A Dreamer Walking

Hugo- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 9, 2011

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. It uses all the masterful filming techniques we have come to expect from a legend like Scorsese and also involves several elements we have never seen from this veteran filmmaker who is  completely new to the family genre. The film is a tribute to film itself. Reminding the new generation about the importance of the filmmakers who have come before us while also pushing the medium forward. Hugo represents Scorsese’s first theatrical film shot in 3D. He uses this new element as if he had been using it all along, bringing us into his story like never before. It is hard to compare the 3D aspect of Hugo to a movie like Avatar, but I found the 3D use to be as good if not better then the groundbreaking 3D use we see in Avatar.

Just as the 3D in Avatar transferred us into the vast and open environment of the Pandora forest, Hugo‘s use of 3D takes us deep into the secret tunnels of the Paris train station. The 3D gives the story an extra layer. There is a greater complexity to the framing. I felt as though I could measure distances more clearly. Often I felt like I was right there in the tunnels with Hugo, dust particles and the steam from the pipes drifting all around me. Scorsese uses complex tunnel systems and towering staircases to highlight the 3D effect to an even greater extent. It feels as though we are shown a painting where we are actually allowed to walk inside and explore.

The movie was not intended to be a literal representation of real life. Although the story takes place in Paris, it is an impressionistic representation. One of the common mistakes filmmakers make when creating a enchanted type feel for their story, is getting rid of all the dirt and grit that reminds us of real life. As a result most impressionistic stories feel artificial, the environments look like sets rather then something that has just jumped out of the imagination. Scorsese embraces the murky and grimy aspects of the train station. He is not afraid to explore some of the darker parts of the imagination, taking the boy Hugo into places we are not quite comfortable with. The worlds we see in film do not need to look real, only feel real. The filmmakers make it a point to physically show the strain and hardship the boy Hugo goes through. Because we see the sweat and labor it takes Hugo to survive and because he looks so accustomed to the secret tunnels of the train station where he lives, we buy into the impressionistic world the movie projects.

The subject matter directly calls for the impressionistic storytelling we see in the film. The main characters of the story are Hugo Cabret, played by upcoming child star Asa Butterfield, and Georges Melies played by veteran actor Ben Kingsley. Although the character of Hugo is fictional Georges Melies is based on a real man. At the time the story takes place in Melies is a old forgotten filmmaker who has a small toyshop in the Paris train station where Hugo lives. Hugo is a orphan who keeps the stations clocks working. The movie revolves around an old broken automaton- a mechanical puppet that was made to draw pictures. The automaton is the only thing Hugo has left reminding him of his deceased father. Through out the film Hugo works on fixing this automaton while avoiding the eye of the authorities.

Hugo gets involved with Melies by accident. However, the farther we get into the story the more we find out the automaton is directly related to Melies. Hugo runs into a girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of Melies. Together they go on a adventure exploring the ghosts of Melies’ past while also discovering the magic of Melies’ old art form; filmmaking.

Melies has long abandoned filmmaking. He forbid his goddaughter Isabelle from going to the movies. Hugo is the one to introduce to Isabelle the magic of the movies. Slowly Scorsese takes us deep into the origins of film, before computer effects, color, and even sound. We explore some of the very first visionaries of the medium of film. Through several marvelous montages we discover what interested the great Georges Melies in film, what he contributed to the new art form, how he was so quickly forgotten by the public, and how his contribution was so ignorantly neglected.

The film is Scorsese’s tribute to silent cinema and his plead for us to preserve the great films of the past. It is not a tribute in subject matter only, Scorsese shoots much of the movie like the old silent films. We go long periods of time with hardly any duologue. The film has a classic pace which actually enhances the 3D experience. We are allowed to cherish the whole of the environments with brilliant master shots and Scorsese connects locations through several long tracking shots. We are allowed behind the scenes of silent cinema and see how Melies created some of the first groundbreaking effects in cinema.

In Hugo Scorsese shows us the magic of filmmaking. He shows the filmmaker for who he truly is- a magician. A magician who uses flickering images projected on a screen to entertain and revolutionize the world. In this story Hugo is a magical character. It is hard not to fall in love with him. His purpose is to fix things. He thinks fixing an old despairing man like Melies will help fulfill his life. In the film Scorsese creates his own little world inside the train station. A world where Hugo is king. As mistreated and misunderstood as he is, Hugo is the character who keeps everything moving along. He is the only one who knows of the secret tunnels within the train station. He is the only one who can see all that goes on in the train station.

This film seems to be so different from Scorsese’s usual subject matter, yet so close to what I have found his heart to be. It doesn’t take long listening to someone like Scorsese to understand his deep love for the film medium. As many have already said, this is Scorsese’s love letter to silent cinema. The film represents Scorsese at his greatest. It will inspire filmmakers young and old for decades to come. In Hugo we see where dreams are made and the importance dreamers are to the world we live in.

Invisible Ink- Finding the Reflections

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 8, 2011

The book Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald, calls this section The Use of Clones. “Clones”, as Brain McDonald explains, are “characters in your story that represent what could, should, or might happen to the protagonist if he or she takes a particular path”. In essence clones are characters that represent a truth or a possible truth about your protagonist. I rather use the word reflection then clone. A clone means a genetically identical organism. However, the way McDonald uses the word he does not mean identical as much as he means “similar” or “reflecting of”.  One of the examples McDonald uses in his book is Gollum, in Lord of the Rings, being a clone of the main character Frodo. Gollum is not identical to Frodo but he represents what might happen to him if he chooses a curtain path. In the end, as McDonald points out in his book, we measure the success of Frodo by the failure of Gollum.

I am going to use this section in Brian’s book as a jumping off point, like I usually do with his topics. However, even though Brian is writing mainly for writers, I am writing for both writers and directors of film. Because of this I will try to take his points about clones and apply them to filmmaking in general.

In any given story it is our job as storytellers to make sure everything is there to inhance the point we are trying to make. We need to concentrate on what the foundation or theme of the story is and build everything around the foundation. If something in our story does not contribute to our theme, it has no use being in our story. We do not create characters, environments, or events just to “flesh out our world”. We create for a purpose. As I stated earlier a reflection’s purpose is to express a truth or possible truth about our main character(‘s). Reflections are all around in filmmaking. They might present themselves in other characters, through situations, or even through the world the characters inhabit.

Imagine yourself going through a house of mirrors where you see yourself reflected in all kinds of ways. Some reflections are not realistic, they distort you to make you look stronger, fatter, or smaller then you really are. In film reflections are not replicas of your main character, they are supposed to show a truth about your character through a curtain lens. In the end, this lens can be extremely miss leading or extremely helpful to the change your main character goes through. It all depends on how you choose to use the reflection tool in your storytelling process.

Reflections are sometimes used to help the main character of the story understand something. They are sometimes just used to help the audience understand something.  A simple example would be Luke Skywalker and Darth Vador. Not only does the audience relize what Luke can become through the reflection we see in Vador, so does Luke. It is made clear to Luke he can fall into the darkside just like his father and in the end this revelation guides the path Luke chooses to take. In The Lion King there is a scene towards the end of the film where the main characters Simba looks into a pond and sees his father in his reflection. It is explained that Simba’s father lives inside of him. This helps give Simba confidence to step up and become king.

A movie I believe does a remarkable job expressing reflections is Peter Pan (2003). Most of the reflections in this movie are purely for the audiences sake. Peter Pan is a fairytale and like most good fairytales it does not make any efforts to stick to the realities of this world. Instead we are introduced to an environment that completely reflects who the main character is. Even the villain of the piece we find out is a reflection of Peter Pan. To help establish my point I would like you to watch this scene from the Peter Pan (2003) movie (you can start at 1:30 and only need to go up to 8:00).

Notice how abstract the environment and lighting is. As soon as Hook says, “She was leaving you Pan”, the environment begins to change. There is even a time when Peter is lit by a cold blue light while Hook is lit through a warm red light, even though they are outside in the same environment only feet away from each other. There was no effort by director Paul Hogan to create a realistic scene. Paul wanted to show us what Pan was feeling. The more Hook upsets Pan the more gloomy the environment gets. Neverland is a direct reflection of who Peter Pan is. When the kiss comes everything changes again, the stars are even changing to reflect the emotions he is going through. He shoots out a burst of energy blowing away the pirates and he flies up basking in the moonlight.

Notice through out the scene how eerily similar Hook is to Peter, to the point he begins to fly just like Pan. At the beginning of the scene Hook is a very accurate reflection of who Peter is. This is what McDonald’s main point was in his The Use of Clones section. You often see the villain of a movie reflect a dark side of the main protagonist. The reflection is clear between characters like Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and here between Hook and Peter Pan. Hook even says, “You’ll die alone and unloved… just like me“. The point is to express the danger the protagonist faces. We begin to understand the small things which differentiate good from evil. When we see how easy it is to choose the dark side, we begin to appreciate the hero’s choice to rise above.

I could literally talk hours about how reflections are used in film. The point comes back to what I talked about in my previous post, show don’t tell. We as filmmakers must find ways to express the inner battle going on in our characters soul, visually. We do not need to be as blunt as Peter Pan, but we must find a way. There may also be times in your stories where the main characters needs to face a reflection in order further his journey, such as Simba seeing his father in his reflection, Woody, from Toy Story 2, seeing what his future might be through the toy Jesse,  and Edward Norton’s character seeing who he he could be (or is) through Tyler Burdon in the movie Fight Club.  You can even create a change in your character through showing a reflection of the world without him or her in it, as we see in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Reflections are a wonderful tool used throughout filmmaking. You do not necessarily need to have a reflection shown through every character you create. There are times where reflections never go farther then expressing a truth about the protagonist to the audience. The reason why reflections (or clones) are refereed to as Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald, is because they are not supposed to be obvious. They are around to bring us farther into the story, not take us out of it. We must use reflections wisely and with care so they are never too obvious to the audience. However, reflections are everywhere in film. Whether it is through the way a scene is lit, sound is expressed, set is dressed, or camera is handled, our job as filmmakers is to reflect something about the world and characters we are portraying, to our audience and maybe even to the characters in our film.

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 2, 2011

Journey through cinemaI want to recommend the documentary  A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies to any film student who has hopes for working in Hollywood (Click on the link to go to the DVD’s Amazon page). This documentary is a priceless look at the History of Hollywood Film. In the documentary we are narrated through the Golden age of Cinema by Martin Scorsese. He gives us a very personal view on the subject. He concentrates on some filmmakers that few filmmakers of this generation have ever heard of and he skips over some of the most well known filmmakers in Hollywood History. There is hardly mention of great filmmakers like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. There is no mention of my personal favorite filmmaker Walt Disney. However, after understanding that this is a very personal view by Scorsese I became more understanding and content with him skipping over some filmmakers I personally felt connected to. I actually think this film is a “must see” because it is so personal. We are given the History of Hollywood filmmaking from Martin Scorsese’s personal perspective. There is no one else who could have made this except for Scorsese and that is what makes it priceless.

Scorsese concentrates on the type of directors that make movies like he does. We constantly see a concentration on the underdog in this documentary. Usually the movies with the tragic ending and the antihero are the movies that are highlighted by Scorsese. Scorsese starts the documentary off talking about The Director’s Dilemma. In this section Scorsese tries to express the constant battle the director has with the studio in getting  his own personal vision up on screen. Scorsese explains how the big studios in the 1930’s and 40’s had their own style and how they expected the director to conform to that style. Scorsese talks about many people who were not able to bend to the studio system and how it crushed many of their creativity and drive. It is obvious that Scorsese likes the rebel in Hollywood and all the way through the documentary we see Scorsese concentrate on the tragic Hollywood director who was good and had a grand amount of potential but eventually got crushed by the Hollywood system because he or she was too rebellious. For the most part Scorsese looks at the Hollywood system as a necessary evil the Director needs to deal with.

We are told about a few filmmakers who flourished in the Hollywood system. Scorsese does not leave out all of the popular directors of the day. His mission is to show many different directors of the time period and how they influenced the Cinema. Scorsese does a marvelous job explaining how the film process developed through out the years. In the second chapter of the documentary titled The Director as Storyteller, Scorsese takes us through three film genres, the Western, the Gangster Film, and the Musical. This is one of the most educational chapters in the whole documentary. We are shown how Hollywood as a whole developed through the development of these genres. One of the greatest examples Scorsese used is John Ford‘s three Westerns Stagecoach (1939), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and The Searchers (1956) all staring John Wayne. Through specific examples of all three of these films we are shown clearly how the Hollywood story style turned from black and white morality in the 1930’s too the complex characters of the 1950’s where we don’t quite know who is right and who is wrong.

I found the Western genre examples to be the most useful. However, Scorsese does a good job explaining curtain truths the Musical and Gangster film genre’s revealed about society. We are shown how the public became more and more open to in depth and insightful stories in film. We saw how the public grew from wanting to escape to a imaginary lands in the 1930’s to wanting to watch movies that revealed truths about the land they actually lived in in the late 1940’s and 50’s.

The most unbiased section of the documentary and the section I found the most useful was when Scorsese talked about The Director as Illusionist. This is all about the vocabulary and tools of filmmaking and how they developed through out the years. We are introduced to D. W. Griffith and are given examples on how he started to build the vocabulary of film in the early 1910’s. Scorsese does a superb job using specific examples from Griffith’s films to further his points. We see how Griffith discovered the power of the high and low angle. We see how Griffith used close ups to build up emotion and how he used cuts to move his stories along. Scorsese talks about how the silent area allowed us to understand the power of film visuals. Everything needed to be communicated through the visuals and Scorsese shows us the masters of the silent era such as Cencil B. Demille and the German filmmaker F. W. Murnau and their contribution to building the visual vocabulary in film.

After showing the power of the visuals and what some of the filmmakers were able to do with them, we are introduced to sound. Scorsese talks briefly about the problems that came with sound. How the camera stopped moving for a short while because of all the technical equipment that needed to come with the new invention and how movies became full of talking heads rather then people visually telling the story. However, quickly Scorsese goes into detail on some of the great values of sound. He talks about filmmakers such as George Hill and Howard Hawks and how they used sound to bring more emotion to their scenes and heighten the suspense of their films. Scorsese talks about the contribution of color and how many filmmakers used color to represent curtain feelings that came with the characters and scenes we were observing.

When Scorsese talks about the Cinema Scope (the widescreen format of film) that came in the mid 1950’s, he goes into detail on how it was used to create a more epic feel in order to heighten the cinema experience. He talks about both the difficulties of Cinema Scope– how it was harder to focus on single characters and made film harder to edit, and the new openings for film it created– in the way it allowed us to experience the actual atmospheres and locations the actors were in. Lastly Scorsese concentrates for a few minutes on the innovations of visual effects. There was a little melancholy in the way Scorsese talked about visual effects taking over actual  location shooting. However, he does express the qualities of visual effects well and there is a point made that visual effects are only tools that require good filmmakers to be pulled off. I can not recommend this section of the documentary enough. This section by itself makes the whole documentary worth buying. Scorsese is a master illusionist when it comes to film and in this section he express in fine detail why.

The next section we go through is the most personal part of Scorsese’s documentary. The section is titled The Director as Smuggler. We are now shown many of the metaphors that went behind many B Film directors such as Jacques Tourneur, Billy Wilder, and Samuel Fuller. This section is entirely about how the directors were able to quietly but clearly express their personal vision on screen through low budget filmmaking. Scorsese makes the point, the less money it cost for a movie to get made the more freedom the director is given. We are shown specific examples on how these movies gave us insight on some very relevant issues in the time periods in which they were made. We are also shown examples from films and filmmakers that I do not think you will find in any other documentary. Most of the directors Scorsese concentrates on in this section are not well known, they just happen to have caught Scorsese’s eye and Scorsese makes sure they will be remembered through talking about their contribution to American film. There several archive interviews that are shown in the section. We hear the actual filmmakers express some of their personal thought process behind their unique filmmaking choices.

The last section of the documentary is titled The Director as Iconoclast. This is also a very personal view from Scorsese. It concentrates on some of the most influential filmmakers in the history of Cinema. The iconoclast are the filmmakers that faced the film studios head on and in many cases were destroyed because of it, but in a few cases were able to bend the studios to their will and create some of the greatest films ever made. In this section we are told about filmmakers like Erich von Straheim, Orsen Wells, and Stanly Kubrick. All these filmmakers created movies that brought up extremely relevant issues such as the corruption of greed and the importance of exploration. They created movies that concentrated on the anti hero and the outcasts. There goals were not to make the audience always feel happy after viewing the film, but rather to think and look at things in a different way then ever before. The directors in this section were all driven by personal vision and created movies that took a tremendous amount of risk and innovation. Scorsese gave us several examples on how the directors used the camera to represent their personal view. In essence these directors became influences on the audience in the way they lit their scenes and cut their sequences. Instead of giving us seamless movies these directors movie styles drew attention to themselves. To these filmmakers “the camera was a instrument of poetry”.

The last section of Martin Scoreses’ documentary is truly inspiring. Even though I do not agree with all the directors points of view they show me the amount of potential the medium of film has. Scorsese closes the documentary off by expressing the true value of film. He explains how the movies are a very spiritual experience to him. They are meant to share a common memory with the audience. They are meant to impact us through revealing universal truths. This documentary reminded me history is one of the greatest teachers a film student can have. We are shown some of the foundations of the American cinema. This documentary shows us the power of film and some of the filmmakers who were able to master that power. We see how far the medium of film has grown from it’s very beginnings. And the documentary challenges us to see how far we personally can take the medium of film.

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 8, 2011

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is a perfect example of my last blog and my point of not making the message become more important then the actual story or vision of the film.

Yes, there are some very powerful messages in this movie. We are taken to a land that is very interesting and are introduced to characters that have a huge amount of potential. However, all they needed to do to create these things is read the book. In the movie I found the story, the conflict, and the characters all underdeveloped and hardly worth paying attention to.

It might be the love I have for the book that makes me so frustrated with the movie. I do not care if a movie adaption of a book goes away from some of the plot or takes away characters. I know the requirements of film and know that most books would take numerous movies to fully express. Cutting is just part of the process when it comes to adapting books to film. However, when I feel that a movie has not done a good job capturing the spirit of a book I have read, or worst yet, when I feel a book has not captured much of a spirit of anything, I get extremely frustrated.

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we hardly see a spirit at all. There were whispers and hints of a vision for the film, but most of that was drowned out by sub par acting and too complex of a plot. Believe it or not, the CG character Reepicheep was the most believable and interesting character in the film. The other characters hardly seemed to believe in the land they were in and the task at hand.

There was Prince Caspian who wanted to reunite his kingdom and bring honor to his dead father. However, we did not experience the burden he was under. We did not see much of a struggle on why he felt the need to unite his kingdom and bring honor to his father. Because we did not see the struggle, the redemption at the end was not very fulfilling. It was one of the many cases of moments that did not feel deserved. This film relied on the audience feeling for the characters because the film said we were supposed to, not because they earned our love and affection.

There was a new character in this third installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, in Eustace Scrubb. Eustace experiences Narnia for the first time in this movie. Eustace is a character who seems to hate everyone he is around. He treats his cousins Edmond and Lucy like dirt and cares little for the welfare of others. The big problem is that there is no explanation why he hates the world and all who lives on it. Will Poulter, the actor who played Eustace, did not seem to own the character he was portraying. With characters like Eustace, it is okay for the audience not to like him or her at the beginning of the film. In fact some of the entertainment comes from loving to hate characters like Eustace. He is a snot, but with all well known and loved “snots” in film, there is always a reason for their snobbery. Knowing the reason for the snobbery is the key to buying into the character and eventually believing in the change. This was not the case with Eustace. Eustace, like many other characters in the movie, seems to insult others because that is what is in the script and at the end he changes to become good because that is what the script requires him to do.

With each scene that went by felt like a scene that was cut too soon. I did not get what I felt I needed to get out of the scenes. We were given enough to move the plot along, but not enough to buy into the characters and why they were on their adventure. Lucy wants to be like her older sister. Edmond wants to be taken more seriously and not always treated like “second best”. The big question is WHY do these characters want to change? Why are these characters not comfortable with who they are? It is never really explained, and we never really see it in the characters eyes. I could not buy into the characters and because I couldn’t buy into the characters I could not by into the journey they went on.

There were some powerful messages in this film. Reepicheep makes a point of faith being one of our greatest gifts. Aslan the Lion and Lucy make a point about believing in yourself, rather then striving to be someone you are not. The problem is that most of these messages felt forced. They did not come from the heart of the characters or the story. The journey that the characters went on was supposed to be epic, but did not feel that way. The characters never seemed to be suffering from not having enough food or being at see for weeks on end. We went to plot point to plot point without discovering anything more about the characters or the land they were exploring.

The only critics that I have seen that give this movie a great amount of praise are those who are interested in the underline meaning of the message. Many know that the Narnia books and movies in a whole deal with a lot of biblical issues like Christ Jesus and redemption. It saddens me that Christians seem more interested in the message then the way the message is expressed. The reason why Christianity is ignored so easily is because of movies like Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The movie was not really bad. It wasn’t one of those movies that was appalling to watch or something I wanted to walk out on. However, it did nothing to demand my attention. It did not grab a hold of me and give me something that I felt I needed to think about and consider. It was just mediocre and thus it was (and is) easy to ignore.

If we want the message of Christ to be seen, then we need to go beyond the message and concentrate on who the message is for and why we are supposed to express it. We need to demand the attention of the public, by giving them stories full of life and characters who are believable and are devoted to whatever journey they are going on.

In my opinion, we have a long way to go.