Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Craft – Movie Review for “Bridge of Spies”

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Movie making is both an art and a craft.

It all starts with the story and the script. For “Bridge of Spies” the script was written by Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen. The Coen brothers are, of course, accomplished movie makers in their own right. This script was assembled with perfection. It was laced with drama, tension, affection, wry humor and paced so that the movie never slowed or paused. There were no “stop points” to allow the audience to lose track or interest.

The craft of movie making includes all of the other production services. The cinematography in low light was crisp and in daylight subdued to match the mood of the film. Careful Lighting Design has be crafted to not only light the subject but to avoid unattractive shadows as well. But in this film shadows and highlights were masterfully used to help tell the story. There is one spectacular scene that was dramatically lit with the spy Colonel Abel sitting at a table in a small, sparse,  and barren prison conference room with his attorney James Donovan played by Tom Hanks.  Abel is lit and his lawyer is standing in the foreground at almost 90% unlit. There was light enough to see some detail but the character was mostly dark as he contemplates his next move standing still deep in thought.

Set and art design craft on a film can recreate the world that the story lives in. And in this case it is the late fifties and early sixties of the previous century. From antique cars to storefronts to little set pieces on table tops, nothing was out of place and everything was in place for a reason. It creates an atmosphere of authenticity which further enforces the validity of the time frame of the story.

Acting…if Tom Hanks does not at least get a nomination let alone the academy award for this film, there is no justice. His intonation of words within sentences, the timing of his delivery in sentences, his movements, his expressions…spot on. In as many films as we have seen Tom Hanks there is a possibility that his characterizations from other films might taint a performance. Not in this case. His performance was damn near perfect. A range of emotions was written all over his face, his body and his words.

Mark Rylance who portrayed Rudolph Abel should share the Academy Award with Tom Hanks. He is so controlled and convincing, he even looks like the original Rudolph Abel, you think you are watching the original Rudolph Abel come to life on the screen. His mannerisms, ticks, and sometimes emotionless delivery of lines demonstrate his preparation and professional approach to the part. His performance on screen, flawless…just a masterful job by Mark Rylance.

Direction…I have followed Steven Spielberg ever since I saw his first film that was broadcast by ABC-TV, the television network I worked for at the time. That first commercial television movie was called, “Duel.”  The movie was a nearly dialogue free film about an ordinary man, Dennis Weaver, who is chased and stalked on the road by a gasoline tanker truck driven by an unseen protagonist. That movie was broadcast in 1971 as an ABC-TV Movie of the Week. When I saw the way it was shot and edited I knew that there was something different something special about the way this movie was put together. And my feeling about Steven Spielberg as the preeminent film director of our time has only increased over the years with movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” “Empire of the Sun,”  “Saving Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” and on and on. Hell, I even loved “1941” which didn’t exactly receive rave reviews.

With “Bridge of Spies” I think he has made a perfectly crafted and directed film. His camera movement was intuitive, his direction of the edit was precise and brilliant, his movement and control of the human factor you see on screen was unobtrusive but there, and his blend of sound design for the film filled in and accompanied any emotion we see on the screen. It is true that he had true professionals who performed the Art Design, Stage Design, Editing, Sound Design, Continuity, and all Production Craft Services. But someone has to step onto the set or post-production suite every morning on stage or on location and give instructions and directions and suggestions as to what should happen next. And that is the job of the Director. Again nomination for Academy Award and the win in the Best Director category to me would seem appropriate.

As an example how perfectly directed and edited “Bridge of Spies” turned out I want to describe one Match Cut between two scenes that was flawless. During a trial scene the audience sees a wide shot of the court room from the rear of that room and as the judge enters we hear the bailiff off mic shout clearly, “All Rise.” CUT, medium shot of a classroom of 10 year old children immediately standing up next to their desks and immediately thereafter recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance in that scene, we see quick shots from the live-action and animated government short produced during that period, “Duck and Cover,” describing what to do in case of nuclear attack. For me sitting in that movie theater this morning, that class room scene following the match cut was constructed and replayed in my mind as a flash back. I remember quite clearly being in Highlands Elementary School in Prairie Village, Kansas during that time and watching that exact film, seeing the frightened reaction of my young class mates.

Steven Spielberg said in an interview that I saw just yesterday about growing up during those times and experiencing the fear of a Cold War that could at any moment turn into a nuclear attack on the United States. He remembered those practice duck and cover drills as clearly as I do. And that is not surprising for me since Steven Spielberg and I are contemporaries. He was born December 18, 1946 and I was born December 3, 1946, we both remember the palpable fear of those Cold War times.

Throughout our lives there are some movies that we remember clearly and some of those films have a lasting effect on us. For me it is movies like the Italian postwar film by Vittoria De Sica  “The Children are Watching Us” or Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” or “Lawrence of Arabia” or “2001” or “Life of Pi” or ANY of Steven Spielberg films. “Bridge of Spies” is a film that has left a deep impression for all of the reasons I just outlined in this review.

Did I like this film, yeah…I loved this film. I am going to see it again in the theater and as soon as it is available online I am going to purchase it as well.

Very simply, don’t miss this film. It runs 141 minutes but seemed to run must faster.

 

Fred Fichman

www.frederickfichman.com

Books on Amazon:   http://amzn.to/1Ta4mCK

 

Grand Canyon Live Video Streaming

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UPDATE: Posted: 10-15-15

 

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Returned home late last night from a photo-video-audio capture expedition to the Grand Canyon. Here are a couple of stills from yesterday’s shoot. The layers you can see in these photos form a layer-cake view of the rock and butte faces. The top layer is called the Kaibab Limestone layer formed during the “recent” Permian Geologic Period, 250 million years ago. Deeper in the canyon toward the bottom you travel back through time to the Pre-Cambrian Geologic Period. The most visible bottom layer is called the Visnu Schist and the rock you see exposed is 2 BILLION years old (almost 1/2 the age of our planet.) Some of the media I digitally recorded yesterday will be installed in my “Grand Canyon Guide…” as an update to be released in about a month. Ya see, stick with me kids, you may learn a thing or two…or three.

 

Wanted to give you a heads-up about my journey tomorrow to the nearby Grand Canyon. There are more than 20 designated vistas or “‘Points” designated by the National Park Service that are worthy of your attention as great stops along the South Rim for photography or just to take in the shifting visual beauty of the Grand Canyon. These stops are clearly marked on the park maps you are given when you pass through the entrance gates. I have concentrated my “Grand Canyon South Rim Guide” so far on the hiking, dining and lodging on the South Rim near Market Plaza, Visitors Center, Hermits Rest, Watchtower and the Grand Canyon Village. I want to add these stops as additional content for my Grand Canyon guide.

This month of October I will be making two separate journeys to the Grand Canyon to photograph, shoot 1080p video and capture wild sound for all easily accessible stops on Hermit Road west of the Village and on Desert View Drive east of the village. There are listings in publications documenting and describing these stops but I want to include a full range of still and video photography of those stops as well as capture some wild sound along the way that I will include in my upcoming Podcast. This multimedia effort will give you the complete “feeling” of actually standing there at those Vistas or stops.

I just started using Periscope, a Twitter product, that allows for short live video “broadcast” tweets. Periscope will allow me to provide you live streaming video from the Grand Canyon to give you an idea what it looks like even if it is on a small smartphone or tablet screen (you can also watch from your desktop computer.) The big problem with shooting live video for you from the Grand Canyon South Rim is grabbing Wi-Fi or cell phone access, which is spotty along the South Rim Trail. Throughout the day tomorrow I will continually try to give you a look at some of those spots provided I can access a signal hot-spot. So, if you are interested you might want to “Follow” me on Twitter @FredericFichman. When I go live you will get an alert and you just tap the url listed; you will be taken to Periscope and my live streaming broadcast. If you miss it the video will be up for a short period of time. You can also get on Periscope and follow me through my screen name Fred Fichman.

After my trip to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, Wednesday, October 14th and Saturday, October 31st (yes on Halloween) I will edit the video, photos, and sound in post production and then include all of those changes and additions to my book, “Grand Canyon, Your South & North Rim Guide to Hiking, Dining & Lodging.”

Important to remember is that if you have already purchased this guide you can have the book resent to you by Amazon Kindle for no additional cost with all of the new material included. So, if you have already bought my book or plan to in the next couple of weeks, no problem…you will be able to get the updated version absolutely free.

Hope you can catch my Periscope live streaming tomorrow. If you wish to go to my Amazon Kindle Sales page for my “Grand Canyon Guide” just click on the book cover image at the top of this blog or click here: http://amzn.to/1OZwWjL

Frederick Fichman

www.frederickfichman.com

Movie Review for “The Martian”

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I just came back from seeing the movie, “The Martian” starring Matt Damon. Here’s my take:

Did anyone reading this review see the 1969 movie “Marooned” staring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, and Gene Hackman? It was based on the 1964 novel written by Martin Caiden. The movie was directed by John Sturges.

The short and simple of this ’69 film “Marooned” is as follows: A U.S. low-earth orbit Apollo-style spacecraft is stuck in near space and can’t return home. There’s a sufficient amount of NASA hand ringing, worried families and space engineers under pressure and time limits trying to figure out the crews’ return. They are rescued with the help of the Soviet Russians. That was the 1969 film.

Fast forward to Oct. 2, 2015 release date for “The Martian” written by Andy Weir. A U.S. astronaut is stuck on Mars and can’t return home.  There’s a sufficient amount of NASA hand ringing, worried families and space engineers under pressure and time limits trying to figure out the crews’ return. They are rescued with the help of the Communist Chinese. That is the 2015 film.

As for the story…do ya see what I am getting at?

There is no question that Ridley Scott provided superb and flawless direction for this film. The film edit was tight and right on the nose allowing the story to move quickly along, although 10-15 minutes should have been trimmed. The art and set design, perfect. The CGI, computer graphics for those not in the biz, was seamless. The soundtracks were perfectly balanced and non-obtrusive. The use of believable props, electronics and equipment seen throughout the movie was right on target as well.

What Ridley Scott did accomplish with this film is the masterful technique he uses in all of his films, like “Aliens.” It’s called SUSPENSION of DISBELIEF. In other words, he creates an atmosphere throughout the film where the audience actually believes everything they see on the screen is real or could be real…they suspend their disbelief that anything they do see on the screen is impossible.

 If the audience didn’t believe what they saw could happen or was real they would lose interest in what they were seeing as being too wild or impossible to believe. But with this constant golden ring filmmakers reach for they have to be careful especially at the end of a film to avoid the “God Comes to the Rescue” ending where some supernatural power or God steps in to save the situation or lead characters from being destroyed by their protagonists or some dangerous situation. It is a thin line in storytelling to avoid when something comes out of nowhere to “Save the Day” for our heroes.

 Okay Fred, so what’s the bad news? Well, forgive me if I sound snarky or unfair because I am the author of the “The SETI Trilogy” that I am presently turning into a nine-book series, but the Martian story is just small. The story is linear. The story fits the dramatic pattern of beginning, middle, and end but that’s it. It is obvious from the start that astronaut Mark Watney is going to be rescued. So, we know the ending. If he wasn’t going to be rescued then it would have been a down and unsatisfying ending and no reader, except a few sadists, really wants that.

What I am saying is that the story and dialogue, is very linear and straightforward. There are a few twists and turns but nothing really challenging. More snarkiness, sorry…but in my SETI Series of books there is more layer, depth and global impact as to the progress and ultimate end of the tale. My story can and is going to go through time, generations and startling revelations. With “The Martian” an astronaut is stranded, there is drama to rescue him, and the astronaut is rescued. Dead stop. Story end. Okay, gang let’s leave the theater and grab something to eat.

In sum, I would say this is a fantastic movie with near-perfect elements of the filmmaking craft and the best marketing campaign I have ever seen as staged by Fox. And God bless Andy Weir for the way this story and his book came into creation. He gave away the book for free, chapter by chapter. He then published on Kindle and sold a ton of books, and within one week got a book deal and a film deal. Congratulations, Andy, well done and you deserve the success. It is tough writing science fiction, I thoroughly understand and you did a great job.

“The Martian” is well-crafted filmmaking and it’s great entertainment. And one more thought, over time since I saw the film, it kinda grows on you. Because of that I have updated this review from a previous version, I think I really do like this film.

Fred Fichman

www.frederickfichman.com

For more great science fiction, check out my SETI Trilogy. Click on cover.

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