Thursday, February 26, 2015


I finally got around to seeing the film Whiplash recently and I walked away with very mixed feelings. This American drama, released late 2014, was both written and directed by Damien Chazelle about his first hand experiences in the Princeton High School Studio Band. This film stars Miles Teller as  a first year jazz student named Andrew Neiman and J.K. Simmons as an abusive jazz conductor named Terence Fletcher. This film follows Miles Teller's character as he strives to obtain the first chair drummer position in the school jazz band, all the while struggling under the hellish torment of J.K. Simmons' character.

Firstly, I want to address the positive traits of this film. Whiplash won three academy awards for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actor. All three of these awards I think the film rightly won. I truly feel that J.K. Simmons' performance was more than oscar worthy, given that much of the intensity and mood of the film comes largely his presence. The pacing of this movie was expertly done, and I think the oscar for editing reflects this. The film never loses intensity, only building it through tight and intelligent editing. Overall, the technical aspects were well done and on the surface the movie definitely "looks" good. It's an aesthetically pleasing film, especially in the musical scenes, where the director and his DP shoot the instruments in such glistening closeups that it resembles soft-core pornography. However, the positive elements of the film dissipate when you look beyond the superficial aesthetic aspects.

I had a hard time figuring out what my problem with this film was. When I look at its surface I saw a film that was well made, had a good story and was aesthetically beautiful; however, there was something deeper about this film that I really disliked. I decided to discuss this film with a friend of mine who has spent the majority of his life studying jazz history and drumming in many jazz groups. This person, who wished to remain anonymous, is also a film major at Ithaca College. We watched the movie and discussed it in depth for a long time. The following quote is a filtered and approved version of what we discussed:

"Everything from the film's poster, to the tagline, to the entire plot screams that this film is about music; however, nothing could be further from the truth. The film might as well have been about a college football player being abused by his sociopathic coach and the only difference would be him wearing a football jersey instead of a tuxedo. The film lacks all of the heart and soul of the music it is so poorly depicting. Jazz music is about joy, collaboration, experimentation, and passion, with its roots coming from the struggle and desperation of the slaves our country so cruelly abused. It comes from their hearts, and their sense of community to keep their culture alive amidst an era of slavery and racism. It is a purely American music, and both it's personality and rich culture are reflected in the masters who evolved and perfected it. Names like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Jo Jones, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, John Coltrane: these were people who lived the music, whose soul resonated with the very music they played. Their mastery came from their passion and dedication to making the best music they could, to transcending the physical divisions between the players in their band and creating a unified sound. This is jazz. And this is where the film's main problem dawns. The characters in the film--apparently talented musicians--are constantly referring to being the best, yet they are shallow and superficial. They are looking for the quickest way to make it to the top without any true passion for the music, and the film glorifies this. Playing as fast as you can isn't skill--it's showboating. True musicianship doesn't come from hitting the drums like frenzied buffoon, yet the film--through long practice montages and sequences where JK Simmons yells for him to play "FASTER!!"--has no idea about this. It rewards Miles Teller's shallow pursuit of greatness with a climactic drum solo that captures everything about his character. The solo lacks any kind of musicianship, any kind of dynamic or melodic appeal. It is merely an orgy of classless, wild banging on the drums. And this issue is no better in JK Simmons' character. Although he professes to be a lone visionary amidst a sea of mediocrity, he is no better than the blinded Miles Teller. His cutthroat attitude is both completely inaccurate, but also against the very spirit of the music he claims to love. If any professor at that level of musical education slapped a student, called a student a faggot, or thrown a chair at a student's head, they would have been thrown out on their ass. Musical education is about inspiring students to embrace the collaboration and joy of jazz--not scaring them away from it. Yes, artistry demands a rigor and drive, but his character is blown completely out of proportion. There is no love for the music in his character, merely a love of power."
-From the perspective of an anonymous Jazz musician and film major here at Ithaca College

Having this great discussion with my friend I realized a lot about my underlying problem with this film. This film has a lack of soul. As a result, its portrayal of jazz music is a horribly superficial and inaccurate one. It is about cheap wannabe's looking for an easy way to the top. A familiar story set in an environment the filmmakers did not take the time to deliver justice to. They sacrifice the genuine for the dramatic, and while it does make for a thrilling movie, once the credits roll the viewer is left feeling confused about what they have just seen.

Overall, I think this is a good movie. It is well produced, directed and acted; however, I do feel the film lacks a connection to the soulful jazz music it is trying to depict. I think everyone should give this movie a chance, but be aware of the context of the film in relation to the music industry.

Have a problem? Better call Saul!

Was breaking bad your breaking point? Don’t worry, call Saul he can help! 

Better call Saul is a spin-off series that is centered around Breaking Bad's fan-favorite, Saul Goodman. This series is a lighter series than breaking bad and more comedic. It hits the fan base of breaking bad and a whole other fan base for people who thought Breaking bad was a little too much for them. If you have yet to see 'Better Call Saul' I would recommend starting to binge watch it over spring break to catch up. The 5th episode begins march 2nd, so you have plenty of time to catch up. Currently 'Better call Saul' has 90% Audience satisfaction on Rotten tomatoes and the average ratting is an 4/5. The fans are gobbling up all they can from this new hit series. Saul wasn't always the Saul Goodman we have grown to love. You can see him grow, learn and form into the manipulative, quirky, greedy lawyer we all know.

Green Screen

For my blog this week I thought it would be a good idea to talk about green screening because we will be doing this for our film.

How a green screen works:
Firstly Green screening has many different names. Chromakeying and color keying are two different names. This is the process of singling out a particular color in an electronic image and then using computer software to make that color transparent. This allows another image, which can be just about anything you can imagine, to show through.

This sounds very simple and it is for the most part, but there are some things that can make in complicated.

Firstly is lighting the Screen. If the screen is not evenly lit this can cause issues because there will be different shades of green resulting in different variations of transparency. This can completely mess up a chromakey.

Make sure to light your screen properly!

A second issue is lighting you subject to match the image you are superimposing over the green screen. If the light, color, and shadows of the subject don't match, your audience will notice and t will effect your picture. 

Make sure to light your subject according to your setting!

Finally edging. When using a green screen the color of the green can reflect on the edges of objects causing them to also become slightly transparent. This is fairly unavoidable but can be fixed in post with some work. 

It's Such a Beautiful Day

I've always appreciated animated films that are as impactful, if not more impactful than big budget, live action films. Animation literally transforms nothing into something and there are no restrictions on what you can do and as long as you can imagine it, you can animate it. That being said, It's Such a Beautiful Day offers a very deep, meaningful story told through simple animation and narration.
It's Such a Beautiful Day tells the story of Bill, a seemingly average man who has seemingly average thoughts and feelings. Throughout the course of the film however, the audience learns about Bill's serious health condition and his questions about love, life, death, and what it is all about. He is worried about things that everyone is worried about and the film does a very good job of making Bill seem relatable and real. Strange and sometimes graphic images are used to illustrate how Bill starts to see the world through his illness and they are the most powerful scenes throughout the film in my opinion.
The film is an hour long and is actually a compilation of three twenty minute short films, all directed, produced, written, and narrated by Don Hertzfeldt, an American film maker. The movie is split up into three chapters but it flows very smoothly and keeps the attention of the audience throughout the entire picture. I often compare this movie to Daniel Keyes' short story, Flowers for Algernon, as they both illustrate the progression and regression of characters dealing with severe illnesses without skipping out on the turmoils that the characters live through. I love both of these pieces of work because the reader/audience can experience the character through their emotional spectrums. How they act and feel when they are happy, angry, scared, or just confused is really interesting to me and it makes the character more believable as it adds dimensions to everything they do.
I would recommend this film to anybody that loves animation and very compelling and thought provoking stories. I haven't seen any other Don Hertfeldt films but I will be sure to check out his other works as I hope they are as well executed as It's Such a Beautiful Day.

The Last Five Years; let your heart sing.

I have always loved staged musicals. There's something so powerful in telling a story through song; the character's emotions and conflicts are emphasized even more through dynamics and note variation. The mere tune of a song tells a story on its own. So when I began to watch the movie adaptation of The Last Five Years I knew the story would be that much more incredible.

I never saw the musical when it was on Broadway, but I am very familiar with the soundtrack and plot. So I was very excited to watch the film after much anticipation!!

The Last Five Years, originally written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, first premiered at Chicago's Northlight Theatre in 2001 and then in March 2002 was then produced Off-Broadway. Ever since then, there have been many productions all over the world. Richard LaGravenese wrote the screenplay and directed the movie adaptation, which was released on February 13th.

The story follows Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress (played by Anna Kendrick) and Jamie Wellerstein, a hit novelist (played by Jeremy Jordan) in the rise and fall of their five-year relationship. The concept of the whole musical/film is very interesting because the story is not told chronologically; Jamie's story starts at the beginning of their relationship and progresses to him leaving her, while Cathy's story begins right after their divorce and goes backward to their first date. It is not until the middle of the movie when they become married that their stories (and emotions toward one another) start to converge.

What I love most about The Last Five Years is how real the interactions are. Since the story is purely about their relationship, the writing really delves into their character development and makes for a really beautiful story.

I highly recommend that you watch this movie! It is playing in select theaters and is available for rent & purchase on iTunes.

Here is the trailer for those of you interested!

Gossip Girl

One show I have recently begun binge watching on Netflix is Gossip Girl. The story focuses on a group of privileged teens, Blair Waldorf, Serena van der Woodsen, Nate Archibald, Chuck Bass and Dan Humphrey, living on the Upper Eastside of New York City. The show is narrated by Gossip Girl, a ruthless and mysterious blogger who reveals the teen's deepest secrets. The television series is based on the book series of the same name written by Cecily von Ziegesar.

The series began with the return of Upper East Side "It Girl" Serena van der Woodsen, after a long, mysterious stay at a boarding school in Cornwall, Connecticut. It is revealed that she has had a scandalous past that continues to haunt her throughout the show and she is notorious for her many on-again, off-again relationships with countless male characters as well as for her rebellious drive-outs. Blair Waldorf, who is described as the queen at the center of the chess game, is a longtime friend and occasional rival of Serena's, and the queen bee of Constance Billard School's social scene. The story also follows Chuck Bass, who serves as the show's antihero, being a womanizer and party lover with a troubled life and past that provide a hidden vulnerable side, and “Golden Boy" Nate Archibald, always being fought over by the prominent female characters, and deals with a lot of issues that compromise his "perfect" life. Gossip Girl ran for 6 seasons before they producers decided to end the show with the reveal of who Gossip Girl really was.

One of the things I found most interesting about the show was their advertising methods. The show was notorious for it's mixed reviews, but after receiving horrible criticism from a couple different sources for it's risqué content, they decided to take those reviews and use them as part of an advertising campaign. I found this entirely innovative and to be an interesting twist on typical advertising methods.

NBC's mini-series 'The Slap'

If you haven't heard about this show yet, you may be able to guess what this series is about from the title. The Slap on NBC, is a revamp of the Australian series The Slap, but the American version is not receiving the same good reviews that the original did.  The first time I saw the trailer for the show, I didn't think they could make a series about a single incident. I also didn't think the show would work because they were promoting it as if the audience would decide if Harry (Zachary Quinto) was right or not to slap someone else's child. So I thought the whole series would be about Harry going to court for a long trial, and the jury would decide his fate based off of the audiences tweets about their opinions.

     Here is the trailer for the series:
As planned I didn't watch the pilot of this show when it aired two weeks ago [Feb. 12, 2015]. Then the days following the premire I mostly heard bad reviews about this show.  I was shocked to hear that there were rumors that this series could get canceled. I thought this show couldn't be very good if it's a mini-series with 8 Episodes and it might get cancelled! 

 When I saw the pilot on Hulu, I just had to see it for myself.  Something I like about the show that I didn't know before watching, was that each episode is narrated and follows a different character. The first episode follows Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), "The Slap" happens at Hector's house while celebrating his 40th Birthday. After seeing the first episode I thought it was good enough where I wanted to see the next episode.  Maybe I went into this show with such low expectations that I enjoyed it more.  I saw the second episode that is about Harry, and I don't want to reveal any spoilers but you learn a lot about Harry's character after the episode.  I thought the second show was better than the first and I am planning on watching the third episode after it premiers tonight. There are other conflicts happening in this show besides just "The Slap", which I'm glad about.  There seems to be more drama building up, and I want to see what happens!  The Slap is a decent drama, that is good enough for me to want to keep watching.  This isn't one of my new favorite shows but I am planning on seeing the next six episodes.

Bitter Sweet, But Well Done

As much as I hear people say awful things about the Canadian TV Show, Degrassi: The Next Generation, I can always come back and tell them about the few things this teen drama has done right. As far as I know, people who don't watch the show and have only heard about it only know it as a dramatic TV show where there's a ton of teen pregnancies and tragic things that couldn't realistically happen in one place. While this is true, some thing's that have happened on this show have really done a great deal in showing problems that teens all around the world face. 
One subject that I think they did very well in 2013, was a suicide plot in the episodes "Bitter Sweet Symphony" parts one and two. 
Campbell Saunders, a character introduced in season twelve of the franchise, was the first character to commit suicide in this chapter of Degrassi. He was a young hockey star, the youngest on his team, and very far away from home. His problems built starting from his first appearance, and made a lot of sense leading to his untimely demise. He made comments about how he missed his family, how he was bad at fitting in, how he didn't even like hockey, and that sometimes he wished he could go to sleep and never wake up. 
Degrassi did this very carefully, because they were afraid of the impact that it could have on their young audience. They led to it with a few events of Cam feeling so down to a point where he was hurting himself, but that he'd have good times too, where he was smiling and seeming to have fun. It was obviously an act, and his death wasn't something that appeared out of the blue. It showed that people, no matter popularity or stardom, or the amount of people who seem to like them, can have mental disorders. It showed the severity of the toll these problems can take on teens around the world. Personally, I think that it was very inspirational to teens facing these problems because it showed how much it could benefit them if they got help, After the episode, the actors Dylan Everett and Olivia Scriven did a PSA about how anyone facing these problems should tell someone, or at least call a suicide hotline
I also think the show did this plot well because they didn't focus on the way Cam killed himself. Instead, they focused on the aftermath of his death. It showed all of the different ways people can react to a suicide and what happens to the people who are left behind. The suicide seemingly takes place between two episodes, we leave one episode with a text from him to his girlfriend saying "it's over," then pick up the next episode with another student finding his body, never actually showing the body. Though there is a future episode that implies that it involved a lot of blood, due to the student who found his body reacting to a bucket of red paint spilled on the floor. Then we cut right to the principal telling his girlfriend and her sister what happened. We slowly see everyone's reactions to what happened. There's an array of reactions including grief, anger, guilt, disgust, and denial. And we focus on the people who played the biggest roles on his time at the school.




The two people it effected the most had the biggest reactions. His girlfriend, Maya, showed denial at first but soon became very angry with what happened, she told everyone that a candlelit vigil was stupid, and that he should've told someone, he should've told her because she would've helped him. The way the next few episodes deal with her, helps her come to terms with what happened. 
 His hockey friend, Dallas, felt extreme guilt and anger, because he had previously yelled at him and told him to stop caring about his "junior high drama." He threw things, he yelled, he felt like he should've done something. He felt like he failed him. (I believe this was also foreshadowing of a completely different plot but I won't get into that). 
As terrible as a show that people think Degrassi is, they don't realize what it does for teens. It presents a lot of problems that are glossed over in life, in school. It shows real things that are plaguing people around the world. It shows teens that they're not alone. And, I applaud it for that. 

Also, the episode is titled after the song by The Verve, if you were wondering :). 

Black Mirror

     Black Mirror is terrifying. Not in a slasher movie or even Psycho kind of way, but in a very hyper reality sort of way. The show has brought on comparisons from fans and critics alike to the Twilight Zone. The reasoning is justified, Black Mirror, is a sci-fi anthology series, much like Twilight Zone, in which each episode has a different conflict, different characters and actors, different worlds, and a different tone. 

     Created by Charlie Booker, a British satirist and broadcaster, the show aired on Britain's Channel 4. The cast includes many popular British actors. Popularity in the US increased when the series was placed on Netflix. The shows main theme is how technology is shaping the not so distant future. While the technology is different in every episode its still the driving force behind the characters and their motivations. The third episode, "Be Right Back" was picked up by Robert Downey Jr. to produce.           

                                                                            There are currently six episodes, three each for two seasons, and a third season in production. The plots include: a man who rides a bike for points and spends those points on an avatar, a society in which the chips in people's brains record everything they see and allow for playback, a comedian who uses an electronic bear to run for political office.                                                                                                         

    The production quality is phenomenal. The worlds, which are so unique and distant, feel familiar and tangible. The lighting, in "Fifteen Million Merits" puts the viewer inside the glass rooms which the characters live. The walls are all LED displays and the lighting work that goes into this affect is astonishing. "Fifteen Million Merits" is the most dystopic setting and yet still strikes a visual nerve that is believable.

     Why the show is so terrifying, so gut wrenchingly horrible, is that each episode plays with our expectations and rooting interests. They establish the world, get the viewer comfortable as the characters are, and the shake the world violently. Often we are rooting for immoral actions but they are the best possible result in this strange dystopic future we've found ourselves. 

    It's believable. That's the scary part. It's so real. Each episode could happen; you can see it. The moral implications and the themes leave you silent at the end. Plot twists aside it's scary what humans can do to each other. It's even more horrifying when we look at the technology that the worlds use are not that far off. The camera angles tell the story, the colors tell the story, the extras are perfectly in sync.

        We are going crazy with the characters because of the production and the writing and the acting. It's a show that has accomplished and exceeded all it set out to achieve. It's truly a modern anthology.


Rocket Science

Rocket Science is an independent film that premiered at Sundance in 2007. It focuses on the coming-of-age of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a high school student, who is fighting to prove his intelligence and have his voice heard. Hal's biggest issue is his relentless stutter. Although he is in reality, very intelligent, Hal cannot seem to convey this through speech, due to his impediment. Everything suddenly changes however, the day Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) sits down next to him on the bus. Ginny, an extremely well spoken senior with high career pursuits, and also happens to be the captain of the high school’s debate team. She notices Hal’s struggles and tells him that she can transform his speech through debating. Hal takes her word for it, and they become partners on the team. However, with each meeting, Hal's debating skills do not seem to be improving, though his love for Ginny is growing. Hal begins to hit a very low point in his life. He continues to visit Ginny's house everyday, to attempt to profess his love for her, but she does not get the hint, and eventually starts dating a boy who is on a rival debate team. Hal learns that he will not be able to see Ginny anymore, but still decides to go through with the debate, though gets nervous at the last minute and loses composure. He does not continue with the debate team after that, since all his hope has been shattered. At the end of the movie, we see Hal wander into a pizzeria and finally order pizza- something he had never been able to do before.

 Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It was a sweet story about trying to overcome hardships, while still maintaining to be realistic, in the sense that Hal was not able to overcome his speech impediment fully, but his hard work made him realize that it was something that he could improve over time. The one thing I was not satisfied with however was the ending. I feel like it kind of lacked closure. We never really found out if Ginny and Hal made up with each other, and though we see that Hal is able to do something that he was never able to do before, it still seemed very unsatisfyingly open ended.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hands Down BIG HERO SIX is one of the Greatest Disney Movies of the year !

Big Hero 6 is an action packed comedy about "boy- genius" Hiro Hamada, who develops a strong relationship with Baymax--- a plus sized inflatable health-care robot made by his brother. This was an excellent movie. Walt Disney Animation Studios, presents the team behind "Frozen" and "Wreck- It- Ralph", and now "Big Hero 6". (Great job team you've done it again!  #Favorites! )

In recent Disney Animations I feel that the plot is more developed and brings a lot of stimulation to the viewers. I first noticed this with Frozen. Instead of the bad guy being introduces to the view as soon as the movie starts we have to figure out towards the end who really is the villain. In Frozen's case it was Prince Hans.. Which I didn't really see coming.

In Big Hero 6, it was even more complex... First, you have Hiro and brother Tadashi both geniuses. Then the relationship between the Professor Callaghan and Alistar Krei. The relationship between Hiro and Baymax. Then we come to find out Yokai's connection to Hiro and Alistar. All very complex and a bit confusing I might add, but extremely complex. I enjoy movies that do not provide me with enough information to know what is going to happen next.

Overall, this movie was a touching movie. As a young adult I never get tired of watching anything cartoon, disney, or animation related. Disney just keeps getting better from animation, to story complexity, and for filling the audiences enjoyment.