The timeless quality of movie making magic, and can future innovation cross a line

Since the early days of film making, the audience at the cinema have happily engaged in a suspension of disbelief and partook in the grand illusion of movies. The magical aspect of film making is getting the viewer to believe – to accept the storyline, the characters, the mis en scene, the location, and anything else they may see on the silver screen. Believe all this even though none may be true. The pioneers of cinema such as George Méliès in his 1902 French film ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (Le Voyage Dans la Lun) employed a number of cinematic technique and special effects to show a rocket blasting off into space. Since the industry was brand new, Méliès used many tricks of his own invention or learning such as disappearances that occur in substitution splices, smoke pyrotechnics, and transitional dissolves. Anyone familiar with Buster Keaton’s comedies know the artful use of these jump cut tricks to achieve a certain reaction. This was the silent era, where the film making focus was primarily visual. At times, a piano accompaniment would play in the cinema, yet the only dialogue or description was that of the readable black screen text shots during the film. Without sound and a voice, the silent film actor usually had to convey their expressions differently on screen and this if often why silent acting can seem effusive and theatrical. The always entertaining Charlie Chaplin, for instance, became famous for his ability to convey emotions with a multitude of facial features and movements on screen to evoke laughter or sympathy in the viewer.

The advent of sound at first terrified many in the film industry, especially actors who now had to use their voice and learn dialogue. In the classic film Singing in the Rain the character who plays a former silent film actress has such an awful, high-pitched voice that it needs to be dubbed over. Dubbing the voices or music in film went through a tipsy training wheel’s process whereby often synchronization issues led to sometimes comical situations (such as when the man had the woman’s voice or vice versa). Moments like these broke the veil of illusion or magic of cinema as the viewer would then be made aware that what they were watching was indeed a film full of mechanical or camera tricks. Unless the director wanted to achieve a certain message, as reflected with the oeuvre of Godard or Truffaut or with actors breaking the 3rd wall by looking at the camera, the inner workings must always be kept hidden. There is the famous scene in the Wizard of Oz where the powerful wizard demands “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” This essentially is a terrific metaphor for film making.

Another famous moment in the Wizard of Oz is when Dorothy steps out for the first time in the land of Oz and the world has magically turned to colour. Colour is another pivotal benchmark in the film industry as this led to greater realism and a deeper effect of the illusion. Before viewers were well aware that what they watched was a film, but now the world on screen reflected their own with colour and sound. Film buffs often love watching behind the scenes specials, playing trivia games, and also online games related to movies. For example, there are many online casino sites where film fanatics can discover slot games specific to movies. Online slots such as Elk Studios ‘Bloopers’ and ‘Platooners’ both show the process of film making while players spin 5 reels, 3 to 4 rows, and a set number of paylines. These slots are engaging, easy to learn, and offer many features and bonuses for the chance to win rewards. They also are great as casino slots, so an actor can even spin while getting their makeup done. Other movie themed titles include ‘Book of Oz’, Halloween’, and ‘Jurassic World.’

Speaking of Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic Park, the introduction of colour also saw the rise of Studio era film making where set backgrounds and effects could magically shoot a Sahara Desert sandstorm in Egypt in the morning and a snowstorm in the Arctic circle after a lunch break. The magic of the Studio lot allowed for movies to be filmed anywhere in the world and at any time. From the 1950s onward, cartoons and in particular Disney grew to massive a success. Yet until now there has always been a clear identification between what is a piece of animation and what is filmed in real life. In the past couple decades, however, leaps and bounds have been made with animation that coincides with the digital age. Skilled animators use CGI technology to further heighten the movie making magic and create virtually lifelike animations that blend with real world shots or backgrounds. For instance, creating a believable looking dragon or even characters that walk and talk like live actors, yet are complete animations. Most viewers may not even recognize what is real and what is not.

There is a paradox in cinematic animation when a CGI creation is so real that it crosses a line over to the ‘uncanny’, which has a tendency to turn off and even creep out audience. This was the case with the 2011 movie ‘The Adventures of TinTin’ that received uncertainty among critics who were distracted by the slight indicators that the characters were not human, even though the animation was so good they appeared to be living. Lifelike dolls have this same tendency, which is why they are often featured in horror films. With animation so good, it further raises the question of whether resurrecting deceased movie stars crosses an ethical line. For instance, ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ used animation mixed with an actor to create Princess Leia that resembled the recently passed actress Carrie Fischer and Grand Moff Tarkin played by late actor Peter Cushing. This relatively new area in film making remains a grey area with divided opinions. The key to maintaining the magic, however, is to keep the audience guessing and most importantly entertained.

 

 

 

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DVD Review “Christopher Cross: A Night In Paris”

Christopher Cross: A Night in Paris
DVD + 2CD
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Total Running Time: 97 minutes

Our rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

“What’s your favorite guilty pleasure song?” Well…while I always have to spend some time thinking about which 10 albums I’m going to be stranded on a desert island with or which 25 had the most impact on my life, the numero uno guilty pleasure song question has always been an easy one for me to answer: “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. Sure, many may think all copies of the song should be permanently exiled to the jukebox of cheese, but there’s no denying that it’s a perfectly crafted and superbly produced pop gem. It’s lush orchestral strains in tandem with that gently-picked guitar line always help me to find tranquility for the entirety of its four-minute jaunt – as does much of music he’s produced over the past 30+ years.

So why is it that, barely 15 minutes into watching his latest live DVD, “A Night in Paris”, I found myself with an aching headache, desperately wanting to grab the remote so I could eject the disc? Is it because Cross’ voice sounds so weak and strained that he’s butchered all of vocal lines in all of the songs he’s performed up to that point? No. Is it because the concert lighting is so flashy and overdone that it in no way matches the musical content or demeanor of the performers? No. Is it because, despite the fact that the show was allegedly shot using nine HD cameras, the picture quality looks like a bad bootleg copy that was obtained at a local flea market? No. Ahhh…but it does have something to do with the visuals. Quite a lot, in fact.

“Paris” is easily one of the most poorly filmed and shoddily edited live concert DVDs I have ever seen. For starters, the small, non-descript, dimly-lit stage doesn’t allow for much movement of either the musicians themselves or the camera crew. As a result, the resulting individual shots – including ones from a camera that’s inexplicably mounted on a tripod that’s located directly behind the drummer – are fairly static and bland.

In an effort to make up for lack of kinetic energy in both the individual shots and the overall performance itself, director Sebastien Bonnet has to cut the film together using rapid fire editing techniques that make it impossible to focus on any one visual for more than just a few seconds. Many music videos employ this style – and, luckily, they end after 3 to 4 minutes. But “Paris” runs a full 97 minutes. Mon dieu.

For example, the third song of the show, “Leave it to Me” (from Cross’ most recent studio outing, 2011’s “Doctor Faith”), times in at 3:49 and is 125 beats per minute (think Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” or Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” and you’re right on the money). By the time the band had hit their final flourish, I had counted 115 video cuts. That averages out to a staggering one cut every two seconds. Sure, that won’t induce epilepsy, but, trust me, it will make you reach for the Advil.

The 2CDs that are included in this set contain all 17 tracks contained on the DVD with most of the in-between song banter omitted. While the recording is solid and the tracks do represent a fair cross-section of Chris’ body of work, the performance is so lackluster and the quality of Cross’ vocal delivery is so awful that one would be far better off listening to 1999’s “Greatest Hits Live” CD or watching the “An Evening With Christopher Cross” DVD also from that same year. Both are much better of examples of why Cross’ career has spanned far beyond that “Best New Artist” Grammy win in 1979.

Cross mentions at various points throughout “A Night in Paris” that the performance is being recorded for a DVD so he can document this particular point in his career. Clearly, it’s an important evening to him. Hopefully, he’s pleased with the end results – because, frankly, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else would be.

"Alex Cross" DVD Giveaway [ENDED]

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To celebrate the DVD release of “Alex Cross”, Media Mikes would like to giveaway a copy of the film on DVD. If you would like to win this great prize, please leave us a comment below or send us an email and let us know your favorite Tyler Perry film. This giveaway will be open until February 15th. One entry per person, per household. All other entries will be considered invalid. Once the giveaway ends, Media Mikes will randomly pick out winners and alert the winners via email.

Don’t miss Tyler Perry in a “role like we have never seen him” (BOXOFFICE) when Alex Cross arrives on Blu-ray Disc (plus Digital Copy and UV), DVD (plus Digital Copy and UV), Digital Download, Video On Demand and Pay-Per-View on February 5 from Summit Entertainment, a LIONSGATE company. The latest installment in the Alex Cross series features Tyler Perry (Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds), Matthew Fox (TV’s “Lost”), Edward Burns (Man On A Ledge), Rachel Nichols (Conan the Barbarian) and Jean Reno (The Da Vinci Code).

Based on the novel “Cross” by James Patterson and popularized by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, Tyler Perry takes over as Dr. Alex Cross, a homicide detective/psychologist with the Detroit Police Department. Cross meets his match in a dangerous serial killer (Fox). The two face off in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, but when the mission gets personal, Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits. With a screenplay by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson; the film is directed by Rob Cohen.

The pulse-pounding crime thriller is from the director of The Fast and the Furious and arrives on Blu-ray Disc and DVD packed with bonus materials including a director’s commentary, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

 

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Film Review “Alex Cross”

Starring: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox and Rachel Nichols
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 41 mins
Summit Entertainment

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When you’re best known for playing a sassy black grandmother it takes a lot of guts to step into shoes formerly worn by Morgan Freeman. So right off the bat I have to give Tyler Perry a tip of the hat. And he more than earns it as he steps into the title role of “Alex Cross.”

Detective (and Dr.) Alex Cross and his team (Tommy (Edward Burns) and Monica (Nichols) have been called in to solve the torture/murder of a mysterious woman. Clues left behind point to a future victim, who is saved by the group but not before inflicting some whip-ass on the law. As a way of reassuring himself, and the team, Cross informs the others that, based on his information, there will be no retribution for their attempts at foiling the bad guy! Wrong, Alex. Shall we say…dead wrong?

Based on the character and popular novels created by James Patterson, “Alex Cross” is a familiar story for those who have read them. Here, instead of Washington D.C. the trio work for the Detroit police department. All have things going on in their lives. Tommy and Monica have been quietly dating for the past couple months, something that is obviously frowned on upon in the department. Alex has been offered a job with the FBI, but it means uprooting his family. So with all of this happening they are assigned the duty of protecting Leon Mercier (Jean Reno), a French businessman who may or may not be a target. Let the game of cat and mouse begin.

Before I go any further let me answer the big question – …Yes. Though he hasn’t yet attained the quiet gravitas that Morgan Freeman brings to almost every role, Perry is fine as Cross. Part Batman, part John McClane – Perry’s Cross does not have toned abs or a chiseled face, which makes him even more believable. On the other side, “Lost” star Matthew Fox is downright terrifying as a killer who believes in giving his clients their money worth. His eyes sunken and dark, Fox appears to have lost almost all of his body fat, making his frame long and sinewy. A role that could have been played so broadly is nailed perfectly. Director Cohen, who has helmed movies ranging from “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” to the original “Fast and the Furious,” keeps the action moving and earns extra points for featuring a climactic scene inside an old and crumbling movie theatre. The story is pretty much by the book, with the good guy and bad guy matching wits as if playing a deadly chess game. Some of the plot points do tend to go astray but for the most part the story stays on point and makes you look forward to a second chapter.