Tuesday, December 22, 2009

About Avatar.

I'm not that crazy about Avatar. And I feel kind of bad about it. I mean, it's a big ambitious sci-fi adventure movie. I should love it. And I might love it if I was still a 14-year-old. Still, it's a movie worth discussing.

The Story

You've probably heard somebody describe Avatar as "groundbreaking," but the movie's plot is anything but. It's Dances With (Alien) Wolves. Actually, the plot was old when Kevin Costner made Wolves. It's the old "civilized dude meets good-hearted primitives, goes native, saves primitives from less-enlightened civilized dudes" story.

There's nothing wrong with retelling an old story. People have been doing that since Homer (the Greek, not the Simpson). But, other than the science, I didn't feel Avatar director James Cameron brought anything to the story to make his version worth telling. I was especially annoyed with the dialog, which mostly consisted of interchangeable "clever" insults--seriously, you could switch up much of the dialog of the main scientist character, the main military character, and the main alien character, and end up with the same movie, and that's a problem because each of those three characters should be very unlike the others--and clunky exposition.

The Science

Avatar takes place on a lush moon (Pandora) that orbits a massive Jupiter-like planet in a solar system with three suns. Now that is interesting. To me at least. It's certainly a new setting for the old "going native" plot. And a lot of thought went into the science of Pandora. Like what the "people" look like and the kinds of plants and animals that populate the moon and how those animals and plants behave and interact (yes, even the plants "behave" on Pandora).

But, with all of that expository dialog, some of the more interesting science ideas are left unexplained. Humans can't breathe the Pandoran air. Okay--what's in that air? Is there no oxygen and carbon dioxide? If not, are the Pandoran plants and animals not carbon-based, like all of us Earth critters? And what about the floating mountains? I mean, floating mountains are such a fun cinematic idea, and they even serve the movie's plot on a couple of occasions. But what makes them float? The vaguely-alluded-to "vortex?"

If somebody writes a good "science of Avatar" book, there's a strong possibility that book would be more entertaining than the actual Avatar movie. For science nerds (like me), at least.

The Technology

Avatar is supposed to be a "game changer." I mean, one of our most technically-savvy directors spent ten years and hundreds of millions of dollars making Avatar and created some new filmmaking technology (including 3-D cameras and motion capture devices) while he was at it. And you can see that money on the screen. I'd estimate that 70% of the movie is totally computer animated. And it looks like really good computer animation.

But Pixar has been doing really good computer animation for years. I'd say Pixar's animation actually works better, because Pixar movies are "cartoons." Maybe it's just me. But I love animation (whether computer, stop-motion, or hand-drawn), and when I sit down to watch a "cartoon," it takes me about three seconds to adjust to the particular style of animation being employed, and then I'm in till the end credits roll. However, when a movie promises "photo-real" CG animation, then smashes that animation up against real actors on real sets, I just can't quite get into it.

And I don't think I ever will. Honestly, no matter how good computer technology gets, will it ever generate an image that looks real (I mean really real, not "good enough" real)? And is that a goal that filmmakers should be concerned with? I think computer animation has been good enough for "cartoons" for some time now (check out Pixar's last three features for examples). And talented production designers, set builders, model builders, and makeup artists have been creating convincing sci-fi and fantasy imagery for years. Check out the sets and model work in Stanley Kubrick's 2001, a movie that was made more than 40 years ago. Or the opening shot from the 1977 Star Wars, with the big ship chasing the small ship toward the planet--I think that shot looks more "real" than most any of the CG stuff I saw in Avatar.

There's nothing wrong with modern filmmaking technology. If you can imagine it, and if you have a sufficient budget (high-end CG doesn't seem to be making filmmaking any cheaper, by the way), somebody can put it on the screen for you. So, James Cameron (and any other directors who command budgets in excess of 100 million dollars), you don't have to worry about the technology anymore. All you have to worry about is telling good stories.

Oh, yeah, and the 3-D

The 3-D in Avatar is pretty solid. Then again, the 3-D is also pretty solid in Up and Coraline, both of which came out earlier this year. It seems like 3-D that adds "depth" to the image works a lot better than 3-D that goes for the "coming at ya" effect. Except for titles, which look admittedly cool hovering a few inches in front of the screen. But maybe I'm the only one with an aversion to the "coming at ya" stuff, or maybe it's because I don't sit close enough to the screen at 3-D movies.

I'm not sure the "language" of 3-D cinema has really been worked out yet. I mean, are we audience members looking out a window into a 3-D world, or are we supposed to be in that 3-D world? It seems most 3-D movies these days are going back and forth between those two approaches, and that back-and-forth doesn't really work for me.

It could be worse

It looks like I'm in the minority. Avatar is making money and getting generally good reviews. So, if you like sci-fi adventure, don't worry about my opinions--see the movie and judge for yourself.

At least it's not as bad as The Phantom Menace.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ignore me.

Since I'm usually way too disorganized, I think I'm going to start using my blog to keep random notes (like my pal Andrew). So feel free to ignore. Or not, if it happens to be a note you are interested in.

Analog-to-Firewire video converter (I need to get one of these so I can give John's back to him)

Make your own iPhone games (looks pretty buggy so far)

Friday, October 23, 2009


INTERPLANETARY screens at the Hollywood ArcLight in 7 hours...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Hide page.

In honor of the new Hide and Creep Special Edition DVD (in stores now!), I put together a new home page for the Hide website.

Thanks to Kevin Powell for hooking me up with the fonts and awesome background texture.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In case you haven't heard, Interplanetary won the audience choice award for best Alabama film at Sidewalk 2009! And Chris Hilleke (one of the cinematographers on Interplanetary) won the audience choice award for best short film! Here's a photo of our actual award, which is a big honkin' metal statue...

As you might guess based on the award, the Sidewalk Interplanetary screening went really well. We had big, receptive audience and a lively Q & A post-screening.

Thanks to the audience, the Sidewalk staff, and, especially, all the folks who worked together to make Interplanetary.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More interview action.

Excellent interview with me just posted over at ARKirby.com:


Thanks, Richard!

Weekly coverage.

My old pal Kenn McCracken interviewed me for the Birmingham Weekly newspaper.

You can read the online version of the interview here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The most wonderful time of the year.

I've been busy this week, trying to get ready for this weekend's Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The upcoming fest is Sidewalk's 11th. At this point, it's my second favorite annual event (as a child at heart, Christmas is still #1). Sidewalk brings films, filmmakers, and fans together to watch movies, talk movies, and drink beer. And it brings them together in Northside Birmingham, a cool part of the city that is, sadly, under-utilized for much of the year.

Sidewalk #11 is extra special for me, as I'll have a film (Interplanetary, which you might be familiar with) in the fest for the first time in five years. It's been too long!

I hope you'll check out the festival, and I especially hope you'll attend the Interplanetary screening on Sunday, 4:15 p.m. at the Carver Theatre. You can get ticket information here.

A few links to hopefully get you in the mood for Sidewalk...

Sidewalk's Interplanetary page

Interplanetary Facebook page - Be a fan!

Interview with me on Fox 6. (Warning: I am a pretty awful TV interviewee.)

Interview with Lisa Mason at Birmingham's Eagle. (Down at the bottom, in the "Lisa's Links" section.)

Interview and review at Examiner.com.

I also have heard that there might be some Interplanetary coverage in this week's Birmingham Weekly newspaper, so keep an eye out for that.

And here's a picture of Kyle "Jackson" Holman from Interplanetary...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Examined some more.

Angela followed up her recent Examiner Interplanetary interview with a review of our little opus.

Dig it.

A very kind review at that. Thanks to Angela for all the press this week!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Angela over at Examiner.com just published a nice pre-Sidewalk interview with me.

Check it out.

I'll also be doing an interview on Fox 6 tomorrow sometime around noon...

Friday, September 18, 2009

PPV, baby!

Courtesy of Mr. Eric McGinty, proof that Hide and Creep is, indeed, available on Charter pay-per-view:


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Janet Simpson, one of my good friends and bandleaders (she's in charge of Delicate Cutters), just started up an online magazine about Birmingham called Pavo. Aside from all kinds of writing goodness, the site also features some of my videography in the "Trib Trek" feature.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In case you were wondering...

...The Beatles: Rock Band is teh awesome. The three-part harmonies are insane. And I made it through "Revolution" playing guitar and singing lead at the same time. Also insane, even on difficulty level "medium."

Also, I hear that Hide and Creep is now watchable on Comcast Charter pay-per-view.

EDIT: That's Charter pay-per-view, not Comcast.

Breaking news.

Interplanetary is playing at the Hollywood Film Festival in October. Details as they become available...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Catching up with Lisa.

My latest interview with the rockin' Lisa Mason is now available on her radio station's website.

The link to the interview is near the bottom of Lisa's bio page in the "Lisa's Links" section.

Thanks again to Lisa and the Eagle for the interview!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Three photos. From Europe.

Wilco in Dublin...

Radiohead at the Reading Festival...

A lion in London...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Three concerts in four days. In Europe.

Stacey and I hit the British Isles to see a couple of our favorite bands, Wilco and Radiohead, play live. Actually, the plan was originally to see Radiohead at the Reading Festival on Sunday, but then Wilco booked a couple of shows in Dublin, and Stacey adjusted our travel schedule so we could see them, too.

I'm glad she did. The Reading Festival was pretty overwhelming. I enjoyed Radiohead's set, but the whole thing was insane. I haven't been able to find actual attendance numbers, but it seemed like there were a million people there. I'm probably just getting too old for the festival scene. The Wilco shows, on the other hand, were at a small venue known as St. Vicar's Vicar Street. We were up front (in "the pit," as it were) for the Thursday night show, but we found some awesome seats for Wilco's Friday night set and had an even better time that night. It didn't hurt that Wilco ended that show with "Monday" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)." I thought for a minute they might play all of disc one of Being There, which would have been fine with me. Also, Jeff Tweedy poked a little fun at Bono's Jesus complex. That didn't play well with the locals, but Stacey and I found it hi-larious.

I really love London and Dublin. Maybe it is just the accents, but most people here seem so nice (don't worry, fellow Americans, they have douchebags here just like in the States--I think the whole "ugly Americans" thing is bullshit). The weather is dreary, which suits my pasty complexion (though gray skies still make me long for Norway). And we got to catch up with our favorite American expatriates, Paul and Angie.

The only downsides to the trip--mayonnaise, spotty wi-fi, and missing our kitty-cat. We'll start heading back to America in about five hours, so I guess I should try to get some sleep...

EDIT: The theater in Dublin was "Vicar Street," not "St. Vicar's." Guess my memory was a little dyslexic on that one.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Au revoir, Shosanna.

Quentin Tarantino makes movies about movies. He's really outdone himself with his latest, Inglourious Basterds. Basterds has a plot, a shaggy-dog story about a scheme to assassinate Hitler. But it's really Tarantino's love letter to film.

That said, it's an awfully funny, tense, violent love letter. As you've probably seen in the movie's trailers, the Basterds are a group of Nazi-killers (their leader points out they're not in the prisoner-taking business). And Tarantino isn't afraid to show them do their thing in graphic detail. And as you probably learned in history class, the Nazis were pretty rough customers themselves.

This isn't a History Channel production, though. Like Hendrix covering Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," Tarantino takes World War II events and spins them into something all his own, a movie full of larger-than-life heroes and villains. I mean, when we're first introduced to Tarantino's Hitler, he's wearing a cape.

A cape. Like Darth Vader. Or Doctor Doom.

Getting back to the real subject of the film, a French movie theater is a major character. Tarantino throws in nods to noir movies, Hitchcock, and probably a hundred other cinematic particulars I wasn't hip enough to catch, at least on first viewing. I especially love how one character, even after meeting an untimely demise, gets the last laugh thanks to a movie projector.

As is the case with most of Tarantino's flicks, the cinematography, editing, and sound work are top-notch. And the music is great, of course. I especially love a totally period-incorrect David Bowie song that shouldn't work but does. Totally. In fact, it might be my favorite ever use of a pop tune in a Tarantino movie.

I don't feel like my rambling about Basterds is really doing the movie justice, so I'll just add that it is currently my pick for best movie of 2009. And it's a movie you should see. In a proper movie theater.

I've had a good run at the theater lately, having also seen District 9 and Moon. Both are worth your time, and both feature excellent effects--D9 on the CG side (seriously, and I don't even usually like CG), and Moon on the practical side (seriously, and I love practical effects). And speaking of effects, the makeup and pyro in Basterds are just about perfect.

Sidewalk screening day and time...


Thursday, August 20, 2009

How I learned to stop worrying and love the dual-layer.

I am relieved to be watching the new Hide and Creep "special edition" DVD. It doesn't "street" till October 6 (pre-order it from Amazon!), but I paid the replicator to run me a few advance copies, which arrived Wednesday.

I say "relieved" because this Hide and Creep disc is the most complex I've ever authored (multiple video files, audio tracks, ROM content), and it's my first attempt at dual-layer authoring, so I really couldn't be 100% sure the DVD worked properly until I tested one of the 1,000 copies the replicator made. If I had screwed up badly, that would be a lot of coasters.

I won't go into a lot of detail on the whole dual-layer thing at the moment. The short version: while the extra layer almost doubles the amount of content you can fit on a DVD, it throws a few kinks into the authoring process. Luckily, I found a few online articles about the process (particularly in regards to Apple's DVD Studio Pro software) that pointed me in the right direction. When I get some time (ha), I hope to do a detailed post about dual-layer authoring, just in case my limited experience might be of use to another DVD author out there.

Only other news at the moment is the impending Interplanetary screening at Sidewalk, but I still don't have a specific date/time/venue for that yet. And the super-awesome Lisa Mason interviewed me Tuesday for the 106.9 FM "The Eagle" website -- I'll let you know when that interview is available for listening.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Price gouging.


Nine copies of the Asylum Hide and Creep DVD are for sale at Amazon.com for more than $100 each.

This means either...
  1. Hide and Creep is a true cult classic and has a bigger following than I realize; or
  2. Some greedy seller arbitrarily decided to mark up his copy of Hide to an absurd price, and some other greedy sellers followed suit.
I'm thinking "2" is the correct answer.

Standing in the shadow of Darth Vader.

(My summer blockbuster review project has obviously gone to heck. I didn't even see Transformers 2! That said, I did manage to catch a flick yesterday...)

I like to complain about what George Lucas has done with the Star Wars franchise as much as the next guy. Maybe more. But it's hard to deny the influence of the series (especially the 1977 original) on other movies.

Case in point, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (Hey, is anybody else tired of the word "rise" used in movie titles? For some reason, that always rubs me the wrong way. And why does a movie that is not a sequel need a subtitle anyway?) Though I assume the movie is based on the Hasbro toy line and the television shows and comic books it inspired, several of the flick's plot points are straight out of Star Wars.

For example, there's a climatic battle where the good guys attack the bad guys' battle fortress. In Joe, the fortress is underwater instead of in outer space, but all of the submarines and whatnot behave more like X-wing fighters than actual aquatic vehicles--not sure if that was dictated by the screenplay or the director or the special effects house. Inside that base, a good guy with a badass sword goes off alone to disable some problematic piece of equipment (Snake Eyes vs. a plasma cannon in Joe. In Star Wars, it was Obi-Wan vs. the tractor beam).

When one of the characters kisses another "for luck," I leaned over and whispered to Stacey that we'll discover these characters are brother and sister in the inevitable sequel.

Debts to Star Wars aside, the G.I. Joe plot is pretty decent for an action flick. The only real motivation for the main bad guys (Destro and Cobra Commander) seems to be revenge, but at least they're motivated. Not sure what's in it for all those henchmen though. It would be interesting to see what Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer (creators of The Venture Bros.) have to say about that.

As you might guess, there is a ton of action. Some of it cool (ninja fights!), some of it average. The CG effects are all over the place, usually not particularly good. I wonder if I should just quit complaining about sloppy CG. But G.I. Joe actually has lots of solid practical effects and sets and costumes. If the same effort went into the computer effects, it would have really improved the overall viewing experience.

The cast is full of good actors who do what they can with the action movie dialog--except Dennis Quaid, who seems hell-bent on chewing every piece of scenery in sight. After the early negative buzz around the flick, followed by a little last-minute positivity from guys like Devin Faraci over at Chud.com, I wasn't sure what to expect. I suppose I landed in the middle. I found G.I. Joe a pleasant enough time-waster, but I don't expect I'll be re-watching it anytime soon.

It's definitely no Team America: World Police. But, then again, what is?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Director's cut.

Chuck stopped by one night last week to record some commentary tracks for four of our short movies. Those shorts and commentaries will be on the upcoming Hide and Creep DVD. After taking care of business, we were watching some of the original 1977 version of Star Wars and talking about how the "special edition" version didn't even seem like the same movie.

I mention this because, while revisiting Hide and Creep, I was tempted to "fix" a few things. But I resisted. If there's one person out there who really likes the original version of Hide (and I like to think there is), I'd hate to take out or alter some particular bit that said person is fond of.

Well, okay, I did change one title card. But that was to correct an error, and I assume no one gets too attached to the content of title cards.

Speaking of Hide and Creep, I finished up the DVD authoring around 3 a.m. this morning. After I get some discs back from the replicator and confirm that everything works, I'll post a complete list of specs. Thanks again to Kevin Powell and Los Angeles Design Studios and Advertising for taking care of menu design and cover art, respectively. And thanks to Ces and John White for their contributions to the new disc.

In other news...

Steve "Alien Redrum" Pattee posted his review of Interplanetary at HorrorTalk.com.

Steve gives the movie a 4.5 on the 5 scale and says the movie was "well worth the wait." Given the wait, I'd say that's high praise, indeed.

I tell ya, if we can find a distributor who likes Interplanetary as much as the critics, we're going to be in good shape.

And my good pal Andrew Bellware's latest flick, Alien Uprising, has been picked up by Blockbuster Video. Congrats, Andrew! I rented a copy tonight at the Blockbuster over on Green Springs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sidewalk, etc.

It's official. Interplanetary will screen at the 2009 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. It will be good to screen a feature in the ol' hometown again (it's been almost five years since Hide And Creep premiered at Sidewalk '04).

Speaking of Hide And Creep, the new DVD (the "special edition") isn't coming out 'til October, but I have to get the new master/artwork/etc. sent off on Monday. So I'm a little under-the-gun.

I'm doing my best to put some cool bonus material together for the new Hide disc. So far, I have good-to-high-quality versions of the four "classic" Crewless short movies, a never-before-heard commentary track with random (and drunken) crewmembers, a remastered version of the trailer, and some DVD-ROM content (including screenplays, a press kit, and the barely-released soundtrack album [as MP3s]). And Kyle, Michael, and Chuck stopped by tonight to record a new actor commentary track.

I'll post the full list of extras and specs after I get the master done and in the mail.

Even the menu screens are going to be awesome on this thing, as they're being created by Kevin Powell. Kevin is a superstar designer and has worked on several big-time DVD releases (including the recent Weinstein picture Fanboys and the first season CSI DVDs).

Monday, July 20, 2009

...it's full of stars.

And the day just keeps getting better.

Check it out: our first 5-star review.

David Cornelius, writing for EFilmCritic.com, says Interplanetary is "...what all B-movies should want to be: audacious, intelligent, and start-to-finish entertaining, a slice of genius standing in bold defiance of the budget."

Hide And Creep street date and cover art.

Hide And Creep Special Edition DVD cover art, courtesy of Los Angeles Design Studios and Advertising. Click it for a closer look...

And that new DVD is available for pre-order at Amazon.com!

It is a glorious day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

...rising from the grave.

I've been getting things together for the new Hide And Creep DVD release (looking like early October at this point). Last night, I cleaned up the trailer (originally cut by Mr. Adam Wingard).

More Hide And Creep news soon...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I heart critics.

The first couple of reviews of the current (and mostly finished) cut of Interplanetary have popped up on the internets.

Our old pal T.L. Bugg at The Lightning Bug's Lair says Interplanetary is one of the best films he's seen in a while.

Over at Screenhead.com, Steve Anderson calls the flick "groundbreaking" and "chance-taking."

Check out the links for the details. Many thanks to Mr. Bugg and Mr. Anderson for watching and writing!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The dead will rise again.

Breaking news... After being out of print for a few years now, Hide and Creep will return to DVD! And soon, maybe as soon as September. Chuck and I just signed a deal with a new distributor. More info as it is available...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One sequel, one remake.

Given the convoluted timeline of the Terminator movies, I'm not sure if Terminator Salvation is a sequel or a prequel. I'm also not sure if "prequel" is even a real word. And why doesn't Terminator Salvation have a number and a colon in the title?

Oh. I just looked it up. According to dictionary.com, "prequel" is a real word, coined in the 1970s. One mystery solved.

In the past few years, I've noticed an increased obsession with backstory in popular movies. It's like, if we aren't told every last detail about the characters, we won't be able to relate to them or understand them. Never mind that The Dark Knight made tons of money, despite the fact that the Joker just shows up out of nowhere in that movie and starts wreaking havoc.

So it's no surprise that Terminator Salvation explains some of the backstory for characters that we've seen in previous Terminator movies, like John Connor and Kyle Reese. But the movie opens with a chunk of backstory for a new character, "Marcus," which I guess would be okay, except that it kind of gives away a big plot twist involving Marcus. The screenplay has some problems, and I'm not sure if all the problems are solvable, but lopping off the first five pages would be a good start.

Make that five and a half pages. After the unnecessary opening, we get one of those text crawls that explains more backstory, but it's redundant as the same information is revealed later the old-fashioned way. You know, through action and dialog.

The action tends to be better than the dialog. And there's too much dialog during the action. Somebody yells "hang on" in the middle of a crazy car chase. Really? Dude, if the passengers hadn't been hanging on for the duration of the chase, they wouldn't be in the car at this point.

The dialog also serves as an obvious reminder that this is the fourth Terminator movie. Callbacks to lines from previous movies wouldn't bug me so much if they didn't seem shoehorned in. When a character answers a question with "I'll be back," Stacey and I laughed out loud. That's laughing at the movie, not with it. Then, in the next scene, we hear "You Could Be Mine" (the Guns 'n Roses song from Terminator 2: Judgement Day) playing from a jam box.

At that point, I almost expected Linda Hamilton to show up and ask the Kyle character, "Hey, remember in that first Terminator movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger chased us around?"

Speaking of Arnie, he makes a cameo of sorts in one of the movie's cooler scenes. Yeah, I've been complaining for the majority of this review, but Terminator Salvation does have some cool bits. There's also a helicopter crash filmed from inside the copter--still haven't quite figured out how the filmmakers pulled off that one.

And the movie looks and sounds terrific. The cinematography, effects, and sound design are top-notch, even if they're not quite up to Star Trek standards. And there are some excellent practical effects courtesy of the late, great Stan Winston. From a craft standpoint, the summer was off to a shaky start with Wolverine, but that's looking to be the exception and not the rule. So far. Hope I didn't just jinx it.

I realize that this review isn't exactly focused. In my defense, neither is Terminator Salvation. Director McG (insert wow-that-is-a-stupid-name joke here) does a pretty good job managing the big chaotic action scenes, but the quieter parts seem tossed off. I noticed accents slipping in and out, actors who look like they're thinking about lunch plans instead of the scene at hand, flat line readings--stuff you shouldn't let slide when you're making a movie about what it means to be human.

I've never seen the original version of The Taking Of Pelham 123, but I enjoyed the heck out of Tony Scott's remake that hit theaters Friday. The story, like Die Hard, is of the "dude with a problem" variety. Denzel Washington plays an average joe transit authority worker who ends up as a hostage negotiator when some bad guys, led by John Travolta's "Ryder," hijack a New York City subway car and its passengers.

Watching Pelham, I was reminded why Washington is a movie star. He has charisma to spare, even when playing a slightly pudgy (prosthetic gut, or did he put on some weight, DeNiro-style?) everyman. Actually his character isn't quite an everyman (the part was written for a movie star, not a character actor), but I don't want to ruin the details of that reveal, which is one of the movie's many nice surprises.

Another surprise--this is a big summer movie that spends the majority of its running time in everyday locations (transit authority office, subway car) without a lot of action. The hostage situation creates plenty of tension, as does the over-the-radio sparring between Washington's and Travolta's characters. The action we do get tends to be of the fast and ugly variety, as, in the tradition of my favorite Sidney Lumet movies, nothing much goes according to plan for anybody, no matter which side of the law they're on.

Tony Scott is no Sidney Lumet--sometimes he seems to forget he's making a feature film and slips into over-the-top-music-video-director mode. But the solid cast (I haven't mentioned John Turturro yet--nice to see him in a big movie not directed by Michael Bay) and clever screenplay keep the movie grounded, regardless of any directorial indiscretions.

The Taking Of Pelham 123 ain't high art, but it is highly entertaining--a fine way to spend a summer afternoon at the multiplex.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The lost hangover.

Land Of the Lost starts promisingly enough. An astronaut runs through a swamp. He's scared, trying to raise someone on his radio. He's supposed to be on Earth, but the three moons glowing in the night sky tell us he's not. He realizes he's being followed. He stops running, turns. We see something terrible reflected in the visor of the astronaut's helmet. Hard cut to the "Land Of the Lost" title card, along with a dissonant music cue that would be right at home in Jerry Goldsmith's Planet Of the Apes score.

This is a lot more awesome than the Will-Ferrell-plus-dinosaurs comedy I was expecting. I say this as a guy who likes Will Ferrell and dinosaurs. And comedy.

After that title card, Will Ferrell shows up. And the movie starts getting less awesome. Ferrell is playing Dr. Rick Marshall, the latest in a long line of Ferrell's over-confident buffoons. This is a character Ferrell does well--I'm especially fond of the Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby iterations. But something seems tired this time around, despite the efforts of Ferrell and Matt Laurer (playing himself).

Dr. Marshall picks up a couple of sidekicks, one a pretty girl (Anna Friel), one a dumb dude (Danny McBride), and the three accidentally take a trip to a strange alternate dimension, a "land of the lost" as it were. (Matt Laurer stays home.)

I'm leaving out a lot of details here, but, even this early in the movie, the tone is all over the place. Is it a Will-Ferrell-as-buffoon comedy? Is it a sci-fi adventure? Is it a send-up of overly earnest sci-fi adventures (like the Land Of the Lost television show, on which this movie is based)?

Unfortunately, the tone never evens out. Which is a shame, because the tone thing should, and could, have been addressed by the screenplay. Here's a movie with a solid cast, excellent cinematography and production design, groovy practical effects (lizard men!), and decent dinosaurs (to this day, I don't think anyone has topped the original Jurassic Park dinos). But the screenwriters don't know what kind of story they want to tell, and there's no way the movie can overcome that lack of direction.

Even the music seems confused. Michael Giacchino, who wrote one of my favorite scores of recent years (The Incredibles), can't decide whether he wants to be Jerry Goldsmith in weird, unsettling mode or John Williams in stirring, uplifting mode. (Note to Giacchino: you should have stuck with the Goldsmith-y stuff.)

When Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote The Hangover, they knew exactly what kind of story they wanted to tell. A funny story. A no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners funny story.

The plot couldn't be simpler. Four friends hit Vegas for a night of partying. Three wake up the next morning, unable to remember the party night or the whereabouts of friend number four. They embark on a mission to find their missing comrade, and (I say this in all seriousness) hilarity ensues.

I shouldn't give Lucas and Moore all the credit for that hilarity. While they devise a plethora of absurd situations for our protagonists, the director (Old School alum Todd Phillips) and actors (especially Zach Galifianakis, turning awkwardness into high art) work hard to wring every possible laugh from each scene.

I'm not sure what else I can say about The Hangover without starting to list details of all the funny stuff that happens in the movie. And that's no good. So I'll just wholeheartedly recommend the flick to any not-easily-offended folks (the movie earns its "R" rating) looking for a good time at the multiplex.

Oh, and now that I think about it, that simple plot I mentioned earlier is actually kind of elegant. Most, if not all, of the bizarre events in the first half of the movie pay off in unexpected, yet logical, ways in the movie's second half. If there's some kind of "most laughs/fewest plot holes" award for this summer's movies, The Hangover is gonna be tough to beat.

Friday, June 5, 2009

If adventure has a name...

...it must be Carl Fredricksen.

There are two kinds of Pixar movies--the pretty good ones (Cars) and the great ones (everything else). Instead of writing a review of Pixar's latest, Up, I thought about just coining a new acronym to save us all time when reviewing or discussing Pixar movies in the future...

APM (another Pixar masterpiece).

Because Up, like WALL-E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and all the non-Cars Pixar movies going all the way back to 1995's Toy Story, is a wonderful, near-perfect movie. By my estimate, Pixar's batting average is something like .975. Think about how hit-and-miss most of the big studios are with their movies, then think about that Pixar number. Impressive, to say the least. In fairness, Pixar doesn't release nearly as many flicks per year as the other studios, so maybe they have more time for quality control.

If you've seen the Up trailers or the poster, you know the movie is about an older gentleman, Carl Fredricksen, who uses a few hundred helium balloons to turn his house into a makeshift airship. The movie actually begins with Carl as a young boy, then explores the next 50 or so years of his life in an amazing montage that tells us everything we need to know about Carl in just a few minutes. Without a word of dialog.

The Angels and Demons guys should all watch this montage before they make another movie.

The balloon house thing is just the first imaginative element in a movie that proves almost endlessly inventive. And pulpy. For example, Up gives us talking dogs, but they're not of the usual talking-cartoon-animal variety. There is a science fiction explanation for the verbose canines that would make Kurt Vonnegut proud.

With a story this fun, it might be possible to overlook the quality of the animation, which is top-notch. Beyond top-notch, actually. The Pixar guys invented the computer-animated feature film and then continued to innovate, year after year, movie after movie. Dreamworks and Fox have their Shrek and Ice Age franchises, respectively, but none of those flicks can hold a candle to WALL-E or Up from a craft standpoint. It's not just that Pixar is in a league of its own, it's that nobody else is even playing the same sport.

Speaking of innovation, Up is the first Pixar movie in 3D. And the 3D is nicely done. I especially like a gag that opens the movie. We're watching what looks like old black and white newsreel footage. It is, appropriately, 2D. Then the camera--virtual camera, sorry--pulls back and we see we're in a movie theater, sitting behind the 3D audience, watching the newsreel with them. It's a neat little movie-inside-the-movie bit, and it's really enhanced by the 3D.

Even with the new and improved digital 3D we're getting these days, it's not perfect. The colors just don't pop quite as much when they're filtered through those polarized 3D glasses. As my friend Kyle McKinnon asked, "Are you going to see Up in 3D or in color?" I'm glad I got to see the 3D version, but I look forward to seeing it in full color on the eventual Blu-ray disc.

When Stacey and I saw Up at the Vestavia Rave theater, it screened with a lead-in short (I love that Pixar has brought short films to the cineplex--hey, Warner, how about a Bugs Bunny short before the new Harry Potter flick?) and a 3D preview for Toy Story 3. It's easy to be cynical about all the sequels, remakes, and reboots we're getting these days, but I'm excited about the prospect of another romp with Woody, Buzz, and the gang. Heck, if the Pixar streak continues, the Toy Story series will end up as one of those rare trilogies where the last movie is better than the first.

Blockbuster summer.

I decided I'm going to watch and write about all of the big summer movies this year. Because I figure, after sitting through Wolverine, I got nothing to lose. And there aren't enough movie critics on the Internet.

I'll post my thoughts on Up in a bit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Andělé a Démoni.

I had no plans to see Angels and Demons, director Ron Howard's sequel to his yawn-inducing The Da Vinci Code. But Stacey has a soft spot for Angels co-star Ewan McGregor, I have a soft spot for cineplex nachos, and we were on vacation with a couple of hours to kill. So I figured, "what the heck?"

In hindsight, we should have re-visited Star Trek. Actually, Monsters Vs. Aliens, which I bet is a hoot, was playing in 3-D, but I didn't want my first viewing of that flick to be a version dubbed in Czech (Angels was original language, subtitled for the locals).

Though not as bad as Code, Angels and Demons has the same problem--the underlying story just isn't that cinematic. The protagonist, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) knows a bunch about history and religion and secret societies... Look, it's cool stuff, the kind of stuff I would spend hours reading about on Wikipedia, but I can do that on my own time. No need for some studio to spend millions of dollars to make Wikipedia: History, Religion, and Secret Societies: The Movie.

Here's the flick in a nutshell: there is a puzzle of some sort, Langdon spits out a bunch of obscure information, he uses that information to solve the puzzle, the solution leads to another puzzle. Repeat five or six times, roll end credits.

I guess that's not all. I mean there's something of a plot, involving a dead Pope and kidnappings and anti-matter, but it's less interesting than those three elements might lead you to believe.

Oh, Angels does have one thing going for it--it was filmed in Rome, and Rome is a beautiful city.

I think both of Howard's Langdon "adventures" are trying to be Raiders Of the Lost Ark movies in a contemporary setting. But Indiana Jones is a well-defined character who happens to know a bunch of cool stuff. Langdon happens to know a bunch of cool stuff, and that's where the character definition ends with him. Plus, Indy solves his share of puzzles, but he doesn't say much. He just solves that shit. Oftentimes with a gun or a bullwhip or some bare-knuckle fisticuffs... you know, actions that can be captured on film.

"Show, don't tell." Has Ron Howard somehow forgotten this most basic tenet of filmmaking after 30 or so years in the director's chair? Or are screenwriters David Koepp (who should know better) and Akiva Goldsman (who probably doesn't) to blame?

If you're still interested in Angels and Demons, let me save you a few bucks. Go to the library and borrow a book about Rome, one of those big coffee table books with lots of photos. Then get on Wikipedia and look up "Catholic Church," "Illuminati," and "Galileo." Don't be afraid to follow whatever hyperlinks those pages offer up. Your cost: nothing. If you're dead set on spending some money, go on a Roman holiday. Or maybe just invest in a bag of Tostados and a big can of Rico's nacho cheese sauce.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lens flares, plot holes, and the new Star Trek.

Some people have complained that the screenplay to the latest Star Trek movie is pretty stupid, and those people make a good point. Trek is one of those movies that starts to fall apart if you think about it too much on the ride home from the cineplex.

I've also heard complaints about all the lens flares in the movie, but the flares are kind of brilliant. Trek director J. J. Abrams is a smart guy, and I think he built on an idea from another successful science fiction remake--the Sci Fi channel's Battlestar Galactica. Ronald D. Moore (also a smart guy) and the rest of the Galactica creative team (full of smart guys and gals, I'm sure) employed ragged, hand-held-style camera work to "film" their space ship battles, and it made the stuff seem more like a documentary and less like what it really was--a bunch of pixels beefed up with some nice sound effects and music.

The practical shots in Trek--especially on the bridge of the starship Enterprise, which is lit up like a Christmas tree--are chock full of lens flares (these are crazy anamorphic lens flares, mind you, not piddly little spherical flares). When there's a cut to some exterior shot of a space battle or a planet getting imploded or whatever, the lens flares added on top of the underlying pixels add a certain weight to the shot that I don't think you'd get any other way.

And flares aren't the only trick Abrams uses to sell his computer-generated images. Our now young Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets chased by a couple of big monsters during a small-scale blizzard. These critters would likely look pretty goofy on a sunny day, but all that snow blowing around almost makes you believe something really is chasing Kirk. I say "almost" because some of the compositing seems a little off in the Kirk v. Monsters scene, but the story has built up so much momentum at this point in the movie, I don't know if any but the most nit-picky (like me) will notice.

Yeah, I said earlier that the script is pretty dumb, but it ain't slow. The movie's two-plus hours feel a lot more like 90 minutes. Add a terrific and game cast to all that gorgeous real and virtual camera work (and meticulous sound design/mixing--I expect this movie will kill on Blu-ray), and you get a movie that's a textbook example of "crowd pleaser."

How good is that cast? I'll just say that I'm a big fan of the original Trek television show from the 60s, and I accepted the new Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), Scotty (the always-welcome Simon Pegg), et al, from the get-go. In fact, I was ready to see this cast in a sequel or two about 45 minutes into the movie. A month ago, I wouldn't have foreseen a world where there is room for more than one James Tiberius Kirk, but Pine proved me wrong. And is it too much to ask for some more Bruce Greenwood ("Captain Pike") in the sequel? That guy doesn't get nearly enough work.

If there's a problem with Star Trek, aside from those plot holes, it's that it sometimes feels methodical in its efforts to entertain. Is J. J. Abrams too smart for his own good? If a director works too hard to show us a good time, does that make a movie a little less fun? Well, maybe. But I saw Trek a week after watching Wolverine, a quarter-assed flick that strives for half-assedness in its best moments. If Abrams' only sin is putting 110 percent into every frame of Star Trek, I think I can forgive him.

Last night in Prague.

Stacey and I are spending our last night in Prague--a lovely city full of lovely people.

Off to Budapest tomorrow. For some reason, I decided to write a review of a movie that's been in theaters for almost two weeks. I'll post that in a minute.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gone too long.

Wow. More than a month since my last post. And after all that time, nothing to say. Well, maybe a little to say.

Stacey and I are going on vacation soon. Before we leave, I want to get the current cut of Interplanetary (clocking in at an even 83 minutes) submitted to a few fests, including Sidewalk here in Birmingham, AL. Ted's still working his magic on the audio mix, but I think the version I'm sending out next week is pretty good. Better than any previously-seen versions, at least.

The new Wolverine movie isn't very good, but the new Star Trek movie is terribly entertaining. A strong cast and interesting cinematography/sound design more than make up for the plot holes in the Trek script.

Stacey and I are finally mostly settled in the new house, and things at my day job have kind of returned to normal (after a pretty rough couple of years), so I hope to get back to regular blogging after I return from vacation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Re: Mixing.

Ted Speaker and I started re-mixing the Interplanetary audio last weekend. It's a little trickier than expected (otherwise, it wouldn't be Interplanetary, right?), but it's sounding great. The opening scene, especially, is so much more dynamic now. I can't wait for you guys to hear it.

Stacey and I are finally in our new house. Things are still a mess, but we have a roof over our head and a comfortable bed to sleep on. And I got an interim home theater system set up tonight.

No surround sound yet (I got a new tuner but can't find my old set of surround speakers), but we have the big TV, Dish Network, and PlayStation 3 for Blu-rays and DVDs. Also, my new favorite trick is using Handbrake to convert videos on my Mac for playback on the PS3.

I only have one real gripe with the new house: none of the electrical outlets in the living room are grounded. So I ran a ground wire out the back door. I feel better now, and so does my surge protector.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It ain't dead yet.

A little recent Hide and Creep coverage I found while scouring the interwebs...


Dead In the South


Plus a passing mention in this TvTropes.org article about movies where the characters don't follow the rules of gun safety. Which is kind of funny, as Interplanetary features a scene where one character explains the rules of gun safety to another.

The flick's been out of print for a while now, and people are still managing to find it and write about it. Surely some distributor out there would find this interesting.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Still homeless.

So Stacey and I are still homeless. We were supposed to move into our new house today, but the bank dropped the ball and didn't get the mortgage ready in time. And they're apparently just now discovering that we spent a lot of money last year on a movie, and they don't seem to be happy about that. Well, somebody had to finance Interplanetary, right?

Anyway, we moved out of our tiny, crappy apartment and into this ridiculous old, slightly creepy three-story mansion. I'm not even kidding. I say "slightly creepy" because the house constantly makes this weird high-pitched moan-y sound. I assume it is an airflow thing and not the sad whispers of the damned.

The real estate mess has slowed down post-production on Interplanetary, so it looks like I won't make the March 15th deadline as recently promised. But Ted speaker wants to do some additional audio mixing (which will be good) weekend after next, so it's for the best. The new deadline is... you know what? There is no new deadline. I'm not gonna mention finishing the movie again until it's finished.

It ain't all bad, though. Stacey and I visited Atlanta recently. Atlanta still sucks, but sometime Interplanetary cinematographer Jimbo lives there now, so that's nice. And Jimbo took me to an awesome Atlanta beer store, where I purchased a few bottles of awesome Brooklyn Pale Ale, and I'm drinking one of those bottles at the moment.

Don't drink and blog, kids. Do as I say, not as I do.

As for movies that Stacey and I didn't finance, Watchmen is in theaters now, and you should go see it. I've seen it twice and will return for a third viewing later this week. Reviews and word-of-mouth have been mixed, and I will admit it isn't perfect, but Watchmen has really stuck with me unlike any movie I've seen since... well, I can't remember when. I was somewhat skeptical when the flick was pitched as the work of "visionary" director Zack Snyder, but the guy definitely made his own movie, one that doesn't pander to much of anybody. That Warner Bros. gave him $100 million to make a long, weird, violent, and often batshit-crazy superhero movie that doesn't pander much to anybody is some kind of Tinseltown miracle.

And I'm going to go ahead and say Jackie Earl Haley's portrayal of "Rorschach" in Watchmen is just as good as Ledger's "Joker" in the last Batman movie. And Haley's working inside a full mask most of the time. One hand tied behind his back, as it were.

Okay, enough rambling for tonight. Catch Watchmen at a theater near you. I'm going to get back to work on Interplanetary.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Cha!" said the space kitty.

My friend, cute animal aficionado, and fellow low-budget filmmaker Andrew Bellware says Interplanetary is "like 2001 meets Office Space but with more nudity."

You can read the rest of Andrew's review (it's "spoiler-free") on his "Pleasure for the Empire" blog.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy belated anniversary, Interplanetary.

If I still remember correctly at this late date, it's been two years (and two days) since the start of production on Interplanetary. The "quick and dirty little sci-fi flick" I'd originally envisioned has turned into a no-budget epic.

But I'm really going to try and get it done this month. Which is almost over.

Okay. I'll have it done by March 15. Really.

As if I'm not slow enough to work on Interplanetary, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Stacey and I have both been sick, plus we sold the condo and moved out. But we don't have a house yet, so we're staying in a tiny studio apartment for a while.

Here's my portable editing station, set up in the apartment complex lobby/common area...

Before Stacey and I went to the Oxford Film Fest (which was awesome -- thanks to Melanie, Michelle, and everybody else in Oxford town!), local cinematographer and movie genius David Brower stopped by to watch Interplanetary and offer some editing suggestions. Based on David's input, I just got the flick down to 83 minutes, 51 seconds.

Eric is re-thinking some music, and Joe Walker is working on a couple of cool Martian-style post-production effects for us. And Trap is, of course, doing a little more roto work. But we're getting close to putting a bow on it and calling it "done."


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


A few months ago, I complained that I couldn't register the domain name "InterplanetaryMovie.com" because someone else already owned it. But that someone wasn't using it.

The domain registration in question recently expired, and thanks to a heads-up from Trap, I was able to purchase it from name.com.

So www.InterplanetaryMovie.com is now the official URL for Interplanetary, as it should be.

Next mini-project... coming up with a clever "corporate" site for "InterplanetaryCorp.com."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oxford screening.

Interplanetary now has a slot at the Oxford Film Festival: Friday February 6 at 10:15 p.m.

I'm really excited about this screening. Even though this is technically our final "work-in-progress" screening, I think the movie is pretty tight at this point. Oxford is home to the alma mater of Interplanetary badass Sanford Hardy, who will be in attendance. And I hear our old pal Erik Jambor will be coming down from Memphis for the fest!

Should be a good time...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Finally, a web site.

I've finally built a (very simple, admittedly) web site for Interplanetary.

You can see it now at: http://www.crewless.com/interplanetary/

Soon, http://www.InterplanetaryCorp.com will be pointing to the new site as well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everybody!

As of January 1, 2009, the running time of Interplanetary is 85 minutes, 11 seconds.

Now I'm just hoping we can get this thing wrapped up before 2010 rolls around...