Friday, August 30, 2013

Documentaries Don't Have to Suck: Marwencol Doesn't

Documentaries have long been cursed with a sad, yet inevitable stigma. The stigma that all documentaries are too boring, or too long, or too educational to possibly be considered REAL entertainment. However, with the fairly recent outbreak of sites like “Netflix”, “Youtube”, and “Hulu”, finding quality nonfiction programming has never been easier.

If you were to ask me a year ago how I felt about documentaries, I would have responded somewhere along the lines of, “Documentaries suck. I don’t care about real things. Now leave me alone I’m watching ‘Pocahontus’”. However, that’s before I saw “Marwencol”. 

The short description Netflix provided was enough to convince me to hit the play button. The documentary revolves around a young man who loses all of his memory after being beat up by a gang of men one night. After having to relearn everything from walking, to talking, to just opening drawers again, Mark Hogancamp finds peace in creating a world of his own. And his medium? Dolls. Marwencol is the name of a town created entirely by Mark that includes dolls representing real relationships he has with real people. However, although the dolls are unoriginal, Mark creates stories with the characters in the World War II Era town; taking beautiful photographs of important scenes along the way.

A huge part of what makes this particular documentary so intriguing is the marriage between Mark’s story of recovery, and the invented story Mark creates within his small-scale doll world. For instance, in reality, Mark has an awkward encounter with one of his female neighbors. However, in Marwencol, the same neighbor will profess her love to him, only to be captured by the Nazi police and held hostage until hero Mark comes to save her.

You’re confused. I know it. Still, all you really need to know is that Marwencol not only helped a man recover from brain trauma, but more importantly*, completely changed my attitude about documentary films. If you’re looking for something new and different to watch, I urge you to give Marwencol a shot. It changed my mind, so it might just change yours.

*I don't actually find my change of attitude more important than a man's recovery. That was a joke.

My New Netflix Obsession

     I recently began watching the television series "The West Wing" on Netflix. While I do not recall  ever seeing this show during its run on Fox, I decided to give it a try after it was recommended by my roommate. Even though I am only a few episodes into the series, "The West Wing" has already captured my attention. Being that I am not very passionate about politics, I had my doubts about wether or not this show would truly appeal to me. However, this television series surprised me and, due to its fantastic writing, has me hooked.

     Right from the very first episode, "The West Wing" drew me in with suspense. Instead of focusing on one or two main characters, "This West Wing"highlighted the issues facing a lot a multitude of individuals, from members of the White House staff to Cuban refugees. Although, on the surface, such issues may seem unrelated, the writers of "The West Wing" do a fantastic job of tying everything together. On that note, and this may be what I liked the most about the series, "The West Wing" presents such issues from multiple viewpoints without forcing the viewer to choose sides, which was something that I was not expecting from a political drama.

     Instead of focusing on who's right and who's wrong, "The West Wing" illustrates that there is often much more to an issue than what meets the eye. As the series progresses, it becomes obvious how limited the power of the president, portrayed by Joshiah Bartlet, really is. Although we view him as the head of our country, he is often little more than a figurehead. As highlighted in this series, the actions that the president takes are very often nothing more than a consequence of the decisions made by those around him. This fantastic political commentary, which I believe holds true in regards to our modern-day presidents, is highlighted throughout the "The West Wing". The writers of this show do a great job of displaying the president as both a politician and a person, a fact that is accentuated by Bartlet's terrific acting.

The Place Beyond the Pines

A few days ago I was finally able to see The Place Beyond The Pines, a movie I had been trying to watch all summer. While the movie was visually stunning, well-written, and above all else beautifully shot, other aspects, such as how the film was marketed and how the themes were presented, are what really took me by surprise. I was expecting the whole movie to revolve around Ryan Gosling, a red herring presented to anyone who had seen the preview. The film's depth ended up spanning over three generations with Gosling killed within the first third of the total running time, something I found to be rather unexpected. But it was a smart move if you ask me. Over two thirds of the film are about something related but completely different than Ryan Gosling's character. I can only imagine how many teen girls were distraught after finding this out. The movie contained three mini plots within the main plot, each one with a beginning and end, and each one expressing a totally different theme about life, vengeance and passion. In an era of witless hollywood movies, it was quite refreshing to see a storyline as complex and unique as this one. However, I do have an issue with how in-your-face the themes were presented. For example, it was quite obvious that Bradley Cooper's character had to deal with a looming cloud of regretfulness after murdering Luke, which will most likely never be eradicated by his success, yet there was a fifteen minute scene of him describing his feelings to a psychiatrist. It was both boring and redundant. There are other examples of this throughout the film both big and small, but overall the film was one of my favorites this year, and it is without a doubt one of my favorites in the father/son genre.

The Scandal on Scandal

Abc's newest sensational drama Scandal, is full of steamy hot and sexy content about scandals in the white house. Scandal is an American Political thriller television series starring Kerri Washington.  Kerri Washington plays the revered and feared Olivia Pope. Olivia leaves her job at the white house to open her own crisis management firm, Olivia Pope and associates. Her methods aren't conventional and most of the time illegal but she is known as the "fixer". Miss. Pope and her team are called upon to protect the public image of the nations elite and to make sure their secrets never get out. Her intelligence, strength, and her ability to challenge every man or woman she comes across is uncanny, but like every superhero she has one weakness, her kryptonite, a man.

This show is full of shocking twist and surprises where the writers leave you gasping and grasping for more. Scandal is brought to you by the same creator Shonda Rhimes and executive producers from Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. I've been inspired by Olivia and I'm officially obsessed with the show. It's fast paced and exciting and I can't wait for the third season to start October 3!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Axis Stablilizers Galore!

    Over the last year there have been some big announcements in the gear evolution of our industry. One of the most prominent is the three axis gimbal stabilizer. Now I'm sure most of you have heard of, or have even been able to operate a steady cam before, but before you dismiss this new technology as a gimmick or something that isn't needed, check out this video. MOVI. The video was shot by videographer/photographer galore Vincent Laforet (if you don't know who that is look him up). Vincent was one of the first people in the industry to turn DSLRs into film making machines, so his advice is not to be taken jokingly. The MOVI system is something he backs personally and the behind the scenes video will show you why. Unsurprisingly he is not the only one. Since its official release date two weeks ago, videos of the MOVI's unmatchable capabilities are popping up frequently. Here is a behind the scenes look at an extremely complicated one shot sequence done by Burton Snowboards using the MOVI system.

    Although the MOVI is the only official three axis gimbal on the market now it won't sit there unrivaled for long. Two other systems are looking to dethrone the stabilizer, or at least be able to compete. The Defy G2 and the Ghost stabilizer are two that are soon to be on the market. Who will win and be crowned supreme stabilizer? I have no idea, only time can tell. All I know is that these systems can add massive production value with a much smaller cost and will continue change our ever evolving industry.

Zoe Kazan ignites her career with Ruby Sparks

      I recently watched the film, Ruby Sparks (2012). This romantic comedy/fantasy is a unique story, told through charming characters and beautiful cinematography. Calvin, played by Paul Dano (actor: Little Miss Sunshine, Looper), is a well-known novelist who falls in love with a character he creates. Ruby Sparks. Then one day, Ruby shows up in his house.

      It is written by Zoe Kazan (actress: It's Complicated), who also plays Ruby. Zoe is extremely talented and is becoming more famous. She received a BA in Theatre from Yale University. She's been in a few movies before this, and I find it very inspiring that she not only starred in this movie, but she wrote it. And the writing is great! It feels very real, and the story definitely tugs at the heartstrings. The relationship created between Calvin and Ruby is very relatable to me, and I'm sure other people, which is strange since it could never happen. But their personalities and the dynamic between them hits close to home. 

      The one criticism I have with the movie is the ending. It does not feel right to me. However, I don't even know how I would want it to end. I'm sure it was very difficult to find the right ending. Overall, I fell in love with Ruby Sparks just as much as Calvin did, and I think you would, too.

Behind the Scenes look at the 60's

Recently I stumbled upon a Netflix documentary, Magic Trip. A film directed by Allison Ellwood and Alex Gibney about Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady and the Mery Pranksters, Magic Trip was released in 2011 by Magnolia Pictures after being shot almost 50 years prior on 16mm film. This documentary grabs your attention as it captures bizarre yet cultivating color footage of a cross-country bus trip that forever changed the United States culture. With figures such as Ken Kesey an American author best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and a crew of fired up explorers known as the "Merry Band of Pranksters" this film is one of hell of a ride into the 60's. As the bus "Further" is packed full of wild young adults experimenting with hallucinogens and other such drugs this footage discovers a closer look at piece of American history known as the "hippie" era. Along with the crazy characters seen in the documentary the whole crew does a magnificent job documenting the trip from a point of a view perspective. Altogether this film is a must see that will take you deep into the 60's culture.



Foreign Accents on Television or FIlm

Recently I began watching the first season of the new steamy series, Mistresses. This television drama was originally produced in Britain in 2008 and created by S.J. Clarkson, Lowri Grain, and Rachel Anthony. This dramatic show began with an astonishing and super emotional first episode that automatically keeps you yearning for more. In my opinion, besides the plot, the British and Irish accents of the four main characters really grasp American viewers. From the first scene to the last, the seductive voices and pronunciations of their words immediately drew me to the screen. Like everyone in the industry says, a show or film is nothing without sound, but with the sound of these characters, the show is bound to become a hit! This show was remade in the U.S, but was not as nearly as popular as the U.K version. This was most likely due to the lack of edginess and sex appeal that the British characters brought to the screen. I think it is safe to say that our generation and our modern culture purely enjoys the presence of foreign culture and accents in our television shows or films alike.

My favorite skate video, minus the skating.

A huge passion of mine is downhill skateboarding. Basically you get on a plank of wood with four wheels attached and ride down the biggest hills you can find. Its exhilarating, amusing, and extremely dangerous. Multiple videos of various skaters are released daily, however, this one has always stood out to me. Being a TV/R major, and a skater, I always find myself critiquing videos from two aspects. The skating in this video is not my favorite, however the cinematography leaves little to be desired. The use of color in this video stands out to me the most. I think it really captures the feel of skating while playing perfectly into the mood of the song. Most skate videos also are only produced by 1 or 2 people, usually a videographer and an editor, and sometimes they're the same person. It is evident the amount of work and planning Caliber Truck Co. put into this video. There are five people credited with the production of this video, which may not seem like a lot, but five is large for this type of video. I could go on forever about the perfect use of various angles, slow motion, and b-roll, but you should see for yourself. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sony FS-100/ Creative Video

Looking back at the old blog posts I saw a lot of movies being reviewed, I'm going to change things up a bit. In the era we are in online videos and media are becoming more and more popular. In most peoples life they watch some sort of media throughout their day, whether it is a viral video on youtube or a professional short film on Vimeo. I will be posting a few videos for you all to look at some pertaining to class others that are just really cool to analyze from a cinematographers standpoint.

The first video is a review of the Sony NEX FS100 which we will be using in class. I figured I would learn a little bit more about this camera and it's set up so I searched youtube and found this review by ProMotion. The video is done in a professional manner and is a nice beginner overview of some of the features this camera has.

Sony NEX FS100 Overview by Pro Motion

The next video is B-Roll filmed on the Sony NEX FS100. This video really got me excited. The quality of the camera is beautiful, and compared to the camera I used last year ,which is the JVC HM100, it is a huge step up. I plan to take out a camera this weekend and make a similar video and hopefully edit it with Adobe Premiere.

Pacific City Dory Fleet | Sony FS100

The last video is something I found this past summer when I was extremely bored and was on StumbleUpon. I personally think this video is amazing. I ski and I love extreme sports, I really enjoy watching skiing videos and things of that genre. This film shows four mountain bikers riding some hardcore trails, but more importantly the shots the camera man got really make you wonder how they did that. I really enjoyed the editing and content and I hope you take something away from it.

Mountain Biking Madness

I hope you all enjoyed my first post and I look forward to reading all of yours.