usually they’re covering the meaning of life, free will, and social philosophy. The characters are all animated and are played by some known actors like Ethan Hawke and Otto Hofmann. Most of the rest of them are not so famous actors or directors. 

This movie doesn’t have a solid story line, however each scene engages your mind to think about things we usually don’t on an everyday basis. If you are interested in philosophy, lucid dreaming, or anything relating this movie will really blow you away. It’s a good film to discuss with people or just to watch on your own. It’s very unique and I personally haven’t seen anything like it. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Boy Meets World

These past two weeks have been a little crazy for me. I've been in and out of the hospital and had other various sicknesses. However, the one thing that I've been using to entertain myself through sleepy recoveries has been the television show Boy Meets World. The show started airing when I was born, however I remember growing up on the re-runs.

When I was about six-years-old, my best friend at the time was a kid I had gone to pre-school with and who had been in my kindergarten class. Because of this, our mothers were also very close, and one of us rarely got away with something the other wasn't supposed to do. The show was well into its sixth season, and I had just started watching. Boy Meets World is a show that truly grows with its characters, and my by the time I was six, the characters were graduating high school and dabbling in the more adult stages of life. My best friend's mom saw a particular episode in which two of the main characters were debating whether or not to have sex, and because of this, she warned my mom not to let me watch the show. It was inappropriate for our young ears.

In a few years my mom had forgotten the warning and I began watching the re-runs on TV. There's something about this show, where the stand-alone episodes work as its own entity, while also creating an ongoing plot throughout the season that makes you want to watch them all in order (which is why I decided to finally watch them all the way through).

I really like that the show started with the main character, Cory, and his friends, Topanga and Shawn, as sixth graders. The entire tone of the show revolved around their youngness and naivete. Cory and Shawn both thought girls were icky, Cory couldn't understand why his brother wanted to date them instead of hanging out with him, and his problems were relatively simple sixth-grade problems.

However, as Cory became older, going from seventh to eighth, to ninth, his problems because more and more complicated. Girls were slowly added to the picture, the realization that one particular girl (Topanga) was someone he loved more than any fifteen-year-old ever should love someone, and the nerves that come with such a difficult time.

I'm really glad I decided to go back and watch the show. Right now I'm about halfway through their tenth-grade year, and I'm excited to see the characters as they reach the roadblocks I've encountered the past few years.

On the flip side, it's also strange to realize that I'm finally older than the characters I've grown up and embolized throughout my childhood.

Pokémon: A Love Story

In class on Wednesday, I jokingly said I'd blog about Pokémon after I heard Arturo call it "nothing." At first the idea of blogging about it seemed silly, but I thought about it for a while and decided to just go for it.

Pokémon came to the great United States in 1998 via the Nintendo Gameboy. Released as two versions of the same game the handheld RPG swept the nation. Almost everybody — kindergartners to college students — were captivated by the Japanese wonder that was Pokémon. Nothing could be greater than exploring a world full of 150 unique creatures that you can raise as your own. I mean, who wouldn't want to be a ten-year old boy that gets to travel the world fighting with these awesome animal sidekicks? I'm as sure as Squirtle going to want to do that.

The following year, in 1999, an animated Pokémon television series made its way to the States. This too, captured the imaginations of people everywhere. The viewers followed Ash Ketchum as he attempted to become a Pokémon master. His adventures were humorous, and he makes friends along the way, finding them in both fellow trainers and in his Pokémon. Ash even made his way onto the big screen, with multiple movies. And to think this all started as a Japanese handheld game.

My personal story with Pokémon started with the TV show, then to the video game. I followed Ash's journey every Saturday morning when I was a child. I would struggle and cry as I had to leave for a soccer game before I found out whether or not he was able to get away from the evil Team Rocket. I would also cry when my Gameboy ran out of batteries and I couldn't play Pokémon Red any more. Car rides were so boring without my team of Charizard, Kadabra, Gyarados, Pidgeot, Nidoking, and Snorlax.

Childhood, so tough.

So what am I trying to get at here? I'm not trying to glorify a children's cartoon, and I'm not simply complaining that a professor thought my favorite game is silly.

Pokémon is a simple idea: a world is inhabited by "animals" that you can capture and raise as your own. We, as people, cling to this because it is both familiar and unfamiliar. We marvel at how absurd some of these creatures are, wishing we could have them as our own. We also see some of them as things we have here in our world: as birds, as fish, as plants, etc. Each of us take the Pokémon and give it a personality, allowing us to be a part of that world.

Something else I find amazing about Pokémon is its cultural impact. Starting 15 years ago in Japan, it has since morphed into Nintendo's second most popular franchise, only behind Mario. There are 16 seasons of the TV series, 14 films, dozens of video games, and a card game. The fanbase must be in the billions. Everything stemmed from the original video game. That's crazy. And I am glad I could be a part in the beginning of something so huge. I love it.


I know that in an earlier post I discussed video games, but now I'm just going to focus on one. There are many many great games that are out there and there are many games that I absolutely love but there is one in particular that holds a special place in my heart. That one would be Bioshock.

You play as Jack, a nonspeaking protagonist who is the only survivor of a plane that crash lands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by water, the only thing nearby is a seemingly abandoned lighthouse. Upon entering it however you realize it's not quite what it seems to be. After a couple minutes of exploration you come across a bathysphere which when entered, takes you down into an underwater city; the city of Rapture. From here, the story begins.

Upon first glance this just seems like another first-person shooter. However very quickly you realize it's much more than that. The game isn't about mindlessly killing every bad guy it throws at you but instead it's about what's going to happen next. You become very interested in the world of Rapture and you become interested into  why this once great city completely fell apart. Each step of the journey is more interesting than the last.

By far the most engaging part of this game is its story. You really do wonder what happened to the city and to it's now deranged citizens. You wonder why you happened to be the only survivor of the plane crash that happened to land right by the city. The game brings up many questions but all of which are answered. Also this game probably has the best twist in any video game that I've played.

HIMYM and Netflix

How I Met Your Mother just entered its 8th season this past week and I missed the season premiere. I personally love How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) but I didn't know it existed until last season. Isn't it strange when you find a show that you never knew existed, and love it? I find myself wondering what other shows I've missed because of my always busy schedule.

I was incredibly bored in my introduction to theatre class this past Thursday. I checked my phone and what did I find? An email from Netflix asking me to come back and giving me a free month. It's like Netflix knew what I was thinking. During that class I re-subscribed and I have been reaping the benefits ever since. My instant que is super long and I'm excited to get to watch it. It's Friday night, I'm sick, and my Netflix calls. See you all Monday.

Capturing the Actor in Film: Motion Capture/ Performance Capture

Over the last week, we have spoken a lot about acting in class. This art has a special place in my heart, and my pursuit of this career has already taken six years of my life. Through workshops with casting directors, like Paul Weber from Weber Casting, and working with an acting coach out in L.A., I have learned much in those six years. Yet, I have found there is always some new tip or rule to the art. It is a constant learning process that is mostly acquired through experience, especially since theatre acting truly is a completely different concept than film acting.

So what happens when technology changes and the way films can be made reaches a new climax? Do actor's have to reshape how they perform their craft? Answer: Not at all. 

When motion capture was first starting to be used, I remember hearing how worried professional actors had become. Would this new technology replace "the actor" in film, losing the face as well as the performance? Would this technology make acting even harder than it can already be? Again, I think everyone was amazed with the answer, especially when it went beyond motion capture and into performance capture. This new, amazing technology has been seen in so many recent films including The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 

It started out very new in The Lord of the Rings through Andy Serkis' performance of Gollum. This was an amazing development in film: allowing actors to even become the most different of creatures without all of the make-up and prosthetics that can sometimes come across as very fake. What a freeing experience!

The technology itself is astounding as well. Through the use of a body suit, dots and many, many cameras, an actor's performance can be converted over into a completed CGI character. This character then embodies the soul of the actor that performs the role, even down to facial characteristics. 

At the time of Lord of the Rings, I was so entranced with this concept of motion capture/performance capture that I didn't think it could get any better. I was really wrong. Andy Serkis then appeared in both King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, using this similar technology. His performances were stunning, and the characters truly took on a life of their own. Something about motion capture/performance capture brings a real life to these characters that creates an emotional draw as an audience member. I truly believe it has to do with the fact that there is a real person behind the CGI, a mind that can understand and convey the depth of the character it portrays. 

I can't imagine the amount of time Andy Serkis had to spend studying ape behavior to get the facial and body movements to the point where they are so believable. This is another aspect of performance capture that is so exciting. It takes a lot of work to learn the behaviors and movements of other creatures. Sometimes actors even have to take months of "classes" just learning how to perform their characters for performance capture. Take it from the cast of Avatar directed by James Cameron. 

I absolutely love this movie. I still remember sitting in the theatre, completely drawn into the film in awestruck wonder at how "real" the Na'vi of Pandora seemed. I know Avatar creates a mix of emotions regarding plot, but one thing no one can argue about is how revolutionizing this film truly is in just how a movie can be filmed. Not only did they use performance capture for the acting, but they literally created the world of Pandora as they went along. This extended even to the point where they made a special camera for James Cameron to use that allowed him to see a rough outline of the CGI world even though it was just an actor in a motion capture suit and a set of boxes around him. When I watched the behind the scenes sections for avatar, I couldn't help but be both amazed and excited about all the possibilities that performance capture offers. After seeing all of Andy Serkis' performances, and now all of the actors on Avatar, this technology have the ability to allow a greater opportunity to both actors and filmmakers in the future. Having minimal, but acting experience nonetheless, I can have nothing but a great admiration and excitement for actors who have been able to be a part of this new style of filming.
~Amber Capogrossi

Coffee, No Cigarettes (we're quitting)

Initially, I wasn't excited about watching "Cigarettes and Coffee"; I'd had an awful day and just didn't want to deal with anything else (seriously, life, stop throwing me shit). But, I did it any way, happily cocooned in my multitude of blankets, and it actually wasn't half bad. As a matter of fact, I was moderately impressed with some of the acting, simply for how spot on the characters were (and for that kind of thing coming from the early nineties). See, having been in several of those positions, though not that of Bill, I understand what they should feel and how they should react. In short, I believed their performances.

I don't know what Anderson told them to do, the bickering couple or the upset friends, but it worked; I felt their emotions through the screen, and thought along with the scene as it progressed. Maybe that makes it predictable, but I didn't mind it whatsoever. It's an interesting idea of having five lives interconnected and somehow in the same diner at once, and makes for some intriguing filming and transitions (ex: shifting between booths).  I'd definitely be game to try something of that sort myself; it takes some planning, sure, but that's half the fun.

Also, an aside: I watched the Fifth Element for the first time during the week...actually not bad, considering what they had to work with at that time, but that's another blog post entirely.

Cigarettes and Coffee

Earlier this week, I had the displeasure of viewing the film "Cigarettes and Coffee" for the first time. I generally enjoy Paul Thomas Anderson's films, so I figured "what the heck." Boy was I wrong.

Let me start with the quality of the version I watched. Someone managed to upload the film to Youtube from VHS. I honestly have no idea who would spend money to buy that VHS, you couldn't give me one for free. The quality was something equivalent to video games in the 70s, where you could see every individual pixel in each character. It took me about half the film to realize the lead actor was in fact Philip Baker Hall.

The entire movie was very poorly lit. There wasn't really a reason for the lighting, it looked like some guy just hastily threw up lights in a basic pattern just to say he did it. It was really a shame, because the sky light at dawn was actually really pretty.

The two future professional actors in the film did very well. Even back then, you could tell that they would both end up in movies. Everyone else was god awful. Most of them sounded completely unprepared. The actor with the most lines can be described as a mentally disabled Sylvester Stallone. The lines didn't flow well, and everything was forced. It was acting for the theater, not the movies. You have to wonder how well they were actually directed.

One of the actors appeared in the Disney Channel classic "Blank Check" several years later. He's known for completely exaggerating his lines, which is perfect in a children's film. In something as serious (or at least intended to be) as "Cigarettes and Coffee", the effect was almost comical. No matter how many times I watch this film, I will always revert back to his performance in "Blank Check."

I wonder how many shrooms Anderson ate before he wrote the script for this film. Not a single damn thing in the film made any sense. The overall plot is how five people are brought together by a restaurant, a 20 dollar bill, Las Vegas, and a plan to kill someone. Only three of them are. The film is a mess when it comes to continuity. The actual dialogue itself sucks: it's completely unrealistic, there is way too much unnecessary profanity, and the overall premise of the situation is never explained.

The movie ends in a cliff hanger. Movies aren't TV shows: they're supposed to have a definitive ending. Anderson should've stayed in NYU a little longer.

Overall, I want my 23 minutes and 40 seconds in my life. Maybe a little longer, since I watched the film a few more times to make sense of it. If you don't want to lose all respect for Paul Thomas Anderson, steer clear of this film.

Western Movies

I’m very passionate about the western film genre. Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West and Il Mercenario are some of my favorite westerns and some of my favorite movies in general.


One of my favorite things about westerns is their incredible use of music and the moving image to build suspense with little to no dialogue. This is why a standoff is such a powerful and memorable scene: in this situation, a character’s eyes and body language can communicate thoughts and feelings more eloquently than dialogue could. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has one of the most memorable standoffs, partly because it features three gunslingers instead of two:

Il Mercenario features Ennio Morricone’s song L’arena, which can be heard in Kill Bill Vol. 2 as the Bride escapes from her grave:

While westerns aren’t as prevalent as they were in John Wayne’s day, they are still incredibly influential: a True Grit remake was produced in 2012 by the Coen brothers, and Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming movie Django Unchained draws inspiration from the legendary western, Django, with Franco Nero even having a cameo in the film.

As a huge fan of the genre, I’m looking forward to Tarantino’s film. I hope someday to make a short western film of my own!

Underdog Story

Last week I wrote a blog about Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris.  Despite accumulating close to 20 views,  my hours and hours of hard work was not recognized by my professor.  Even though my feelings were temporarily hurt I decided right then and there that I wouldn't let it hold me down.  With this blog post, I hope to generate the highest number of views in "Blogger" history.  If that doesn't happen, at least give me an A for the submission!
-Kofi Boundy

Duck Dynasty

Duck Dynasty is a reality show that portrays the lives of the Robertson family.  The Robertsons are a family from Louisiana, who have become very wealthy due to the manufacturing of "Duck Calls" (small wooden whistles used by hunters because the sound they emit sounds like a duck call).

The show mostly follows Willie, the CEO of the company, who has to keep his family/employs in-line when all they want to do is hunt, blow stuff up, and not work.  The way the show is setup is very similar to the show Modern Family, if you have seen that.  During scenes they will cut to characters in an interview setting to elaborate or add extra context to the current situation.

And very similar to Modern Family, every episode always ends with the family resolving their differences and growing stronger together.  

As far as how it is assembled, it is a standard reality show.  Cameras are just stationed in the workplace and follow the family through the woods and hunt.  Most of the time, the show returns from commercial with a ridiculous slow motion shot, like the opening of a beer can.  Everything actually is used to make the family seem as ridiculous as possible.  Rich rednecks.  Thats the premise and thats what the show portrays.

The show returns for its second season October 10th on A&E.

From Good-BAD

There are movies today that most people find entertaining upon leaving the theatre. They leave the theatre satisfied with the overall quality of the film itself, and feel they spent their money well on this film. However, when the second, third, fourth etc. movie comes out, they spend more money to go see the sequels and leave the theatre having a different opinion about the film. From my experience, I can agree that most sequels that come out ruin the reputation of the first film. Such films draw attention away from the films and tend to lose more Box Office money. Here below are three of the many worst sequels to movies that I found repulsive to watch.

After watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl I was very intrigued with the film and it drew me back in to watch the second Pirate movie "Dead Man's Chest. After this second movie, they got worse and worse to the point where I walked out of "Stranger Tides," the fourth one. The Curse of the Black Pearl had a total Gross of $305, 413,918 with Dead Man's Chest topping that at $423,315,812. After the second film the Total Gross decreased to $309 million to $241 Million. 

I saw Jaws when I was little and it scared the living s%^t out of me. I feared water for months and months. However, when i saw the sequels to Jaws, I was more afraid of NOT going into the water. These sequels in my opinion grabbed no interest in me. While the original Jaws had a Total Gross of $260 million, the sequels didn't make nearly as much dropping to $77Million to $45 million to $20million.

When I saw the Matrix I was entertained and I felt I spent my money's worth on this movie. However, I felt the sequels were absolutely horrible. I had no interest in these movies and it drew me away from further Keanu Reeves' movies. While the first movie made a Total Gross of $171 million, the second movie received more ($281 million) while the third movie slumped down to to $139 million. 

I could go on and on but this would take up a large portion of the post. I still love many movies, but sometimes I feel some sequels aren't necessary to a film. 

Tarantino's Camera 'Angel'

Geraldine Brezca is a clapper loader who has worked with Quentin Tarantino on many of his films including 'Jackie Brown,' 'Kill Bill,' and 'Inglourious Basterds.'
She is known as his 'angel' because of her unique style in which she operates the clapperboard. Usually on set, the second assistant camera uses the Military, or International Radio Operator, alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc.) when announcing the scene. However, Geraldine employs a fun foul-mouth approach, which often catches a lot of the actors off guard. In a movie about an alternate history of Nazi-occupied France in World War II, she uses words that correspond to the action of the scene. For example, she'll use words and phrases such as Nazis, Fucking Explosives, Humiliation, Adolf, Hitler, and Au revoir Fuckers, which generates lots of laughs from the crew and the talent alike.

Having been a second assistant camera on a couple of features, I too have jokingly deferred from the military phonetic alphabet a couple of times, especially martini shots, for kicks. However, Geraldine does this for almost every single take.

Although humorous, this would sometimes take the actors briefly out of character before a scene begins. Tarantino made a bold director's choice by employing someone who distracts the actors in such a way. He must use this technique of distraction to provoke his actors to 'act' in the certain way that he wants by setting this clapper operator loose upon them to provide either a funny remark or loud sticks to startle the talent before a take.

Does this technique help or hurt the actors? Well, if you watch the video, you will notice that Mr. Waltz, who plays Col. Hans Landa, seems the most annoyed, or unamused, and has been taken the most out of character. Despite this 'annoyance' he won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival as well as a BAFTA,  Golden Globe, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor due to his performance in this film. I'd say Tarantino's technique certainly helped him with that. What a fantastic movie.

Breaking Bad and Wilfred

I don't regret purchasing cable but now that my roommate gave me his Netflix password, I don't believe I'll turn the cable box back on in the near future. I don't watch many live sports and since the NHL is locked out, a hole in my heart must be filled with some TV show of equal or greater value. I've been watching new shows every day and a movie every other night. I recently watched the pilot episode of both Breaking Bad and Wilfred. I feel left out when my friends discuss what's new in their TV shows and I find the need to begin a show and catch up until the next season comes out. When the first episode of Breaking Bad was over, I was hooked and wanted to know what was going to happen next. The editing and movie-like filming hook the viewer and, like Professor Sinclair said, there are certain color motifs in each episode. It's strange that people would root for a meth dealer but the other side of the story and Walter's cause allows the audience to sympathize with him. It was also surprising to see Bryan Cranston play such a dynamic character because last time I saw him on television he was Malcolm's dad Hal. I may choose to watch every Breaking Bad episode in order to catch up for the fifth and final season.

After the first episode of Breaking Bad, my roommate told me to watch the Wilfred pilot. I was instantly hooked within the first ten minutes due to the clever lines and absurd plot line. From the first episode, it's hard to understand who Wilfred actually is. Elijah Wood's character Ryan Newman is asked to take care of his neighbor's dog and when she arrives to drop the dog off, it is an Australian man dressed in a gray dog suit. Ryan is depressed and Wilfred, in man form, can only be seen by him. The show is hilarious and every joke made me laugh out loud. The episodes are only thirty minutes long so I could watch both Breaking Bad and Wilfred. I plan to catch up to the current seasons by November so that when the next seasons premiere, I'll be able to follow the story and talk to my hooked friends about it. Also, the story line and movie-like filming can be closely studied and I hope to apply the techniques in my own films.

-Matthew Hadley

Unguarded: The Story of Chris Herren

This week I decided to dive into the ESPN Films series "30 for 30." This is a sports documentary series in honor of ESPN's 30th anniversary. One of the films that caught my eye was the Unguarded. This is the story of former Massachusetts hometown star Chris Herren. Being from Massachusetts myself, I thought that this would be an interesting story having known a little background on Chirs Herren. Herren was a public speaker at my Prep School in 2010. I was privileged enough to hear him speak about his addiction with drugs and alcohol and his fight to recover. However nearly 2 years later this film came out. His speech to my school was so moving, I could not wait to see it through film.

The documentary was filmed in a series of interviews with Herren, his brother, wife, and former coaches and friends that had an impact on his life. These interviews were paired with footage of Herren speaking to various schools, military personnel, and others battling addiction. Director and filmaker Jonathan Hock did a marvelous job of tying in the personal interviews and the footage of Herren speaking into a 120 minute documentary.

Herren's story is one of the most raw stories I have ever heard. Herren the hometown hero of Fall River Mass, was a McDonald's All American. After refusing scholarships to Duke, Maryland, and others he attended hometown Boston College. However, at BC he was kicked out of school for failing three drug tests. Boston College was the start of his 10 year long addiction to drugs. From BC he transferred to Fresno State where he was a college star. However, his addiction continued. Herren told a story about being out all night partying, never sleeping, and arriving to his game that morning with the last beverage to touch his lips was a beer. In that same game he had over 40 points and his team upset a highly ranked team. Herren went on to the NBA after college and played for the Denver Nuggets. After a great rookie season that Herren calls his most clean year since high school he was traded to his hometown team, the Boston Celtics. This is where Herren's life fell apart.

Herren's story is not all bad though. He is now3 years sober after suffering 3 overdoses after being kicked out of the NBA. He has 3 children and is now a picture of hope for all suffering addicts. Jonathan Hock did a remarkable job of displaying this hope in the closing of the film. One of the final scenes shows Herren hugging many of the people he touched with his story and comforting them. Perhaps this was his life path: going through all the pain of addiction to help others with their pain. This documentary was moving, tear jerking, and very real. I recommend everyone to watch it, even if your not a sports fan.

A Beautiful Mind

Sticking with Russell Crowe I am going to switch to another brilliant performance in A Beautiful Mind.  Russell Crowe was nominated for best actor in this role in which he played John Nash.  This was the third year in a row he was nominated for Best Actor following his roles in the Gladiator and The Insider.  A Beautiful Mind won both Best Picture and Best Director and it was well deserved.  It is a true story that is told beautifully by Ron Howard.

A Beautiful Mind follows the life of John Nash it starts at his college life and goes until the end of his career.  Russell Crowe is perfect in the role as he brilliantly performs the trying life of John Nash and the many troubles he had despite being a brilliant mathematician who went to Princeton.  Jennifer Connelly played John Nash's love interest in the movie and she also did a brilliant job and earned an oscar for her performance.

Together they tell the story together beautifully and they give you a haunting vision of the life of John Nash.  I would talk more about the actual story, but if I get more into it I will start giving away some serious spoilers.  All you need to know is the movie is fantastic and worth watching and there is even a scene of the real John Nash at the end that is very touching.  This is Russell Crowe in another must watch performance.

Marblehornets: The Scariest Web Series EVER

As far as the web series go, most online shows and videos are still in their infancy. It is only in the past two or three years that web series have began to get a certain level of production value into their productions. Series like "Video Game High School" have really changed the game when it comes to the quality and entertainment value that a web series can produce. However, these kind of series are few and far between. There are some hidden gems that are now becoming quite popular thanks to pop culture and games. One of these gems is a series called "Marble Hornets".

"Marble Hornets" is a psychological horror series that is told from the point of view of Jay, a young film maker, who stumbles upon the old tapes of an unfinished film his friend Alex was making. Take two minutes and watch this introduction video to the series:

So right there, you're introduced to the main premise of the story. Nothing too suspicious, but without spoiling anything, it escalates very quickly. And our many antagonists in this series are quite frightening. It is shot similarly to the style of "Cloverfield" and "The Blair Witch Project".

To give you an idea of how great this series is, Roger Ebert himself says the series is, "remarkably well done".  So give it a watch, here is a link to a playlist so you can all scare yourselves silly watching it.
Marblehornets Full Series.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Indie Success Story

In class when we were talking about Paul Thomas Anderson and dropping out of school and financing our own film with tuition, I was reminded of a filmmaker who did just that. The film Clerks by Kevin Smith is an example of this. While Kevin Smith is not known for being the most sophisticated or talented filmmaker (most people will say he has only two good films - if that), he has made productions in Hollywood which is something most of us are aiming for. Once we get there, I'm sure most of us will want to create very different work than Kevin Smith, but we do have get there first. Mr. Smith went to film school in Toronto for half a year before dropping out at age 22. He felt he had learned all that he needed to know. With the remainder of his tuition and the selling of his extensive comic book collection, Smith began to buy equipment to create his first film. He had written a script about what he knew - working in the local convenience store with his best friends - and used the actual store after-hours as his location. He used black and white film because it was cheaper as well as local actors, family and friends as talent and crew members. The film was edited on basic equipment in the storage room of the convenience store. In total, his budget came out to be $27,000. When he finished he sent it to a film forum at the Angelika Theater in New York. Though it didn't do well at the screening, a man in the audience named Bob Hawk happened to be on the board for the Advisory Selection Committee of the Sundance Film Festival. He snatched the movie up, brought it to Sundance where it was immediately snatched up by Miramax who distributed Clerks and financed his following film. Thus, his film career begun. I thought that this was an interesting story to share about a low-budget independent film paving the way for a Hollywood director. Since many of us would love to get a chance to have a major Hollywood studio finance our films, I thought it was an interesting alternative to graduating from school and beginning with an entry level job.

Expendables 2

Now I know I was talking about this movie just a tad in class the other day, however, I think this movie deserves a post because it was that EPIC. The Expendables movies are about a group of "older gentlemen" who are considered mercenaries. In the first movie they did a job for Bruce Willis, Mr. Church. They team finished the job however, there was more killing that went on than he wanted. In this movie, Church comes back saying that the job wasn't done to his standard and then sends them on another job for him. The job was to pick up someone from another country. When they get there, they run into problem after problem and killing is happening left and right. Now me watching this movie I thought it was just pure awesomeness. Though, to others, like my girlfriend, don't like it much because they think it's either dumb or just too gorey. Me personally, I love the gore and I love the people, therefore, I love the movie. It was the most awesome people in the movie, including Chuck Norris.

If you're a person who likes the kind of movies where you see peoples heads come clean off with a .50 Caliber sniper or by getting pushed into the rotters of a helicopter then this movie is for you.

Boom Op vs DP

Last week I posted a little about sound design, so this week I wanted to post about sound recordists and boom operators, the common audio positions found on a set. Sound guys notoriously get treated like shit. Most other crew members including Directors, Cinematographers, and Producers don't give sound priority. All they care about is the image that is being shot, but in reality the picture can be great but if it sounds bad then the entire film is going to be bad. That's just how it is. Of course there are exceptions to this and there are Directors and DPs that care and ask how a take sounded, etc, but for the most part this is the case on professional sets and especially on college sets. Sound doesn't get enough appreciation.

This link below is called "An Open Letter From Your Sound Department." It is written by the top Hollywood Mixers and Boom Ops and gives practical solutions for each crew member on set to make the film sound better. I bet no one knew that it is in the Grip's job description to help sound and set up sound blankets and work to create the quietest filming environment. I learned quite a lot from this letter and anyone can learn from this. Definitely worth a read.

As someone who has both been a Director of Photography and a Sound Mixer/Boom Op, I can relate to this short animation that makes fun of this relationship between the camera and the microphone. Anyone that has done both these positions or just taken notice while on set of what goes on and where all the power seems to be. I would highly recommend everyone to watch this video.

There are plenty of things like this that occur on film sets and there are quite a few of these animations that poke fun at it all and they are all funny and completely true.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Commercial Effect

A lot of commercials we see on TV these days fall into two categories: really bad, or really funny. For the most part, we reserve commercial breaks for things like getting a snack or a bathroom break. Personally, the endless repetition of commercials that reappear constantly when you're watching something is really annoying, and I know I'm not the only one that feels this way.

I noticed while watching the Emmy's this past weekend how truly awful and ineffective most commercials are. I don't know if any of you have ever seen a commercial for the energy drink 5-Hour Energy, but every time I see one it never fails to make me want to hit myself over the head with the nearest object. They're terrible all around, and yet they're on constantly, which begs the question, "if you can obviously afford to constantly air this commercial, why can't you at least put effort into making a watchable commercial?"

However, some commercials are actually enjoyable to watch, and I find that those are always the funny ones. Not the ridiculous ones that are so far out there that you don't really understand the connection to their products (I'm talking to any commercial that has ever used a talking baby. Or talking animals. It's just creepy, at least I think so).

When I think about my favorite commercial, the first one that always comes to mind is by Volkswagen. It aired last year during the Superbowl, and I might be a little biased because I love Star Wars, but it's really a great commercial. It's funny, adorable, and it does a great job of advertising for the product.

Lastly, in terms of long-standing commercial themes, I think my favorite are probably the Progressive commercials featuring Flo. I know a lot of people think they're getting kind of old because they've been airing for so long, and I can see how they feel that way. But, at the same time, I feel like a lot of people really like Flo. She has 18,000 followers on twitter, and has made appearances on shows such as House and United States of Tara (she herself is an actress. Her real name is Stephanie Courtney. Sorry if I just bursted your bubble). Some of the progressive commercials aren't as good as others, but the one called Pants on Fire is my favorite. It aired about a year ago this November, and I just think it's really great. I like the subtle comedy and how it isn't over-the-top in the way it achieves its point.

I like the "80's Montage" one too because I love 80's movies and I thought it was hilarious. It's probably a little less effective then some of the other commercials for Progressive, including the "Pants on Fire" one, but I still like it, and I know almost everyone enjoys 80's movies (and if you don't, you need to seriously rethink your priorities. And then go rent The Goonies.)

It's kind of ridiculous, but I think it appeals to a lot of people.

Overall, a lot of commercials today are really bad. Usually the best part of commercials are seeing things like movie trailers (or other important things that interest you). 
If you have a favorite commercial that I didn't mention please add it to the comments! I might be writing a paper on this and I'd love to hear some more!