Meet Joe Black: Directing Review

14 May

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Meet Joe Black (1998) is a fantasy film directed by Martin Brest, starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Forlani. This movie is about the character of William Parrish, a billionaire business mogul who has been taken interest by Death. The character of Death is a grim reaper in the foremost sense. Death has taken the body of a young man, a potential love interest of William Parrish’s daughter, Susan. Throughout the movie, William Parrish uses the extra time he is given by death to act in honesty, spend time with his family, make amends where he has made wrongs, and create overall closure in his life. While Death is taking his “vacation” he falls in love with Susan, and Susan falls in love with him. In the end, Death and William Parrish both must leave behind the world that they both hold so dear. 

This movie brings out many themes and many choices the director could have made to change what was going to happen or how the action was portrayed. One example of this choice is how Martin Brest took this film in a realistic, secular look at life and death, and ignored the religious undertones this film could have had. The style of directing brought out the inspiration of life, values one should always have and dynamic acting performances of Hopkins and Pitt. However, this movie could have been shortened (from its 3 hour run time) and could have had many scenes taken out. 

One scene that I believe had a good acting direction, was the last scene. The end finale. After dancing with his daughter for the very last time, William Parrish meets with Death at the beginning of a bridge and they both leave this world. Crossing over the bridge from this world into that world. The scene was slow paced, but it was put into the film for a time of reflexion. The scene was surrounded by the 65th birthday party of William Parrish, with the grandeur of fireworks and lights and music. It gave a simplified, sweet and beautiful ending, which opposed the beginning, which started in darkness and pain. In the beginning of the movie, William Parrish awakes with a heart pains, and he is lonely, surrounded in his darkened room in the middle of the night. By the end, you see that light has pushed through the darkness and he is surrounded by friends and family. 

One of the scenes that I believe could have had been left out of the movie would be in the middle of the story, when William Parrish keeps talking with unnecessary minor characters about business, even in his own home. These scenes could have had been cut, but I can see why the director left them in. He left them in to build up to the climax of the chairman of the board scandal within the company. But, the minor characters are not doing anything in particular to influence the movie. The director could have also had left in these scenes to show how much William Parrish was a businessman, but in the end, these scenes become repetitive and add no other use to the film. 

The storyline of the film can sometimes be blurred by the many scenes within the film. We see that in the beginning, the storyline is mostly centered around William Parrish. We see him make connections with his family over the next final days of his life, but his storyline has been pushed aside by Joe Black’s (Death) storyline of falling in love with Susan Parrish, the daughter of William Parrish. I believe there could have been a better balance between the two storylines, but I believe the director wanted to show how Joe Black was able to blur into reality. How he was not seen just as death, and how he came into the life of William Parrish as a blessing, more than a curse. Even though the movie is very long, many scenes feel rushed and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. 

Lastly, I would like to talk about my favorite scene in the whole film. It is in the beginning when Susan Parrish, after taking a helicopter ride into the city with her father, is contemplating her love with her father’s employee, Drew. Her father has told her to open her heart, and “wait for lightning to strike”. So, in the coffee shop, she meets this unnamed guy who makes small talk with her while she is preparing for work. This scene is drawn out, but it really adds this sense of wonderment to the film. The choice of leaving the man nameless lets us make him less relatable, because we see his “death” later in the scene. At the same time, we see his charm and his likability, so we are able to root for him to return to Susan after Joe Black has left. The choice of the director to also make it the part in the film where destiny has brought them both together is very clever and makes for a good start to the story. 

In conclusion, the directing styles in the movie Meet Joe Black are blatantly apparent and very drawn out. However, the key scenes that add to the dynamic of the movie are very well placed and done well. The overall directing style adds to the viewing of the film, and how the audience relates to the characters and the scenes within the film (in the most likable way possible). I would have liked to see this film done with another director, but overall, I enjoyed it. 

Singin’ in the Rain: Music and Sound Review

6 May

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is an American musical film starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. This movie is based in 1920’s Hollywood, in the middle of the “talkie” revolution. Two film stars go through trials and tribulations to create a “talkie” for their upcoming film. The only problem is that the audience favorite “leading lady” has a voice that can make dogs whine. An example of this can be shown in this example: http://youtu.be/OTFCctdiS04 

This film is an iconic, legendary film that has been referenced many times in the American culture. Singin’ in the Rain not only depicted the advancements of sound in the 20’s, but it also stood as a benchmark for sound in movies during its time. The original score/musical numbers, the era and the characters all emphasized sound in Singin’ in the Rain. 

Singin’ in the Rain is a musical film, interweaving the characters and songs to advance the plot. This film is also unique. It is able to stand on its own, even without the dance numbers. It feels as though the songs by themselves are mere subbranches to the plot of Singin’ in the Rain. The entertaining numbers of dance and song blend into real life. Hollywood is a dramatic and flamboyant town, and the storyline within this film is told through many unique and bold ways. An example of this would be Broadway Melody Ballet, a long and drawn out musical number consisting of the main character pitching an idea of how to finish the talkie to a Hollywood producer. It blurs the line between reality and fiction with its realistic view of entertainment and how the characters are portrayed. The characterization in Singin’ in the  Rain is very light, since this film is considered a comedy. But, it keeps the characters dramatic personalities to a minimum and focuses on the fun and entertainment aspects of the movie. 

Another one of the numbers is the song Singin’ in the Rain. The title number that is the most memorable out in the entire movie. It feels like an extended dream sequence, yet very real at the same time. It feels realistic because the scene is also relatable. It is joyous, and it is an expression of the heart through song. This celebration of love has the main character of the movie, Don Lockwood, splashing in the water from a rain storm. This only to be interrupted by a police officer looking at him strangely.

The lyrics are used as an expression: I’m singing in the rain/ Just singing in the rain /What a glorious feeling I’m happy again/ I’m laughing at the clouds so dark up above/ The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love. 

Instead of adding new information or moving the scene along, the musical numbers in this film are used to express emotions and ideas (which is an aspect that covers much of the overall film) 

During the 1940’s and 1950’s, a production unit at Metro-Goldwyn-mayer headed by Arthur Freed made the transition from old-fashioned musical films, whose formula had become repetitive, to something new.  This was known as the Freed Unit. Singin’ in the Rain is an example of this popular movement. So popular in fact that within a short matter of time after the release of Singin’ in the Rain, Gene Kelly became a household name. This Freed Unit era of musicals was one of the many ways sound has been changed over the decades. 

Singin’ in the Rain was not only an example of the way sound was expressed in movies, but it depicted an accurate representation of the transition from silent films to talkies in the 1920’s. This movie is part of the sound revolution. In early days, sound was recorded and synchronized, then projected in a movie theatre. This was done by the use of microphones and records. In the video clip above, we see a good example of the actual procedure that went into making talkies and the dilemmas the directors had to face with placement and accuracy. 

Within this movie, we have a very prominent film score and an overall film theme song: Singin’ in the Rain. The film score and the orchestrated pieces that went along with the dialogue are the only prominent non-diegetic sound (sound not coming from source, sound coming from outside of space). Examples of diegetic sound (sound heard from seen source) would be the dialogue between the characters, the musical numbers and music coming from instruments. In some cases, audiences might believe that there is a blur between non-diegetic and diegetic sound, an example being when Donald O’Connor’s character, Cosmo, is on set for the filming of the upcoming picture to add “mood music” to the scene (this is when the film was still silent). We hear the mood music that would traditionally be in scene, but since Cosmo is playing the songs, we have to take this diegetic sound. 

The character of Cosmo in the film is the best friend of the famous actor, Don Lockwood. Cosmo and Don, in their younger days, had a dancing, singing and instrument playing act. After Don became a famous silver screen actor, Cosmo stayed with him, being kept as the piano player for the movies. His character, like many others, are used to emphasize the use of sound in this film. Without his character, the excuses to sing or create musical numbers would not be very realistic. 

Another aspect of sound through characterization is the voice of Lena Lamont, the famous opposing part to Don Lockwood. The voice of the famous actress Lena Lamont is whiny, high pitched and annoying. This has never affected the work of Lena before, however, since she has been a silent film actress all of her life. She has kept her actual speaking voice from the public for many years, before she started working in talkies. An example of this would be in the very beginning of this film. We are introduced to Lena, but her impact of character is only given to us through her presence onstage. She is beautiful and intriguing, but the direction in this film was used to lead the audience to make Lena as likable as she could be. That is, until the damn suddenly breaks, and we hear her voice for the first time. Not only is it high-pitched and whiny, but the mind of Lena Lamont is not that bright. All of this together leads to a comedic approach to the villainess of the film. 

The voice of Lena Lamont sets the plot for the character of Debbie Reynolds’ character of Kathy Selden. Kathy Selden is a nobody who is working as dancer for the motion picture industry when she is noticed by the character of Don Lockwood, and they take a liking to each other. Kathy is used as the “voice” of Lena Lamont, because her voice is softer and classic. It is sophisticated and likable to an audience because it does not create dissonance. It is easy on the ears. The voice of Kathy Selden is also used in musical numbers, which only enhances reality due to the fact that Kathy is a talent, trying to catch her big break. She can sing, that is why she has been trying to make it as a singer. 

In conclusion, Singin’ in the Rain uses sound to enhance the reality of the film, to bring a lightheartedness to the plot and to bring to light the era of advances for sound. It emphasizes sound in as many ways as possible, including characterization, setting, plot and genre. Singin’ in the Rain is a classic film that stands today as an icon for popular culture references, and for a good reason. In my opinion, Singin’ in the Rain is a great movie and should be seen by all music lovers, young and old. 

You’ve Got Mail: Editing Review

30 Apr

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You’ve Got Mail (1998) is a romantic film based in New York City about two people keeping a romanticized relationship through emailing each other, completely unaware of the fact that they both are actually present within each others life. This movie is based on the film, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) about a man and a woman who work together and can’t stand each other, who are actually falling in love with each other through their letters to one another. The characters of Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) are strong, and both likable in their approach. They do in fact, loathe each other as Joe is a tycoon for a mega bookstore that is going to stop out Kathleen’s children’s bookstore, called The Shop Around the Corner. This gives a shrewd angle to the story, but in its classic approach, this movie remains foolproof.

Within the time of this movie, we see two stories of two different people intermingle and connect, yet stay separate. Only the most appropriate times does the audience see this happen, most of the time just to add more chemistry, in order to ease the tension of opposition. Editor, Richard Marks, creates a perfect dynamic in this movie is sequence filled, set in the all-that-is-perfect places of New York City. Shots are used to create the environment for this updated film, but are also used to linger on the details of this film’s classic roots. This film uses voice-over, crosscutting and an easygoing rhythm that are used to create this inviting love story.

Voice-over, usually brought on by inner monologues, is a key factor for this film. It is used to individualize the audience’s views of both characters and are used to keep their stories separate. This is mostly used when we see the characters of Joe and Kathleen emailing each other. We hear their emails to one another, but usually during a sequence in which we see the characters react to what has been said. It is a factor in this movie, that keeps both of the sides balanced between likable and unlikable in order for the audience to remain neutral. We see Kathleen read an email from Joe giving her advice on how to deal with the competing bookstore in the neighborhood. We hear the email, and we hear and put in the back of our minds Joe’s point of view. This gives the audience the view that Joe really isn’t a bad guy, but a professional at what he does. This is kept in the back of our minds when we see Joe trying to defeat The Shop Around the Corner, Kathleen’s children’s bookstore. Even though we hate his actions and what he manages his animosity to Kathleen, we still appreciate Joe for who he is and the audience remains neutral. At the same time, voice-over is also used to keep the characters of Joe and Kathleen secretive to their counters. There relationship with one another is kept hidden away from their unknowing counters of boyfriend and girlfriend, whom they both live with. This shows that the relationship between Joe and Kathleen are both more important to them than their real life relationships, adding this unknowing, fairy-tale classic love to the movie.

Cross-cutting, by definition, is an editing technique most often used in films to establish action occurring at the same time in two different locations. The camera cuts between two different forces in the same shot or two actions happening simultaneously with two separate, but equal forces. Cross-cutting is used in this movie to keep the story of Joe and Kathleen connected even while they are apart. In the beginning, we see Joe and Kathleen start their day by checking their email, a voice-over narrative that plays while they both get ready for work and start their day. They each are walking through the same neighborhood, shown ending up in the same location, just at different times. Also, this technique is used to show opposition with both of the characters in order to compare their lives and show differences. For example, Kathleen has not had a lot of money, she has had a small family, and when she goes to her Christmas celebration, she is surrounded by her friends, having a very enjoyable time. When we see Joe, he is seen in comfort by his money, shown to have this hard, business-like demeanor all the time and at his Christmas celebration, we see him dying to break free from the egos and the narcissism of his family dynamic. This is how the background is formed and it sets a good base for the email exchanges, another example of cross-cutting, that happens in the movie. We see the two opposing forces of Joe and Kathleen come together, and for that moment in time we see two people connect and feel together, even though they are separate. Such as during the part in the movie where Joe has stood Kathleen up for their first meeting and he has no explanation. We see Kathleen upset at her message-less computer, waiting for an explanation. By this point, we are hoping for Kathleen and Joe to get together, so the audience is rooting for Joe to find a reason and connect with Kathleen. Cross-cutting not only strengthens opposition, but it can also be used to connect.

Rhythm, one of the most important of the editing techniques mentioned in this film, creates that perfect sense of time and pace that keeps the film moving and the audience happy. Because two forces are working to create one action, timing is used with most of the actions in the film in order to create the story and make executions perfect. The timing in this film mostly follows a pattern of written chance, but when the characters start becoming more and more aware of each other, the actions in this film start to become more organized and fruitful. The timing in this film is really used to create the audience’s expectation of what is going to happen next. An example of this would be the many coincidental meetings between Kathleen and Joe. Such as, when they are in a grocery store before Thanksgiving. Or, when they both arrive at the same party of a mutual friend. The characters themselves do not expect themselves to be meeting, but the audience creates this expectation, the dynamic is increased between their characters and the audience is now expecting them to be more connected, building that relationship throughout the movie. The use of shots within the film also add to the rhythm of the film. Shots within the film, when they involve the two main characters, show them standing together, away from everything else. We see their actions, their connection. The outside movement of the scene is a presence, but is does not effect that feeling of the situation. Most of the situations, in order to deal with time, always have an opposing force to the couple. Such as the want to talk to someone else in the scene or the need to do another task with a time limit. But, no matter what limitations, the couple of Joe and Kathleen are having their lives turned upside down by each others presence. It is changing their slowly patterned lives alone to this escalating action and a rift of change in both of them.

In conclusion, I find editing to be very important to the whole dynamic of the movie. The essential film experience is the way a film is put together. Editing changes the way an audience feels about a film. Due to the editing techniques in this film, You’ve Got Mail feels personal and simple. It creates a connection and comparison with two characters who find love. This film shows how love can prevail as the underlying power and connect the most unlikely of people as a whole, even though outside forces are resisting the urge to change opposition.

Love and Other Disasters: Acting Review

23 Apr

Love and Other Disasters is a 2006 romantic comedy produced by Ruby Film, Europa Corp. and Skyline Films. Starring the late Brittany Murphy, this film is a modernized, British play-off of the forever loved classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, directed by Blake Edwards). Love and Other Disasters really emphasizes how the acting styles within the film from the main heroine and her supporting friends bring out specific details that make the movie dynamic, different but also how it follows the traditional set up of romantic comedies.

The main character of Emily “Jacks” Jackson (played by Brittany Murphy) is based from the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at first seems a bit overrated. Her acting style seems in the best interest of taking the key aspects of not just Holly Golightly’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but the stylistic demeanor of the actress Audrey Hepburn, the person to which Holly Golightly comes alive. Within the movie, we see Brittany Murphy’s imitation as a loving flattery, however her characterization can sometimes fall within the level of a blithe parody. Within the story, Jacks is playing the never ending hostess to life’s endless party. The character of Jacks spends most of her time surrounding herself and making lives for her “guests”, in the end not very confident in her needs and wants. She keeps herself busy through her self-created dramas and the heavy romantic complications of her friends.

The Golightly-esque of the main character Jacks branches from the acting style of the late Brittany Murphy. Brittany Murphy, in this movie, was cast for her girl next door appearance. Through the years, Murphy has been in that rut of being typecast for being just a cute face with a ditty disposition. This caused her to outreach her boundaries, and with success took up heavily dramatized supporting roles that were deeper and broke her own acting type with more controversial films, such as 8 Mile and Sin City. Brittany Murphy had an impressive acting range. She had organic and believable, seemed abled to readapt well, and truly got into her character.

The supporting characters in the film don’t focus on the characterization comparisons that compliment Murphy’s Emily Jackson, but they do add to the dynamics of the plot. The supporting actors in this movie are all the puppets to the strings of Emily Jackson (the main character of the story, but not the leading dramatic creator). The supporting character of Peter, Emily Jackson’s gay roommate, is more of the story teller for the life story and happenings of Jacks, but his stories are more realistic and in the moment. The acting style of Emily Jackson has to more exaggerated because of this point. We also see the character of Jacks keeping to the background of most of the drama within the movie. Keeping herself aloof, and reacting not from the outside, but from other’s reactions really show even more work done by Murphy to portray the Hepburn acting style. She stands up not in a direct way, but for herself in indirects ways, such as for her friends. She stands to the side, being swirled around in self-inflicted drama. In opposition, the character of Peter can be brought out in a more subdue, realistic view. The character of Peter would most likely be compared to Paul Varjak, the counter to Holly Golightly played by George Peppard. Played by Matthew Rhys, the character of Peter Simon is a screenwriter who is trying to find inspiration for his first screenplay. By the end of the story, it is revealed that Peter Simon’s movie is being explained through real life and also on screen. The movie is practically a movie within a movie.

Because this movie is a romantic comedy, it is contrary to typical British acting styles. British actors are typically known to perform onstage in classical theatre. Their forte is drama and exaggeration. Only in recent years Britain has caught up with comedy in movies, let alone an entirely comedic, romantic film. This movie is lighthearted, and in all aspects considered a comedy. The dialogue is full of quirk and some actions and characterizations are completely outrageous and over exaggerated. These actions come across in the most realistic way because they are well-timed, well-placed and cinematically appealing by professional actors in this film.