Author: erika

Chariots of Fire

Well this film took me three tries before I actually finished it without dozing off. The pace of the film just didn’t keep me interested long enough before I would start to get bored. Not that it was a bad film, just not what I am used to watching. I have found a love for running myself, so you would think it would keep my interest. I know this film is based on a true story and did enjoy watching the characters struggle with their beliefs and what they loved to do, RUN.

You have to remember the time period this is based on also, otherwise you look at the clothing, atmosphere, speech and way of life and laugh. Watching Harold Abrahams run and go after everything in life with his cocky attitude expecting to get everything he ever goes after was like being back in high school and seeing all of the athletes get their special treatment. I really enjoyed when Eric beat him and he finally had to deal with losing. I think it helped his character develop some sympathy from us as the audience. He didn’t always get everything he wanted now and it made him seem more real and human. He was so upset and Cybill had to help him realize that he shouldn’t wallow in self pity, but should pick himself up and try again. He wants so badly to beat Eric in the Olympics, not knowing that he would not get the chance due to Eric’s beliefs. He has to prove himself to the world, but more importantly to himself that he can run and win.

Watching Eric trying to balance his love of God and running was very interesting. He had the approach of knowing God wanted him to be a missionary and preach his word. He also knew that God had given him a talent of being fast. He wanted so badly to try for the Olympics and prove this before he went back to being a missionary. Seeing him struggle with knowing that the qualifying heat for his race was to be held on Sunday and that this was the day God wanted him to set aside for him was interesting. I was glad he held true to his beliefs and wouldn’t even let the Prince of Wales, or the rest of the committee to sway him away from his values. When Lord Lyndsey lets him take his place in the upcoming 400m race it made his character connect with the audience better as well. I enjoyed watching him run the race in the Olympics and seeing him smile knowing he hasn’t let himself or God down by his decision.

All in all the pacing of this film was too slow for me. The time passing between races and training was sometimes boring. I know that there needed to be background stories presented to make the whole film flow, but I think it could have been done a little quicker. I sometimes think that when films are based off true stories then they can drag on because they are trying to be accurate in the account.

The Conversation

The Conversation is a film made in 1974 about surveillance technology and the moral dilemmas one faces when using this technology. Honestly the movie moved too slow for me as I had a hard time staying awake in it. I find it interesting that it is categorized as a thriller because of its slow pace. I guess I am more into the fast paced, action thrillers when it comes to this particular type of movie. It did however give me a better understanding about sound design in a film.

This film starts with a scene in the middle of a city courtyard that has a variety of activities going on and it is lunch time. There is an overwhelming amount of ambient sound, there is also music and other sound effects. Harry is trying to record a conversation of this couple who are constantly walking around in circles because they think this will help them not be able to be recorded. This was more accurate in the time this film was made. They had one guy wired and casually following them around. One on the roof of a building with a microphone attached to a scope to follow them and another in a building. You could hear a lot of disjointed sounds that were supposed to be interference and feedback along with just the other sounds of chaos in the background. When he starts to go through the recordings in his lab, he is able to adjust the interference and take out the background noises in order to get a clearer recording of just the conversation between this couple.

Harry is just an ordinary man who records and does surveillance work to make a living. He doesn’t care what the people say or who he works for as long as he gets paid. His friends and colleagues question his ethics and moral character when they start discussing what has happened to some of the people he has done surveillance on. This gets him started to think that maybe he has played a role in some of these people’s death. He decides to destroy his current tapes because he doesn’t want any connection to this couple being harmed. He dreams about telling the woman that she is not safe and about some of his struggles growing up. The tapes are stolen and given to the director who ordered the surveillance and he realizes that the woman he has recorded is the wife of the director. You can see the turmoil in his actions and facial expressions of what harm may come to her.

As Harry decides he has listened to this recording so many times he knows that this Sunday there is something big going down. He wants to do the right thing, but ends up in a room next to the one in question. He tries to listen to what is going on and when it is clear that someone is being harmed in the next room, he has a mental breakdown. He knows it is partly his fault. He turns the TV on, closes the curtains and crawls into bed pulling the covers and pillows up over his head. He doesn’t call the police or leave. The music gets all distorted in this part with the high pitched psycho killer sounds. Then back to a static sounding TV with the Flintstones on it. The couple he records are the actual killers and they know that he knows. He is given a warning at the end to stay out of it, along with a recording of him in his apartment. This throws him into a spiral of tearing his whole apartment apart trying to find out how they are surveilling him. I spent a lot of time listening to the sounds in this film, trying to pick apart what sound went to what type of sounds there are in films. I think this film gives good examples of sound design, even if it was a slow movie for me.

Waking Ned Devine

I must say that I needed a more uplifting and comedic movie to watch and Waking Ned Devine fulfilled both of those requirements for me. The fact that it was a more current film than the others I have recently been watching was fun too. Even though it is set in a small rural town in Ireland, it had the feel of a close knit community, where everyone knew everyone’s secrets. I really enjoyed the comedic relief throughout the movie. From the beginning when Jackie wants his apple tart so he pretends to have the winning lotto ticket to get his wife to bring it to him while watching tv, to the riding of the motorcycle naked to get back to Ned’s house in time to impersonate him. The plot of winning the lottery and dying from the shock of it was funny in and of itself, but for Jackie and Michael to get it in their heads that they deserved to split the winnings because otherwise it would go to waste just launches them into this crazy scheme.

It takes talent to set up a scene for a comedy, showing small hints and clues throughout the movie and waiting for the perfect payoff. For example, the fact that the lotto guy sneezes when in the country helps identify him at the funeral so that no one slips up, but the best payoff is when he sneezes and almost hits the phone booth with the mean “witch” town lady in it in order to cause the priest of the town returning from a trip to be the one who actually sends her to her death. What a twist of fate. Who knew that a sneeze would end up causing so much trouble.

Jackie is the main protagonist and he also finds himself in the position of power most often on the screen. His initial thought to claim the money for himself and share with his best friend Michael is what starts them down this road. But his wife Annie has her say also and she holds the position of power when it counts and helps Jackie see that it would be better to share the money with the whole town instead of ending up in prison for fraud. She points out to Jackie that Michael is a good man who has never told a lie and wouldn’t last a day in prison and that Jackie should be ashamed of himself for making him a part of his scheme.

One of the other underlying plots in the movie is the romance between Maggie and Finn the pig farmer. She claims to love him, but can’t get over him smelling like the pigs he keeps. Finn is positive that her son Maurice is his and that the boy needs his father to be in the picture to raise him. In the end she agrees to be with him now that he is “stinking rich” with the money the town is splitting 52 ways as long as he still gets rid of the pigs. But the real twist is when she admits to Jackie that Maurice is the son of Ned Devine, whose winning lottery ticket and his death has changed the whole town. It is still more important for her to let Finn think he is the father and that they can be together. I really did enjoy all of the plot twists in this film and think it was done rather well.

Jaws

I haven’t watched Jaws since I was a kid and it was showing on television. I must say that when this film came out, the special effects were awesome for the time and technology. I was and still am to a certain extent terrified to swim or be in the ocean due to the fear instilled in me as a child of man eating sharks in the water. The scenes when you see Jaws, the great white shark, come out of the water with mouth open wide ready to devour everything in his path were very real to me as a kid. Watching it now, I can see that it is not real and was a mechanical shark. You could not have convinced me of that as a kid, but as you can compare it to what can be done with graphics and editing I do see a difference now. The cinematography for this movie was done in a way to help the story flow and most times now when I watch any film, it there are any underwater shots of people swimming or playing in the water I find myself wondering when the shark attack will be. That is part of the setting up of the shots in this movie showing us as the viewer where the action will be coming from, down below the surface of the ocean. The director does a good job at showing you a conversation of the little boy pleading with his mother for just 10 more minutes of play in the water. Then he goes and grabs the yellow floatation device and heads out to the water. Everyone else is just playing and splashing around, so the focus is on this one child floating and splashing. Add to that the iconic music of the two off sounding notes that always lead to the shark attacking and you find yourself on the edge of your seat thinking, get out of the water all of you crazy people. How do they not know the shark attack is about to happen.

When movies can play on our own real life fears it makes them seem more real and you become sucked into the suspension of disbelief. Even though logically, I can tell myself that this shark can’t break up a boat that size, my fear of sharks in general helps to fuel this film into more of a reality than it is. The music is well known and you would have to have lived under a rock to not know that da dum, da dum, da dum sound means you are going to be shark food. The fact that this shark keeps coming back after being harpooned, shot, stabbed and many other things is now when I see it jumping out of reality for me. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the nature I think they have. I think once it eats someone, it’s not going to turn right around looking for another person, but that is just my opinion. I did enjoy the finale as Jaws comes charging towards the boat with the tank in his mouth, knowing full well that this is going to end explosively. My favorite line being “Smile, you son of a bitch” as the police chief fires his gun and the shark explodes magnificently. Now the threat has been neutralized and the waters are safe once again. Of course you really can’t convince my mind of that, therefore, to this day I still will only dip my toes in the ocean water.

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur is an epic film based off of historical Roman Empire taking over the world and is also Biblical with the story of Jesus Christ being born and providing miracles. I have watched this movie before, but this time it was to really look at how big a production of an epic film can be. I can’t begin to imagine how much time it took to design and make all of the costumes, let alone make so many, due to the number of extras and people in the films big scenes. This film opens with a biblical depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ, most Christians refer to this as the Nativity Scene. They were trying to help us see just what time period this film was to portray. Then it pretty much jumps into the story of Judah Ben-Hur, who is a very wealthy Jew and is excited that the Roman boy he grew up with is coming back to town. Messala comes back to play a role in the Roman Empire taking over the middle east. Messala shows just how difficult it is to not conform and do what the Romans want when Judah is sentenced to the galleys because of some loose tile that falls off of his roof when the new Roman governor arrives in town. It doesn’t matter that it was an accident and he is a friend of Messala. The whole family is imprisoned.

As he marches along all chained up across the desert, Judah is refused water when they stop along the way. A man (who we find out is Jesus) gives him water anyway and this is his turning point of not letting this false imprisonment be his defeat. I think that making the props for the galleys of the ships would have been hard. This was the believable piece showing them rowing in the belly of the ship to the beat of the drum. When I watched the ships on top of the water as they fought it was less believable to me because they really looked fake to me. They used wider shots to help them look more real, but I just wasn’t buying it. The wide panoramic shots of the Roman soldiers marching into the towns did however help me to picture the span of the Roman Empire’s arm.

You can’t write about Ben-Hur, without mentioning the memorable chariot race scene. This was my favorite part of the film, with the protagonist Judah being able to face his betrayer, Messala. The enormity of the whole scene is just mind blowing. Making big statues, shooting in a large colosseum, with thousands of people. Watching them go around the track seems like it would be boring, but seeing all of the mishaps with chariots and people getting run over and dragged behind horses was very real for me. This film takes a long time telling its story and the chariot race added the much needed action for me, when I was starting to lose interest. The filmmakers did a good job with the colors in this film. When I think of the Middle East, I picture deserts and dusty clothes. When we talk about the Romans, we think of their flowing white robes with sashes of red with the Emperor wearing the royal color of purple. This is how they are depicted in history, so they continued with this in the film. For the most part I liked this film, it was really long and the story kind of dragged in some spots with the dialogue for me. I’m glad I didn’t sit down and watch this all in one sitting.

Singin’ In The Rain

I have watched many musicals, but Singin’ In The Rain is one of my favorites. After watching it again I find myself humming or singing along to the music even hours later. The tunes are catchy and stick with you. One of the reasons I enjoy musical films so much is that they are usually a romantic story with plenty of song and dance. I don’t have to concentrate so much on what might happen next. It has been a while since I watched this film, so it was fun to remember the story line behind all of the singing and dancing. This film came out in 1952, but portrays the late 1920’s, when film was beginning to change. The change from silent films with words posted on screen intermittently giving you a brief sense of what is going on to the talking movies or “talkies”. To actually have words instead of music playing was a big deal.

I think this movie does a good job at portraying what I think would have been some of the big obstacles to overcome in transitioning from silent to talking movies. They actually had to have a better story and script to read to keep the audience entertained. You couldn’t just repeat the line “I love you, I love you, I love you.” over and over again because no one talks like that in real life and so talking in a movie became more about the whole story and not just a scene acted out with a brief explanation of what was really going on. I’m sure they really did have actors and actresses that did a good job acting, but had annoying voices that were like nails scraping down a blackboard. We have all had the experience of talking to someone over the phone and then meeting them in person and what we pictured in our heads is not what they look like in person. I can only imagine the headache I’m sure it was to start using such big audio microphones that unless you spoke directly into it the sound was not picked up. Then there is the task of making sure that the audio and video played together and were synchronized. When the lips don’t match the sound it make for comic disaster.

I like how Kathy meets Don in the film and could care less about him being a famous movie star and telling him if you’ve seen one of his films, you’ve seen them all. This showed how well we know the fact that the same movies keep getting produced with a different scene, time and small twist to the plot. I have always liked watching musicals, they would make me sit back and think “wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to sing and dance on a stage.” Too bad that I hate to get up and perform in any way in front of a crowd. But I can always sit back and watch a musical and have the same nostalgic feelings of “I wish I could…” I like how the story can flow back and forth with the music, dancing and narration of the story. The story/plot never seems to be too twisted or deep with a musical. I like the feel of a simple romance with a few obstacles, but happily ever after in the end. These types of movies remind me of my childhood because they are a few of the ones I was allowed to watch that didn’t have too much “mature adult content”. Now that I am done reminiscing about Singin’ in the Rain, I am still humming the tunes to myself. 🙂

Rear Window

I have watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window a few times and enjoy the way his films are so different from what I now watch. He has a unique way of building tension or suspense in a film. It is not the usual dramatic music or edge of your seat suspense, but it can still make your heart speed up while hoping the innocent people get out of harms way fast enough. Hitchcock doesn’t use a lot of music in the background. You will hear the whistling of a bird, a dog barking, someone playing the piano or the nagging wife. This leaves your brain free to concentrate solely on what is really happening in the picture. When you hear the woman scream you are shown a shot of the courtyard where nothing seems amiss. It isn’t until almost an hour later that you see his neighbor Mr. Thorwald leave his home at 2 am with a silver briefcase. It is pouring rain and he comes and goes a few time through the night leading Jeffries’ and us as the viewers to assume what has happened. His wife was always nagging him and we assume that he finally had enough and murdered her.

In this particular film, the whole film can be seen from the “rear window” of L.B. Jeffries’ apartment. This overlooks a courtyard filled with many other rear windows of many other apartments. Jeffries is a photographer recovering from an accident which has put him in a wheelchair for the last seven weeks. He has nothing better to do with his time than to watch all of his neighbors through their windows and get a peek at what they do in a day. Most of us would consider this being a peeping tom. I can say we are curious human beings and will listen or watch when the opportunities present itself. (not that it is right) Jeffries’ takes it to a different level when he starts using his binoculars and camera lens to get a better picture. He starts to stereotype all of his neighbors based on what he can see. Because this film has such a compact set and scene, Hitchcock is able to show us an entire film based on one character’s point of view. This makes the directing style “subjective” because we only see what Jeffries’ sees, whether it is in his own apartment or out in the courtyard. We are focused on his opinion and the script revolves around his observations. Even when one of the neighbors finds her dog dead she end up addressing the whole courtyard about how they should all be better neighbors and look after one another. This puts Jeffries’ back on the trail that Thorwald killed his wife because he had to be the one that killed the dog for digging around in his flowers.

I am not sure that this film would be as much of a success today as it was when it came out in theaters. I think we have become a fast paced society that wants lots of action and keeps us on the edge of our seats when it comes to suspense thrillers or mysteries. This film doesn’t move fast enough for that and I enjoy seeing a story from multiple points of view. I do like this movie and have watched many of Hitchcock’s movies just to see older films and how this genre has evolved over the years.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

As I started watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I was sure I hadn’t seen it before. Then the credits at the beginning started with words on a filmstrip about the “hole in the wall gang”. I have watched this film before, but remember the actors, Paul Newman and Robert Redford from the movie Sting which I have watched several times. I think that these actors play well off of one another and make for a great movie. Butch is portrayed as the older and smarter of the two. He is good at thinking according to Sundance. Sundance is a superior shot with a gun and has a temper that Butch seems to be able to sooth so as not to get into too many brawls.

I am not usually a fan of western movies, but have found a few exceptions. This movie held true to the style of criminals and lawmen of the old west. You have the opening scene where the main characters are seen gambling in the local tavern and of course they are winning. Someone is accused of cheating and the guns come out. But what I enjoyed from this movie is that the shooting doesn’t start right away. All Sundance wants is to be invited to stay, then he will move on peacefully, no harm done. The other card player knows he is in serious trouble only after Butch slips of who Sundance is. Their reputations precede them but he still asks how fast Sundance really is in drawing a gun. He receives his answer as he loses his gun and belt across the tavern floor. They leave without anyone getting hurt which isn’t the usual case in the other western films I have watched. You know the type I mean, shoot first, ask questions later.

I enjoyed the added touch of hearing the old sound of a filmstrip clicking away as the movie begins and showing the sienna tones of the days when film was first being introduced. The producers use of montage sequencing in this film helped the film flow and not drag on during the long trips. When they finally decide to go to Bolivia, I liked how you just saw photos put together with music to document the long journey. It would have been boring otherwise. The editing done while they are being chased after the return train robbery helped move the scene along. They went from grassy desert hills, to mountains and sand with rock ledges. This starts in the day and goes through the night and ends on the ledge of a cliff overlooking the choppy river water. I enjoyed the humor of the biggest reason Sundance didn’t want to jump and fight it out was because he couldn’t swim. He was more afraid of drowning than being shot to death.

All in all the movie flowed well for me. It didn’t have too much dialogue that would get in the way of the story just being played out on screen through the acting and body language. I have found that most western genre movies don’t go through a lot of effort to put in too many words. They tend to state the demands and follow through with a good old fashioned shoot out. Sometimes that is the best way to tell their story. I did do some research that leads me to believe that although Butch was a thief he really didn’t shoot anyone. So I guess there is an upside to being the “gentleman” robber.

The African Queen

The African Queen is set in the German occupied part of Africa in 1914. Mr. Allnut is a steamboat driver who delivers the mail and news to the British missionaries there in Africa. This movie starts with the missionaries trying to get the native people to sing hymns. It turns into a cacophony of noises, the missionary singing trying to be louder than the droning monotone syllable of the natives. Mr. Allnut comes into the village and causes a disturbance to end the church session. He is invited to stay for tea where he has an embarrassing scene of his stomach growling and making Rose and her brother uncomfortable. As an afterthought Mr. Allnut lets them know as he is leaving that he won’t be bringing any mail for a while as they are at war with Germany back home.

The ominous sound of drums can be heard in the background announcing the arrival of the German soldiers rounding up the natives to go to war for them and burning their huts so they have no where to return to. This sends Rose’s brother off the deep end and he goes crazy with fever and dies making this the catalyst to push Rose into action. Mr. Allnut comes back to see the village in ashes and Rose sitting devastated on the porch. The bleak scene portrays that there is nothing left to stick around for prompting Mr. Allnut to offer to take Rose with him and hide off of an island until the whole war blows over. The music leading up to getting on the African Queen is foreboding and I thought for sure they would be caught right there. It quickly changes to a jaunty little tune fitting for a peaceful trip down the river.

Rose comes up with a plan of action, she is not content with waiting out the war, she wants to do something to stop the Germans because she blames them for her brother’s death. The idea to go down the river that only one other person has ever survived shows how desperate she is. The use of close up shots in the film really lets you see not only the obvious reactions to each other, but you can see how much more of a story can be told just by reading the body language in each of the actors. Between the close up shots and the music played you can see the distaste that Rose has for anyone who chooses to lose himself to drinking.

The framing of the steamboat in the shots going down the river rapids is large to help make the effects seem bigger. There are some wide shots where it looks like a toy boat being tossed down the rapids put together with some close up shots to show the actors reactions to being thrown down the river. Compared to the quality of editing today, it was very clear at points what was added to the film. You can see the outline of the actors is clearly in front of a picture behind them and when they encounter the swarm of mosquitoes it looks as if there are just floating particles edited over them with the sound of bugs. Even my boys laughed at that. There was the charming B story in the film of falling in love, even though they were complete opposites.

To me the ending was wrapped up a little too neatly. They are captured, about to be hung and then they crash into the sunken African Queen to still blow up the Louisa. That was too much of a Hollywood ending where everything turns out just right in the end. Maybe that was how people liked watching their films in the 1950’s. I usually enjoy them more when there is a dash of reality to the film. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a happily ever after once in a while too.

Batman Begins

As I started to watch Batman Begins this week I realized that I had not watched it before. I haven’t been a big fan of Batman movies in general, as I find them to be dark and depressing. The lighting used in previous Batman movies I have watched leaves me feeling depressed after watching a couple of hours of dark, dismal Gotham City. That being said I found that I quite enjoyed watching this movie to see how the story of Batman began. I enjoyed the use of flashbacks/nightmares to be able to see Bruce’s point of view growing up.
This is the first movie I have watched after discussing what screenplay beats are and how they work through the movie. Batman Begins starts with a rich, privileged Bruce Wayne who is afraid of bats due to the trauma of falling down an old well. He feels guilty for the death of his parents and you can see that the theme is going to be him finding himself and becoming a legend. He doesn’t care for crime and sees that there is plenty of injustice going on where he lives. His parents being killed in the alley is what starts him on this journey along with not being able to have vengeance on their killer.
The B story starts with introducing new characters like Dr. Crane. You are not aware of how he is going to tie into the story until closer to the end. You also have the lack of romance that Rachel feels for Bruce. She doesn’t see a change in him and just sees him as a playboy. I enjoyed watching him try to see what kind of disguise he was going to use and all of the gadgets and toys. He has kind of an high point when he catches Falcone and his goons, but he is still not accepted as part of the “good guys”.
Then there is the lurking detail of who Dr. Crane really works for and what the real end goal is supposed to be for the criminals. Ra’s Al Ghul shows up as really being the mentor who taught him quite a few of the tricks and fighting skills Bruce now uses to try to help restore Gotham into a good city again. Ra’s was always commenting on how Bruce would never look at his surroundings and that his compassion was not a good thing. He is left for dead in his burning house while Ra’s is about to unleash his terror on the city of Gotham to bring about it’s destruction.
Alfred comes to be his cheering section and shows he hasn’t given up on Bruce as a person. He quotes Bruce’s father from the beginning of the movie, “Why do we fall?, so we can learn to pick ourselves up.” To me that is the kick in the butt Bruce needed to remember he wasn’t finished and could still keep trying to make the city a better place. It was the “dark night of the soul” part of the movie. Obviously he is able to save the city itself from complete destruction that night. He is the hero and on his way to becoming a legend. In the final image you can see him boarding up the old well where he fell years ago and Rachel is now seeing him in a new light. There are no big romantic fireworks, but he has changed. He isn’t looking for revenge any more. He is doing what he can to help rebuild a better Gotham City.

Westfest 5k

The whole family did the Westfest 5k today.  The boys stuck together and finished in 43 minutes (12 minutes faster than their last 5K).  Nathan stayed with Ben and kept pushing him along, even after Ben fell and skinned his knee making Nathan walk more than he wanted.  They can be the best of friends when they want to be.  Aaron finished with his personal best at 29:09.  Woo Hoo!!  I also finished with my personal best of 32:10.  YES!  We had a great race.  I wished it had started earlier because 7:30 am is a little warm for me to be running.  All in all we had fun and accomplished the goals we had set out to do.  On to the next race.