Monthly Archives: July 2012

Review – Earrings

 

After much waiting and anticipation, it’s here. The film I’ve been curious about for several months, one written and directed by a good friend from Twitter. That film is Earrings.

From the beginning, you can tell that writer/director Alex Withrow is one of ‘those’ filmmakers. One of those filmmakers that loves the medium that he is using to create a story, from the way it is constructed, to the excellent way music is used throughout, especially during the film’s best sequence. The cinematography and shot choice is  particularly noteworthy, using long, uninterrupted shots, following the lead character around, creating a sense of voyeurism, as if we are truly being shown the reality of this woman. Nothing is hidden.

The story is simple – a woman dealing with tragedy. And the story is well told, something that seems to be missing from some films that favour spectacle in place of something as basic as a well told story.

At the heart of the film is Catherine Warner, who gives an excellent central performance. Throughout the majority of the film, she is quiet, reserved and nuanced, wonderfully drawing the viewer into the way she deals with what has been thrown at her. She speaks very little, but her mannerisms, which are simple and minimal, do a great deal to convene the core of her character. This silence only makes her breakdown more disturbingly serene and powerful.

Much like the central performance, the majority of the film is quiet. In fact, there is only one scene with a large amount of dialogue (I can’t help but be reminded of Steve McQueen’s Hunger). And in this film, silence is golden, used to show tragedy, sorrow, and a host of repressed emotions.

Is it without flaws? No, unfortunately not. Some of the cuts and edits in the shots feel too frantic for the context in which they’re used, and in places, the final section feels tonally different to the rest of it to the point where some of its effect becomes lost, as can be said for some of the dialogue, which feels a little too, for want of better phrasing, drawn out, to have the same raw emotional power of the quieter sections.. But all in all, it is an well made, and well acted story of a woman in free fall.

It’s a short film, at about 30 minutes in length. I ask you to simply take the time to watch it and tell me what you think.

While the film is imperfect, it has a wonderful passion for the craft, and you can tell that Alex’s artistic vision for the piece has been realised. For both it’s writer/director and its star, I hope for great things in the future. If this is a sign of what’s to come, watch out for these two talents to emerge in glorious fashion.

Watch Earrings here – http://www.andsoitbeginsfilms.com/2012/07/earrings-film.html

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Aurora

I’d like to take a moment to spare a thought for the victims of the shooting in Denver. Obviously a host of pieces much more insightful than mine have been written already in the aftermath to this tragedy, from midnight movies to gun control. But I won’t be talking about that.

This piece will basically be here instead of my review of Chris Nolan’s superb The Dark Knight Rises. I didn’t feel quite right writing a review of it after this happened.

Of course, the debate around the issue, America’s gun control laws and so forth, will doubtless continue. As it should. It just shouldn’t take a tragedy of this magnitude to get people talking about it.

I don’t ask much, just that, if you read this, that you spare a thought for those who died in the shooting.

Thank you.

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Interview with Alex Withrow

 

For anyone who happens to follow me, or the aforementioned filmmaker on Twitter, you’ll know that his project Earrings is released in a few weeks. I had the pleasure to recently conduct an interview with him via e-mail, the results of which lie below.

Going way back to the beginning, what is it exactly that inspired you to make films?

I’ve been completely taken with films since I was old enough to be taken with anything. They are a part of my life as much as anything else, and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve wanted to become as close to them as possible. I started by writing scripts based heavily on my life experiences. I wrote scripts (long, short, didn’t matter) for about five years, and in 2008, I picked one that I thought could be shot for cheap. And that’s essentially the same pattern I’ve been doing ever since: writing a ton, then picking one when I’m ready to roll with it. But in terms of initial inspiration? It’s the movies themselves. Being involved with them on a level above more than a spectator is all I’ve ever wanted.

Developing from that, what was the main inspiration for ‘Earrings’?

We’ve all gone through hard times, and, yeah, I’ve lived through some pretty rough shit in my life, but as I storyteller, I try to get ahold of a thread and pull on it until it is fully exposed. “Earrings” is a pretty dark film, and the very few people who have read the script or seen the final film all ask me something to the effect of, “Jesus, how did you think of that?” Well, for me, it’s really about examining the hard stuff you’ve gone through, and presenting that in a way that can translate to the screen. I personally tend to push things as far as they will go on an emotional level. I love exploring the dark sides to human nature. So, essentially, the inspiration for “Earrings” came from a few things I had witnessed, seen or heard (or heard people had witnessed, seen or heard), only for the film, I heightened and exaggerated those events heavily.

How difficult was it for you to write the script?

I wrote the script for “Earrings” in one five hour session. Writing, for me, is like breathing. I’ve never had writer’s block in my life, in fact, quite the opposite. At times, I write too damn much and have to spend a great deal of time scaling it back. Now, the time before the writing – the planning, and thinking, and second-guessing – is something I agonize over for months (or years). I put it off until I can’t take it anymore. I thought about writing “Earrings” for three months, spent five hours actually writing it, then another three months tightening the script with Catherine.

From the looks of what you’ve written about the project you seem involved in a lot of the filmmaking process – is there any part of it that you prefer?

The writing and the editing are by far my favorite parts of the process. My scripts look and read like screenplays, but on set, I treat them like an outline. By the time we shot “Earrings” I had read the script thousands of times, and I was bored with it. So I told the actors, particularly Catherine, to change whatever she felt was appropriate. I try to open it up to collaboration as much possible. That’s really what it’s all about.

The physical act of shooting a movie is hard. As shit. I would’ve loved to hire a DP for “Earrings” but after interviewing a few people for the gig, I simply could not articulate the vision I had clearly, which was completely my fault. So after a few months, I relented and decided to shoot it myself. The look of the movie is very very deliberate, and I’m fully aware that it may be off-putting to some people. But it’s what I felt suited the material best.

Now, editing… that’s where your movie is made. I was a newspaper reporter for two years and I’m a magazine editor now, so my academic background is in journalism. And the first rule of journalism is to hack away what is unessential. I treat film editing the same way. I love tightening and shaping a scene so that you present just enough to know what is going on. Or, at times, I prefer the antithesis of that, which is letting an entire scene play out from start to finish. I had a lot of fun manipulating the footage we shot for this film. The editing of “Earrings” is as deliberate as its look.

From what I’ve read, you hold your leading actress in very high esteem. What kind of performance can be expected?

Catherine and I have been good friends for a number of years. We’ve talked about doing this since we were kids, and to actually be doing it is just bizarre. I’ve tried to scale back my appreciation for her work, because, really, what director doesn’t think the lead actress in their current movie is the best actress in the world? But, to be honest, I think Catherine is skilled at what she does. I don’t mean on a micro-budget independent film level, I mean on a film level. She’s very perceptive and very aware, which is really the best way I can describe it. So I think audiences can expect an emotionally raw performance from a young woman who pushed herself as far as her director wanted her to. Which was to the edge, then over.

While I was watching the trailer, I couldn’t shake the movie ‘Three Colours: Red’ from the back of my mind. Were you aiming for an atmosphere like that?

That’s an interesting observation because before we shot the movie, I sent Catherine Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers,” Lynne Ramsay’s “Morven Callar” and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue.” All of those films are about women going through something very troubling in their lives, and dealing with it rather destructively. Kieslowski’s “Red,” fits that mold perfectly. I am most definitely attempting an atmosphere like those films. Attempting, not duplicating. All of those filmmakers are far more talented then I could ever dream of being. The fact that you even mentioned “Earrings” in relation to “Red” is as fine a compliment as you could give me.

With ‘Earrings’, what kind of reaction are you hoping to get from the audience?

Like I said, this is a different kind of movie. There isn’t the slightest shred of plot involved – no starting at A and ending at B. It is a character study and a rather bleak one at that. So, in all honestly, the reaction I hope to get is the people who spend 32 minutes watching the movie consider it time well spent. I wouldn’t dare ask for more than that.

Finally, after ‘Earrings’, what direction do you see yourself taking in the future in terms of filmmaking? Are there any potential new projects on your mind?

I always have new projects on the brain, and it’s funny: writing a script you know you are going to be filming completely changes the game. My films are made with very little money, so there are no grand locations, no hundreds of extras, nothing where permits or contracts would be involved. After we wrapped “Earrings,” Catherine and I spent some time discussing the next project I had in mind. She liked it, but it’s just as dark as “Earrings.” I wrote and shot “Earrings” during a very interesting point in my life, and while editing the film, I’ve changed as a person significantly. A few things have happened recently in my life (that are completely unrelated to this film) that have pushed me to reexamine a few things. My point is, I think I could benefit from doing something a little lighter on this next go. Now, I doubt I’ll ever make a film that will have audiences rolling with laughter, but something not so heavy seems right. Something with hope could be nice. Quite nice, in fact.

Earrings is released on the 28th of July
Alex’s blog
More information on Earrings, from pre-production to the trailer.

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Review – The Amazing Spider-Man

First of all, let the record show that I have not seen the Raimi Spider-Man film that came out in 2002, so I won’t be able to compare the two, and it also means that I go into this films with fairly fresh expectations although I do, like everyone else, know the origin of Spider-Man.

The Amazing Spider-Man tells that exact story, the origin of the eponymous webslinger, and I will say that, in spite of a handful of flaws, it does so rather well. It succeeds most admirably by focusing on the man (played excellently by Andrew Garfield) as much as it does on the mask, and the strength of his performance, as well as the one given by Emma Stone and Gwen Stacey, is the anchor that the film uses.

As well as the two leads, the cast includes Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors, and a particularly good Martin Sheen as the iconic Uncle Ben, who uses his natural charisma and presence and excellent comic timing (which truly shines with one liners like “nobody likes your meatloaf”) to craft a memorable performance with much less screen time than the other principle characters.

However, one thing that the film suffers from, particularly during the first hour, is incredibly poor pacing. Anyone that saw the trailers knows that it hints on one of the major plot points being the ‘mystery’ behind the disappearance of Peter’s parents. This, to put it bluntly, does not appear in the film, and it causes major issues in the first half and the prologue, as well as rendering some of the dialogue somewhat redundant.

Also, for a big budget film, the CGI is surprisingly average, especially for the villainous Lizard, who looks surprisingly underwhelming. This isn’t at all helped by having Ifans speak while playing him. I simply couldn’t take that seriously at all, which is a shame because The Lizard was an interesting chocie of villain, and with some better CGI could have been pulled off more effectively.

As I mentioned before, the leading performances are wonderful – Garfield captures the wisecracking wit of Peter Parker just as well as he does with his isolation and endearing awkwardness. Stone plays the love interest well, and with her natural talent manages to elevate Gwen Stacey to more than just a girl next door. This is where perhaps the best element of the film lies – in the romance at its core.

It’s not often that I praise romantic relationships in films – I think they’re rarely done well and fall prey to boring pitfalls, which this one, impressively didn’t. With their wonderful screen chemistry, you genuinely care for the two of them, both individually and as a pair, and the awkwardness of their encounters early on to the development of their relationships is utterly joyous to watch.

Other than a heavy handed score that has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and totally loses its effect, the film is technically executed to an incredibly high standard. This is particularly true of the cinematography, which creates stunning shots of New York, fluid camerawork for the entertaining action sequences to truly exhilarating point of view shots of Spider-Man webswinging across the city, as Garfield revels in the discovery of his characters powers.

Yes, it’s flawed, and the first half leaves rather a lot to be desired, but it’s a damn well made movie and it was thoroughly entertaining, helped in its weaker passages by excellent lead performances. From its adrenaline pumping action sequences to a heartfelt and surprisingly well executed romance, The Amazing Spider-Man is a thoroughly enjoyable film. But how it stacks up to the Raimi one is not for me to comment on.

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