Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thoughts on INCEPTION that are pretty much spoilers.

I walked out of INCEPTION today and spent five minutes walking around a food court, more or less in a daze. I'm not sure that's an endorsement. On a second viewing, I think I'll either find it an absolute masterpiece or completely ponderous and frustrating. Regardless of which happens, it's an undoubted testament to Nolan's talent that I *want* to view it a second time, and of course that so many people have already become obsessed with this movie.

My immediate, gut reaction was one of minor disappointment. There's no question that INCEPTION is masterful on all levels, on levels most films don't even dare consider exist. But I found at least two completely missed opportunities for a film that I wanted to see. The first is expanding on the reality-bending powers displayed by Ellen Page's character (Ariadne, and that name is a powerful indication that It's All A Dream, despite my preference that it's not that way - more on that later) in the dream. The sequences of folding the city and then generating a new passageway from a set of mirrors are remarkable, glorious magic - a magic that Nolan then largely discards for the remainder of the film, as her talents are never used in particularly obvious ways, certainly not spontaneously, and her actual contribution to the whole narrative is unintelligible to me.

And so, as the final act plays out with a cross-cutting action narrative, I kept thinking that I could do with a lot fewer explosions and machine guns and a lot more folding cities and crazy shit.

That's one side of my tastes, and on the other side, there's the thematic. Ultimately, INCEPTION is about planting an idea in somebody's brain (and before you say for sure whose brain that is, read Bilge Ebiri's analysis. And it's the tragedy of doing so that supposedly caused Mal, Cobb's partner, to kill herself.

Now, there's a powerful metaphor here about relationships. Ideas take root in relationships, maybe planted by a partner by accident, that wind up growing out of control. And it's here where I have to diverge, briefly, into an unrelated movie.

I've been watching films at the New Zealand International Film Festival, and earlier this week I saw the one true 21st century masterpiece of the festival, CERTIFIED COPY, directed by Abbas Kiarostami. Without spoiling too much of that film, let's just say that it asks questions about reality vs fake in the context of a relationship, and does it with a powerful emotional resonance while leaving the viewer completely unsure at the level of reality at any time.

So I may be putting unfair burdens on INCEPTION. But when we get to INCEPTION's revelation along this front, I was hoping that somewhere down the road we would take a break from the mechanics and get further into the thematic resonances. Because, while none of us can use crazy dream mechanics to get into each other's mind, we can all potentially cause an idea to take root in someone else's mind. And the notion of a relationship falling apart due to self-inflicted damage is something that could have easily been opened in such a way as to resonate with the viewer as something real to their lives, rather than an abstract plot point or vehicle to drive Nolan's preferred emotional thrust, which is to explore grief and not letting go.

There's no way this couldn't have occurred to Nolan in the decade-long development of this, so the question is: why not explore it more? It's a question I kept asking as more and more snowmobiles went by the screen, and it frustrated the hell out of me.

So I walked out processing that, and also the question of how to interpret the last shot, and then suddenly, I went into a daze as I realized I should stop processing this movie on the level of what I want it to be and start processing it on the level of what it is.

Now, the Internet is already full of "definitive" articles on INCEPTION. And I'm neither interested in or capable of writing something more along these lines.

But what there is, apart from the majestic filmmaking, is this: a man coming to terms with the fact that the image of a loved one that he's clinged on to is distorted, false. So he is unburdening himself from the past and trying to move on.

That's Cobb and his dead wife. But it's also Fischer and his dead father.

That can't be coincidence. Can it?

Many have noted that this film has many parallels to SHUTTER ISLAND, and it's the difference in how it grapples with these themes that I find SHUTTER ISLAND more powerful after a first viewing; I'm also dwelling on two films that partake in layers of reality, eXistenz and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK.

But there's another film that I've been thinking of. INCEPTION has rocketed to the top of the IMDB best movies of all time list, above CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, STAR WARS ... but, notably, NOT above THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

Why does SHAWSHANK resonate so much? Maybe it's the famous quote: "Get busy living, or get busy dying." It's a self-improvement mantra embedded in the delivery device of a film.

And it could just as easily appear in INCEPTION as it does in SHAWSHANK. Coincidence? Well, yeah. But I wonder if it's that resonant thread that people are responding to in both movies, or not.

Something to think about, amongst other things, on a second viewing.

A quick technical note or two: for a film that's about transitions between dream states, it's awesome that the transition device used is a simple cut, rather than some wacky tasteless morphing or other nonsense. And the photography is beautiful, but I wish Chris Nolan actually liked colors. He does pretty much cover every shade of brown and grey out there, though.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

NZFF 2010: Films I'm Very Excited About, Part Two.

As promised from yesterday, another dozen films that I'm very excited to check out at the New Zealand Film Festival, that I mention here because you might want to check them out, too. Divided into sections of three films each, for your browsing leisure.

FEST HYPE: Some films come to my attention because they get attention elsewhere. So if you trust other people more than me, maybe you should see these.

Police, Adjective: I loved Corneliu Porumboiu's first film, 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, so it's not an unknown quantity entirely, but many who were bored by that film have gone to great lengths to praise this one. I expect being in the "Slow Cinema" thread may scare some off locally from what I've heard is a masterpiece, which would be a shame, as it's highly doubtful it will return and I'm betting will wind up being this year's DOGTOOTH (in terms of a film that everybody skips over and regrets missing later). Whether the trailer sells it or not, I don't know: I'm going blind on this one.

Winter's Bone: "From the director of DOWN TO THE BONE" didn't really mean much to me, but then the reviews from Sundance and Cannes began deluging this film with praise, even notorious hardasses. Honestly, I have very little idea what it's about, other than that it's set in the Ozark Mountains and I think somebody gets murdered, and I could even be wrong about that. Also: the director, Debra Granik, is coming!

Animal Kingdom: Another phrase that doesn't really excite me: "Aussie gangland thriller". But there were the awards at Sundance, and then I watched the trailer, and it seems like this could transcend its roots in a major way. And again, visiting director!

DOCUMENTARY DOCUMENTAGE: The documentary section is, as is often the case, very very awesome this year. This is just scraping the surface: I could have also easily mentioned EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, INSIDE JOB, and COLLAPSE.

The Oath: Osama Bin Laden's former bodyguard, to be brutally honest, probably wouldn't be enough to get me to go to a documentary alone, even though it's undoubtedly compelling material - in fact, I often find that the less interesting the documentary subject sounds on the surface, the more interesting it is if it's gotten international attention. But this has been getting praise as a complex and powerful work from many quarters, with one critic I trust calling it the best documentary he's seen in decades. And it even won a cinematography award at Sundance, so it should have form to match the content. I stopped the below trailer after 22 seconds so as not to spoil, but if you need convincing, look below.

Space Tourists: I have always, always dreamed of going into space. I had a Space Shuttle poster over my bed for most of my youth. Barring sudden wealth, I remain unconvinced it's a dream I'll realistically be able to attain. But I'm pretty excited about getting to experience it viscerally.

Marwencol: I don't really have a handle on what this is going to be, exactly: I know it involves a troubled man who, having lost much of his memory to amnesia, creates a fantasy world with dolls. I've heard a lot of excitement from the Incredibly Strange quarters in particular about this one, and considering they've vouched for such films as WINNEBAGO MAN and DEAR ZACHARY, that's enough endorsement for me.

LAUGHTER IS (NOT) FORBIDDEN: I see you, over there. The guy who's all, like, oh yeah, I saw a film festival movie once, it was about senior citizens making homes for pelicans, it was really boring, so I'm never watching a film festival movie again. And I'd like to convince you that the ratio of good to bad arthouse movies is no different than any other genre, but you've given up. But you can at least go to a comedy, right?

Four Lions: Two words: terrorism comedy. Two more words: Chris Morris. The genius behind the BBC series BRASS EYE, one of the funniest and most complained about shows ever put to air, has come up with a new provocation, showing, among other things, that terrorists can be idiots, too.

The Room: This is one of the few films at this year's festival I've already seen, and I don't even think the writer/director/producer/actor, Tommy Wiseau, is being honest when he says this was intended as a comedy. But I doubt you'll see a funnier movie this year. It's like a film written and acted by aliens who have no idea of what actual human behaviour is, and Mr. Wiseau is one of the most unintentionally compelling screen presences ever. (And I'm proud to own a football autographed by him.)

American: Bill Hicks: Ok, so this one's a documentary about a comedian rather than a comedy per se, but it's undoubtedly going to be full of the late, lamented Hicks' best lines. At the same time, he's a comedian who was as concerned with sharing his ideas as making laughs, a combination that never made him comfortable to the masses. I am slightly nervous that the trailer is a bit overblown musicwise and stylistically, but still: can't be missed.

SHOTS IN THE DARK: I know next to nothing about these films, and haven't heard a single recommendation of them anywhere, but often my favorite films of the festival in years past have fit that description. (LONGING and 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST spring immediately to mind.)

Alamar: I think people sometimes think that I have dark tastes in movies. That's not true per se; I like good innovative films, regardless of their emotional register, and I'd love to make something expressly designed to produce intense happiness. The problem is, most films that set out to achieve that goal are formulaic mainstream crap, and most film festival material tends to mine darker threads, perhaps because it's easier to mine drama from them. So the pull quote from the director - "I was inspired by the simplicity of happiness" - caught my eye.

A Somewhat Gentle Man: Deadpan Scandinavian humor has been a perennial favorite of mine at previous festivals, from A BOTHERSOME MAN to YOU, THE LIVING. This looks to be another entry in that form. Add a brochure pull quote comparing it to early Coen Brothers = ticket booked, without watching the trailer.

The Peddler: I'd never heard of this documentary before, about a nomadic filmmaker in Argentina who goes village to village, and gets the local community to collaborate with him in making a film. It's probably not surprising that I'm a sucker for narratives that celebrate the joy of filmmaking, but I'd like to think it has a universal appeal. Will know if it does in a few days ...


So, yeah. If you still haven't made up your mind, here's some films to get you started. Hope to see you at the film fest!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

NZFF 2010: Films I'm Very Excited About, Part One.

The New Zealand International Film Festival has been a highlight of my July ever since I moved to New Zealand. It's an excellent film festival, with a wide selection from the mainstreamish to the willfully obtuse to the incredibly strange.

The last two years, however, I've had to miss out - in 2008, entirely (traveling to a wedding and hiking with my family - no complaints) and in 2009 largely (pre-production on JAKE).

This year, I suddenly find myself with no commitments and work lined up on either side to help pay for it. So I am going to indulge.

I found the process of scheduling this year overwhelming, and that's coming from someone who lives for it, and I hear many other friends saying "I don't know what to see!" So here's my pick of twenty-four films that I advocate to varying degrees, divided into easy-to-sort categories that kinda-sorta overlap (check the fest site for additional information):

BIG SCREEN BLISS: Aucklanders are lucky to be able to enjoy films on the massive Civic screen. At times, this can be a curse (if the source material is mini-DV, say), but for these films (amongst others), it will be a blessing.

Once Upon A Time In The West: There's probably not a better way to start a festival than with one of the greatest films ever made, on a giant screen. For those who haven't seen it, and have a bias against westerns: there is no other western that will do more to convince you that you are wrong.

Oceans: This is probably one of those things nobody but me will get so excited about, but as a diver I can watch undersea life for hours on end. And this time I won't have to risk dying! Might take my iPod so I can ignore the likely-to-be hectoring/cheesy soundtrack.

Enter The Void: Now this, I cannot advocate for everybody. From the director of IRREVERSIBLE, a film that still makes people angry years after the fact, comes his latest film. By most accounts, from a content perspective, it's fairly silly; but in terms of visceral experience, nothing screening this year will come close (except possibly AMER, about which more below) to providing an unparalleled unique experience and changing how you think about cinema. Think that's hyperbole? Check out the opening credits, which have more invention than most feature films:

KIWI MADE: There's a larger batch of Kiwi films playing this year than normal. In addition to the short film programs (noting especially the HOMEGROWN DIGITAL program, which features a film I edited, Michael Beran's TEE PARTY), here's three features I'm particularly looking forward to.

Russian Snark: Note that I am in the tank for this film, as the folks say these days, because I cut the trailer. But I do think this independently-produced film, written and directed by Stephen Sinclair, is a very special film, filled with beautiful imagery and a story (about a Russian couple - a filmmaker and his muse who emigrated to New Zealand via boat - and their struggles to reconcile art with a healthy way of life) that's not just strange but true and deeply resonant.

Russian Snark Teaser Trailer from Russian Snark on Vimeo.

There Once Was An Island: A friend went on the first leg of this long-in-the-works documentary, about the island of Takuu, whose existence is endangered due to rising sea levels. While the larger implications and realities of global warming are held up to endless debate and nitpickery, this movie looks to show the unfortunate reality that stretches beyond op-ed pages into actual human lives.

Trailer for There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho from On The Level Productions on Vimeo.

Wound: THIS COULD BE THE MOST DISTURBING FILM IN THE FESTIVAL, AND DEPENDING ON WHAT YOU LIKE TO WATCH, POSSIBLY THAT YOU'VE EVER SEEN. Just wanted to say that loudly and clearly up-front, so nobody gives me a hard time for recommending it. Writer/director David Blyth was an instructor of mine at film school, with a long history of making provocative cult Kiwi films. After a long hiatus from drama feature filmmaking, he's back with an independently-produced film, and by all accounts, the result of the time off is a deeply personal, deeply visceral, absolutely unforgettable film. (Also worth mentioning: it features Campbell Cooley, who appears in JAKE.) Trailer below is not safe for work, the squeamish, the easily offended, etc.

INCREDIBLY STRANGE: The Incredibly Strange program is probably the part of the film festival I'm least biased about - if it weren't for schedule conflicts, I'd see everything in it. (Sorry, TRIANGLE and HUMAN CENTIPEDE.) It's also probably the most divisive. In addition to the two films mentioned above (and a very special film, about which, more soon), here's three very different films that I'm very excited about.

Amer: This is the film that I am most looking forward to at the film festival, full stop. This Belgian thriller, from the little I've seen online, has its style so deeply embedded in its DNA that it becomes its substance. When two of my favorite filmmakers, whose works have never been compared before - Dario Argento and Stan Brakhage - are mentioned in the same breath, I'm there. Please note: likely to be graphic, disturbing, etc, and the trailer below has one squirm-inducing shot in it.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror: From the sublime to the ridiculous. One of two movies in the fest this year competing for the title of Worst Movie Ever, Birdemic has captured instant notoriety across the world for its badly animated birds, its wooden acting, its inept direction, and terrible writing. A perfect midnight movie, but you'll have to settle for a 10 pm screening. Still undoubtedly worth it.

A Town Called Panic: Also guaranteed to put a smile on your face, albeit intentionally. From a Belgian animation team who are responsible for PIC PIC ANDRE (some of my favorite esoteric animation ever) comes what I understand is a casually surreal adventure. Trying to avoid reading much about it, so I probably can't sell it as much as I wish I could; I stopped reading the program description after I got to "A giant snowball-throwing penguin robot". If that doesn't sell it for you, I got nuttin. Except for this, which I stopped watching after 22 seconds in order to conserve surprise for the cinema:

FAVORITE DIRECTORS: This year seems light on "the latest movie by my favorite director", which I usually say about ten films in a year. Here's three.

Ha Ha Ha: Korean director Hong Sang-Soo (who actually has two films playing; the other one is Like You Know It All) is a specialist, telling stories that usually have parallel internal structures about the life of Koreans (usually in the film industry) drinking and making mistakes in love, usually while engaging in elaborate self-justifications. It's a formula that he repeats with minor variations, and despite his impeccable eye I find it hard to advocate his work to other people for fear that they'll be bored, but at the same time TURNING GATE and WOMAN ON THE BEACH are two of my favorite films ever. I haven't watched the below excerpt, but presumably it will give you an idea.

White Material: Claire Denis has made three of my favorite films: BEAU TRAVAIL, VENDREDI SOIR (FRIDAY NIGHT), and L'INTRUS (THE INTRUDER). All of them are poetic and rather ungrounded in conventional narrative structure. From most accounts WHITE MATERIAL is more grounded in narrative and perhaps less poetic, which may leave it less to my liking, but missing a Claire Denis film on the big screen is Not. An. Option. And the trailer certainly has its share of stunning imagery.

A Prophet: This film about a prisoner who turns crimelord was largely hyped at Cannes last year and has since got attention the world over. Jacques Audiard's films (see also: READ MY LIPS, THE BEAT MY HEART SKIPPED) employ a hand-held, textural, almost collage-like approach; lest that sound painfully experimental, it's all in the service of creating the inner life of the characters, and it's rare to see a filmmaker so in command of his technique and so attached to employing it to the service of the characterization instead of being for technique's sake. And on the Civic screen? Can't wait.

Second installment coming soon. Gotta edit some stuff, call IRD, etc.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Future Of Music, In My House.

Of late I have been having apocalyptic thoughts about the future of media, in terms of making a living from it. As I, in fact, do just that at the moment, and would like to continue to do so, I've been thinking about not only how to do so but behave in a way that corresponds with those values.

So I went to the record store today. You remember those, don't you? Yeah: there are a few that still exist. I used to spend hours upon hours in them, get lost in bargain bins, get mistaken for clerks because my bin was so full of CDs. Nowadays? Not so much. For lots of different reasons.

Here's my basic problem, though: new CDs feel expensive, I don't currently have a turntable, and digital downloads also feel expensive. The former is exacerbated often in New Zealand, where CDs retail for $34.95 NZD (at current exchange rates, that's $24 USD). Vinyl, being heavy, is often just as expensive if not more, but feels like it has some beauty and value as an artifact ... but not so satisfying if you can't play it. Digital downloads, meanwhile, were not available in NZ for ages, and were originally encumbered by lots of DRM, and now that all that's finally sorted they still seem quite expensive relative to value.

(As an experiment, I decided to log into the iTunes store and see if I could get Nina Nastasia's new album, OUTLASTER. After waiting 90 seconds for the search results to load, I discovered it is there for $10 - but it's not clear if that's USD or NZD. I could buy it on MP3 for 6.95 GBP from Fat Cat, her label, but with the CD priced only 1 pound higher, it feels like a bit of a ripoff to get nothing physical in return. And so OUTLASTER remains unbought by me.)

The end result is if I do buy, it's either used or at stores in the States, or sometimes via Amazon (often shipping to my infinitely patient parents). And so today when I went to the record store, I mostly bought used CDs. The new Gaslight Anthem (second-hand, NZ$19.95); older bargain priced CDs from Jakob, Fantomas, The Mint Chicks, and Roy Montgomery. And then I had the two most recent CDs from a favorite band, Liars, in my hand, both used. SISTERWORLD is the latest album, priced $21.95 NZD ($15.11). The packaging was flimsy, though. It would get lost.

I wasn't feeling the value, but I kind of felt like I should buy it anyway. Make no mistake: I know I could acquire it digitally, illegally, for $0.00, and on a demand curve between those 2 options, for most music these days, I fall closer to that side than even the less expensive used option. But the guilt pushed me towards it.

(Why, though? Liars weren't getting a dime from my used CD purchase. Remember the good old days when it was used CDs that were killing the record industry, rather than downloading? There was a kernel of truth in that giant pile of bullshit, you know.)

But then, on a whim, I browsed the vinyl, and discovered SISTERWORLD new for NZD $34.95. But it wasn't just the vinyl. It was a double LP, with the second LP being remixes, and a double CD, with the same material as the LP but on the format.

And that, to me, was worth it. No download codes to fuck with, both media options at my hand, and a very nice package.


I'm listening to SISTERWORLD right now. And as I do so, I'm downloading my first non-physical music purchase, ever.

It was a really random train of circumstance that introduced me to Flingco Sound System, founded by the former head of Kranky Records, a label famous for spacy and drony rock-based sounds. You might be familiar with Deerhunter, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Charalambides, Labradford, Jessamine. (Or you might not be. That's cool, too.)

Flingco is another step more experimental. If you go to that site, you can download a sampler of their material, or listen to songs as you browse. Through one of those mechanisms, I got to hear Interbellum, who combine piano, cello, and what I call "soft noise" (non-musical sound textures on the less abrasive tip) to a very pleasing effect, at least for my ears.

This would usually have been the point where I said, eh, sounds good, will keep my eyes open. I do this when I visit a lot of label's sites. But Flingco, unlike pretty much every other label I know of, made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Their digital downloads are priced at a measly $5 USD! And as it happens, there's no other option for this album - some of Flingco's other albums are available on limited edition vinyl, which is very very very (very!) expensive, but might be worth it if I became a passionate fan of one of their other artists.

But anyway. $5 and a quick and easy paypal transaction later, and I'm downloading Interbellum's album. All 532 MB of it! Not sure if it's FLAC or 8 hours long or what, will find out soon enough.


I'd like to say this demonstrates multiple paths for successful sale of music in the future. I'm not sure if that's the case. I have no idea how much SISTERWORLD has sold, and my order number from Flingco was 87, which makes me think they're not tearing through the Internet. (That may have more to do with the obscurity of their roster than actual piracy, however.)

But it does feel good to have bought music in ways that I wanted to, in forms where I'll be satisfied with the results, and not be left with that lingering feeling that I'm being cheated.


The real question for me is this: how can I apply this to movies? I'm not sure of the answer yet, but I'm thinking about it. Thoughts are welcomed.