I have low tolerance for visuals without purpose. I watched Fernando Meirelles' "The Constant Gardener" last night and was struck by the inconsistency of the visual style throughout the picture. Granted, this is a "global" film, with different color palettes for different regions, but the amalgamation of handheld documentary-style camerawork and traditional framing creates a jarring experience. Every shot needs purpose. It's not about interesting angles; it's about enhancing the moment in visual terms.

Note: Despite my distaste for some of the visuals in "The Constant Gardener", I still found the story engaging. It's proof that a strong narrative can carry itself regardless of visual style. However, the marriage of a strong narrative and an appropriate visual style will always produce a better product.

Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" is a strange affair. Shot entirely with the new Panavision Genesis digital camera, the film, which showcases only one trained actor in a cast of thousands, is, in some ways, a great accomplishment. In others, it falls short.

Having been very impressed with the images of "Superman Returns" (also shot on the Genesis), I was anxious to see "Apocalypto", certain it would exceed my expectations, at least in visual terms. Oddly enough, I find myself on the fence. Some of the scenes shot in the jungle, specifically in the first half of the film, appear video-like, as if the camera was shooting 60i by mistake, rather than 24p. However, once the story moves out of the jungle, things become smoother, more consistent, and more aesthetically pleasing. It seems the crew was rushing during the jungle scenes (most likely due to time-of-day and weather issues).

That aside, the story is engaging, and kept me interested until the last shot. For such a large-scale production, the plot is fairly simple: When native Jaguar Paw's village is raided, he succeeds in hiding his pregnant wife and son in a nearby well before being captured himself. He is taken to the Mayan temple to be sacrificed, but manages to escape and flees into the jungle, pursued by his captors. What follows is a fairly traditional chase sequence through the jungle (complete with wild animals, booby traps, and waterfalls). In Gibson's hands, however, the formula feels fresh, and we stay involved, though I admit I was surprised by some of the formulaic plot concoctions throughout. "Apocalypto" is not an art film; it is an artful Hollywood one. Still, in less skilled hands, the material might come across as silly and contrived, but again Gibson proves he is a very accomplished director, able to make you believe just about anything.

Much hubbub has formed over the violence in the film, and it would behoove me to mention it. I think I can safely say this is one of the most violent films I have ever seen, next to "The Passion Of the Christ", Gibson's other gore-fest. In both pictures, he uses graphic violence to make a point. In "The Passion", it was used to show the extent of Christ's suffering for mankind. In "Apocalypto", it is used to show the barbaric nature of a civilization, a barbarity which will inevitably lead to its demise. In fact, the theme of the film is divulged from the start, with a quote from Will Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." Durant had a point. In fact, it's a biblical concept (think Sodom and Gomorrah). Still, I can't say that Gibson's use of violence here is not gratuitous (this is the first time I have ever seen a jaguar eating a man's head and I don't think I want to see it again).

Some see "Apocalypto" as a cautionary tale about America and the war. In fact, it has more to say about terrorist nations - do decapitations in the name of God ring a bell? But regardless of Mel's intentions, the film speaks a truth proven throughout history: any civilization not founded upon truth - real truth - is destined for demise.

"Apocalypto" is an engaging experience, but I can't help but wonder what the results would have been like if ol' Mel had exhibited a little restraint. But then again, that wouldn't be Mel, would it?


Dead Man's Mess

On Tuesday, "Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" sold 5 million units, quickly becoming the #1 selling home video of all the time. Amazon.com has "Pirates" listed at $19.99. Let's suppose that you decided to spend your money on more worthwhile entertainment. Let me suggest a few options:

1. Cinema Paradiso DVD - Ok, so the new 2-disc special edition may be $2 more than "Pirates", but Giuseppe Tornatore's love song to the cinema is worth every cent. If this film doesn't move you, you're in bad shape.

2. Sleepy Hollow DVD - For half the price, you can own Tim Burton's gothic masterpiece, starring Johnny Depp in one of his best performances. Masterfully photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, this is Burton at the top of his game.

3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Book - Or what better time to read the Harry Potter novels? Come on, people, this is much better fantasy than "Dead Man's Chest"!


HD DVD Wins?

This article from Rob Enderle of Digital Trends suggests that HD-DVD will inevitably win the battle over Blu-ray, as I have predicted (see post from 12.5.06). Very interesting read.

I have been reading back through the Harry Potter books and I keep finding surprises at every turn. Although I thought I remembered the stories as Rowling wrote them, there are little details that I had confused with the movie versions. It's proof that images are often more powerful than words (and that I have a bad memory).

Revisiting the Hogwarts of the novels also inevitably causes me to bemoan the shortcomings of the recent films. It seems to have all started with the death of Richard Harris. When Harris died, the Dumbledore of the screen died as well. Michael Gambon, while a very talented actor, has drastically misinterpreted the role, turning the wise headmaster into a sort of buffoon, rather than the benevolent father figure he is in the novels. And though many praised Alfonso Cuaron's direction of "The Prizoner Of Azkaban", the heart simply wasn't there. The first two films, directed by Chris Columbus, were hardly avant-garde, but they certainly had heart, and succeeded in translating Rowling's vision to the screen.

Yes, I am still excited about seeing "The Order Of the Phoenix" (see previous entry), but I have to admit that a part of the magic is gone for me. It is a reassuring thought that I can always return to the page to see Hogwarts untainted and Dumbledore alive and well, as wise and benign as ever.

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" arrives in theaters in July, and the hype is high. If the behind-the-scenes clip below doesn't whet your appetite, I don't know what will.


HD DVD vs. Blu-ray

Unless you've been living in a hole in the ground, you're aware of the current battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray. There are pros and cons to both formats, but I'm pretty sure HD DVD will arise victorious, thanks to its low price point and its familiar name.

HD DVD Pros:
Affordable Players
Studios On Board: Warner Bros, Universal, Paramount, and Weinsten Company
Affordable X-Box drive now in stores

HD DVD Cons:
Discs hold less space than Blu-Ray

Blu-ray Pros:
More Space on discs
Playstation 3 Compatible
Studios On Board: Warner Bros, Sony, Fox, Buena Vista, Paramount, Lions Gate

Blu-ray Cons:
Expensive Players

Here's an interesting article from DVD Town on whether or not the Playstation 3 is helping Blu-ray sales.

Additional Resources:
Hi-Def Digest

Unfortunately, I have not seen many films this year. Between getting married, buying a house, and finishing a screenplay, I haven't had much free time. But I did make it to the theater a few times this year, and enjoyed some of the things I saw. As far as literature is concerned, I rarely read new books, so I don't have much to report there. Music is another story. Here is my list of good things from 2006:

A Prairie Home Companion
The Fountain
Monster House
The Prestige

Hem, "Funnel Cloud"
Sleeping At Last, "Keep No Score"
Peter Bradley Adams, "Gather Up"
Shawn Colvin, "These Four Walls"
Keane, "Under the Iron Sea"
Leeland, "Sound Of Melodies"
Duncan Sheik, "White Limousine"

30 Days


Bill Johnson

Some great things happened at our church this weekend. People getting healed, gems appearing in people's hands, etc. It is always a treat when Bill Johnson comes to town. If you've never heard of Bill, he's the pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Around town, they are known as the church that "won't tolerate cancer". Subscribe to their free podcast. You won't regret it.


One Punk Under God

Make sure to check out "One Punk Under God", Sundance Channel's new 6-part documentary on Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Fay). Jay started Revolution Church in Atlanta, Georgia a few years ago and has founded two churches since. He's extremely unconventional and frequently controversial, but seems to be the real deal. His passion is loving people, and they flock to him because he doesn't judge them. Now there's an interesting concept. Speaking of interesting concepts, it's refreshing to see Christianity portrayed in a positive light on such a liberal network. I'm just waiting for the catch...

The first episode is a free download on iTunes right now. Check it out here.


Pirates of Boredom

Talk about a letdown. Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is a complete and utter disaster - a nightmare of scattered plotlines, muddy character motivations, and futile attempts at humor. The original was good, old-fashioned entertainment, and if it was a bit long, it certainly wasn’t boring. But the magic of the first film is all but lost here. “Dead Man’s Chest” is a classic example of unmitigated greed, an uninspired film thrown together to meet a dollar deadline. The result? A thoroughly uninvolving experience. For all its high-wire stunts and technical bravado, I was bored to tears.

The general gist of the story (if you can call it that) has something to do with mutant fish men and a human heart in a box, but it’s really not worth going into. Just know that it doesn’t much sense and is predominantly absurd, unlike the first film, “The Curse of the Black Pearl”, which was also absurd, but made you believe it. There was a sort of Indiana Jones realism to “Pearl”, with its artful mingling of classic adventure and fantasy, and it felt inspired. “Dead Man’s Chest”, however, plays like Looney Tunes on steroids. In fact, at one point early in the film, after Captain Jack Sparrow has crashed through multiple bridges and fallen one hundred feet to the ground unscathed, I think I may have heard the Roadrunner chirping in the background, but don’t quote me on it.

The effects are fantastic, but to what advantage? The plot is so convoluted that the visuals only contribute to the chaos. I suppose the film will be nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar, but shouldn’t that be reserved for those films which use technology to deepen their story, rather than complicate it?

Perhaps the filmmakers had noble intentions, but they don’t translate to the screen. All that exists is a moneymaking vehicle, teetering on the legs of a half-ass screenplay and the success of the first film, which succeeded in every area in which the sequel fails. Not even Johnny Depp, with all his reservoirs of indubitable charm, can save this one.


iTunes, etc.

So my EP is finally on iTunes. There’s a great service called Tunecore that will put your music on iTunes for a small fee. Definitely worth checking out.

In other news, I just got home from my honeymoon (see www.ryanandpatti.com for photos) and had a wonderful time. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

While on the honeymoon, we watched a film that I felt I should blog about, as I am finding that I have less and less time to watch films these days.

“Shopgirl” is a delightful dramedy about a single woman (Claire Danes) who suddenly finds herself caught between two suiters, the odd loner Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) and the rich bachelor Ray Porter (Steve Martin). The screenplay, written by Martin, is clever and insightful (I particularly appreciated the modern fairy-tale approach) and the direction by Anand Tucker (of “Hilary and Jackie” fame) is spot-on. But the thing that truly won me over was the lush orchestral score by the Australian composer Barrington Pheloung. It is available here on iTunes.


My Favorite Films

Favorite lists are fun. But what constitutes a favorite? For me, there are some essential requirements for any film I choose to call “favorite”:

1) It must be consistent with the objective biblical standard for art by exhibiting ability, intelligence, wisdom, and craftsmanship.

2) It must not be bound by the age in which it was made. All great films possess a timelessness. A great film reaches beyond its own time and teaches us something about our own day in age.

3) It must stay ingrained in my memory. Every film on the list below contains visuals that I cannot forget - some haunting, some inspiring, all unforgettable.

4) It must become richer with every viewing. Roger Ebert says a great film is one you cannot bear the thought of never seeing again.

My Favorite Films (in no specific order):

1. Vertigo
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

2. Citizen Kane
Director: Orson Welles

3. It’s a Wonderful Life
Director: Frank Capra

4. The Seventh Seal
Director: Ingmar Bergman

5. Shadow of a Doubt
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

6. Three Colors Trilogy (Blue/White/Red)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

7. Casablanca
Director: Michael Curtiz

8. E.T.
Director: Steven Spielberg

9. M
Director: Fritz Lang

10. The Mirror
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

11. The Rules of the Game
Director: Jean Renoir