Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Apartment

The Apartment, 1960. Written and directed by Billy Wilder.

"A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue." (IMDB). 

Several Oscar wins for this film: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing; nominated also for Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, and Sound.

Taking into account the above items, did anything stand out in particular? How would you classify this film (comedy, drama)? It definitely starts out comical but then shifts a little further in; can you pinpoint the event that it shifts on, or more specifically the revealing object and its significance? (Hint: it's broken, just like her).

 Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacClaine) plays a key role in the tone of the film even though many of her scenes are light-hearted (as are lead Jack Lemmon's) but think for a moment about the settings and props happening, called mise-en-scene, or literally what's in the scene. Baxter (Lemmon) is shown most often among the office desks and equipment, the executives are shown both in the office setting and enjoying Baxter's digs and supplies, the doctor (always with his medical bag) has a devoted wife and is available to chat and lend a hand as needed, but Miss Kubelik is constantly going up and down on the elevator, just as she's being led up and down by Sheldrake and their affair. Spaces between characters are significant; the composition of scenes is too. Roger Ebert wrote a great review of this film and does a great job explaining how these choices affect the film experience (and this is where those technical Oscars factor in). 

Would it have been the same film in color? Could you imagine anyone else in the starring roles? What of the story? How does this story compare to other films from Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot)? Any similarities? 

How about this moment, Baxter's somewhat candid discussion of his own battle with misplaced love: 

Despite the smiles and silliness of many of the scenes, this film deals with would-be suicide, a not-laughing matter. What do we think of how this is done? Too flippant or all's well that ends well?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Screening Reports

When you first start out breaking down films for screening reports, it's useful to have a formula or a kind of way to organize your thoughts on the movie. You might not have been consciously thinking about each of these aspects during the screening, but a lot of times you'll find that certain details will come back to you once you're looking for them even after the fact. This is a good sample of how to outline a screening report (for anything you watch) together with some additional questions thrown in at the end specific to genre films as related to our film, LOOPER.

NARRATIVE/PERFORMANCE: Your thoughts on the story and character portrayals. Was the story successful? Was it difficult to understand? Were the actors efficient in their roles, were there specific performances that struck you? Were the dialogues written well or were they cheesy? Above all, did you believe the characters and their struggles?

TECHNICAL ELEMENTS: These are usually easy to list in science fiction films as most of them don't shy away from drawing attention to style and effect. Did anything stand out? (Soundtrack, special effects, editing, camera placement, lighting). Do you remember any contrasts in the coloring/lighting in different environments? Specific items/objects included in the Mise en Scene? Titles? Voice-overs? Slow motion shots? Wide angles vs. closeups? Do any of these choices by the director enhance your experience or lessen it?

THEMATIC ELEMENTS: The underlying idea of the film, the why. Not all films will have this. Did you detect a theme? Was it hidden or blatant? Are there events in the film that seem to be random, scenes that feel disjointed or disconnected from the action of the film? Is the director trying to tell us something or teach us a lesson? What is the lesson? What's the reason for everything? Good triumphs over evil, modern-day savior, crime never pays, revenge, redemption, isolation, nature won't be controlled, etc., etc. These are examples of general themes. Do any of them fit?

We agreed last night that LOOPER is a science fiction film, what makes it typical of the genre? How did director Rian Johnson make it unique compared to other sci fi films (weapons, transport, characters, environments)? What details do you remember and why? (For me it was those silver bars. Reminded me of the atari game Pitfall). What kind of protagonist is Joe? What effect does having two Joes have on the characterization and plot? Were the effects done well? Do you feel there was adequate foreshadowing concerning Sid and his importance? Did the scenes with Old Joe fit well or seem disjointed? Sid and Sarah's scenes? Could you predict what would happen or did the film keep you guessing? Too neat a resolution? Not neat enough?

A screening report can be as formal or informal as you wish it to be, but make sure to record your experience, not just details about the film itself. Links to other films you've seen, literature, personal experiences--include that, if you want (For example, the sound design in the cornfield scenes just next to Joe's execution blanket was done well--cicadas, crickets, wind--I know this because I grew up in a town full of cornfields.) Doing this will not only build your film memory but helps solidify what details you like seeking out. It's good to have a general sense of each of these aspects (narrative, technical, thematic) but if one is more fun for you to examine, go with it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Genre: Science Fiction (overview)

I chose these films partly because of their universal popularity as science fiction selections but also because many of the characterizations are similar, or even recycled within the genre. You won't get a full sense of the conventions listed on the second page of the Pye article (recurring plots, structural features, iconography, etc.) just by watching mere clips, but as a survey of films as examples, these are good ones.

George Melies didn't deal only in science fiction, but made what was probably the first official science fiction film in 1902. Unlike his French contemporaries, The Lumiere Brothers, Melies wasn't interested in stories about everyday events (workers leaving factories, trains approaching, babies eating, etc.) but rather fantastic narratives using high theatrics, elaborate staging, and special effects. A Trip to the Moon, about eighteen minutes, is one Melies' most beloved films, here it is below:

More of a theatrical group experience rather than a single-protangonist story, A Trip to the Moon is fun and endearing, yet pretty impressive considering how new film and filmmaking still were.

Fritz Lang's Metropolis, 1927, is also an often-sited science fiction masterpiece, although the initial reception to the film wasn't great. The scenes of the cityscape, the workers laboring, and the eventual creation of a female robot are among the most memorable and are featured in the clip below, but the film in its entirety is featured in several versions on youtube (some subtitled, some only in German) and a fully restored version is currently available on Netflix instant.

Should you watch the entire film, it's definitely one that links well to the section on protagonists in the Douglas Pye article; Freder (Gustav Frolich) is an interesting protagonist and one whose role has been used many times in films, even recent ones.

James Cameron's films are always a bit unique in the sci-fi genre where women are concerned; they get a more active piece of the narrative, don't they? Terminator 2 is an interesting film in terms of protagonist, exactly who is driving the narrative, and who are the events happening to? While The Terminator (Schwarzeneggar), Sarah Connnor (Linda Hamilton) and John Connor (Edward Furlong) are all easily defined within Pye's range of protagonist classification (myth, low and high mimetic, respectively), the story is narrated by Sarah, deals with the need to protect John given his value as a future leader, and is made up of events over the battle for John executed by the two machines (the title is after all, about them.) Is any one character more important than the other? We'll talk more about this when we get into theme in a few weeks, but the idea of saving, who saves who and why, is a big one and isn't specific to just this film.

The clip below is Sarah's rescue (by her son and The Terminator) and subsequent escape from the mental hospital; there is a bit of shooting violence, and a few people are flung through windows, but not hugely violent. If anything, Robert Patrick's running is more disturbing than the hand to hand stuff. . .

Lastly, Neo's business in The Matrix (directed by The Wachowskis) almost serves as an echo to the last two. Beginning maybe in High Memetic mode protagonist (superior to other men but not environment) and then morphing into Romance or even Myth, Neo is a fun character to look at; he saves people, too. Who does he save? Individuals, yes, as we're about to see in the clip below, but in the end, everyone else as well.

This clip shows Neo (Keanu Reeves) defying all odds to rescue his leader, Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne); one of my favorite little details about this scene is the way the bullets cascade down from the helicopter in a shower; the sequels weren't able to capture little nuances like this and instead focused on mostly on the action.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Game of Thrones Cross Stitch

This is what I've been doing since August. If you're interested in winning one, scroll down to bottom and leave a comment with your name and which piece is your favorite. When my display ends toward the end of May, I'll draw a name out of a hat and the winner will take home the piece he/she listed.

All eight of these pieces are slated to be on display at Starbucks, 5351 Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis starting May 12. While I'm no photographer, I've done my best to capture and explain everything that went into making these works; I honestly had a wonderful time doing each and every one (and am kind of sad that I'm done). Enjoy!


This was two stitched images, the stag and the border design, backed onto felt and then attached to a yellow fabric that seemed royal and golden, but masculine enough for the war-seasoned Baratheon brothers.

One of the most fun to create, although I had to do all the golden negative space first, before the stag, as no place in seven hells carries gold cross stitch fabric. A few times I found myself actually sewing parts of the stag (in golden) instead, and had to rip it all out and start all over again. The crown around the neck proved too difficult to measure and reproduce for me, so I left it out. The antlers were my favorite, and turned out nice and tight.

I am a big fan of the Baratheons, especially our dear departed King Robert. During Game of Thrones' first season, some of my favorite parts were his drinking, womanizing, and shouting constant rude and angry remarks at people. Check it out:


This was before I got it into a frame, but you get the general idea. My first piece in the series, my longest, and probably most difficult, too. You see, I don't really plan much when I start these things, I trace or draw the main image, in this case the direwolf, and then after I finish, decide if it still needs something. This one was an impressive image, to be sure, but it still needed something to make it killer. I found the border on a cross stitch site and thought I'd add it either across the top or down the left or right side; little did I know I'd be fumbling around with that damned thing the entire way across, counting, re-counting, and redoing nearly every square pattern I started. I'm not a numbers girl, more of a spatial relationships girl, so having to rely on exactness was difficult. I was lucky not to have run out of fabric, to tell the truth. But I love this one; it's a labor of love that turned out amazing. When people ask me if I sell the stuff I make, this piece is a perfect example of why I don't and probably never will. No one will ever love it like I do, and there isn't a possible price that I could put on it that would reflect all the time and energy it took me (which is about four month's worth).

Starks are my favorite, btw. If you've read anything else on this blog you know that scowling men are my thing. Lord Eddard felt very right to me for this reason.

Jon Snow wins, too, but more on him during The Night's Watch pieces below.


This is the only piece that doesn't have a border, a mat, or any contrasting images or fabric along with it. The three-headed dragon is strong enough on its own, I think. My only regret is that I didn't try it in an oval or circular frame. I suppose I could always do another one; the pattern I drew out for this one was probably the most exact of any of them.

I was ready to write the Targaryens off completely just until that little turnaround last week (Now His Watch Has Ended). . . I love it when there gets to be dracarys.


This one was the perfect mix of image, border, and text. It went fast and was exciting to create. It's one of the few that I counted and mapped out before starting just to make certain that everything would be centered. I was worried that the lion might come out a little blunt or dull since I didn't vary the gold too much, but after the black back-stitching went in, it all came together.

The most dysfunctional family in all the realm, I find House Lannister the most interesting. If you've read the books you know that a lot changes for them, too. Some of my favorite sections of writing and character development come from Jamie Lannister's journey with Brienne of Tarth. As true and wonderful as the show is, reading the events in prose is almost better. If you haven't done this yet, I highly recommend you do it.

And this, just because everyone really does love Tyrion:


These were originally going to be one piece; half black and half white, but they seemed to hold up on their own so I kept them separate. Eventually I'd like to do the entire vow of The Night's Watch, but I'll save that for next winter, perhaps. The sword is embroidered in silver, black, and gray; the crow is black felt. 

Speaking of crows, the only one I like better than Jon Snow is his Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont (The Old Bear, and father to my boy Ser Jorah Mormont). Also Benjen Stark. What kind of name is Benjen? Okay, what kind of name is Jeor, too, but damn. What do they call the girls that hang around the club in SOA, Crow-Eaters? The men of The Night's Watch scowl a lot, to be sure. I'm with them.

This was one of my favorite images from the show; the gate rises and The Old Bear leads the crows on a white horse with their torches in search of, well, the worst thing imaginable. Powerful example of storytelling with images.


I thought the Red Woman should be represented, mostly because I like the sigil Stannis Baratheon adopted on her behalf. And the more I watch, the more I like Stannis, plus I needed something else that was red. The heart is cut of felt and the flames embroidered; I was nervous about this one looking choppy or amateuristic, kind of like a bad tribal tattoo or something, but in the end I came to like how it came together.


I couldn't fit this one in, not all the way. The only piece that I actually used a pattern for (credit to BlackLupin on DeviantArt), this one killed my eyes with its 22count fabric, which was the only stuff tight enough for me to fit all nine houses onto. It was fun, it was lengthy, but it was varied enough to keep me interested since there was always another house to start when I finished. I started in the middle with The Stark's Direwolf and then worked outward. There's a little, well no, LARGE, error on The Greyjoy's Kraken--I had the pattern turned upside down for some reason when I had it with me at my mother's for Christmas. Somehow I picked it up again and turned it rightside up and had no idea I was doing anything wrong and went about my merry way until I finally noticed that the pattern had only one set of curly tentacles, not two. I suppose this is why I don't like being held to patterns, with free-styling on the fly this sort of thing never happens. Also, I probably shouldn't have picked it up after that much wine. Lessons learned, and the Greyjoys are awful, anyway.


If you like what you see, tell me! Leave your name in the comments below along with which piece is your favorite. If you want to talk about the show or the books, that's great, too! Should you be on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter and want to share this, please feel free. I'll have a drawing the night I take everything down and I'll announce the winner as a comment on this post and on Facebook, so check back! Thanks for your interest in my art! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

House Stark Direwolf Cross Stitch

My little direwolf is not exactly photogenic yet with all the strings and shit hanging off, but he'll look pretty killer once I find a Winterfell- reminiscent frame for him, right? I found the direwolf on HBO's site (as well as the other sigils, get ready for some kick-ass dragons, lions, and stags after this one) and the surrounding pattern was just on a cross-stitch site;

I feel as though the Starks would approve.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, episode 6, House of the Rising Sun

House of the Rising Sun
Events: At the beach, there is an incident between Jin and Michael; Jin attacks, unprovoked, first punching his face repeatedly and then nearly drowning him as Walt looks on, horrified. Sayid and Sawyer break up the fight and handcuff Jin to a piece of plane wreckage, but as Jin and Sun don't speak English, no one can determine what happened between the two men or why. Jin seems defiant and even unstable after being restrained, but through Sun's flashbacks we see that he was once a gentle, tender man, and a very devoted partner.
Meanwhile, Jack, Kate, Locke, and Charlie head for the caves to get water; Charlie upsets a beehive while trying to get himself a fix of heroin. After runnning from the bees, Jack and Kate stumble upon two skeletons inside the caves, one with two rocks in his pocket, one is light, one is dark. Jack takes the rocks and hides them from Locke, who christens the remains, "our very own Adam and Eve."

Later, when Charlie tries again to sneak away for a fix, Locke stops him and takes the stash but helps him find his lost guitar. When Jack starts to relocate people from the beach to the caves, Sayid, Sawyer, and Kate stay behind.
After exhaustive efforts to find out why Jin attacked Michael, Sun approaches Michael near the jungle and speaks to him in perfect English. Through further flashbacks it is revealed that Jin worked for Sun's father, the work he did was all-consuming and violent, and that she had planned to leave him the day they boarded the flight in Sydney, but ultimately didn't. Sun explains to Michael that Jin attacked him because he was wearing a watch that had belonged to her father, which Michael had innocently picked up on the beach. When Michael scoffs, she says, pleadingly, "You don't know my father."
Greater Meaning: Toward the end of the episode, when Kate inexplicably refuses to move from the beach to the caves, Jack is confused and frustrated. He asks, "How did you get this way?" And while certainly not without his own complexities, Jack (and his question) makes an important point at this stage of the show, and not just regarding Kate. Many of the survivors have issues, problems, and this episode does a great job of uncovering them without seeming overwhelming. It would be easy to just completely write Jin off as a violent, reactionary man if we didn't see that he had once been quite the opposite. Michael might seem like an uninvolved, impatient father and Walt a defiant, annoying child had we not been shown little bits of their histories. And Sun could indeed have been marginalized as a stereotype, a wet rag of a wife, but the writers make sure to show us that she really wasn't. As the episode opens, Sun looks from group to group, understanding every word being spoken but unable to react or participate because of her secret. Whatever happened in her marriage during her husband's employ with her father was significant enough for her to learn English, privately, and to want to leave Jin; what happened between them? How did any of them "get this way?"
Did Old Man Shephard send the beehive, too?
On a different note, those skeletons in the caves? Clear evidence that not only were there other people there before the crash survivors (in the place where Jack's father's clinking ice led Jack to find water) but that there is some connection, even if it's merely aesthetic, to Locke's backgammon explanation from the pilot episode or by association, any game where two opponents face each other. Already there seems to be a division forming on the island and a fair amount of hostility between camps and decisions: Sayid, Kate, and Sawyer on the beach, Jack, The Kwons, and Hurley in the caves. Is this how civilizations form? The beach group still hopes to be rescued while the cave group is "digging in," or as Sayid said, "admitting defeat." Live together, die alone? Not quite there yet.

Further Questions
1. Who were "Adam and Eve?"
2. What were the black and white rocks about?
3. What does Sun's father do?
4. How did Jin get blood all over him?
5. How does Locke know so much about nature?
6. What are Kate's trust issues?
7. Will Locke choose the beach or the caves?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stallone and company better than ever in The Expendables 2

Good men get better with age. Good action stars even more so.

Sylvester Stallone together with director Simon West has achieved the near impossible with the sequel to his blockbuster action film, The Expendables--not only is it a successful second installment, but a film so remarkable in its own right that there's just no beating it. This is all the bad ass you've ever dreamed of, and more, too.
The film works wonderfully in that it's good writing, great visual storytelling, and above all, fun. This is an incredibly violent story, but done in an unapologetic way that revels in its excess; bad guys aren't just shot, they're shot, stabbed, and occasionally run over, all at once. In one of the early scenes where Jet Li suddenly finds himself unarmed inside a kitchen full of attackers, the fight simply shifts from guns and knives to pots and pans, each metallic bludgeon sounding more like a carefully composed percussion solo than a man fighting for his life. Gamers, are you watching? They're doing all this for real.
Also good for laughs is the continual self-reflexive stand the film takes in not only assembling basically every action star from the eighties onto one screen ("Who's next, Rambo?" one asks another in the midst of an all-out battle) but in that these guys know each other, they know the tag-lines, and they've all seen each others' films (clearly crafted by a screenwriter who knows his film history). The fight choreography is nothing short of amazing, especially in Jason Statham's scenes, and attention to little details like props ("Knock, Knock," on a tank's cannon among other choice stenciled phrases) and classic music ("Crystal Blue Persuasion,")--extremely well done. This stuff made for a literally smashing experience.
Ironic, isn't it? Best-selling books are getting less cerebral while action films get smarter? Keep 'em coming, Sly, keep 'em coming.