Beyond~en~Scène

be·yond
first and foremost a filmmaker. often a photographer. usually a writer. always a music enthusiast.

I saw The Sting for the first time 4 or 5 years ago. I remember enjoying the experience, but somehow managed to forget everything else about the movie. Let’s not let that happen again. George Roy Hill's foray into the con artist film genre is pure class.
P.S. I’m no woman, but Paul Newman is one good looking sonofabitch.
Screenwriter guru Robert McKee said this in regards to writing movies: "you can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you’ll have a hit."
2 years after it’s release, I finally got around to watch The Dark Knight Rises. THAT ENDING…
I was rightfully warned that the conclusion to the trilogy is much weaker than it’s darker predecessor. Yes, The Dark Knight was an anomaly in the superhero universe, a film that stood on it’s own merits as a mature psychological action thriller. Rises however, like most trilogy concluders, must go back to the very beginning of the story to tie everything together in a nice rounded arc, which means it relies too much on the existing films to work as a stand alone film, just look at the title. Maybe it’s the tanks, the flying car, the villain whose face is impossible to read and whose voice sounds like a computer, or maybe it’s a few missing beats here and there, but the film failed to really suspend my belief to truly be engaged with it. But the ending…that ending was beautiful. Once the end credits came up, I couldn’t help but to smile and feel all warm inside, and for that, the film is forgiven.
P.S. My god Anne Hathaway is sexy as Catwoman. She was perfect.

Screenwriter guru Robert McKee said this in regards to writing movies: "you can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you’ll have a hit."

2 years after it’s release, I finally got around to watch The Dark Knight Rises. THAT ENDING…

I was rightfully warned that the conclusion to the trilogy is much weaker than it’s darker predecessor. Yes, The Dark Knight was an anomaly in the superhero universe, a film that stood on it’s own merits as a mature psychological action thriller. Rises however, like most trilogy concluders, must go back to the very beginning of the story to tie everything together in a nice rounded arc, which means it relies too much on the existing films to work as a stand alone film, just look at the title. Maybe it’s the tanks, the flying car, the villain whose face is impossible to read and whose voice sounds like a computer, or maybe it’s a few missing beats here and there, but the film failed to really suspend my belief to truly be engaged with it. But the ending…that ending was beautiful. Once the end credits came up, I couldn’t help but to smile and feel all warm inside, and for that, the film is forgiven.

P.S. My god Anne Hathaway is sexy as Catwoman. She was perfect.

Remember all the things I said that was wrong with The Spanish Prisoner yesterday? Well David Mamet did all of them right here with House of Games. How did he manage to direct his debut film so well and then totally lose it with his fifth one? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Anyway, this is a great film. Anyone who’s seen a handful of con films can tell where the story was going, but the final resolution was something you couldn’t possibly expect, because it’s no longer a con. You give the audience what they want, then some more that they weren’t expecting. And that’s how you make a good con film.

Remember all the things I said that was wrong with The Spanish Prisoner yesterday? Well David Mamet did all of them right here with House of Games. How did he manage to direct his debut film so well and then totally lose it with his fifth one? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Anyway, this is a great film. Anyone who’s seen a handful of con films can tell where the story was going, but the final resolution was something you couldn’t possibly expect, because it’s no longer a con. You give the audience what they want, then some more that they weren’t expecting. And that’s how you make a good con film.

On a con artist roll, I watched The Grifters. Quite an odd film. Odd in the sense that for a film about grifters, the plot isn’t concerned with a particular con at all, rather it’s a character and relationship study, and con men just happen to be the people in question. I guess that’s something I’ve never seen before in the genre. Well acted and directed, my only real pick with the film is the odd choice of music. Playful and comedic, it acted as a constant reminder that we should find this film funny. But the reality was far from it. This jarring combination left me feeling a little confused.
I loved this particular shot of Anjelica Huston descending down the elevator. I wanna steal it one day.

On a con artist roll, I watched The Grifters. Quite an odd film. Odd in the sense that for a film about grifters, the plot isn’t concerned with a particular con at all, rather it’s a character and relationship study, and con men just happen to be the people in question. I guess that’s something I’ve never seen before in the genre. Well acted and directed, my only real pick with the film is the odd choice of music. Playful and comedic, it acted as a constant reminder that we should find this film funny. But the reality was far from it. This jarring combination left me feeling a little confused.

I loved this particular shot of Anjelica Huston descending down the elevator. I wanna steal it one day.

David Mamet's elaborate confidence man's game genuinely kept me on the edge of my seat, guessing right until the last moments. And it is precisely when the film arrives at its resolution, that the problem of The Spanish Prisoner became too hard to bear. Execution.
On paper, the script reads splendidly. But the execution of the film is seriously poor, like daytime television poor. There was no sense of style and every close-up and dolly move felt awkward. But I forgave it for the most part because all I wanted to know was what’s gonna happen next? It did what it did to keep my attention on the plot. But at the crucial moment when the film reaches the end, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, there was no punch, no grand epiphanic presentation. Instead, it played out in laughable fashion with poor acting and a single line of dialogue that was suppose to tie the film to a satisfying ending. It didn’t. It left me cold and empty, and had me wishing the film never ended.
Mamet might be the poster boy of good film writing, but can he really direct? If so, then this film was certainly not an assuring example.
I’ve been trying to write my “epic” feature-length screenplay with some struggle. With a film spanning so many decades and covering many characters and plot lines, I found myself at a loss to what’s good and what’s bad, what’s important and what’s not. And it is at this moment that I felt the need to visit an acclaimed “epic” to learn a few things. Sadly, what I learnt the most was what not to do. 
Sure, Once Upon A TIme in America is a film of epic proportions. But what is an “epic”? If the requirements are merely length and scope then there are countless number of decaying mini-series and amateur films out there begging for that title. No, I think for me, the film has to earn it’s epic-ness by being worthy of the length and scope. If the movie is 251 minutes long, then every minute of it better be fucking gold, otherwise it shouldn’t be there. Anyone can make a 4 hour long movie of dullness, but not everyone can make a film of that length grand and captivating and not make you want to check your watch every ten minutes. It is the latter that we need.
For me, Sergio Leone has only met me halfway here. There are many scenes of genuine beauty and poetry, especially those with the young Jennifer Connelly were done to a perfection (I think she was my favourite thing about this film). But there were an equal number of scenes that were just dreadful and lacked life and direction, namely all the current day old men scenes. And many potentially great scenes were somehow marred by too much music and awkward pacing.
I initially thought that perhaps Leone went out and made the film without knowing exactly what he wanted and somehow ended up with a movie that’s way too long for the studio to release, so he cut himself into a corner. But upon research, it seems that Leone knew exactly what he wanted to every look and piece of dialogue. Yet he still managed to end up with a 6 hour movie that he then trimmed due to studio pressure down to a near 4 hour version that he was satisfied with. It was this version that I saw, and I have to say, a 6 hour version would have been a travesty. It’s a fine line between artistic integrity and self indulgence. And I think in this particular case, Leone over indulged himself. In my humble opinion, what really needed work was his screenplay. Trim, combine, keep it interesting and focused. If he had gone into production with a tighter script, I don’t think the film’s release would’ve suffered so tragically and ultimately ended Leone’s career on a very low point. Yes, even as the way it is, the film is still beautiful and at times very moving, but…it should have been better. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. But the difference separates the greats from the rest.

I’ve been trying to write my “epic” feature-length screenplay with some struggle. With a film spanning so many decades and covering many characters and plot lines, I found myself at a loss to what’s good and what’s bad, what’s important and what’s not. And it is at this moment that I felt the need to visit an acclaimed “epic” to learn a few things. Sadly, what I learnt the most was what not to do. 

Sure, Once Upon A TIme in America is a film of epic proportions. But what is an “epic”? If the requirements are merely length and scope then there are countless number of decaying mini-series and amateur films out there begging for that title. No, I think for me, the film has to earn it’s epic-ness by being worthy of the length and scope. If the movie is 251 minutes long, then every minute of it better be fucking gold, otherwise it shouldn’t be there. Anyone can make a 4 hour long movie of dullness, but not everyone can make a film of that length grand and captivating and not make you want to check your watch every ten minutes. It is the latter that we need.

For me, Sergio Leone has only met me halfway here. There are many scenes of genuine beauty and poetry, especially those with the young Jennifer Connelly were done to a perfection (I think she was my favourite thing about this film). But there were an equal number of scenes that were just dreadful and lacked life and direction, namely all the current day old men scenes. And many potentially great scenes were somehow marred by too much music and awkward pacing.

I initially thought that perhaps Leone went out and made the film without knowing exactly what he wanted and somehow ended up with a movie that’s way too long for the studio to release, so he cut himself into a corner. But upon research, it seems that Leone knew exactly what he wanted to every look and piece of dialogue. Yet he still managed to end up with a 6 hour movie that he then trimmed due to studio pressure down to a near 4 hour version that he was satisfied with. It was this version that I saw, and I have to say, a 6 hour version would have been a travesty. It’s a fine line between artistic integrity and self indulgence. And I think in this particular case, Leone over indulged himself. In my humble opinion, what really needed work was his screenplay. Trim, combine, keep it interesting and focused. If he had gone into production with a tighter script, I don’t think the film’s release would’ve suffered so tragically and ultimately ended Leone’s career on a very low point. Yes, even as the way it is, the film is still beautiful and at times very moving, but…it should have been better. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. But the difference separates the greats from the rest.

"My beloved is white and ruddy. His skin is as the most fine gold. His cheeks are as a bed of spices. Even though he hasn’t washed since last December. His eyes are as the eyes of doves. His body is as bright ivory. His legs are as pillars of marble. In pants so dirty they stand by themselves. He is altogether lovable. But he’ll always be a two-bit punk…so he’ll never be my beloved. What a shame."  - Deborah
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA

Hiromi Uehara, the virtuoso jazz pianist known for her frantic rhapsodies as well as her melodies of tranquility. This is an example of the latter called Place to Be.

Will be seeing this lady live in November.

When speaking of films that has had enormous visual influence in the cinematic world, The Conformist is a film that seems to get mentioned again and again. Released in 1970, even for today’s standards, the cinematography of the film is superbly innovative. Vittorio Storaro's photography here shines with confidence and self-awareness, you never really forget that you're watching a movie, which might be a problem for some but never a problem for me.

What I had a problem with was…well, there were quite a few things. The dialogue was obviously looped in postproduction. Often the lips don’t match and the female voices had that annoying fake “voice acting” quality to it. The editing was odd and unbalanced, in places that I wish the film would take it’s time, it cuts very rapidly, while I wish it would move faster in other scenes. And finally, maybe my own oblivion to politics is at fault here, I have no idea what a lot of the dialogue were talking about. Not that I didn’t understand them, I just didn’t understand why they were there or written in such a way. Actually, many of these bones I had to pick were also shared by Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, another film that I didn’t love (mostly because it’s got Chinese people in China but speaking poor English -_-), so perhaps, Bertolucci is just one of those guys that doesn’t really speak to me. After all that criticism, let me end on a positive note: this opening scene is really beautiful.

Director Jeremy Saulnier made his living as a cinematographer, but what he really wanted to do was to direct his own films. At age 37 and expecting his third child, he knew that his days of putting everything on the table and trying to make it as a director were coming to an end. It was going to be the summer of 2012 or never. So he and his wife put up all their savings, maxed out their credit cards and ran a kickstarter campaign to come up with a budget that would allow a comfortable 30 day schedule for the film. In true Robert Rodriguez style indie model, Saulnier shot with a camera and lenses he already owned. He wrote the script around locations and assets that he had access to, and wrote the main character for his best friend Macon Blair whom he believe is a great actor but has never gotten the opportunity he deserved. 
The result is a solid thriller with beautiful camera work (amazing how much blue there was in this film). I also love this Badlands-ish poster.

Director Jeremy Saulnier made his living as a cinematographer, but what he really wanted to do was to direct his own films. At age 37 and expecting his third child, he knew that his days of putting everything on the table and trying to make it as a director were coming to an end. It was going to be the summer of 2012 or never. So he and his wife put up all their savings, maxed out their credit cards and ran a kickstarter campaign to come up with a budget that would allow a comfortable 30 day schedule for the film. In true Robert Rodriguez style indie model, Saulnier shot with a camera and lenses he already owned. He wrote the script around locations and assets that he had access to, and wrote the main character for his best friend Macon Blair whom he believe is a great actor but has never gotten the opportunity he deserved. 

The result is a solid thriller with beautiful camera work (amazing how much blue there was in this film). I also love this Badlands-ish poster.

In keeping with the sudden change of weather, and surrendering to my lack of concentration to do any writing, I decided to watch Ozu's penultimate film - The End of Summer. Like most of his seasonal titled films, the English translation provides much confusion. The original Japanese title really means The Kohayagawa Family’s Autumn.
This is somewhat of an unique film for Ozu. It’s set entirely in the Kansai region instead of his usual Tokyo. In fact, I believe it’s his only film to not feature Tokyo in any way. I was quite proud of myself for picking up the Kansai accent early on before the setting was established. The film also had the humorous appearance of two white male characters, something I never thought I’d see in an Ozu film.
What was not surprising was Ozu's ability to make the seemingly mundane into interesting human drama. Even though very little really happens, not a second of it feels boring. He creates tension and comedy by simply observing characters shuffling across the tatami mats from one room to another. The recurring motif of the two women crouching down in unison was specially exquisite. Under the complex surface of the Kohayagawa family relationships, the central message is one that advises us to seize the day and live for ourselves, for when we die, nothing will matter anymore.
My new goal is to watch all of Ozu's seasonal films before I leave Japan.
In an effort to prep myself for my upcoming trip to South Korea, I decided to watch a Korean film with a little more cultural element than usual. And I thought of Sopyonje, a film I noticed on the Asian Cinema course curriculum back in my university days. I never took the course, but I remembered the film because it was the only one on the list that I’d never heard of before. And the fact that it was a Korean film from before the millennium, which are rarely known or considered to be of great importance, at least in the west.
Directed by the prolific Im Kwon-Taek (102 films under his belt, the newest one was just screened at Venice this month), the film deals with the age old struggle of maintaining one’s artistic integrity while trying to make a living in a none-appreciative society (strangely complementary of last night’s Frank). Surprisingly engrossing and so easy to watch, the film is layered with beautiful Pansori singing against the scenic Korean countryside which made the often poor sound dubbing bearable. The scene shown in the photo was particularly mesmerizing. Apparently when the film was first released, it reignited an interest in Pansori appreciation amongst modern audiences. I love it when films have that power.
"A singer does not sing for money. If one is able to achieve the best possible sound, it is better than wealth and fame! That is the true nature of Pansori!"
Frank was strange. In a great way. In a stream of consciousness narrative, it got weirder and weirder, and finally reached what I thought was a very moving ending.
It made me think about how many people spend their lifetime chasing dreams but just don’t have the talent to cut it, and all the amazingly talented people that never get their chance to be recognized, and all the successful talented people that are out there inspiring the millions are perhaps some of the most troubled souls alive.
Chasing a creative life is a double sided tape of bliss and torture, and I think that’s why we do it.
Bloom: That’s the best card trick I’ve ever seen. I wish you had a bigger audience.
Stephen: You’re the only audience I ever needed.