A Dreamer Walking

District 9

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on June 10, 2010

District 9 was a very original film in many ways. A sci-fi film put in a third world country is very unique. The movie was also the debut of director Neil Blomkamp’s first full length film. With the limited resources the film crew had to their disposal they were able to pull off some very realistic and gripping effects. The story outline was very interesting, the idea of a human transforming into a alien to find his humanity was something that I found intriguing. However, although I liked the outline of this movie and found some of the films aspects very interesting and well done, the execution of the story and the development of the  characters in the story were far from satisfactory.

Neil seemed to come from an effects background in film and knew how to direct the effects crew to make the most realistic effects and animation possible with the limited budget he had. But, I did not think that Neil was as confident with his camera work, the fact that he did not seem to have a grip on the heart of the story might be the reason shooting the film seemed difficult for him. Neil was also a co-writer on the project and it felt like he created some very shallow characters. Most of the character ark and development was non-existent. Neil said that he wanted the main character,  Wikus Merwe (Sharlto Copley), to be like a “dick” at the beginning of the movie. The only problem is that Wikus never stopped being a “dick”. In a story I expect to see characters go out of their comfort zone and grow from their experiences. In District 9 Wikus did go out of his comfort zone, the only problem was that he did not seem to grow from his experiences.

At the beginning Wikus is one of the higher ups at a very powerful company, that is controlling and experimenting with a group of aliens that have landed on earth. The aliens are no doubt victims in this movie, they are too weak to defend themselves and thus we see the humans take advantage of them. Wikus is put in charge of moving these deprived aliens to a even smaller shelter then they are at in the present. During one of Wikus investigations he is sprayed by some alien liquid that starts changing him alien.Wikus’ own company turns against him and he becomes a fugitive.

The only thought Wikus has is to find a way to turn himself back into a human. The transformation to alien is very slow and gory. The only choice Wikus has is to go back to the aliens he once discriminated against and ask for help. During this time we as the audience are supposed to feel for Wikus. The only problem is that Wikus has been portrayed as a “dick”, and his reasons for changing back are very selfish. We are supposed to relate to Wikus’ need to change back so he can return to his wife, the only problem is that we have not been given time to see the relationship he has with his wife. So the fact that Wikus wants to change back seems very selfish.

Through out the transformation Wikus finds the aliens as being appalling. When Wikus is forced to work with one of the aliens, so that he could change back to a human, he treats him with little respect. Their is nothing that Wikus said or did that seemed to tell me he was changing his ideas on knowing who these aliens really were.

Wikus’ selfishness continued until almost the very end. At the last moment Wikus’ chooses to give up his ambitions to turn human and instead he helps the alien who had helped him. Wikus had not earned this change however, there was no real reason to his change, it was just what the movie called for.

Through out the movie there was a lot of gore and violence. The only problem I had was that the gore and violence did not seem to be realistic or mean anything. Most of the killing we saw came from Wikus fighting the humans. He was in so much need to turn back into human that he was willing to kill dozens of humans to achieve his goal. Wikus used a alien weapon where when you shot someone they would blow up like a water balloon. Watching commentary on the film I found that Neil thought most of the violence and bloodshed was funny.

To say the least, I think that Neil has a very sick sense of humor. I think the movie was not gripping because Neil and most of his crew did not take the story seriously. Neil was dealing with some very serious subjects like war and racism. He wanted to make sure he was not shoving anything into anyone’s throats, I think that can often be used as an excuse to stay shallow. As a filmmaker I never want to push something in my audiences face, I do not want to be the person telling the audience what exactly to think. However, I do have a job to take subjects like war and racism seriously.

District 9 had a lot of potential. I think that in many ways Neil Blomkamp is a very talented director. However, the heart of the story seemed to be very shallow. I found that Neil had a very sad vision on what society has become and in District 9 he seems to not take a very serious subject seriously. The ending seemed to be very forced and undeserved. The heart of the film is where Neil missed, he seemed to take the cheap way out and made fun of the racism and violence that was going on.

Fiddler on the Roof

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on May 11, 2010

Fiddler on the Roof was a gamble especially during the time that it was made. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s was not a good time for big production films, Fiddler on the Roof was actually one of the only big production films being made at the time. The task of making a movie out of a stage play musical is easier said then done. There are many elements the director and writers need to work through in order to make the transition feel natural. When shooting the movie, Norman Jewison, the director of Fiddler on the Roof, ran into several problems with  the weather while shooting on location. There was a point in the process of making the film where Norman stopped shooting entirely because the weather was not doing what he wanted. This in turn made the MGM studio very frustrated with Norman because they were losing a lot of money.

Through the frustrations and hurdles of the making of Fiddler on the Roof came one of the greatest musicals ever made. Fiddler on the Roof will be one of those movies that I look to for inspiration before embarking on my own films. I think that the combination of powerful music, heartfelt characters, and touching story created a masterpiece that will be enjoyed for generations. Fiddler on the Roof is a movie that has reached through the test of time and cultures to become a classic in every sense of the word.

I think the heart of Fiddler on the Roof was driven by a great director. Norman Jewison was no veteran at making films. He had made less then a dozen in his career when asked to do Fiddler on the Roof. Norman freely admitted that he was no expert in the technique of filmmaking. However, Norman Jewison was an expert in the emotion of filmmaking. The characters and story is what Norman knew was going to connect the audience to the film. Even though Fiddler on the Roof was vast in scale and music it was driven by the characters and story. Norman wanted the music to push the story forward, he used the detailed sets and exclusive locations he had at his expense to bring a better emotion and reality to the story.

Norman might not have been an expert at the technique of filmmaking, but he assembled a team around him who were the best of the best at what they did. Norman had Oswald Morris as the cinematographer, who had just been nominated for an Oscar for his work on Oliver Twist (he won the Oscar for Fiddler). Two of the best illustrators in Hollywood, Harold Michelson and Mentor Hubnor, were brought on by Norman to story board the movie. Norman saw the talent of John Williams and brought him in to take the classic Fiddler on the Roof stage play music and adapt it to the big screen.

John Williams did a fantastic job adapting and conducting the Fiddler on the Roof music. Norman and John did most of the recording of music before filming the movie so the actors and rest of the team could use the music as inspiration and a blueprint of how to act while doing singing and dancing in their scenes. Every night before shooting Norman would listen to the music and get inspired. He said that he used that time to figure out what he wanted for the next day, so when the next day came around he already knew what he was going to shoot and what he wanted from his actors.

Norman tried to bring a reality to the music by not having many professional dancers and not having the dance routines completely rehearsed. Norman wanted each dance to look like it was made on the spot, he wanted the musical numbers to flow to and from reality smoothly so it looked like the songs were just another part of the culture.  Norman tried to get away from the theatricality of the stage play by having his camera men get in the middle of the dances so the dancers were limited in space and needed to improvise with what they were given.

Behind all the dance numbers and acting there was passion. The songs are memorable because the actors performing them were passionate about what they were doing and believed in the songs they were singing and dancing to. The music helped us relate to the characters and culture we saw on screen. Norman was not Jewish but he did do a lot of research on the culture he was trying to represent in his film. The movie takes place around 1910 in Eastern Europe  in a small town. The movie concentrates on the Jewish people in the town most of whom are consumed by traditions. The movie is about the breaking down of traditions where the main character Tevya is mae to test some of his strongest principals and beliefs out of love for his daughters and their happiness.

Both young and old could relate to the breaking down of traditions. The audience was able to relate to both the young and old characters in the movie.  In this movie we are allowed into the core of the main character Tevya. Tevya literally talks to us, the audience, immediately getting us involved with him as a character and the story he is in. We see the genuine relationship that Tevya has with his God, where constantly he shows faith by talking to Him through the good times and bad.

The Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, represented a symbol of the Spirit of Tevya and the rest of the Jewish people. Through out the film we see the Fiddler playing his violin, seeing if Tevya will still allow the music to bring him life. The Fiddler is a great representation that you can still allow your spirit to live through even the worst of times.

Norman Jewison said that when you are in charge of a movie you need to attack it like a lion, with conviction and courage that everything you are doing is RIGHT! Norman needed to tell his story, and trust in his emotions to what was right for the film. Topol, the actor who played Tevya, said that Norman would literally show you if he liked what you were doing on screen or not. If the performance was truly funny, Norman would laugh. If the performance to Norman was truly touching, he would show it through tears or excitement.

In the making of Fiddler on the Roof, Norman Jewison followed his convictions and his voice was heard. We were told a very personal story where we got emotionally involved with the characters around us. The movie made me take a look at the other side. I needed to see the older generations thought process and convictions just as much as my younger generations. Fiddler on the Roof allows us to see the world in a different light and it gives us hope that through even the hardest of times our spirit can still dance to the music of life.

Finding Neverland

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on April 25, 2010

Finding Neverland is a wonderful movie about the power of imagination and friendship.

The movie is loosely based on the true  1904 story of James. M. Barrie and how he created the story for his stage play (and later book) Peter Pan. The filmmakers said that they were inspired by true events but never wanted to have the movie be an exact representation.

No matter how true the movie was to the real event, Finding Neverland was a great film. The movie deals with some very mature issues. We are introduced to James Barrier in a very depressing time in his life. He just has had a play flop at the theaters and his marriage seems to be declining. Through the efforts of trying to make a new and successful stage play, James runs into a family consisting of four boys and a single mother. The mother of course has her hands full with four children, so James decides to help out. There are many things that interests James about the family, he find great qualities in all the children, but James takes a particular liking to one boy named Peter.

Peter is a boy around age 9, that has sadly already grown up. His father died from a sudden illness and Peter has never been able to deal with what happened. Peter is a boy who does not want to show his hurt and because of that he has hidden himself away from anything that could give him life and then be taken away again. James is able to impress most of the children though the power of his imagination, but Peter stays reluctant to buying into James stories and imagination. I think that James sums up Peters problems at the beginning of the film by telling him, “With those eyes lad you will never see”. Peter has cut ties to everything that could hurt him and by doing so, Peter is blind.

The beauty of the film for me was how James was able to let Peter become a kid again and see. James makes Peter realize that you truly lose those you love by cutting ties with them, but when you allow them to be part of your life and infect who you are, they will never leave. James uses a journal that he gave him as an example. James points out that those people who Peter loves will always be in the pages and stories he creates. James shows Peter that the imagination is is the gateway to those he loves, no matter where they are physically.

Mark Foster was the director of Finding Neverland. I think he filmed the movie quite well. There was a curtain rhythm to the way he shot each scene. Mark talked at length about how he thought the way the director and actors staged each scene has a just as much to do with getting the audience into a rhythm as the music and cutting. Mark let us as an audience see James imagination. When ever there was a scene of James playing with the kids, we went to and from reality and James imagination. Mark was able to show us someone who was not limited by reality, we saw that James had a imagination full of  creativity that infected the people around him.

Mark talked about approaching the film from a child’s eye. He and the rest of the crew did this with great success. The basis of the movie was about holding on to that child within and never letting your imagination die. This is one of those movies that touches on one of the cores of what life should really be about, because of that I think it will always be relevant.

Finding Neverland is able to give you new eyes. You will see the power the imagination holds and how it can be a light in the hardest of times.

The Princess and the Frog

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on April 13, 2010

The Princess and the Frog is a wonderful movie for the return of Disney Hand Drawn animation. I have seen it several times now and it just seems to get better each time I watch it. The reason why this film is so wonderful to keep going back to is because of the depth you see in every aspect of the animation process.

In 2006 when John Lasseter (co-founder of Pixar) was put in charge of Disney animation, one of the first things he wanted to do was to bring back hand drawn animation. This was a tall order since hand drawn animation had been discontinued from the studio about four years before. In order to accomplish it’s rebirth the first thing John did was bring back two old Disney directors, John Musker and Ron Clemens. The two are know for codirecting The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. In all these films I saw a true effort on putting story first and a magnificent ability in getting the whole crew to come together in order to make the best film possible.

I think Ron and John put their best foot forward on this film, and were able to create something original and magical. Both Ron and John said the Princess and the Frog crew was the most talented crew they ever worked with.

In this movie you see a young woman, Tiana, work extremely hard in order to reach her dream of owning a restaurant one day. The film is located in New Orleans in the late 1910’s. Because Tiana is an African American, she is forced to jump through even more hoops then an average white citizen would in order to have her dream come true. Tiana, is unique for a Disney Princess movie. She is not yet a princess and has no inclination of finding a prince to live happily ever after with at the beginning of the movie.

This movie goes further with its unique qualities by having the Prince be a flat out jerk at the beginning of the film. Prince Naveen is a moneyless (Family cut his funding off) spoiled bachelor that comes to New Orleans in order to marry into a rich family.

The movie is about the character development of Tiana and Naveen. In the film you begin out with these characters hating each other and end up with a genuine love story, where two people work through their faults to find love.

The way Disney pulled this story off was simply wonderful. Every aspect of the movie seemed to be working together. You had a Music legend Randy Newman (composer of Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bugs Life, Monsters Inc., and Cars) come up with some magnificent songs for this movie. Randy grew up in New Orleans and really seemed to go back to his roots in creating and composing the music for this movie. He had Jazz, Gospel, and Blues, all highlight the story in wonderful ways and all are worth listening to away from the movie.

What was truly wonderful was the location the story took place. Ron and John said they studied Disney classics, such as Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, as inspiration for this movie. New Orleans was Character in and of itself, each location was made to highlight the animation and further the mood of the story. The City and the bayou were wonderful pieces of art in their own right, but never seemed to distract from the characters.

The character animation was some of the best I have ever seen. I am a big fan of Eric Goldberg and he did a marvelous job as lead animator for Lewis the Alligator. We simply see an entertaining character with a lot of life in the alligator who lives in the bayou, Lewis. Some of the expressions for Lewis are quite extreme, but we never lose track of who the character is. The extremes simply seemed to be expressing him in a better way.

One character I will always cherish is Raymond the Firefly. Mike Surrey was Ray’s lead animator and he and his team did a wonderful job bringing this character to life. Some of the movements that I saw from Ray was like candy to the eyes. In Ray you found a lot of good humor, but more importantly you found heart.

We saw wonderful gags in the animation and the action was pulled off extremely well, but what made this movie great for me, was the animators ability to take us into the character’s head. The drawings became real. I did not just see a bunch of lines moving, I saw real people trying to make hard realistic decisions and real friends having sincere emotions for each other.

John Musker said that he believes there is magic in the Disney Studios still. I saw evidence of that magic in The Princess and the Frog. They truly made this movie to be enjoyed for generations. It is a simple story told in a wonderful way.