Saturday, February 24, 2007

It's about to happen: Color Correction...

Yesterday Scott dropped off the hard drive with all of the media for "All God's Children" to begin the process of color correction (getting all the colors up to the correct requirements for broadcast and generally creating the best look for each shot and making sure everything is consistent).

The plan is to have this process take place throughout the next week and have a completely finished film in early March!

Vintage Guitars in Brooklyn

Thimo and a 1940s Gibson at Retrofret

Good friend and talented singer/songwriter Thimo Sander is visiting for a few days from Berlin.

While checking out guitars at Brooklyn's extra cool Mazzotti Music, Alicia (guitar player of Dirty Excuse) told us about another hidden gem: Retrofret - a restoration workshop, store and "museum" for vintage fretted instruments. Even though they don't have an actual store front they let us come up and marvel. The owner and staff were so friendly and helpful and even let Thimo play on these amazing instruments that I have to recommend this as a must-see visit to all vintage guitar lovers (and buyers, of course).

Mazzotti Music: 284 Third Avenue, Brooklyn
Retrofret: 233 Butler Street, Brooklyn

P.S.: Mazzotti currently has a very good deal on a vintage Gibson...

Friday, February 23, 2007

“Notes on a Scandal” (2006)

Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench

My last movie recommendation before the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards.

Richard Eyre’s “Notes on a Scandal” stands out most for its fabulous acting. Ever since Jim Jarmusch’sCoffee & Cigarettes” I consider Cate Blanchett to be one of the most talented actors. Of course, Judi Dench’s abilities are never called into question either. Not to undermine Bill Nighy who doesn't get as much screen time but one of the best scenes.

Sometimes I wonder: if I become aware of great acting while watching a film, doesn’t it mean it was too obviously ‘Acting’ and I’ve been pulled out of the movie? In this case I never felt pulled out – I was just amazed at how real all these extreme emotions came across. There is an especially truthful moment when the husband and wife stand by the door – quite heart-wrenching (you’ll know when it happens).

A fantastic film for adults with themes of mid-life and the relationships of full adults. How rare and precious. Yet never a dull moment; with twists and turns and suspense “Notes on a Scandal” never comes across as a preachy, moral tale for grown-ups.

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Thursday, February 22, 2007

“Pan’s Labyrinth” – “El Laberinto del Fauno” (2006)

Doug Jones and Ivana Baquero

Guillermo del Toro’s
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is a moral fairy tale for adults about changing from being selfish to selfless and the choice between sacrificing yourself for others or sacrificing the innocent for your own gain.

Fascinating historical setting in post-war Spain. Incredible locations, production design, costumes and last but not least casting. Everything is just slightly other-worldly.

At times rather brutal – but mostly darkly beautiful and haunting.

(Spanish with English subtitles)

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"An Inconvenient Truth" (2006)

Al Gore

As I’ve been writing about a few of the films I’ve seen recently I wanted to make sure I mentioned the possibly most important film of last year: Davis Guggenheim’s “An Inconvenient Truth”.

I URGE you to watch this film capturing Al Gore’s presentation on global warming.

Beyond the politics, your religion or spirituality, your nationality and whatever beliefs you may have, everyone should watch this film and ponder what we can do to save the environment – and what may happen if we don’t…

There’s hope – especially now that even the American government has finally accepted that global warming exists (it’s a bit of a joke that it took so long, not a very funny one, of course).

The only part that puzzled me about this film is that the hole in the ozone layer (or “the ozone patch”) was hardly mentioned. Is that not an issue anymore at all or did Al Gore just not want to complicate the issue in his presentation?

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Monday, February 19, 2007

"Road To Guantanamo" (2006)

This documentary/drama - a mixture between interviews and reenactments (that are so high in production value they are more than just reenactments) – by British filmmakers Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross tells the true story of several British men who were arrested in Afghanistan in the 9/11 aftermath and ended up being held at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay for years.

Often difficult to watch, this is a must-see. While it didn’t seem that the film makes a clear judgment if the British men of Pakistani descent had justifiable or “good” reasons to be where they were, the film makes a very clear case how wrong and horrible the treatment of detainees by American forces has been.

Beyond the content the film is worth watching for its quality in filmmaking. Winterbottom is a talented filmmaker both with fictional as well as with documentary projects – in both cases we feel like we’re right there experiencing real life. And we don’t feel like we’re watching “a school lesson”.

The only drawback for me was a lack of information and quite a bit of confusion during the scenes in Afghanistan. I’m not sure if some specifics of who was who and what they were doing was purposefully left out to recreate the confusion of the time or if knowledge is expected from the audience or there were other dramatic reasons why some details/information were missing.

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Sunday, February 18, 2007

“The Queen” (2006)

Michael Sheen and Helen Mirren

“The Queen” shows Queen Elizabeth vs. Tony Blair during the aftermath of Lady Di’s death in the late 90s. Because I watched this film in Germany I had my parents at hand to remind me that during this time there was a real possibility that the monarchy was going to collapse due to the royal family’s behavior.

I wonder if audiences in the US will be aware of this – or if they have all the background information on Lady Di and her specific issues with the royal family that keeps getting hinted at in the film but never fully disclosed. Although it is not necessary knowledge, I believe it would make the film more enjoyable. The other catch was that I just didn’t quite buy Tony Blair’s noble motive. From what I understand these are Stephen Frears’ interpretations of what went on – not necessarily fact.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the film about the struggle between the generations, the old tradition and the new way of life, between people who all think they know best – an age-old conflict which transcends the specific issues of the British government.

And of course, there’s something quite satisfyingly voyeuristic in watching the queen trying to fix her Jeep or the prime minister getting served burnt fish sticks or seeing his E-guitar collecting dust in a corner.

By the way, I have yet to see a film by Stephen Frears I don’t like.

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Saturday, February 17, 2007

“Wristcutters: A Love Story” (2006)

Shannyn Sossamon, Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham

"Wristcutters: A Love Story" is a road movie, a buddy movie and yes, a love story, almost entirely set in an after-life only filled with people who have taken their own lives.

These general plot lines of road/buddy/romance movie may be rather conventional – but nothing else in this film is. "Wristcutters" truly deserves the label “fresh”.

Goran Dukic has created a fascinating and unique universe (shot perfectly in washed out blue-ish color and filled with desolate production design) in which we meet truly interesting characters you can’t help but care about – all that wrapped in an unusual and enjoyable humor.

A friend recently said he didn’t think this film is for everyone. Yes, maybe some people would be offended by how suicide seems to be treated so casually. But it’s not mocked – it’s just a matter of fact – and it certainly doesn’t glorify it.

Highly recommend.

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Friday, February 16, 2007

“Bubble” (2005/06)

Misty Wilkins, Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin Ashley

“Bubble” (a film about three people working in a doll factory and their relationship) is the first in a series of six digital video features directed by Steven Soderbergh, which will all be filmed in small towns with local nonprofessional actors who will be working off a script which has been roughly outlined and then filled in by the actors’ real life personality and backgrounds.

Sounds quite a bit like Italian Realism. And here again: it works.

I thoroughly enjoyed the realism of the characters, people you don’t expect to see in films but at the grocery store. Truly great performances. More real than Reality TV, you get the feeling that “the people” have finally made it onto the screen.

The static wide shots that seem to objectively observe from a distance enhanced the feeling of realism (which, in my opinion, worked a lot better than the close and constantly jumping around camera of “A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints”).

Fortunately this film is not just an exercise in watching real people doing real mundane everyday things. There is conflict, there is change, there is pondering.

A quiet film about real life? Not everybody’s thing. But I love it!

And I’m not just saying that because I hope it will spawn a trend which will awaken interest in a feature film I directed years ago with non-actors in a small town improvising based on… or am I? :-)

On Rotten Tomatoes
On Netflix
Official Site

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Germany Wrap-Up

Did you hear about all the people stuck on airplanes at New York airports yesterday?

You guessed it: I was one of them. My Lufthansa flight from Munich was first put into a holding pattern over Long Island for almost an hour - the turbulence was so bad that we had quite a bit of vomiting action on the plane. When we finally landed we had to remain on the airplane for over 3 hours because at first our plane was stuck in the snow, then another plane ahead of us at the gate had to be deiced, then a part necessary to pull that airplane away from the gate broke, eventually we had to wait for another plane at another gate to fly to Japan or something. The questions remain: why couldn't they just send a bus to drive us back to the gate or let us just walk; and why didn't they serve us one last German beer to keep us happy on this 13-hour odyssey?

This morning I learned that we actually had it quite good and the people who tried to leave JFK earlier in the day were stuck on planes for up to 11 hours.

The good thing is that I met some nice people (Hi, George and Liv) and I managed to read an entire book on this flight: Le Voyage d'Hector by Francois Lelord - which doesn't seem to be available in English yet. When it is, I certainly recommend it for the content (what is happiness?) although the writing style was a bit too much like a children's book for my taste.

A bummer was however that this delay caused us to miss Diamanda Galas' Valentines Day Massacre Show at the Knitting Factory.

But all that doesn't over-shadow the fun I had while in Germany.
To add to the high-lights list from the previous post:
  • Watching "The Queen" dubbed in German (I liked the movie quite a bit but had some issues with Blair's supposed noble reasons and the fact that it seemed necessary to have some background info on the whole Lady Di vs. the Windsors situation)
  • Taking the ICE train from Hamburg to Berlin (until the end of March round trip tickets are only 29 Euros if you book 3 days in advance)
  • The wonderful concert of The Decemberists at Knust. What a great experience to see this talented band perform live, where you can finally see all the different instruments they master to create their unique sound. Great energy, great passion. Turns out NDR recorded the show and will air it on NDR 2, a Northern German radio station, in a few weeks.

A photo of Muenzplatz held by photographer Guenter Westphal at Muenzplatz

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Germany - Halftime Report

My Parents' Backyard On Thursday

While Scott is in New York drumming up new business for our online video endeavors, I've been in Northern Germany on a short vacation visiting friends and family for a few days.

It's quite a bit warmer than New York - and there's quite a bit more snow.

Of course, highlights have been spending time with my family at home talking, soaking in some nature, getting all computers in the house up to par, going out to dinner and generally having all kinds of homey food; and hanging out with my friends at Kirsten's wineshop and in the cozy yet pretty smokey Hamburg bar Insbeth (seriously, you so easily forget when living in a city where smoking is forbidden in bars how thick it actually gets), then other friends' birthday party (Herzlichen Gl├╝ckwunsch zum Geburtstag, Inga und Jessica!) and last but not least: Revolver Club at Molotow - a great British music inspired dance night at a club that used to be THE punk rock dance club and a regular hangout of mine way back when. I wish we had a club night like that in NY and I think it's certainly worth checking out if you're ever in Hamburg's redlight district and like dancing to "the finest floorfiller of underground pop ever!" (make sure you say hi to my best friend Erik who usually works the door).

Tomorrow it's off to Berlin for a day (I will totally ignore the film festival Berlinale - this is my vacation!) to see my brother Asterix (who offers legal representation for bands, including the very up and coming German band Radiopilot) and his family and more friends: Soma clothing store owner Elke, singer Thimo and Marc.

And Tuesday the crowning show of The Decemberists at Knust. Can't wait.

Wednesday it's back to New York... if the announced snowstorms allow landing...

Oh, right. And then I talked to a guy who sometimes works security for a German band called Tokio Hotel. Apparently they're about to record an album in English and tour the US in the very near future. All I have to say is that just like with that Hasselhoff guy: just because something sells in Germany does not mean that all Germans are crazy about it... so PLEASE be kind!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Doug Aitken: sleepwalker

Chan Marshall (Cat Power)

Last night we managed to make it to MOMA just in time for the last two cycles of Doug Aitken's "sleepwalker" - a video installation on the outside walls of the Manhattan museum. It was my last chance to see it since it only runs through the end of this week and I will be out of town. So despite the 16 degree weather we made the trek up to the museum knowing we'd only be able to see maybe 15 minutes of it before the films stop screening at 10pm.

Yes, and even though it was freeeeezing and we had to stand outside while fancy people all dressed in black were eating even fancier dinners inside the museum it was so worth it.

Five different short films (starring Tilda Swinton, Donald Sutherland, Chan Marshall, Seu Jorge and Ryan Donowho)
play simultaneously on the walls of the museum - depicting a work & play day in the life of... the city, the person.

In-between are screens of visuals. Everything happens perfectly in sync and is mesmerizingly beautiful. The films on their own may be visually poetic, but it's in connection with each other and on this large canvas (that feels like the city itself) that makes hese films have such an impact.

The only issue I have: why in the world would you screen these in February? To attract tourists during the off-season? It was kind of fun to be the only people watching last night in the sculpture garden (besides the employees who have to) - but I'd rather have not been freezing my toes off.

Still, even at 16 degrees I can only recommend to go. Each cycle is pretty short and then all films get played again on different screens, so it's worth just going for 15 minutes at a time.

The installation runs until Feb. 12th, every night 5pm - 10pm.
Oh, and it's free!

Tilda Swinton
(pictures taken with my cell phone)

Song for Credits

At the very last minute (when genius or insanity strike) during our final sound mix, we suddenly had the idea of getting a child to sing one of the hymns used in "All God's Children".

One quick phone call to April Ruane Crowley of Celestial Films (she's got the kids hook-up) and a few days later we have recordings of children singing "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves The Little Children".

We're currently playing around with the different songs and versions. We think that either song will have a strong effect at the end of the film - it brings out the innocence, vulnerability and the trust children have. In the context of the film this is quite chilling.

For your own religion-themed documentary research, here's a great website which lists hymns with lyrics, sound samples and copyright information: The Cyber Hymnal

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Sound is DONE!

We had our final "All God's Children" sound session with Tom Lino on Wednesday.

Have I mentioned yet how great it is to see someone else put their energy and creativity into your project? It's also quite satisfying to describe what you want to hear and then have someone else be able to actually create it.

It's been amazing to experience the Super 8 footage and photos come to life through sound design. Scott called those moments quite fittingly "sound reenactments". Rather powerful!

Needless to say, Tom also mastered all the regular dialogue editing. Altogether the film sounds fantastic!

After a few technical steps we received the final mix on Friday. Some minor issues on our end (How much longer will that Sony VAIO workhorse make it? It's hanging on by a thread...) and we managed to sync up the sound with the picture today.

So it's official this evening: "All God's Children" has a finished sound mix!

Okay, except for that last minute idea of recording a song for the end credits, which our favorite friend April Ruane of Celestial Films is taking care of this weekend.

Now, it's on to color correction & mastering. We're talking to several post houses - but we won't get it done until after I get back from Germany.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Scott back at Sea Level

Scott is back from Park City and recounts some of his trip's highlights on his blog.

And here's one last picture from Sundance.

Eugene Hernandez, Jeff "The Dude" Dowd, Scott Solary