Monday, January 31, 2011


Please, stop the superhero movies already!

Really, does anyone over the age of 12 want to see another comic book movie? Well, anyone over 12 who has ever seen a woman naked in real life? Stick a fork in it, they are done. And this movie pisses on their graves.

IRON MAN 2 probably could have been a good movie at some point, but it's hard to tell from this mess. It seems like an awful lot of screen time is dedicated to setting up some sequel that I don't give a crap about. Probably 30 minutes could have been cut out of this movie - mostly in the second act - and it would have been much better, although it probably still would not have been watchable by anyone whose testicles have descended.

A great cast seems to be phoning it in for the paycheck. It's hard to believe there will be an IRON MAN 3, but if there is, I will likely skip it unless I have to see it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS is about as strange a movie as I have ever seen. It's an animated movie with talking owls, and the first ten minutes seem like it is for VERY young children, yet the plot (about two young owls who get kidnapped and forced into slave labor for an evil empire) is much too dark, and gets much darker as it goes along. It is not at all appropriate for kids.

There are a lot of plot elements common in other films, including the Star Wars films, that give the movie a little too much familiarity at times. I have to say I did like the film, but with a lot of reservations. The British/Australian accents and sense of humor don't really help much, it moves the film away from Americans emotionally. I know the film is based on a novel, so I'm guessing they had to be true to the story, and there were a lot of elements that seemed confusing and glossed over in the film.

The animation, however, was outstanding. Really amazing. It was a Warner Brothers animated film, and they have really come a long way. The lighting/shading and color in particular were excellent. Apparently much lower budget than many other animated films as well. I think it's worth a view for fans of animation.

Friday, January 28, 2011


The Colorado Symphony gave an excellent concert of Mozart's music tonight, featuring the overture to The Magic Flute and an Oboe Concerto performed by the orchestra's principal oboist, Peter Cooper, who played beautifully, making it seem easy. He has a gorgeous tone quality.

But the main piece of the evening was the Mozart Requiem, delivered by the largest chorus I have ever seen, at about 180 people. The orchestra was properly sized for Mozart, which made the balance a little odd. That large of a chorus is difficult to keep focused, especially on rhythm. The chorus fell behind several times on the faster tempi, especially the basses.

Conductor Bernard Labadie gave a much better performance than last year. He was much more subtle and emotional. He divided the strings the correct way for Mozart, with the violins opposing each other. He did a very good job with the Requiem, which was the Robert Levin completion, not the Süssmayr completion that everyone knows. If there was any weakness, it came form the soloists. Sporano Shannon Mercer was excellent, but bass Jeremy Gaylon was too weak to perform the Tuba Mirum the way it was meant. You need a full voice for that solo.

Nonetheless, a great evening, and a very full audience.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


SALT is an enjoyable diversion, much better than most contemporary action films, and actually a nice combination of thriller and action film. There were a lot of moments I felt like I was watching a Hitchcock thriller, on steroids. Also, the movie sounded great.

There are still two problems with the film. Not enough character setup or development is the first, there's much more of an emphasis on action than character. I think this ultimately hurts the film. What little character development there is comes from cheesey flashbacks throughout the film. The second problem is that the third act loses a lot of momentum and doesn't really pay off emotionally. The final twist is kind of goofy, and there's never really a satisfying ending.

But it was still a lot of fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


LEBANON is a fascinating war film telling the story of a young crew inside an Israeli tank. Clearly inspired by the German film DAS BOOT, virtually the entire film takes place inside the tank, much of it on reaction shots of the men. Like the German film, much of the story is told with sound, and I have to say the film sounded spectacular. It also had excellent acting, and considering the location, the film was very well shot. My only criticism is that the last act could have used a little more punch. Nonetheless, I highly recommend the film.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


In 1985, an excellent action film called RUNAWAY TRAIN was released with the most bizarre of pedigrees. It was written by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, directed by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsiy, and produced by schlock-meisters Golan and Globus. (I later worked with Menahem Golan on several low budget films early in my career.) The film starred Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay. It was one of those rare action films that was actually much more than an action film and was instead an art film disguised as an action film.

UNSTOPPABLE is instead an action film and nothing more. That said, once the action gets underway in the second act, it really does keep your attention. Unfortunatley, the script appears to be a series of outtakes from action films whose directors decided the dialogue and characters were just too cliched to be included in their films. The film does make for a good drinking game; every time someone does something you've seen in another bad film, take a drink. You won't make it to the end of act one. It's like an encyclopedia of bad writing. Need more exposition? How about a cell phone call explaining it?

The film did have excellent sound design, and it get nominated for the Oscar this morning, which was well deserved. The basic story idea, a train running out of control into a densely populated small town, gives enough tension to watch through the end, and the film is lucky to have two good actors in the lead roles to carry many of the weaker moments.

But unfortunately I spent way too much time thinking that I should watch RUNAWAY TRAIN again. At least I was reminded to add that film to my Netflix queue.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


NORTH FACE is a gripping German film about an attempted climb of the most dangerous face in the Alps. If you enjoyed INTO THIN AIR, or EVEREST, you will find this film excellent. The script is tight, the acting is good, and the sound design es excellent. The music is a little cliched, but I'll forgive that since the film worked as a whole. This movie is what 127 HOURS wishes it could have been.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I like Jean-Pierre Jeunet a lot, and I hadn't even heard of his latest film MICMACS until I watched it, so maybe my expectations were low. But I think this is one of the most entertaining films I've seen this year. My major criticism of the film is that it is extremely reminiscent of several of his earlier films,most notably AMELIE and DELICATESSEN. Almost to the point that he was making homages to himself.

But other than that, there's a lot to like in this dark comedy about a man who decides to take revenge against two weapons manufacturers who have wronged him. Jeunet has a very stylized look and uses both music and sound design very well. I suppose this is somewhat of an acquired taste since the film received mixed reviews, but though I greatly enjoy his bizarre characters and attention to detail.

I think if you like his previous films, you will probably like this one just as much, but it is quite bizarre.


A PROPHET is a French film about a young Muslim who is sent to a French prison. It's an interesting film in many ways, one in that it is unlike American films, and another in that it starts in medias res, giving the audience only passing references to his backstory or the reason why he is in prison. As such, it is only through his actions in prison that we learn his character. This is probably frustrating for people who are used to having all the information spoon-fed to them very simplly the opening three scenes of the movie. But this actually makes the film much stronger.

It is also a long film; at 2 1/2 hours, it seems as though it could have been better paced. It's confusing as well, although I think a lot of that is cultural, I probably would have understood what was going on better if I knew more about French Muslims. Even with the flaws, I found the film fascinating, and highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


This was the longest 78 minutes I have ever had to sit through.

For some reason I thought that this might be a good film. I thought it was going to be an art documentary like KOYAANISQATSI, with artfully shot photos of babies in a giant music montage.

Boy was I wrong. It's putrid and as dull as dishwater. I honestly could not keep my eyes open. They used only four babies, there's no dialog, almost no music, and nothing happening. There's a US baby from San Fransisco (why?) with three international babies who are inherently far more interesting. The Tokyo baby unfortunately is too much like the American baby, but the more interesting babies are from Africa and Mongolia, since the style of raising babies there is so different from what we are used to.

Also, where was the diaper changing montage? We had to watch one baby rub his crotch against a rusty bucket for about five minutes (seriously, this is in the movie) but they don't even note that they need a changing now and then?

Avoid this film like the plague.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Like many low budget movies, WINTER'S BONE has some rough edges, but overall, it's a very well-made and gripping film. Based on a novel, the story is very involving. The first thirty minutes or so are a little rambling, but once it starts moving it really keeps your attention.

There's a weird mix of acting. The movie takes place in the Missouri Ozarks. Some of the characters are good actors but not at all convincing as being from the area (like the lead actress). Some are clearly local extras who are convincing but not good actors. A few are both (mostly older actors).

There are some rough technical edges as well, focus seems to be a moving target in a few shots, and at other times the camera is in the wrong place. But overall I would recommend the film to fans of independent filmmaking.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Pancho Sanchez talks at NAMM in front of a poster of himself playing.

I've been going to NAMM for many years now, and I'm always surprised by how active and loud it is. There are a lot of weirdos here, so it makes for great people-watching. It is still a lot of fun.

The show seemed less busy than last year, although Saturday is usually the busiest day, and Sunday usually the deadest. It also seemed quieter than before. A lot of live instrument manufacturers were about, and lots of drums and percussion in particular.

In the electronics area, most of the new materials were software driven, like Pro Tools 9 and various plug-ins for different platforms. Nothing terribly exciting that made me want to turn over my credit card, but it was a lot of fun seeing all these music lovers in one room.

MPSE Tron Show

The MPSE had an excellent sound show tonight with the sound editors from the movie TRON. These events are always a good way to learn about what sound designers do. This was such a complicated movie from conception to finish, it's not surprising that the sound design was so good. Hearing the supervisors themselves explain how they did things is invaluable. Steve Boeddeker explained that one of the major sound design elements for the bikes was the sound of a deck of cards shuffling.

Perhaps one of the most shocking things was hearing the original production tracks, which had annoying high-pitched whines all over them form the lights on the suits that they were wearing. Amazingly, the dialog editors were able to remove it before delivering it to the stage.

Mixer Gary Rizzo explained how they used the 7.1 channels of sound to make the groups sound bigger and the announcer sound like a stadium sound. It was also nice to hear the hidden Wilhelm in the movie.

I hope they get the opportunity to do more of these shows. There were a lot of students in the audience; it's great to see all the young faces there.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


RABBIT HOLE as a great contrast to last night's film, BLUE VALENTINE. It cleansed my palette. Both films show the degeneration of a relationship, and both have top-notch actors in the film, but other than that, they are grossly different.

I was thinking more about what was wrong with BLUE VALENTINE today and realized that the gimmick of inter-cutting the two time-lines actually got in the way of the story instead of making it better. It would probably be a much better movie told linearly. And you cut half an hour out of it. Except that you would then notice that there was absolutely no reason for their relationship to fall apart.

Also I realised while watching that much of that film was obviously improvised, which is generally not a good thing. Filmmakers often think something is brilliant when they see their actors improvise, and leave it in the film, when audiences expect dialogue that is not trite and is better thought out than an actor could make up on the spot. Structure and discipline are good things when making a movie.

RABBIT HOLE was clearly made by professionals. The film looked and sounded fantastic. The relationships were clearly defined, and all of the emotional changes were motivated. Really, is this too much to ask for in a film? Granted, it was based on a play, so plenty of thought had gone into character, structure and dialogue long before it was a film, but it's a nice relief to see a film that makes sense.

The film does have flaws; it's inherently depressing, it takes itself too seriously at times (the few laughs in the film are very welcome) and the ending seems to pop up out of nowhere. But it certainly did not overstay its welcome.

Recommended if you can deal with the tragedy.

Monday, January 10, 2011


BLUE VALENTINE is a two-hour long student film. The film is constructed with the silly conceit that it will tell a love story by inter-cutting the beginning of the relationship with the end of the relationship. The problem with this is that you basically tell the end of the film at the beginning, and for the next two hours the audience has a chance to use their imagination to fill in the middle long before it ever happens on screen.

Even worse, it turns out the middle is the most predictable storyline imaginable, and it would have been trite even if it were on an afternoon soap opera. Except that since the movie is rated R, we get gratuitous sex, and the most clinically accurate abortion scene ever filmed.

If this sounds like a downer, you're right, stay home a drop a Quaalude, you'll feel a lot better than sitting through the longest two-hours of the year.

Also annoying was the camerawork. I can't imagine that anyone working on the film ever watched dailies on a screen bigger than 24". Every single shot in the movie is an extreme close-up. Hand-held. Out of focus. Blurry reflections. The backs of peoples heads. Seriously, it looked like a first semester student film. On a computer screen it might have been passable, but on the big screen barf-inducing.

SKip it.


WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is a simpleton's explanation of the problem's with America's public school system. It does a great job of explaining that the problems are much worse than most people realize, and backs that up with facts and statistics, then goes on to blame teachers' unions for the brunt of the problems, stating many things as though they are fact, when, in fact, they are just opinions, and not very well researched ones.

I come from a family of teachers, and I can tell you how difficult a job it is. Granted, all unions are flawed, but mostly because they don't have much power. This movie overstates to ridiculous proportion how much power the teachers' unions have. It misstates what tenure is in public school systems (when many systems do not even have tenure) and makes it sound like it's easy to get tenure, and that all teachers who get tenure become lazy bums.

Instead, they want to change the system to make teachers get reward pay for good performance. This of course introduces its own problems, as standardized tests are the only way to judge performance, and of course it's not solely up to the teacher how well a class does on tests.

To give such a simple critique of the system is the equivalent of the "No Child Left Behind" act that the filmmaker criticizes; you cannot with one simple change think that you are going to fix all of the problems associated with education.

There's no question that the education system is a mess. I talked about this at Renaissance Weekend. The real problem comes primarily from family situations that do not support education at home, and do not encourage their kids to study math, science, and languages. Until that changes, nothing will be fixed in America.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


SWING TIME was one of the three films from the AFI Top 100 that I had not seen, so I took a look at it the other night. It was a pleasant surprise for the most part. I like TOP HAT a lot, even though it's obviously dated, so it's a little odd that it took me so long to see this one. Fred Astaire might not have been much of an actor, but he did have a natural likability on the screen which makes him a joy to watch, especially when dancing.

SWING TIME had two big surprises, the first being just how good of an actress Ginger Rogers is in the film. She really could act. The rest of the cast is quite funny as well, and although the plot was simple, predicatble, and dated, it was involving enough to watch it to the end.

The other big surprise was the black-face dance sequence. I'm not sure how I forgot about this, but it really pulls a contemporary audience out of the movie. That said, it's still a brilliant dance sequence, but without the real Bill "Bojangles" Robinson onscreen, its a constant reminder of how racist an era it was. (Instead he literally plays Astaire's shadow while he dances.)

It's too bad, it really dates the film terribly. But just like the "n" word in Mark Twain's novel, it's an important historical reminder of a time gone by.


Yesterday the Cinema Audio Society had another of its excellent seminars at Sony studios. The topic was the Digital Gameplan, how to use proper work-flow to deal with synchronization issues. You would think that after all these years things would have been worked out, but especially with the advent of 3D, synch is more important than ever, and with many shows using multiple cameras and many microphones all the time, it is more complicated than it has ever been.

John Coffey did an excellent job of organizing the event, and all of the guest speakers contributed important tidbits about new technologies. However the most interesting part of the day was listening to comments and questions from the audience. It's very clear that there are many differing opinions about what the right work-flow path is, and that the biggest issue will always be the fact that it is a community of people who have to work together to ensure synch stays perfect throughout the complex work-flow that most shows are now working with. This was just the tip of the iceberg, and with Avid's help, a white paper is being started to document some of the many issues that people are dealing with.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

CES 2011

CES 2011, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is an awful lot like 2010 except I think attendance has gone up slightly. They claim they were expected 120,00, but it did not look that crowded; that would match peak crowds from before the crash.

There were quite a number of HUGE demos from vendors, much bigger individual floor spaces than I ever remember, all in the central hall. However, the south and north halls had much lamer, smaller vendors than I remember in the past. Nowhere near as much car tech as in the past.

There are a few big new items named in news reports, like new tablets to compete against the iPad. I don't really have a reason to look for a tablet yet, and if I did, I'd probably get an iPad, so I ignored those. I also ignored the 4G phones as I have a new iPhone and don't really need the frustration of wondering when Apple will introduce their 4G model.

I love my iPhone but increasingly I hate AT&T. There was literally no data reception all day long at the convention center, undoubtedly because the network was clogged from overuse. Here's a thought AT&T: when you know that 120,000 important gadget geeks are judging your network, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

There was also a bizarre chemical spill that shut down the strip just as the show was opening. I'm blaming AT&T for that as well.

The news reports are also talking about the fact that 3D TV has taken a backseat because of its failure over the last year. Well, it's true that 3D has failed. I predicted this at last year's show because of the down market, combined with the fact that everyone just bought expensive new HDTVs already. Add to that the other inherent problems with 3D.

But they are wrong that it has taken a backseat; 3D was all over the show, perhaps more so than any other technology, and again I predict failure. In addition to the aforementioned problems, 3D set makers believed the failure was due to the fact that the glasses they were trying to sell were too expensive. They were using the shutter-system that were $150/pair, were heavy, and required recharging. However, they gave a much clearer image.

They have moved backwards to polarized glasses which are cheap and easier to wear, but with worse picture quality. I happened to walk by the Panasonic booth as they were starting a demo and there were available seats (a rarity) so I watched. I've gone on record in the past as stating that I hate 3D. I have plenty of vision problems and am one of the sizable minority who gets a headache with the glasses on, trying to focus my eyes on something that isn't there. No exception today, less than two minutes into the presentation and I had a splitting headache. It did not help that the audio was at ear-splitting levels, especially through the sub-woofer.

When using polarized lenses, by definition, the light is dropped by a full stop. This makes everything look dim. I have real trouble seeing dim images. The things that look best in 3D are daytime exteriors. No surprise that the sports highlights that they showed were very involving.

They showed sections of TRON which looks like a nightmare for 3D. The movie takes place in a dark fantasy land where everyone is dressed alike. There was so little light I could not see actors' faces and could not tell who was whom.

The other problem is that it is rife for gimmickry. Many of the shots overemphasize depth to comical proportions. A car turning a corner looked like it was about 100 feet long as it came towards the camera. A kid sitting on a twin bed looked like it had been designed Wilt Chamberlain. Even a normal guy looked like one of the undersea creatures in THE ABYSS because the depth on his head was overdone. At best it was distracting and never added anything to the quality.

There was very little else that caught my eye, but I went through the show pretty quickly.

Monday, January 03, 2011


Restrepo is a documentary about troops fighting in Afghanistan. It's very good and well worth watching, but to be honest, there isn't that much in it that I didn't already know. However, if you don't know much about the war, this may surprise you. It documents pretty well how badly the war is being run.


Sunday, January 02, 2011


Although I liked a lot of things about THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, I have to say that ultimately I was very let down by the film. It's weird that the movie is titled after the kids, and the opening scenes are about them, because the film is not at all about the kids, and that type of misdirection doesn't help. But that doesn't bother me as much as the last act.

The first two thirds of the film really hooked me; the writing is great and the characters are very real and complex. It's interesting seeing a film which treats two middle-aged lesbians as normal characters and not sideshow freaks. On the other hand, it's not completely convincing that two such feminine women represent what most lesbian couples are really like. It's been Hollywood-ized to cleanse the palette for mainstream audiences.

The movie really fell apart for me when SPOILER!!! they take the obvious choice of having the more attractive woman suddenly have an affair with a man. I guess there's no way to have an interesting story about gay characters without making one of them go straight? Or were they afraid that two women could not carry a film without a man's presence? In either case, it's an insult to the audience, and even worse, it digs the film into a rut that it just can't get out of. The dialogue suddenly became that of a soap opera. In fact, I wondered if it had been written deliberately tritely to show that lesbian couples go through the same things as straight couples. It doesn't matter, it didn't work for me.

That said, the cast is exceptional. Julianne Moore is great as always, and Marc Ruffalo seems like the part was written for him. The kids are actually underutilized, though.

An interesting film, but not worth all the attention it's getting.