Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Difficulties of Filmmaking - Part 1

As you have probably gathered from my blog, I enjoy film. I have always enjoyed watching movies, discussing movies, writing about movies, collecting movies, collecting movie memorabilia, etc. etc. etc. The one thing that I have always wanted to do ever since I was a kid that dealt with film, but was never able to do, was to actually make a movie.

This past April I got the opportunity to make that dream come true. I found a small, but excellent, cast and crew that were incredible and understanding throughout the entire process. I'll discuss them more later on. Right now, let's begin with discussing how I got to the point where I felt competent enough to make a film.

Even though the idea of making a movie has always been in the back of my mind, the actual process was a relative mystery to me. That is, until college, when I read two books: Make Your Own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman and Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez. While these books had plenty of sage advice for budding filmmakers, and while there was a lot more I should have paid attention to from these two, there was really only one thing that I took away from both books: Just get out there and make a movie.

There are sections in their books that discuss lighting, sound, editing, music, etc. etc. etc. Every detail that a new low budget filmmaker would need to know is in those texts. But it's a lot to take in at once, and a person who wants to make a movie simply needs to start somewhere. So I always thought about just grabbing a camera and doing it. Lighting? Who cares? Sound? As long as the dialogue can be heard, what does it matter? Jump in head first and see what you can make. Then make another. And another. Until the lighting, the sound, the editing, etc. is what you want it to be. Learn from you mistakes as you go. Work and perfect the craft over years. That was my idea.

But the years went by, and while the excitement of making a movie never left, I never seemed to take the opportunity or initiative to move forward. There was always some imaginary hurdle in my way. Seven years went by since I had read Make Your Own Damn Movie! and Rebel Without a Crew, and then I found the inspiration I needed. I had been writing a script for a class. The script was for a short slasher film, and I was half considering attempting to make a movie out of it. Then I saw that Lloyd Kaufman, THE Lloyd Kaufman, was going to be in Portland doing a signing at the local Bullmoose Music and screening his latest film Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1. The drive was about two hours away, and on a school night? I wasn't sure if I would have the energy to go or if I'd be able to make it on time from my place, so I was wishy-washy about even trying to go meet him.

Then my wife stepped up and insisted I go. I protested a little, saying that it was such a long drive and I didn't even know if I was up for it, but she still insisted. So off we went. The wait in line was not too long (we were at the back because naturally we were coming from a place two hours away), and it was an incredible experience. Here was Lloyd Kaufman, an excellent filmmaker and the man who wrote Make Your Own Damn Movie! standing directly in front of me, talking to my wife and me. Lloyd immediately took notice of my wife's camera (she is a professional photographer www.katecrabtreephotography.com) and asked a few questions about it. These aren't exact quotes, but here's about how it went.

Lloyd Kaufman: That's a nice camera.

Kate Crabtree: I'm a professional photographer.

Lloyd Kaufman: Does it...does it do video? Can you do video on that?

Kate Crabtree: You can.

We posed for a picture, I bought a poster for Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1 that he signed, and I picked up an I <3 a="" day.="" great="" hero="" it="" monster="" p="" shirt.="" the="" was="">
The discussion we had was an entertaining one, and Lloyd was an absolutely fantastic human being that I thoroughly enjoyed (briefly) talking with. But back to the camera discussion. Here Lloyd Kaufman was, directly in front of me, talking to my wife about how her camera could create movies. As I heard that discussion, I remembered that I just had to go for it and make a movie. And I could use one of my wife's high quality cameras to do just that. The filmmaking adventure had begun. Thanks, Lloyd!


Above: Lloyd Kaufman, me, Kate Crabtree, and Toxie (to clarify, this picture was not taken by my wife, but rather some guy in line who was not as capable with a camera).

Tomorrow - The Difficulties of Filmmaking - Part 2

Monday, June 16, 2014

Willow Creek Review


Review: Willow Creek (2014)

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

I have to admit, I don't quite get the allure of Bigfoot and "Squatch hunting." With shows like Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet, Sasquatch has tons of people hot on his heels, yet he (or she I suppose) still manages to evade capture. I'm not a believer in Sasquatch, but I do respect the culture and find the entertainment value in it. Admittedly, when I was younger, the idea of Bigfoot existing was a probable and terrifying matter. Once past the age of fifteen, though, I lost interest in the gigantic and possibly friendly/possibly hostile beast. Is it fun to speculate about? Sure. Do I believe Bigfoot exists? No.

Willow Creek, the latest film from writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, brought out that child-like interest in the subject all over again. The film is a found footage horror movie following a couple creating a documentary about the elusive Bigfoot. Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a firm believer in Sasquatch, citing a bunch of knowledge about Bigfoot and the Bigfoot community that, for all I know, could be entirely made up or completely true. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Kelly (Alexis Gilmore) is a staunch non-believer of the hairy beast who still goes along with the trip because her boyfriend is obsessed with the subject.

Their ultimate goal? To make it to Bluff Creek, which is a kind of Mecca for Bigfoot hunters. For those unaware, this was where the original Patterson-Gimlin footage was shot. Along the way they encounter Bigfoot enthusiasts, people who have had actual encounters with the beast, and a number of locals who are willing to talk on camera. The scary part about these interviews is that they feel real. With most found footage horror films these days, there is an air of falseness about them and you can tell that there is someone orchestrating the entire movie. Even if those others film are entertaining, you know that they are fake. With Willow Creek, the locals seem like locals. The conversations between Kelly and Jim feel like real conversations that a couple would have. It's so well done that I could not even see where Goldthwait had a hand in the film.

Not only do the characters and dialogue feel real, but the actual shots and footage that the couple capture are realistic to what this couple could do. At one point, probably the best part of the film, the camera is set up in the same place for at least ten minutes inside their tent. The camera does not move at all. Jim and Kelly are frightened as they hear what seem to be Bigfoot noises from outside. It's that simple, yet it's completely effective because we see their reactions and hear the noises that are admittedly creepy, and there really is not much at all they can do about it. It's understandable why they don't just take off running, because it's such a terrifying situation.

Towards the end of the movie, it does fall into some of the traditional pitfalls of the found footage horror genre (like getting lost in the woods), but overall Bobcat Goldthwait has created an effective film. The first fifty or so minutes is enjoyable for the setup alone. Some of the characters you will be able to relate to, while others feel like caricatures that probably exist somewhere in real life, but it's the experience of putting you in this place that is fun and exciting. The final third or so of the film dives directly into the horror genre, creating a Bigfoot legend that is dark and made even my non-believing twenty eight year old self unsettled.

Willow Creek: Recommended

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Returning

I've been gone for awhile and there are a few reasons why.

1. Time - This is absolutely the number one reason why I stopped writing. I just did not have enough time. Between work, watching movies and TV, and other random stuff that popped up, I just could not find the time to write. For awhile, I wrote for my brother's new website (http://www.lowervisibility.com/), but even writing just one piece a week became a hassle. So, I stopped for a bit.

2. Making Movies? - Reviewing movies is all fine and good, but I actually wanted to go out and attempt to make a film. So, I did just that. I created a short film that is about five minutes in length this past April. With a talented young crew and in only about six hours, we shot a movie that turned out to be, in my opinion, decent. There were struggles along the way and it's far from a perfect movie, but overall it was a fun and worthwhile experience. I'll write a blog post about the shoot soon, but probably will not post the film in its entirety.

3. Grading System - This is the final reason. I want to write about films and not necessarily put a grade to them. I have a personal grade that I give to every film I watch, but that does not necessarily mean that it's accurate all the time, even in my own mind. Rather, what I'd like to do is differentiate in a simpler way: Recommended or not recommended. There will be no "highly recommended" and there will be no "stay away from at all costs" labels tagged on at the end of my reviews. Just the two simple recommendations.

Hopefully I can maintain writing on this blog for a bit longer than last time. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Blog and the Films of 2013

The year has come to an end and unlike most years, I'm actually going to take this time to do a brief post reflecting on the year that was 2013. First, this blog has seen a few changes. The biggest change being the name of the blog. Midway through this year, I took a class and used my writing for this blog as part of that class. People in the class understood (and hopefully enjoyed) the concept of the blog, but felt that my initial name, Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs: A Site About Film, didn't really make sense to the average reader. This was a problem I was aware of when I started the blog. The title was a reference to a song used in the immortal 1973 classic film The Wicker Man, and I figured anyone that was interested in my blog had probably seen that film.

Parting with that name was harder that I imagined it would be. While it may not have made sense to the masses, I loved it and always felt it catered to the audience that I was writing for. Former regular readers would lament over the loss of the name, but I find the new name to be just as fitting and appropriate. And so 3,616 Miles from Cannes was born. Here's why the name works for me.

1. The name pays homage to the Walter Salles short film 5,557 Miles from Cannes (AKA A 8 944 km de Cannes).

2. The name directly states how far my physical presence is from the city Cannes, which hosts the famous film festival.

3. The name is meant to give the sense that the films I write about will range from films that played at Cannes to cult titles that would never have a chance of playing at the film festival.

It's a name that I initially wasn't crazy about, but it has grown on me. Now, on with what people really care about at the end of the year. The top ten list.

But I hate top ten lists. Creating a top ten list is the "norm" for film blogs, but at the end of the year there are always movies that I haven't seen that I know I should have. At this moment, I have only seen 161 movies this year (expecting it to be at least 162 by the end of today), which is a fairly low number for me. And even less of those were actually from 2013. So instead of creating a traditional top ten list, I'm simply going to list ten films that I loved from this year in no particular order.

- Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
- Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
- Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
- Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
- Stoker (Park Chan-wook)
- 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
- The World's End (Edgar Wright)
- Rush (Ron Howard)
- Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
- You're Next (Adam Wingard) / Mud (Jeff Nichols)

As any reader will note, there are a number of (probably) worthy films missing from this list that I haven't been able to see yet. And also note that because I hate end of the year top ten lists so much, I cheated and did the famous two films for one slot. And also note...where is Getaway?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Quest for Demons 6: De Profundis

Pictured above is a burned copy of a Japanese VHS of an Italian horror film called Demons 6: De Profundis (AKA The Black Cat, AKA Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat, AKA Demons 6: Armagedon and no, I did not misspell that one. That's how it's actually spelled on a Japanese VHS somewhere). A film of many titles, it was released in 1989 and was an unofficial finale to Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy. Unofficial because Argento himself did not direct this film. Rather, it was Luigi Cozzi, a protege of Argento's and a fine filmmaker in his own right. Later, Argento would finish the trilogy himself in 2007 with Mother of Tears. But that was nearly 20 years down the road. Between the years of 1989 and 2007, this was the only film that followed Suspiria and Inferno.

That's what sparked my initial interest in Demons 6: De Profundis. Despite the terrible reviews and the fact that Dario Argento didn't direct it, the completist in me had to see this film. So I sought the film out, and to my horror, no official DVD or Blu-ray existed. Period. Not in the United States. Not in the UK. Not in Italy. There is no DVD or Blu-ray of this film in existence. After countless hours of searching for an official release and coming up empty, I was on a treasure hunt and needed to find it in some form.

At first, I read on message boards that Netflix had the film streaming under the title The Black Cat. That was in 2011, and when I checked in on Netflix, I came up empty. Then, on another message board, I actually found the complete film streaming (and I think legally). It had been uploaded to YouTube (and I'll link below to the entire film) from an old Japanese VHS tape. But you know, there's something about watching a film on a computer that rubs me the wrong way, so I would have none of that. I needed to find a physical copy of Demons 6: De Profundis. And eventually, I found a guy who had a copy.

The gentleman, who was on the sketchy form of eBay known as iOffer, was selling a DVD copy of the Japanese VHS tape. So, essentially I would be getting the same thing that was on YouTube, but for $10 and on a burned DVD. Now on with the sketchy stuff. This guy did not accept PayPal. Why, oh why, would this gentleman not accept PayPal? Instead, he only used BitCoin (...no?) or a check/money order. Generally, I wouldn't send out a check to a random stranger without receiving the item first, but simply put...THIS WAS DEMONS 6: DE PROFUNDIS! So I did it. Ten dollars in the mail without any guarantee (besides the seller's rating, which was high...but it's iOffer...) that I would ever receive anything in return.

Week after week went by and tension built as nothing appeared in my mailbox. I had to contact the seller multiple times to check in and make sure that he sent the package. Then I started thinking that maybe I gave the wrong address. Maybe I gave the address of some person who looooves Italian horror movies, and was enjoying my copy of Demons 6: De Profundis while I had nothing. Over the course of four weeks, there were many paranoid moments, but I kept my faith in the US Postal Service and this iOffer seller the entire time. Yet nothing ever showed up in my mailbox. And just as I had lost all hope, it appeared. And it was glorious.

And the movie sucked.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Short Film Sunday: Director Takashi Shimizu

I recently noticed that The Dissolve posted and wrote a brief blurb about Takashi Shimizu's short horror film Katasumi (AKA In a Corner), released in 1998 just before the huge Japanese horror (J-Horror) boom in the United States. Back in the day (the 2000s, to be specific), I was a fan of the J-Horror movement. The works of directors like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hideo Nakata, Takashi Miike, and naturally, Takashi Shimizu, were always noteworthy and were a treat to seek out. Just as quickly as it arrived in the States, though, the genre seemed to fade into obscurity. Some of the directors moved on to projects outside of the horror genre, while others are still making the classic J-Horror films of old.

Takashi Shimizu is one of the latter directors, having recently made two films that received (I believe) direct-to-video releases in the United States: Tormented and The Shock Labyrinth 3D. Along with those, his first American film, titled 7500, has been finished for awhile and is waiting for a theatrical (or DVD/Blu-ray) release. While the J-Horror subgenre isn't necessarily booming at the moment, there's clearly still a market for that and Shimizu is still relevant in that scene.

Despite the current state of the genre or Takashi Shimizu, the short film that The Dissolve posted brought me back to that special time where J-Horror was the only horror to watch. Below is the film Katasumi, retitled in America as In a Corner. Giving this slightly over three minute short film a viewing, you see the talent that Shimizu really has in this specific genre. The ghosts that he creates (which would later appear in all of the Ju-On or Grudge films that he directed) embody everything that J-Horror is. I'm going to post links to two short films, this and 4444444444, also directed by Shimizu. This is my least favorite of the two that I'm posting, but it's still a solid entry in the Japanese horror film world.


The next film, 4444444444, is in my opinion the superior of the two for a couple of different reasons. The first is it introduces what is arguably Takashi Shimizu's most famous character, Toshio. Toshio is the young, pale ghost-boy from Ju-On who has always been incredibly creepy to me. Casper the Friendly Ghost he is not. The second reason why this is the better of the two films is the atmosphere that Shimizu creates. It's in the middle of the day, which is in contrast to most horror films. Generally horror movies try to use the nighttime to their advantage.  Despite this, Shimizu manages to make the daytime scary. The wind is blowing in an odd, ominous way. The setting, which seems like it should be populated by passersby or anyone, is strangely deserted. It simply feels unsettling and at a few seconds under three minutes in length, is a huge success in my opinion.


Takashi Shimizu may not have been my favorite of the J-Horror directors, but I have a great deal of respect for what he created, which were more direct horror films than his peers. Both of these films come from an anthology titled Gakkou no kaidan G, which apparently translates to School Ghost Story G. I haven't been able to find a copy of that film in its entirety, but these two shorts were plenty to rekindle the memory of the golden age of J-Horror for me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Filmgoing: The Good, the Bad, and the OhmyGodIamsoscaredrightnow.Areyouscaredrightnow?I'mscared.

Insidious: Chapter 2 opened in theaters this weekend, and while I'm not going to discuss my thoughts on the film, I will say that I was excited to see it. I showed up Friday night at the Orono theater nearly an hour early. This was in part because I'm bad at figuring out how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B, and also because I just really wanted to get going and see the movie. I waited for my brother, Joel, in the parking lot of the theater for a good twenty or so minutes, but once it finally got to the point where there was ONLY A HALF HOUR BEFORE THE FILM BEGAN, I bolted towards the theater entrance and purchased my ticket.

Overboard a little? Yes. I just wanted to make sure that at this screening I got "my seat," which is third row center. Long before the woman put up the "seating" sign up for Insidious: Chapter 2, my brother and I were at the front of the line, and then once the "seating" sign actually went up, I again bolted towards the theater, muttering under my breath "third row, center...third row center..." I'm very serious about my seat.

Once we were actually the first ones in the theater, with the others trailing behind by at least twenty yards, Joel asked...

Joel: Where do you want to sit?
Me: Third row, center.
Joel: Are you sure? It's a small theater and sometimes...
Me: THIRD ROW, CENTER!!!!!!

So I admit, at this point I was probably going a little nutty, but I just want my optimal viewing experience. It's what filmgoing is all about. It's the experience you pay the price for, and it should be a damned good one.

Unfortunately, on this day, third row, center was not the seat to have. Immediately after sitting down, a fairly large group of chatty individuals sat a couple of rows behind us. No big deal, though, as they were a couple of rows behind us and most chatty groups calm down after the film begins. It was fine, though it was a bad omen for what was to come.

As the lights went down and the trailers began, THAT group came in. You know that group. The group who can't arrive on time to the movies, and when they arrive late they say in a valley girl (or guy) voice, "Why's it so dark? I can't see. Where are some empty seats..." and they just stand in the entryway laughing, possibly getting their phones out before stumbling into the seat closest to, generally, me. This group came in, and I generally don't talk during trailers, but I looked over at Joel and mouthed something that I won't write in this blog. That group of what sounded like twenty sat right behind me. My blood pressure and "Film Rage" quickly elevated.

But I think, maybe this will be fine! It's just the trailers, and maybe they'll quiet down. Oh no, though. Oh no, they did not quiet down.

The entire film was filled with minor chatting, whispering, and outright loud talking. No matter how many times one looked back with an evil glance, the chatting did not stop. The worst part is what was actually coming out of their mouths. One girl seriously went on for about five minutes saying the following thing...

Girl: Oh my God! I am so scared right now. I'm so scared! (To Friend) Are you scared? I'm so scared!

Friend: Me too! I'm so scared! Oh my God! Are you scared?

Girl: Oh my God I AM SO SCAAAARED!

Meanwhile, Johnny Astute proved worthy of his name and made some astute observations to his girlfriend over our right shoulder, piecing together plot points which had already been made clear over a half hour ago in the film. He also cracked the always welcomed not funny joke on occasion, most of which the film had already made itself or at least alluded to. Johnny Astute, I applaud you and your infinite wit and wisdom.

My site is about film and filmgoing, and after this Friday night at the theater I just have to point out that there are two filmgoing rules that one should always follow if they choose to enter the cinema.

1. Don't Talk - This is a very simple, time honored tradition in the theater. No whisper goes unheard. No phone conversation is wanted. No joke is ever that funny that you have to say it right in the theater at that very moment. And most of all, nobody in that theater really cares what you have to say at that particular moment, because we did not pay to hear you talk. I don't care how scared you or your friend are or how clever you think you are. Keep quiet.

2. No Cellphones - Seriously! Cellphones! Just turn them off! The light that they emit when in use is annoying and it's just two hours. You can deal with that.

I take my film watching very seriously. Some would say I take film watching too seriously at times. Yet, these are two simple things that all filmgoers are asking for, and if you can't follow these rules then just stay home.