Film-making, the Times They are A-Changing. Monsters 2010

Monsters (2010 film)
Monsters (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished reading an interesting blog post from Africa is a Country  http://africasacountry.com/2012/07/16/five-alternative-filmmaking-collectives/. Although the post dealt with a specific set of films, it made me think of how film-making has changed over-all.

Everything is digital – with the advancements made on the digital front a lot of ‘new’ films are being shot entirely on a digital format. The superior 2010 film Monsters was made with a two person crew  they used “off the shelf” $8,400 cameras, editors, digital effects programs and other “common” software programs. Monsters, besides being an entirely ‘digital’ film also  could be labelled the zenith of “guerilla” film-making.

The film-makers travelled to each location and filmed quite a lot of the time without any local authority’s permission. The ‘extras’ were not ‘actors’ but real people who happened to be in the area where they were filming. The two film crew members, would then edit the day’s footage in their hotel room at night.

Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, who up to this point was better known as a documentary film-maker, Monsters is his first venture into the  feature-length arena. The script he wrote had little to no dialogue in it. The scenes in the film with the two protagonists are mostly improvised rather than scripted. Amazingly this seems to work in making the film seem more believable.

The film is about two Americans who are trapped in Mexico by a quarantine. The Americans, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) spend the entire film trying to get back to US soil and dodging  alien monsters, opportunistic people and the elements.

Kaulder is actually in Mexico on an assignment. Wynden’s father has hired him to find her and bring her home. Wynden is a sort of ‘Greenpeace’ “Save the world” type and she is initially reluctant to leave the alien infested Mexican/American border.

The film-makers help sell their film and their aliens by deciding to make them huge. Shots in the film ‘featuring’ the aliens show us enormous legs or trunks and refrain from showing us the actual bodies of the aliens till the end of the film.

The sets and the actors look gritty and real. That director Edwards has a background in documentaries this is evident from the very first frame of the film. Monsters looks and feels like a documentary. We feel like a fly on the wall watching these two protagonists interact with their surroundings and each other.

McNairy and Able were dating during the making of this film and are now married, an interesting fact that helps to explain their characters interaction with each other in the film.

Digital only films are increasingly becoming the medium of choice by new film-makers. These digital films look good and apparently the ‘run of the mill’ editing programs on the market are very good, because the editing in most cases is almost flawless. Asian cinema has been making ‘mainstream’ films digitally for some time now.

English: Gary Oldman at the 2011 Venice Film F...
English: Gary Oldman at the 2011 Venice Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago actor Gary Oldman made a music video filmed entirely on a mobile (cell) phone. In 2009 Juliet Landau filmed the entire process for a short documentary entitled Take Flight: Gary Oldman Directs Chutzpah. Intended as a no frills look at the filming process it looks instead at the creativity and thought process of Oldman himself. It also shows how the film medium can be captured with a device as simple as a mobile phone and still look impressive.

English: A photograph of Juliet Landau

A lot of the filming community are mourning the new trend of digital film making. They have gone on record as saying that digital films are more transient than traditionally made films. That may well be true, but without the option of digitally made films, little gems like Monsters would never be made. And what a shame that would be.

Life After Death…As a Robot?

Rhett & Link
Rhett & Link (Photo credit: rhettandlink)

I’ve just finished watching a very funny video on YouTube from Rhett and Link (very funny guys). My daughter had just watched it and wanted to show me part of it.

The title of the video was Live Forever Online. The bit that she showed me was about a website called LifeNaut.com. The whole premise of this website is to allow people to create “mind-files” that can be loaded into an avatar (online) or into an animatronic head that you can interact with.

The reason for all this? The ability to leave a “computerized” version of you, again in the form of an online avatar. This service is free. Presumably if you want the data loaded into an animatronic head it costs money. But which ever version you choose will give you the same result.

“Live Forever – Upload your Mind to LifeNaut.com”  this is the message that greets you when you google the site. When you click the link provided on the site you will see the site itself with, “Make a Profile     Build an Avatar     Connect with Friends” running along the bottom of the Register/Sign In page.

But before you register and sign in look at the bottom of the screen. On the lower right hand of the screen you will see the word bina48. If you click on this it will give you an in depth tutorial what a bina48 is.

In a nutshell, it is an animatronic head filled with a real person’s memories and thought processes. The aim is to recreate another you.

The idea behind all this “mad” scientist scenario is this: You can leave a ‘copy’ of yourself via avatar or ‘head’ that your loved ones can talk to after you die.

Okay, so far so creepy. But if you really watch the tutorial and read their statements, you will find that the ultimate goal of Lifenaut is to replicate a person (that’s spelt dead loved one) via a robot. A robot that thinks like you, reasons like you, talks like you, looks like you and is concious like you.

An android version of  a real person. If you’ve ever seen any of the Alien films you’ll know what I mean. So you too can be the model for an evil Ash (Alien) or the human ‘wanna be’ David (Prometheus).

The long term goal of LifeNaut is to marry up a computer’s Artificial Intelligence –  AI and a robot with your conciousness (or to be more accurate the above mentioned thought processes, memories, etc). Once this has been done, not only will there be an “immortal” you, but they are also hoping the this blend of machine and memory will develop it’s own conciousness. It will become aware.

Okay everybody, repeat after me, “‘TERMINATOR.”

Cover of "The Terminator [Blu-ray]"

All joking aside, the idea does have some merit. As my daughter just pointed out, “If it works, it may help us to understand more about the human condition or what actually makes a soul.” Smart girl my daughter.

Completely moving away from the Terminator style technology, I can’t decide whether the other portion of the program is a good thing or just creepy and weird. Yeah it would be kind of neat knowing that the loved ones you leave behind can chat “with you” after you’ve died.

It is also kind of neat to think that any future grandchildren or great-great grandchildren can see and hear how you talked. Although all the examples I watched on YouTube sounded like interesting variations of Stephen Hawking.

I also don’t think I will be able to partake in the free offer. I registered and signed up. I then took a picture to build my profile. I also answered 52 of 486 questions to give my avatar “my” personality. Then…nothing.

I don’t know what I did wrong, but my avatar won’t load. Period. Maybe I’m too ugly? Or maybe the picture wasn’t good enough. But whatever the reason, I couldn’t check it out today.

I may have to wait for my android to do it.

The Faculty (1998) School Hard

Cover of "The Faculty"
Cover of The Faculty

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez The Faculty is a great picture that pokes fun at the relationships and politics in an average American high school. Even the location of the school is set in a state that is synonymous with average, Ohio.

The cast list for The Faculty is impressive, Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Clea Duvall, Selma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Piper Laurie, and Jon Stewart. Despite the heavy calibre of actors that Rodriguez worked with, at no time does the film lose its ensemble feel.

Rodriguez’s film has a very tongue-in-cheek feel to it from start to finish. And the film has not only aged well, but, it doesn’t lose anything with repeated viewings. I estimate that I’ve seen this film at least ten to twenty times and still get a kick out of it. Of course that could just be me.

The film opens with the football coach throwing a fit at his practicing football players. He shouts demeaning things at them as they depart the field to hit the showers. The coach (Robert Patrick) then turns the water bench over and stomps on one of the field’s water sprinklers. He kneels down and we see the shadow of someone approaching. “Yeah?” Coach asks snottily, “What.”

The next time we see the coach he is acting much differently. He corners the principal in her office, after asking her for a pencil, he then shoves it through her hand. After he takes it back out, he murmurs, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Piper Laurie says the same thing when she stabs the principal later with a pair of scissors. As the title suggests whatever is going on at this school, it started with the faculty.

The rest of the film deals with an alien parasite invasion that completely takes over the school staff and is in danger of taking over not only the school, but the entire town. This film is a perfect example of why Rodriguez is such a good director. The story doesn’t lag and the pace is not so fast as to leave you gasping. Everything dovetails together perfectly.

Each character in the film is presented in a way to pull us, the audience, in. We feel an immediate empathy for these school kids who all remind us of kids we went to school with. The same can be said for the teaching staff. This is one film that has that perfect mix between script, actor and director. It is an eternal favourite in our house, in fact we just finished watching it again.

So if you haven’t got anything better to do, pop yourself some corn, open up a Coke or any other drink of your choice and watch it again.  I’ll bet you still enjoy it as much as the first time you watched it, or it you haven’t seen it before…What are you waiting for, go watch it.

 

Prometheus (2012) Some Assembly Required

Like the rest of the world, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of this film. Although I will admit to having a little bit of trepidation, with the bad taste that  the “prequel” of The Thing”  produced still lingering in my mouth. But I have to say, as prequels go, this was a corker. Although director Ridley Scott has gone on record stating that this film  is not really a prequel, per se. It is set in the same universe (gee thanks, Ridley. I didn’t see that one coming), I mean come on. The sets on the alien world, the finding out what the “space jockey” from Alien really was. This was a prequel, right down to the fact that the owner of the company was obviously a relation of  Charles Bishop Weyland  that we first meet in Aliens vs Predators. So stop being so fey and coy Ridley, cos like it or not this is a “prequel.”

The film starts with a spaceship hovering over a landscape that seems to be mostly rushing water. A big albino type fellow drinks some kind of gel-like substance and starts getting some green moss-like looking stuff growing on his skin. His body starts breaking apart and then falls into a waterfall. As the rest of his body disintegrates we are treated to images of DNA strands changing, breaking apart and reforming. I will admit, this whole sequence left me a little confused. It was not until I got home and looked up the film on  Wikipedia that I found out that this was the “seeding” of Earth. Cue face-palm.

After this “seeding” we are now in 2089. A team of archaeologists are in the Isle of Sky Scotland and have found cave paintings showing a big chap pointing to six “planets.”  Fast-forward to 2093 and we are on a spaceship. It is on it’s way to the six planets that were on the cave painting.

The first person  we meet is David (Michael Fassbender) he is a robot. The kind of Artificial Intelligence that is prevalent in the Alien verse. He is obviously a predecessor of the ‘evil’ Ash that we met in Alien. Fassbender is beyond brilliant as the ‘robot’ David. We see what his everyday routine is during the two year journey to the planets. He plays basketball while riding a bicycle, he watches films (and seems especially attracted to Lawrence of Arabia), learns languages, eats, drinks, and  (somewhat disturbingly) listens in on the dreams of his fellow passengers while they are in hyper-sleep.

David, we find out, was a special creation of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) who is financing this trip. Weyland tells the crew (in a holographic “beyond the grave” message) that David is in essence his surrogate son. David’s level of AI is so high that it appears that he can have opinions, likes, dislikes and hidden agenda’s. If Fassbender doesn’t get at least an Oscar nomination for this performance, I will be amazed.

We then meet Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) a type-a personality whose job is to make sure this little expedition goes as planned. Theron and Fassbender are by far the most interesting characters in the film. Theron was told to “blend” in the background in a lot of the scenes and all that does is make her character  appear suspicious and a little threatening.

The “heroine” of the film is Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw. She is the Ripley of this little space opera. Unfortunately Noomi is not Sigourney Weaver. Don’t get me wrong. I think Noomi Rapace is a brilliant actress. I saw her performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And it was right after her stunning work in that film that she got the role of Shaw. I just didn’t, and still don’t truth be told, see why the main protagonist of the film had to be a woman…again.

We’ve seen it all before, most notably in Alien and Aliens. Ripley was a “kick-ass” heroine. Shaw just doesn’t have quite the same impact. In fact none of the characters have a lot of impact. The only exceptions are Vickers, David, and Janek (Idris Elba) who for some reason are more fully fleshed out as characters. Even the appearance of Weyland towards the end of the film is very scant on character development.

I got the feeling while watching this film that a lot of it wound up on the editing room floor. What was left had a feeling of being uneven or disjointed. It also had, what I felt, were “see Spot run” scenes. After Shaw’s husband is vindictively contaminated with alien goo by David, we are given a short scene between Elizabeth and her hubby. We are spoon fed the following information: Elizabeth cannot conceive and her husband still loves her in spite of this and makes love to her to show it. We didn’t really need the scene or the information it gave us. When David finds the alien life growing in Elizabeth’s body, we could have filled in the blanks. The knowledge that Shaw cannot conceive is extraneous to the film’s plot and serves no real purpose.

I would have liked seeing more of Theron and David and Janek. These three were the best written and acted in the film. I realise that it sounds like I did not like the film.

I did like the film. A lot.

I liked the premise of it and the execution of events once they arrived at the planet. And yes, Ridley, I saw direct connections between your prequel and the rest of the Alien verse. So despite the fact that I felt there was a lot of footage that never made it into the finished film. I still enjoyed it and will probably get the special edition DVD when it comes out for the  ‘making of’ features.

Over all it is definitely worth seeing in the cinema. I saw it in 2D and not 3D so I don’t know if this changes the overall look of the film, but I am not tempted to re-see it in 3D to find out.