words and art by w a l t e r w s m i t h

Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film

Weekly Movie-Making Moments In Film: Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Nerds of the World Unite….

What a great film and one of the best original comedies to come along in quite some time. I’ve always loved films about high school angst, going back to those great John Hughes films of the 80’s. Not everyone can relate to a film like Napoleon Dynamite; many have found its charm to be wanting and distasteful. However, I can identify with its peculiar awkwardness, that I too shared with others in high school. And just like Napoleon, art was often my escape. It can be said that Napoleon’s nerdy demeanor is always just a moment away from giving you the side-splitting laugh you always dreamed of 🙂 – Walter Smith

http://youtu.be/H2Kh7umdOrk – Napoleon Dynamite Trailer

http://youtu.be/kr7djGY1fhA – Napoleon Dynamite Dance Scene

Synopsis: The directorial debut of filmmaker Jared Hess, who  also co-wrote the screenplay, Napoleon Dynamite is a quirky, offbeat comedy set in the small Idaho town of Preston. Jon Heder stars in the titular role, a carrot-topped oddball with a decidedly eccentric family that includes his llama-loving, dune-buggy enthusiast grandmother. The story centers on the local high school’s race for class president. Using some nontraditional means, Napoleon is determined to help his pal Pedro (Efrem Ramirez) run a winning campaign and defeat popular girl Summer (Haylie Duff). Also starring The Drew Carey Show’s Diedrich Bader, Napoleon Dynamite premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. …

Dancing to the song Forever Young

The Promise – Lyrics to the song, The Promise by When In Rome. The ending theme to Napoleon Dynamite. Enjoy the musical flashback to the 80’s.

Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film: Sunshine / 28 Days Later / District 9

Sunshine by director Danny Boyle

The sun at less than 1% sunlight filter

Sunshine is a 2007 British science fiction film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland.

In 2057 the sun is dying, and mankind is dying with it. Our last hope: a spaceship and a crew of eight men and women. They carry a device, a massive stellar bomb with the mass equivalent to Manhattan Island, which will breathe new life into the star. But deep into their voyage, out of radio contact with Earth, their mission is starting to unravel. There is an accident, a fatal mistake, and a distress beacon from a spaceship that disappeared seven years earlier. Soon the crew is fighting not only for their lives, but their sanity.

The crew is made up of an ensemble cast consisting of Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Chipo Chung, and Mark Strong. The script was based on a scientific back-story that took the characters on a psychological journey. The director cast a group of international actors for the film, and had the actors live together and learn about topics related to their roles, as a form of method acting. To have the actors realistically react to visual effects that would be implemented in post-production, the filmmakers constructed live sets to serve as cues. Previous science fiction films that Boyle cited as influences included Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1972 Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and the 1979 science-fiction horror film Alien.

Sunshine is one of my favorite films of all time. I have seen it several times and it never ceases to entertain me as I embrace its stunning beauty.

I was first introduced to the filmmaking of Danny Boyle in 2003 with his kinetic, apocalyptic and frightening horror film 28 Days Later: In the film a powerful virus is unleashed following a raid on a primate research facility by animal rights activists. Transmitted in a drop of blood, the virus locks those infected into a permanent state of murderous rage. Within 28 days the country is overwhelmed and a handful of survivors begin their attempts to salvage a future, little realizing that the virus is not the only thing that threatens them.

28 Days Later by Danny Boyle

The only other film in recent production, I feel parallels Sunshine in its originality and vision is District 9 by Peter Jackson and Neill Bloomkamp.

District 9 synopsis: Over 20 years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them. Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens’ welfare – they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens’ awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA.

The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the
world, as well as the most valuable – he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.

District 9 by Peter Jackson and Neill Bloomkamp

The roundup in District 9

All three films are distinctly different in their subject matter, but are so well acted, produced, and directed it is difficult to choose one over the other as a favorite.

So what do you think? Are you a big fan of the Science Fiction genre? Have you seen any of these remarkable films, and if so do you have a favorite? And what is your favorite film of this genre and why?

Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film – Raise the Red Lantern

Raise the Red Lantern…the new wave in Chinese cinema

The beautiful Gong Li in Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern

http://youtu.be/EyubPCx52uk  – Starring Gong Li and directed by Zhang Yimou (trailer)

http://youtu.be/wB5vKVnJQtQ – A Woman’s fate (monologue)

http://youtu.be/WklufWNh300 – Third Mistress Singing

A woman's fate

China, 1991

Running Length: 2:05

Cast: Gong Li, Cao Cuifen, He Caifei, Jin Shuyuan,
Kong Lin, Ma Jingwu, Zhao Qi

Director: Zhang Yimou

Producer: Chiu Fu-sheng

Screenplay: Ni Zhen based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su

Cinematography: Yang Lun and Zhao Fei

Music: Naoki Tachikawa and Zhao Jiping

U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films

In Mandarin with English Subtitles

Raise the Red Lantern is one of the more sublimely beautiful and
openly disturbing films of the 1990s. It is also the best work to date turned
in by the actress/director combination of Gong Li and Zhang Yimou — and this
includes other impressive films like Ju Dou and To Live. Raise the Red Lantern is one of those all-too-rare motion
pictures capable of enthralling audience members while they’re watching it,
then haunting them for hours (or days) thereafter. With its simple story and
complex themes and emotions, Raise the Red Lantern hints at the kind of
film a great director like Ingmar Bergman might have made had he attempted a
story set in mainland China.

The difference between
Songlian (Gong Li), the fourth wife of a rich landowner, and the other three
spouses, is that she is educated, and has been married (by her mother) against
her will. Now, her whole world is reduced to one small compound, and the only
people she sees are her husband, his family, and their servants. She is given a
maid (Kong Lin) with whom she doesn’t get along, and finds her new home to be a
cheerless place, despite all the bright colors that adorn the inside walls.

It’s the master’s
tradition to light lanterns outside the house of the wife he intends to join
for the night. Since Songlian is new to the compound, it is expected that he
will spend much of his time with her. However, on their first night together,
the master is called away to soothe his pampered third wife (He Caifei), who
complains of an ailment. From then on, Songlian realizes that she’ll have to
resort to deceit and manipulation to retain her husband’s interest. And, while
she doesn’t necessarily appreciate his attentions, she realizes that her status
in the household is directly proportional to how highly she is favored.

Within days of her
arrival, Songlian’s relationships with her “sisters” are established.
The first wife (Jin Shuyuan), an aging woman with a grown son, does her best to
ignore Songlian’s presence. She is tolerant — no more, no less. The third
concubine, a beautiful ex-opera singer, is fiercely jealous of Songlian,
worried that the master will find his new, educated bride more enticing.
However, the second concubine (Cao Cuifen) offers friendship and kindness to
the newest member of the family — or so it initially seems.

The Chinese government
didn’t approve of Raise the Red Lantern, and, if you look just below the
simple-yet-effective surface story, it’s easy to understand why. As structured,
this film can be seen as a parable for the corruption of modern society in
China. Songlian is the individual, the master is the government, and the
customs of the house are the laws of the country. It’s an archaic system that
rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who violate them.
And, when an atrocity occurs (as it did in Tiannamen Square), not only is
culpability denied, but the entire incident is claimed not to have happened.

Looking beyond the
political meaning, Raise the Red Lantern offers a view of life within a
closed, dictatorial social community. Much of the film deals with the
ever-shifting balance of power between the various concubines. Beauty and
sexual appeal are secondary attributes in a battle of wits that demands guile
and duplicity. Bearing a male child is more critical to each woman’s standing
than possessing a pleasing countenance. While the master’s favor determines
which of his wives commands the most power, Zhang illustrates how easily he can
be manipulated.

The acting is effective
enough to illuminate the multi-faceted personalities of the concubines. Gong Li
shines as Songlian, who struggles to be as cold and calculating as her
“sisters” in playing the “game” until a tragedy destroys
her composure (and possibly her sanity). Gong’s performance makes it easy to
sympathize with Songlian; she is our guide through the strange,
ritual-saturated world of Raise the Red Lantern.

The film is beautifully
photographed using a process that captures the vividness of the many colors
employed by the director. Raise the Red Lantern is visually stunning,
and the appeal to the eye only heightens the movie’s emotional power. The
fullness of reds, oranges, and yellows is unlike anything that has been seen in
an American film for years. Zhang clearly understands at least one of the
fundamental rules of film making: that a great-looking picture will enhance a
superior story.

Songlian’s ultimate fate
is wrenching, and the closing scene represents a sad epilogue to a unique
motion picture experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie quite like Raise
the Red Lantern
, and, since I consider it to be a defining example of
Chinese movie-making and one of the best films of the ’90s, I doubt that I ever
will again.

The mistress gets her due

Post note: This is one of the best films I have ever seen. 1991 was a great transitional period for me artistically and this film added to my sense of exploration into the art of creativity and the importance of subject matter.

Gong Li as Songlian

Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film: Camille Claudel

A woman’s strength and determination is powerful….

A woman’s love is without equal…..

A woman’s suffering for that love is immeasurable….

Perhaps one of my favorite French films that depicts artistic creativity, strength, determination, love and obsession is none other than the film Camille Claudel finely directed by Bruno Nuyten and starring Isabelle Adjani as Camille—the young but gifted sculptress. In the film Camille possesses an artistic and romantic passion that consumes her. Her love for the sculptor, Auguste Rodin, and her life, ends in pain and lost.

Here is a clip from the film. What do you think? If you have seen the film, what is your opinion of Isabelle Adjani’s performance?


Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film: Chelsea Walls

I thought I would start showing clips from some of my favorite films. Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time in theaters, and long nights viewing video tapes, and DVDs. And we cannot forget the ever consuming Netflicks via our computers. It is time to go deep, yes—very deep—and find those rare moments in classic film-making. These beautiful, intrepid, and visceral moments can be found delving into the issues of obsessive love, angst, betrayal, and tragedy (thinking of French, German and Asian films in particular). And what comes to mind when thinking of tragic French films? Well we can find the French catapulting our emotions in such films as: Un Couer En Hiver (A Heart in Winter) directed by Claudet Sautet, Damage with French actress Juliette Binoche and film direction by Louis Malle. And last but not least—my favorite French excursion into obsession is none other than the film Camille Claudel finely directed by Bruno Nuyten and starring Isabelle Adjani as Camille—the young but gifted sculptress full of artistic and romantic passion. Her love for the sculptor, Auguste Rodin—as you can imagine—will only end in pain and lost.

I hope over time to share from around the world some masterful works in cinema. However, to kick off this Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film, I present what I think defines a good film moment i.e. strong characterization, heart-felt expression by the performer, and feeling as if you can truly relate to the scene or film in general. For this first challenge, I am selecting the “poem” scene in the film Chelsea Walls as recited by Rosario Dawson.

Tell me what you think of this moment in the film, and what you think of this concept in general. Do you have a favorite moment or film that has influence you in some way? Please share.