Posts Tagged ‘film’

Big Movie Trailer (by Jeff Stern)

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Big Movie Trailer is Jeff Stern’s latest exploration of the deeply absurd. At first, we recognize the familiar baritone of the voice-of-God narrator setting the stage for some kind of epic Hollywood blockbuster. But, there’s something wrong with this movie trailer. The narrator seems to be making up the plot as he goes. Mysterious Kansas strip malls? Time-traveling bathtubs? Highway-side laundromats where you can play pool while you wait? Big Movie Trailer twists a familiar, comfortable format into something profoundly and hilariously bizarre. http://www.vimeo.com/3030504

Jeff Stern is a Boston-based filmmaker, screenwriter and actor whose work has screened at the Woods Hole, Olympia, New Hampshire and Boston Underground Film Festivals, among others. He is the co-producer and host of Open Screen, a monthly forum for independent, underground films held at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA. In January 2009, he finished production on the independent feature film "Good Work," in which Jeff stars as Jason. In summer 2009, Jeff co-produced and starred in the independent feature film "Party Like It’s a Verb." Both films are currently in post-production. Jeff currently plays in the band The Avon Barksdale. He is also a lifetime member of the musical baseball ensemble, The Farmhands. Jeff works at Bentley University, where he teaches Media Production. He lives in Cambridge near a bunch of baseball diamonds with his wife, Anna Goldsmith, and son, Leo Coolidge.

Master Challenge #2

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009
http://www.vimeo.com/1634607 Jeff Stern is a Boston-based filmmaker, screenwriter and actor whose work has screened at the Woods Hole, Olympia, New Hampshire and Boston Underground Film Festivals, among others. He is the co-producer and host of Open Screen, a monthly forum for independent, underground films held at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA. In January 2009, he finished production on the independent feature film "Good Work," in which Jeff stars as Jason. In summer 2009, Jeff co-produced and starred in the independent feature film "Party Like It’s a Verb." Both films are currently in post-production. Jeff currently plays in the band The Avon Barksdale. He is also a lifetime member of the musical baseball ensemble, The Farmhands. Jeff works at Bentley University, where he teaches Media Production. He lives in Cambridge near a bunch of baseball diamonds with his wife, Anna Goldsmith, and son, Leo Coolidge.

How I Survived Robert Altman

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

I saw “Shortcuts” the other day after not having seen it in about ten years. It is, unarguably, a devastating movie, but it affected me much differently than before.

As a teenager I had viewed all the troubled characters with a gulf of inexperience between myself and them, their sadness and psychoses so foreign and pathetic to me. This time I saw facets of people I know and myself in them, and it left me feeling pretty depressed.

Here’s a short summary of the film for those who haven’t seen it. Released in 1993, it’s based loosely on various Raymond Carver short stories, and cuts between multiple plots involving characters who we find out are all somehow connected- I say it’s a “web of life” flick, and they say it’s a “hyperlink” film. It is also a satire of Los Angeles, and so involves car accidents, untalented artists, starving musicians, earthquakes, and lots of alcoholism. Tragedy of different varieties befalls nearly every character – it’s like a continuous punch in the gut for three hours.

There were times during the film when I thought, “Oh that couldn’t happen,” but I suppose I was trying to make myself feel better, for quickly thereafter I’d grudgingly acknowledge the logical trajectory of the scene or motive of the character. And so with every plot twist I became more despondent, repeating phrases like “Oh man… Oh man…” and “Why is life so sad?” and finally, “What’s the point of making a movie like this?”

Altman takes us into the dark realms of the characters’ personal lives to illustrate a greater social problem– that people are inherently alienated from each other (even married couples, families, friends, or siblings). They don’t seem to know or care about one another’s inner states, or have the ability to see things from each other’s perspectives. They are indifferent towards anything that doesn’t satisfy their own impulses or further their agendas. You can just zoom out from there- if they don’t feel any responsibility towards the people to whom they are theoretically closest, they certainly wouldn’t feel responsibility towards strangers or the larger social network.

The theme of decisions and consequence comes up time and again. Everyone is fixated on the micro- their obsessions, hang-ups, responsibilities, and insecurities, with no perspective on how their actions affect others. Throughout the film you watch characters make decisions with this mindset, more often than not resulting in dire consequences. Bad decisions not only hurt the people you love, but can also hurt strangers, be it now or maybe even years from now. To me the saddest consequences are the ones of which the perpetrators aren’t even aware- their actions silently wreak havoc while they carry on, happy and oblivious.

The climax of the film comes involves a massive earthquake, and we get a chance to see how everyone will act in the face of something larger than himself or herself. Unfortunately, they act exactly how you’d expect them to: the fun-loving couple makes a joke of it, the policeman starts barking orders through a bullhorn at his neighbors, while a depressed woman doesn’t acknowledge it at all. Just when you hope for catharsis, there is none. Maybe this is Altman’s way of saying that people can’t or don’t change, not even when they are literally shaken up.

There are one or two scenes, however, that contradict this sentiment. In my favorite, a character (Lyle Lovett as a baker) sees the result of his actions, and in realizing how profoundly he has affected a part of the larger picture, he gets a chance at redemption. Moments of humanity like this are made more powerful because they are so rare throughout the film.

The question remains as to why Altman made the film- did he see the world in this negative light, or were his intentions purely didactic? Regardless, it feels surprisingly worthwhile to be a voyeur into such realistically depicted lives. As you watch the characters’ inhuman and inane qualities play themselves out, you feel morally sound for a time, and with this clarity you receive all the wake up calls that the characters missed out on.

The 6 Best Movies I Saw This Year

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Here are haiku reviews of the 6 best movies I saw in 2008. This list is comprehensive in that it considers everything I saw. It is not comprehensive in that I did not come close to seeing all the movies released in 2008. (I did see The House Bunny.)

Encounters at the End of the World
Iridescent fish
meet Burning Man meets Herzog
in Antarctica.

Happy Go Lucky
Poppy is happy.
This makes some people angry.
Happy is Poppy.

Wall-E
Chaplin-bot in a
G-rated apocalypse -
Pixar gets darker.

The Wrestler
O, Randy the Ram
O, tragically flawed grappler
O, hidden razor

Momma’s Man
When life is too much,
Delay your flight forever…
return to the womb.

Man on Wire
Way way way up there:
A smiling man, 2 buildings.
What perfect balance.

Jeff Stern is a Boston-based filmmaker, screenwriter and actor whose work has screened at the Woods Hole, Olympia, New Hampshire and Boston Underground Film Festivals, among others. He is the co-producer and host of Open Screen, a monthly forum for independent, underground films held at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA. In January 2009, he finished production on the independent feature film "Good Work," in which Jeff stars as Jason. In summer 2009, Jeff co-produced and starred in the independent feature film "Party Like It’s a Verb." Both films are currently in post-production. Jeff currently plays in the band The Avon Barksdale. He is also a lifetime member of the musical baseball ensemble, The Farmhands. Jeff works at Bentley University, where he teaches Media Production. He lives in Cambridge near a bunch of baseball diamonds with his wife, Anna Goldsmith, and son, Leo Coolidge.

Bourne Ultimatum, and Delirious: Haiku Movie Reviews

Friday, September 14th, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum
——————————

Snapped bones make music.
A fight scene in a bathtub
kicks all our asses.

Morocco, Moscow,
New York, Spain. All share one trait:
People die when killed.

Faces are to hide.
A door is for kicking in.
A fist is to break.

Damon and Affleck:
they started in the same place.
That place is gone now.

Delirious
————-
Really great Prince song.
Really terrible movie.
Twenty years later.

In 34 years,
I’ve walked out of 6 movies.
This was one of them.

Buscemi can act.
I’m not saying otherwise.
But, he can’t save this.

Jeff Stern is a Boston-based filmmaker, screenwriter and actor whose work has screened at the Woods Hole, Olympia, New Hampshire and Boston Underground Film Festivals, among others. He is the co-producer and host of Open Screen, a monthly forum for independent, underground films held at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA. In January 2009, he finished production on the independent feature film "Good Work," in which Jeff stars as Jason. In summer 2009, Jeff co-produced and starred in the independent feature film "Party Like It’s a Verb." Both films are currently in post-production. Jeff currently plays in the band The Avon Barksdale. He is also a lifetime member of the musical baseball ensemble, The Farmhands. Jeff works at Bentley University, where he teaches Media Production. He lives in Cambridge near a bunch of baseball diamonds with his wife, Anna Goldsmith, and son, Leo Coolidge.

You Can’t Take it With You

Monday, August 13th, 2007

I’m not sure led me to this thought, but somewhere in the middle of my recent first viewing of You Can’t Take It With You I realized that something, even outside of the screwball-comedy elements it might contain, reminded me an awful lot of Wes Anderson.  Maybe I’m wrong, and it was just the insane collection of characters all living under one roof, varying from the father whose only form of occupation (professional or otherwise) seems to be creating, stocking, and inadvertently setting off a pile of homemade fireworks that would make the Weasley brothers envious, to the mustachioed Russian dance instructor who claims to only come over for the dinners and finds the discussion of why the sport of wrestling is the optimum hobby, since it sharpens both the body and the mind, to be ideal conversation for house guests (right before he lifts them into the air for a painful-looking living-room body slam).

I might be wrong, and it is only those sorts of characters that make me think of Wes Anderson, but I think in fact there is more to the comparison.

But first, I have to mention that “You Can’t Take It With You” is one of those classic cases where the screenshots make it look like the most boring movie ever made.  For example:

I almost fell asleep pasting that photo in here.

And while no one would ever look at a shot from a Wes Anderson film and decide the movie is probably boring, I do hear people claim that his movies are boring, no matter how difficult that is for me to imagine.  I suspect there is something in his subtlety that many people don’t wind up finding time to appreciate, as opposed to those of us who have dedicated ourselves so wholly to this director that we make excuses for.  We have tried to explain away a quarter of W. Anderson’s films, because we have dedicated ourselves to him and his personality and his subtlety.  But it’s more than that.

Anderson has so often used the same actors when he can, and that has given us, the viewers, something else to understand in our dedication to his films.  When we saw Bill Murray in Rushmore, we came to understand him as a hapless, kind and gentle, but gruff and guarded individual.  When he played that same character (more or less) in The Royal Tenenbaums, fans had an edge in getting more out of his limited role (and we alone die laughing when he says, “Where’s that red one gonna go?”).  His character got the lead in The Life Aquatic, and perhaps that is what we most liked about it — that we fully understood the sorrow, and the effort to be both loving and protective of himself.  We had seen it in Herman Blume, in Raleigh St. Claire, and now Steve Zissou.

There’s something fundamentally easy to get with Frank Capra’s films.  You can understand that they are feel good movies, creating an American condition of hope for a nation escaping the throes of a Depression.  This gets dangerous, however, in trying to understand his movies.  What very often happens is Capra is far too often criticized for making naive characters, naive plot lines, etc.  I think this is just as daft a criticism as is the claim that Anderson’s films are too “childish” or “silly,” or are “all set design.”

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Capra used the same actors as often as he could, because of what I’ll call the “perpetuating character” idea.  In “You Can’t Take It With You,” we find Jimmy Stewart, once more, taking up the guise of Capra’s Hopeful American, though Capra adds a new element to that character in this film.  Stewart plays the son of a wealthy banker and is serving as his heir apparent for the big bank the family owns.

http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/images/reviews/177/1164538859.jpg

Stewart falls in love with his stenographer Alice (Jean Arthur, another Capra favorite), however, and the class issues are given full license to run amok.  It is actually Alice’s grandfather, played by Lionel Barrymore, who plays Capra’s most idealistic character in this film.  He finds his guiding principal in the Biblical sentiment that we can’t take our earthly riches with us to Heaven (hence the title), so why not enjoy the life we have here by pursuing whatever interests we have.

And so it is, under his roof we find Alice’s horribly dancing sister (and her xylophone-playing-savant of a husband), Alice’s mother, who types plays all day simply because a typewrite was delivered to the house by mistake once upon a time, the aforementioned firework-making father, and a motley host of other friends and family who take residence under Grandpa Vanderhof’s roof to follow their passions.

And I really think that’s where the Anderson-Capra connection came for me.  Anderson writes stories about dreams, however lofty they are, and his characters pursue them.  For better or worse, his characters are encouraged to live the life they want (whether by others in the film, or by Anderson himself).  Dignan wants to be a bank robber/confidence man?  Go for it!  Max Fischer wants to build an aquarium for Miss Cross?  “You can’t have $10,000, but how about $1,000?!?”  “Margot, write plays (even if Royal doesn’t find them to be believable)!  Chas, be an accountant!  Richie, play tennis, go live on a ocean liner…whatever you want, buddy.”

Capra made films directed towards the idea of the American Dream, but I think the heart of it was individualism (despite Capra’s later involvement in the blacklisting of American filmmakers during the Red Scare).  He had people stand up to money-men, not worrying about the social pressures or conformity, but instead focused on something grander — being a person we can respect.  “You Can’t Take It With You” leads you to believe that self respect comes in pursuing your dreams and what makes you happy.  I think Anderson would agree.  So would Dignan.

See it for Dignan.

F is for Fake

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

I bought Orson Welles’s last movie, F for Fake, about 6 months ago.  It was one of those movies with the classic story: it wasn’t received well at the time, but has found a new appreciation lately, culminating with a Criterion DVD release.  Over the last 6 months, I hadn’t had any time to watch it, but I finally got around to it, and it was fantastic.  It was a little hard for me to get into for the first 5 minutes, and throughout the movie there were a few times when I nearly said aloud, “Welles is SO full of himself.”  Something about the non-traditional style of editing and storytelling could be mistaken for pompous, or elitist; indeed, even the crowd of people that Welles is both documenting and hanging out with through the film seems like a bunch of nancies.

http://www.mudvillemagazine.com/bug/images/parts/fake1.gif

Yes, that picture is a real scene, and it’s real dialogue from the movie.  Like I said — total nancies.  “Steak au poivre?”  Give me a break.  There was, however, a chance to overlook these faults.  The story is so interesting that you can choose to forget about how awesome everyone thinks they are.

The documentary focuses on a guy named Elmyr deHory, who was an amazing art forger, mimicking styles, almost any style, so well that the art dealers themselves couldn’t distinguish between Elmyr’s and the artists’ works.  It ties in other notorious fakers of the time, from the biographer who did a purposely poor job purporting facts about deHory, to Welles himself (notorious, of course, for his War of the Worlds radio broadcast).  The documentary, even, could be considered something of a fake, considering the manner in which is blends arthouse editing techniques, and even creates faked dialogues between people in the movie (“A mere technicality!” screams Michael Moore).

But there are many interesting questions and themes to pull out of it, and it was these that made the movie very much worth the watch.

At one time, Welles mentions that “you could take one of deHory’s faked paintings to an art expert and say, ‘This is a fake version of Modigliani.  Can you tell?’  And the expert immediately goes into saying, ‘Yes, of course.  Modigliani would never have the line of the arm parallel to the body like this, and the background is too boring.’  Take the same painting to another supposed expert, and tell them that it is a real Modigliani, and how can you tell, and he will immediately start using those same elements to support it being by Modigliani.”  And then would offer to sell it.

So what are experts really experts of?  Why isn’t an artist who can mimic a style that well an artist himself?  And then, of course, what is art?

The above painting is by deHory, and the lower one is by Modigliani.  By claiming his paintings were original Modiglianis, Picassos, etc., deHory was able to have them hung in museums all over the world, and they’ve fetched thousands of dollars.

Just the character of deHory, and how incredible an artist he is, is astounding and makes F for Fake worth the 88 minutes you’ll spend watching it.  After studying artists as closely as he has, deHory can tell so much about the artist’s style…things you would never know, such as that one artist “was hesitant in his line making.  I’ve had to make my hand more hesitant to mimic him.”

Wells is a master of storytelling, and did a great job in his last film.  If you can get by the almost-experimental editing style (quick cuts, bits of dialogue stuck in to progress the narrator’s conversation with the viewer, etc.), it’s a very enjoyable hour-and-a-half.