Wednesday, May 25, 2016


UPDATE on our Post 
FEATURING DOUG PRATT'S REVIEW OF THE TV SERIES - THE AMERICANS (posted on May 14th) 

Variety announces --‘The Americans’ Renewed for Last Two Seasons, FX Show to End in 2018.

A good spy should always have an Exit Strategy...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Do you fit the Profile of a Creative Artist who will Succeed?

What is the DNA of a Successful Creative Artist?* 


One of the areas I’m working on with the next Professional Screenwriting book is helping artists achieve self-awareness while they pursue their craft. 
To that end, I believe much can be learned from studying creative artists, past and present. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking for patterns that might reveal the answers to key and relevant (meaning 2016) questions concerning creativity. 
I’ve come up with more than 20 compelling elements worth considering if you are wondering whether you have... the right stuff.  
With this post I want to share 10 of those 20+ attributes I believe many successful artists have in common. With the exception of the first attribute, none of the other 9 are ranked in any special order of importance: 


1 Most successful creative artists have a history of being able to demonstrate their innate creative/artistic talent to third parties able to judge such attributes.Even "late bloomers" (those who end up successful late in life) will almost always have a history of showing innate talent early in their life. Natual talent for a particular art or craft is always a huge factor in profiling successful artists. 

2 The successful artist usually has a lifelong passion for the creative arts. 

3 Even though there may be a lifelong passion for the creative arts, the successful artist has a history of progression from being a fan of Movies/TV/Books/Media to being part of the creative process.  

4 Many successful Creative Artists have spent a lot of time, (sometimes years), thinking critically about the art and craft of movies/TV/books/media. Their thoughts are intended for public consumption and often times are paid for by a third party. 

5 Successful artists often create without any guarantee of financial compensation. Sure every artist will dream at times of a huge payday for their creative efforts, but such fantasies are often not what fuels their effort. 

6 The successful creative artist usually has an extensive early history of creativity. It doesn't have to be a prodigy situation, but we are most likely talking about an early childhood passion — shooting home movies… charcoal sketches of friends… acting in Junior high school plays… learning a musical instrument, etc. 

7 The successful creative artist is self-driven. This often times leads to becoming the originator of a movie/TV/books/media project (which involves other Creative Artists the artist may not know before the project ;and is not a vanity project meant to be seen only by family /close friends). This is all about the successful creative artist at one time refusing to wait for others to grant him/her entry into the creative club, but instead acting independantly to control their own creative fate. 

8 We’ll call this the Malcom Gladwell 10k Rule - Creative Success is achieved by spending 10,000 hours of learning a specific craft - screenwriting... directing... acting... writing.. or performing music in Hamburg, Germany until you've learned your trade. 

9 There is a distinct pattern shared by many Successful Creative Artists that demonstrate the ability to learn their craft (as an apprentice/ with the help of a mentor/ by real time experience), usually over a long educational process. The successful creative artist then has the character trait to expertly apply what has been learned to enhance their talent and creative skills. 
The ability to learn/grow/evolve as a creative artist is a key factor if an one is to eventually succeed. 

10 Strong social skills are often a very important component to achieving creative success. This is more an existential reality in the modern world of entertainment and the arts than ever before.  What do I mean by “Social Skills?” Here's one key example — the ability to express a creative vision to the other artists who will be able to help a specific project become a production reality... and a success.  


* It's fair to ask the question, what is my definition of “a Successful Creative Artist?" For this list only, I define a successful creative artist as one who has achieved positive financial and/or positive critical and/or positive audience reaction to at least one creative work, specifically created for a commercial/mass audience.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Red Seeds Planted on American Soil


There is a lot of quality choices in home media entertainment today which is why it’s been hard every month to choose just one excerpt from The DVD Laser Disc Newsletter.
This is the main reason I’m excited about today’s post — a Second Excerpt extracted from the same May Newsletter! 
The review we’re featuring has Doug Pratt writing about the first three seasons of the TV series, THE AMERICANS.  
I’ve been a fan of the show from the very beginning. And yet, even today, whenever I think of the series, the first thought that always pops in my mind is the casting of Keri Russell as one of the leads.  At one point during the development process of the show, the casting call went out for the main characters and the description of “Elizabeth Jennings” probably read something like this — the character has an emotionally cold interior; is a woman driven to succeed as if programed like a machine; the right actress is one who will not only hold her own with her male co-star, but is actually at times shoring up her
emotionally weaker spy partner. How Keri Russell ended up answering the casting call for the show speaks volumes about how much she has grown as an actress. It also says a lot about how the filmmakers/FX executives took chances with this series from the very beginning. If you need a show to binge on, look no further than Doug Pratt’s review below. I must admit that I’m envious of anyone out there who gets to watch this TV series straight through from the beginning.



Oh say can you see                                            Doug Pratt


America is a vast melting pot.  
People of different nationalities and races move here to live their lives in our bountiful land.  
Africans.  Australians.  South Americans.  Russian spies.  
The 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment release, THE AMERICANS Season One (UPC#024543869061, $30), is a four-platterset of a TV series originally broadcast in 2013, about a

married couple living in the Washington D.C. area in the early Eighties who run a travel agency and have two kids, and spend every spare moment they have conducting espionage for the Soviet Union.  
In some ways, the show is so ludicrous it is a satire, not that there weren’t Russian spies doing all sorts of crazy things back then, but those spies probably didn’t look like Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, and likely did not have quite the white bread suburban family cover that these two have.  Nor is it readily believable that the FBI agent played by Noah Emmerich, who is searching for them, unknowingly happens to move his family into the house right across the street, so they can have barbecues together and otherwise get to become friends.  
As a drama, however, the show settles into a comfortable suspense rhythm.  Although the narrative continually advances, each of the thirteen 42-minute episodes has an individual story in which some piece of information has to be obtained or some other figure in their world has to be dealt with.  

When there are action scenes, they are quite arousing, and the actual drama of suspicion, compromise and betrayal is effectively sustained.  But, while the show keeps a straight face at all times, its premise is highly satirical, using the dynamics of the different character relationships to explore the frailties of everything from love to patriotism.  Both the husband and the wife characters readily sleep with other people as part of their assignments, but present the façade that they are true to one another to their children, while the bond that they have formed by having those children begins to tug on their ready acceptance of the infidelities.  While such an arrangement is completely opposite of the idealized American family, it is perhaps less different on a case-by-case basis, and thus generates an elevated humor from suggesting that the flaws in their façade are not because of normal impulses or emotional problems, but because they aren’t real Americans. 
History tells us that both the Russians and the Americans, during that era, were vastly overestimating one another’s capabilities, and the show is true enough to the facts to reflect this, which also adds an element of refined amusement to the proceedings.  
So, the show is ridiculous, but as it utilizes its premise to explore the emotional conflicts of its characters from a relatively fresh perspective, essentially taking the cloak and dagger out of the shadowy, rain-glazed cobblestones of Europe and placing it in the brightly lit linoleum of American shopping malls and such, it is consistently intriguing and captivating. 
Margo Martindale has a key supporting role as the couple’s ‘handler.’  Each platter has a ‘Play All’ option.  The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The color transfer is fine.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has an occasionally effective dimensionality.  They don’t go crazy with the Eighties music, but once in a while a choice number surges onto the soundtrack, and those gas-guzzling Eighties car engines sound wonderful.  There is a Spanish track in standard stereo, optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, 4 minutes of bloopers, 12 minutes of interesting deleted scenes that include a strong but entirely verbal erotic sequence, and 25 minutes of good promotional featurettes that talk about the history of espionage and the Cold War in the Eighties (one of the reasons the show is set at that time is because the technology was more awkward—and cinematically ‘friendly’).  

There is also a pretty good commentary track on one episode, featuring two of the show’s creators, Joseph Weisberg and Joel Fields, along with Emmerich.  They, too, talk about spycraft and so forth, but also about staging the show (which was actually shot in New York), the difference between making TV and making movies (“I compare it to sort of sketching in pencil to working in oil.  There’s not a lot of time to revisit and rework.  You have to really trust your instincts and experience and sort of impulsively go with and roll with it and not be too precious.  At first, I started out feeling somewhat resentful of that, I really liked to toil away and really try and hone, but there’s a great freedom and trust.  Some of the best work, I think, comes out of that space.  It’s a very different beast.  I’m filming a movie now and I have to say part of it’s wonderful and part of it feels like, ‘Come on, guys, you gotta be able to move quicker than this.’  You get use to the pace.  It can get very tedious, a movie can be very dull.  You spend a whole day shooting two pages.  On the other hand, there is an opportunity for more microscopic work within a scene.  [On TV,] you don’t have time to explore as much.”), and some of its compromises (they say that the most common question they get asked is how the wigs the characters are wearing for their disguises stay on during the wild sex scenes, and their answer is, ‘secret Soviet wig technology’).


With barely perceptible nicks and tucks (some of which show up on the deleted scenes), THE AMERICANS The Complete Second Season (UPC# 024543931904, $30), from 2014, is a stronger and more satisfying show.  The house still seems to get cleaned magically, and the kids don’t have much of a social life, but there are stabs at making such points more realistic.  The spy stuff all has the feel of verisimilitude, not that all of the adventures would have happened to the same spies, but the killings, the corruption, the sneaky business and the double crosses seem like they could easily be the hidden part of the headlines you do read.  And the show’s inspired cleverness of using a ‘non-American’ couple as a representation of America becomes cleverer and more powerful as the episodes advance.  From a political perspective, the show is perfectly balanced.  Sometimes the Russians are morally justified in their actions, sometimes the Americans are, and sometimes, each side is totally wrong.  Both sides blunder forward without knowing what the other side is actually doing.  Sometimes they figure it out, and sometimes they don’t.  
One of the improvements is the downplaying of overt political messages, since the genuine right and wrong of the character actions seep through anyway.  The suspense is terrific and once in a while there is some good action, but the primary appeal of the show is its exploration of the two protagonists.  It is clear they have feelings, it is clear that they have passions, and it is clearly that they are as confused by parenthood and marriage as everyone else is.  It is not clear that they have souls, but that is the reason for the show, to find them.
Specifically, in Second Season, each child does something that the parents do not approve of, unaware of the blatant hypocrisy that occurs when the parents chastise them for ‘keeping secrets.’  The FBI agent finds that his relationship with his informant has become so sticky that he may be turning into an informant himself, and his own marriage is compromised in the process.  There is also a cute introduction to the beginnings of the Internet, as the characters attempt to learn about and purloin ‘Stealth’ technology. 

Again, thirteen episodes are spread to four platters, with the same picture and sound presentations.  Along with an amusing 4-minute blooper reel, there are 6 minutes of deleted scenes that include stronger political statements than what made it into the show and 18 minutes of more informative production featurettes, which, among other things, speculate that there are still Russian agents living among us.


A little over halfway through THE AMERICANS The Complete Third Season (UPC#024543104575, $40)—the beginning of the third platter—there are a series of three episodes that each contain a scene or sequence of scenes so compelling they are worthy of John Le Carré.  And the scenes have nothing directly to do with spying.  Indirectly, they are about spying, because that is what has placed the characters in these dramatic situations.  But it is the drama itself—about betrayal and love, about death and evil, about parental responsibility and affection—that packs such a powerful punch no action scene or clever plot twist could ever come close to having the same impact.  Indeed, the scenes are so magnificent they excuse any other shortcoming that the series has.  
Frank Langella is brought in to replace Martindale, for example, and the producers sort of wasted their money doing so, not because he isn’t a good actor, but because they had to pay him so much money that they could only afford to do most of his scenes on one simple living room set.  The sequences have a contrived feel because there is no secondary tension going on as there is in the scenes where they meet their handlers surreptitiously on the streets and so forth.  A cheaper actor could have allowed the creators a greater flexibility of time to mix up the locations.  But it doesn’t matter.  TV shows are allowed those sorts of compromises if they deliver in other ways, and that is what the show does, with great success.  There is less action in the 2015 season, but once the premise really starts to take hold, going to the very core of the moral and spiritual foundations of the characters, the entertainment becomes overwhelmingly powerful.  The show no longer feels like a satire.
One of the deleted scenes in First Season, incidentally, relates directly to the final, cliffhanger scene in Third Season.  Another thirteen episodes are spread across four platters.  The picture quality is consistent with the earlier seasons.  The stereo mix is less compelling—there aren’t as many distinctive car sounds as before, either—and there are no foreign language tracks. 
The Portuguese has been dropped from the subtitling options, as well.  There are 7 minutes of mostly inconsequential deleted scenes and one 10-minute promotional featurette about one of the primary plot lines in the scenes, involving the couple’s daughter, played with great promise by Holly Taylor.



Monday, May 9, 2016

How the GAME OF THRONES Showrunners EARNED a return on their Creative INVESTMENT...






Of course, everyone is talking about the Jon Snow “resurrection” in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” 

However, let's approach the series twist from a Professional Screenwriter POV and ask this question - 
Did the series show runners, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss (and of course the original writer of the books, George R.R. Martin) earn Jon Snow’s Resurrection? 

Professional Screenwriters know that the word earn comes up during the development of a script or storyline in a TV Series or Theatrical Screenplay. It was once used more often by development executives or producers, but now writers frequently use the word when assessing the the quality of their storyline. 

Here are some examples in the way earn (or earned) might be used in development notes on a script — 


“I don’t feel like the main character earned the breakthrough in the murder investigation she was working on. I felt like everything she needed to know was handed to her by the snitch character… out of the blue.” 
 “We didn’t earn this supernatural plot twist to our story. There’s no way we laid enough pipe that the audience will accept, maybe even understand, that this was a possibility in our storyline. And our lack of credibility could cause us to lose a major part of our audience who will check out after this scene.” 
“In the scenes where our main character connected emotionally with his wife, I couldn’t help but feel like the breakthrough wasn’t really earned. There was nothing the hero accomplished that would explain his mental leap to a better place. Nor do I believe he earned the wife’s sympathetic reaction. It all felt like I was reading something in the script because it was the place in the script for this to happen.” 
  
Reading the above examples from development notes on scripts, we can see that earn is about setting up a plot beat/and/or/substantial character achievement within the screenplay that is consistent with great storytelling. 

Another word I use when I’m evaluating the quality of a storyline is invest (funny how both words are also used in the financial world). 

Here are some development notes built around the concept of the word invest  (or invested) – 


“I don’t think we’ve invested enough time in this character to have her turn out to be the lynchpin of the entire plot.” 


“We need to invest more in setting this major left turn in the plot. As it stands now, this twist should be a surprise, but instead throws the audience out of the picture because it feels like it’s the beat from a different movie.” 


“Let's consider investing more in the rules of our universe so the audience has no problem understanding that this could happen within the context of our story.” 

I'll have more on both Earn and Invest in the next PS Book. 
But now let's go back to my original question – 
Did the brilliant filmmakers behind Game of Thrones earn Jon Snow’s Resurrection? 


Absolutely. 

From the very beginning of the series, the show has had supernatural elements co-existing within a medieval/fantasy universe. Therefore, Jon Snow’s life after death, through the incantations of a witch, was not only a plausible plot twist, audiences that loved the character, prayed it would happen! 


As a fan of the series I remember saying over the years that “I can’t believe they are investing so much time with the Melisandre character.” Last week, like the millions of other fans of the series, I was entertained by how the investment ended up paying off. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

THE GRADUATE - A Crash Course in Perfect Filmmaking

"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word."


This month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter prompts me to re-affirm the wonderful value in owning/viewing a movie on Blu-ray or DVD... especially if the movie is a Criterion Collection release. 


Early on, in one of the most influential movies of all time, there is a character attending a graduation party who whispers to our lead character, Benjamin, just one word — “plastics.” One word, meant to be a secret to success as our lead character embarks on his journey ahead. THE GRADUATE ended up having more than just one word worth listening to. Indeed, there are so many quoteable lines of dialogue that many Professional Screenwriters consider the film to be an example of the perfectly written script. 


The film has become a creative touchstone for directors as well. Mike Nichols exploited the wide-screen capabilities in telling a small, personal. indie story. He would place his characters on the edge of the frame to illustrate how distant they were from each other. He would also use the middle of the frame to show how two characters could be sexually together, but emotionally worlds apart. He used depth of focus in the classic shot of a seductive woman in the foreground while we watched the panic on Benjamin's face as he stood in the background. There were scenes shot with long lens (hallways, stairwells), one, in particular, has Benjamin running, running, and running toward the camera while not seeming to make any progress at all. There were long takes that allow scenes to have a documentary vibe, a feeling that what we were watching was... authentic. 

And there were montage sequences that were not only edited to suggest the passage of time, but also cut to the beat of pop songs that informed the soundtrack. THE GRADUATE not only gave birth to the career of Simon and Garfunkel, the film ended up becoming a road map to the first music videos that would show up on MTV years later.  

This is a film that I’ve returned to often over the years, but I’ve never felt great about how it looked on video. Doug Pratt writes about how the latest release by Criterion finally delivers a Blu-ray/DVD experience that invites anyone to watch the film again and again. The clincher for me was a new audio commentary with director Mike Nichols being interviewed by Stephen Soderbergh. Nichols and Soderbergh happen to be two key directors who ushered independent filmmaking to main-stream audiences -- Nichols in the 60s, and a couple of decades later, Soderburgh in the 90s. Who knows, maybe there’s someone who will listen to their interview and be influenced enough to be the next indie pioneer. Count on me being the one at a party celebrating the recent graduation of a film student by whispering to him, "I just want to say two words to you. Two words — DVD Commentary."   



      Early Hoffman                                                  Doug Pratt



Remastered a long time ago for 5.1 stereo, the DTS tracks for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of THE GRADUATE (UPC#715515151-68212, $40) and the MGM 20th Century Fox Blu-ray (UPC#027616077066, $15), are glorious.  The music is warm and smooth, and finely detailed, enhancing the film’s dynamic blend of nostalgia and topicality, and preserving the freshness of its humor and insight.  The colors are also preserved with perfection, and the image has just a slight softness at times, to reinforce its now antique setting.  The 1967 feature remains a vibrantly entertaining classic, primarily due to its marvelous performances and its inspired, meticulously constructed narrative—about a cougar before there were cougars, and the aimless young man who pulls out of her grasp when he meets her daughter—but it also endures because of the innovative film style employed by Mike Nichols, which includes its pulled-from-the-popular-culture musical score, its aggressively freeform editing, and its innovative cinematography—the camera goes into a swimming pool and underwater, ‘wearing a diver’s mask.’  No matter how often you see the film, seeing it again is not only a delight, but it unfailingly reveals a greater depth and richness with every screening.

The film is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  The colors on the Criterion presentation are more intense than the colors on the MGM version, but do not loose an iota of sharpness.  On both, the image is spotless, but in a direct comparison, the MGM version is just a little bit paler.  The MGM presentation has an alternate French track in mono, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and a trailer.  The Criterion version does have optional English subtitles, if you can figure out how to activate them.

Criterion supplies two commentary tracks.  One is the passable analytical talk that was given by film historian Howard Suber on Criterion’s LD release.  

The other is an absolutely riveting conversation between Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, as they talk about everything from the inspirations of specific lines of dialog to working with the other cast and crew members and the reasoning behind not only the camera angles and choices, but the editing, as well. Nichols, for example, reveals that some of the apprehension expressed by Hoffman’s character came directly from the skits Nichols himself used to perform with Elaine May.  

He shares many stories about working with Bancroft, whom he had dated some time earlier, and how everyone was a bit intimidated by her character on the set.  He also wonders wistfully why he never worked with her again.  

He explains why he turned down Robert Redford.  “I would talk to Redford about it.  We were good friends because we’d done Barefoot in the Park together, which was my first Broadway play and his second.  And we were shooting pool in my rented stone house and I said, ‘I don’t think so.  I don’t think this is your part.’  And he said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘Because I don’t think you can play a loser.’  And he said, ‘What are you talking about?  Of course I can play a loser.’  I said, ‘All right.  How many times have you struck out with a girl?’  And he said, ‘What do you mean?’  And I said, ‘I rest my case.’”  


Soderbergh, for his part, provides a constantly insightful analysis of every scene and often grills Nichols until he gets to the very heart of how the ideas came together and who contributed what, and yet, at the same time, they also branch off to talk about how viewers react to characters, how good actors make you think about the people you know, and about the social impact a film can have.

 “To be an ‘idiot rebel’ is something that was true for a lot of people, but it was completely unfashionable.  [The producer] made me go to college after college running this before it opened, and I don’t think you can guess the thing that I heard the most from college students, was over and over and over and over—‘Why isn’t it about Vietnam?’  Because that was the fashionable topic, that was the topic that showed what a serious person you were, and how deeply involved, and to make a movie that was for young people and was not about Vietnam actually affronted them.  It’s hard to remember that different times have different fashions.”  




Also featured on the Criterion BD is an excellent 38 minute interview with Hoffman, who shares many stories about the shoot and his early days in New York, along with a nice 25-minute conversation between a very elderly Buck Henry, who wrote the screenplay, and an equally geriatric Lawrence Turman, who was the producer, although both men still have vivid memories of creating the film; an excellent 26-minute deconstruction of the film’s editing and profile of editor Sam O’Steen; a fascinating 16-minute interview with Nichols by Barbara Walters before he started shooting the film; a 5-minute interview with Paul Simon by Dick Cavett in which he explains that the song that was turned into Mrs. Robinson was originally titled ‘Mrs. Roosevelt,’ which lets the song’s other lyrics make a lot more sense; 13 minutes of screen tests, some of which appeared on the LD, showing how hopeless the casting had seemed before they brought in Hoffman; and a 26-minute retrospective appreciation of the film.  The 23-minute documentary and the trailer that appeared on the LD have been carried over.



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What are some facts movie directors know that common people don't?

I love Quora!

I've learned so much from reading questions/answers in the categories I'm interested in. It's also been enlightening reading the type of questions that people all over the world are interested in knowing more about!
I just answered my first question on the website earlier this month. The question felt like it was right up my alley! Here's the original question and my answer below -- 

Q: What are some facts movie directors know that common people don't?

A: A good or great director knows how to manipulate an audience watching a film. The director knows how to use every aspect of moviemaking – the script,the acting, the music, the photography, and other “mood” enhancers such as production design, lighting, costumes, makeup, and editing. All, and much more are used in the creation of a film. 

Every step of the way the final goal is to have a film that manipulates the viewer into feeling, thinking, and experiencing the screen story in a way that is purposeful and carefully designed. Every decision is meant to manipulate the audience to laugh; feel afraid; or cry, while the story plays on the big screen.

The medium of Film has proved to be a very powerful way of impacting a mass audience. Before movies there was live performances, books, and music. All had a significant impact on audiences when the work engaged their audience. The artist behind the work was able to connect with the audience by using their talent, skills, and techniques, to manipulate the reaction to their story.

Movies became the “Perfect Storm” of audience manipulation when the medium was able to achieve a symbiosis of all the arts that had come before –performance, the narrative storyline, music, and projected images. Collectively the new medium allowed a perfect simulation of the way people see the world, if not in their everyday world… then in their dreams, a subconscious vision of life played back during R.E.M induced dreams and nightmares.

Film directing is shooting a movie with a clear understanding of how the audience experiences the world, experiences movies, and how the two combine to construct a mental process that takes in the world around them, awake and asleep.

Everyone is different. Every generation sees things differently. 
A film director must figure out how to manipulate his audience when watching his movie so that his work will endure. 
Not just over the weekend, but years, or even decades from now.

Richard Finney
My credits as a producer are on imdb.com / WGA member / My Blog is pitandpen.com






Sunday, April 3, 2016

How "YOUTH" is Best Served by Someone with Experience


This month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter prompts me to bring up a topic recently debated in the media  – 

Do Film Reviewers matter anymore?


 

But before I address the issue, I want to mention what film critic, Doug Pratt, writes about two of my favorite TV series from 2015 -- 


"By the end, we were so unsure of what is real and what is not that we watched the whole season all over again.  You’ll probably want to, too.  The show is so subversive that it even undermines one’s concepts of entertainment." 




Mr. Pratt likes MR. ROBOT a lot, but his review ends up being a level less than the praise he reserves for his review of the first two seasons of The LEFTOVERS (this is from his review of Season 2): 



"The storytelling is highly involving, jumping back and forth between characters and situations, and re-telling events from multiple perspectives.  There is also a very elaborate dream sequence that lasts almost an entire episode and is as challenging as anything to have appeared on TV, although it fits nicely with the show’s psychoanalytical turn.  The season finale looks like something out of Hieronymus Bosch."

Mr. Pratt appreciates how the filmmakers of The LEFTOVERS  wound up pulling off one of the hardest creative feats to achieve in TV — after a great first season, following it up with an equal or better second season. 

MR. ROBOT must now confront the same dilemma The LEFTOVERS faced after its maiden voyage. There is at least one core creative element that was revealed during the first season of MR. ROBOT that will make the second season a challenge for the filmmakers. 



The recent theatrical premiere of BATMAN v SUPERMAN - Dawn of Justice raised an issue that many love to debate, especially during a time when we now turn to the Internet to guide our entertainment choices — do professional film reviewers still matter? 
The topic once again became an issue when BvSDoJ did huge box office business despite being savaged by reviewers. Perhaps there was a unique element to the discussion this time because many people writing on the popular social sites really liked BvSDoJ and were not embarrassed to defend their love in writing. 
No matter how this issue plays out, one aspect of the controversy I believe is relevant is that we should keep in mind that there are differences between professional  film “reviewers,” and professional film “critics.” Reviewers are paid to see a ton of movies every year, and as part of their job, assigned films to review that they are not at all excited to see. These same reviewers often write their reviews against a deadline, or because they will be seeing another movie (or two) tomorrow, what they write is inevitably done very quickly. This is just one factor (and there’s many more) sometimes leading to the lack of thoughtfulness in your average Film Reviewer’s review. 

Doug Pratt is a Film Critic. When you read this month’s excerpt on the movie YOUTHtwo points will quickly become very clear – 

You’d be an idiot not to seek this movie out on home video. 

And a film critic who writes intelligently and passionately about movies will always have a place in our entertainment consuming lives. A great film critic is capable of pointing out what matters and what doesn’t, and when they write about why, you are absolutely convinced that they know the way.   





Youth is wasted on the young


Sadly, the best film of 2015 was only nominated for one Oscar, albeit a deserved one in the ‘Best Song’ category.  The most often heard putdown of the film, Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH, a 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray release (UPC#024543239291, $40), is that it is too gimmicky, but that comes from people who don’t like cinema, who think that movies are only supposed to tell stories and not feed the senses and the spirit with a full range of artistry.  Like Sorrentino’s masterpiece, THE GREAT BEAUTY, there is a surprise every minute in
YOUTH, dazzling the viewer in a cascade of sounds, images and emotions from its very first, transfixing frame and note to the stunning dedication at its end, and like THE GREAT BEAUTY, it is well served by the spectacular qualities of Blu-ray audio and video delivery.  

Taking the cue from the Oscars, David Lang’s musical score is as good a place as any to begin categorizing the film’s many pleasures and satisfactions.  There is not just one type of music in the film, which is set in a lovely Alpine spa and resort, and the score is augmented by a wide selection of source music and other pieces, all gloriously and crisply delivered in 7.1-channel DTS sound.  There are different performance groups that play each night at the spa, in a variety of genres, so that every evening has a different atmosphere.  Lang’s background music is not intended to hide behind the scenery and nudge the viewer toward feeling more about the characters or drama.  Instead, it is a stimulating component to the overall effect of each sequence, arousing the viewer’s involvement with the film’s state of being.  In one sequence, the music will be refined and ethereal, while in another, there is a genuine rock music video, which turns into a comical nightmare.  And the border between where the music stops and the sound effects begin sometimes disappears.  In one scene, the hero, an elderly, retired composer and ‘maestro’ played by Michael Caine, steps into a shop full of cuckoo clocks, which sound off with a subtle organization, and in another segment, Caine is sitting by himself in a mountain pasture, physically conducting the cowbells, the moos, the tweeting birds and the other seemingly natural sounds around him.
But if Caine’s character is entwined with the film’s audio design, then Harvey Keitel, playing an aging filmmaker and longtime friend, who is also staying at the spa, is intricately linked with the film’s visual inventiveness and audacity.  Letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1, the location shots of the mountains, the hills, the valleys, the fields, the woods, and the waters are transporting.  The film is a constant visual thrill, from its intriguing close-ups of objects and faces to its magical drifting that defies a sense of space or time, and every moment is heightened in impact by the precision of the BD transfer.  Sorrentino even addresses the movie’s own supposed tackiness, a complaint brought on by its unrestrained sense of invention, by having characters make condescending references to the artwork at the hotel and the entertainment acts, essentially saying to the viewer, ‘Relax, it is what it is.’  While the film has tragic elements, it is also, forthrightly, a comedy, and its humor often arises simply from a unique choice of angles—there is a delightful sequence that begins with a tennis ball being lobbed again and again straight up into the air—or a juxtaposition of images.  



The heartiest laugh we have had in quite a while occurs when Caine and Keitel are relaxing in an otherwise empty pool, and a young woman, seemingly oblivious to their presence, comes to bathe.  Their expressions barely change, but you are so onto their wavelength that you see everything that is going on in their heads.  Sorrentino makes you do all of the work, but that is the reward of the scene.
Running 123 minutes, the film’s narrative emerges gradually and in pieces, but there is so much else going on that the story doesn’t have to be in a rush to get anywhere.  Caine's character is trying to embrace retirement and resisting a request to
conduct a Royal performance.  Keitel’s character is periodically working on the final act of a script with a group of screenwriters.  The daughter of Caine’s character, played by Rachel Weisz, is coping with a sudden divorce, and Paul Dano
plays a Johnny Depp-like movie star, enjoying the relative isolation of the locale before he moves on to another production.  The most amazing appearance, however, is an
Oscar-worthy cameo by Jane Fonda, who plays a burnt-out actress confronting Keitel as part of the film’s climax.  But the movie as a whole belongs solely to Caine.  A wonderful, enduring movie star for six decades, Caine’s acting skills have come to be especially lauded in his later years, and he has received a worthy share of awards for his work.
 Nevertheless, it is a travesty that he was not nominated for an Oscar as best actor.  The range and gravitas that he exhibits in every moment he is on the screen is both remarkable and moving.  In the very beginning of the film, there are a few scenes with Keitel where the dialog exchanges sound too much like words written on a page, but only if your eyes are closed.  When you see him, he owns every moment, changing like magic from the actor and star that is Michael Caine to a world famous and highly accomplished conductor, who may look and sound like Michael Caine, but has clearly spent his life working with music and orchestras, and not making movies.
There are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, a trailer, a very small selection of lovely promotional photos, and 18 minutes of promotional featurettes, which hardly do the film justice.  There is also an audio track that describes the action (“Daytime.  The view of the back of the Tibetan’s monk’s buzzed head drifts down to his shoulders and reveals the path by the garden in front of him.  A red cape draped over his shoulders comes into view, along with the mountains before him, the lower peaks blanketed in grass.  Taller, more distant peaks jut into the sky, their craggy summits dusted with snow.  The view of the monk becomes wider to show most of his body draped in the cape, which ripples in a light breeze.  It becomes wider still, setting the monk’s figure against billowing clouds in a pale sky.  A full view of the monk reveals the hem of his cape waving gently, high above the ground, as he hovers in the air.”).
Initially, we bought into the film’s bad press, and kept thinking that while the first part of the movie was fantastic, it was undoubtedly going to disappoint us somewhere further on.  But instead, the film just got better and better and funnier and wiser and better, 
culminating in a concert sequence that is utterly glorious both for its uninhibited embrace of artistic expression and for its carefully measured restraint of that same unbounded freedom.  The story had ended earlier, but the audio and visual components are brought to a separate and more resounding climax, which some viewers may not recognize as being integral to how the film is intended to envelop your consciousness.  The longer you stay around movies, however, the more you will come to realize that YOUTH is indeed another Sorrentino masterpiece.