Film Review: The Post, Dunkirk, Sorry to Bother, 500 Days of Summer

In this article, I share my opinions on 4 films I did not enjoy watching on cross-country airplanes in September and November of 2018.

As context, I traveled a lot for work and took full advantage of the in-flight video content as a means to relax, learn, and enjoy films I normally wouldn’t dedicate 2 hours to unless it fit my schedule perfectly (like stuck in a window seat for 5 hrs at night and not tired). On the plane rides, I watched several content in part or full, including (in approximately this order):

  • Just For Laugh Gags episodes (part)
  • Friends episodes (rewatch)
  • Death of Stalin (full)
  • Sorry to Bother (part)
  • Mr and Mrs Smith (part)
  • The Post (full)
  • 500 Days of Summer (part)
  • Star Wars IV (rewatch, part)
  • Dunkirk (full)

In this article, I review the films I watched for the first time and did not like; two of which I watched to completion. Those films include:

  • Sorry to Bother (part)
  • The Post (full)
  • 500 Days of Summer (part)
  • Dunkirk (full)

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

I did not like this film despite being very excited to see it when I saw the trailer and willing to buy a ticket if not for watching Black Klansman instead. Sorry to Bother looked bizarre, driven, and told from a under-appreciated black point of view. In addition there was respect and intrigue around the lead Lakeith Stanfield. Lakeith was solid in at least two other productions I’ve seen him in (in this order): Get Out, Atlanta pilot, and the War Machine trailer. Ironically I’d seen him two times before my noticed experience of Get Out: in Dope (on a plane in 2015) and Straight Outta Compton (in theaters).

From the list of films I’ve cited above, it’s clear that despite being a cis white male, I’ve been keeping up with some important minority lead productions. I loved or respected a bunch (Get Out, Black Klansman, and Straight Outta Compton), and others I disliked (Atlanta, Dope).

Sorry to Bother You was an uncompelling bizarre and dispassionate production with no narrative direction in sight, no expectation built or tapped into, and a seemingly casually racist point of view (you have to act stereotypically white in order to succeed in the world) which I kind of got over watching the trailer.

Uncompelling: The story follows a poor black man who lives in his uncle’s garage, unappreciatively, who is caught lying about his work history to get a job as a telemarketer but is hired because those lies showed initiative. From there, it follows some backstory on the kid and his girlfriend then transitions into him rising the ranks of the job to chase the dream of being like a specific black baller who’s part of the in-crowd of high-paid employees. Here’s what made it boring to watch: First, Lakeith. There’s something to be said about leads who drain the energy off the screen with their nihilistic, depressive posture and bitch-face: Bill Murray, Kristen Wiig, Lakeith Stanfield, and to lesser degrees Ryan Gosling, Zooey Dechanel. A character who doesn’t care about something and has no clear goals in the narrative (aside from the default human motive of survival) is not compelling narrative. It can be relateable to some individuals. Played right, it can even be comedic at the expense of laughing at those characters. But by default, they’re not compelling. And to many goal-oriented individuals, they’re disgusting. Viscerally regurgatory to watch. Who wants to watch a passionless character who bitches at his uncle when his uncle asks for two-month late rent with the understanding that the Uncle likely won’t kick him out of the garage. Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of character Lakeith plays. The kind of defeated individual who’s succumbed to the nihilistic reality of life: survival. Who can barely hold his head up and defensively avoids smiling so as to not allow his expectations to go up. I personally don’t have time or care for characters like this. And from a story telling point of view, I check out. We all know that the character must have some arc, and too often bad screenwriters think that the goal is to make the lead as unlikable as possible so that any improvement of character at the end of the film that makes the audience relate to them empathetically is a story telling win for the filmmaker. I see this trick a mile away and check out. The story teller is forcing me to watch a character I don’t like for 90 minutes so I can maybe like them in the last 30. I’d rather watch compelling characters from page one. Unfortunately, Lakeith’s character and especially his performance is obnoxious and a chore to sit through. And it’s only after this film that I accepted that truth about his acting range. That’s his character in all films he plays. It’s fine as a bit piece since he wreaks it with every frame he’s on screen so the filmmakers have less work to do. But as a lead, it’s the worst idea ever. It’s this film that made me recognize why I was intrigued by his performances (because they’re so quickly authentic) but also why I don’t care for him anymore. However, I might have got past problem if the narrative thrust were better too.

Bizarre: Much of the film was pretty authentic, but then every now and then a supernatural or stylized element would kick in and you’re left wondering. What the hell was that about? And not in a good way. Sometimes it felt like it would make for a more visual story telling experience that they could slap into a trailer or use as the talking-point to get people to talk about the film. Sometimes you wondered if it was meant to keep the audience wondering if he’s seeing things. But nothing was so clear as to appreciate the departure from the norm. I’m not spoiling anything for those watching the trailer to know that at times, the protagonists or phone-callers who are black “talk white” on the phone with actual white people dubbing the lines over the faces. David Cross (Tobias Funke in Arrested Development) narrates one person while a seemingly green 20 something actor ham-up the over-privileged super-happy suburban white man another time. When it popped up in the film, it wasn’t funny, or innovative. It was just distracting and felt unnecessary. And to some degree, it seemed racist. Of course, I didn’t feel offended because it’s a privileged stereotype they’re propping up, not the racist KKK killer stereotype. I felt more pity for the filmmakers who thought this would be edgy and/or effective story telling or even “cool”. Then later they also have his desk fall into the homes of the people he’s calling. Again, it was a clever visual trick, which never paid off. Possibly because I exited early. but to be fair, there was nothing compelling about it. No expectation or explanation I could come up with would make the gimmick feel like it was worth the money they must have spent on it. Especially when the narrative is so thin right now.

About 30 minutes in, I looked at the clock and wondered: where is this film going? and Why do I care? As best I could follow it was about a poor depressed black kid discovering the world of the whiteys. Maybe the setup of this kid was exactly the arc of the film, once he knows how to “act white” he can be black AND be happy, without being white. Why do I care? As best I could gather: because it’s important to understand the black experience. And more importantly, the depressed black experience. I think it’s more important for depressed nihilistic people to see the film than me. So without the stakes increasing in 30 minutes, and without a clear expectation put forth by the filmmaker, I was out.

Ironically, it’s taken me the remainder of the film to write up this summary. But that hour is beneficial to me and to you hopefully. Insightful in some way.

The Post (2017)

Steven Spielberg. Wow, was this film flat. Whatever acting praise people projected onto this film was not rational and personally biased. I felt no performance stood out and all performances were good enough to support the solid storytelling. This was my first Meryl Streep movie and she’s just as unimpressive as she seems at awards shows. Yes, she has poise and presence. She’s a strong independent and classy woman. But she’s that in every role, and that’s not good acting.

There were several problems with this film, but let’s address the most pressing: It was aimed at being a response to Trump’s attack on journalism. Meant as a rallying cry for supporters of free-speech and praise for the institutions that fight against tyranny of any part of the government. It was meant to be the All the President’s Men of today. By the end of the film I was supposed to cry for the actions taken by many or by few who acted out their beliefs to defend journalism and free-speech. Unfortunately, it did not do that.

I’m not sure if it was because it didn’t go far enough or because we knew the whole film that it was a left-wing political machine movie trying to avoid the fact (what’s more Hollywood than Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep?). Or because it played more like a documentary than a character study. I personally feel it didn’t go far enough in any one emotion. There were themes of women fighting for power and people around her (mostly men) supporting her vision and believing in her (despite corporate, primarily men, pressures of her paper being owned by the public). Girl power! And then there were themes of journalism. Journalists willing to go to prison for exposing the TRUTH about those in power. And about entire Newspaper companies willing to be sued by the president for releasing government papers with careful redaction. And finally about all the newspapers in the U.S. publishing parts of the document after the NYT is first sued and then the Washington Post risks being sued by publishing other parts.

But the film was not compelling and did not deliver on drama. It was cold and felt like it was trying to be as impartial as possible so as to be important. The narrative also followed two to three stories and it was unclear until the midpoint, which one was the driving narrative. It wasn’t until the midpoint that the stakes for any protagonist were pressing. Until then, you just saw a journalist steal the papers, then the NYT publish them (with the Washington Post, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, missing out on the story, then Nixon suing the NYT. Then the Post spent time trying to find the paper themselves, and we’re on a mini-story following Bob Odinkirk. And finally, they get the papers, and I feel like post-midpoint is when they were finally faced with real stakes: Should we publish these finding. And the whole final act followed lawyers fighting with Hanks, and Streep (as president) deciding whether she wanted to publish (and risk her and her father’s company, her legacy, and a pending corporate buy out). Of course, she finally gains the courage to take the risk five minutes before the end of the film and it ends on a montage of everyone else following suit, the supreme court ruling in favor of the NYT, and hints at the Watergate scandal (the premise All the President’s Men).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any expectations as to where the film was going and why I truly cared about any individual player. The stakes were low for 60-90 minutes of the film and when it came time for real intra-personal conflict, it happened five minutes before the close of the film. At that point you don’t care for any character yet.

Another potential explanation for my problem, aside from the stakes staying low with multiple potential protagonist threads running in parallel, was how fast it moved and how much exposition was being dumped for the first hour or more of the film. It felt like a documentary trying to add some drama through worried or combative performances. On that note, there’s not a scene in the film that was BAD. The camera moved fast, the people moved fast, and the scenes moved fast. But there wasn’t a scene in the film that was great, though I can remember one in particular because I was studying the staging of the camera and actor’s movements more than following the narrative.

I was expecting to get to the end and have the pace and exposition culminate to a very poignant hopeful triumphant feeling of the underdog and the people prevailing over tyranny, but I got nothing. Despite it seemingly trying so hard to be that. Hell I would have settled for a T2 style statement of theme that I can walk out on: “If a Terminator can learn to be more human, maybe we can too.” But I think it ended on text of a newspapers, maybe even white text on black of the following history. However it ended, I don’t remember and remember being so disappointed.

How would I fix it? I’m not sure, but I think I would lean into themes and opinions more. It felt like it was trying to be impartial and apolitical to try to appeal to the right-wing populists who support Trump. Unfortunately that meant that it didn’t deliver on anything. It could have leaned into the praise of reporters of any political leaning. But focused on the female Washtington Post president maybe? And if it wasn’t going to be persuasive to the right, by being middle-ground, then it also lost those on the left by depriving them of a rallying cry film. I think it could have been so much more left-leaning or even populist leaning by throwing themes of protecting the people, or saying, this even supports KKK free speech, etc. and if it’s so true to the philosophy that a left-leaning or right-leaning newspaper with a strong point of view should be given equal power to ridicule the president, then it would have worked better. I think it suffered the Hillary Clinton campaign problem. It didn’t give anyone something to vote FOR. Hillary only gave people something to vote against. This film didn’t even give us a villian like Trump.

Especially for being a film that was green-lit days after Trump’s inauguration, film within months and released a year after Trump’s election, it was clearly meant as a response to Trump’s attack on the media, and didn’t deliver to anyone. Unpersuasive in any argument, either to get his supporters to respect the media, or to rally the left to defend the current MSM more effectively. Having said that, perhaps the film was too removed from today. Any respect for journalism then don’t equate to those who operate the MSM today. And any victories then that are lost today don’t seem as tragic. And there’s no effective fear drawn to parallels of today to make us feel a sense of loss or potential loss of a better time.

500 Days of Summer (2009)

If you thought I was brutal on Lakeith. Then wait for my opinions on the two most lackluster leads in Hollywood: Zooey Dechanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Here’s a film that’s super-pretentious and tries to take the classic rom-com tropes, address them as not realistic, and then play into them by the end of the film. A hopeless romantic falls in love with his object of desire. The film is strange with a mysterious numbering scheme that’s hard to follow. Day 1, 200, etc. Not sure if Summer is a time or a person.

But the thing is, we follow two uncompelling leads. Joseph is a loser and broken romantic who lusts after a particular woman. And Zooey is just a pretty, uninteresting object of desire. Her quirkiness and extreme introvertedness seems to be her appeal too. But her perfect skin, blue eyes, and doe-eyed allure is her first introduction and emphasis of character. She’s pretty, and nice.

But aside from the boring characters and boring performance was the try-too-hard style of the film which was lightly framed-narrative, lightly meta, and vignette-like. The tone was similar to Elf in that it felt fanciful, almost like Princess Bride too. Where the narrator gets to add a layer of destiny to the story.

About 15-20 minutes in, I was out. No real explanation I can think of. Just not my type of flick. And I’m cool with many rom coms: It could happen to you, Twilight, others. But as insight, I didn’t like: Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail.

Dunkirk (2017)

Another completely uncompelling narrative. Almost everyone looks the same and no particular character has an emphasis or a narrative worth thinking about or emoting over. It seemed like an excuse to put flashy visuals on screen. There wasn’t much dialogue and the few that there was was difficult to follow. It started very exposition with the British pushed back to the beach. So maybe the stakes were high to start. But they didn’t feel high. A lone Frenchman escapes and tries to pass as British. A clever hook to drive the narrative to show everything going on around him. But not compelling.

I knew the premise: a group of civilians goes to save the British troops by using civilian boats too small to sink instead of huge carriers which became easy targets. But the film virtually starts with this process going on. Though it seems like it’s just one boat to start and maybe later in the story, that one boat returns with passengers to inspire everyone else to try too. Instead, it followed one boat despite the others being right behind them. My guess it to make it more personal.

The expectation set? There were none: survival. How do we get everyone off this beach? That was answered in scene one: by civilian boats. How many survive? Thats the question. Not even “Who survives.” Though I think they tried to push that question. In fact, the expectations and trajectory was so ambiguous and uncompelling that I created some without them being there. I thought the stakes would increase as we followed the civilian heroes. Instead, there was one civilian hero boat focused on. And they told the story of one pilot hero (Tom Hardy) and one Frenchman trying to survive until rescue.

Oh, and the general was thrown in there as exposition as well as a symbol of military duty.

No character was cared about. No situation was compelling conflict. No character changed emotion. Everyone was fighting for a seat on the escape vessel. Not fighting Germans.

I’m convinced the only reason anyone FELT anything in this film was because of Hans Zimmer’s scores, despite Christopher Nolan’s visuals and story. Every scene was drown by Zimmer’s score which kept the stress up at all time and crescendo’d several times through out the film to make you even more anxious.  I watched most of the film to listen to Zimmer’s score, but when an hour passed and I noticed there was no compelling expectation built or a character I cared about, I started fast-forwarding. It became obvious too that my favorite track of the soundtrack (which I heard first) “Supermarine” was no going to show up as I heard it on the album. The film ended with a reveal of the slew of civilian boats, along with Tom Hardy’s character saving a civilian vessel then gliding into enemy territory to be captured. And then a white text on black summary of the outcome.

Boring. Another instance where Zimmer’s score builds an expectation for an amazing scene worthy of the music, but Nolan ruins Zimmer’s music.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Film Review: The Post, Dunkirk, Sorry to Bother, 500 Days of Summer

Spytec Inventio Glasses $100 model

Product: http://www.spytecinc.com/inventio-hd-plus-1080p-video-sunglasses.html

Submitted Product Review (on their site): https://yotpo.com/go/tu0weBOz

Purchased May 2018, reviewed June 2018. Video to come.

The following was submitted to their Google review request through a confirmation email: 


The video quality is pretty standard for tiny cams like this. It does a good job of auto exposing and does good outdoor and evening exposures. Indoors with a single 100 W lighting setup it starts to fall apart.
Problems: It sits high on the bridge of my nose because the bridge arch is narrow. I’m a European descendant Caucasian. This makes the camera for in-car driving point toward the sky instead of the road, even though the polarized lenses fully protect my eyes from the sun outside (great lenses and the gap on the bottom due to a shorter lens than my store brand glasses is fine for driving). I had to angle the glasses downward to see the road making the arms not sit on my ears and pinch on my skull an inch above my ears (not on my temple because the arms were long and curved so it was uncomfortable, but I would imagine it would look weird in public). Another issue from it angling up was that trying to capture POV shots of disassembling my phone was impossible–I totally missed everything when it sat properly on my ears AND when i pushed it to the angle that worked for driving. It needs to be angled even further downward making the arms sit ridiculously high on my head.
On that note, the field of view (65 degrees on box, their site says 135 degrees, confirmed by clicking the link from my order) is very narrow for either driving or POV of hand-held work. I could not see the side-view mirror or rear view mirror or dashboard in the shot when looking straight ahead. Also it has a focus range that starts at a few feet away and goes to infinity and doesn’t change, once again making it useless for up-close work (where it doesn’t focus). Even focusing on the table was questionable and I’ll have to review my footage to see if it did a good job of that, but using my kitchen lighting my guess is that it had a hard time with that too.
Another phenomenon was that I accidentally had a stray hair fall in front of the lens and it started to strobe its exposure and I could see a blurred signature of something in the image.
The file quality is great and records about 100 MB/min using 1080p 30fps mode (the only mode). I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any format option on the SportDV.txt file. I thought this product had options for file format, but the website listing and box say only 1080p 30fps, though it does advertise a 60fps image stabilization which is not a record rate. Others say that 60 fps would probably make viewing easier because of all the head movement, but I found the video while driving very watchable, and it never gave me a head ache.
Seems like I’ll be looking for a 170 degree camera that has a wider nose arch (or receiving the advertised 135 degree camera). I’m not against using SpyTec, but I’m happy they have a return policy. On the business end, they delivered on time (or earlier I think, cross-country), the product is spiffy and user-friendly (text file modification is easy enough for me), and their follow up emails are professional. The only strange thing is the box saying 65 degree field of view and the site saying 135. Off by a factor of 2? I’ll eventually edit my video review so look for this review text on YouTube and you might see that (I’m not a full time reviewer, just want consumers to know).


 

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Spytec Inventio Glasses $100 model

All Great Movies Have Unwatchable Lulls

I was thinking about how much of Star Wars IV that I don’t care to rewatch. Like the whole first 1/3. Up until Luke partners with Han and they leave the planet with Obi-Wan and the droids, it’s all exposition.  It’s all setup.  Same shit with Episode VI: Basically, I don’t recall or care to rewatch the entire sequence with Jabba the Hut.  And I don’t much care for the death of Yoda either.  It’s not until the battle of Endor that I really get into the movie. The irony with both films is that the endings were so much fun that I forget how bad the beginnings were and feel good leaving the theater.  That’s exactly where Episode V fails.  It doesn’t end on a high note, so it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth so there’s nothing to distract you from how dull the entire movie was until then.  In fact, the whole entire movie is as exposition-y as the crappy parts of IV and VI.  That’s why it’s so crappy in my view.  It’ll make more sense as you read on.

When I look back at the Star Wars films, I realize how little I would appreciate them if I saw it as an adult. In fact, I was too young to understand a majority of each Star Wars movie when I saw it the first time.  By the time I could appreciate how movies rely on reveals and twists for hightened drama, I already knew the reveals, thereby neutralizing the drama, thereby neutralizing the entire Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Then I wondered if I’m being too hard on new films as an adult.  If I saw any of my favorite movies, I could be hard pressed to enjoy them, because I might be a little too critical. (Like the video troll here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp-E0KXQoUU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEClNaZh-EU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGGUX4_0HQY).  I think when I watch new movies, I’m going to remind myself that all my favorite movies have crappy sequences, even crappy entire acts, but I still appreciate the good in them.  So I might as well look for the good in a movie than expect a perfectly tidy or completely engaging film.

All Great Movies Have Unwatchable Lulls

Like the Matrix, which is just too exposition-y right up until he wakes up in the real world in the human farm.  From then on the movie is engaging. Until then, it was mysterious and at best interesting.

Terminator 2 has the significant lull smack in the middle, but then it reboots itself.

Speed actually is non-stop amazing until the final act, when it gets repetitive. That’s one instance that the beginning and majority of the movie was SO good that the failure of the third act actually pulled away from our memory of the film, reminding me how important it is that you leave the theater on good terms with the audience.

Jurassic Park is actually pretty boring until… Dennis steals the embryos and the nightmare starts, but we were pulled through by the general good feeling of exploring a new world.

Armageddon actually had like 10 minutes before even introducing the miners, then like 20 minutes before they were told about the mission at NASA. Basically, the movie started when they went through the tests (NASA approved). Before that it was exposition, setup.

Same with The Rock. It’s not until the The Chase that the movie comes into its own. Until then, we were being introduced to the threat, and introduced to the heroes, but they hadn’t engaged in the mission. After the chase, the heroes finally engage the threat and the movie begins.

It’s making me wonder if the setup is my least favorite part of every movie, or more clearly, it makes me wonder if I consider a movie to be the action sequences where the characters are actually engaging the threat, and every associated scene.  Everything else is setup – and not yet the movie I come back to see over and over again.   In this sense, “the movie” is the part I remember, the part I’m engaged with, the part I return to watch.  To me, setup is not part of “the movie”, although it is critical.

“I consider a movie to be the action sequences where the characters are actually engaging the threat, and every associated scene.”
–Glenn Duenas

I guess it’s really “characters in conflict”. But not just any conflict. Characters in conflict against a clear threat or clear villain.  It’s Characters in conflict on a mission.  Before that, conflict is just there but there’s no clear mission.  Rather, the characters haven’t engaged that mission.

I guess that’s what makes Terminator 2 work. The mission of the first half is survival, the mission of the second half is “save the future” (and survival).

When does the mission kick in in Avatar? Maybe you can tell me because I wasn’t really watching.  I clocked out mentally like 30 or 40 minutes into the film, some time (maybe a long time) before Jake decides to defend the Navi, which is what I figured (from the start) was gong to be the main mission.  So maybe I was waiting for him to engage his mission for way too long, and mentally clocked out before he did, so by the time it came I didn’t care anymore.

So what I learned today is how to express what I consider “the movie”, and my objective for making a “good” movie.  When I make a film, I have to remember to minimize Act 1 (exposition, the set up) and make sure the rest of the film has a clear mission that the characters are actually actively engaging.  It might be possible to create a movie that narrates the exposition, and starts with the mission, saving me and the audience all of Act 1.  But it might be too jarring.  We’re tuned to ease into a world, and it takes time to come to a liking of the character, so maybe that’s the purpose of the setup.  I’ll be thinking about that, while writing “the movie”.

I wonder if I could re-edit “The Matrix” with a “Previously on: The Matrix” recap of everything before the red pill and the blue pill.  I wonder if I could do the same with Star Wars IV and The Rock.  Could a stranger appreciate the movies as I do if they only had one or two minutes to recap?  I think so.  It would be no different than re-watching Star Wars with the context of already knowing who Luke and Obi-Wan are.  After all, it wasn’t until the second viewing of The Rock that I fell in love with it, and where did I pick up?  At the roach scene.  Maybe 10-15 minutes into the movie.  It’s the rest of the movie that hooked me.  Can I open a movie with a recap?  I think so.  Am I brave enough to try it on my first film?  Probably not, but I’ll keep it in mind for sure!

~G

P.S. Titanic, on the other hand, is an enigma.  It’s about survival (don’t you have any other themes, Jim?) because the opening sequence establishes that it all ends with a sunken ship, so the whole movie we know what will be the character’s objective – to survive.  So we had a mission — but not the real mission.  Because he instead gave us the whole forbidden love story to pull us through the whole movie.  But even so, the lingering threat was there – except in this case, the heroes didn’t engage the threat.  Well… until the last hour of the film as it’s sinking.  Like Jurassic Park it becomes a relentless tour de force for survival until the bitter end.  Which I guess is the part of the movie I remember most.  Interesting.  (Actually, the part I remember most is when she goes below deck and they’re dancing… and later make love… It’s the whole having fun part of the movie).  Or maybe it doesn’t have a clear mission which I why it’s not a movie I return to watch, ever.  But when I have, it’s strikingly gripping for some reason.  I guess it’s the strong characters and inter-personal conflict which heightens and is heightened by the whole ship sinking sequence.

Posted in Articles | Comments Off on All Great Movies Have Unwatchable Lulls

The Mandela Effect

Derren Brown proved that when giving a gift to someone, he could trick that someone into thinking they wanted a bike all along, when they actually wanted a leather jacket. (It was Simon Pegg actually, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEmCQzueyEQ ; or as part of a Derren vs Celebrities video: https://youtu.be/PrlFGPB0rpg?t=7m30s ). He did this with the power of suggestion, using dozens of subliminal cues to trick his mind into thinking hard about bicycles while Derren was preparing to reveal a gift that was to come. The person’s mind was already in the realm of “what’s the gift” and “what would I like it to be” so as the subliminal cues were getting him to think about bicycles, his brain made the subliminal connections and rewrote his mental story to include the bike. When he asked what that person wanted, he said “a bicycle”.  Sure enough when he opened the box it was a bicycle.  But he went further because that person had written down their desired gift a few days earlier in a signed envelope that he kept on his person (in his wallet) since he sealed it.  The envelope said “leather jacket”, proving Derren has just altered his memory.

Why do I bring this up?  Because some people posit that memories can’t be wrong, especially when they’re strong memories.

According to Snopes (https://www.snopes.com/2016/07/24/the-mandela-effect/ ): “The Mandela Effect is a collective misremembering of a fact or event. … The term “Mandela Effect” was coined by self-described “paranormal consultant” Fiona Broome, who has written on her web site that she first became aware of the phenomenon after discovering that she shared a particular false memory — that South African human rights activist and president Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s (he actually died in 2013) — with many other people. Then she began noticing other examples.”

The Mendella effect is the idea that we remember facts differently than they are AND the supposition that our memory is correct and the facts have somehow been modified by some paranormal agent. This paranormal activity is proven by the fact that multiple people have the same (incorrect) memory. Like the fact that so many people remember Nelson Mendella dying in the 1980’s, except he didn’t. How could so many people have the same incorrect memory if it didn’t happen that way? The universe must be mutable.

To assume human memories are like computer memory is completely non-realistic. We all know that… Or do we? I’m all too aware that my memory is constantly morphing. I noticed once as a preteen that I had distinct visual images of my old home – before I was 4, but upon seeing a photo album of the house again for the first time years, I noticed that my memories of my old home exactly matched these photos. PLUS, I had no memories of that home in addition to those seen in that photo album (except possibly one). I realized then that my brain had taken visual cues and created memories from them. I knew I couldn’t trust my brain anymore, and perhaps, that’s why I always second guess myself and seriously consider that I could be remembering wrong — especially when someone is more adamant about it than I am. It’s why I like to write down my train of thought when I write a report, or an email, not just the conclusions because I know that if I later tried to recall WHY something happened I could easily make up a memory to fit my conclusion.

I later learned about possible reasons for Deja Vu. That Deja Vu is the memory part of your brain registering the moment before the cognitive part of the brain interprets it; or possibly it’s the chemical reaction associated with memory recognition without the actual memory. Deja Vu usually is associated with a weird third person feeling, a sense of watching my body take actions instead of that sense of performing the actions myself, implying to me some brain chemical imbalance. So it’s either purely chemical or a brain sequencing failure. Either way, a memory is never more accurate than a piece of paper.

I’ll go further.  I’ve had instances where I’m recounting something that happened to me, and suddenly I can’t remember the next part. I get nervous about the next memory that comes to mind. I can never be 100% sure that the memory is accurate — especially if I know the outcome. That is, I have a gap in recollection and I know my brain can either recall an accurate memory or fill in the gap with a memory that matches my assumptions for why it happened.  In fact, I notice that I’ve told a few stories a handful of times, and because it’s farther apart each time I tell it, I remember less of the story, but I know bits and pieces. I’ve gotten into some situations with people who were there who remember different colors of objects or different versions of my story (usually quantities and sequences) from the previous time I told it. In those instances, I’m never really sure if I’m right — although I can usually gauge the strength of the memory and push back with my conviction. But because I HAVE caught myself creating memories of things I’ve done when I haven’t done them (probably because I’m thinking about the things I have to do at work when I snooze in the morning), I know it IS possible that I’m creating memories of things I wish I had done (in some cases) or memories of things I had-to-have done (in most) without actually remembering doing them.

So why would ANYONE believe their memory is superior to facts? to evidence? Because they don’t take an effort to estimate the chances of remembering the correct spelling of Berenstain Bears (it’s Berenstein Bears, right?) when you learned it as a child; which is probably well below 50/50 since we’re all extremely used to seeing the -ein letters together versus the rare but correct spelling with -ain.  And in the most frequent cases: Because they don’t consider that their friends probably recall certain events from a common incorrect story teller, which in many situations could have been they themselves!

Or maybe the universe is mutable and someone or something is going around changing the facts. Maybe it proves parallel timelines and that changes to our past by time travelers may create butterfly effect changes to some events in our current reality, but none significant enough to affect all events. And … I guess because consciousness is independent of our physical reality… WE have the correct memories?

Yeah, that sounds right. The Mendela effect proves it!

~G

P.S. I don’t really think anyone seriously considers this proof of the paranormal, but that it is probably a conflation of an interesting observation with paranormal extremists and/or trolls on the internet.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to watch the Derren Brown video(s) above.  if the link goes dead, search Derren Brown Simon Pegg.

Posted in Articles | Comments Off on The Mandela Effect

Lawrence of Arabia

What makes a great film?

  • Rewatch-ability?
  • Density of content?
  • Depth of journey?
  • Depth of character?
  • Spectacle?
  • Music?
  • Theme?
  • Duration?
  • Pace?
  • Philosophy?
  • Acting?

Four days ago I watched Lawrence of Arabia as a 30 year old adult. I watched it with new understanding of life and interest in the subject matter. I also watched prepared for a long duration, intermissions, and long shots. I lowered my expectations to virtually none: It’s probably going to be a slow and okay drama with some impressive imagery. And after four hours, my expectations were met, which thoroughly disappointed me. Yes, it was good at conveying the human condition with much of its paradoxes, but I didn’t leave blown away by spectacle, pace, theme, or story. The music was memorable but only in its two main themes, which were repeated again and again and again. And probably once more. And the acting was great, but dated.

Do I respect the film? Without a doubt. Was there value in watching the film? As a filmmaker, unquestionably. Would I rewatch it? No. I might re-read the script though, for I’m confident that the script is only 120 pages–which normally translates to 2 hours–but the pace and indulgence, dragged it longer. Was the cinematography amazing? Absolutely, save for some day-for-night shots which confused me. Mostly everything else was practical on set masterful photography.

Unfortunately, whenever you watch a 4 hour film, you’re forced to ask yourself: Is this worth 4 hours of screen time? Even when a comedy hits 2 hours, many believe it should have ended 30 minutes ago (25% ago). So when you get a hyped up film with a run time of 3 hr 48m, any pause in the film forces you to ask that question. As a filmmaker you start to wonder what the structure of the film might look like?

Structure

As best I can understand it, it was two films. The first half had a clear goal with a mediocre conclusion. The second half was a vaguely-compelling meandering open-ended series of events with a sudden conclusion. So sudden and unexpected that I had popped a caffeine pill right before the last scene expecting much much more.

FIRST HALF

Lawrence is a well-educated military officer with a fetish for history and culture, especially of Arabia. He gets reassigned from his post in Cairo to a position in Arabia (Iraq?) to serve Prince Faisal as a liaison. He then wins the respect of the natives, by apparently shedding his loyalty to his birth nation and adopting their culture, and eventually unites warring tribes in an effort to over-take Aqaba (on the southern-most part of the modern-day Israel/Jordan border) via land where they least expect an invasion because it requires crossing the desert in 20+ days (about as long as it takes for the camels to start dying). The “break into act 2” occurs when he first meets Prince Faisal, proposes the idea to him, and goes against his military orders and takes 50 of his men to go on the journey. The next hour or more is about him running into obstacle after obstacle and meeting and uniting a warring tribe on their journey (they meet the tribe after crossing the desert alive: they meet at Wadi Rum, modern-day Jordan, between Israel and Saudi Arabia, 37 miles from Aqaba). Toward the end of the first half, they finish crossing the desert and successfully invade Aqaba (in about 2 minutes of screen time) where, upon searching for their rewards, everyone’s intentions for conquest get challenged. Lawrence continues on to Cairo to tell his generals that they’ve captured a fortress that is impossible to capture, promising the Arabs that he’d return with weapons and gold. Lawrence reaches the Suez canal (civilization) on camel where he hitches a ride to Cairo and makes his demands adding that he never wants to return to Arabia for it has destroyed him as a man. The final shots before the intermission are a teaser for the second half of Lawrence’s journey: Lawrence is convinced to return to Arabia, not because of military reasons, but because Lawrence wants to be remembered as the man who gave the Arabs Damascus (in modern day Syria).

In summation: It’s Dances with Wolves, Avatar, Point Break, or Fast and Furious but with Brits and Arabs. An English scholar becomes a real man and a hero by befriending the natives by assimilating into their culture (though not religiously) and leading them against some common enemy to victory. They win by the end of the first half teaching everyone that nothing is written and that men are far more capable than they think they are.

If it was polished correctly, this film could have been an entire film in itself with a clear and decisive ending. But as is, it felt like a proper ending to the half and then teased a sequel.

His Journey

Here’s a map of the major cities in Lawrence of Arabia. They started in Waidi Rum with Prince Faisal and his Bedouin people, then headed west to take Aqaba, an important port city. Then Lawrence headed west to the Suez canal, traversing ten times the distance we spent 90 minutes on, and then some more, via automobile, to get to Cairo.

Then, in Part 2, he returned to Aqaba (probably by boat) and they marched north to Damascus.

Route: (Damascus to Aqaba to) Waidi Rum to Aqaba to Suez Canal to Cairo. The parenthesis route was added to make the visual nicer even though the real one was Aqaba to Damascus.

This map (http://digital.nls.uk/bartholomew/highlights/seven-pillars-wisdom/map.html) appears to show his path from Aqaba north, with divergent paths that converge on Damascus, which might be the armies he led and not exactly himself.  It’s not limited to the movie scope either, so it may be later routes too.


SECOND HALF

The second half was essentially a sequel or coda, like Star Wars Episode V but without an Episode VI. Whereas Episode IV A New Hope might have been the better story, Episode V was the sequel with a lot of meandering setups and loose ends with no clear goals or direction, and then it ended. Lawrence Part 2 was like Episode V.

Part 2 saw Lawrence now actively trying to be the hero and legend he wanted to become while grappling with the drama of the first half, where he was forced to kill a man he saved and saw one of his two servants die in quick sand.

If it wasn’t pointed out by a video essay I incidentally watched years ago, I would not have noticed that this is where the theme of identity was played out. The second half followed Lawrence’s journey north with his Arab followers on a conquest of the Turks on a war path to Damascus.  And we saw him become more and more barbaric and blood thirsty. People around him watched as the hero they adored was humanized. And his boldness had consequences, getting him caught, tortured and raped before being released. But in the end he made it to Damascus with the Arabs before the British armies and therefore, the Arabs had a word at the negotiation table. The film ends with the Arab tribes struggling to unite and Lawrence trying to write terms for a new Arab nation independent of British rule but allied to them. The final scene is a meeting with Prince Faisal and the British military leaders (with Lawrence) in Cairo where the British give Prince Faisal control, but lie that the British and French haven’t signed an agreement to split up the Arab land after victory. The final shot is Lawrence leaving the head quarters on a truck to London when a motorcycle passes them, reminding us of the opening sequence where Lawrence is riding on a motorcycle and dies.

WHEN IS INTERMISSION?

I couldn’t find a time code for intermission with a simple Google search, but I found this forum post regarding splicing the reels together:  http://www.film-tech.com/ubb/f1/t001540.html .  Apparently, the film comes in 13 reels.  At the end of reel 8 is the intermission walk out music.  The beginning of reel 9 is the intermission return music.  So assuming all reels are the same length, then the intermission is 9/13 through the film or 69% of the film.  However, reel 13 could be much shorter.  If the reel is almost empty, intermission would be about 9/12 of the film or 75% of the duration.  So Part 1 is 69-75% of the film.  Assume 70%, NOT the expected 50%.

Posted in Articles | Comments Off on Lawrence of Arabia

MasterClass – Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Spark Notes

From: https://www.reddit.com/r/Screenwriting/comments/4zpcz2/i_took_aaron_sorkins_masterclass_heres_my_cliffs/ (emphasis added)

HOW TO BE A WRITER Write. Be writing be writing be writing be writing. Everything after this helps, but won’t if you aren’t writing.

WHAT IS DRAMA? “If you don’t have intention and obstacle, it’s ‘Journalism’ ”

Drama requires Intention (or Goal/Desire/Want) and an Obstacle to that Intention. Without a strong Intention – and a formidable Obstacle, you don’t have drama. “Somebody wants something, there’s something standing in their way of getting it” The TACTICS a character uses in order to achieve their Intention, despite their obstacle/s… is what will define to us (the audience) who that person is.

Be sure to PRESS on the intention and obstacle. Make sure both are strong. Do this when you’re outlining/drafting whatever. ALSO do it IN the story.

Your protagonist doesn’t HAVE to overcome the obstacle. All that matters, is that they TRY. Again, it’s via the tactics they’ll be using to TRY, which will show us who they are. All we care about, is learning WHO this person is.

How do you make clear what a character’s intention is? Simple: make the character say what it is that they need/want.

Conflict isn’t just knuckle-boxing. Conflict can be a war of IDEAS. And you want the competing ideas to be equally strong.

The old adage goes: “Queen Dies and King Dies.” These are a series of events. “Queen Dies, so then King dies of broken heart”. This is a STORY. “Queen Dies, and after SERIOUS CONFLICT, the King dies of a broken heart.” is DRAMA. This 3rd telling is what you want. Not event. Not even just story. You want DRAMA.

HOW TO BEGIN: START with intention and obstacle. The details and bits and pieces will come up as you go…

Be sure you identify with both the HERO/s and ALSO the antihero/s (example, Nicholson’s character in a few good men). However you invent the villain’s argument, when you’re done… REALLY believe it. Otherwise it’ll play like a caricature.

AUDIENCE: The audience is an element in the storytelling – they WANT to participate. If you can get the audience to BELIEVE they are several steps ahead of you, and then you STILL TRICK THEM, they are actually very delighted, rather than pissed.

“If you give the audience all the clues that Sherlock Holmes has… and they can’t figure it out, but HE can… that is a DELIGHT to them.”

Don’t lose the audience: we know if our BONES if something is being told to us when it wouldn’t be (a lawyer giving his client info as they walk into the courtroom, day-of the trail is ridiculous). You CAN do something which would never happen, as long as the audience doesn’t KNOW it would never happen).

It’s a fine line you have to walk. You cannot confuse the audience. But you also cannot patronize the audience. Telling the audience something which they already know… feels AWFUL.

Audiences don’t know the specifics of why they like or don’t like things. But THEY KNOW WHAT THEY LIKE OR DISLIKE. It’s the same as a Chef knowing what is or isn’t working in their food precisely, and a hungry person knowing that they hate or love your food. You both know how you feel about it. Only the writer REALLY has a chance of knowing WHY.

STAKES: you want stakes to be high. Sometimes it’ll be obvious why they’re high. Other times, you have to convey WHY to your character the stakes are so high (e.g. Steve Jobs… why are his personal goals/dreams such high stakes? Why does it fee like life/death to Steve Jobs… that a square have rounded edges? Convey THAT… to help us feel the stakes)

EXPOSITION: You need to find a character or more than one… who knows as little as the audience does, to give a reason to explain things to us. If you ever start a sentence with “As you know…” you’re in trouble.

BIG DRAMATIC MOMENTS: Make sure when the audience is asking questions about huge dramatic moments, you choose properly whether to withhold or answer now. You can’t just totally ignore that the audience is asking the questions.

WHEN TRYING TO PULL OFF SOMETHING SLIGHTLY IMPLAUSIBLE: “A probable impossibility is preferable, to a possible improbability.” The get out of jail free card: is ADMIT it’s improbable (E.T. walking down a path to collect M&M’s is technically impossible… but we believe it – a person flipping on the radio to hear special news about exactly the problem they’re dealing with right now is possible, but super unlikely).

IN THE READ: Calling unimportant characters “necklace” and “mustache” works well for the read. BUT WHEN SENDING TO ACTORS: give those people REAL names, for dignity.

ACTION: Make your action paragraphs WHENEVER POSSIBLE read as quick as they’ll be seen visually. Don’t get mired down in overwriting the action. Find ways to be QUICK.

WRITING SCENES: All stories have motion. At the end of a scene, you MUST be one step further than the scene before.

CHARACTER INTRODUCTION SCENES: Show us what the character wants. If a character doesn’t want ANYTHING, they’re probably cluttering up your script and should get cut. Even supporting characters want SOMETHING.

A courtroom drama is a GREAT way to play out a scene – the jury stands in for the audience, the whole point of the trial is to make the intention and the obstacle super clear. And the stakes are obvious… guilty/not guilty.

Don’t tell us who a character is. WHO they are is portrayed by what they WANT, and the TACTICS they will use to get what they want.

3 THINGS IN A PILE: In Steve Jobs scene, there are 3 levels of personalty happening: Andy’s sheepish denial of Steve being a dick, Steve IS being a dick, and Kriss-Ann getting a jab saying Steve’s a dick. Aaron calls this “3 things in a pile”.

DIALOGUE: Do NOT imitate real people!! Example, ‘dammit’ – it never gets used to begin or end a sentence. God-Dammit yes. Just Dammit? Absolutely God-Damn doesn’t.

Don’t tell the audience something they already know. (if someone has said I LOVE YOU, then there’s no need to say it again)

DRAFTS: Chip away anything that isn’t the main conflict (e.g. Kushner’s/Spielberg’s LINCOLN… it was 400 pages, before it became JUST about the 13th amendment)

Kill your darlings – if it works WITHOUT your special thing, CUT your special thing (only people like the Coen brothers get to keep their special things… e.g. the scene in Fargo with Mike Yanagita… tonally it fits, but otherwise it’s completely unnecessary. If you aren’t the Coen brothers, you must CUT those sorts of scenes).

WHEN GETTING NOTES: Address the problem they point out, not their “solution”. Someone can offer what they believe is going on… but you should look directly at the ACTUAL problem as closely as possible (someone says “I don’t think the structure of the 2nd act works!” and you say to yourself, ‘well, I want the 2nd act to be enjoyable… so THAT’s the problem, 2nd act is somehow not enjoyable… it might be structural, but it MIGHT be something else’)

When getting notes from friends, Aaron’s hoping no one says “I don’t buy the obstacle” or “I don’t buy the intention” – “why does she NEED to do this?” THAT note is super important if you get it. If you get it, FIX THAT ISSUE.

CONSIDER: retyping it completely – once from the existing screenplay. Once from MEMORY. Aaron does this.

THESE FOLLOWING NOTES ALL COME FROM THE “MOCK WRITER’S ROOM” PORTION:

Rule of thumb: if it’s the PLACE you’re attracted to… your idea can be a TV show.

BALLS IN THE AIR: (loose ends) Stuff that hasn’t been dealt with yet… think of story in bits and pieces (president’s wife is missing, that’s a ball in the air… news story is about to come out, ball in the air…). You can label the balls, probably with index cards, to get a better handle on them when writing and revising.

THE SHAPE OF TV EPISODES: Figure out the shape within the beginning / end of each act (there are 4-5 in drama), e.g. “resolve the Zoe thread by end of act 2”

Don’t lose site of the COOL stuff u can do when making it up. (e.g. West Wing modeling Trump becoming president and stuff deteriorating). Show us stuff we haven’t seen before. SHOW US STUFF WE HAVEN’T SEEN BEFORE.

Create rifts, to create the drama.

We can LOOK for the very extraordinary dramatic things (suspending trading on the stock exchange… huge drama)

Whenever possible, characters should be ACTIVE. What are they DOING??

WHEN WRITING ACTUAL DIALOGUE: Specificity. Matters hugely. Know what people would say. You have luxury of time to RESEARCH and ensure they sound great/pro/intelligent. They can sound SMARTER than you ARE.

TV SHOWS HOOKING AN AUDIENCE: Plays are tough to leave. Movies are easier. TV is easiest. That’s why you’ll be asked by a network to prevent them from FLIPPING the channel.

FINAL ADVICE:

PICK your FAVORITE 5 MOVIES – go get the screenplay – SEE how what’s there on-screen looked like on the page.

Know who to tune out. Don’t write to change someone’s mind. If a critic (external or internal) cites some issue, don’t address it. It’s impossible to please everyone.

Know who to tune in. Have 3 close friends you can share work with to get GOOD feedback.

Failure: the real value of screenwriting school is it gives you a chance to write the worst stuff you’ll ever write, with no consequence.

1) take chances, that’s how you’ll find out what your sweet spot it.

2) write in your own voice… NOT the way you personally talk, but rather the way YOU want to write… not worrying you don’t sound like Aaron or Diablo or anyone else.

3) write WHAT you want to write. Don’t be asking what others wanna see. What do YOU want to see?

4) When you’re writing, you’re exposed. It’s not just when you write autobiographically. It’s anything. Because it’s YOUR mind and heart.

5) There are a hundred ways to prepare beef. Flank. Filet Mignon. Wellington. But if you try to make the one which will offend the least number of people, it’ll be a McDonald’s hamburger. If you want to be a chef, you don’t aim to produce THAT.

6) Surround yourself with honest people. They can be encouraging AND honest.

7) Shed people who are jealous, envious.

8) Power through days of not being able to write anything. I wish I could guarantee movement in life – that friday evening you’ll be better off than on Monday morning. But I can’t. So power through.

Posted in Videos | Comments Off on MasterClass – Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Spark Notes

The Longest Movies Ever

After watching Lawrence of Arabia, a 4-hour event, including the 30-minute intermission with a 3.5 minute overture, we began talking about how long a movie should be.  It’s difficult to say, but looking at the list below, there seems to be a pattern of gluttony with certain directors.  Popular directors whose movies err on the long side include Martin Scorsese with 7 movies over 2.5 hours, Peter Jackson with 6 movies, and Michael Bay (5 over 2.5 with only 1 over 3 hrs).  Then there’s David Lean (2 at well over 3 hrs), Stanley Kubrick (2 over 3 hrs and 2 more above ~2.5), Francis Ford Coppola (with 2 over 3 hrs, and 1 more over 2.5 hrs), and Oliver Stone (with two over 3 hrs, and writer of Scarface, very close to 3 hrs).  Just my observations.  There may be some more modern directors who push close to 3 hours, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

What surprised me was that Avatar wasn’t that long, at 2 hrs 42 min.  In fact, Titanic was about 30 minutes longer than Avatar.  And Transformers 4 was 3 minutes longer!  I also found it funny (gluttonous?) how all the movies in Michael Bay’s Transformers series are longer than 2 hours 20 minutes!

It’s also tough to compare different generations of movies, since run times include credits which nowadays can run up to 9 minutes long!  Compare that to movies before 1970’s that only had like 3 credit slides and then “The End”.  That’s like no more than maybe 60 seconds of credits.

Title Year Tot. Minutes Hours Minutes Director
Hamlet 1996 242 4 2
The Iceman Cometh 1973 239 3 59
Gods and Generals 2003 231 3 51
Once Upon a Time in America 1984 229 3 49 Sergio Leone
Lawrence of Arabia 1962 227 3 47 David Lean
Gone With the Wind 1939 226 3 46 Victor Fleming
Heaven’s Gate 1980 220 3 40
Ben-Hur 1959 212 3 32
Exodus 1960 208 3 28
War and Peace 1956 208 3 28
Apocalypse Now Redux 2001 202 3 22 Francis Ford Coppola
The Alamo 1960 202 3 22
Malcolm X 1992 202 3 22
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003 201 3 21 Peter Jackson
Giant 1956 201 3 21
The Godfather Part II 1974 200 3 20 Francis Ford Coppola
Dr. Zhivago 1965 197 3 17 David Lean
Intolerance 1916 197 3 17
Pepe 1960 195 3 15
Ryan’s Daughter 1970 195 3 15
Schindler’s List 1993 195 3 15 Steven Speilberg
Titanic 1997 194 3 14 James Cameron
Reds 1981 194 3 14
The Right Stuff 1983 193 3 13
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 1963 192 3 12
Nixon 1995 192 3 12 Oliver Stone
Tess 1979 190 3 10
At Play in the Fields of the Lord 1991 189 3 9
Hawaii 1966 189 3 9
JFK 1991 189 3 9 Oliver Stone
Nicholas and Alexandra 1971 189 3 9
Gandhi 1982 188 3 8
The Fall of the Roman Empire 1964 188 3 8
The Green Mile 1999 188 3 8
King Kong 2005 187 3 7 Peter Jackson
The Birth of a Nation 1915 187 3 7
Short Cuts 1993 187 3 7
Judgement at Nuremberg 1961 186 3 6
The Deer Hunter 1978 185 3 5
Barry Lyndon 1975 184 3 4 Stanley Kubrick
Spartacus 1960 184 3 4 Stanley Kubrick
Woodstock 1970 184 3 4
Around the World in 80 Days 1956 183 3 3
O Lucky Man! 1973 183 3 3
Pearl Harbor 2001 183 3 3 Michael Bay
El Cid 1961 182 3 2
Fiddler on the Roof 1971 181 3 1
Dances with Wolves 1990 180 3 0
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 2002 179 2 59 Peter Jackson
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 2001 178 2 58 Peter Jackson
Above are the top 50 according to AMC run times as of 2007.
http://www.amc.com/talk/2007/11/the-longest-ame-1
http://www.listchallenges.com/50-longest-american-movies-of-all-time
Below are more misc. movies, according to IMDB run times as of 2017.
Wolf of Wall Street 2013 180 3 0 Martin Scorsese
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly 1966 178 2 58 Sergio Leone
Casino 1995 178 2 58 Martin Scorsese
Godfather 1972 175 2 55 Francis Ford Coppola
Scarface 1983 170 2 50 Martin Scorsese
The Aviator 2004 170 2 50 Martin Scorsese
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2012 169 2 49 Peter Jackson
Gangs of New York 2002 167 2 47 Martin Scorsese
Transformers: Age of Extinction 2014 165 2 45 Michael Bay
Once Upon a Time in the West 1968 164 2 44 Sergio Leone
The Last Temptation of Christ 1988 164 2 44 Martin Scorsese
Avatar 2009 162 2 42 James Cameron
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 2013 161 2 41 Peter Jackson
Eyes Wide Shut 1999 159 2 39 Stanley Kubrick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon 2011 157 2 37 Michael Bay
Aliens 1986 154 2 34 James Cameron
The Departed 2006 151 2 31 Martin Scorsese
Armageddon 1998 151 2 31 Michael Bay
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 2009 150 2 30 Michael Bay
Transformers: The Last Knight 2017 149 2 29 Michael Bay
2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 149 2 29 Stanley Kubrick
Apocalypse Now 1979 147 2 27 Francis Ford Coppola
Bad Boys II 2003 147 2 27 Michael Bay
Goodfellas 1990 146 2 26 Martin Scorsese
The Shining 1980 146 2 26 Stanley Kubrick
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies 2014 144 2 24 Peter Jackson
Transformers 2007 143 2 23 Michael Bay
True Lies 1994 141 2 21 James Cameron
Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991 137 2 17 James Cameron
The Rock 1996 136 2 16 Michael Bay

 

Posted in Articles | Comments Off on The Longest Movies Ever

Comics Sideline & Not Too Shabby #2

The improv at the end was the best part.

https://ucbtheatre.com/performance/56252 Not Too Shabby (hosted by Holly Prazoff)

Posted in Articles, Shawn's Diary | Comments Off on Comics Sideline & Not Too Shabby #2

Opinion: Character vs Premise Sketch

August 22, 2017

I prefer premise sketches over character sketches for a ton of reasons.

 

First let me define the two types of sketches so you know the difference:

Character Sketch: Sketch where the comedy comes from a funny or unusual character with a strong point of view and everyone around them struggling to deal with them.

  • Primary comedy comes from normal people around the character reacting normally (frustrated) to the unusual actions.

Premise: The who, what, and where (exposition) of a scene.

  • Ex: A lawyer’s son wishes his dad can’t lie for an entire day. Who: lawyer and his son, what: lawyer can’t lie, where: undefined for this film example.

Premise sketch: Sketches where no particular character is funny, but rather the what and where call out some funny or unusual thing.

  • Ex: What if all bananas were magnets.
  • Primary comedy comes from people either struggling to understand this new reality or

 

Here are a few reasons I like premise sketches:

  1. New World, and World View. Usually, these sketches put a new twist on the real world and allow the audience to SEE THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY. Film and visual media is usually about taking people to another world and encouraging people EXPLORE that world. Good premise sketches do that: What if the Terminator was sent back in time to protect Jesus. 24 is the highest number.
  2. No need for straight characters to be annoyed. A lot of comedy comes from watching normal characters REACT to the unusual character. Watch SNL and lots of their sketches CUT TO: Bobby Moynihan wide-eyed and shocked. Premise sketches allow for the characters to call out the funny thing without having to be annoying.
  3. Mocks a situation or systematic or sociological construct.

 

Here a list of character sketches (for reference below):

  1. Kristen Whig’s Penelope (one-upper)
  2. Michael McDonald’s Stewart (annoying man-child)
  3. Bobby Lee’s Tank (Pass!)
  4. Keegan-Michael Key’s Coach Hines (HS coach who gives 154%, even at non-sport things)
  5. Key & Peele’s Trayvon & Mike (annoying commentators on everything)
  6. Chris Farley’s Matt Foley (down-on-his-luck motivational speaker)

 

Here are reasons I don’t like character sketches:

  1. Annoying. Most characters are strong willed annoying people who interject themselves on people’s lives to create the comedic conflict. Penelope is so annoying I checked out when she started to annoy me. Stewart is also so obnoxious. And it took me a while for Matt Foley Motivational Speaker to grow on me, but Farley can be disturbingly aggressive.
  2. Punches Down. One rule of comedy (at least at UCB as stated by multiple instructors) is always Punch Up, not down. That means if you’re making fun of someone, as we often do in comedy, make fun of people in power. To mock those without power is despicable. For example, if you make fun of a homeless person, it’s not cool, but if you make fun of Trump for becoming homeless after being President, it’s cool. The key difference is that Trump has power and master-minded his own demise. In character sketches, you’re usually taking someone you know and heightening their flaw. Essentially, you’re creating highly flawed characters who (to avoid tragedy) are oblivious to their flaw and have no intent to correct that flaw. A lot of annoying or funny things people do comes from poor or less fortunate people who’ve given up on caring or have been damaged or misguided at some point in their life. Most characters end up being made fun of and they don’t have power.
  3. Flat or (un)predictable heightening. In character sketches, you can’t heighten to the point where you kill off your character because then you can’t create sequels. So usually heightening is the severity of people’s reactions usually to the point where people leave. No stakes are increased usually. Sometimes the heightening is overly predictable (like the TV gag in the Penelope sketch). Sometimes it’s good to have the audience feel like they could predict the heightening while still appreciating it because they feel involved in figuring out the sketch and feel it was set up, deliberate, and inevitable. Most of the time character sketches are unpredictable in a bad way (no expectations), or it’s overly predictable (and if you’re not on board with the annoyance) it’s draining and dry.
  4. More difficult to write if you’re not an actor since you need to define several things: strong POV (belief that drives the comedy, like All people are stupid), attire, lingo, mannerisms, how they never changed their quirk, how they respond to being called out for their quirk, etc.
  5. Justification driven. I noticed in writing/reading sketches that there is a style where the character does something annoying, then is called out on it, then justifies it from their unique pov of view allowing the audience to laugh on the action, the reaction (call out), AND the explanation (strange POV).

That said, it’s important to learn the skills of writing premise, character, and topical to create a solid “packet” for submitting to a sketch comedy show.

Posted in Articles, Shawn's Diary | Tagged , | Comments Off on Opinion: Character vs Premise Sketch

Duenas Comedy Reminders (Performance)

Here’s a list of notes to keep in mind when acting as a comedy actor:

  • If a straight man, your comedic gap is struggling to cope with the crazy character.
  • As a character sketch, your comedy comes from staying in your blind-spot. You’re supposed to annoy your fellow actors, but never figure out what causes them pain.
  • On stage, you’re always trying to win. Find what you want and stick to it.
  • Characters come from “I believe” statements. Ex: I believe that the world is out to get me. I believe all people are inherently stupid.
  • Always better to be arrogant than self-loathing. If depressed, so to self-loathing (Alan Rickman status: I hate life).
  • Know when to shut-up and support when there are ten of you on stage.
  • Comedy comes from characters trying to win, not trying to make jokes. Douchebags can make jokes if trying to get a laugh out of mocking someone, but that requires multiple people on stage.
  • Premise sketches are consistently better than character sketches.
Posted in Articles, DuenasFilms | Comments Off on Duenas Comedy Reminders (Performance)