Peter Jackson talks about the state of the film industry!

A few words of wisdom and insight from a man who can make big budget fantasy epics and small sci-fi films because he loves the process...from writing, filming, editing...all from the safe confines of New Zealand, thousands of miles away from Hollywood.

It's interesting because the film industry is in a really weird position at the moment. If I think about it too much, I get depressed because I don't think it's in a very good state, and we're all responsible for that; I'm not pointing fingers because it's easy to say "Oh, look at what the studios are doing." But it's the filmmakers as much as anybody; it's the authors of the of the movies, the writers and the directors. We're all got to be doing our part. And I think there's so much nervousness about dropping attendance, or so people say, and plummeting DVD sales that suddenly everyone is working from a defensive position. The creativity that's going into films is almost like playing a defensive game, instead of playing an attacking game.

And I think if anything, DISTRICT 9 has an attack element to it. We're basically saying, "We don't give a stuff about the risk; we don't care about how many people buy the DVDs." We just want to make a cool movie, which is great, and we were able to have that spirit. But I think that's in danger of getting lost, certainly in the larger-budget films. Everyone wants to create these little safe harbors, which are franchises. And you create your franchise, which is going to lead to three or four movies, and it'll all go to the bottom line and that goes to Wall Street. It's all this corporate stuff, and the film industry and the world of finance and Wall Street have all kind of blended in a way that's not good for creativity at the moment. Now, let's hope it's a cycle, because everything in the film industry seems to be a cyclic thing and hopefully we're just going through a bad patch. I think it's up to everybody, the filmmakers and the studios, to get a little bit more courage and fight against it, because I think we've all given into it a bit.

Source: Ain't It Cool News


OSS 117 - Rio De Repond Plus...

Secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath returns in OSS 117 - Lost in Rio, the follow-up to 2006's OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. One might think you have seen this kind of spy spoof before, notably in the Austin Powers series, but this is where OSS 117 distinguishes itself. It is not a spoof or parody of the genre, but an irreverent homage to the era itself. The production design and execution is intentionally aiming for a look that make these films appear as long lost classics rather than new films, while French comedian Jean Dujardin portrays a "man" of the era with a self-confident manner that sheds a glaring light on every negative stereotype of machismo common in the 1960s. Dujardin's La Bath is actually quite a capable spy, but his oblivious demeanor to changing social attitudes with respect to race, gender, etc. is the source of the humor; the film may be exaggerating (but not by much), but is never tongue-in-cheek. Overall, it is a clever, breezy look back on a bygone era in a manner similar to how one may look at your high school yearbook—there are fond memories, but mixed with the mocking laughter at how ridiculous your former self appears to you now.

Also, make sure to check out the swinging official homepage for some groovy tunes and goodies.


Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry's film opens with a documentary about jazz musician Fats Waller relating his roots in the small town of Passaic, New Jersey and specifically a particular brownstone on one corner of the neighborhood. As you watch this documentary complete with file footage, it becomes more apparent that members of the film's cast seem to appear in the documentary, including the proprietor of Be Kind Rewind, an elderly gentleman who bares a remarkable resemblance to Danny Glover. Without making much ado over this "poorly concealed" fact, the documentary footage ends as the film proper begins.

This documentary we are introduced to actually serves as the backbone both for the characters' story and the overall narrative. It returns every once in a while acting as "Greek Chorus" offering parallels that serve as commentary on the situation of the characters. As we learn of Mr. Fletcher's (Danny Glover) dilemma of trying to keep his small, VHS rental video store afloat, one of the film's important metaphors comes to light. Be Kind Rewind is a small business run by one man that offers personal service and a distinctive film selection in an ever increasing landscape of chain DVD rental stores that cater to the lowest common denominator. Craft and some may say "taste" are slowly succumbing to the strengthening chokehold of marketing and convention. One of the issues of contemporary film, at least in the sense of the general landscape, challenging the industry today is the increasing loss of originality and individuality of films released, particularly by the major studios. Tent pole projects practically steamroll over smaller films who can not compete with the marketing war chest it takes these days to attract a substantial market share. At the same time, so-called "producers" rely more and more on gimmicks, gags, and effects as a means to dazzle audiences rather than actually tell them a story; in turn, the viewing public's expectations decrease as the ease with which they are entertained increases. This is plainly stated when Mr. Fletcher is told by a fellow Fats Waller devotee to adapt to the times, to cater to the masses as a means to save his shop.
It is therefore good fortune that the film smoothly and quickly moves to the central dilemma on which the film is marketed. Left in charge by Mr. Fletcher who goes away on a trip to both celebrate the anniversary of Fats Waller's death and go on a fact finding mission to assess the competition, Mike (Mos Def) is faced the daunting task of recreating the store's catalog of VHS films which have been erased by Jerry (Jack Black) in a fantastical conceit that is easy to swallow thanks to the human underpinnings of why Mike must keep up all appearances while Mr. Fletcher is away. Mos Def proves capable in delivering a subdued and simple performance in his portrayal of Mike, particularly when it comes to his respect for Mr. Fletcher as both a manager and a surrogate father figure. Special mention must also go to Jack Black for turning in a much more ensemble performance one might not expect when considering his other works as lead. Here, he allows other actors to have the scene, generously allowing the entire cast an opportunity to "be" while he accents their performances. Jack Black fans may be disappointed that the comedy of Be Kind Rewind is much more understated than say, School of Rock.
This is particularly important when the pair begin the task of recreating Ghost Busters to fulfill a customer's request. The humor should be grounded in their attempts to remake the film's famous scenes with the limited resources and time they possess. Audiences laugh with their inventiveness rather than at individual antics. There is something quite satisfying in Mike and Jerry's solutions based on their memory of the film. With all manner of jury rigged contraptions, a shoulder-mounted VHS camera, and one take, they utilize perhaps a not-so-exaggerated guerilla filmmaking style to accomplish their goal.

In essence, Be Kind Rewind is writer/director Gondry's love letter to independent filmmaking as well as the filmmaking spirit. The plot device of trying to cover up the loss of the catalog is only a vehicle for the next metaphor of the film, that of creativity. Gondry sets up situations for the main characters to problem solve. As they take on their next recreation, there is great delight in witnessing what they do to cheaply and quickly film a hit buddy film set in Hong Kong. His subtle message is that passion is the first, most important ingredient in the filmmaking process drives even his own directorial style for the film. There is a naturalness to the style of the film that belies it's budget. There are not a lot of overly composed shots. In fact, some of the setups are somewhat "dirty" while framing is not heavily enforced on the actors. It seems Gondry was more interested in capturing the passion of Mike, Jerry, and the others they begin to inspire as their remakes become more popular than the originals, prompting neighborhood residents to join in the magic and joy of making films. This is best exemplified in a terrific one take shot of the community helping Mike and Jerry recreate several well-known films. Moving from one famous scene to the next, some of the simplest, practical, yet creative in-camera techniques used in films past are on parade; Gondry allows all the backstage trickery to be seen, for the cast and "crew" to frame-in, and the imperfections to show as this segment is not about the final product, but about how the final product came to be. It is perhaps his personal standing ovation to old-fashioned, homespun ingenuity that is slowly dying in a world where films are being written around effects shots.

Naturally, just as Mike and Jerry and their capable crew are reaching the pinnacles of success, with customers lining up outside the store, the party comes to an abrupt end in perhaps the weakest segment of the film. Now that the store is filled with "sweded" films (the term used to describe remaking films), this ultimately attracts the attention of the Hollywood studios and their lawyers, personified by Sigourney Weaver, who bring all manner of legalese, forms, and threats of grossly overestimated penalties to Mr. Fletcher just as he was seeing hope for his little shop. Ultimately, the issue of copyright and intellectual property would have had to be addressed in a film of this nature, however, Sigourney and company breeze in and out of the film so fast that it seems almost fruitless to have brought it up in the first place. Granted it was probably not Gondry's intention to debate this issue via allegory, but one can't help but wish for something a bit meatier than what was presented. Regardless, the air seems to have been let out of the bid to save Be Kind Rewind. However, the community rallies, intent on filming something original...for the shop, and for themselves. At this point the film nicely bookends with the beginning as the Fats Waller documentary returns. This time, however, the making of the documentary is revealed. The contributions by everyone in the neighborhood to the scenes previously interjected into the film show people of all walks of life providing their little touches of creativity, including how they achieved the hand-cranked camera effect for the file footage. There is energy in the air, and the neighborhood is alive. Bringing the community together is perhaps the film's most salient point. Though the impetus for making the film was for a charity screening to benefit Be Kind Rewind, Gondry clearly shows that the process of filmmaking has affected everyone in Passaic, or at least those within the area around the shop. When the "curtain" rises on the screening of the finished product and everyone's hard work, the satisfaction on people's faces represents that it is not about what can be gained from films, but from what stories or storytelling does for people. The format choice of VHS seems to be quite intentional and effective if parallels are to be drawn with the home movie. Home movies are personal storytelling and the passing on of history at its most basic and accessible to the general public. The documentary the community creates may not be factual with regards to history, but it is the history they believe in. It is the story they wish to tell.

The ending may be a bit of a conundrum after initial viewing. However, upon consideration, there is something appropriate about it and credit must be given to Gondry for avoiding a manufactured emotional moment no matter how "right" it might have been. As is, the film closes leaving the viewer with sensations of nostalgia, of wanting to visit old haunts, and wondering if things you remember are still there. Is Be Kind Rewind Video Store still there? Bittersweet perhaps, but a fitting cap to a film about the increasing loss of simplicity, with the hope that it is and can be kept alive...somewhere.


Micmacs à tire-larigot

Say the words Jean-Pierre Jeunet and one word should come to mind: "fantasist." To say Jeunet builds worlds is an understatement, but what's more amazing about this director is his where he builds his worlds...right here on Earth. Yet, all of his films have a production design and atmosphere to them that can not be easily categorized by a particular time period or place unless he is specific about it, Amelie comes to mind. Even then, the next component that makes Jeunet's films so interesting and unique are the cast of characters that populate his stories. They are what breath life into his worlds. I think it is safe to say that he is one of a handful of filmmakers who can boldly and skillfully skirt the line of Surrealism and maintain a clear, cohesive narrative no matter how "odd" the situation or characters.

In his follow up to A Very Long Engagement, Jeunet returns to France, but a certainly a France different from the one one might visit. This time, the reported satire revolves around Bazil, a man with a bullet lodged in his head which causes some "unusual" effects. With his father, a bomb disposal expert, having been killed on the job in Morroco, Bazil now feels that he must topple two of the world's largest arms manufacturers to repay the lifetime of misery weapons have caused him and gathers a motley team of eccentrics to help accomplish his mission.

Source: Allocine France

There are actually eight teasers, each focusing on each character of this ensemble cast. You can watch them all at CineMovies.fr. The film definitely displays Jeunet's signature wry, observant humor found in Delicatessen and Amelie as well as the lush cinematography of Tetsuo Nagata. Though already in post-production, the film is unfortunately not set for release until 2010 which makes for a very long wait indeed for a chance to view the latest from this contemporary master.



Is Moon an example of art house science fiction, or a throwback to sci-fi of years past? There are several points to both sides, but there is no arguing the quality of this haunting, understated film.

Moon is primarily a character study, that of astronaut and caretaker Sam Bell. Sam is the sole occupant of a mining station on Earth's moon, at which is produced a valuable energy source that has all but eliminated Earth's dependancy of fossil fuels. Sam is the one human required to maintain order and step up to fix any glitches or bugs in the mostly automated mining process. Sam's sole companion is GERTY, a computer artificial intelligence that runs the station as well as providing for Sam's basic needs. Due to continuing complications with the com system, Sam's communication with Earth has been primarily through recorded messages, and Gerty has been Sam's only "live" contact for some time.

As one might expect, there is a heightened sense of isolationism and early hints at Sam succumbing to some form of "space madness," his interactions with Gerty only fueling the mystery. But the mystery itself is exposed in short order, being merely the opening to a much deeper, unexpected conflict who's resolution develops into something staggeringly complex. This is where heart of the film takes hold as Sam struggles with his situation, as does Gerty. There are many elements evocative to sci-fi contemporaries 2001 and Solaris (the former being a rightfully lauded classic, the later (Soderbergh remake) highly under-appreciated).

It is hard to imagine the pressure placed on an actor to carry an entire film, yet the portrayal of Sam Bell by Sam Rockwell appears effortless. This could be due in part to sheer talent or an uncanny level of comfort with being in front of a camera, and is probably a bit of both. There are several Rockwell-isms that fans of his work will enjoy, altho the traversal of character that is employed over the duration of the film is pretty damn impressive. Kevin Spacey provides the cool, calm voice of Gerty with an unashamed channeling of Douglas Rain's HAL 9000. This in and of itself in execution is more like the comfort of a favored t-shirt rather than the clichéd gimmick it could have been, so Spacey does get some points for that.

Sam's moon base isolation is set in a non-defined future that helps the film gloss over some of the finer details, but sharp-eyed and attentive viewers are given enough snippets to do the math for an accurate date. The nebulous timeline was likely by design as to not lock in any specific technology that would distract us from the core story or inherently date the film. In fact true sci-fi aficionados would do best to leave their tech checks at the door, as Moon betrays most of what we know about existing communication, robotics, and artificial intelligence early on. Yet what is relayed in terms of futurism is done so as clean and minimalist. While this may seem like a potential bone of contention by the hardcore, how it is presented in the film succeeds in conveying Moon's surprisingly timeless charm. It's what gives Moon a fascinating feeling of a film out of time, by as much as twenty or thirty years. A long lost or forgotten sci-fi classic, if you will. Should this (hopefully) have been director Duncan Jones' intention, congratulations are in order.

Entertaining and thought-provoking, Moon is a rare offering amidst this summer's mindless blockbusters. Among those that are masquerading as science fiction, Moon shows how it's done.


Near Dark

On the left is the new DVD and Blu-ray cover for the cult classic vampire film, Near Dark, directed by Katheryn Bigelow. On the right is the original theatrical release poster. If you're thinking to yourself that these look like two completely different films, you wouldn't be erroneous in that train of thought.

However, when you see that the new key art for the home release looks suspiciously like this poster for the unexpectedly successful teen vampire film Twilight, then the reason for this disparity becomes more clear. Hoping to ride the wave of Twilight's popularity, Lion's Gate is releasing Near Dark with a marketing image that aims to attract Twilight's audience. Fans of the film, myself included, know that Near Dark is one of the great vampire films of all time. A wholly unique take on the often used (abused) film monster, introducing a family of hillbilly, RV dwelling vampires who ruthlessly hunt the open plains of the American Midwest. And though there is a love story, it's the central theme of embracing one's feral nature or succumbing to one's darkness that juxtaposes against the choice of "love" and "light." There is no romanticism, no couple fawning over each other; in fact these vampires don't even have pale skin nor do they ever bear fangs and yellow eyes! It is a gritty, dark and violent romp through vampirism starring James Cameron regulars such as Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Janet Goldstein. The film was made at a low budget, but it has stood the test of time only to be prostituted by Lion's Gate in order to attract a demographic who will be in for quite a shock once they see that Twilight is no Near Dark.


G.I. Joe

This will be one of the rare occasions when a post will be focused not on the film and its story, but on the the production of a film; in this case production design specifically. It is quite obvious what the intention of the filmmakers (i.e. producers/studio) when one views the trailer for this latest live-action adaptation of a popular property from the 80s. Any attempt at arguing for a much more substantial narrative is essentially a waste of time and energy. The film is designed to maximize opening day ticket sales by exploiting nostalgic memories of a much loved cartoon in people (men particularly) who are now in their 30s and 40s. The lure of blockbuster box-office returns based off a borrowed property is too tempting and as commented on earlier the viewing audience is far too easily "entertained" to demand originality and/or depth in a film of this nature.

What proves to be truly disappointing is the absolute lackluster production design that was approved by the director and all involved. Hollywood is prone to trends and ever since Tim Burton's Batman, black, leather-clad superheroes seem to be the only way Hollywood is able to visualize comic book characters. This was only reinforced more with the success of the Bryan Singer's X-men films in which a much more colorful palette in the comics was muted down to color accented black suits in the film versions. Despite early fan protests, the film adaptations of the costumes were so successful onscreen that they actually influenced the comic book versions post release of the films.
So, it stands to logic that the live-action version of the 80s "G.I. Joe" cartoon would also follow the same route. Take a look at the international poster for the film above. There is a substantial difference here that needs to be pointed out. Superheroes wear costumes as a method of disguise, an alter-ego with which they carry out their activities while living out another life as normal citizens. The members of G.I. Joe are military personnel. They do not wear costumes. Their outfits are a function of their occupation and the specializations within that occupation; they are also a reflection of the branch of the military to which they belong be it Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. The concept of the original cartoon was an elite unit made of up soldiers from these branches, contributing to a much more effective fighting force that pooled their collective skills.

Compared to this package design for the DVD of the cartoon series, the failings of the film production design are quite obvious. Though G.I. Joe is a unified team, each member retains their individual identities and trademarks based on the military branch to which they belong as well as the specific skill set they bring to the team. One can not get any sense of this when looking at the film poster; in fact, it's even hard to tell who are the villains and who are the heroes. Obviously, the outfits of the cartoon characters would have to be adapted to film, but it seems so elementary that drawing on real military garment and uniforms from around the world and through various eras would produce much better results than completely black outfits that have no variation whatsoever among the individual characters.
I am sure the production team will have all manner of explanations as to why they took the design route seen in the film. Whatever those justifications may be, this short video produced by a figure manufacturer proves that A) It is possible to reproduce the look of the cartoon in live action; B) even without revealing any faces, anyone familiar with the cartoon can identify the characters just by their trademark costumes and C) the production design of the film was not even close in capturing the spirit of the original source. It's a telling sign when the deep pockets of Hollywood can be outdone by figure manufacturer with its heart in the right place. But I guess that's the point, isn't it?