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brianmichaelbendis:

Brian…hi. i am a 41 year old ne’er-do-well. since i was a teen, i dreamed of drawing comics. i learned that my skill was not right and i willingly let that go but that yielding gave way for a desire to write comics. i lack schooling and confidence. i know you advise people to “just write” yet…

This is one of the most honest and inspiring things I’ve ever read. Brian Michael Bendis is one of my favorite comic book writers but this applies for all things in life.

City Lights - Speechless Blogathon

               The first silent film I ever saw was “The Artist” (2011). For someone who loves movies so much, that sounds strange, but I’ve also never really known where to start with the older works. The Artist gave me an idea of how the films of that era were made and did generate a curiosity for them I’d never had previously.

                When I saw that Eternity of Dream was inviting bloggers to pick a silent film to blog about, I had to participate. After a few emails, I agreed to take a chance with Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights,” recommended by Lesya, the host of this project. It’s difficult to find the right words to describe a work that uses none.

               

               I have to admit that I was excited about finally seeing Charlie Chaplin, one of the legends of film; but also, afraid that I might be bored by a silent production. Even though I loved The Artist, it was a contemporary homage in the style of silent films; an excellent reproduction but not the same. It was too smooth and polished to give me the authentic experience of how films were shot and edited at the time.

                As soon as City Lights started, I was captivated. The credits present a small cast of nameless characters, described by specific traits. We have The Tramp (Chaplin), a blind flower girl, a rich man, his butler and a prizefighter.

                Today’s films seem so overloaded, (Ocean’s trilogy, Expendables, Avengers) just having a smaller group to focus on was a nice change. Replacing character names with roles was an interesting tactic.

                The Tramp prevents a rich man from killing himself and becomes his drinking buddy. They have a great time and he invites the Tramp into his home to stay. The next day, the sober millionaire doesn’t recognize his new friend, and has his butler kick him out. This continues in a loop and becomes the basis of the men’s friendship.

                 After getting the boot, the Tramp runs into a blind flower girl, who lives with her grandmother. He learns that an operation can restore her sight and makes it his mission to help her.

                 Watching this as my first silent film (and first Chaplin) has altered my perception of what filmmaking was and what it can be. Chaplin starred, directed, wrote and composed the score of the film. Every vital element to the experience being heartfelt and entertaining was in his hands and he did an amazing job.

                  Chaplin’s Tramp character is iconic and it’s easy to understand when he first appears; he’s a living cartoon. He’s made of animated movements, expressive faces, ridiculous eyebrows, a trademark mustache and slapstick comedy all in one package. The subtle traits that define the Tramp are a pleasure to watch. His penguin-like waddle is comedic yet classy and he gracefully twirls his cane around, the way Fred Astaire would later dance with an umbrella. He makes a prop an extension of himself, so much, that I can’t think of him without it.

                  Even though silent films have occasional text on screen, for dialogue, City Lights feels like it didn’t need much. The passing of time was the only instance when I really needed to read. Every actor in this film conveyed so much physically, I never felt confused or even missed hearing dialogue. There was an interesting Charlie Brown style effect that mimicked throat noises when anyone spoke.

                  I can’t say enough about how amazed I was by Chaplin’s skills to do so much, so well. This felt like watching a theatrical play that was filmed with a camera. There was a great sense of fluid movement and the score seems to come from an orchestra pit.

                  I’m now a Chaplin fan and have a new appreciation for silent films. Thanks to Lesya for suggesting this to me. I would never have had this experience otherwise.

A Dark Night

Editor’s Note: I wrote this the day after the Aurora shootings. It’s been over a week but I wanted to share my thoughts and remember the victims of this horrible incident.

We’ve heard this story before. A family’s night at the theater is destroyed by a stranger’s bullets. Until recently, this was only the tale of comic book character, Bruce Wayne. After Bruce sees his parents shot before him, he vows to fight crime and protect the innocent. He does so without guns, becoming Batman; the protector of Gotham City.

It’s both sad and strange that in Colorado, a gunman would attack a crowd of people in a movie theater, at the premiere of the latest Batman film.

It’s been barely 24 hours since I was sitting in a theater with some friends, giddy over a film, that it seems I’ve waited my whole life to see. And the people in that theater in Aurora, Colorado were all just like me.

They were movie fans. Comic books fans. They wanted to see something so bad; they made plans for a special showing, like many of us did. They were invested in a story, a fantasy, and a break from the real world. They, in a way, were family to the rest of us.

Just like Bruce, we all lost family in a night of a tragedy. Even though the horrors in Gotham are fictitious, this was very real.

Many people are searching for answers, as often happens in any tragic scenario. Since the shooter referred to himself as “The Joker,” some point fingers at the influence of the Batman films and character.

I personally think we may never know the motivation behind something so disturbing. Pop culture is an easy scapegoat but may not be the right one. This guy may have done something like this anyway.

When a similar incident happened in Colorado at Columbine, we quickly heard how video games, Eminem and Marilyn Manson were all to blame.  We really have no way of knowing but I think that’s not the answer. I’ve personally seen a fare share of violence in all forms of media but never had an impulse to reproduce it. I can distinguish reality from fantasy, and use fantasy to escape the pains of the real world, but remain present in it.

The scariest thing to me is that this is our world. In any superhero story, the hero usually swoops in and saves everyone from harm. Even in the comic book world, you can’t predict someone’s actions. Batman, were he real, could never have stopped this crime. The Bat-signal would have been a response, not a warning.

We live in a time where superheroes are more popular than ever. With horrible things like this happening, it’s no surprise that we want to briefly escape to a place where someone can protect us. How do we respond when the real world crashes in on us while we’re trying to escape?

Like Bruce, we feel afraid, vulnerable and angered. I returned to the theater for another viewing with friends and there was a silent tension when a light came on in the projection booth for a few minutes. None of us said a word, but the tense backward glances said it all. Our trips to the movies, once a safe haven, had literally changed overnight.

I can’t pretend to understand why this guy shot anyone but I think deep down, he was scared. Like the rest of us, like young, orphaned Bruce, he was deeply afraid of something. He had to be because he chose a coward’s path to deal with his issues.

These are the types of events that create heroes in the comics. In the real world, they’re reminders of how short and precious life is. The most heroic thing we can do is enjoy life. Something that few people are brave enough to do.

Bedtime

For the past few weeks, I’ve gone to sleep with over 20 different people. It’s crazy but now I can’t sleep without them. I don’t mean just one, but all of them have to be there.

We have an arrangement. I shuffle them all and enjoy their company until I go to sleep. In the morning, I sometimes modify the list, but every night I sleep like a baby.

It’s a diverse selection too, spanning decades and different races, backgrounds and styles. I’m quite proud of it.

Lately, I’ve tried to be careful not to wake my roommate. It’s much better when they’re quiet anyway, since I have to get up for work in the morning. I really think you should try some of them out. It could do wonders for you.

If you like something a little older, I’d suggest Doris, Al, Ella, Marvin and especially, Tony. He’s over 80 but he’s got skills! For something more recent, Jared and his friends are great. Also, Billy’s group, Amos, and even Tom Cruise can be a pleasant surprise. Brandon and the guys from Cali are a must and Norah does it for me every time.

I can’t get over the performance from guys in the 80s, who only take up one spot. They don’t really Crowd much. Michael does a great job, with no words, just moving those fingers along the keys. And Sade is a must.

There you have it. My “sleepy time” playlist. What did you think I was talking about? Well, are you gonna show me yours or what?

Rock of Ages Review

                Music and movies are two of my favorite passions, so naturally, a musical film always grabs my attention. Growing up in the 80s, I have close ties to the music of that decade, so “Rock of Ages” seemed intriguing.  

                The plot of Rock of Ages is not only simple, but filled with clichés. We have a young girl (Julianne Hough) from a small town, who moves to L.A. to become a singer, with no money. She takes a job in a club,(The Bourbon; a nice nod to L.A.’s famous Whiskey)on the verge of going out of business.  A politician and wife (Bryan Cranston & Catherine Zeta-Jones) wage war, on “the evils of rock music,” and attempt to shut The Bourbon down. And, an alcoholic, out of control star (Tom Cruise) faces a fizzling career, unless he finds another way to grab his audience. We’ve seen these things before but in the musical presentation, they’re actually a bit more entertaining.

                Rock of Ages has a very, light-hearted comedic feel, and some of the cast fit in pretty well. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand feel like an older version of a Wayne’s World duo. They run The Bourbon rock club and are a great comedic treat. Bryan Cranston, as the mayoral candidate, was also a pleasant surprise.  The rest of the cast just feels strange. Paul Giamatti’s sleazy, music agent was another performance we’ve seen many times. Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s power hungry wife, seemed more like a stage performance, with exaggerated expressions and dialogue delivery. Then, there’s Tom Cruise, the rockstar, Stacee Jaxx. Only, he wasn’t a rockstar.

I’ve seen most of Tom Cruises’ work and have never doubted his abilities. Tom Cruise can be a spy (Mission Impossible series), race car driver (Days of Thunder), figher pilot (Top Gun), and even a crazed film producer with a fat ass (Tropic Thunder). Cruise is known for his positive attitude and belief that he can do anything, but he can not be a rock star and that’s what Rock of Ages needs.

Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) is the hottest alcohol guzzling, groupie banging, album selling, lead singer on the planet. Sadly, every scene felt like watching Tom Cruise at a costume party, dressed as Bret Michaels. I never believed that he was a rocker, but an actor workshopping a role. In scenes that seemed so fun, such as having women hang over him, performing on stage and drinking like a maniac, Cruise seemed robotic. I’ve never seen a rockstar lack so much swagger. He looked like he walked onto stage by mistake and couldn’t wait to get back home. I wonder if an actual rock singer would have been a better fit.

Another strange thing were the costumes. After seeing them for a few minutes thought, I wanted to rip the wigs off everyone’s heads. They started to look like they were in an SNL skit. Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and more than anyone, Tom Cruise, looked plain ridiculous. I’m hoping this was intended for comedic purposes, but it really distracted me.

Rock of Ages does have one area where the filmmakers excelled. The soundtrack. The music is more than a mixtape of covers, but faithful recreations of classic 80s rock songs. It sounds like they bought the artists original music tracks and had the cast sing over them, which they did very well. Tom Cruise’s first performance seemed a little high-pitched, but by the end of the film, I had to have the soundtrack. In a film that is a musical at heart, Rock of Ages got this right, which was not an easy feat. I found myself singing along in the theater several times to tracks from Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Quiet Riot.

Rock of Ages is worth seeing if you’re a fan of light-hearted musicals or want to relive the hair metal era of the 80s. The musical numbers are done with respect and the acting is average, with a few standouts. Ultimately, Rock of Ages will find more life on the Billboard charts than in the theater box office.

               

A Week of Dispensing Justice (with a Kid)

I remember a phone call with my buddy Boxxx that led to an hour-long discussion. We spoke of our friends that had recently become police officers and we imagined what an over-the-top, Hollywood version of them would be like. We created one-liners, recurring gimmicks, slow-motion, Michael Bay influenced action scenes, with spinning cameras and diving over things. We were in tears assigning our friends their fictional counterparts, from informants to drug dealers, in a cop show that we wanted to create.

That idea sat for a few years, only to be referenced in our discussions, as we continued to add on to this world of cartoon crime with our actor friend, Scott. Until I saw a chance to bring it to life recently.

The Kid in the Front Row Screen Writing Program. Kid’s site is dedicated to an appreciation of film, the film making process, writing and cultivating creativity. I don’t remember how I found it, but I’ve been reading it and interacting with him for a few years now. After deciding that I’d never forgive myself if i didn’t try, I had to enter the program. A week filled with work demands seemed to push my energy and dedication to the project back, but I found the time to make it work.

This is only a first draft, not a finished product. I don’t expect to shoot something I wrote in a week, but it got the ball rolling.

I have to thank Kid for this program and accepting me into it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so passionate about writing. I’m now daily overflowing with ideas and things I can’t wait to write. As soon as I’m done with one post, I’m thinking about the next. I have plans to turn this blog into a website and share my reviews, thoughts and anything I think would enhance someone’s day.

Here’s my interview with Kid on the process and a link to the script, “Dispensing Justice.”

Also, here’s a link to Kid’s free e-book “The Artist’s Voice.” I highly suggest you read it if you have any goal you want to accomplish or any project you want to complete. Did I mention IT’S FREE? I can also guarantee the words inside are priceless.

Follow Kid on Twitter

And check out his Facebook page

The other writers’ scripts and interviews can be found on his site too. Tell him I sent you.

Max, thanks for sharing this. I may have to write about meeting my dad. I’ve been avoiding it for a while.

maxscoville:

Father’s day is tomorrow, and for most of my life, it’s been kind of a rough time in terms of Hallmark holidays.

My mom raised me, and my dad had always been out of the picture. Like, completely. We never had any kind of interaction. No phone calls, no weekend trips. I didn’t actually know…

Behind the Scenes of a Film Review

I’ve always enjoyed writing about music and movies, mainly to share my love of them. Recently, one of my favorite film sites invited readers to submit fan reviews for movies they hadn’t seen. I decided to give it a try, at least for the experience, and attempt a different kind of writing.

The movie was “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which explains why a writing staff of mainly males had no interest. As a guy, I’ve never had a problem watching romantic comedies; I just had never seen one in the theater alone.

I thought if I could see this film, get my review in and wow the editors, I was on my way to a new life of free-lance writing. I pictured awards, diamonds and Robin Leach touring my new home. Caviar dreams and free movies! Writers often get assignments they’re not excited for, so, why not step up and take one voluntarily.

After waiting for the perfect time to see the film, when maybe not a soul would see me in it, I headed out to the last showing on a Sunday night. Now, I’d rather watch a movie alone than miss seeing it at all. That feeling went out the window, the minute I sheepishly said these words:

“One for What to Expect…”

It was official now. No turning back. The words seemed to bounce off the walls, projecting to the world what I asked for, even though I thought I was mumbling them. I walked into the lobby, handed my ticket over, and noticed a few people milling around. I quickly darted past them, into my first assignment.

I noticed a total of 10 people, including myself. This wouldn’t be too bad. Then, as if my thoughts cued their entrance, two teenage couples walked in and sat in front of me. Right after, an older couple in their 50s claimed a few seats to the left of me.  Now, I was even more aware that I was a single guy in a date movie. This thing better be funny to distract me! I should win an award for attending under these conditions!

You can read my review to see how the film actually went. I spent so many days worrying about seeing the movie; someone else submitted ahead of me and got their article published. I could see Robin Leach pulling away from my house and my Hollywood Blogger Awards fading away.

So, was it a waste of my time and money? Not at all. I learned quite a bit for the price of that ticket. First, if you want to do something, DO IT! If you wait, you’ll miss your chance. The article that did get published hit so many of the same points, my laziness felt worse than fear of being seen in a “chick-flick.” Second, have no shame. If you’re pursuing something for the love of it, screw what anyone thinks. Third, my review may have helped save a life. Or, some money.  After I put my thoughts out there, I saved a few people from a bland experience. I should still get a Hollywood’s Most Awesome Blogger award. That’s a thing, right?

kimnunley:

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ll understand my obsession with anything Pixar. More specifically, anything related to storytelling from Pixar.

Last year, almost exactly a year ago, I was finally able to step on the glorious grounds of Pixar Animation Studios when I…

Premetheus I - Alien

In 1979, film director Ridley Scott introduced the world to “Alien”; a film that terrified audiences and spawned sequels for three decades. Other directors contributed to the world Scott created and he’s finally returned to the Alien series with “Prometheus,” a prequel. I decided to revisit the Alien films from the beginning, before seeing the latest installment.

Seeing the “Alien Anthology” on Blu-ray (and for the first time in over a decade), made them feel like new. Each film had a distinct mood and some stood the test of time better than others. Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is a horror film and one of the finest I’ve ever seen.

What’s more terrifying than being trapped in a confined area and hunted by something you can’t see? The things that make “Alien” so frightening are similar to the previous year’s horror masterpiece, John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” A seemingly unstoppable, non-human, creature hides in the dark; revealing itself only to kill. One by one, people become victims, until someone finds a way to stop this evil force. Scott’s Ellen Ripley could easily be Carpenter’s Laurie Strode, in space.

Both films are great and to say that Alien is a copy of Halloween would be unfair. The directors both understand the use of simple elements. Both the audience and characters know that Halloween’s Michael Myers is a man in a suit, yet, Alien offers no such comfort. Ridley Scott’s creature is a disturbing presence. We see it slide out of a dark hiding spot, realizing it was camouflaged seconds before, and we know the crew on screen doesn’t stand a chance. It infects its prey, bleeds acid and seems to be driven by the desire to kill and reproduce.

The best thing about the actual Alien is the anticipation of seeing it. The first hour of the movie provides not one glimpse of the horror to come. The pacing is well done, so you get the reveal when the crew does. Moments like this that put the audience into the experience, are yet another reason why Alien still holds up as a horror staple. Today’s filmmakers could learn a lot by showing us less, as Scott does with his nightmare of teeth and blackness.

“Alien” is also the most claustrophobic film I’ve ever seen. When tension is highest, the camera zooms in close to the characters. We’re limited to their field of vision, and also unaware of where the terror will come from next. Ridley Scott works magic with this and some first-person perspective shots literally put us in the film. The last act of this film made me want to get off the ship in a hurry.

This experience is faithfully recreated in the Dead Space video game series, which was clearly inspired by the films. In Dead Space, you’re a worker on a ship that’s been infected with creatures that slaughter the crew. You walk around, mostly in the dark, fighting to escape this hell. The camera stays close and even revisiting previously cleared areas never guarantees safety.

If you haven’t seen “Alien” in a while, or even better, never seen it, now is the time. I can’t recommend the Blu-ray enough. The practical visual effects hold up well, even in today’s CGI heavy releases. There’s a reason why “in space no one can hear you scream.”