Feb 28, 2010

The French Film Festival and Australian Film Festival

I'll be providing my volunteer expertise (in other words, being everyone's bitch) at the upcoming Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which runs from the 2nd to 21st of March at the Palace Cinemas (Academy Twin, Verona and Norton St). I managed to catch an advance screening of LOL (Laugh Out Loud) today, which was pretty enjoyable, but average in my honest opinion. The festival runs for about 3 weeks and will screen something like 43 films. Definitely one to check out.

I'm also volunteering at the Australian Film Festival this year, which will be a great way to catch some Australian home grown films. The festival runs from the 24th of Feb to 7th of March. Should be interesting to see if there are any stand-out Australian films that could top the last couple of bad ones I've seen.

Feb 23, 2010

The Purpose Of The Focus

Cloverfield, From Paris With Love, and Other Film Things

My apologies for not getting around to updating. Kieran and I had started working on building our production company Fan Chan Pictures up post-social networking sites over the weekend, and now we have a great website, domain name, official logo and proper emails set up. It's unbelievable what you can achieve from one full day of sitting in front of a computer!

I recently started school again this week, although I haven't been to any classes yet! I was back at school last week to get my school ID taken, and to sit in an orientation day lecture. It was also nice to see everyone back from the holidays, and to finally set my mind back into the 'film-making' mode. Between then and now, I managed to come up with some rough ideas and concepts for my final project, which the school so professionally calls your 'thesis' film. I've been looking at Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 and Neill Blomkamp's District 9. Both are two very different films, with very interesting concepts which I would like to explore in a film of my own. After seeing many of the films produced from last semester, I have this urge to stand out from every other student film by doing something impossible to produce. I guess this is my goal for the next six months.

I got around to seeing Cloverfield and From Paris With Love yesterday. Kieran and I faced another big fail by firstly, going to redeem our free double pass tickets to see Jacques Audiard's Un Prophet at Verona, only to find out that Monday was their discount day. And secondly, walking down Oxford St ticking off all the movies we could have seen for free but unfortunately couldn't because we had no free tickets at hand, only to realise back home that we actually had a chance to see Andrej Wajda's 1957 film Kanal at Chauvel Cinema's Cinematheque Night - for free. What a fail of an evening.


It was unfortunate that I didn't have the opportunity to experience the film in a cinema, as I thought it would have been more effective. Nevertheless, I absolutely enjoyed it. Produced by the very interesting J. J. Abrams and directed by Matt Reeves, Cloverfield is another one of those derivatives of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and REC - only different. While the latter three explore the paranormal and have themes of ghosts (not including REC, as it takes on a different form of 'paranormal'), Cloverfield explores the very human experience of an attack on a small but seemingly large city by an abnormal, parasitic creature. A monster, if you will.

The film had all the concepts of a 'threalist' film (threalism, which I coined to describe films that Thrill with Realism) - the 'Queasy-Cam' effect giving the viewer a first-person perspective of the situation, and the cinema verite documentary style to push the "real" factor out for the ultimate viewer experience. Oh, and throw in a viral marketing campaign to get those viewers really riled up for the film, pre-release. Cloverfield's first trailer was debuted at the opening of Transformers in 2007, which showed a scene of a large explosion in the heart of New York City and the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty being thrown down the street, shot on a camcorder. The trailer was given no title. Only J. J. Abrams could have thought of that.

I wasn't as frightened throughout this film as much as I was in REC for example, but the whole concept of the film centering around these few characters trying to make it through the entire ordeal - oh, and throw in a giant unknown, alien-like parasite of a monster wreaking chaos throughout the city - well, it really excites me. I am falling in love with this sort of film-making. Putting the viewer in a fictional environment and situation, with the sense of realism all over it.

I do recommend this film to anyone who firstly, is into J. J. Abrams, and secondly, anyone who doesn't quite like to be scared out of their wits like they were in a film like REC.

I gave this film 8/10, and will most definitely watch it again.

From Paris With Love

Directed by Pierre Morel who brought us the action thriller Taken in 2008, and co-written by Luc Besson (The Transporter, Taken, Leon The Professional), From Paris With Love stars John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The film seemed like just another Taken, only minus a very angry, over-protective and direct Liam Neeson, with lots of terrorists and lots of gangsters. I appreciated Taken, and do like these sorts of action thriller films, but From Paris With Love just didn't work for me.

The directing was pretty awful. Liam Neeson in Taken was plain frightening. John Travolta here, on the other hand, did nothing for me. His character's intensity seemed to vary in the extremes throughout the film, and this didn't help the character. In all fairness, it may have been on purpose to give Jonathan Rhys Meyers' character room to develop, especially when Travolta's character's unstoppable bravado was the star in the first half of the film.

I'll admit though, the story is interesting - about an unlikely duo of agents who discover a link to a group of terrorists planning an attack on the US Embassy in France. However, it's a pity the execution and direction of the film couldn't do it any justice.

I rated this film a very generous 5/10. Generous, mainly for the Vince Vega and "Royale with cheese" reference.

Feb 20, 2010

Fan Chan Pictures

Kieran and I co-founded the film production company Fan Chan Pictures last year, and have finally created a fully functional website for it.

Come check it out!

Feb 17, 2010

Character Equals Nothing

I managed to catch the Australian musical brought to screen Bran Nue Dae, yet another disappointing product of the Australian film industry for me. Directed by AFTRS graduate Rachel Perkins, the film was just another one of those Australian films with absolutely no characterisation to drive the plot. The film was clearly written for the stage (and true enough, it was written by the writers who wrote the stage production) with lame dialogue that trails off into the film's atmosphere of 'nothing'. The film didn't allow the characters to develop, and therefore the whole experience felt like a series of events flashing before my eyes in strict succession without any explanation of how and why.

And this is the very problem. Why are Australian films continuously lacking in character development?

I was taught at school last semester that character equals story, yet it doesn't seem to be practised very much in the industry. Another film I saw last year that I was highly disappointed by was Prime Mover. The film had little to zero character development, and every 'dramatic' scene simply failed because of this. How am I, as a member of the audience, supposed to feel for the characters when I know nothing about them?

This frustrates me. This industry is my future, and it frustrates me to think that it is run by people with more or less the same sense as an emu. I patiently await the next 'impressive' film this dumb industry coughs up.

Feb 14, 2010

Battle For Terrable

So, the story of Avatar sounds just like Pocahontas, you say? Let me introduce you to a film that will make you Avatar haters out there appreciate it a bit more for what it's worth.

The film, Battle For Terra, directed and co-written by unknown Aristomenis Tsirbaris is a cheaper take on the box office king Avatar. Ripped from the same treatment written over 10 years ago, the one obvious thing that separates the two films is the visual aspect.

Battle For Terra was made for next to nothing - or in other words, $230 million short of what James Cameron spent to make Avatar. Without trying to compare the two films, visually, Terra looks absolutely awful. The film looked like it was created in 3DS Max. Plus, there's no excuse for the film to look like it was made in 1990, when it took a year and a half from 2007 to 2009 to re-render the film in 3D (the original film was in 2D and had been received well at the Toronto International Film Festival, so they decided to give it a 3D look).

However, I must give the film credit for production under such a minimal budget, especially with such an impressive cast - the film featured Luke Wilson, Brian Cox, Justin Long, Danny Glover, James Garner and Mark Hamill, to name a few. I wouldn't be surprised if all the money was spent on them, while the rest was used on lunch money for those responsible for the visual graphics and animation of the film, who were possibly friends, family or those doing (or returning, perhaps) a favour for the filmmakers. Another good point I liked about the film was the obvious mature aspect to the storyline. I was surprised that for a film that looked like it was made for 12-year-old kids, the film had some rather serious themes and portrayed in a mature way. I feel that it was just a pity the animation failed to reflect it.

Still, I am disappointed that even without James Cameron's latest groundbreaking 3D technology (that is meant to change the way films are made and screened), Battle For Terra has nothing to show. The script didn't impress me, and so did the directing.

I rated this 4/10.

Feb 12, 2010

A Movie A Day, Keeps The Blogger Away

Apologies for the lack of updates. I've been quite busy watching films and doing things in the real world. Recently, I watched REC, Bran Nue Dae, Crazy Heart and Battle For Terra. Kieran and I scored a free double pass to the Moonlight Cinema at Centennial Park, so tonight we are going to see Sherlock Holmes. Then on Valentines Day, we scored another free double pass to New York, I Love You screening at the Moonlight Cinema too, so it's going to be a fairly busy next couple of days.

I'll have a couple of short write-ups by the weekend of some of these films. I've got much to say about them.

In the meanwhile, Kieran and I recently signed up for ScreenHub for Film/TV/Media job listings and I managed to grab an interview this afternoon with the Dungog Film Festival people as an unpaid intern. Wish me luck!

Feb 8, 2010

The Govinda's Experience, and A Serious Man

Kieran took me out for a pre-birthday treat to Govinda's Restaurant and Movie Room in Darlinghurst yesterday, where we dived into an international vegetarian buffet before spreading our legs across an extremely comfortable lounge in their boutique cinema and watched the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man. The night was meant to be a surprise, but let's say curiosity caught the best of me.

The whole cinema experience at Govinda's was great. Enlightening, even. Apart from almost dying of a heat stroke in the cinema (there were no A/C units. Just a fan), the lounge bed-like things spiked my comfort levels through the roof and worked as the perfect complement to the filling vegetarian buffet dinner that Govinda's provided in the costs. I recommend anyone to check this place out. Govinda's is located at 112 Darlinghurst Road, just a 10 minute walk from Taylor Square.

Now, the movie. The Coen Brothers' latest film, A Serious Man is a dark, funny and clever take on life. The story revolves around Jewish professor Larry Gopnik, who watches his life unravel into a mess of unexplained misfortune - his wife leaves him for a widowed man more able than himself; his inept wife's brother won't move out of their living room; a college student of his is bribing and blackmailing him over a failing grade; and his son, preparing for his bar mitzvah, smokes more weed than he is seen studying the Torah.

We learn, as does Larry Gopnik, that every action has a consequence. This film is about just that, and tends to question our beliefs in religion - although, not quite so seriously. That's what I love about this film. This film made me laugh at the misfortune of the characters, while letting me feel fine about it afterward.

The Coen Brothers are fantastic. I loved the directing. Even the cinematography by Roger Deakins (Revoluntionary Road, No Country For Old Men, Shawshank Redemption) was something special. Michael Stuhlbarg should be highly commended for his portrayal of Larry Gopnik. In a dark comedy setting, Stuhlbarg remained consistent in convincing me that his life was most definitely falling apart. The other stand out performance for me was by Fred Melamed who plays the uncomfortably calm and able Sy Ableman, who Larry's wife leaves him for.

The film just worked for me. Having never seen any of the Coen Brothers' previous films, my judgment could have holes in it. I was told, and I have heard, that the Brothers are famous for their black comedies, and for breaking the rules of conventional storytelling. At the end of A Serious Man, a lot of the audience that I shared this film experience with were surprised by how the film almost lacked a conclusion, signaled by the flood of what's and is that it?'s. The film does end with a lot of unanswered questions, yet for me, the film's message (and lesson, even) was clear.

This is another film I highly recommend seeing. If you're after a clever, dark comedy that questions you about the seriousness of life while you laugh - this is for you.

I rate this 9/10.

(That being said, all my film reviews seem to be of films I enjoyed. I'll write about the next awful one I see, I promise)

Feb 7, 2010

Reason To Keep Shooting

Test shot from the Canon EOS 7D. I'll have to test the video capabilities soon, too.

Feb 5, 2010


My mum just arrived back from Malaysia, and it feels nice to have someone with a better sense of housekeeping around the house now. She brought back some goodies, including a birthday present from my dad, a present from herself, DVDs of the latest movies and two rolls of developed slide film which I had mailed to her about two weeks ago.

They were the last rolls of film I had shot on with any lomo camera. These were shot with my favourite of them all - the LC-A+ on Fuji Provia ISO 100 transparencies. For some reason, I never thought I would see these photos turn out so well (if not at all) since it'd been a year since I'd exposed the rolls, and with cross-processed transparency film, you just can't tell what sort of results you'll get.

I'm glad these came out the way they did. Hell, I'm glad these even came out at all. It just makes me want to shoot more on transparency film, and more on the LC-A+.

Feb 3, 2010

Threalism (Thrilling Realism)

After finally getting around to seeing The Blair Witch Project today, I asked myself, "what makes this kind of horror/thriller/mystery movie so effective?" The first key point that sprung to mind was the sense of realism, portrayed by a number of factors:
  • The use of a hand-held camera as opposed to relying on tripods, tracks, jibs etc, which creates the sense of experiencing the film ourselves as an audience.
  • The rawness of the documentary film style. Heather, a character from the BWP even states that she wanted to keep her film raw and real, with nothing cut out. So unlike genre film, with these films it feels like you're watching unedited footage. Like a family video, only sprinkled with the elements of horror.
  • The limitations of the 4:3 aspect ratio as used in The BWP, which means we see less. I found this highly effective in this film because there were many scenes shot at night when it was pitch black in the woods, and all the characters had were a torchlight each - which makes the fear of not being able to see everything or more even frightening. I guess it also affected me more because I'm living in a wide-screen world. This could be a plus for effect.
  • Direction is highly important, I've found. I'd read some IMDB trivia of BWP about what the directors did to the actors in order to further create that sense of realism:

    • "The actors were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind the plot before shooting began. All lines were improvised and nearly all the events in the film were unknown to the three actors beforehand, and were often on-camera surprises to them all."
    • "To promote discord between actors, the directors deliberately gave them less food each day of shooting."
    • "In a scene where the main actors are sleeping in a tent at night, the tent suddenly shakes violently and they all get scared. This was unscripted and the director shook the tent."
    • "The three leads believed the Blair Witch was a real legend during filming, though of course they knew the film was going to be fake. Only after the film's release did they discover that the entire mythology was made up by the film's creators.
      (Now, I don't know if these pieces of trivia are true, or perhaps slithers of rumours spread around the internet, but I believe them and it shows the kinds of techniques these directors use in order to bring the best out of their actors. I love that kind of directing.)

  • The way the film is marketed (especially pre-release in order to gain audiences) proves to be a vital factor in the overall effect of the film on the audience. Take Paranormal Activity for example. The film was completed in 2007, yet didn't get properly released till 2009. It made its success over the internet, where it gathered so much attention and interest that it was eventually picked up by Paramount Pictures for its own nationwide theatrical release. The BWP had used an alternative, slightly 'interactive' strategy to bring attention to the film by using "missing" posters of the three characters in the film, which they first used at Sundance. Again, I love hearing about these sorts of alternative marketing strategies for a film.
It really excites me when I hear about alternative ways of film-making on small budgets, like Paranormal Activity's USD$15,000 budget, which eventually profited in the millions. And marketing strategies like what the BWP did with posters and the use of the internet's ability to spread information (before the film was released, the actors' pages had stated their deaths that corresponded with the film's story). It's clever film-making, and I love it.

That aside, it seems the use of realism in film-making to thrill tends to be more effective on an audience. In 1999, The Blair Witch Project made it either frightening to enter the woods, or ecstatically thrilling to enter the woods in search of myths; while in 2009, Paranormal Activity brought a similar investigative horror/thriller/mystery documentary film into our homes, and into our very own bedrooms. Just typing that gave me the creeps.

With that being said, I may just put on some light comedy tonight before going to bed. Heh.

(If and when you have the chance to see Paranormal Activity, please do so! I highly recommend it.)

Feb 1, 2010

Today's Work

I'm back in the editing suite again with a project for a previous film festival I helped out at, that's well overdue (thanks to procrastination).

Call me crazy, but there's something about sitting in front of a computer all day working and perfecting a piece of work (either on Final Cut Pro or Photoshop) that I really enjoy. It's like a sick habit of mine that I can't seem to get away from. A drug. An obsession. It's completely unhealthy and only results in a bad back for the night, lack of sleep (which comes with darkened eye bags) and a sore bum. But once I'm in 'the zone', I could sit in a chair in front of a timeline or a canvas for hours creating stuff, whether it be for personal stuff or work.

This is what I'm working on at the moment. I know it's nothing but a screen shot of an opened program, but this is something I'm considering to do as a career after school. If not a career, then a means of getting into the film industry.


I've been following these awesome film podcasts by the guys at Spill, who not only upload 2-3 hour long podcasts of the funniest, comedic film and nonsense talk I have ever heard, but do these great movie reviews. Unlike any other review, it's an animated video of them chatting and doing all kinds of crazy things. It's all extremely entertaining.

Find their podcasts here, and video movie reviews here.

Do check them out. Here's one of my favourite movie reviews they uploaded to youtube.