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Oscar Spotlight: Editing

The Academy Award for Best Film Editing is very closely correlated to Best Picture. For 33 years, 1981-2013, every Best Picture Winner was nominated for Film Editing. Two thirds of Best Picture winners also win for Editing.

[What broke the mould? In 2014, Birdman won Best Picture but was shut out of the Best Editing nominations. Those went to American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Whiplash; Whiplash won.]

Editing is the invisible art that even editors struggle to describe.

Nebraska editor Kevin Tent: It’s hard to articulate what editors do, but when it’s bad, you’ll know it. When it’s good, you’ll never know.

Gravity co-editor Mark Sanger: The editor needs to provide a canvas that complements all of the other aspects to tie them together. If an audience has engaged deeply enough with a story to nominate it for best picture, then they understand the pages were bound together in the editing.

Any clearer? Basically, what Oscar voters are thinking is:  Are there special challenges that go into it? Multiple story lines? Non-linear? Does it flow well, is the story clear? Is the film visually exceptional? Is the movie long but doesn’t feel it? Directing a movie is telling (showing) a story; editing a movie is how well you can tell it. Sometimes good editing means you don’t notice it at all, it seamless pulls together all the elements of the movie. Other times, it might purposely draw attention to itself: Wolf of Wall Street’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker says “In ‘Wolf,’ we’re doing shocking cutting deliberately, because their world is out of control, and wild.”

Only the principal editor is named on the award. He or she may sit down and do the first edit of a movie by themselves, but the director is almost always sitting beside them for the polish of the film, and their work becomes blurred with judgments about pacing, film language, and martinscorsesethelmaschoonmakerpowellgadves9f5idlmore. Lots of directors have a go-to editor as this person will be their right-hand in making the film complete. They get to know each other very well, and must share a vision for the film, while pushing each other to make the best film possible. Michael Kahn, the most nominated editor is Oscars history, and tied for most wins (3), is a frequent collaborator of Steven Spielberg – they’ve worked together for nearly 40 years. Schoonmaker and Scorsese are also collaborators over several decades. Some of these editor-director ‘marriages’ last longer than the real ones do in Hollywood.

You probably can’t truly judge an editor unless you’ve seen the raw material they had to work with, but there are some things to look out for: is it focused? graceful? do they keep you on the edge of your seat when there’s action? are you riveted during a great performance? does it keep your interest throughout? are you ever confused, or left wondering what’s happening in a scene? do they stay on a particularly good moment for as long as it holds emotionally, or cut away too soon? What’s left out is just as important as what’s kept. And sometimes staying, rather than cutting, is even more powerful. Yup, it’s a lot to think about and certainly would require more than one viewing to really judge. There are only about 220 members of the Editing branch of the Academy, and they’re the ones who pick the nominees. Then everyone gets to vote for who wins.

This year’s nominees:

John Gilbert, for Hacksaw Ridge: Gilbert was previously nominated for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but the Academy likes war movies in terms of editing. The battle scenes have lots of intense editing, and Gilbert agrees that these are what the Academy is responding to: “They’re made up of fragments of images, a lot of it is very short shots and high john-gilbert-1-1000x1482intensity. The idea was to put the audience in amongst it and people really feel it in the battle scenes, a lot of people sort of cover their eyes, there’s a lot of bloodshed and mayhem, and it’s quite sustained.” While the initial work of stringing the film together can be done quickly, perhaps in a week, the real meat comes afterword, when director and editor sit down together to make all the difficult choices. “I worked with Mel Gibson for about 10 weeks on it. I originally thought that 10 weeks was not going to be enough. About half the movie is battle scenes, with a lot of quick-cut action, and a lot of choices due to the amount of footage I had. Mel had been in during the shoot and we went over some sequences in great detail, looking at re-speeding shots, and trimming frames, taking quite a bit of time. There are always key scenes where small changes in performance and timing can be critical and we worked hard on them.” Gilbert is quick to point out that editing is a collaborative process: “The assistants break it down into scenes for me, and I skip through the circled takes to start with, just to have a look at what sort of coverage I’ve got. I like to get an idea in my mind about the shape of the scene, where I’m going to use the wide shots, where I’m going to use the close-ups, and how to best use the coverage I have. I like to find what I think are they key moments in the scene and make a note of any magic I find in the performances. I make a ‘selects’ sequence as I go, which I make in story order, and that becomes the basis for my first edit. It is also useful if the script supervisor has a good relationship with the director and is able to give me insight into what they were thinking, and any moments they loved when shooting.”

Joe Walker, for Arrival: Walker worked with Denis Villeneuve last year on Sicario and again this year on Blade Runner 2049, so they’re forming quite a successful partnership. He was previously nominated for his work on 12 Years A Slave. As Villeneuve and Walker wrapped up Sicario, Villeneuve passed him the script for Arrival, and he was immediately drawn to it for its “strong female lead. It was educated and it was grown-up, and I was fascinated by the joe-walker-800x600application of my craft to it, in so far as it’s right in the middle of what I think is our super power as editors, which is the manipulation of time.” Arrival is told with little glimpses of memory, other times, other places. How do you sew that all together? “Many things were just grabbed moments that were sort of very emotive and beautiful, a hand touching a baby’s hand in a cart, or an out-of-focus shot of a horse in a stable. They could have gone anywhere. Trying to build that into the narrative and marble this narrative through with these little glimpses of a memory, if you like.” Arrival doesn’t have a strictly linear approach, nor is it classically circular or backward or necessarily out of chronological order. It simply does not exist within our perception of time and order. It’s interwoven, with all moments touching each other, if you can think of time reaching around on itself. “To really be moved by the ending, we felt we had to adjust that. We had to make sure that the wall that we built at the beginning wasn’t so solid that we couldn’t kick it down, but also we had to choose a real moment where people will definitely get it. That’s right at the heart of editing and narrative storytelling, working out when you’re just ahead of the audience, or in parallel with the audience, and never behind. We always wanted to compliment the audience’s intelligence so that they could figure it out themselves.”

Jake Roberts, for Hell or High Water: Jake “NOT the Snake” Roberts has worked on some pretty great films, including Starred Up, Brooklyn, and Trespass Against Us, but this is his first Academy Award nomination. He was a film buff grown up and expected to be a “film maker” img_8854but fell into editing rather accidentally, and fell in love with it quite whole heartedly. “The alchemy that occurred when you juxtaposed certain images or performances and added music or sound effects was ‘filmmaking’ to me in the most literal sense. I’ve been editing ever since.” On the particular challenges of making a neo-Western like Hell or High Water: “The challenges were mostly about tone and pace. It’s a serious film but has plenty of laughs in it so we had to be careful not to let it get too heavy or too silly and walk a line between it’s extremes. Likewise we wanted the film to be languid in places and for the audience to be able to hear the space and the silences but equally for it to play plausibly as a mainstream thriller.” How does he evaluate editing? “Never stop asking questions of the material. What do I (as the audience) want to see next? What information, be it visual or expositional, do I need to follow the story? What don’t I need? What is repetitive? Why don’t I like that character as much as I should? Why does it feel slow here?”

Tom Cross, for La La Land: He’s only been the lead editor on films since 2010 but he’s already got one Academy Award under his belt, for – you guessed it – Whiplash. How does Cross describe his collaborator, director Damien Chazelle? “Very, very prepared. In that way, it really helps me as an editor to put the movie into the first cut. The other thing that is so great about Damien, as a director, is that he is a true believer in what film editing can do. He gets very excited about solving problems, whether they be story problems or a character problems. I shouldn’t really say “problems,” but issues. He gets very excited about solving certain issues lr-tomcross_whiplashthrough editing. To his credit, he’s a brilliant writer and a visionary director, but he also is not afraid to change something in his script, whether it be dialogue or action, in order to fit what the film has to be.” How does Whiplash compare to La La Land? “In the case of Whiplash, the directive was to tell a story at a break neck pace, and with a certain amount of precision. As if the character of Fletcher was editing the movie itself. In the case of La La Land, Damien had similar directives for the editing. He had different styles that he wanted to do scenes. He used certain romantic scenes that would play out at a slower pace, and maybe less cuts. He knew that in order for that to really work and have the right emotional impact, he would have to offset that in other scenes. Other scenes have quick cutting, or fast cutting, or are told with dissolve, or other optical techniques. I think that something that excites me about Damien’s work is that he really looks at how editing can help tell the story. He’s a real believer in varying the pace and varying the speed of the cuts in order to accentuate moments when he wants to have something play slower and more romantically.” Lots of the movie relies on old Hollywood techniques to help make the film feel more dream-like, sweeping camera movements and dissolving scenes. In that way, the editing too is a throw-back. Some scenes that are meant to be more ‘modern’ (like the concert footage with John Legend) feature a lot of cutting, but others, such as when Mia and Seb dance in the observatory, are a single, brave take. And for all La La Land’s big, showy, numbers, there are also quiet scenes that convey a lot of emotion. “There were items where the editing would have to take a back seat and be very invisible. That could be seen in the dinner scene where they break up. It was directed to me as an editor to use these four shot units—we had a medium shot of Sebastian, a medium of Mia, a close of Mia, and a close of Sebastian. That’s all you have.”

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon for Moonlight: If Sanders and McMillon win, they’ll make history. moonlight-editorsActually, they already have; McMillon is the first African American woman to be nominated as an editor. She’d obviously also be the first to win! Sanders and McMillon divided the job between the two of them, with Sanders primarily focused on the first two segments and McMillon working on the third. The third, of course, was the toughie, and McMillon had to convince writer-director Barry Jenkins to move substantial pieces around in order to maximize and earn emotional involvement. Once he was on board “we found a place for everything, it became organic.” “Barry’s really focused on what life feels like,” Sanders said, specifying cutaways of a hand sifting through sand, or Naomie Harris moving in slow motion through the yard. Sanders and McMillon tinkered with sound design, and chose abrupt cuts to black, but kept a respect for the elegant camera work. “When you get such beautiful footage, you have to treat it like another performance,” Sanders said. He also explains the particular challenge of working for college pal Jenkins: “maintaining Barry’s filmmaking voice, which was observational and ponderous, and always wanting to preserve that, but still needing to keep things moving.”

 

So does that make things clearer, or muddy the waters? And who’s your pick for Oscar?

 

 

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1976 in Film (Happy 40th Sean)

Sean and I are cruising around the Hawaiian islands to celebrate his milestone birthday, which is why you’ll find a common theme in the movie reviews here  for the next week and a half.

1976 was a noteworthy year in film. Rocky was the highest grossing movie, and it won the Oscar – for best picture AND best director (John G. Avildsen). It was p5214_p_v8_aaNetwork though that all but cleaned up in the acting categories – Peter Finch for best actor (he was the first actor to win posthumously); Faye Dunaway for best actress, and Beatrice Straight for best supporting actress. The fly in their soup was Jason Robards for All the President’s Men – poor Ned Beatty was shut out. In an upset, Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) won best original song over Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky soundtrack but I don’t need to tell you which has had the more lasting impact culturally.

George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1976, perhaps sensing that little Sean would definitely need to grow up playing light sabers. In a stroke of genius, Lucas waived the half-million-dollar director’s fee in order to maintain complete ownership on merchandising and sequels, which means that today he’s a mother fucking billionaire.

Carrie came out in 1976. So did Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film taxi-driver-movie-1976starring Bruce Dern. And Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster. And Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And To Fly!, a documentary about the history of flight produced by the National Air and Space Museum that was the second-highest grossing film the of the year and was the highest grossing documentary of all time until Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.

Kelly Macdonald, voice of Merida, the heroine from Disney’s Brave, known for roles in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire was born in 1976 (the bitch. She’s married to my favourite bassist ever, Dougie Payne). So was fellow redhead Isla Fisher.

Rashida Jones turned 40 this year too. She’s currently working on the script to Toy Story 4. Reese Witherspoon turned 40. David Oyelowo turned 40. Cillian 3t0kxqbttyjlMurphy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Audrey Tautou. Colin Farrell. Happy 40th to all.

Ryan Reynolds has been making 40 look good for nearly 2 months now, paving the way for the likes of Sean to do the same.

Albert Brooks made his film debut in 1976 in a little movie called Taxi Driver. Jessica Lange made hers in King Kong and Brooke Shields first appeared in Alice, Sweet Alice.

1976 was kind of cool outside of film too: the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The first commercial Concorde flight took off. Innsbruck, Austria hosted with Winter Olympics (and Montreal the Summer). The Toronto Blue Jays were ramones-ramones1born. Apple was founded by a couple of punks you might have heard of, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Ramones released their first album and the Sex Pistols play their first shows, but it’s (Peter) Frampton Comes Alive! that tops the charts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals – still considered the greatest game of the NBA’s first 50 years. The CN tower, then the world’s tallest free-standing structure on land, opened to the public. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Megamouth sharks are discovered off Oahu, Hawaii 4c33c725f6feaf2ce254254f6f1201fc(nothing to be concerned about Sean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence you’re both turning 40 in the same place). Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt. California repealed their sodomy law. Peyton Manning was born. And Ronaldo. And Mark Duplass, just a day after Sean. And as much as I love me some Duplass, Sean is still my favourite thing from 1976, and I’m so glad I get to spend the day looking for megamouth sharks on a submarine ride on the ocean’s floor with him.

 

 

 

 

The Vegas Chronicles: Casino

The Assholes are in sunny Las Vegas this week, probably bleeding money across several casino floors right this very moment, unless you’re reading in the dead of night, in which case we’re slapping strippers’ asses. We’re also taking the opportunity to talk about some of our favourite movies set in Las Vegas, so of course we’d end up talking about Casino.

The Bellagio welcomed the cast and crew of Ocean’s 11 with open arms. Caesars Palace was just as accommodating with The Hangover. The Riviera, however, gave no such love to casino1Marty Scorsese. Those ungrateful buggers forced the crew to film only between the witching hours of 1 and 4 am, so as not to disturb the gamblers. They allowed not disruption to the business side of things but weren’t self-conscious about advertising with a large banner declaring “Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone & Joe Pesci Filming the New Movie ‘Casino’ Inside!” I would call it shameless, except this is Vegas we’re talking about. I’m pretty sure you leave your shame at home.

The movie is said to be based on a true story, but it’s set inside a fictional casino called Tangiers. The nut’s not hard to crack, though. This is the history of the Stardust casino. It’s a story fairly well-documented, but Scorsese also drops some hints in the soundtrack. The exterior of the casino was filmed in front of the Landmark hotel, which was scheduled for implosion shortly thereafter, which further added to the mystique. Scorsese went out of his way to film exclusively in the Las Vegas valley, and even managed to shoot driving down historic Freemont Street, which is no longer open to automobile traffic.

The film was informed by tonnes of insiders, but also featured real Vegas characters in the cast. Vegas comedian Don Rickles played the Tangiers casino manager in a largely non-comedic role. The guy who played a jewelry store owner who just got robbed is a real Vegas jeweler. Oscar Goodman, the attorney, is a real-life lawyer who defended many Vegas mobsters. Goodman of course went on to be elected mayor of Las Vegas in 1999. And careful viewers will note that the blackjack dealer is the very same blackjack dealer from article-2611806-1D4E026400000578-395_634x794Rain Man, and can also be seen dealing cards to Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation.

Matt’s a decent blackjack player, and Sean’s pretty good at keeping Matt’s head out of a vise, but when I’ve got money to blow, I’m not at a craps table, I’m at Hermes. Check in with us on Twitter (@assholemovies) so you can see what we’re up to, and if I’ve yet to find a 45-pound gold and white beaded gown a la Sharon Stone.

And that’s that.

 

 

The Screening Room

You may have heard that Sean Parker is hoping to get his latest venture, Screening Room, into your living room sometime soon. What is it? It’s a little black box that you’d have to purchase for, say, $150, and that box would enable you to spend yet more money! Sound good?

For about $50, you’d get to watch a new movie in your home on the day it’s released in theatres. No more waiting for months for it to be out “on video”. Throw a few bucks at the problem, and there you are, eating snacks you bought for a reasonable price at the grocery store, pressing pause to pee, with all the elbow room you can finscreeningroomagle from your spouse and your dogs, and even a faux-fur throw to keep you cozy on the couch. You don’t even have to wear pants!* (presumably – no guarantee)

But don’t worry: if you love the experience of sitting in a theatre with a few hundred gassy strangers, that option is still open to you, because cinemas aren’t going anywhere. So either way, you’re covered.

Unless James Cameron has a say, and since he believes he does, he’s already said it. Cameron, along with his producing partner Jon Landau, have said screeningroom3they’re “committed to the sanctity of the in-theatre experience” which sounds a little creepy seeing how we’re talking about a dark room with sticky floors and seating that I’m afraid might have lice. “We don’t understand why the industry would want to provide audiences an incentive to skip the best form to experience the art that we work so hard to create.”

You seriously don’t understand it? You don’t understand that $50, while pricey, is still a bargain compared to an average night out at the movies? That inflated prices are keeping people away from your precious “art” and that with vangoghthe rise in quality of home theatres, your sacred blue people will view just as well at home, and more comfortably. I’m sure Van Gogh isn’t thrilled that his most famous paintings are reproduced on coffee mugs, but do you hear him complaining? No. Because not everyone can afford a trip to New York City to the Museum of Modern Art, where The Starry Night is currently displayed (price of admission: $25). So now the masses can enjoy works of Van Gogh just about everywhere – on shower curtains, on umbrellas, on postcards, and Google. If Van Gogh can be a big boy about it, James Cameron, so can you.

Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams, and Peter Jackson all support the technology, becoming stakeholders in the company. So this is causing quite a rift in the film community, a real Hollywood civil war, if you will. And what gives – don’t Spielberg and Abrams direct the same kind of blockbuster movies that demand big screens?

Sure they do. And tent pole movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens will continue to see lots of people swarming to cinemas to have their bones rattled and their eyeballs go dry. But smaller movies struggle to get any theatre release at all. Often I’ll mention a movie I think is great and people write “sounds good, but that will never come to my small town!” and that’s true – if your small town has a 6-theatre Cineplex, chances are, 4 of those screens are playing the super hero movie, one is playing an animated film for families, and then you have just 1 screen left to divide up between all the worthy films.

M. Night Shyamalan, who nobody asked but still likes to pretend he’s relevant in the world of movies, came down decidedly against the startup. “I am completely against the Screening Room. Film is one of our last communal art forms. There are other ways to experience art on your phone and laptop. But screeningroom2cinema is a group of strangers sharing stories and it belongs in a theater. Once filmmakers and theater owners open the door to this idea, there is no going back. The movie going experience is something to fight for! Watching a movie by yourself & watching a movie in a theater are two very different experiences. Film is meant to bring people together.”

The worst thing is, I don’t even really disagree with him. That’s why I still go to movies, like all the frickin time. But “bring people together?” C’mon, man, let’s be real, unless by “bring people together” you mean communally shushing someone, because how dare some random movie goer talk over an important plot point of Transformers? I’ve been to movies that are made funnier because the whole audience is laughing together. I’ve been to movies screeningroom1where the audience spontaneously burst into applause at the end because we were so moved. But I’ve been to too many movies where I’m disturbed by someone’s candy wrappers, hacking coughs, crying kids, deep abiding need to state obvious, observable facts, and an increasing inability to sit for 90 minutes without checking their goddamned phones. Is that part of your “art”, M. Night?

Movie attendance is down, way down, and all theatre owners can think to do is keep jacking up prices without offering a more pleasant experience. The people are already downloading the movies illegally just to avoid overpaying for a subpar experience – why not offer a legal service that will fill the need? Peter Jackson feels that while he opposed other similar ventures, he’s behind screeningroom4Screening Room because it doesn’t “cannibalize” theatres – “Screening Room is very carefully designed to capture an audience that does not currently go to the cinema.” And that’s a pretty big audience. Because movie watchers aren’t just people who prefer theatres or not, they’re also made up of people who don’t have a choice. I missed a bunch of movies when I had back surgery and was attached to too many machines to travel. I still miss them intermittently (and always have, and always will) when my back is acting up and I don’t want to risk those shitty chairs. Parents with young kids who can’t get a babysitter will rejoice. Canadians who get snowed in or iced out will benefit. And people who are immobile, and families that deal with all kinds of physical and mental health problems who just aren’t able to tolerate a public theatre. Shouldn’t they have a venue for great “art” too?

To recap:

Pro Screening Room:                                            Anti Screening Room:

Steven Spielberg                                                      Chris Nolan

JJ Abrams                                                                    M. Night Shyamalan

Martin Scoresese                                                      James Cameron

Brian Grazer                                                              Brett Ratner

Peter Jackson                                                             Jon Landau

Ron Howard

Frank Marshall

Whose side are you on?

 

 

Cop Movies!

Sean

TMPThere’s nothing like cop week to get the dirty taste of dance movies out of your mouth! Thanks Wandering Through the Shelves for sponsoring yet another thoughtful Thursday theme, and for giving me the perfect excuse for subjecting my wife to all the explodey movies she normally turns her cute little nose up at.
badboys

Bad Boys: Mike & Marcus (Will Smith & Martin Lawrence) are two “loose cannon” cops, not to mention best friends, who spend so much time together they sound like an old married couple – the kind constantly threatening to get a divorce. But damn if they don’t pull together in times of trouble! Legend has it that this script was originally intended for Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey – now just imagine that movie for a minute, if you will.

heatHeat: Bank robbers start to feel “the heat” from cops when their latest robbery turns out to be a little sloppy. Lieutenant Al Pacino is on to them but Robert De Niro needs one last heist before he can retire (isn’t that always the way?). Then of course De Niro makes his fatal mistake – he goes against the golden rule ‘Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner.’ Die-Hard-quotes-8

Die Hard: It’s Die Hard, what else do you have to say? It’s Christmas AND he’s off duty (plus he’s NYPD visiting LA), but John McClane (Bruce Willis) is still a bad-ass motherfucker who will single-handedly END YOU.

Jay

I watched a lot of cop movies this week and it turns out that a lot of my favourite jams just happen to have cops in them. Actually, if you look hard enough, probably there’s a cop or two in nearly every movie. There were cops in dance movie Billy Elliot, and cops in teen comedy Superbad, and more cops than you can shake a stick at in the black and white movies we watched a while back. They’re everywhere, even in outer space, but above all, they’re immediately below 🙂
Fargo Marge Gunderson is probably my favourite cop-hero of all time. She doesn’t do the ass-slide over the hoods of cars, she doesn’t use karate to subdue perps twice her size, and she doesn’t cause millions of dollars in damage as she careens her car wildly through populated city fargostreets. She’s just a quiet woman getting er done – you know, kind of like a real cop would do. Frances McDormand is crazy-talented, and I love watching her waddle through this movie with her quaint sense of humour, her helmet hair, the meals she shares with her husband. She doesn’t thump her chest or swing her dick around but she’s persistent and dogged and we enjoy watching her unravel this case – poor used car salesman Jerry (William H. Macy); he never really stood a chance against such a humbly formidable opponent.

The Departed This one is kind of on the other end of the spectrum, isn’t it? Two young cops join the force – one, Matt Damon, has a pristine record but works as a mole for mob boss Jack Nicholson. The other, Leonardo DiCaprio, comes from a rough background which helps him go deep under cover, infiltrating the gang, and feeding information back to the only two cops who thedepartedknow he’s actually a good guy – Martin Sheen and Mark Whalberg. What ends up happening is that these two chase each other, relentlessly trying to uncover the mole while staying hidden themselves. It’s tense, degrading work, and losing means you pay with your life. Honestly, my favourite cop is probably the one played by Mark Whalberg. He just goes so off the hook, unpredictable, balls to the wall, you have to admire it. The ending leads me to believe that he’s not clean. But is he a disgruntled ex-cop gone rogue or is he somebody’s rat? Either way, “If a gun is pointed at you, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or a criminal.”

21 Jump Street Aaaaaand switching gears again, one of my favourite cop buddy movies of recent years, and probably ever (although, for the record, I also super love Hot Fuzz, and if Matt hadn’t jumped on it, I’d have tried my best to beat Sean to it).  This movie is self-referential and 21jumpstreetmocks the very genre it masters, but it’s never a mere homage. It’s smarter than a spoof, much like Hot Fuzz I suppose, and isn’t afraid to pay respect to its roots, embracing them even, and making them part of the fun. There’s never a moment when the film stops winking at us, trading in the cop movie clichés for cops in bike shorts doing slow-speed chases through grass, having cases thrown out on sad technicalities (“You have the right to remain an attorney.” – “Well, you DO have the right to be an attorney if you want to.”), bullet-riddled tankers that somehow fail to explode. I didn’t like Channing Tatum before this, and I still only like him in this (and I believe that includes the sequel) but for some reason the chemistry between he and Jonah Hill just really works.

Matt

As long as I can rembmer, I wanted to be a cop. I used to play cops and robbers in the schoolyard- usually with people who didn’t even know they were playing. When I was about to 12 I had to rethink my career goals when I realized that my eyesight wasn’t nearly good enough and would never be able to drive a car or see who I’m shooting at but the dream was fun while it lasted. I didn’t know much about police work back then but I did watch a lot of cop movies. Thanks to Wandering Through the Shelves for giving me an excuse to revisit them this week.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)- In the Heat of the Night is nearly 50 years old but its oepning scenes couldn’t be timelier. There’s been a murder in Sparta, Mississippi and the police go out and arrest the first black man they see. Of course, the suspect turns out to be an off-duty Philadelphia homicide detective who they call Mr. Tibbs. If Sidney Poitier and Rod Stieger’s characters ever managed to become buddies, this wouIn the Heat of the Nightld have been a contender for the best cop buddy movie of all time. Instead, What we get instead is much more interesting- a classic that manages to say a lot about race relations in the deep South in a time where you had to pretty careful what you said about race in the deep South. Best of all, it never forgets to deliver an engaging murder mystery

Hot FuzzHot Fuzz (2007)– According to TV ads, Hot Fuzz is “from the guys who have watched every action movie ever made”. Satire works best when a writer understands its subject so Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were smart enough to take aim at a genre that they clearly knew well- and loved! Pegg plays a big city cop witha love of police work who is paired with a smalltown cop with a love of police movies (espeically Bad Boys 2). You can feel the love for buddy movies in almost every scene as Wright does his best to recreate the look and feel of a mainstream action movie and filling it with unexpected laugh-out loud moments throughout. To me, this is still pegg and Wrse7enight’s funniest movie.

Se7en (1995– Between Sean and I, we have three picks from 1995s- a year that seems to have been a golden age for cop movies. Unlike most movies about serial killers, the cops (played of course by Morgan Freeman and brad Pitt)- not the killings- are the focus. Freeman, days away from retirement, has lost faith in humanity long before John Doe’s first killing and Pitton his first week on the job, still believes he can make a difference. Over the course of one week and seven brutal killings, both men will have to examine their beliefs. Se7en also has the distinction of being the first film in director David Fincher’s twenty-year winning streak. The final “What’s in the box?” scene is so powerful that even Pitt’s overacting couldn’t derail it.

Black and white films since 1970

TMPTime for more Thursday Movie Picks! All the Assholes have assembled Avengers-style to talk about their favourite black and white films made post-1970

Luc

Full disclosure. I hate black and white movies, especially if they were shot past 1917 when Technicolor was invented. Why would anyone want to even go that route? I find it distracting and somewhat pretentious (The Artist comes to mind), I recognize that this is my own personal bias and you may completely disagree with me. That’s fine. That being said, if I was forced to pick some of my favorites, I would have to start with Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

A true cult classic that any obsessive movie goer has surely seen more than once. There’s so clerks1many things to like about this movie! It was shot in black in white in order to save money. This might be the only acceptable reason to shoot in black & white. It’s much cheaper to make a movie this way since lighting issues are non-existent. Post production colour temperature problems? None. Lighting problems? Nope. There’s many advantages to shooting in black & white, but aesthetics is not one of them, in my opinion.

I also admire Kevin Smith’s ambition as a filmmaker. The story goes like this, Kevin smith, who wanted nothing more than to shoot his first feature length, decided to max out his 30,000$ credit card and gave himself 21 days to accomplish this incredibly inspiring goal. How can you not support and admire this feat?

In regards to the movie itself, I find the writing absolutely brilliant, not much actually happens throughout the 122 minutes of conversations about movies, hockey, women, and blowjobs. Now that I think about it, it’s quite amazing that with a cast of friends and family members (hired to save money), this movie did so well.. It grossed over 3 million dollars, was critically acclaimed and really launched Jay & Silent Bob’s career.

This film is about the mundane, daily struggles of an apathetic convenience store clerk (Dante), who seems to have no real direction in life, and his best friend, Randal, a video store clerk, who’s in a similar predicament. Did I mention that Dante and Randall love hockey? Well, they love it so much that their sole purpose throughout the movie is to figure out how they can ditch work in order to play a quick game of pick up hockey on the rooftop of the convenience store and yes, I am talking about two grown men. We also get to meet two great characters, Jay and Silent Bob. Two pot smoking friends who sell marijuana, shoplift and give golden advice on women and relationships.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you might want to get out from under your rock and get on it! Seriously. Sean seconds this nomination and adds that it’s a movie he could really relate to at the age of 18 (and maybe still). “I remember always having similar conversations with my friends to those in the movie, just ridiculous things we threw at each other that led to hours of stupid discussions.”

Back to Luc. My second pick is no other than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (might sincity03actually be my #1) but the movie was shot in 1948 and all the assholes agreed to choose movies post 1970, I’ll have to go with Frank Miller’s Sin City. I’m not sure this counts as a typical black and white film, considering that some scenes have bright red, yellow and green, but as I said before, I find it somewhat difficult to choose my “favorite” black and white movie since I generally don’t appreciate them. I love the themes that are explored in this movie: crime, corruption, loyalty. The graphics are also pretty stellar. I’ve never actually seen anything quite like it and if you’re familiar with Frank Miller’s graphic novels, you will surely recognize the artistry from beginning to end.

My third favourite black & white movie would have to be Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by no other than Mr. George Clooney. Frankly, I can’t remember all that much about the movie other than it being politically driven. You might say “dude, you write for a movie review site, can’t you at least take a couple of hours to watch the damn movie?” And the simplest answer is no. No, I can’t, it’s in black and white.

Matt

The pickings of great black and white movies aren’t as slim as Luc would have you believe. I don’t love black and white movies, I just don’t give a shit. If the filmmakers are telling a good story in an interesting way, I don’t care if it’s in black or white.

In fact, there’s lots of good reasons besides saving money to shoot in black and white. Actually, I would be tempted to argue that saving money is the worst reason. The Artist was a silent film about silent films so Michel Hazanavicius shot in the style of the classics he loved. Martin Scorsese wanted to avoid making a gratuitously bloody boxing movie so he shot Raging Bull in black and white to soften the blow.

Black and white films can feel timeless. Last year’s Ida didn’t feel like a new movie to me. It felt like a classic that had been around for years that I am only now just getting to see. Conversely, Schindler’s List doesn’t look nearly as dated as other films released in 1993.

Good Night, and Good Luck- I hate to say anything against George Clooney but, as a director, good-night-and-good-luck-original1he’s never really come close to living up to the promise he showed in one of the best movies of 2005. To refresh Luc’s memory, it tells the story of news anchor Edward R. Morrow and his fearless coverage of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunt. I don’t know if it needed to be in black and white but, because it recreates live television featuring real footage of McCarthy that would have originally been presented that way, it seems appropriate. It takes a smarter and less dramatic approach than most films that are based on real events and definitely a must-see.

schindlerslistSchindler’s List- Steven Spielberg’s 1993 passion project hasn’t seemed to age a day. I rewatched it for the fifth or sixth time yesterday and couldn’t help feeling that everyone involved from cast to crew to extras shared his passion. It’s a beautiful film from start to finish, with even the controversially sentimentality working for me. I feel a heart-wrenching sadness every time I watch it unlike anything else I’ve experienced at the movies and, when it’s over, I feel almost cleaned out.

Sin City- Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 film is almost a panel-for-panel adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The comics were black and white (mostly) so the film had to be too. It works mostly thanks to Miller, whose writing ranges from as pulpy as it gets to almost poetic. “When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19 year-old, I’m about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench” is my personal favourite. Moments like that are almost enough to make me forgive last year’s disappointing sequel.

Jay

I like wondering  why directors choose to shoot in black or white – what are they trying to tell me paper_moonby presenting their movie in this way? One of Sean’s picks, Paper Moon (Sean says: it’s fun to see Tatum O’Neal as a little grifter, with her real life father helping out while thinking he’s in charge) is a great example of a careful choice. Set in the depression era, the black and white adds an evocative nostalgia factor. As Matt might point out, it’s a movie that refuses to age because it was purposely dated when released. It means to take you back to a “simpler” time, and then make you question what exactly was so simple about people trying so hard not to starve. Cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs uses black and white to great advantage, with a deep focus that keeps everything razor-sharp.

Pleasantville, in my opinion, uses black and white very wisely. It doesn’t just demarcate “old” pleasantville3422and “new” but comes to symbolize enlightenment. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play teenaged siblings who get thrown into a 1950s sitcom, again, the “simpler” times that turn out to be not-so-simple. Although everything is superficially pleasant in grayscale, the two rapidly come to miss the highs and lows of life back home. As they influence the sitcom’s residents to challenge their notions and beliefs, the characters are engulfed in colour. They are set ablaze with their newfound edification but some are ashamed of their obvious (colourful) sophistication and seek to cover it up. Now the black and white is a symbol of repression and shame.

Sean chose Frankenweenie as his third and final film. It’s an animated and touching story of a boy scientist and his resurrected dog that’s sweeter than it has any right to be. Director Tim Burton has said “I find black and white very beautiful. It gives a real sense of emotion. I was FRANKENWEENIEreally excited about seeing this in black and white because there’s a depth to it that I love. It’s not right for every project but when you take the colour out of something, sometimes you start looking at other things, such as textures and characters. I was very happy that the studio [Disney] went along with the idea. If they’d wanted it in colour, I wouldn’t have done it.”

I’m happy to report that this week’s theme made me seek out movies I hadn’t seen before. I following_stills_04watched Chris Nolan’s first feature-length film, Following, and enjoyed trying to pick out early hints of his trademarks. Why did he shoot in black and white? Perhaps to enhance the stylistic look of a film noir, but also, I suspect, like Kevin Smith, because he was shooting on a tight budget. Clerks was big-budget compared to Nolan’s six grand and he made the choice to get the biggest bang for his buck.

Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, seemed to be more in camp Scorsese. He directed a Canadian film called Polytechnique that’s about the Montreal Massacre – the day a gunman polytechniquedecided to target women and killed 14 of them while they were in school, dismissing their male classmates while voicing his hatred of feminism. It’s a bloody day in Canadian history but Villeneuve seemed to want to minimize the impact of the blood, allowing the audience to think about the killing spree in perhaps a slightly more abstract way. The film rises above the tragedy and is quite cool in its presentation, some might even call it dispassionate.

Joss Whedon made a Shakespeare adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing shot in black and white – maybe to highlight the sexiness that’s supposed to be in the movie, or to make the comedy’s dark side come alive, maybe to help mask and mistake California for Italy, and maybe it’s because it’s as far as he could possibly get from his simultaneous project, The Avengers.

The hardest movie you’ll ever watch is almost certainly Man Bites Dog. A mockumentary that man_bites_dog6shadows a serial killer who engages in increasingly graphic crime, you can’t look away but you’ll want to. It’s hard to swallow but carries an important message. It was shot in gritty black and white, a tip of the hat to cinema verite style, which is falsely considered more objective. In this case, the medium is just as stark as the message.

 

We look forward to hearing all of your picks – be sure to let us know your favourite black and white in the comments!

p.s. You might want to check out last week’s theme, father-son movies.

 

 

Shark Tale

You know how movies always come in pairs? White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen: same basic film. Dante’s Peak and Volcano: twins! Armaggeddon and Deep Impact: same damn thing. Antz and A Bug’s Life: why the hell not. Infamous and Capote: nominally two different films. Turner & Hooch\K-9. Platoon\Full Metal Jacket. The Truman Show\Ed TV. The Prestige\The Illusionist. No Strings Attached\Friends With Benefits. I could go on and likely so could you. Are the movie studios hoping you’ll see one instead of the other, or are they banking that if you liked one, you’ll like the other?

Or did Jeffrey Katzenberg steal an idea and take it with him when he left Disney? He’s been shark-taleaccused of that more than once, and that’s the theory behind Shark Tale conveniently riding on Finding Nemo’s coat tails. Both are animated movies dealing with outcast sharks befriending fish. Doesn’t that seem like quite the coincidence?

DreamWorks Animation has often been a step behind animation powerhouse Pixar, and in this case, Shark Tale isn’t exactly a bad movie, but it is the inferior one.

Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is a small fish who dreams big. When a shark turns up dead at his feet (fin?) of course he takes the credit, and then the money and the fame that come along with being The Sharkslayer – everything he’s always wanted. Until some real sharks start threatening his reef and he’s the one that’s supposed to stop them.

There’s a tonne of voice talent on hand: Renee Zellwegger, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black – butGang001.jpg my favourites were Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who recorded their lines together, and if you look carefully at their characters, you’ll see some tell-tale eyebrows and a distinguishing mole.

So why is it that this movie fails? Story, mostly. Pixar has this magical formula for making a children’s movie that still appeals to adults, and I think in striving for it, Dreamworks failed to hit either target. It’s fast and it’s colourful but it doesn’t seem to captivate kids the way that Finding Nemo did. And there’s no underlying truth and sweetness, so no reason for adults to really watch, except for the sharks-as-mafia bit that’s kind of a tired joke, and got the Italic Institute of America all riled up. But that’s not the only organization they pissed off: the Christian wackos over at the American Family Association (a nice euphemism for spouting pure hatred) decided 1that Lenny the Shark was a bad example to kids because his VEGETARIANISM was an allegory for HOMOSEXUALITY. Um, no comment.

The one thing this movie does get right is its soundtrack. But everything in between is forgettable and derivative. Even the animation doesn’t live up to the standard they set with Shrek. There’s no charm, and no whimsy. Would this movie be as ugly if it wasn’t always being compared to the pretty twin, Finding Nemo? Who knows. But it’s just not interesting enough for me to care.