Yeah, I know

Not enough writing, not enough communication with you, some of whom are faithful readers. I’m sorry, but mostly this is an apology to myself for not pursuing this creative outlet as much as I should have.

I’m moving to San Francisco next week, almost exactly a year to the day after I left the Bay Area. If you know me then you know how important it has been for me to get back to the city. Everything and everyone I care about is there. I believe that SF will be the key to my personal and professional success, especially now that I’ve graduated and have a chance to discover what it is I can really do on my own.

I won’t write too much about the film I just finished working on. The industry is such that outsiders aren’t welcome, and discussing set happenings on a blog just seems to invade the privacy of everyone I’ve worked with. I will say that I spent a great two months in Detroit.

I need to get back into reading good books. Like I said when I was in Michigan, I’ve felt really disconnected from the literary scene for several months. I think that now is the time to start gearing up for a summer’s worth of reading and writing.

Briefly

We’re halfway done and our most difficult week starts today. In less than four weeks I should be back on the west coast unless some work comes my way here. I finally purchased a new phone, and yes, it is an iPhone. It’s pretty good. At least I hope to take some quality pictures this week without having to lug my regular camera around.

I just rediscovered Pandora. Forgot how much I missed it. Last weekend I got shot in the face with an airsoft gun. It was not a pleasant experience, and became less pleasant when I realized I had blood running down my cheek. I’ve yet to enact my revenge.

I haven’t left Monroe since I got here, but it isn’t so bad because I do nothing besides sleeping and working. I hope I can see more of Detroit before I leave. I’d love to write a piece about it. There’s so much going on here culturally.

See you next week.

Nights

This begins day three of night shoots and day six of shooting. I’m pretty sure I’m not as excited as I should be, but the locations have been great. We shot in the largest mosque in North America on Day 1, Ann Arbor (home to UM) on Day 2, and in and around the original Detroit Model T Factory (now abandoned) on Days 3 and 4. We’re in the factory again tonight, after which we go down south to a little town called Monroe for almost four weeks of night shoots.

I haven’t been reading anything at all. I feel really disconnected from writing and reading, and I’m sure this will continue until the end of the shoot. It’s almost nice to not think about those things and to focus only on this job. I think we’re very lucky to have good people on the crew. We have fun and we get things done.

April 6th. One month left until I start writing again. I may post some photos here soon.

Personal time

I haven’t had any, which is why this blog hasn’t been updated in a week. Between seven hour meetings, location and tech scouts, and getting 7 hours of sleep or less each night, there’s hardly any time to write or relax.

Someone who had read my blog and then met me in person said that I hadn’t said anything bad about Michigan yet. There’s really not much to say though. I like it here but I wouldn’t want to live here. We drove through Detroit a couple of days ago. This city is tragically empty – full of enormous gutted buildings, and I’ve never seen so much destruction. Detroit is the post-apocalyptic city of our time. I told a girl last night that I imagine that this is what the cities of the future will look like after everyone has moved away. Not that there aren’t other abandoned cities in the world today, it’s just that there aren’t too many in the United States, at least not on this scale. In a couple of weeks I’ll be going downtown to explore.

I cut my head in the shower a couple of days ago. I think the curtain rod fell on top of me after I tore it out of the wall with my momentum. I bled for almost an hour but it seems to be healing really well.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for two and a half weeks already. We start shooting on Wednesday and there’s tons of work to be done before then.

Speaking of personal work…revision revision revision.

Hey, soul sister

I used to listen to Train a bunch when their first single came out 12 years or so ago. Damn, that was a long time ago. Their new single seems like a step in a more pop-oriented direction, complete with weird references to gangsters and thugs, as if Pat Monahan and the songwriters were paying homage to the newly minted listeners of the late 2000s. He sounds great but if you listen to the lyrics you’ll notice little idiosyncrasies.

Today I spent nine hours doing a script breakdown on Scenechronize, a web solution to production management. It’s a cool website but the learning curve is somewhat steep. I think other people will have some trouble. Seems like I’m the only one updating anything right now, and I’m pretty sure the other ADs won’t be logging on at all. I still prefer the old paper chase.

We start shooting on the 31st and go for six weeks. I’m thinking about stopping in Iowa on the way back or maybe going to NYC or something of the sort. I’d like to meet some friends from Canada. Maybe they can make it out one of these days.

I keep thinking and thinking about J and I can’t stop. All the losses keep adding up.

Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a prime example of the “thinking movie” for populists: throw in some ridiculous premise and cool visuals, and everyone screams “masterpiece” even if the film makes no sense.

Honestly, I think Scorcese should stick to thrillers, not weird combinations of thriller/horror/Hitchcock ripoffs. This film really reminded me of Memento or Identity, but it was only half as good and completely stupefying, which is saying something for the quality of Identity, which was a piece of shit.

I’m not sure where to start with this one, but let me start with the first scene, which was shot on a (fake) boat. One of Scorsese’s major problems is that he can’t give a scene any direction. There’s a serious lack of movement in this film, and the first scene gives us a clear indication of what’s to come: DiCaprio looking moody and making faces and Mark Ruffalo saying “Boss” every thirty seconds. There’s no reason for anything. Even the CGI was horrendous, and in a scene that lasted at least a minute but felt like five, it looked ridiculous, like someone tried to photoshop a gray sky onto the green screen behind the actors.

It only gets worse from there. I don’t understand why Laeta Kalogridis keeps getting screenwriting gigs. Does anyone remember Alexander or Nightwatch? Actually Bekmambetov did a little for Nightwatch to rescue it from total oblivion, but I still don’t get why Kalogridis still gets jobs.

Everything is completely overdone, so much so that this thriller actually had people laughing when they should have been terrified or intrigued. The cinematography is good but nothing to brag about. I’d say it gets the job done, but compare this film to the cinematography in The Shining and Zodiac, or even Public Enemies, and you will see exactly what I mean.

Scorsese reminds me of the writer who tries to prove that he’s a writer: everything is adverbs and modifiers, no good verbs. There are so many atmospherics that you lose the point of the story. Apply that to directing, and you get my point.

I have to give it to the cast. DiCaprio doesn’t suck as much as I expected. Max von Sydow and Ben Kingsley are worth watching, even if their lines are completely nonsensical. I think it takes talent to read a shitty line and make it sound halfway plausible, and both of these actors have that excellent talent. Michelle Williams, on the other hand, could have had 90% of her scenes cut and I wouldn’t have cared. She brings nothing to this film except some poorly delivered bitchy lines. Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Elias Koteas, and especially John Carroll Lynch are wasted in this production. If you watch Zodiac, John Carroll Lynch is fucking terrifying. Here, he just looks like a fucking annoying teddy bear. Place him in the scene, watch him look awkward. As for Koteas – I think he’s outlived his “creepy guy” typecasting. Now he’s just that guy that we instantly recognize as being creepy. He’s not really acting, he’s just playing himself playing the creepy guy.

For some reason, Mark Ruffalo was also completely disposable. In general, I felt nothing for any of the characters.

I kept hoping that the ending would be interesting, but it was just another cliché. I do believe that DiCaprio made the best of it though. He actually made me feel something in one of the scenes, which was surprising. Too bad it took two hours to get to that scene.

There’s some absurd shit in this film: two days after a hurricane blows trees all over the place, the hospital looks as if nothing happened. DiCaprio manages to scale a two hundred foot cliff in fifteen seconds. Scorsese shows Holocaust victims, then replays the scene, replacing one particular victim with a woman (who is not even Jewish and completely unrelated to the scene) who comes alive. Only one word for that last one: tacky.

And, if you haven’t been completely turned off or bored by what happens or doesn’t happen in the film, how about some historical accuracy? When Scorsese shows American GIs liberating Dachau (that’s in Germany, people) during another irrelevant backstory scene, the sign on top of the gate, the sign we all know and abhor, says “Arbeit macht frei” – “Work sets you free.” Do you know what’s wrong with that picture?

That sign is from Auschwitz, which is in Poland.

I actually had a good time with Hang, though. Thanks Hang!

Sundance wrap up

Yes, this post should have been written a week ago, but I’ve just been too emotionally exhausted to do any thinking about anything.

I saw just one other film besides “Restrepo” at Sundance. It was called “Double Take,” and you can see its IMDB page here. It was an interesting mashup of original and archive footage, a Hitchcockian thriller as well as a history lesson on the Cold War. I highly recommend it if you ever see it on DVD.

I didn’t get to see any other films, mainly because I couldn’t bother to stand in another waitlist line after we stood for an hour in a room packed with five hundred people and no air to see Hesher, which we ultimately could not get tickets too. It was also snowing for most of the time we were there, and while it’s a beautiful thing to see snow again, I did not relish standing outside in the cold to wait for tickets.

So, that said, if you’re rich you’ll probably enjoy Sundance enormously. If you’re the average person with an interest in good films but can’t afford to buy the tickets, you will probably be wasting your time, unless you’re with some beautiful women who can get you into all the parties. Needless to say, I didn’t get into any parties. But I was also with my parents, and there was no feasible way to go anywhere without a car.

All in all, I enjoyed Sundance and would definitely go again to see some really good films, as long as I had tickets.

Sundance Day One – Restrepo (war is hell)

Day one of Sundance is now over, and it was quite interesting. Though we came at the absolute worst time of the week because all the films are showing next week, I still got to watch one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, “Restrepo.” I think many people felt the way I did about it, because after we left the screening, people looked, for lack of a better word, stricken and in despair.
The film, named after a soldier who is killed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, an area that was, for a time, called the deadliest place on earth, follows a platoon of combat infantry for one year through the first person perspective of two embedded journalists, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (they co-directed the film).
We don’t really know Restrepo. What we see at the beginning of the film is a video shot by Restrepo, in which he and three other members of the platoon are goofing off on a train heading to their deployment site, most likely in Italy. At the end of this short video (shot for family/friends back home), Restrepo says that when we next see him, he will be “going to war.”
We never physically see Restrepo again, though there are echoes of his presence throughout. Instead, we get a harrowing demonstration of one year in hell, during which the soldiers that Junger and Hetherington follow are constantly besieged by enemy fire, and in interviews conducted after their tour (15 months later), we see the emotional toll that their time in Korengal has taken on them.
The film is powerful because of its honest portrayal of what it means to be a soldier and, really, what it means to retain one’s sense of humanity when people around one are dying. There is very little violent content, and we never see who the soldiers are fighting (and neither do they), which is ironic. Perhaps we’ve seen too many violent films, because throughout the first twenty or so minutes, I had the sneaking desire to see someone actually get shot, which is a wholly disturbing idea.
A few touching moments stand out: a soldier who has just been involved in an act of hazing is told that “we’re making a man out of him” while a black lab puppy licks his hand. In another, three soldiers unabashedly dance to a pop song inside their makeshift barracks. A third, more tragic scene shows a soldier having an emotional breakdown on the battlefield while another tells him “Don’t look. You don’t want to look” in reference to another soldier (not Restrepo) who has just been killed. In a fourth, a post-tour interview in reference to the dead soldier, a soldier says “I wanted to cry but I couldn’t.” In a fifth, a soldier fixing the placement of a machine gun has a radio conversation with another soldier who asks about what kind of ranch he lives on, and whether it has “cows and stuff.”
We see glimpses of violence – a soldier with a blood stained back and hands, an IED exploding under a Humvee while the cameraman is inside, and a child inadvertently killed during a mission, but most important and profound are the testimonies of the men themselves, taken after the fact, in concert with the footage shot by Junger and Hetherington.
Films that stand alongside this one in terms of thematic structure and their ability to expose the humanity evident in every soldier: “Jarhead,” “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Platoon.” “Restrepo” is more subtle about its ends, but no less forceful.
Two quotes come to mind when I think about how best to sum up this film. One is from another Afghanistan film released last year, “Brothers,” in which the main character says, “Who was it that said only the dead have seen the end of war? I have seen the end of war. The question is, how do I go on living?”
The other quote is from Sebastian Junger, who was present with Hetherington at the premiere and answered a few questions. When asked about how people as citizens should go about helping these soldiers recover and readjust to society, he said that “no matter how you feel about the war, and no, war is not fun, no one should like it; no matter how you feel or what kind of political stance you have, just tell them you understand.”
This film goes a long way towards showing us how we can all understand.

Film

For some reason, I’ve been on a huge Matt Damon streak lately. I watched “Good Will Hunting,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and am now considering watching “Saving Private Ryan.”

I don’t know why I’m in such a nineties mood, or why I want to watch films with Damon. I feel like he’s done good work in the last ten years, but the nineties were really good for him. Really, he’s only made three good noncommercial films in the last ten years: “The Departed,” “The Good Shepherd,” and possibly “Invictus.” I’m not discounting the Bourne series, because that’s actually one of the better adaptations I’ve seen, and I enjoyed it for the action. Sadly, I don’t really see Damon doing too many serious roles, which is disappointing because he’s a fantastic actor. Watch “The Talented Mr. Ripley” again and tell me that’s not a great film. He’s so damn good in that and it’s creepy as hell.

Also, “Good Will Hunting” kind of kills me with the “It’s not your fault” scene.

Etcetera

My father returns from Russia today. He’s been gone since June 20th. I hope things improve, but I’m not sure how that will happen. Apparently, he’s been receiving more messages about work here in LA, so if all goes well, we’ll be working on a production within the next three or four months. My tutoring hours have been steadily dwindling, partly because the students are lazy and don’t show up. I’ll get new students next week, and I’m also doing more work with an individual student on his application essays.

Still working on that essay for the Narrative submission. The going is tough.