Sunday, December 31, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I've spent New Year's Eve a lot of different ways. I've been to huge parties in LA, to clubs, to the Shark Club in Las Vegas, and spent it with family or friends. I think the first NYE that I remember is spending it watching the Sugar bowl in 1973 with my father and seeing Notre Dame beat Alabama 24-23 in a fantastic game. It's too bad there's not a bowl game on any more, it was a nice way to spend the evening, and a very fond memory of my father. In fact, I think this was the first college football game I watched with him that I really enjoyed.

About fifteen years ago I got sick on NYE and decided to stay home and watch TV. (Nick at Night had a "best episodes" countdown, ending with "Chuckles the Clown" episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW). It turned out to be one of the best NYE's I'd had to that point. Getting older, I've realized that spending the night out is not a good time. There are too many drunks on the road, and the parties are lame. It's no fun waking up New Year's Day hungover. It's supposed to be a holiday.

So once I got married, I was relieved that I didn't have to worry about NYE plans any more. Now, my wife and I get some takeout (this year from Jerry's) and watch a movie on DVD.

This year we watched the Wim Wenders film LAND OF PLENTY. I really liked it. And coincidentally, it ties in with the New Year's theme of world peace. The film is a two-character study of a young girl returning from an apparent lengthy kibbutz to try to track down her uncle, who turns out to be a Vietnam vet who is obsessed with national security post-911. Michelle Williams is excellent, much better than in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

The film is very slow getting started and certainly has its weaknesses, mostly in the first act. John Diehl's performance is particularly weak in the opening, which makes the whole film flawed. Robert DeNiro immediately jumps to mind for the Bickle-like part; Diehl also resembles Dean Stockwell, who probably would have better in the part.

The film explores a lot of American themes, including 911. As Williams' character says, we should listen for the voices of the people who died on 911; undoubtedly, they would not want more deaths as a result.

New Year's Day is traditionally a day for reflection on world peace. For me, this is the most important part of the day. Not the liquor, not the parties, not the food, not the football. Today, we are a country at war, a war that has gone on too long for us to be able to pull out of peacefully. The most that we can hope for is as peaceful an end as soon as possible.

If you go out for NYE, please do not drink and drive, and drive carefully and defensively. And please join me in my prayer for peace.

Weekend Football Wrapup

The Pats beat the Titans by a wide margin (I'm not sure why they weren't picked). Next Sunday the Pats will play the Jets in New England in the first round of the playoffs.

Buffalo could not handle the Ravens defense and only scored 7 points. They finish the season under .500, but better than initially predicted and ending the season against some tough opponents.

Tomorrow I will be at the Rose Bowl. Oddsmakers are split, some predicting USC by a point, others predicting Michigan by a point. It should be a great game. I have high hopes for the Trojans.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Weekend Sports

I'm not that big of a basketball fan, but when unranked USC upset #14 Washington two days ago, I decided to watch this afternoon's game against Washington State. It was a tough game... USC was ahead by 11 early in the second half, but ended up losing 58-55.

Tomorrow, the Pats play the Titans, with Tennessee favored by 3. I'll pick New England by 3. Buffalo plays Baltimore, who are favored by 9. I think Buffalo will beat the spread.

Monday I should be at the Rose Bowl!

DREAMGIRLS

DREAMGIRLS is a very weak film. I went in wanting to like it, but it just doesn't stand up. The story is slow and predictable, full of cliches, and characters are all one-dimensional. The entire movie is very claustrophobic, all taking place on various stages and never existing in the real world (even though the film sets itself up as an historical epic by trying to incorporate visual icons of the era, albeit in a very clumsy fashion). Performances are better than the movie deserves. Beyonce is much better than might be expected. Newcomer Jennifer Hudson is a standout, but someone needs to tell her there is more to singing than yelling. The music is pretty weak; I don't think there's single memorable melody in the show, and the songs are non-stop. I don't remember one dialogue scene in the film. The effect of all this is very draining, and not in a good way. In the climax of the film all I could think was "Does this song EVER end???" The film starts feeling long about two-thirds of the way through.

It's a shame, as movie musicals are making a comeback, that we have such a conservative and old-fashioned attempt at filmmaking when movies like MOULIN ROUGE clearly show that taking chances is worthwhile.

Friday, December 29, 2006

FRIENDS WITH MONEY

Nominated for two Spirit Awards, FRIENDS WITH MONEY is a total "chick flick" about four female friends (and their husbands, who strangely are credited far beneath the women, even though several have parts just as large). It's an interesting and well-written film, but I'm not sure it's awards-worthy. Definitely worth watching, though.

CECI N'EST PAS MAGRITTE

The Magritte exhibit at LACMA is worth visiting. However, half of the pieces are NOT by Magritte, but by people who were influenced by him, and much of that material is weak and unoriginal.

Magritte's art is pretty simple, which is probably why it is so popular. The average person can look at it and see something. If anything, it is at times TOO simple. He himself said that you should not try to read symbolism into his paintings, nor were they motivated by dreams. When you knock those two ideas out of the equation, there's not much left.

There were an awful lot of people at the exhibit. I had assumed the museum would be as dead as everything else during the holidays, when everyone leaves town, and the people who are here are mostly tourists heading to Disneyland. Alas, apparently every other intellectual and faux intellectual left behind had the same idea and went this afternoon. As is typical at LAMCA, the layout did not help. There were quite a few places where people tended to pile up, and many pieces were almost impossible to see without walking in front of a bunch of other people.

Usually I highly recommend getting the audio tours. Not only are they informative, but they force you to slow down your pace and appreciate the artworks. However, not in this case: Don't buy the audio tour. There was very little information of any kind that was not already present in the exhibit's written descriptions, and the artists interviewed did not have a lot to say.

A few of the other artists' works were interesting. Gober's two pieces, the foot and the torso, were probably the most interesting. Regardless of the flaws of the exhibit, it's definitely worth seeing.

THE DEVIL IN MISS STREEP

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is an entertaining film with a standout performance by Meryl Streep, who is not in the movie much, and even when she is, she does almost nothing... and still steals every scene she is in.

The rest of the movie leaves a lot to be desired. Anne Hathaway is weak as the through-character and is blown out of every scene Streep is in. The plotline consists of one predictable cliche after another. Stanley Tucci is also good but underutilized. Simon Baker is laughably miscast as the romantic lead. In his first scene, he looks like he just got an eyebrow transplant from Andy Rooney.

The movie is not as funny as I had hoped... although I think the fact that Streep's character reminds me too much of many people I have worked for in the film business. The audience as a whole did seem to laugh a lot more than I did.

Yet it is worth watching for Streep, who will almost certainly get nominated for her performance.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

SCOOP

Woody Allen's new film SCOOP has barely registered on the radar this awards season, and with good reason. I have to wonder what happened to the Woody Allen who wrote ANNIE HALL. I'm not even sure what mood SCOOP was supposed to be. Woody's character is apparently meant to be funny, but only elicits a few smiles. Yet the plot of the film is about a serial killer on the loose in London.

Unlike CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, which examines the psychology of a murderer while still being funny, or even MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, which is occasionally funny, this film has no depth and little humor. The writing is terrible. All of the characters are weak and one-dimensional. Scartlett Johansson, who is usually worth watching as an actress, is outright terrible here; it's as though there were no director on the film. Hugh Jackman is passable until the final act, then becomes a cliche at the hands of Allen's writing.

Worst of all are the plot machinations necessary to give Woody screen time with Johannson. It's clear the movie was written only to put the two of them together after her appearance in MATCH POINT, which was overrated. It got good reviews for a mundane melodrama. Johansson's performance in that film was better until the third act, when the character change made it a soap opera for her.

It's such a shame that Woody can't bring a good script to the screen again.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

MORE SUNSHINE

I saw LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE for the second time tonight on the plane, and it stood up much, much better than I expected, so I'm revising my earlier review here.

Monday, December 25, 2006

49 UP

One of my Christmas presents (from my wish list) was Michael Apted's British documentary 49 UP.

This may very well be the most important documentary film series ever made. It started with 7 UP, interviewing a group of seven year-olds in 1963, with follow-up films every seven years, so you get to see a group of people age naturally. If you haven't seen them, you should. They are the ultimate reality series. I had watched the box set of the first six films last year, all on consecutive nights, and waiting eagerly to see the latest film. Since I'm teaching documentary in the spring semester, I thought I'd write a bit about it.

Apted fully admits that in the first three or four films he tried to prove that class distinctions guided your entire path in life. He also clearly tried to predict the future in several cases. One of the most fascinating things in the series is the fact that almost none of the subjects followed the route in life that you would have expected.

As documentaries, they are problematic. They are clearly made in the filmmaker's point of view. Almost all of the films consist of sit-down interviews to camera, hearing the filmmaker's voice, but never seeing him. I've always been a cinema verité kind of guy, having learned filmmaking first from Ricky Leacock. So I instinctively question anyone who takes such a strong point of view in a documentary. It's no longer a document (or truth in cinema) when you do that, it's propaganda.

There have been several instances of the Heisenberg principal (observer effects observee) in the series. The filmmakers chose to construct visits that would not have happened otherwise for several of the characters. Two characters who should have never even met ended up being roommates. Some of the subjects have confronted Apted both on-camera and off about not being presented in a proper fashion and the subjectivity of his choices. Several have refused to be interviewed in later films, and one will not allow Apted to interview him but allows another person to do so.

In this film he finally questions all the subjects about their participation in the films. It's interesting as NONE of them admit to enjoying it. Yet... they still do it. Some of them talk about the importance of the series, yet one points out that it's more like Big Brother (the reality show) than a truly socially siginificant experiment. I think the truth is somewhere in between. It's impossible to watch these films without becoming involved with the subjects, yet at the same time, I could say that about American Idol. However, there is a much greater depth to these series simply because of the amount of time spent on the subjects.

I'm not going to waste your time writing much about the subjects; I'll let you watch the films and do that for yourself. But I did want to mention one moment: it's worth watching the whole series just to hear Neil's comments about a butterfly in the sun at the end of the film. In addition to being a wonderful observation on the nature of life and happiness, it's the perfect metaphor for the film. The same way the scientist can examine the butterfly and appreciate its beauty, but never truly understand its thoughts, the filmmaker also examines his subjects through the lens, but will never be able to comprehend their inner workings.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

NFL Wrapup

The Bills lost a tight back-and-forth contest with the Titans, 30-29. It was an exciting game, with seven lead changes. This kills any playoff hopes for the Bills.

The Pats beat the Jaguars 24-21, meaning that they have clinched their fourth straight division title.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

NFL Sunday Preview

Buffalo is favored over Tennessee by 5 points. I'll give the Bills at least a field goal and probably a touchdown over the Titans. The Bills have been on a roll, and know they need to win every game to keep playoff chances alive.

Jacksonville is favored by 3 over New England. I'll pick the Pats by a field goal.

Friday, December 22, 2006

AMERICAN GUN

AMERICAN GUN is a passable but not great movie about gun ownership in America, with excellent performances by Forest Whitaker, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Marquette and Tony Goldwyn. Unfortunately the script does not live up to the performances. The movie intercuts the stories of several people who were all changed by a Columbine-like incident at their town's high school. This is a concept rife with ideas, but the screenplay never capitalizes on them. The first act is very slow, with weak dialogue. The second act is very predictable, and so little happens in the third act that the ending pretty much amounts to nothing. I'm surprised that this got an Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Man in the Plastic BUBBLE

I admire Steven Soderbergh for a number of things. He is able to direct movies with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and win an Oscar and thank no one in his acceptance speech, except to smartly point out that the people who contributed to the film know who they are. And he can then leap onto medium budget films like THE GOOD GERMAN, down to micro-budget art films.

However, I can not admire him for his film BUBBLE, which was desperately released simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and on the Internet, in an apparent attempt to sell as many copies as possible before people found out what the film is. The film barely has plot. Three people work at a doll factory. More than halfway through the film, one of them ends up murdered. Shot on video on a micro-budget, using real people instead of actors, improvising dialogue, the film runs a scant 74 minutes, but feels three times as long.

There is virtually nothing good to say about the film. It's well shot (by Soderbergh, under a pseudonym; apparently embarrassed to put his name on it any more than necessary*). The decision to shoot in a doll factory provides for a great location. (The trailer, which shows only dolls and has no dialogue is far more interesting than the film.) Some of the actors come off well. The police detective is convincing (because he is one in real life). The two female leads are interesting. The male lead is not. The most convincing performance I've ever seen by a two year-old is in the movie, played by the lead actress's daughter.

But the movie really has the feel of a junior high school science experiment and not a work of art. I'm sure the titular bubble is supposed to refer to the metaphorical bubbles the characters all live in. But it appears that it really refers to the bubble around Soderbergh. This film makes him appear to be so far removed from the real lives of normal people, this is what he thinks life must be like if you don't live in Hollywood. NO ONE has a life this boring. These poor "actors" are so awkward on the camera, they mumble in fear on every line. Real people express emotion when they are accused of murder, or when they find out someone close to them has died. It's sad that filmmakers don't realize this. It's like they have never lived real lives.

The technical quality of the film is lower than many student films. Although shot well, the sound is terrible. The actors mumble and it sounds like they used one mike mounted across the room to record them all. The music sounds like they gave a twelve year-old PA an extra trip to craft services in exchange for recording his first guitar lesson; even a 310 student could make better music edits, and a high school student could play more chords. Make-up ranges from non-existent to way too much.

I think people often forget that Experimental Films are just that: experiments. And as any good scientist will tell you, the vast majority of experiments are complete failures. It's the few successes that make all the vain attempts worthwhile. I'll forgive Soderbergh for this mess because he's given us so much worthwhile as a director and producer.


*It's a joke. I know he always DPs his own material. But it bothers me for several reasons. First off, he takes a paycheck away from another crew member. Secondly, he himself admits he'd get better work from another DP. Finally, it puts a technological buffer between himself and his actors... he'd be better off looking directly them, especially when they are not real actors, they need the direct support. It's a very bad habit.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION

I've been a fan of the radio show A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION for many years.

Unfortunately, in adapting his radio show to the screen, Keillor and director Robert Altman pretty much gutted everything I liked and replaced it with hokey country music, making the film much more like NASHVILLE (which I didn't like) than COMPANION.

There are many, many musical sequences that go on much, much too long. (Why is Lindsey Lohan singing???) The radio show was a variety show that featured eclectic styles of music including traditional jazz. The only jazz in the movie is over the end credits. The rest of the music is all country. In SHUT UP AND SING, I could tolerate the small doses necessary to explain the documentary, but in this film, it all seems out of place.

The thing I liked best about the radio show is Keillor's writing, very much in the style of American humorists and observationalists Will Rogers, James Thurber, Mark Twain, or Jean Shepherd. Unfortunately, there is NONE of Keillor's story-telling in the movie. Apparently, rearing that he has a face for radio, they made his on-screen involvement minimal.

The radio show uses certain set pieces like the 50s-style detective show-within-the-show, Guy Noir. Unfortunately, they bring this character to life and stick him on the stage with the real actors, who are even more real now as we see them backstage (mostly being boring). Kevin Kline does his darndest as Noir, but the character just doesn't work outside his universe.

Even worse, they create an angel (literally) for Virginia Madsen to play. At least Guy Noir gets a few chuckles; the angel takes itself so seriously it actually removes comedy from scenes that are apparently intended to be funny.

It's too bad this had to be the last film from the man who gave us MASH, and probably the only film from Keillor.

CAS Quarterly

I am happy to announce the new issue of the Cinema Audio Society's Quarterly magazine is now available for download here

This includes my article on "What's New in Pro Tools 7.2?" (released just in time for the 7.3 upgrade!).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ROAD TO GUANTANAMO

ROAD TO GUANTANAMO is a strange and unsettling film about three British students who were detained in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the American prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The first half-hour of the film is extremely confusing. They do not explain the conceit of the film directly to the audience, which adds to the confusion. The film is shot in sections. There are interviews with the actual detainees who speak directly to camera. The rest of the footage is dramatic recreations, shot on DV in a documentary style, occasionally intercut with real news footage, and sometimes with fake news-style voiceover. Especially since they never explain this, it is extremely confusing as you try to figure out what is going on. In addition, there are flashbacks, time ellipses, and the real people intercut with actors who don't look like them, so you can't tell who is whom.

However, the message of the film is a moving one. The events that occurred are frightening and inexcusable. It is simply impossible to watch this film without feeling outrage. It's worth watching just to see a small taste of the horrors that our own government is committing.

Strangely, the detainee interviews do not show this outrage. I'm not sure whether they have suppressed it, are in denial, or if they are past that stage. It's a very bizarre film, and I am very suspect of the faux-documentary approach, but it is moving.

Football Wrapup

Due to my dyslexia, I misread the standings. This entry is now corrected:

All I can say is... WOW!

Buffalo shutout Miami 21-0. This reminds me of Dick Jauron's 2001 season with Chicago, when they surprised everyone with a wild card spot, and Jauron won AP Coach of the Year.

There are now four teams tied for the two AFC wild card spots: the Jets, Jaguars, Cincinnati, and Denver. Four more teams are next, with 7-7 records, Tennessee, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh tied with Buffalo.

With only 3 weeks left, the Bills will need some good luck to move on. Not only will they need to win all their games, including one with Baltimore, they need all of those other teams to lose at least one game. But it could still happen.

New England beat Houston by a whopping 40-7.

Things are starting to get interesting!

Bond is Back!

CASINO ROYALE was the first James Bond book written by Ian Fleming. It has twice been put on the screen, once in an American TV version with "Jim" Bond, worth watching only for Peter Lorre's version of Le Chiffre. Then it was the bastardized 60s comedy, worth watching only for Peter Sellers and Woody Allen's cameo. (And Burt Bacharach's campy score.)

Bond returns to the screen after an absence in a version designed to recall the spirit of the early Connery films and the books. There's a lot to like in this film. Daniel Craig is excellent. Much of the plot has been lifted straight from the book, and it works great. The action sequences are good, but are not over the top like so many of the recent films.

But the pacing in the third act is very weak. The love scenes are interminable, and by the time the end comes, it's hard to care.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dodger Update

I haven't written much about the Dodgers since Drew opted out. That's not because nothing has happened. The Dodgers have made a lot of deals in the last few weeks.

They re-signed Nomar to a two-year contract. This allows them more options in the infield. If Betemit stays at third and Nomar at first, James Loney will have more time to develop. Or, Nomar could move to third when they feel Loney is ready to move up.

They signed Juan Pierre to a large contract. Although he may not be worth the money, this gives the Dodgers stability in the outfield, especially with Drew's departure. They also signed Luis Gonzales to a one-year contract. I'm not a huge fan of him as a person, but they needed the boost in the outfield.

Randy Wolf, lefty starter, gave the Dodgers a hometown discount and moved over from the Phillies, as did his catcher, Mike Lieberthal. This allowed the Dodgers to cut loose Toby Hall, who was never happy here.

Takashi Saito was signed as closer again in a fair deal. He deserves it. Unfortunately, Eric Gagne turned down a deal to return for as much as $10M for the year, even after he promised the Dodgers a hometown discount, and he has gone to Texas. Eric was one of the reasons I started watching the Dodgers. He will be sorely missed, but it's doubtful he will ever return to form after three surgeries.

With the signing of Jason Schmidt, the Dodgers have the problem of too many starters. Jason will be the new #1 starter, with Lowe, Penny, Wolf, Billingsley, Kuo, Tomko and Hendrickson all vying for the remaining four spots in the rotation. Many people think that this gives the Dodgers the option to deal Penny, especially for another slugger. Penny was inconsistent in the second half of the season, as well as problematic in the clubhouse.

They did not resign Maddux. I'll always remember the fantastic games I watched him pitch at Dodger stadium, but he's getting old and can't give the Dodgers the innings they need from a starter.

I think after last year's post-season, the Dodger are a little paranoid about lefties. They have definitely loaded up on lefty pitchers. They also re-signed Joe Beimel, even after his disaster that may have cost the Dodgers a post-season win (or two) when he cut his hand drinking in a bar after curfew, then lied about it. Apparently he apologized to the team and all is forgiven.

This looks to be an absolutely fantastic team. The Dodgers' one weakness now is the lack of a true slugger. We may not be able to fix that until the season begins. But with plenty of starters to trade, they may be able to pull of a deal at some point.

Season ticket prices have gone up, in my section, 25%. Still, it's a lot cheaper than Red Sox tickets (or Angels tickets, for that matter). I'm looking forward to this season!

Weekend Football

Buffalo is favored over the Miami Dolphins by a point. It should be a close game, but I'll take the Bills by a field goal.

New England is favored over Houston by 11 points, which they should easily do.

Friday, December 15, 2006

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is a good film, and certainly a better film than Eastwood's other Iwo Jima film, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, but it's hardly the best film of the year. Once again, the battle scenes and sound design are very good (again with minimal use of music). The performances are excellent, and the story is good but a little simple.

However, the timeline and geography of the battle are very confusing as presented in the film. I know they are in tunnels most of the time, so it's tough to imply time and location, but the editing implies the battle took place overnight (it took a month) and that the characters walk a few hundred feet when they are in fact traversing the island.

It was interesting seeing this the day after the I saw the French/Algerian/Moroccan film DAYS OF GLORY. They are very similar films in many ways, although different countries and different continents, they are both foreign-language films about decisive battles in WWII. (And they could end up against each other in the Oscar foreign-language category.) Given that comparison, DAYS was the much better film, with better story and characters.

Foreign Film Double Feature

Today I saw back-to-back screenings of two foreign films submitted for the Oscar.

The first was Z odzysku (RETRIEVAL) , the Polish entry. It's a typically dark Polish film, about a young man who is desperate enough for work to take a job as "security" for a local gangster. Although the film has some good moments, it's mostly melodrama that does not play as original.

The second film was much better. Indigènes (DAYS OF GLORY, a terrible title translation) is the true story of the Muslim Algerians & Moroccans who fought to defend France in World War II. This is the rare example of a film that gets better as it goes along, with the third act being the strongest part. The cast is good, particularly Jamel Debbouze, who was the goofy shop boy in AMELIE. I didn't realize until seeing this film that he is Moroccan, and he is in real life handicapped with a bad hand which he injured as a boy playing on train tracks when a train came by. This one is worth seeing.

Both films sounded very good, especially Indigènes, and benefit from the European style of minimal use of music.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

PAN'S LABYRINTH

Guillermo del Toro's new Spanish-language film is a bizarre, grotesque and violent children's fantasy, very much in vein of the grim Grimm's tales. It's a complex story about a young girl who meets a fairy and faun who allow her to enter a fantasy world (albeit it a very dark one), intertwining Franco's Spain as the backdrop by having the young girl's mother remarrying a violent and abusive Captain in the army. What's most surprising is that the gore comes from the facist, and not the demons.

I like movies that allow me to see a world I've never seen before. This film certainly does that. However, it's not a film I could recommend to many people. It certainly was not intended for children, and even at the screening I was at, adults walked out during the violent scenes. (Although it's not much worse than Goodfellas, and certainly nothing like Saw.) But if you don't mind the violence, this is a good film.

Burbank Chorale

Saturday night I will be performing with the Burbank Chorale at this concert of Christmas music. The two John Rutter pieces are amazing.

The Burbank Chorale's holiday concert has the theme "Echoes of Joy," which takes on multiple meanings for the event on Dec. 16 and 17 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Glendale.

The featured pieces are "Gloria" and "Cantus" by contemporary British composer John Rutter, said director Mikhail Shtangrud.

"We have this great space now at St. Mark's Church and it has beautiful acoustics," he said. "It truly lends itself to a concert with brass instruments."

In searching for music, the director discovered Rutter's pieces, he said.

"Both are for choir and brass ensemble and will sound spectacular at St. Mark's," he said.

It's a thrill for the choir to be introducing these works to the audience, said Kyrian Corona. "The audience is familiar with his Christmas carols, but these are really his signature pieces," Corona said.

The concert will open with Giovanni Gabrieli's (1557-1612) "In Ecclesiis," (Latin for "In the Congregation") scored for eight-part choir, brass ensemble and organ, Shtangrud said. "St. Mark's rich acoustical properties and opposing choir galleries, each with its own organ, inspired the composers who wrote music for its services to emphasize the resulting echo effect, scoring antiphonal music for various combinations of singers and instrumentalists," he said.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

RANG DI BASANTI

One of the pleasure of being in a film guild is the ability to see free movie screenings; not only Hollywood blockbusters, but also foreign films, independents, and documentaries. Tonight I saw the Indian film RANG DI BASANTI. Unfortunately, it was not very good.

The film is about a British woman who goes to India to shoot the story of Indian revolutionaries as told through her grandfather's eyes. The actress, unfortunately, is not very good, and looks way too much like Calista Flockhart, who I can't stand. The story also imposes a bizarre narrative structure that intercuts the movie-within-the-movie (which is interesting) with the story of the slacker college students who will act the parts (which is not interesting).

Not only is the structure weak, but the pacing is terrible. There are seemingly endless music montages which are completely out of tone with the rest of the film (although they would fit in a Bollywood musical), and at three hours, by the time you get to the third act, the film has become predictable, yet it also changes tone so drastically it's very hard to believe.

It's a shame; with the right first and second act, the ending might have been meaningful and moving, but as it stands, it's unsatisfying melodrama.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Weekend Sports

The Patriots were stunned by the Dolphins, who shut them out (for the first time since 1972!), 21-0.

The Bills stunned the Jets, 31-13.

One of the few perks of teaching is that former students occasionally remember you and do something nice. One of my former students took me to the Lakers-Spurs game tonight, which turned out to be a fantastic game, with the Lakers winning 106-99. The Spurs are considered the best team in basketball, and going into the game it was unsure if Kobe would play due to a twisted ankle. Play, he did, scoring 34 points against the best defense in the league. The Spurs played well and had the lead through most of the game, using a great passing game to confuse the Lakers, and the Spurs manage to get twelve 3-point shots. Officials seemed to have it in for the Lakers, but they somehow made up for it.

It's interesting to note how quiet the Laker fans are. Fans are MUCH noiser at a Clipper game. Even the Dodgers get more from the crowd. Very strange.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

NFL Today

The Pats are playing the Dolphins and are behind 3-0 at the end of the first. The Pats are favored by a field goal.

Buffalo plays the Jets later, with the Jets favored by 5. Should be a close game.

BLOOD DIAMOND

BLOOD DIAMOND is a pretty good film that should have been great. Its biggest problem is pacing; the film is too long by at least 30 minutes, all in the middle. It's very plot-heavy and could have been more effective with a better writer. The film is also very violent, with many on-screen deaths. At some point, you have to mentally turn off the violence and think "it's only a movie." A better film could have done a lot more with a lot less.

Leo is pretty good, although his accent seems to drift through three continents in the first three scenes, but he has the most well-defined character of the bunch. Jennifer Connelly proves that she is not only beautiful but is politically correct as well, and does as well as possible with a predictable character.

Djimon Hounsou tries his darndest but his character is so one-dimensional (angrily defiant) that he does not seem real. It doesn't help that there are far too many coincidences in the film for it to be believable, either.

This is the type of film that's perfect for DVD as you can get away with not paying attention the whole time.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

310 Congratulations!

Congratulations again on the outstanding work! It all looked and sounded great on the big screen.

See you next semester!

Friday, December 08, 2006

DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN

THE LIVES OF OTHERS is the German Oscar entry for foreign language feature. It's a remarkable film, set in 1985 East Berlin before the fall of the wall. The story centers on a wiretapper who is assigned to track a writer suspected of being a dissident. The story conjures up many parallels to THE CONVERSATION, the wonderful and dark film by Coppola, although at times it's practically the opposite of that film. LIVES is a great example of the Heisenberg principal, where the observer cannot help but become involved in the lives of his subjects. The acting is top-notch, and the characters are all complex; the good guys aren't really that great, and the bad guys sometimes show more humanity than their counterparts. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Excellent Work!

Excellent work on all the 310 mixes today!

See you Saturday at 3:00 PM in Norris!


Saturday 310 Screening at 3:00 PM

I have just been informed that my previous e-mails had the wrong time for the screening Saturday. We are at 3:00 PM.

ROCKY BALBOA

Contrary to the sequels, ROCKY is an excellent film. I think most people forget how well written and well acted it is, confusing it with the later films. It's a low-budget independent film written by Stallone, who gives an amazing performance. He also went out on a limb to star in it; turning down offers to sell the script for a higher price, he attached himself to star. (*See comments below for link to article questioning the validity of this story.)

I have secretly had high hopes for the each sequel. ROCKY II was a virtual remake with higher production values and a happier ending. III continues the downhill trend with Mr. T added to the mix. ROCKY IV featured Dolph Lundgren, former MIT Ph.D. candidate, a sequel of silly proportions.

By the time V rolled around, I stopped watching. Supposedly Stallone wanted to kill off the Rocky character in a street fight, but the studio forced him to reshoot the ending.

With Stallone writing and directing ROCKY BALBOA (dropping the Roman numerals from the title), I had somehow hoped that the film would return to the tone of the original.

I'm happy to say that in many respects the film does succeed at returning to the low-budget, character-driven style of the first film. Unfortunately, a film is only as good as its ending, and this one is quite weak.

Stallone looks terrible. He has always had a disability; he was deformed at birth and has partial paralysis of his face. This accounts for both his speech impediment and his inability to move the left side of his face. Add to that the plastic surgery he's had, and he's starting to look a little too much like a clown with a face painted on. In one respect, this almost works; it does look at times like he is an old boxer who has had reconstructive surgery. But throughout most of the film, his style of shooting everything in closeups only sabotages his own face.

Bill Conti returns to score the film and writes some beautiful music, but the quality is much too saccharine for the film, and draws attention to the manipulative nature of the film.

Age is definitely a plot of the film. He spends the first act revisiting all of the locations from the first film (literally). There are elements of brilliance at times, and Stallone definitely gives the best performance he's done since ROCKY, but there are way too many allusions to the first film. The film gets bogged down trying to justify putting a 60 year-old back in the ring. The fact that they spend so much time on it only draws attention to the absurdity of the idea of Stallone fighting a heavyweight champ who is 25 year younger.

However, even at 60, Stallone's physique looks better than mine ever did.

The final fight starts out promisingly, with the first two rounds being very dramatic. Furthermore, the editorial style of the fight is much more like an experimental film than a narrative, and for that I admire him. Unfortunately, the ending is pat and predictable, and ultimately makes the entire film feel pointless. One has to wonder if a studio stepped in again to clean up an ending they were afraid of.

SUPERMAN RETURNS

There was a lot I liked about this film. In fact, for the first hour or so, I actually felt like a kid again; the action scenes were excellent. There were some wise decisions, like resurrecting Marlon Brando and using John William's brilliant themes. The casting of Kevin Spacey was great, and the comic homages were nice touches.

But in the last half, the film suddenly takes itself much too seriously, and the pacing dropped to be too slow. Why don't filmmakers understand that movies were meant to be 90-120 minutes? Anything over that, and you'd better be friggin' brilliant. There's nothing worse than a guest who overstays his welcome.

The casting was also a problem. For a movie about Superman, he isn't in the film very much, and Brandon Routh doesn't get much of a chance to act (which may very well have been by design). He looks an awful lot like Christopher Reeve; perhaps too much. Kate Bosworth was outright terrible as Lois Lane, and looked awful as a brunette. James Marsden was even worse as her mate. Even Parker Posey, whom I normally like, seemed miscast and looked out of place. Eva Marie Saint looked like she was playing Superman's great-grandmother, but it was still great to see her on the big screen again.

Still, it's worth a rental for the action scenes. Also, this is one of the best sounding films I've heard this year.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Revised Quiz Scores

Revised grades with corrected Quiz 14 scores are posted.

242 Quiz Error

There was a massive computer error on the final quiz and about 14 grades registered as zero instead of a grade. I'll post the corrected versions tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, December 04, 2006

310 Reminder!

Tomorrow afternoon is the last chance for me to see your films before the day of sound lock. If you wish to see me, please book an Avid station and MAKE AN APPOINTMENT VIA E-MAIL.

Please show your film to your mixer if you have not done so already.



Tue 12/05 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM ADDITIONAL OFFICE HOURS

Wed 12/06 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM ADDITIONAL OFFICE HOURS
5:00 PM SOUND LOCK

Thurs 12/07 5:00 PM FINAL MIXES

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Football Wrapup

New England beat Detroit by 7.

Buffalo went into halftime trailing San Diego 17-0, but the Bills managed to score 21 in the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, as they still lost to the Chargers 24-21.

USC will play Michigan in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

CARS

It's hard to see a movie after all the hype and still have it live up to expectations. CARS does not manage to pull it off. I spent most of the first act asking "Where are the people? Who made these cars? How do they reproduce?"

Unlike TOY STORY, where the toys are real in our world but come to life, this is some bizarre parallel universe where there's a California and an I-40 and a Route 66, but no people, or other lifeforms that aren't cars.

Of course, I wouldn't have wasted a moment of time thinking about this if the movie worked. It doesn't. The two main characters are very, very weak. Lightning has literally no back-story coming in to the film. The female lead is even weaker. And the casting on both parts hurts the film. I like Owen Wilson, but not his voice, and he does not bring much to this film. Even more hurtful is Bonnie Hunt, totally miscast as a hot Porsche. Her voice is whiny and outright annoying in the film. The two-hour running time also overstays its welcome.

The minor characters all work. Paul Newman, Cheech Marin, George Carlin and Tony Shalhoub are all good in supporting, albeit simple roles.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Football Weekend

There's a good chance I will be at the USC-UCLA game tomorrow. This is only my second game of the season. I was at the season opener at the Coliseum, and, it's my first visit to the Rose Bowl.

USC is favored by a scant 13 points. Considering that last year they won by 40+, and this year UCLA is probably a worse team, I expect a runaway.

The only other close-to-interesting game tomorrow is #4 Florida & #8 Arkansas. If, gods forbid, USC loses, and Florida wins, they could be in contention for the title.

On Sunday, Buffalo continues their difficult schedule, this time with San Diego. Odds are on SD by only 6. I expect a tough game for Buffalo.

New England is predicted 13 over Detroit, which sounds about right, but I'd still bet on the Pats.

242 Final Grades

Final grades have been posted on my office door. They include all extra credit assignments and scaling.

PLEASE STOP BY AND CHECK YOUR GRADE. If you think there is an error, contact the SA Jonathan IMMEDIATELY. Grade sheets will be turned in next week. Any errors that are not corrected by then will not be fixable until next semester.

The class average on the final quiz was dismal. Almost half the class skipped the quiz entirely and got a zero. For most people, this score was dropped as the lowest.

With scaling and the extra credit assignments, the class average ended at a B+. This group had the widest grade range I've ever had, from A to D+. Several people had near-perfect scores throughout the semester, and a few people missed numerous quizzes. Only one person had a grade low enough to have to repeat the class (D+). Three people are in the C range, which means they need to do well enough in their other cinema classes to keep their average at a B- or better to avoid repeating. Everyone else (48 out of 52 students) had a grade of B- or higher.

Good work, and good luck next semester!

Al Gore's Head

I saw INCONVENIENT TRUTH again tonight. My wife had not seen it yet, and Al Gore was speaking afterwards. My previous comments on the film still stand after seeing it a second time.

However, one thing did change. Seeing Al speak in person, he is completely different from the person we saw campaigning in 2000. He's extremely intelligent, and very warm, funny, self-deprecating, and witty. In fact, someone asked about it afterwards, and he said the two things I had been thinking.

First, he has changed. Change is necessary, and unavoidable, and a sign of intelligence. We learn from our mistakes. Unlike certain other presidents who can't admit they made mistakes, Al can.

Secondly, the media stinks. The representation of Al in the media was thoroughly inaccurate. I'm always amazed at coverage of events I've attended, even something as simple as a baseball game. They never get it right. They show a few fleeting seconds and purport that reflects the events. It doesn't. Even a 290 student could cut thirty seconds of film to look like the exact opposite of its intention.

I don't think Al will ever be in elected politics again, but he's doing the country a tremendous service by continuing to show this film and his presentation. If the new Democratic congress chooses to accept the Kyoto accord, it will have been worth it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Scenes I Use

Several students have asked for recommendations for movies that use sound and/or music well. Here is the tip of the iceberg.

2001
32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD
THE ABYSS
ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1939)
ALIEN
ALIENS
ALTERED STATES
AMELIE
AMERICAN GRAFFITI
AND GOD SPOKE
APOCALYPSE NOW
BACK TO THE FUTURE
THE BEAR
BEAUTY & THE BEAST (animated)
THE BLACK STALLION
BLOW OUT
BROADCAST NEWS
DAS BOOT
DIVA
CAST AWAY
CITIZEN KANE
THE CONVERSATION
DELICATESSEN
THE EXORCIST
FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FEW DOLLARS MORE, and THE GOOD, BAD & UGLY
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) & BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
GODFATHER I & II
THE GRADUATE
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1972)
IRON GIANT
JURASSIC PARK
KING KONG (1933)
LIVING IN OBLIVION
LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY
M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY, MON ONCLE, PLAYTIME et JOUR de FETE (Tati) *** MUST SEES
MALCOLM X
THE MATRIX
MONSTER'S INC.
THE NAKED GUN
NEVER CRY WOLF
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
THE PARTY
POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE
PRIMARY COLORS
PSYCHO
RAGING BULL
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
SEVEN SAMURAI
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
SNEAKERS
STAR TREK II: WRATH OF KHAN & IV: VOYAGE HOME
STAR WARS & EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
TAXI DRIVER
T2
THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE
(original German version, NOT the dubbed version which is edited & remixed)

TOUCH OF EVIL
TOY STORY I & II
TROIS COULEURS: BLEU, ROUGE et BLANC (Kieslowski), THE DEKALOG and DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE
UNFORGIVEN
USUAL SUSPECTS
VERTIGO
VIVRE SA VIE
WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE WRONG TROUSERS
WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY?
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
WIZARD OF OZ

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Office Hours

Due to the usual end-of-semester madness, I will not have normal office hours next week.
Here are my office hours for the rest of the semester:

Wed 11/29 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM (normal)

Tue 12/05 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM (changed)

Wed 12/06 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM (changed)

242 Students: Final grades will be posted as soon as I get today's quiz results back, which should be no later than Friday.

Join the MPSE!

Click here to JOIN THE MOTION PICTURE SOUND EDITORS and see lots of movies for a low annual student membership fee of $35. Click on "Download Student Membership Form" (not "Affiliate" Membership Form) and get me or any faculty member (it does not have to be sound faculty or an MPSE member) to sign it for you during office hours. You must also send a copy of your ID and a check along with your application to the address on the form. It may take more than a month for membership card to be sent to you.

Monday, November 27, 2006

310 Reminders

Wednesday is our last regular class. This is the last call for Extra Credit Proposals! E-mail me if you have not done so already.

Wednesday is also the last day to turn in any late assignments, including last week's assignment.

There WILL be a quiz. All quizzes are cumulative, but this quiz will focus mostly on the TIME CODE lecture material from last week.

You should have received an e-mail with your schedule for the rest of the semester. Table screenings are THIS FRIDAY.

242 Reminders

Our last class is tomorrow morning.

There WILL be a quiz. All quizzes are cumulative, but this quiz will focus mostly on the TIME CODE lecture material from last week. I'm sorry, but my cheap-ass MP3 recorder failed again last week, so there's no lecture notes on the web site.

This is also the last chance to turn in any late material.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL

I was really looking forward to the film NOTES ON A SCANDAL, starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. The subject matter, an attractive female teacher having an affair with an underage student, seemed full of possibilities. Both actresses do their darndest, but the writing was very weak. There were several times where I felt like I was watching a film that was trying to be a comedy but failed. People were laughing... but in the wrong places. Too bad, I hate seeing good performances wasted.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Football Wrapup

It's official! USC is now #2 on the BCS rankings, which means that they will go to the national championship game if they beat UCLA next weekend.

In the NFL, New England beat the Chicago Bears and are the first team to gain 300 years on the Bears in a game. They also had four turnovers and two pass interference calls, and both teams combined for a total of nine turnovers in a sloppily played game from both sides.

Buffalo beat Jacksonville in a last-seconds field goal, 27-24.


LITTLE CHILDREN

From the author of ELECTION and director of IN THE BEDROOM, LITTLE CHILDREN is not only a weak film title, it's also a weak film.

Like ELECTION, the film follows a group of crossing plot lines and characters. Unfortunately, in this film, one of the two major characters (played by Patrick Wilson) is completely uninteresting. The other characters are complex and flawed, but the film lacks Matthew Broderick's inherent likability to carry the film. Most of the acting is very good, although Jennifer Connelly is completely wasted. Unlike ELECTION, there were also plot problems, with characters making decisions that seem silly and yet have complex reactions on their lives. Still, it had moments.

USC WINS BIG!

USC beat Notre Dame easily, 44-24, which should push them up to #2 in the BCS. If they beat UCLA next weekend, they are home free. But then they have to face Ohio State...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sports Weekend Preview

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a lot of great football games over the weekend.

In college, #18 BC was upset by unranked Miami, Florida. #11 Texas was upset by unranked A&M.

#5 Arkansas had any long-shot hopes of a championship ruined with an upset by #9 LSU.

Tomorrow, USC plays Notre Dame. If USC wins they will probably go to the BCS game in Phoenix on January 8th. USC is favored by 8; I think it will be closer and pick USC by 6.

Sunday, Buffalo plays the Jaguars, who are favored by 3. Should be another close game for the Bills. The game of the day to watch is Chicago at New England, with the Pats favored by 3 over the 9-1 Bills. The Pats lost two in a row but won last week, and the home field advantage will help them over da Bears.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Lots to be Thankful For!

On the Eve of Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Just under two years ago, I was in a coma for two weeks while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I had two major surgeries and was in the hospital for a total of a month, and I am extraordinarily lucky to be alive. I am thankful for the excellent doctors at St. Joseph's in Burbank.

My recovery was extremely slow. I was on a walker for two weeks and disability for three months. I was on a cane for five months, and in physical therapy for nine months, and I didn't consider myself fully recovered until more than a year had passed. This thought occurred to me when I was marching back and forth in front of 242 class the other day (to demonstrate the concepts of sync) and I was winded at the end, and again today as we went hiking and I got short of breath. Although my lungs do not expand the way they used to before the two surgeries (for pneumonia, pleurisy, empyema, and pericarditis), they are a lot better than they were at their worst. It used to take me about ten minutes to walk down the stairs from the bedroom to the living room. Walking up was even worse, it took all my energy, both mental and physical. I remember the first time I was home alone and had to walk up the five steps from the living room to the bathroom by myself. I was very close to not making it. The change between then and now is astronomical, but for quite a while, I thought I would never recover. So I'm thankful that I'm alive and well.

I'm especially thankful for my wife. She saved my life as much as the doctors did. When I went into the hospital, I had no idea how sick I was. I thought I would be out in a few days. I was in a coma before I knew how bad things were, so all the important decisions had to be made by my wife. I can't imagine how difficult this must have been for her. She had gone home to the east coast because her father has been very ill and she needed to be a caretaker for him. It was right before Christmas when I got sick, and she had to fly back out here to be with her unconscious husband. At the time, they had no idea what was wrong with me, and even now they still don't know what caused the initial infection. On Christmas Eve, the doctors told her that I would not survive another week unless something was done. She was confronted with different options from different doctors, and wisely rejected one doctor who had completely misdiagnosed me, and she instead decided on emergency surgery. Thanks to her decision, and the care I got from the other doctors, I survived long enough to eventually beat the infection. I'm also forever indebted to her for being by my side throughout my recovery. Even when I was unconscious she visited me twice a day and read the sports page to me. She left being her father's caretaker to take care of me for months at home, then went back to her father. She had to cook, clean and take care of me like a full-time job. I can can never make up to her for what she has done for me.

I'm forever changed by what happened. I'm a lot more appreciative of the simplest things in life, whether it's enjoying a baseball game at Dodger stadium, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, a hike in the mountains, or a movie or TV show that moves me.

So for that, I'm thankful.

242 Extra Credit

Confirmation e-mails will be sent out after the holiday weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

VENUS

Peter O'Toole stars in VENUS, about an elderly actor falling in love with a young woman. Outstanding performance by O'Toole, as always, and the supporting cast is very good, but the script falls into cliches in the last third. Otherwise, worth seeing for O'Toole.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Football Wrapup

The BCS standings came out today, with a surprise. Michigan, who lost yesterday to #1 Ohio State, remain at #2, which means that the BCS Championship game could be a rematch of yesterday.

Most sports consider head-to-head records in the rankings. For instance, the Padres and Dodgers ended the season with identical records, but the Padres are considered the division winners because of their head-to-head record.

However, Michigan is only .007 above USC in the rankings. If USC beats #5 Notre Dame next week, they could edge out Michigan (whose regular season is over). USC would also have to beat UCLA the following week.

As I predicted, the Patriots easily beat Green Bay, shutting them out 35-0. And Buffalo won by a field goal, beating Houston 24-21.

Don't Pay OJ!

Sign the petition. Stop the insanity. Write to the Fox network AND your local Fox affiliate and tell them that you will not watch the program and that you will protest any advertisers of the show by refusing to buy their product.

Also write to all of the book sellers (including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon & Wal-Mart) and tell them that you will shop elsewhere. If you want to stop this book and TV show from making it to market, you must do so soon, and you must kick them where it hurts most, in the pocketbook.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NCAA Football Wrapup

#1 Ohio State beat Michigan by a scant 3 points. This means Michigan may still be ranked #2. Both teams have now finished their regular seasons. We'll have to wait for the BCS rankings to come out to see!

#4 USC easily beat #17 Cal, 23-9, but it may not be enough to move them up past #3 in the rankings. The good news is that they will at least go to the Rose Bowl.

#3 Florida hammered W. Carolina 62-0, but will still probably move down as a big win over an unranked team is essentially meaningless in the BCS. (Florida plays Florida State, another unranked team, next weekend.)

#6 Notre Dame, who beat unranked Army today, play at USC next week. A big win for USC could move them up to #2.

#7 Rutgers finally lost. Still, a great season that was totally unexpected. Always nice to see the underdogs do well.

242 Notes

Quiz scores were weak again. Expect a quiz this week. It will NOT cover the music material that is not finished (and may never be finished at this point). All quizzes are cumulative but focus on recent material.

ALSO remember that the extra credit assignment is due Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM via e-mail only!

GO TROJANS!

Friday, November 17, 2006

HOLLYWOODLAND

I finally caught up with HOLLYWOODLAND tonight.

A very good but flawed film. It uses a narrative device of a fictional private detective investigating the death of George Reeves, intercut with the actual backstory.

Ben Affleck, who plays Reeves (the star of the 50s serial SUPERMAN), does an amazing job of bringing to life the part of a hack actor playing a hack part. It's the best performance of his career.

In fact, the Superman scenes brought up bizarre childhood memories of watching the show in reruns in my childhood. They were very well done.

Adrien Brody, on the other hand, gave the performance of a lifetime in THE PIANIST, and has been trying to find his acting chops since. His approach to the part of the detective is almost a caricature, and with Affleck's naturalistic performance within a performance, it calls attention to Brody's mannered acting. In fact, the whole narrative structure feels interruptive, with Brody's character an intrusion in the flow. The third act of the film also feels labored, and without the detective it might have flowed a lot better.

Yet the story and Affleck are so compelling that the movie is still worthwhile.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Weekend Football Preview

Someone has to lose the #1 Ohio State - #2 Michigan game on Saturday. Odds are on Ohio State by 7, which would leave Michigan likely to drop in the rankings.

If #3 USC beats #17 Cal (as they are favored to do by 6), USC would likely move up to #2 and be in the national championship again this year.

I'll pick Ohio State by 10 and USC by 10.

In the NFL, Houston is favored by 2 over Buffalo, but with the Bills recent near-upset of the Colts, I'll pick the Bills by 3.

New England is favored by 6 over Green Bay. Looking carefully at the stats, they are a surprisingly well-matched pair of teams, but I think the Pats will win easily.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER

Saw a preview screening of Curse of the Golden Flower tonight. I was pretty excited as it is the same director as Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

This film is as visually exciting as the others, and the sound design is once again excellent. The action sequences were absolutely amazing. There are a few obvious visual effects shots, but the director said there were less than 20 effects shots in the film... and 1000 extras, mostly from the Chinese army.

However, the plot was a little on the melodramatic side. It was more along the lines of a soap opera than an action film. Yet it's still worth seeing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

242 Reminders

Extra Credit proposals are due by class start Tuesday morning VIA E-MAIL ONLY, PLEASE.

There will be a quiz. It will not cover the music material as that lecture has not been finished yet, but it will include the "Audio" material from the beginning of the lecture.

Tuesday there will be a guest lecture on the History of the Stereo-optical sound track. Normally this is given by Ioan Allen (The Egg Talk), but Ioan is not well, so Tom Holman (THX) will be filling in for him.

USC moved up to #3 in the BCS rankings, leaping over Florida. With #1 playing #2 next weekend, it's possible USC could move up again and make it to the championship game.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

NFL Weekend

The Bills held their own against the Colts, but still lost 17-16. They played well but missed an important filed goal.

New England was upset by the Jets, 17-14.

Football Upsets!

#7 USC won easily as predicted today, 35 - 10 over #21 Oregon.

But more importantly, there were three big upsets. Arizona upset #8 California. Georgia upset #5 Auburn, 37-15, and Kansas State upset #4 Texas. Combined with the Thursday upset (#15 Rutgers beating #3 Louisville), USC has a very good chance of leaping back up to #4 in the polls. If they beat the two more ranked teams they play in the next three weeks, they will probably go to the Rose Bowl!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sports Weekend Preview

USC plays #21 ranked Oregon tomorrow. Favored by a scant 8 points, I expect at least a 14 point victory. With Rutgers upsetting #3 Louisville, USC stands to move up a notch with a win.


In the NFL, Buffalo has the bad luck of playing the only undefeated team, Indianapolis. The Colts are favored by a scant 13, so it will be considered a victory if it's a close game.

New England play the Jets. Favored by 10, they should easily win.

THE GOOD MOVIE

Saw THE GOOD GERMAN tonight.

I liked it a lot, but mostly for the design, which was clearly an homage to the film noirs of the post-war era. Beautifully shot, amazing art direction, and without question, the best score I've heard in a while, the movie was more about mood than it was about plot and character.

Thomas Newman invoked his ancestors with a big, old-fashioned movie score. Most of the cast was very good, with Cate Blanchett switching out of Kate Hepburn mode (THE AVIATOR) and into Marlene Dietrich. Clooney was very good as well. Tobey Maguire was a little out of place given his naturalistic approach to acting, when everyone else was giving a stylized 1940s performance.

The major failing was the plot itself, which was so heavy with machinations that one expected a huge revelation at the end, when in fact they just dusted up the loose plot ends.

One has to credit Clooney and Soderbergh for taking chances and making a black & white film with virtually no commercial value.

JD Drew

Dodgers outfielder J.D. "Just Disabled" Drew has filed for free agency. He had a contract for three more years with the Dodgers at $11M/year, but somehow felt that he could get more money elsewhere. His agent, Scott Boras, is well known for trying to milk as much money as humanly possible out of his clients. He might actually get a little more out of another team, but Drew is not exactly a popular guy, and for the money, most teams will want an everyday player, which Drew's history shows he is NOT.

I'm glad to see him go. This gives the Dodgers $11M a year to spend on someone who won't spend half his time on the disabled list. It means the Dodgers are more likely to pick up another year from Kenny Lofton, or maybe even Nomar, who has indicated that he would consider playing outfield if needed. However, Nomar in the outfield sounds like an injury waiting to happen.

So now the Dodgers need a starting pitcher to be their ace, another outfielders, AND another big bat on top.

Searching for BOBBY

I was five years old when Bobby Kennedy was shot. Being from Massachusetts, this was a big event in my life. I remember seeing the footage on TV and asking my father what had happened. He told me that Kennedy was shot. Somehow, even at age 5, I had known about John Kennedy, and said something along the lines of "that's old news." My father explained to me that it was his brother Bobby.

Emilio Estevez was six when it happened and he remembers telling his father (Martin Sheen) the news. (Funny how Emilio looks about ten years younger than me.)

I'm willing to forgive some of the problems with the film BOBBY because it really has its heart in the right place.

There are a lot of great things about the film. The cast is absolutely phenomenal. Look at this list!
Harry Belafonte
Nick Cannon
Emilio Estevez
Laurence Fishburne
Heather Graham
Anthony Hopkins
Helen Hunt
Ashton Kutcher
Shia LaBeouf
Lindsay Lohan
William H. Macy
Svetlana Metkina
Demi Moore
Freddy Rodríguez
Martin Sheen
Christian Slater
Sharon Stone
Elijah Wood

The movie sounded good and had a good score by Marc Isham. It also had fantastic art direction and wardrobe.

However, there were weaknesses. Some of the writing was a little self-conscious to the point of maudlin. Laurence Fishburne and Martin Sheen both have lengthy monologues that sound more like something out of an acting class than a feature film.

The film uses a technique I mentioned was also used on THE QUEEN. Like Diana in that film, Bobby Kennedy in this film is shown only through actual footage. It works pretty well, but in the climax of the film, they spend way too much time on him and a speech of his, rather than letting the characters we've learned to care about in the previous two hours finish their stories.

An interesting side note: Emilio says that the impetus for this film came when he realized that so many of the film industry people he knew were leaving the business because work in LA is drying up. He was doing a shoot at the Ambassador Hotel and realized, hey, here's a location they CAN NOT POSSIBLY shoot elsewhere. So he started scripting the film.

I admire him for doing this, and for remembering Bobby. We really miss politicians who had that idealism.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

242 Extra Credit

People have asked what the difference is between the proposal and the analysis.

The proposal is one paragraph.
The only reason I ask for the proposal is to steer people away from making a poor choice of scene. If you are unsure which scene to do, suggest several and I will tell you which one I think would be a good choice.

The analysis is at least two pages.


PART I: PROPOSAL PROPOSAL DUE 9:00 AM 11/14

Choose one of your favorite films and select a sequence that is two to four minutes long that you enjoy that DOES NOT FOCUS ON DIALOG OR MUSIC but is instead designed around sound effects, Foley and/or backgrounds. (Although the scene may include some music or dialog, it should not be designed around it. It should be an “effects scene.”)

IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO THIS ASSIGNMENT, YOU MUST NOTIFY ME NO LATER THAN NEXT WEEK. Please let me know exactly which clip you will be showing. E-mail me a copy of your proposal.

IF YOU DO NOT TURN IN A PROPOSAL, I WILL NOT ACCEPT AN EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENT FROM YOU.

PART II: ANALYSIS ASSIGNMENT DUE 9:00 AM 11/21
Type up a brief analysis of the sound design in the scene. Try to analyze what elements are present and how they function. Try to write as clearly and thoroughly as possible in a critical and analytical manner, the same way we do when we analyze clips in class. E-mail me the assignment.

Your typed paper should be at least TWO pages long (double-spaced in a normal typeface, at least 500 words).

If you choose a clip that includes music, you should discuss its spotting and function, however, the main area of analysis should be the sound design.

If you choose to do this assignment, your grade on it will replace a lower quiz grade. Please note that if you already have a high average (a “B” or above), this assignment will NOT necessarily help your average significantly.

If you have an average below 80, you should definitely do this assignment, especially if you have missed more than one quiz.

Extra credit assignments that are turned in after the due date will be treated as late and will be downgraded. No extra credit assignments will be accepted after our last regular class meeting.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

HALLELUJAH!!!

I've tried not to go into political rants on my blog, as there are already too many that do that. (One exception was my Labor Day Rant.)

However, I can't ignore today's issues. For the last five years, the Republicans have slowly dug their own graves by continually overstepping their bounds and abusing their privileges, and most of all, by not listening to the American public. Today the Democrats take control of the House. They also have 28 Governorships, and are one seat away from taking control of the Senate. In addition, a lot of propositions were shot down, many of them conservative ploys to confuse the voters.

Strangely, California now has one of the most conservative governors with the Arnold's re-election. He won mostly by turning his back on the Republicans who financed his campaign, and he wisely distanced himself from conservative issues in the last days of his first term. Unfortunately, this is exactly what he did before the first election, so we can expect him to return to catering to the Republican right when the dust has settled.

However, by far the most important victory yesterday was one that was not an elected official: Donald Rumsfeld has resigned as Defense Secretary, after months of denial from both Rummy and Bush that there would be any changes after the election. Rumsfeld has disturbingly stayed the course in Iraq to the point of irrationality. It's very clear that the war has become a complete mess, and new leadership is needed to turn things around. I can only hope that this is the beginning of major changes in the operation. Unfortunately, we still have Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, although Rove's influence has apparently dropped considerably.

An excellent article on the Iraq issue was Fareed Zakaria's cover story in Newsweek last week.

I also sincerely hope that the Democrats don't blow this singular opportunity. They need to work together to unify the country now. If they try to whiplash in the other direction, then the country will still be too divided and ultimately things will reverse direction again in another coming election.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tivo Sound Thread

Interesting thread about sound on the Tivo Community Forum, along with typically stupid answers.

Failures of OUR FATHERS

I'm not a huge fan of war films to begin with, and in particular, right now, I'm even less a fan of a film that glorifies or romanticizes war in any way, because people might use it as ammunition to justify the current Iraq War.

However, based on the good reviews, I was looking forward to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Unfortunately, I don't think the film lives up to the hype.

First off, is there some law now that war scenes must be shot to look like the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN? I know Spielberg produced the film, but can't we use a different look?

The film is definitely a departure for Clint Eastwood. It uses a much bigger canvas than most of his films. Don't get me wrong, there are some great scenes, especially about the American Indian character. But there were a lot of narrative problems. The basic story (about the subjects of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising photo) is almost too simple to sustain a 2 1/2 hour film; yet somehow, the flashback structure makes the characters and storyline so blurry that it's hard to tell what's going on. In particular, the third act feels jumpy and unfulfilled.

I will say this, it's the best "big sound" job I've heard this year. Kudos to everyone involved with the sound design. And one of the reasons the sound worked was the fact the Clint laid off the heavy-handed score during the battle scenes. He let the sound play the scene, which made it feel more real. Unfortunately, the scenes that he does score later on feel melancholic and manipulative because of his music.

I think there was a good movie somewhere in there, too bad it didn't show up on the screen.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NFL Today

If you had told me that at the end of the day today, there would be only one undefeated team in the NFL, I would have assumed it to be Chicago, meaning that New England would have beat the Colts.

New England put up a decent fight, but the Colts were consistently the better team tonight and remain undefeated. NE fans weren't too happy to see Adam Vinitieri kicking for the Colts now. Although he got two field goals, he also missed two, which is pretty bad for him.

Chicago, whom many had considered the best team in the NFL, lost to last-place Miami, whom many considered one of the worst teams. That leaves Indianapolis as the only undefeated team.

Buffalo had a good win over Green Bay, a win they badly needed.

242 Notes on Grades

Quiz scores last week were abysmal; by far the worst yet. I have structured this course so that it is top-loaded with the creative material, and therefore the technical material tends to be clumped more towards the end of the semester. For that reason, some people may think this class gets harder as it goes along. You will definitely have to read the book more carefully with the remaining chapters, and you will need to review your notes before coming in to class for the quizzes.

(However, there are still two guest lectures coming up, and I will try to fit in my lecture on film music in one of the remaining weeks as well.)

The good news is that almost half of the class did the first extra credit assignment. The second extra credit assignment will be distributed this week and will be due in two weeks. Also, grades will be scaled by dropping the lowest quiz score. So most of you are still OK.

However, there do seem to be a few people who are "daring" me to fail them. There are still three people who have not turned in Assignment 2. Remember, your grade drops with time: the later it is turned in, the lower your grade.

Amazingly, 2 of the 4 people who are currently failing the class chose not to do the ridiculously easy extra credit assignment (while several people at the top of the class did do it, even though it is unlikely to help their already high grades).

If your average in this class is under a C-, you MUST repeat the class next semester or drop out of the cinema program. You may not take 310 until you have a "C" or better in this class, which may ultimately delay your graduation as well. (Also note that if you skip a semester before 310, it makes it very, very difficult to find a partner.)

Also you must maintain an average of B- in required cinema production classes. If you are getting more than one "C" this semester, you may also be held back from taking 310.

I've taught this class three times before and never had so many people so close to failing. Please don't be the first person to fail this class when I'm teaching it.

Check my office door to see what your average is. Occasionally grades get entered incorrectly into the database. It is YOUR responsibility to check the grades that are posted. If you find a problem or have a question, see the SA Jonathan to double-check.

See you Tuesday. As always, the quiz is cumulative but focuses primarily on last week's material.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

USC Wins!

My prediction came true, and USC won big time today, 42-0 over Stanford, the big win we've been waiting all year for! (Of course, they beat the only team in the league that does not have a win yet, so it's not that much to brag about.)

LSU upset #8 Tennessee, so we may see USC back in the top 8 in this week's rankings.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sports Weekend

USC plays Stanford tomorrow, favored by 28 points. UCLA plays at Cal, with Cal favored by 17. This is the first time in history that they two LA teams will both be in Berkeley at the same time. Apparently, they are expecting the fans to be as disaster to the city, they've
taken out a full page ad in the USC paper begging them not to destroy the place.

On Sunday, New England plays the undefeated Colts in a Superbowl rematch. NE is favored by 3. Buffalo plays Green Bay and are favored by 3.

Better than FICTION!

Saw the film STRANGER THAN FICTION tonight. Although the reviews have been mixed, I thought the film was fantastic. I was a little skeptical going in, as self-reflexive art can be tedious and pretentious, but this was very well-written. The casting is great, and Will Ferrell continues to grow as an actor with a deep performance in this film. Dustin Hoffman gives an atypically understated performance. Definitely a film worth seeing, especially for people in the arts, who will see themselves in this film.

Also some nice subtle, subjective sound design. And one STAR TREK TOS sound effect!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

242 Grades

Excellent work on both the 2nd Assignment and the Extra Credit Assignment! Updated grades including the EC Assignment will be posted on my door tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

If you are not happy with your grade to Assignment 2, you are always welcome to redo it, but it must be turned in ASAP, as the "redo" grade will drop with time just like a late assignment. Frankly, unless you had a 7 or lower, redoing will not make a large difference in your grade. You're better off doing the next Extra Credit Assignment, which will be given out soon.

And remember, the lowest quiz grade will be dropped anyway.

ALSO remember, if you wish to show one of your films in class, drop a DVD off for me in the sound department.

FINALLY, today's lecture has been uploaded to the web site, but unfortunately, the battery died during the second half of the lecture, so you only get the first half.

SHUT UP and See this Film!

Saw the documentary SHUT UP AND SING tonight. It's really good, but like INCONVENIENT TRUTH, it preaches to the choir.

I'm not a country music fan, but there are a lot of interesting things in the movie. Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, is much smarter than one would be led to believe by both the mainstream media and much of her music. Clearly the best musician of the three as well, she was the one who made the comment between songs that led to the group's infamy.

One of the interesting sidebars of the film is the fact that even with radio boycotting their single, the Dixie Chicks follow-up album of politically-motivated material hit number one without ANY radio airplay. Amazingly, they became a much better group when their label (Sony) and Clear Channel (virtually a monopoly on major radio stations) no longer forced them to be the group that they thought the public wanted.

Radio is dead. Thank god. As I've mentioned in class, the audience for pop music now is more musically literate than ever, and has broader tastes. Pop radio no longer serves them, once the Internet opened their ears to the many other sources available.

As for the political content of the film, it's inherent in art that the artist injects his or her beliefs into the medium of their choice. Great composers, writers, and directors have always put their politics into their work, and since songs have lyrics, they will always reflect their point of view.

The mistake the Chicks made was making the statement in between songs. If they had simply written a song about the war, they would have been fine, and in fact, now that the did that, they are fine.

Nonetheless, the film is an important statement about censorship in the media. Not since the McCarty era have we seen such a concerted effort to squelch the dissident voice.

See this film.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

BABEL-ing Aimlessly

Saw BABEL tonight. Quite a letdown. Although it had many great moments, the sum of its parts was much less than a whole.

The movie has three intertwining stories. The worst of the three is the Mexican story, which is surprising, as it's a Mexican film, and the Mexican characters are the weakest. In fact, they make the Mexican characters look like morons, thinking they can smuggle two American kids to Mexico and back with no problems. This story is sadly predictable and full of cliches.

The Japanese story is better, but still weak. It's about a deaf Japanese girl longing to grow up too quickly and in the wrong ways. The actress is very good, but the story meanders aimlessly at the end, and it's the scene they choose to end the movie with, which makes it feel very unfulfilling at the end. This story could have been cut out entirely and it would not have effected the story.

The most interesting story takes place in Morocco with a local family, and some tourists played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Don't blink, or you'll miss Cate's part in the film. Pitt is not particularly good in the film, although he's not terrible, but it's certainly not Oscar material for either of them.

The movie also plays on the long side, which is inexcusable when you have a film that is so easily editable.