I have only been here a week, but I am already fluent in Romanian. I mean it.
The reason for this is that because I spend so much time at the orphanage, the only word I need to know is "nu" (no). This word is very versatile, since it can translate several ways, ranging from "no, I won't pick you up again, I just put you down and I'm holding someone else now," to "if you hit that girl in the head with that rock one more time, so help me, you will regret it
!" Later, I might learn other words, but I've learned that "yes," "no," "it's okay," and "go higher!" are about all you need to understand when playing with kids on a playground. The rest is just steady arms, a stern tone of voice, and careful damage control to make sure that someone else has to change the diapers. Piece o' cake.
There will be more updates as time goes on. I just wanted to let you know that I am indeed in Romania, I am alive, and I think I'm going to survive here. I like it very much.
I leave in a few minutes for the Boston Airport, to hop a plane that will take me to Shannon, Ireland, take another to London, England, and another to Budapest, Hungary. There, a Romanian unknown to me will pick me up and transport me the rest of the way to Beius, Romania. I return in two months.
As amazing as this all is, it saddens me to leave you, dear reader, because this may very well be the end of
10-4GB as we know it. I might not be able to post in Romania (I'll try), and when I return, I jet off immediately for a very busy semester in Los Angeles. And posting falls by the wayside very quickly once I get involved in a film.
So this is, in a way, goodbye. I've enjoyed being a part of your e-lives, and I hope to be again someday. I'm sorry I didn't e-mail anyone any responses these past few days, but I suppose you're all used to that at this point. I always mean well, but I always forget to write. Maybe someday I'll learn.
Keep tuned in, in case I find a way to post over the next weeks. In the meantime, I treasure your thoughts and prayers.
Wish me luck.
I stayed up late packing and scrolling the 'net, and I haven't managed to put myself to bed yet. I leave for the airport in about twelve hours.
Before I left, I wanted to make a few recommendations for those of you with spare time or extra cash on hand in the next few weeks. If you haven't seen/purchased any of these yet, do so:
1. Batman Begins - I know, I know: the hype, the strange Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise thing, the fact that basically all four Batman movies before were terrible (ranging from Tim Burton's mostly uninspired efforts to Joel Schumacher's truly inspired awfulness), you don't like superhero movies, you're afraid it'll be too like Ang Lee's The Hulk (which featured the worst filmmaking decision in recent memory: having Eric Bana wander along in confused angst for a good hour and half in a film that everyone came to in order to see a big green guy smash stuff), you're allergic to ironic camp, etc. Ignore all that. Go see Batman Begins. It's good. It's extraordinarily well acted for its type (special props go to Christian Bale (Newsies, The Machinist), hands down the best Batman ever, and Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), possibly the most realistic of all comic book villains), it isn't campy, you get to watch Christopher Nolan finds his feet as a director of action movies throughout, and even when the script (David S. Goyer, writer/director of the Blade movies) wavers in direction, Nolan keeps the intensity at the boiling point. And it's fun. Go find out yourself.
2. Mr. and Mrs. Smith - Once again, dear reader, ignore the hype. Forget this whole Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie are-they-or-aren't-they bit. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is thrilling - loads of action, wry humor, smoking-hot chemistry between the leads, Vince Vaugn trying without success to work his way into action films, a showdown in a department store featuring heat-seeking missiles, a car chase in a mini-van, Adam Brody trying without success to be anything but an overly bright neurotic teen, and either Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie to look at, depending on which one seems more your style. This is summer movie season. Turn off your brain, deposit yourself in an air-conditioned theater, and enjoy yourself.
3. Coldplay - X + Y - It's one of those albums that you fall in love with on your seventh listen through, because there's so much sonic glory to listen to you missed how tuggingly emotional it all is. After that, you never tire of it.
4. Better Than Ezra - Before The Robots - Here, they do what they do best: write quirky, anthemic, sometimes almost perfect pop tunes. Much less experimental than How Does Your Garden Grow? (One of the finest pop albums in the past fifteen years - it pushed the envelope for pop music without ever losing its lush, melodic sound or its gripping emotion. It rivals Radiohead's Kid A in terms of being grounbreaking, but no one noticed), rather, it sounds like a smoothing out of their more recent pop offering, Closer. Since you don't own either album, let me put it this way: it is to Closer what Switchfoot's A Beautiful Letdown was to Learning To Breathe.
Romania fast approaches. I'm starting to feel a little shaky, I've never travelled by myself to a country where no one really speaks my language. And then I remember how ridiculous that is, because people do such things all the time, and I'm much more fortunate than a Romanian travelling to America, 'cause nobody speaks Romanian. Except for everybody in my family but me.
Thanks to everyone who's given ideas for my romantic comedy screenplay
so far. The results have been creative and all the ideas have been good. In fact, I've already worked all
the ideas I've received so far into the screenplay (even the ferret!). It's much better for it. I'll make a tenuous promise right now that any ideas received will, in fact, be put into the screenplay in some fashion. If that doesn't get your creative juices flowing, I don't know what will.
Speaking of creative juices, I was stunned and a touch put out to discover, in a letter from the Los Angeles Film Studies Center, which I will be attending in the fall, that all films created for LAFSC classes must be "non-dialogue." That's correct, sports fans, there can't be any dialogue in them whatsoever. It's all the visual. I'm making silent movies
Honestly, though, once I'd gotten over the shock, I realized that this isn't a bad thing. I always consider dialogue my strength (and story my weakness), but this has a lot going for it. It takes all the pressure off finding good actors and puts it all on cinematography (a major fav of mine) and music (ditto). Also, I can have voice-over, which makes me consider doing an episode of "Sin City" (no, seriously). One way or another, I've come up with several ideas over the past day or two, most of them mediocre at best, but at least I've got ideas coming. One way or another, it'll be fun.
That's all for now. More updates as events occur, but my Monday morning flight fast approaches.
Review: Revenge Of The Sith
I don’t believe you can really imagine my level of disappointment after watching Revenge of the Sith
for the first time. Understand, I had no real preconceptions of this movie – I knew what the plot was going to be, naturally, but I’d intentionally avoided listening to rumors about the film – which turned out to be a good thing. I heard vague reports that the opening firefight was going to be breathtaking (it wasn’t), I knew Lucas was finally going to reveal the secret of how some Jedi vanish and some Jedi’s bodies remain (he didn’t), and similar bits and pieces (I also heard Jar-Jar was going to be wasted. What happened?
). And so I came into the theatre, wary from past Star Wars
prequel missteps but hopeful for better things. In fact, my main hope was that it would just be as good as Attack of the Clones
. If it was that good, I would be more than satisfied. I wasn’t satisfied
(Before I go further, I do want to address Attack of the Clones
. It’s time that people stop knocking that film. When it came out, it was lauded to the skies – a few nasty missteps on the romantic dialogue, but otherwise, the general consensus was that Episode II
the best since Empire Strikes Back
. So why the backlash? Everyone now talks about how awful it was, and all they ever mention was that terrible montage on Naboo. The rest of the film has disappeared from most people’s minds. Ask someone what he remembers of Attack of the Clones
, and he’ll tell you about a film in which Hayden Christensen mumbles about sand. But try to think back – when you saw Episode II
in theatres, it was stunning, it was breathtaking, it was everything you thought a Star Wars
film should be. I state this as a fact: Though its translation to the small screen was roughest, Attack of the Clones
was the best big-screen movie of the entire series. Period)
To continue: having been so disappointed the first time through, I vowed to look again with fresh eyes and just try to enjoy myself. Fortunately, the second time turned out to be a much more enjoyable ride, mostly because I made some new discoveries about Revenge of the Sith
along the way, the main one being that: it's pretty good. I didn't see that one coming.
Why the change in heart? There's a number of reasons for it, each one of which I didn't notice the first time through but became much more apparent the second time through. Let me contrast it for you.Original Impression: Hayden Christensen is the worst possible choice to have played Anakin.
Lucas likely held auditions just for this purpose, and when he saw how awful Christensen could be, which is apparently even worse than Jake Lloyd, it was decided. Perhaps choosing Christensen is some sort of in-joke over at the Skywalker Ranch, where they're still giggling to this day at Christensen's selection, as people the world over stare at the screen in bewilderment and try to figure out if they're supposed to take him seriously or not.Current Impression: Christensen is a great deal smarter than most people - for example, you and I - and he sees facets of Anakin which we never understood.
Let me try to explain this to you, as this is a complicated theory: everything which we have disbelievingly shook our heads at throughout the prequels - the bad dialogue, the stilted acting, and so on - are actually calculated attempts to make us understand better the fate of Anakin.
Stick with me here. The first thing to understanding this theory is to consider all six movies in their chronological rather than created order. When you do that, you begin to understand that Star Wars
is not about Luke, Leia, or Obi-Wan, but is in fact in its entirety about Anakin. Star Wars
plots his rise, fall, and ultimate redemption, all other characters are merely taking part in his story.
Got that? Now, consider how Anakin relates to people. Throughout all of Star Wars
(which, from now on, will be referred to as one continuous movie), Anakin's thought pattern is trapped into the framework which he learned as a child - you are either slave or free. As a result, he treats every person he meets as if they are beneath him and should be ignored, or above him, and should be deferred to (Obi-Wan, Yoda, Palpatine, even Padme). For example, his relationship with Obi-Wan is completely unlike any master-padawan relationship in all of Star Wars
- Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan seem more like brothers, Obi-Wan and Luke are like father and son, and Yoda treats everyone like a favorite student. But Anakin can't fathom that sort of relationship, despite all of Obi-Wan's best efforts. When he reaches out to Anakin in friendship, which he does for most of Revenge of the Sith
, Anakin still sees him as a master trying to control him - therefore, when Anakin complains "the whole Council's against me," he isn't merely being petulant. He really believes that you are either with him or you aren't, there is no in between. Obi-Wan assumes that "only a Sith speaks in absolutes," but he's mistaken - only someone who sees everything in black and white can truly reject all light as darkness. A more circumspect individual would have had to have admitted that yeah, maybe Mace Windu was wrong to have a hack at Palpatine when he was down, but it still seems a better option than executing eight-year-olds. Anakin's descent into becoming Darth Vader is less an example of how a good boy went bad as it is how misguided thinking creates misguided actions.
Which leads me to my next point, which is that Anakin isn't really all that evil at all. Even when he's turned so completely that he's even abandoned Padme, it's still fairly obvious that maybe if he had a good night's sleep, a round-table discussion with all the Jedi to clear the air a bit, and maybe a little racquetball to work off the stress, Anakin would've still stuck around on the Jedi side of things and he wouldn't have had to have gotten fitted for those robotic pajamas. In fact, the real message of Revenge of The Sith
is basically that Darth Vader was really, all along, just a big dork.
No, really. See, all this time we thought what Anakin was saying was just bad dialogue, poorly written, with no snap to it. The truth of the the matter is - that's how Anakin talks
. He's just a dorky kid, with kinda sucky social skills. He can't really relate to people, least of all Padme, whom he adores but always feels inadequate around. We all believed Darth Vader was the greatest of bad guys, pure badass evil enfleshed. Revenge of the Sith
is about how there's just this... guy
in there, forever captured by the stupid mistakes he made when he was dumb kid and sorta-accidently destroyed a republic. As my dad put it "Darth Vader has Asberger's Syndrome! It all makes sense now!" Touche.Original Impression: The acting in Revenge of the Sith is, across the board, terrible.Current Impression: The acting in Revenge of the Sith is, across the board, mediocre, with some bright spots and some flinch-inducing moments.
I first of all want to congratulate Ewan McGregor, who clearly had no direction whatsoever on some of his lines but did a marvelous job anyway. Often he'll emphasize the wrong word, because he doesn't understand that he's dangling upside-down in an elevator shaft while the whole world is blowing up. This is the trouble with blue-screen technology - the actors cannot correctly convey to the viewer what their character feels about the current event because they have no clue what is going on. For not paying enough attention to such details and making sure that each actor's lines fit with the cinematic splendor that would later be appearing around them, Lucas deserves a healthy swat to the side of the head. I only wish I were there to give it to him.
Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Ian McDiarmid (Chancellor Palpatine) are both mostly solid throughout, particularly McDiarmid in an excellent turn as the face of ultimate evil veiled as good intentions - though they do have their moments of hammy lunacy. The dramatic scene in Palpatine's office where Mace Windu tries to arrest and later execute Palpatine is perhaps the best example of both actors at their absolute worst: Jackson phones it in while McDiarmid performs with all the reserve and subtlety of an epileptic fit. It's a terrible scene in all regards, and features one of the biggest black marks on Revenge of the Sith
- Anakin's final change to the Dark Side is a hamhanded, throwaway scene. Aim another swat at Lucas.
Natalie Portman (whom I desperately admire and hate to criticize) is mostly invisible throughout. Everyone else is computer animated (Yoda, the sadly not-dead Jar-Jar Binks) or so utterly blank that they might as well be (Jimmy Smits as a thoroughly useless Bail Organa). I'd give Lucas another swat, but he did give a cameo to Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider
), making this the third straight film that he's disguised a talented, beautiful actress behind white make-up so that the viewing public has no idea that they're even in the film (Keira Knightley in Phantom Menace
, Rose Byrne in Attack of the Clones
). That's so strangely counter-intuitive that I have to give him credit: he really is making films with utter disregard to how Hollywood does anything. That's a worthwhile endeavor. We'll leave it at two swats.Original Impression: The special effects in Star Wars are mere flash-and-dance, they don't help tell the story at all.Current Impression: Lucas is so determined to be cutting-edge with his CGI that he sometimes missteps, and sometimes creates scenes of compelling emotion.
Ultimately, it's worth the risk. Look, sometimes, it doesn't work, and the opening scene is the best example of this: the firefight as the Jedi try to find their way into General Grievous' ship, R2-D2's fight with the battle droids in the hanger bay, Grievous' escape from Anakin and Obi-Wan's clutches, the crash landing of the ship - it's a heckuva try, but there's nothing there
. It's all thunder and tempest with no real plot behind it to interest the viewers who like that sort of thing. And what's more, it looks like a cut scene from the latest LucasArts video game.
And then, sometimes, it does work, to glorious effect. Obi-Wan battles Grievous in the Outer Rim, and it ranges all over the various levels of the city - it's fun, it's exciting, it's pure eye-candy, and you actually care about the outcome. Lucas keeps forgetting this important facet - that the audience wants to give a damn - during battle footage, so he shows us Wookies battling droids on Kashyyk, even though everyone knows that the outcome of the battle means absolutely nothing to the plot. He just wanted an excuse to jam Chewbacca in there. For shame, George.
Much better is the final battle scene on Mustafar, as Anakin battles Obi-Wan as lava surges all around them. Emotions are high, the fight sequence is frankly stunning (excellent work by Christensen and McGregor), and the CGI complements
(hey!) the story.
Honestly, the problems of the CGI in Revenge of the Sith
are a fitting metaphor for the problems of the rest of the film. Sometimes Lucas pushes beyond his limits and gums it all up, and it all falls flat. Sometimes he finds a new way to do things that is so provocative and stunning that it truly grips you with its emotion, without ever losing track of the fun of it all. There's no way to deny that as flawed as Revenge of the Sith
is, it's still the same thrilling ride that A New Hope
was a generation ago. Bravo.Three and a Half Stars
An non-dialogue short chronicling the ripple effect of the life of a struggling boxer on his son, "Wildcard" was the final project of a group of young filmmakers at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. The film stars Dino Dos Santos (Legend of Zorro), Elijah Hale, and Allan Smith.
troubles? watch it back on vMix.
A few days ago I had a new first – I got a wedding invitation from an ex-girlfriend. Now, I know that it’s socially mandated that one must follow this event with a period of deep mourning, punctuated by laments about one’s inability to find the right match, and reminisces to better times. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. Which is why I find it unusual that the news doesn’t really bother me at all. I was much more upset about the fact that I won’t be able to attend (I won’t be back from Romania for another two weeks) than about how the news is another sign of the lack of fulfillment in my sad, lonely search for "the one," but… you know, come to think of it, why should news like this bother one? It should only matter if one isn’t over said girlfriend completely, so maybe there’d be that element of jealousy and “what if?” But if that’s not the case - I can’t think of any past girlfriend where I’d feel put out upon receiving news that they were getting married. I mean, that’s how relationships work – you date someone, if it doesn’t work out, you two go your separate ways, and then you spend as much time as you need getting over that other person. But whenever that time has passed, you should be able to let go, and when situations like this come along, it shouldn’t faze you. In fact, shouldn't you be happy? This is a person who you know very well and are very fond of, and they're going on into wedded bliss, which is a wonderful thing. And if things ended poorly and you still hold grudges against them, I find you guilty of self-centeredness and disdain your inability to get over yourself. Pull it together, people.
In fact, I bet this whole wedding-funk is more just one of those mystifying "girl things."
We’ll see if that
stirs up any controversy. I kind of hope so – 10-4GB could use some. Bring on the flame mail.
10-4GB is back!
It's nice to be back. Lighting struck our house a few weeks ago, and electricity surged through our cable connection, destroying our cable box, wireless router, network card, and part of our computer (no, I'm not making this up). Our computer is still out of commission: in addition to electrocution, it seems it's also virus-infested. I'm of the opinion that we treat it like a horse with a broken leg, and take it outside, shoot it, and bury it in a shallow grave. Still, my laptop (Percy, for you who were not aware. I own a markedly flamboyant computer who is constantly picking up new internet-transmitted diseases) has finally made its way back.
During the hiatus, I wrote several posts for 10-4GB that unfortunately I wasn't able to post. Now that I've returned, I've posted some of them, with more coming once the other computer comes 'round and I can get them off of the hard drive and onto the site. In the meantime, I've posted a review
of Phantom of the Opera,
a short note
on local radio, and most importantly, a plea for help
with the script of my directed study romantic comedy. In addition, I have finally finished my Asbury Film Festival review
, which, while surprisingly (perhaps appallingly) long, is some of my best writing (which, I'll admit, damns it with faint praise). Also, it gets better as it goes along, as I run out of any positive or interesting things to say and just become snarlingly cynical. Not to be missed.
You can click on the links or simply scroll down the page. In addition to writing posts, I also wrote long e-mails to everyone that I owed an e-mail to (for example, people who I promised to e-mail last January and promptly forgot, leading to icy reunions when I returned this summer). I'll now proceed to send them all out - if you don't get one and you think you should have, don't worry, many of them are still on the other computer and will be sent out shortly.
Unless I forgot about, or don't like, you. If you think you're the former, you might want to send over a short note reminding me of who you are and detailing our friendship. It's very helpful.
So, I've been working hard on screenplays for films that I'll be shooting this spring and fall. Still, I'm blanking on the script that I'm most interested in, which is the romantic comedy starring Justin Ladd
that I'll be shooting in the spring as my directed study. I need some help, especially from any readers of a female persuasion. Though I'll take any sort of guidance, even if it's sarcastic (that's an unwise thing for a Wyman to say, but it needed to be said).
The plotline goes like this: all of Justin's friends are very concerned about his lack of a girlfriend, so they all conspire together to help him wrangle one. To do so, they plan out an elaborate ruse to make Justin look as good as possible to this girl. This is where it gets tricky. What is it that makes a guy seem very attractive to a girl (ignoring looks) in the first thirty seconds that they come in contact? What would impress her? I need ideas, even vague ones. Should he be playing with a dog? Be playing guitar/piano/zither? Dressed very nicely? On horseback? Playing guitar/piano/whatnot to his dog while dressed nicely on horseback? Should he rescue her from some troublesome situation (y'know, the whole "princess in the tallest tower"/"damsel in distress" bit)? Should he sweep her off her feet with debonair charm and sparkling conversation? Should he actually physically sweep her off her feet? Nothing is too silly or too serious to be mentioned. I just need some fresh ideas.
You can respond to this post - or, if you're feeling bold, e-mail in thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
Review: Asbury Film Festival
I've decided it's finally time for me to critique all the various films in the Asbury Film Festival, since I definitely promised I would, and I've had more than enough time to let each film sink in. I've been dreading doing this, because I'm nervous about saying something critical of someone's film, because - I'm not actually saying it to their face as useful criticism; no, I'm just mocking their work behind their back. It's different when one's criticizing Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon)
, who will have wasted 100 million dollars of someone's money to create some piece of trash that it is my civic duty to protect you readers from watching.
(That being said, I still hold out hope for the Bay-directed The Island
, due later this summer, to be excellent. When Ben Affleck is no longer your main character, your film is automatically miles better)
Still, I'm doing more here than just criticizing - I'm bestowing praises on work that's well done, and most of the films at the festival were very well done. Bear in mind that in each compliment and criticism I crank out, I truly mean what I say. If something's excellent, I say so, if it's terrible - I'm tearing it pieces. If you doubt me, keep reading. Though I don't know why I'm bothering with this intro. Peracchio's the only person whose film will be called to account who'll be reading this, and he's got nothing to worry about.
Now, in order of appearance at the Asbury Film Festival (as best I remember it):1. Help Wanted
- Justin Gustafson's final DFP (Digital Field and Post Production, for you non-Asbury Media Commies) project, Help Wanted
is actually a presentation of a poem by the same name by Shane Koyczan, winner of the National Poetry Slam in 2000. Gustafson's piece shows startling maturity: he lets the poem speak for itself. Narrator Phil Brooks wanders through scenic parts of rural Kentucky, eventually ending up on somebody's rooftop, meditating on what his grandmother told him about religion, faith, people, and picking yourself up by your own bootstraps. Gustafson clearly has vision, and the piece has power because of his ability to see how to make each image emphasize what's important about each bit of narration. That sounds obvious, but it's not - it's fairly rare. Still, it's Brooks who makes the piece, communicating the message in a humble, introspective way that transforms the poem (a bit conceited and patronizing when read from the page) into something lasting.Award Received:
Best Editing. Absolutely deserved.Ben Wyman Connection:
Almost none. I worked with both Justin and Phil on Stolen Moments
, but I knew nothing about the film except that Jeremy White called it "the best final DFP project I've ever seen." No arguments here.Of Note:
Sections of the poem are available here
Three Stars out of Five
2. A Good Latte
- Justin Ladd wrote this coffeeshop film, and it's a smart script. Jeremy White, Erin Schumaker, and Mary Lashbrook all star in this clever, fast-paced comedy, and the solid cast keeps everything running smoothly. The piece, filmed in a few hours at Lexington's Common Grounds, benefits from the location and Ladd's excellent cinematographer's eye but the time crunch sometimes makes the film's continuity a bit tenuous. That being said, the film's final line ("Well, someone's got to play matchmaker to the socially retarded") was one of the film festival's high points. Latte
features all of the effortless tongue-in-cheek banter one expects in a Ladd film, and the piece doesn't lack for sardonic edge, but the script is a one-joke effort and therefore lacks the depth he's capable of.Ben Wyman Connection:
I helped Justin load all the camera equipment into the car.Of Note: You can take a look at location pictures here.
3. Deceived - Erin Schumaker wrote and stars in this telling drama of a lonely pastor's wife jealous of the amount of time her husband spends with God and not with her. On a particularly bad day, she debates the matter with someone she thinks is God but turns out to be Satan (a bit of a downer when you're already in a bad mood). Susan Harper directs, and the acting flourishes under her able hand. Andrew Casto is solid in the as the neglectful pastor (nobody's favorite role) and Nathan Davies is eerily perfect as Old Scratch himself. Unfortunately, the intensity of the dialogue means that the emotional build-up is hurt badly each time the production value slips even a little. A few audio inconsistencies and continuity errors keep the piece, filmed in only a few hours in nearby sanctuary, from reaching its full potential. Still, nothing can slow down the tour-de-force performance of Schumaker, swinging from smoldering frustration to the deep secret sadness of the dutiful pastor's wife. "I can't compete with you," she whispers a seemingly oblivious crucified Christ hanging on the front of the church, and chills run down the viewer's spine as she visible struggles to cloak her pain. Provocative and painful, Deceived was perhaps the most eye-opening of the film festival films.
Award Received: Best Screenplay. No brainer.
Ben Wyman Connection: I lobbied hard for the role of Satan, but was deemed "too cute." Somewhere out there, Satan is really pissed about that.
Of Note: You can see a picture of the statue of Jesus, though unfinished, here.
Three and Half Stars
4. Peace, Love, & Scrubs: AJ Stich wrote and stars in this off-beat comedy much in the same vein of Garden State (a blessing and a curse). It was the most underrated film of the festival, as many complained that they didn't really get the point, and therefore wrote it off. But Stich's film was never about the destination, it's all about the journey. Stich is Dodger, a slightly socially inept medical student desperately seeking the attention of Mandy (Christen Cates), the depressed girl who's stuck listening to everyone else's problems. The script is subtle and nuanced, but despite Stich and first-time director Greg Weidman's delicate touch, the story never really ties together cohesively. It's a shame, too, since there's so much potential there. Cates carefully underplays Mandy, absorbing the world around her with soulful eyes, deferring the spotlight to Stich, who plays Dodger with charming exuberance. Of course, the fact that he gets to smoke and dance to his heart's content without fear of reprisal might have something to do with it. After all, he's acting. Charming and creative, Peace, Love, and Scrubs never cuts as deep as it hopes.
Award Received: Best Sound. Cash Tunstall helped Weidman and Stich re-record all of the movie's sound and dialogue, and the effort shows - the soundscape is nearly flawless. In addition, the film features a smart indie rock soundtrack (a must for off-beat films these days), which Weidman culled from his expansive music collection (just don't ask where he got it all from) . Honestly, no other film was even really up for this award besides them. They ran away with it from the beginning.
Ben Wyman Connection: AJ filmed an outtake of one of the scenes featuring me playing Dodger that ended up on the DVD. In addition, Cash noted that they put in a "reference" to me about halfway through the film. I've seen the film three times since, and I still have no clue what that means.
Of Note: You can check out the film's theme song, Pete Yorn's "Turn of the Century," here.
Three and a Half Stars
5. Leaves - This one you already know about. Jeremy White and I directed this piece which swallowed up our semesters and destroyed whatever social lives we had. Ah, well, those are the breaks.
Awards Received: Best Picture and Audience Favorite. Not a bad night out. You can read about it here.
Ben Wyman Connection: Blink and you'll miss it, but in the graveyard scene of Leaves, about halfway through the movie, I am Jeremy's hand double. And I directed the film.
Of Note: Leaves was inspired by an O. Henry short story called, "The Last Leaf," available here. In addition, you can check out the website of Enoch Jacobus, currently re-scoring Leaves for his senior recital, here.
Bit tough to rate your own films. You give 'em too high a rating, you look cocky, too low and you're self-depreciating. It's not even worth fighting over.
6. Mascot - Jeremy White directs this minute-and-a-half short piece about how the school mascot terrorizes Ben Peracchio in the library, until Peracchio finally tracks him down and seeks out his revenge. Soon, though, the mascot takes off his mask, revealing himself to be festival creator Professor Greg Bandy. It's a special moment, and it got the biggest laugh of the whole film festival.
Ben Wyman Connection: I actually play the mascot for part of the movie, plus I stuck around as a creative consultant for the shoot. Also, I directed a short film myself called The Mix-Up, about how the Kannensohn twins confuse Peracchio in the library, until Peracchio finally tracks them down to confront them, which Jeremy saw and might have helped inspire Mascot. Jeremy and I thought we should enter both films in the festival so they could play them back to back. But... we didn't.
Of Note: Jeremy has a worthwhile site, as does Peracchio, and Felicia Berggren (who plays the mascot - with zest - for most of the film) has one herself, available here.
Two and a Half Stars
7. Curtains And The Long Farewell - Richie Larison created this little gem about death and grief. It's a cool visual show, a thousands of images flashing across the screen while the color scheme flickers around hyperactively. It looked an awful lot like the greatest screensaver you've ever seen, crossed with a high school biology video on genetics. It's a whacked out video, and it wasn't until I saw it for the fifth time that I really began to understand what it was all about. I'd never want to go through the same amount of effort on such a project, so for creating a two minute video frame-by-frame, Larison gets all my respect. And my sympathy.
Ben Wyman Connection: Richie's the only student besides myself who had a film entered that was principally about death. I told Richie that I thought his film made a very attractive screensaver, but he just buried his head in his hands. Some people can't take a compliment.
Of Note: Click here to watch an actual high school genetics video.
Two and a Half Stars
8. The Salt Shaker - One of the better scripts of the festival, Salt Shaker was unfortunately one of its worst films. Terrible audio ruined the film's chances from the start, and despite a round of re-shoots, a good deal of the film ended up completely incomprehensible. They ended up having to add a narrator figure to the script to account for the bad audio. It's a shame, too, since the film itself is so much fun. Nathan Bauder is solid in his acting debut as a socially inept student who daydreams himself a better life, Walter Mitty-style. His sly narration holds the film together, while Mary Lashbrook plays his love interest with vim and vigor, but neither of their best efforts, nor director Mike Davis' desperate editing, can save the film.
Ben Wyman Connection: I'm featured in this piece, having a big enough role to merit having my name embossed on the movie poster. I play the random guy (no, I don't have a name. Shut up) who comes along occasionally and talks to Nathan, and I get the fun of being the character who exposes the surprise ending: his girlfriend is also a figment of his imagination (what? Don't get mad at me. It's not a spoiler if you're never going to see the film).
Of Note: You can see the really cool groundbreaking music video for the film's theme song, "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" by Jack Johnson, here. In addition, you can read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." If you didn't attend the Asbury Film Festival, you can do both at the same time, and you'll get the general idea.
9. Tracks - Nathan White directs this tale of a mother whose son runs across the tracks right before a train, and she must wait in horror for the train to pass. Tres Adames produces, and under his steady hand, they shoot the whole film in (surprise!) a few hours. Good acting, location, and editing holds together an uninspiringly shot film and its somewhat tenuous script. The film has definite punch, but it's tough to watch the film without thinking that it could have been a great deal better with a little more effort. Ah, well.
Ben Wyman Connection: I play the boorish NPR announcer heard at the beginning of the film, interviewing a yuppie child psychologist (Jane McDougall) filled with lots of good ideas on how to raise other people's children.
Of Note: You can hear actual boorish NPR announcers here.
10. Beaver - David Hancock wrote, directs, and stars in this Leave It To Beaver-esque tale of the adventures of a small-town boy in small-town Wilmore. It's clever, and funny, and it pissed me off because it's one of those films that you can film (wait for it) in a few hours, and it's really good. The whole film is told through narration, so you don't have to worry about the audio. The whole film is shot in black and white, so no one notices your focus or your lighting. And the whole film is shot on Asbury's campus or at the downtown supermarket, Fitch's IGA. I coulda done that myself in an afternoon. But no, I had to make film about death and the longing for home, and it had to involve jumping off of trains, and thousands of Christmas lights, and snow, and child prodigy actors. Sheesh. Beaver is clever and original, and most of all - funny. It ended up finishing second in the audience voting, which says a lot about a film shot on a borrowed camera by a freshman who hasn't taken any video classes yet. I maintain Hancock pulls it off because he was, in fact, raised in the 1950's, and is therefore not acting. I mean, nobody has hair like that anymore.
Awards Won: It tied for Best Comedy with Mug - I'll discuss this dilemma when I review that piece.
Ben Wyman Connection: I looked over David's shoulder as he edited the film. I was no help whatsoever.
Of Note: Click here to see actual Leave It To Beaver hair.
11. [Let Go] - I wrote and directed this one last semester as my final DFP project. It was the first film either Jeremy White or Becca Harvey had been in, and they went on to become the stars of Stolen Moments. So they can thank me. This was actually the surprise hit of the festival - neither Jeremy, Becca, or I thought it would make much of an impression, but people really seemed to dig it. The story revolves around Jeremy (played with deep emotion by White), who holds an argument with ex-girlfriend Becca (played with reserve and longing by Harvey), who turns out to be dead. Ain't that the breaks, kid. He finally imagines himself back in his crashed Honda Civic (played winningly by my crashed Honda Civic), where he monologues for a good two minutes or so about how wonderful things used to be, until Dave Matthews finally starts playing in the background and he's able to shut up and forgive himself.
Awards Won: Best Drama. Stolen Moments producer Don Mink was actually pushing for this to be Best Picture, but common sense prevailed.
Ben Wyman Connection: To crash the Civic, we had to actually push the stupid thing up a hill in order to let it roll back down again and crash. Guess who sat in the driver's seat and drove the car on the way up.
Of Note: You can read a good deal more about the filming of [Let Go] here. In addition, I recently posted some pictures of my brothers and I detailing (pronounced "spraypainting") the Civic.
Again, no rating, but as a frame of reference, [Let Go] is better than From Justin to Kelly, but not as good as, say, Citizen Kane.
12. Mug - Ben Peracchio and Justin Ladd put this film together based on a play written by Marianne Peracchio, who, it must be noted, is much brighter than you or I, and therefore comes up with much cleverer ideas. The idea for this one is no exception - a woman (Laura Hunt) walking home from an extremely bad day at work is mugged twice by essentially the criminal equivalent of Laurel (Taylor Vinson) and Hardy (Don Mink). Or maybe Mink is Laurel and Vinson is Hardy. I get them confused (I might be actually be thinking of Abbott and Costello, come to think of it). Regardless, they're both incomptent, and Hunt whups up on both of them, which makes the distinction moot. This startling bit of slapstick jolts each of them so much that they follow her around the city, trying to figure out what the heck happened. The script is Peracchio and Ladd to a T: lively, inventive, and riotously funny. This is impressive because most people would have just taken this as a one-joke premise and wouldn't have put nearly this much effort into the script. Heck, I certainly wouldn't (my script would be: "Sassy lawyer lays smackdown on loser muggers. Hijinks ensue."). This helps out a lot because Ladd and Peracchio shot Mug in downtown Lexington in (you know what's coming) only a few hours, and when the battery in their mic died, thy were left with extremely bad audio. Innovative to the last, the pair redubbed the whole film into Spanish. Really terrible Spanish, too - they typed each line into an online translator, and whatever came out, they said. Also, Peracchio (who speaks no Spanish but fairly fluent French and Italian) became the voice for both Laurel and Hardy (or whoever), and so the film became a mess of poorly-translated, mispronounced Spanish with an Italian accent. Which just made it that much funnier. Still, Mug would likely would have been just a little bit stronger had it still been in English, or if the Spanish had been translated cleaner, or if the subtitles were timed a little better in order to get maximum effect from each line. Who's to say, though? When the ride is this much fun, there's no point in griping about what could have been. Mug made me laugh harder than anything else in the whole festival.
Awards Won: As noted earlier, Mug tied for Best Comedy with Beaver. And honestly, it should have won outright. Mink was one of the seven judges on the panel, but was declared ineligible for voting due to his involvement in Mug - had he been allowed to cast a ballot, Mug would have taken the prize solo. While both Beaver and Mug were uproarious fun, Mug was clearly the stronger film.
Ben Wyman Connection: Mug was dedicated to me, and coming so quickly on the heels of The Salt Shaker, Tracks, and [Let Go], people laughed just seeing my name up there again. I can't say that I'd ever been prouder.
Of Note: You can try your hand at mistranslating Spanish yourself, or you can check out Justin or Peracchio's sites.
Three and a Half Stars
13. In[Terror]gation - Clay Hassler is a talented fellow. He's president of his class (and last I knew, dating his lovely vice president), he was selected last year (as a freshman) to compete as an actor in the Irene Ryan competition, and he tops it all off by making one of the best films of the Asbury Film Festival. In[terror]gation is less a story as it is a collection of ideas about how guilt imprisons the soul. At least, I think that's the case, because the movie really didn't make any sense. The idea is this: A scrubby looking chap (Hassler's high school drama teacher, who turns out to be a fantastic actor) is sitting in a white room wearing a straightjacket, when a voice in the public address speaker above him begins a conversation. I think the voice is supposed to represent Satan. But it could also be the voice of God. Or Deep Throat. Or Alf. I wasn't really certain, and things didn''t get any clearer as the piece went on - the man argues with the voice in the box, but suddenly his sins are written all over his face and the walls, then a second later he's homeless and sitting outside, and immediately after he's a successful businessman. His sins disappear off his face once he starts writing his thoughts down on scraps of paper, which gave me a pretty good reason to start journaling but didn't really clarify the storyline any. At the end of the piece, the man, who's been playing with a Rubik's cube this whole time, finally gets the white side done. This, it seems, is the turning point, and the movie therefore ends almost immediately. From this description, you might be wondering why I liked the film so much. The reason is that in every way other than script, the film is tremendous: the acting is exceptional, Hassler directs the film with flair, it's well edited and extremely well shot. In fact, visually, there wasn't a single Asbury piece - including Stolen Moments - that had better cinematography. Which is a little embarrassing when you realize how long it took to shoot Stolen Moments. Or, for that matter, Leaves.
Award Won: Best Cinematography. Hassler's the son of photographer, and he's got that "photographer's eye." Of course, he also had that "photographer's camera," which doesn't hurt either. More than half the films in the festival were shot on handheld Panasonic piece-o'-craps, so Hassler had a leg up right there, but it likely wouldn't have mattered if everyone had the beautiful HD camera that Stolen Moments was shot on - Hassler's film looked gorgeous, and he deserved this award hardcore.
Ben Wyman Connection: Halfway through the filming of In[Terror]gation (it was filmed over spring break in Clay's father's photography studio), Clay and I chatted for a bit about the piece, and he explained the whole plot to me. It made a heck of a lot more sense then. Clay's a modest man, so he downplayed how good he was, and I was therefore completely unprepared for the visual splendor of it all.
Of Note: You can have a hack yourself at getting the white side of a Rubik's cube done here.
14. Stolen Moments - I worked incredibly hard on this film, and I have very close ties with it - I've already mentioned before how I was documentary filmmaker/storyboard artist/pre-visualization/production assistant/yadda yadda yadda, and nobody cares, but I wanted to preface this review by saying that it's tough for me to to criticize Stolen Moments because I put so much effort into it and I wanted it to be great. But it wasn't great. It's pretty good, sure, but it's not stunning. And it's a shame, because after all our effort and having it be one of the first college films shot in high definition, the whole film was derailed by, amazingly enough, a mediocre script. Here's the basics: Jacob (Jeremy White. Again. Sheesh), a young, mild-mannered college student, often visits his grandfather, Pappy (Carl Spivey), who is stricken with Alzheimer's. Jacob helps Pappy by helping him remember the World Series game that Pappy's father, Freddy Bailey, played in. When not helping Pappy, Jacob spends time with his girlfriend Janie (Rebecca Harvey. Again. Cripes), and their group of friends, all of whom are trying unsuccesfully to get Jacob to be a little less of a wuss. As director Jeff Day noted, Stolen Moments is basically the movie version of Wild At Heart. Eventually, after some mostly random hijinks - a big wheel race, an all-girl performance of Hamlet, a celebration party at a student center - Jacob and Co. gather up a group and recreate the World Series game that Pappy's always trying to remember. It's a touching moment, and ultimately it's this scene that makes the whole film, stumbling down the stretch up until this point, succeed. Stolen Moments may have some real problems, but it has the guts to make it when it counts. The main reason that this scene works when so many others fail is a) Spivey is the focal point in this scene, and the film is at its strongest when it focuses on him and not Jacob, who is much too much of pansy for us to root for, and b) there's hardly any dialogue, which is where this film is weakest. In fact, the power of the film is almost jettisoned completely by its awkward dialogue. Day, who wrote as well as directed the film, has a clear understanding of story but far less understanding of how college students - or for that matter, anyone - talks on an everyday basis. The low point of this is in a scene where Janie pitches to Jacob's friends the idea of playing a baseball game for Pappy. They agree. Then they keep agreeing. In fact, they just can't stop saying that yes, they should definitely do that. This goes on for upwards of thirty seconds, until finally, mercifully, it cuts away, leaving the viewer flinching from the awkwardness of it all (fortunately, though, if you look carefully, I'm in the background of that scene, which makes things a lot easier to take). Still, as clunky as the conversations could sometimes be, there's no denying that Stolen Moments still has punch. An excellent original score by Rob Pottorf (Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius) holds the film together through its rockier moments, and even the often-unsteady camerawork can't take away the fact that a high definition film looks beautiful. Stolen Moments is not necessarily breathtaking but it shows great promise for the future of a possible Asbury film program.
Ben Wyman Connection: While working editing my film Hitchhiker late one night, the students putting together the Stolen Moments interactive CD-ROM suddenly realized they were one interview short. So, suddenly, I became their favorite person. I told the story about the vending machine that Don Mink and I accidently broke, except I said that Don was the one who actually did it. I hope I get a copy of that someday.
Of Note: Both Jeff and Rob have their own pages on IMDB, which is pretty cool in my book. Also, the Media Comm Department has a piece on the film, as does Rob's music site, which also has clips from the score. Also, Becca made a website called The Camera Never Lies to document the filming of Stolen Moments. She gave up after a few posts, but there's still some good pictures.
I was dismayed today to find that one of my favorite radio stations had disappeared in the night, to be replaced by, of all things, Frank-FM
. Frank, it seems, plays the best classic rock in Southern New Hampshire. Frank's music is better than those all those other classic rock stations, who "play all those songs you've never heard before." Frank invited me to stay tuned to win a New Hampshire Community Technical College Summer Fun Beach Bag.
Frank, wherever and whoever you are, you suck. And I hate you.
Review: Phantom Of The Opera
Before I start this review, I'll admit that I'm feeling a bit of trepidation writing this one. Phantom
is one of Broadway's most-loved musicals, and the film has earned a surprisingly rabid following since its release last year. As I hover over the keys, I have visions of irate fans pouring masses of flame mail into 10-4GB if I fail to exalt this film to the heavens. Though, honestly, those people can suck it. I'll write what I want.
Besides, I don't think any of those people visit this site.
isn't the sort of a film where I feel the need to lay into it - it's really not that bad a piece of work. It's directed by Joel Schumacher, who normally directs taut thrillers - Phone Booth, Bad Company, 8MM, A Time To Kill,
etc. A musical would seem a strange choice if Phantom
weren't such a different sort of musical: it's all prolonged tension and musical dissonance - right up Schumacher's alley. Besides, it was originally supposed to be directed by the supremely boring Shekhar Kapur. Bleah.
Schumacher turns out to be a fine choice for directing in a lot of ways. He creates a thrilling intensity to Phantom
- fully willing to let the film swing darker at points, but always making sure that the ride is fun along the way. In fact, Schumacher presses too hard at this, and in effort to make the film feel like 19th century bacchanalia, he loses the baroque eerieness that was pushing the film. There are only so many clowns drinking and midgets dancing that one can stuff into a scene before it all seems farcical. That aside, Schumacher does marvelous work creating the right mood for each number - "Past The Point of No Return" bristles with sexual tension, "Masquerade" is pure gaudy fun, and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is a solemn yet longing movement. Each piece is painted with great care, and the effort shows to marvelous effect.
While a good deal of this is due to Schumacher's instinctive understanding of tension (after all, this is a man who, when the script called for a theatre fire, actually lit the building on fire and filmed his actors running everywhere as the building burned to the ground), some of this credit should go to designer Anthony Pratt, who created each location from scratch on Los Angeles soundstages. Each site in the film is a memorable and evocative window into a really creepy version of the opulent Paris of 1870, and Pratt should be congratulated because each location is completely memorable. But above all, credit should go to cinematographer John Mathieson, whose constantly flickering camera and eye for attractive shots cover up the fact that at the heart of it all, Phantom really isn't all that good.
Mathieson does a good job, too, you'd almost never notice. He and Schumacher make each piece such a splashy thrill ride that it almost escapes you that these pieces are not adding up into a complete story. The problem is that Phantom
is never quite able to throw off being a Broadway musical, and move into becoming a film. By making each scene a set piece, we're never given a chance to interact with the characters in any real way. We want to root for Christine, the girl torn between her handsome childhood sweetheart, Raoul, and the smoldering passion of the Phantom. After all, she's sweet, innocent, and beautiful, there's no reason on earth for us not to root for her. And yet it's difficult to become attached, because Schumacher never lets us see what's going on in her head. We cannot understand which one she really loves because we don't know her at all - she wanders through the movie without anything guiding her. And so we end up muddling along with her, confused. Do we like the Phantom? Or should we root for Raoul? They both have passion, but neither seems to know why, or what to do with it. So we watch in bewilderment, disconnected from it all.
Still, nobody went to see Phantom
for character development, and often the film is usually at its weakest when it attempts to add depth to an essentially two-dimensional story. Besides, Phantom
is in some ways a great triumph - it brings a stage show to film without damaging any of the elements that made it so popular in the first place. The greatest example of this is the character of Christine herself, famously played by Sarah Brightman in the Broadway piece (Brightman was herself slated to play Christine when the film was first pitched in 1990, until her subsequent divorce from Webber halted production). Christine is instead played by Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow, Mystic River
), a truly stunning find. Rossum, only 16 when Phantom was shot, absolutely dazzles, leaving her two leading men, Gerard Butler (the Phantom) and Patrick Wilson (Raoul), scrambling about to measure up. They don't. Butler (presence but no voice) and Wilson (voice but no presence) are both fully adequate for the role, and their earnestness to make this work is evident. They throw themselves into each scene with the vigor of unknown actors who know this is their big chance (after all, Phantom is the most expensive independent film ever shot). But it isn't to be - the Phantom's jealousy seems forced, Raul's pleas for Christine's attentions seem stilted, and their climactic duel scene is limp. Despite their best efforts, Phantom
never quite pulls together in a cohesive way. Still, you've got to give them credit - they more than gave it a shot. And between everyone's best efforts, it really wasn't too bad a ride.Three Stars out of Five
- it would have gotten higher, but for a good half of the movie
(warning: technical discussion to follow. Prepare for boredom), the music is not synched up to the movement of the singers' lips, which I find inexcusable. In addition, when the music is synched, the singer's expression rarely matches the actual music, which I also consider a travesty in modern filmmaking. If you've got enough money to burn a theatre to the ground, you've got enough money to play the CD through a boombox while you film so the singer has at least a chance of portraying the emotion of the song. Honestly.