Films and Writings About Films

  • Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

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5/31/2012: CrossFit and Private Tour Chicago:

Below, you’ll find a video showcasing Windy City CrossFit’s plans as they headed into the CrossFit Open competition this Spring. I was a one-man show for this piece: shooting, sound recording, directing, editing, and motion graphics:

I have been working quite a bit on a video series, brochures and blog buttons for Private Tour Chicago, here is a sample of the filming, editing, and motion graphics work I have done:

Blasts from the Past

I have been working on a much-needed update to my demo reel, so as I was searching through some of my more recent film and video projects both on my computer and online, I came across some videos I had worked on in an Associate Producer capacity during my internship with Leo Burnett. Here is one of them, from a series of 32 digital signage ads for Comcast Xfinity Cable and Best Buy, with help from Digital Domain:


I also had the privilege of working on the Mr. Mayhem campaign for Allstate, getting listed as AP during post-production again on spots like this one, producing the Atlanta-specific version:


Another is this JellyBelly spot I did a basic edit for with Radar Studios–something I was pleasantly surprised to see during a commercial break while watching Jeopardy one day:



I also did the cinematography for a couple projects by Killian Gray–the first, a documentary shot on a Sony EX-1 about real “pinboys” at a bowling alley in a bar. There is no machine to reload the pins you knock down, just two men standing in a cramped, dark, crawlspace with no air conditioning who constantly set the pins up and toss the bowling balls back to the players.


The second project was a fiction short film titled “The Lovers,” starring Alyssa Larson and Andrew Lee, telling the tale of an unsatisfied couple. I used a Red One camera package for this one:

“Safety Not Guaranteed” Review

Safety Not Guaranteed Review

I recently caught a screening of 2012 Sundance hit Safety Not Guaranteed, and I’m extremely happy with how the film played out. Directed by relative up-and-comer Colin Trevorrow and written by his filmmaking partner Derek Connolly, the film follows a writer for Seattle Magazine and his two interns as they attempt to dig up the story behind a classified ad asking for a partner to travel back in time. The full ad reads, “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before, safety not guaranteed.” As humorous as the ad sounds, it is surprisingly a real ad that ran in a newspaper and got media attention by appearing on Jay Leno’s “Headlines” segment of his show. While the real writer of the ad doesn’t play himself in SNG, Mark Duplass puts in a terrific performance as Kenneth that is a charming mix of an adult Napoleon Dynamite and Dennis Hopper’s character from Apocalypse Now; the light-hearted humor is there but so is an unsettling darkness during his rants that keeps the viewer on edge at the right times. Duplass, known for his mumblecore films in which he frequently plays a version of himself, is able to create a compelling character  in this film based on a version of someone else.

Duplass equals Hopper-DynamiteThe rest of the casting was impressive for the film as well; Community‘s Aubrey Plaza has a leading role as Darius, one of the interns who gets used as bait to get close to Kenneth, and New Girl‘s Jake Johnson is fun as the senior writer for the time travel story–he’s really a vapid creep who has outlived his lifestyle and begins to come to terms with that on their trip. The other casting choices were strong but almost unnecessary to me. I won’t ruin the moments in the film, but a couple bigger name actors have several very small parts. Whether that was done as a friendly favor to the filmmakers to give the movie some heft or if they were actually dead set on those people for those roles from the start, it still seems that Trevorrow used his production budget well overall and came up with situations and locations that made some nice montage sequences to give a believable backdrop to the story and create the mood–which is loneliness by the way.


Amid sweeping land and seascapes in the Pacific Northwest, the characters all are returning to a time and place that had some significance to them, but they feel emptiness there now. The obvious issues dealt with in the film have to do with getting beyond internal obstacles that are prohibiting the characters from living fully in the present; their past experiences limiting their development in certain ways that are specific to each person. From the outside, one would never know their inner struggles, but the loneliness and helplessness each person feels acts as a trap, keeping them bound by their own unique regrets. With such a moody subject, it is nice to see how smooth the humor flows in Safety Not Guaranteed.Each actor has a strong comedy background, so that was more what I was expecting going into the screening, not the well-portrayed personal demons. True to life, unhappy people can often be the funniest ones in the room. All in all, the film goes places I wasn’t expecting, and I enjoyed tagging along as the writer and his interns worked to get closer to Duplass’s crazy savant, Kenneth, as they got the scoop on the time travel mission. The film mixes mystery, action, and romance together well on a shoestring budget, knowing its limits, and is able to finish strong. With a story about logical people tracking down a town nut trying to time travel, the ending will inevitably be polarizing, but I thought Trevorrow and Connolly handled it quite well. The movie comes out in limited release next month, and it is worth catching if you can find it.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Review of “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Martha Marcy May Marlene. Quite the long name, and as a movie title it may be off-putting for some people, since it gives no obvious cues as to what the movie is about. However, the buzz is loud out of the festival circuit, notably Sundance (although it has also played Cannes, Toronto, Sydney, New York, and Vancouver film fests among others), where first-time feature filmmaker Sean Durkin won the Best Director award for the film, in addition to its being nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.  Durkin also wrote the story, which centers on a young girl named Martha, brilliantly played by Elizabeth Olsen (the youngest of the Olsen sisters). Martha’s tale is told in pieces, going back and forth between past, present, and her dreams. Having lost her way and struggling in the face of uncertainty, Martha joins a collective group home in upstate New York, which she finds refreshing and welcoming compared to her previous life. What she fails to notice are the striking similarities of her new home to that of a cult. Once invited inside, she gradually becomes brainwashed into being one of the many females who help run the farm and do all the work, also sharing the duty of bedmate for the scarily sweet and manipulative father figure of the house, Patrick—another multi-layered performance by John Hawkes. From this point on, Martha’s life gets incredibly complicated, and even for the viewer, it becomes clear how her experiences have affected her mentally and emotionally. The filmmaking style greatly enhances this, building the tension while at the same time feeding information to the audience gradually, enabling more and more of the story to make sense along the way. Durkin’s roles as writer and director also blend perfectly with the pacing of the editing.

The film is compelling and filled with suspense, however it is the antithesis to the current Hollywood style of filmmaking. Instead of visual overkill with violence and obvious dialogue for the action in a nice and neat 3-act story, Durkin has created a story that for the most part, takes place in the two weeks after the majority of the traumatizing events for Martha, when her paranoia is highest about the cult’s leader Patrick trying to track her down. By focusing on this period of time, we as viewers are able to directly connect the dots in terms of how her time with the cult affected her, and how damaged she has become—by watching her interact with her sister and her sister’s husband, her family by blood. The sisters have issues of their own to work through, and it is interesting to watch the family dynamic change drastically for Martha between the two situations. The adage “less is more” holds true here. The tension builds up as we get inside Martha’s head during her first steps of rehabilitation, and through flashbacks we slowly see just how dangerous the cult can be—of which Martha is so scared, she becomes delusional while trying to fall asleep every night at her sister’s house. By building up the family drama and showing the effects of her time in the cult, the brief glimpses into the dark side are striking in contrast to the cushy modern lakefront mansion Martha’s sister and her husband have rented for the summer, used as a retreat from the city life and to take a break from their comfortably well-off jobs. The sisters’ relationship is strained from the start, but Martha’s silence on her recent experiences and her sister’s inability to understand just what has happened to her cause considerable stress during their attempt to reconnect.

I found Martha Marcy May Marlene a unique and powerful film; one in which the machine clicks on all cylinders to create a story that is compelling on a purely visual level as well as emotionally. The environment itself is a character in both sections of the story, as is the music—both the soundtrack (at times just the sound of nature) and the music performed within the movie. Cult leader Patrick’s song he wrote for Martha is one of the most impressively unsettling scenes of the whole film. Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes both nail their respective roles, and the rest of the cast was surprisingly strong as well, forming believable yet separate family units around Olsen’s character. Several other familiar faces also show up onscreen, including Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulson, and Brady Corbet—with an incredible and possibly purposeful resemblance to Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill (see picture below). Olsen comes out of nowhere with this performance, but regardless of her previous experience, the fact that she was between the ages of 20 and 21 when she filmed it is amazing.

I had the opportunity to speak with Olsen after the screening, and she revealed that she really only had two weeks to immerse herself into the script before they started filming, and that the rehearsal process was so continuous, the cast would be together throughout each day and keep going through their lines together right up until the first take. Since it was shot on film stock and had a limited budget, each take was extremely important, providing little room for error for the cast and crew. To me, that was also a success of the movie; the film grain provides a grittiness for the viewer in the dim outdoor scenes and low-light interiors that matches perfectly with the mood of the piece. The film goes into limited release in the US on October 21, 2011, and I highly recommend having the theater-going experience for it.

Review of Friends With Benefits: *yawn*

OK. So, show of hands, how many people are going to see Friends With Benefits? How about the one with the other girl from Black Swan, came out this winter, called No Strings Attached? Or what about Going the Distance, it had an autumn 2010 release? Unfortunately, if you’ve seen one of these three movies, you’ve seen them all. The basic format is exactly the same; it’s like Sony, Paramount, and Warner Bros. all decided to turn to the same page of “Studio City MadLibs” the same year, and used the same word bank for all the interchangeable parts. In picking the actors for their movies, if it’s not choosing between the two girls who embody two personalities of the same character in Black Swan, it’s choosing between two people who were dating each other on That 70s Show, and of course it wouldn’t make sense to put them on-screen in a relationship again, so split ’em up. Meanwhile then in Going the Distance we’ve got real-life on-again, off-again couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long playing of all things, a couple. Drew Barrymore reprises her aspiring newspaper reporter role from Never Been Kissed, while Justin Long is the skinny, milder version of Jonah Hill from Get Him to the Greek–which takes only a slightly larger stretch to fit into this formula as well. The reason I’m not going into specifics on FWB yet is because it’s really not that important; this is a paint-by-numbers method to storytelling. While individually each one of these movies might have a bit of freshness to them, because of the timing of their release it is impossible not to group them together and accept that this is the current trend for romantic comedies.

Friends With Benefits centers on Justin Timberlake’s character Dylan as an online journal editor in California being professionally wooed by Mila Kunis’ character Jamie, a headhunter in New York City trying to fill a high profile position to further her own career. One thing leads to another, they charm each other enough for Dylan to accept the position and then they continue hanging out as friends. After getting dumped in identical situations at the beginning of the film and now being currently single, of course the only logical next step is to tear each others’ clothes off and see what happens. As they enjoy the physical intimacy of the situation, feelings begin to develop and both Dylan and Jamie’s emotional hang-ups come out into the open, which is bad news for a potential relationship between the two of them. Next is an especially awkward trip with Dylan to visit his sister and their father with Alzheimer’s (one of the bright spots of the movie–played by Richard Jenkins), and around this time Jamie starts seeing a doctor she asked out on a dare by Dylan earlier in the movie. After this plot point, cue the tidy wrap-up complete with JT pursuing her and a happen-chance meeting at Jamie’s favorite place to be alone in the city.

One notable strength of this movie is the casting. The supporting cast has a great time in each of their roles and each one makes his or her own character. Woody Harrelson, the aforementioned Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, and Patricia Clarkson all add energy and comedy to their scenes. Justin Timberlake does reasonably well with his comedic timing and Mila Kunis is always fun to watch, but it seemed as if they approached their on-screen relationship with a more workman-like attitude than anything else. It never grabbed me enough to make the movie stand out compared to anything else I’ve seen recently. I also don’t understand the R rating. While No Strings Attached went for the safer PG-13 rating, there weren’t any more scenes with crude humor, no unobstructed nudity, and no violence at all. It seems the only reason it’s rated R is because they insisted on keeping in a few extra f-bombs.

I can understand why people will go see this movie, and even why people will like it, I just wish it lived up more to its potential. My verdict is wait til it comes out on video and make a night of it; have a “Friends With Benefits who are Going the Distance with No Strings Attached” triple feature night. Don’t forget your MadLibs card to follow along below (click image to enlarge).


“The Calling” now on PBS and DVD

This past Spring, the documentary feature film The Calling premiered on PBS’ Independent Lens program, in a 2-part mini-series format. I was fortunate enough to intern in a Post-Production Assistant role with company who produced the film, The Kindling Group, and I spent the summer of 2008 working on the project.  www.whatsyourcalling.org is the official website, and here is the link to the page on the Independent Lens website, where you can also buy the movie on DVD and download it on iTunes already!

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/calling/

Transformers 3: Major Budget, Minor Success

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon
This installment of the Transformers live-action movie series is by far the most successful of the bunch. The story has tangible plot points, the visual effects and 3D filming techniques are impressive, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley–having no prior acting experience–is more than capable of replacing Megan Fox as Sam Witwicky’s new girlfriend Carly. The story takes off as Shia LaBeouf’s character Sam is fresh out of college and on the hunt for his first real job. He has moved in to his new girlfriend’s apartment, and his struggles with emasculation are humorous–notably his reaction when she asks if he needs lunch money for the day, before she goes to work at her cushy job. The story grinds to a halt when his parents show up as the intended comic relief; less is more in this case, but unfortunately there is too much.

There are several converging storylines at play in this movie, all of which closely follow the Hero’s Journey storytelling format to a T; Sam’s personal journey to find a job, meaning in his life and do important things in the world, the Autobots’ efforts to keep the humans safe while finding a technology that could help save their dying planet, and the Decepticons’ efforts to use the humans as a means of saving said dying planet. The line between right and wrong has a big grey area in this movie, with some acceptable plot twists along the way.

My main issues with the movie come from the story pacing, soundtrack, and the script itself. Clocking in at a whopping 2 hours 33 minutes, the editorial choices didn’t make sense to me for much of the first half, and I wasn’t a fan of the vaguely familiar, Nickelback-esque soundtrack that was thrown in any time Sam or Carly showed up on-screen. Funny that they choose instrumental music for the big action scenes with explosions that have no dialogue, but then choose generic rock music with vocals to play over top of the conversations in the quiet scenes. The exposition could also go much smoother without the cheesy, forced comedy of some scenes, and the second half of the movie is nearly entirely action. At times it seems self-indulgent, watching buildings get destroyed or bots battle bots that we aren’t even fully introduced to, just to watch the masterful special effects at work. Granted, I’d have to think hard to recall a movie set in modern day that turned a full city into a war zone to this extent, and especially impressive is the fact that most of the city layout and details remain intact.

Director Michael Bay again plays with themes such as the American military and patriotism in an us-versus-them mentality–even going back and taking historical liberties with events involving JFK, the Russian space program, and a certain nuclear meltdown from the mid 80’s. I have yet to see X-Men: First Class, but I understand that they do a similar plot development with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I am interested to know which one is more successful. Some of these developments in Dark of the Moon are a little too convenient to be believable; they make the world seem like a very small place where things only happen to certain people–usually Americans, but I give Michael Bay credit on who he gets to play those people. The supporting cast is great on paper; it is interesting to see such a strong core of actors and actresses from Coen Brothers’ movies including John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and John Turturro added to the mix here along with Patrick Dempsey and Ken Jeong rounding the cast out. The only problem with the casting is that the actors can only do so much with what they’re given, which isn’t much at all. Product placement and explosions get much more consideration in this movie than what comes out of the characters’ mouths to drive the story forward, but let’s face it, that is a necessary expectation going into a movie like this.

I recommend seeing it for the effects alone, but even those get exhausting after two and a half hours. Yes you’ll be excited and glad the good guys win, but more so just relieved that you can finally take those 3D glasses off the bridge of your nose.

Welcome!

Check out the Menu items above to see a little more about what I do, what I’ve done, what I like, and what I think!

Here is my current demo reel of video work I’ve either produced, written, edited, directed, or operated the camera for. It is broken down into two sections, Fiction and Nonfiction. This includes workshops, short films, documentaries, live event productions, and 2 works that have screened at the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to comment.