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Avatar

Without doubt the most hyped and publicly marketed film in the history of contemporary cinema, Avatar dominated the big screen in all corners of the world, and went on to generate over $2.7 billion in revenue. It made James Cameron the master of the two most financially successful cinematic endeavors of all time.

Avatar takes us more than one hundred years into the future, where the Earth (played by the United States) sends a group of Marines to mine the foreign planet of Pandora for an extremely rare MacGuffin known as Unobtainium. Involved in this operation is the crippled Jake Sully, who is given the task of fusing his body with a cloned native in order to gain the trust of the planet’s Indigenous population, the Na’vi, and convince them to flee their home in to accommodate the excavation of their sacred site. Along the way, Jake becomes more than friendly with the Na’vi princess Neytiri and begins to question the underlying motives of his employer.

For many cinema goers, this film offered a comprehensively positive answer to the most debatable of movie topics: can a film made with the budget of a small (or, in this case, not-so-small) country which is made to appeal to the masses also be embraced by the critical community?

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those believers. For hype about Avatar to include such claims as ‘it will revolutionize the way people watch and interpret cinema’, it’s fair to say expectations were pretty high. I walked into the film expecting a heavy dose of originality to complement the many socially conscious themes suggested by trailers, and ultimately implicated in the film’s plot (including a criticism of America’s involvement in the occupation of Iraq, as well as the need for us all to make our thumbs a little greener).

What I got was same-old, same-old, Hollywood production-line stuff. A plot recreated dozens of times in different environments, coupled with a ‘romantic’ sub-plot lacking any sense of depth meant this was ‘just another movie’ in my eyes. I’m always open to give two thumbs up for innovation in film and, quite frankly, would have had no problem in seeing the closing credits roll following Jake’s refreshingly insightful monologue about how ‘we all have to wake up sometime.’

Of course, the film dragged on for another 45 minutes, climaxing in a fierce battle scene allowing the special effects crew to show off to their heart’s content, which was, that’s right, thrown in to appeal to the masses.

Despite this, I am impartially obliged to list three positives to come out of what was otherwise a disappointing film. Sam Worthington’s portrayal of Jake Sully was, while by no means Oscar-worthy, leaps and bounds ahead of his previous enterprise in the dreadful Terminator: Salvation. The attention to detail offered in terms of the mannerisms of a paraplegic was something I was worried would be pushed to one side in the scope of such a grand undertaking, but Worthington did the role justice.

Secondly, You can watch Avatar on 123movies, it also has given 3D cinema the push it needed to avoid being just some flavor-of-the-month promotion, and I for one am glad to see it hang around. Avatar is the first, and by no means the last, blockbuster to accommodate this revolution in film-making. And speaking of revolution, no one can voice their opinion on Avatar without mentioning the visuals. Not since our encounter with a real-life T-rex in Spielberg’s suspenseful 1993 roller coaster have computer-generated effects taken such a huge step forward. Now if only JC and company could have formed the plot, character development and dialogue to match.…

Michael Hultgren No Comments

IndieFlix

Independent Filmmakers are actively searching for a credible online distribution solution for their finished projects. They yearn for an honest, clear and straight forward approach to the myriad of options. Also filmmakers simply want to make thier films, and don’t want to worry about dealing with distribution. They need a digital home that understands all the media outlets and distribution options, a destination to not only show their projects off but to actually make a profit. Enter: Indieflix

With our own film, “Art of Suicide” part of the Indieflix catalog of movies, we recently had the chance to sit down with filmmaker relations & acquisitions and online community builder Kyle Boynton and discuss in depth the solutions Indieflix has to offer. Please enjoy…

Please tell us more about Indieflix.com? What do you guys do? How did you guys get your start?

Well, IndieFlix is an online marketplace and distributor for film festival selected independent film. We are a community hub for filmmakers and film lovers world-wide. We strive to empower filmmakers and enable truly independent film to reach audiences around the globe. We believe that every story has an audience and it is our mission to help filmmakers and film lovers unite. IndieFlix was started back in 2005 by filmmakers Scilla Andreen and Carlo Scandiuzzi. We are a company of filmmakers who works with filmmakers, helping them in the huge world of film distribution.

As a filmmaker myself, I love making connections with other filmmakers. It’s a great resource to talk about what we are all working on next. Hearing stories from others makes me feel like I’m not alone when scrambling for a budget or actors or locations. It’s nice to know these problems happen to everyone. And it’s a great way to get or give advice. Even for filmmakers that don’t work with the company. Check out the website, communicate with one another!

The distribution landscape is ever-changing and credible outlets like yours are crucial, tell us the changes and various evolutions that you guys are seeing? What should filmmakers be doing now to better to prepare?

Honestly, stay educated. It may cost some money, but a good idea is either to become a member to these sites, buy a stream or DVD from them. Get educated on the types of films they work with and the quality. Know the market. Know that once you finish a festival you have other options then signing your rights away to an exclusive company. Know that there are some companies who would gladly have your film on their site. In fact, do research on what kind of companies are out there before going to festivals. Know the kinds of places and the names that will be looking at your film. Are they exclusive or non-exclusive? *I always love hearing filmmakers say they at least know a little about IndieFlix. They don’t have to be a pro, but some familiarity is helpful.

Most importantly, know what you want to do with your film. Find out a way to use the current outlets to your advantage. And don’t let anyone pressure you into something you’re not comfortable doing. I’m always upfront on this. I am all about no-pressure approaches when it comes to film distribution. Although, it’s easiest for me, since IndieFlix is completely non-exclusive.

Most indie film producers say they always get screwed in distribution, you guys seems pretty upfront, why should a filmmaker consider indieflix.com? Any other benefits of choosing indieflix.com

For one, we are completely NON-EXCLUSIVE. You aren’t giving up your rights, like some other companies. You control what your film does – whether you want us to just have it available for streaming, or DVD sales or both. There aren’t any hidden fees in working with us. It’s a no cost to filmmakers model.

We work with third party distributors such as Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon VOD and have a fair amount of content on these sites. While, working with us is not a guarantee to be on these platforms, it is an possibility.

And, we’re friendly and easy to get ahold of. I’ve heard a lot of filmmakers compliment us on how filmmaker friendly we are. That’s our motto.

OK, so you guys, I’m sure, seen a ton of indie films! Anyway you can give us a list of things NOT to do to make a successful indie film!

I was hoping you would ask this question. Three things come to mind. White balancing, audio issues, and trying to do too much with your film.

White balancing errors is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It’s something that distracts me while watching a film. Especially if it happens more than once. Another similar one to this is boring camera set ups. Using the standard wide shot, medium shot, and close shot over and over again gets boring. Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Use your knowledge of film to help tell the story visually. Rack the focus, track the camera, NEVER ZOOM, etc. The best advice is to watch more films (sounds awful doesn’t it?). I find that if I pick one director I admire – we’ll use Martin Scorsese for this example – and watch his keystone films. Look at how he uses camera movement, space, editing to help the story he’s trying to tell move along. It’s brilliant. Alfred Hitchcock too. And Rian Johnson’s Brick. Brillant.

Audio issues is another huge thing. My film professor always said, if your film looks amazing and sounds terrible, it is terrible. I understand that some filmmakers don’t have the budget for fancy sound kits, but honestly, educate yourself on the audio kits you have available. It’ll improve the quality of the film greatly if the sound is stellar.

***Before I explain this one, I want to make something clear. I am in NO WAY of trying to discourage you from your vision. This is just something that I have seen go terrible wrong before. BUT, I have …

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High on Sridevi’s Unglamorous Avatar!

Sridevi in English Vinglish Movie

Sridevi’s return to Bollywood in English Vinglish in a rather unglamorous role has generated a vivid interest. The English Vinglish trailer released earlier this year has received more than a Lakh of views in YouTube. In the film, Sridevi plays the protagonist Shashi, a simple sari clad housewife settled in America toiling to learn English and impress her husband and rest of the family. The movie to be produced in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi languages marks Sridevi’s arrival after a period of about 14 years since Judaai in 1997.

One of the leading actresses of her times, the diva has held a unique position during her hey days and is still holds her ground with reverence. The stunning diva delivered the super hit film Himmatwala (1983) with Jeetendra, only in her second Hindi film. The electrifying dance of Sridevi and Jeetendra in “Naino Mein Sapna” from the film has become an evergreen hit. Sridevi proved her versatility with her sensitive portrayal of an autistic girl in the 1983 film, Sadma. The award winning successful movie has created a class of its own with Sridevi‘s and Kamal Hassan’s earnest performance. She ruled the Hindi film industry as its darling and produced box office movers with films like, Justice Chowdhury, Tohfa (1984), Mawaali (1983) and Suhaag (1986).

Whenever spoken of the deadly venom spitting Naagin the one image that pops up is of Sridevi in black sari dancing rhythmically to the flute with blazing furious eyes. Sridevi had proficiently outdone her contemporaries in essaying the role of the female snake in the successful venture Nagina (1986) and even bagged the sequel Nigahen (1989). Already a superstar her blockbuster film Chandni (1989) reassured her rank as the Bollywood’s reigning queen. And the craze of her white costumes became maddening with the film’s release. Sridevi pocketed the Filmfare Award for her double role performance in the “Seeta Aur Geeta” remake Chaalbaaz released in the same year. The audience got to see Sridevi’s competency in acting out the meek Anju and the quick Manju simultaneously. She acted in the nineties films Laadla (1994), Gumrah and Judai and still continues to be named as one of the leading personalities in the film fraternity. A talented and graceful actor Sridevi has created a very high benchmark with her works.

Sridevi in a Still from Nagina, Nigahen, Chandni and Chaalbaaz Movie

In her upcoming release, the glamour queen has danced to the number Navrai Maajhi for the film, showing some of her signature moves. The light and humorous movie reflects the inconveniences of the protagonist trying to cope in with the difficulty of speaking English in everyday life. The film has just premiered in the Toronto International Film Festival this Tuesday and received a welcome appreciation on Sridevi’s delightful performance. Given the standard Sridevi has set, it would be a highly anticipating watch for the diva to return to her roots. Meanwhile, the film’s promotion has been quite creative. One witty teaser of the film shows Sridevi trying to read the certificate of Censor Board with in her difficult broken English.

Directed by Gauri Shinde, the cast includes Priya Anand, Mehndi Nebbou and Adil Hussain as Sridevi’s husband. Amitabh Bachchan has given a special appearance for the movie which is supposedly a comic role. The movie to be in India on September 21st has been moved to October 5th in order to avoid a clash with Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine.…

Michael Hultgren No Comments

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Remember how lighthearted and fun Raiders of the Lost Ark was? Even when lives were on the line, everyone was still smiling, knowing that their skill and perhaps a little bit of luck would allow them to escape relatively unharmed. The bad guys would get shot up a touch, the good guys would be mostly okay, and everyone would be able to go about their merry way. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not like this. It has the humor but none of the charm, and it has a few scenes that are darker than anything you’ll find in Raiders.

This is a prequel to the film that introduced us to Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), the professor and archaeologist who so competently provided us two hours of thrills, all while keeping a smile on his face. This movie takes place only a couple of years prior to Raiders, and in the opening sequence, we see that Indiana is still the dashing fellow he becomes slightly later in life. He manages to escape from some Chinese businessmen, negate the poison that he ingested while dealing with them, and save two other people from a plane that was about to crash. And that’s just for starters.

The people with him are the love interest, a singer name Willie (Kate Capshaw), and a small child suitably named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), an orphan that Indy takes with him on his adventures. After escaping from the plane, the trio finds themselves in India, at a small village that claims a magical stone was stolen, and that its theft has caused them to starve. Crops are dying, the well dried up, and so on. Indy, reluctantly, at first, decides that getting the stone back would be a good idea.

So, we’re on another adventure. Unlike the last film, which took place in a great many locations, this one focuses on a palace, which holds unspeakable secrets. Once inside, there are a great many dangers for Indy and crew to face, and it’s here where most of the excitement comes in. There are some seriously dark moments in Temple of Doom, and I was surprised by some of the places that it went to.

I can see what the filmmakers were trying to do. The first film had Nazis as the villain, and in order to not use them again, the film is set a bit earlier, before Jones had any reason to deal with them. The first movie was lighter in tone, so in order to contrast that, this one had to be darker. It helps keep things fresh, which I was happy with, although it lost some of the charm when that tonal change was made. How can something be charming when inside it you see a heart being ripped from someone’s chest — and then the person whose heart is no longer attached to the body gets burned alive?

Okay, so that’s as dark as it gets, but in comparison to the first film, that’s pretty bad. I didn’t mind this direction, in large part because it allows the film to go in different ways — and because the humor was kept, ensuring that I still laughed even when the darkness came — but I can see it turning away some people who just wanted a light, enjoyable action-adventure movie. This is not that.

There is less action this time around, although once it starts, it takes a while to dial back down. Some of the film actually — and if you saw the first film, you might not believe this — talking and sitting around a table. And spying. Spying! Can you imagine that? Instead of recklessly charging into action, Indy and the gang wait until people have left in order to steal the magical stone. And they actually directly impact the ending this time around, which is always a plus.

The ending is what I disliked about Raiders. This time, my complaint is with the cast. Kate Capshaw’s Willie is not as strong of a character as Karen Allen’s Marion. Willie is more of an annoyance, rarely helping and always shrieking. Short Round, while a cut kid, also doesn’t help all that much. Ke quan and Ford do have a strong chemistry, though, and if they didn’t get separated so often, that could have really been made into something. Caphsaw and Ford’s relationship, on the other hand, feels weak, especially when compared to the one in the previous film.

Temple of Doom is still quite inventive, and I enjoyed the few action scenes that we did get. The stakes feel high, although the characters are still occasionally joking, and they’re always exciting. The opening is possibly even better than the one in the first movie, and the scene with bugs and spikes is so well-done that I found myself genuinely worried about Indy and his kid sidekick. It’s a thrilling actioner, even if it is a bit darker and contains a bit less action than its predecessor.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a darker Indiana Jones film than the one that preceded it, but it’s still a lot of fun and contains some very exciting moments. What didn’t work as well was the love interest — in part because the character is written to be weaker than Marion, and also because Capshaw’s chemistry with Ford wasn’t as strong — and the kid sidekick — which didn’t work because it wasn’t given a whole lot of time to develop. But if you’re up for a slightly darker movie still starring the capable man with a whip and fedora, this is one you’ll want to watch.…

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Plot

Set in present day Boston, we see Joe Moore and his gang pull off a jewel heist. Unfortunately Joe’s face is caught on camera, so he decides to retire. To fund his retirement Joe’s talked into ‘The Swiss Job’ by his fence Bergman. Joe’s package involves his hapless nephew Jimmy Silk coming along to help out (and insure his uncle’s share). Moore tries to bluff Silk out of the operation. But Silk has fallen for Moore’s young girlfriend Fran, and keeps coming back. Various plot twists and turns are revealed now, so don’t read on if you want to be surprised by the film.

Moore puts up with Silk in order to keep tabs on Bergman. They carry out the ‘Swiss job’ – robbing a plane of Swiss bullion. Silk brains Moore and takes Fran and the gold, except its pig iron. Moore returns and gets the real gold off the plane. In revenge for being double-crossed, Bergman kidnaps Pincus, who spills the beans after being beaten and emotionally blackmailed. Bergman then kills him. Bergman ambushes Moore at the docks, and tries to make off with his boat, which now has gold railings. A shootout ensues, Bergman and his henchmen are dispensed with by Moore and Blane, while Silk drags Fran off with him. She returns to Moore, then Silks appears, and they drive off with Moore’s pickup truck which carries gold rails painted black. Except Moore has another truck full of gold rails, which he drives away in unbeknownst to the others.

Reaction

Well, Gene Hackman is on good form in this movie, and the acting is generally very good But the film itself isn’t really very engaging. Somewhat bland, Starsky and Hutch provided better criminals and shooting matches. Perhaps Mamet should stick to the theatre, his talents (or interests?) are not well served by his attempts at film direction so far. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, and plenty of double crossing going on. The story jogs along, but there isn’t much pace to the tale. Consequently the action falls rather flat. Some important aspects of the plot hinge on very small visual details – such as Silk’s impatient fiddling with the wing mirror alerting the cop to … what?

Often, when stage plays are filmed, the action is largely constrained to interiors, or feels claustrophobic and one-dimensional. Directors limit their aspirations, you feel a little that that has happened here. Except that its the director who has constrained the proceedings (Mamet also scripted this film). His wife Rebecca Pidgeon plays the main female here, and isn’t bad either. However, little sense of any relationships between the characters emerges, and you do wonder what, as Silk keeps asking Moore, “does your wife see in you?”

Also currently on release in the UK at the same time is ‘Bandits’, where at least there’s a bit of humour to leaven the proceedings, and the story cracks along at a fine pace.

This films seems a waste of good acting talent.

Rating

Bland, run of the mill, and not particularly engaging. Some decent acting from the principles though.

If you like this film…

Gene Hackman – who can forget him as Popeye Doyle in the classic: “The French Connection”, complete with exhiliarating car chases. A little more recently, he featured in ‘Twilight’ with Paul Newman, James Garner, and Susan Sarandon. This did not get widely shown at cinemas, but is well worth a look.

Another classic heist caper is ‘The Italian Job’ starring Michael Caine (and London). Wallace and Gromit provide their own diamond heist tale in ‘The Wrong Trousers’. What fun!…