Posted in Film and Television

Cinematography Appreciation Post

Okay, so…the technical side of filmmaking went over my head for quite some time. In many ways, it still does. However, I think that may be one of the reasons why I find it so captivating as a medium. In short, the fact that technology and coding can be skillfully manipulated to create a movie is something that’s perpetually magical to me.

One well-known technical aspect is cinematography- how a movie is shot. This is a crucial part of the piece’s creative development, as good cinematographers can use their camera artistry to secure a certain aesthetic for the movie, or perhaps elicit a particular feeling from viewers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of my favorite Hollywood camerawork…and I’ll share why I find it so effective. (Note: Because I can’t readily embed videos here, we’ll have to settle for GIFs!)

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1951: An American in Paris (Alfred Gilks and John Alton) The Gershwin brothers’ musical masterpiece is the standard by which all musical films are judged. From its dynamically-shot street scenes to that glorious 17-minute fantasy ballet, this movie’s cinematography oozes artistry. No matter how many years have gone by, it is still so easy to get enveloped in its dreamlike bubble of a time long gone.

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1993: The Piano (Stuart Dryburgh) Bloody hell…if you’d told me that I may someday have an urge to “jump the bones” of Harvey Keitel, I’d have said you were bonkers! But damn, does the camerawork in this love story make him look good! Aside from that, every angle in the movie is finely crafted and feels deliberate, like you’re watching events unfold in real-time. For me, that’s a hallmark of any great period piece.

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1998: The Big Lebowski (Roger Deakins) This cult “modern noir” flick from the Coen Brothers is an acquired taste for sure. But I can promise you, man- part of the reason you’ll find that taste is due to the movie’s slick yet dizzying camera antics. You get first-person views from the inside of a bowling ball (seriously) as well as a nice closeup shot of John Turturro’s tongue. Yes…it’s beautiful.

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2001: Amelie (Bruno Delbonnel) This colorful romance- which, if a person says they’ve only seen one French film, it’s probably this one- has been called a “true cinematic movie.” That could sound redundant, but what it means is that the film employs every camera trick at its disposal. Thankfully, this was done to incredible results. Viewers are in for a pleasure cruise through Montmartre as well as a firsthand look at its heroine’s psyche.

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2003: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Robert Richardson) The saga of assassin Beatrix “the Bride” Kiddo is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish, and the camerawork won’t let you forget it. The cinematography of both “volumes” in the Bride’s story is remarkable because it presents a tonal shift; we go from hyperactive-samurai-mania in the first to subtle introspection in the second. One thing is certain: the rapidly-changing angles and clever use of perspective enable the camera to almost act as another narrator.

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2015: Carol (Edward Lachman) Considering that photography is a major plot point in this movie, it would have been colossally embarrassing if the cinematography were not pitch-perfect. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case, and we got an exquisite-looking period piece with some real pathos. Dramatic closeups of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara- among other things- highlight the expressiveness of both actors and pull us right into their worlds.

For you, what films got the best cinematographic treatment? Share in the comments!

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Posted in Film and Television

The Toughest Roger Rabbit Quiz You’ll Ever Take

…I mean, it will be if you don’t cheat by Googling. Anyway, Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit is quickly becoming one of my favorite films. Every time I watch it, I find something new to admire about it.

The technology used to create the intersected human-and-cartoon worlds of the movie was groundbreaking…and expensive. Fortunately, it all paid off as the project exploded at the box office and won four Academy Awards. Many have even credited it as kicking off the “Disney Renaissance” in the 1990s.

But how much do YOU know about this very important film? See how many of these questions you can answer; for some of them, you’ll need the eagle eye of Private Investigator Valiant!

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  1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, but (technically speaking) it is a period piece. In what year does the story take place?
  2. Who is the only Disney princess to appear in the movie?
  3. Can you name at least three actors who were considered for the role of Eddie Valiant before Bob Hoskins was cast?
  4. What are the three ingredients of Judge Doom’s “Dip?” (Bonus: Why were these particular chemicals selected?)
  5. In the final sequence, Eddie whips out a weapon known as the “Singing Sword.” What jazz standard does it perform?
  6. Who Framed Roger Rabbit became the second-highest grossing film of 1988. What movie took the top spot?
  7. Who is the very last Toon we see onscreen before the credits roll?
  8. What was so noteworthy about the moment when Eddie is falling from the top floor of a Toontown building?
  9. When Eddie is telling Roger about his brother’s death, he mentions two distinct traits that the murderer had. What were they?
  10. When Judge Doom is searching for Roger in the bar, what common ditty does he recite to lure him out?
Posted in Personals

Welcome to Seb’s.

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It has been one year, two months, and two weeks since I saw La La Land in full for the first time. It’s also been that long since I’ve seen it in full, period.

So much has happened in the wake, and yet this movie is still so hard to watch.

The greatest stories just have that effect on you, you know? Furthermore, we all have those moments where we say “I related to that character” or “that part of the movie reminded me of something that happened to me.” But even rarer are the stories that seem to appear at just the right time, and in which you not only see a part of yourself, but a part of your whole life playing out in front of you.

It’s pretty surreal.

One more little detail- when La La Land first booted up in the cinema, and the wonderful “Another Day of Sun” number began, I was convinced that the actors were playing actors on a film set. Giving a nod to old musical films, if you will, within the context of the plot that was about to unfold. But when the song ended and the cast just got back into their cars as if nothing happened…that’s when I realized that there was no tribute here. It WAS that kind of movie. I knew that I was in for a helluva ride.

Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you planned. Sometimes an art form crystallizes your feelings better than words alone.

Always and forever, the story goes on.

Posted in Film and Television

Golden Girls Appreciation Post: The Definitive List of the Best Guest Stars

Anyone who knows me knows that The Golden Girls is my favorite television show of all time. (Jerry Seinfeld, I’m real happy for you, Imma let you finish…)

What makes the show so entertaining, for me, is its brilliant balance of pure comedy and serious topics- delivered pitch-perfectly by its iconic cast. (Fun fact: This show, Will and Grace, and All in the Family are the only TV programs in history in which the four lead actors all won Emmy Awards.)

But while everyone’s got a favorite “Girl,” it’s also hard to ignore the smattering of special guests that have appeared on the series. Some of them were so legendary that they just played themselves; others took on roles in the ladies’ lives. In this entry, I’m going to serve up my personal favorite guest appearances on The Golden Girls and describe why I find them so amazing. Allons-y!

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NANCY WALKER as Sophia’s sister Angela: “May your shampoo get mixed up with your Preparation H and shrink your head to the size of a mushroom!”

Fabulous Factor: Nancy Walker, a Broadway baby as well as screen staple, was an ideal rival-in-wisecracks for Sophia. They played off one another so well that the character of Angela actually appeared in two episodes: “The Sisters” and the incredibly-titled “Long Day’s Journey into Marinara.”

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BURT REYNOLDS as Himself: “Are these your roommates? Which one’s the slut?”

Fabulous Factor: Now I wasn’t alive when The Golden Girls originally aired, but judging by the studio audience’s reaction, it was a shock when the real Burt Reynolds showed up at the women’s Miami house. Making things even more amusing is that he’s there to go out with Sophia, much to the others’ envy.

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SONNY BONO as Himself: “It’s good to be mayor!”

Fabulous Factor: If you really want to get technical, the beloved singer-songwriter appeared twice…although, the first time around, he was being impersonated by Sophia (with Dorothy as Cher!) for a talent show. In the episode “Mrs. George Devereaux,” he competes with Lyle Waggoner for Dorothy’s heart and hilarity ensues.

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GEORGE CLOONEY as Officer Bobby: “Nice touch, but I work alone…”

Fabulous FactorBefore he was a Hollywood heartthrob, an Oscar-winning producer, a sophisticated actor…George Clooney was just a dark-haired young punk who got cast in an episode of The Golden Girls. “To Catch a Neighbor” is an interesting episode on many levels, but the appearance of a young Clooney is the true cherry on top.

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DEBBIE REYNOLDS as Trudy: “Handful of rice, handful of dirt…the only difference is that after a funeral, it’s okay to date!”

Fabulous Factor: What kind of older-woman-glorifying sitcom would it be without an appearance by one of the greatest dames of American cinema? In the two-part episode “There Goes the Bride,” Reynolds plays a serial widow who almost moves into the house after Dorothy almost remarries her ex-husband Stan.

HONORABLE MENTIONS! Mario Lopez, Julio Iglesias, Lois Nettleton, Mickey Rooney, and Jack Gilford.

Posted in Theatre

Her cat, a bed, and a chair…

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The day had finally arrived: my paternal grandmother, Lucie- who I don’t see very often- was giving me my Christmas gift. Two tickets to the Marquis Theatre’s production of the Follies revival. It was to be only the second Sondheim show I’d see live onstage (the first was the revival of A Little Night Music).

The lights went down and I was immediately swept away. All these veteran Broadway actresses- from Jayne Houdyshell to Mary Beth Peil and even Elaine Paige- strutting their stuff in one of the greatest musicals of all time. My favorite number overall was Terri White’s showstopping “Who’s That Woman?”

And, of course, there were the two female leads: the legendary Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer and elegant, charismatic Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone. Jan Maxwell died this week at the age of 61. Now there seems to be some speculation as to whether the lights on Broadway will be dimmed for her. (For those who don’t know, the theatre community has long had a tradition of briefly dimming the marquees at all the Broadway houses to honor the death of an esteemed colleague.)

I’m writing this to pay tribute to Jan Maxwell, but also to assert my firm hope that they will dim the lights for her. I mean…I have a selfish reason for wanting this done…but I think few would argue with me if I said that Maxwell represents what being a thespian is all about.

Not only was she a great talent, but she made her entire career out of performing onstage. She did dabble in screen work, yet the theatre was always her home. She’s a model for what every artist aspires to become.

Powers-that-be, please consider honoring this true lady of the stage in the best possible way. If you can justify doing it for Joan Rivers, surely you’ll easily make a case for Jan Maxwell. Rest in peace, Beautiful Girl.

Posted in Film and Television

Take Me to Heaven: My Lifelong Ministry of SISTER ACT

I’m not dead! In fact, dear readers, I am feeling great. On Sunday, I gave my own presentation at the 2018 BroadwayCon: being an Aspie in the theatre world. (It was like a restructuring of my 54 Below show.) To my surprise, the panel was a great success- my audience was engaged in the topic and had a really good time. It felt amazing to use my passion and my craft to help people smile and learn. The dream is back!

But, I digress. Today’s post is an ode to a movie that, as a Catholic schoolgirl, has threaded itself in and out of my life. And no matter how many times I watch it, it never fails to be funny and uplifting. I’m talking about Sister Act, folks.

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This 1992 musical comedy, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Najimy, and Mary Wickes, follows Reno lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Goldberg). After witnessing a murder by her gangster boyfriend (Keitel), she is put into Witness Protection and takes refuge in a convent. Deloris butts heads with the Mother Superior (Smith) when she takes over the nuns’ choir and teaches them rockin’ new arrangements of praise to the Lord.

The film has seemed to pop up at the most random moments in my life. In high school, my glee club’s “signature performance” was a medley from Sister Act, complete with stylized hand movements. The nuns at our on-campus convent loved it. In college, I went on a class trip to see the Broadway musical adaptation; I don’t think I’ll ever forget the giant Virgin Mary in the finale, sparkling and spinning like a disco ball.

As a Catholic- or, a member of an organization that gets a lot of grief- I particularly appreciate the movie as a beacon of what my faith is really about. It isn’t about fire and brimstone…but joyful noise and being good to others, no matter who they are.

I read a fascinating (and somewhat sad) article that the original screenwriter of Sister Act envisioned the lead role for Bette Midler, and he went through so much development hell with the studio that he eventually withdrew from the project. To this day, he doesn’t consider the finished piece to be his work and has not watched it.

Posted in Music

Opera in the Age of #45

This post is inspired by a series cooked up by my boyfriend…with a Puccini’s Chronicles twist. Thanks, honey!

It goes without saying that the current U.S. Presidential administration has sparked a revolution in more ways than one.  It seems that, now more than ever, people are getting in touch with the neo-women’s rights movement. And judging by the #MeToo overtones of last night’s Golden Globes ceremony…it’s clear that the entertainment industry is right in the thick of it.

The opera community is no exception. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

In a world where sopranos die for their men and mezzos often play male roles…classic operatic works are being looked at through a new lens. Decades ago, Cio-Cio San (the protagonist of Madama Butterfly) might have been seen as a victim, committing suicide in the wake of her lover’s abandonment. However, closer analysis of the libretto reveals that Cio-Cio had the most power of all. Her death was the only act that could ensure her son would live a better life than she could provide.

Another case study: the Metropolitan Opera is putting up a brand new production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte this year, starring Broadway favorite Kelli O’Hara as Despina. Described as a “comedy of the sexes,” this presentation of the piece has been reset to Coney Island in the 1950s. The very title is translated as “Women are like that.” Despite Cosi fan tutte being written over 200 years ago, its themes of female human nature and gender dynamics are as relevant as ever.

But perhaps the most explicit example of opera’s “sign o’ the times” can be found at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Italy. Their new presentation of Bizet’s Carmen actually changes the ending; in the original libretto, Carmen declares that she is a free woman before being murdered by the jealous, jilted Don Jose. The director at Teatro, Leo Muscato- seeking to make a statement about violence against women- is having his Carmen find a pistol with which she saves herself from Don Jose.

In conclusion: Even if the plot of a classic opera isn’t changed, the way a modern audience interprets it certainly will. So long as social problems pervade, they will continue to affect the eye with which people view their favorite art forms.

Posted in Fine Arts

An Art of Their Own

Happy New Year. You know, I’ve had several folks in my life wonder why I advocate so passionately for video games. “They’re a waste of time! They don’t contribute anything to society! They’ll melt your brain!”

And all three of those statements, if I may say so, are wrong.

The way I see it, video games (especially RPGs) can be their own kind of art. They fuse technology, music, and visuals with a story- just like a film- and make them even more interactive. There’s a reason it’s so easy to lose yourself in a virtual world; you feel like you’re a part of it, as your actions affect what happens in that world. I think a little bit of escapism is necessary to survive reality’s curveballs.

Even if that doesn’t interest you, the best games can be a great source of listening and viewing material. You don’t actually have to play to appreciate the lush orchestral numbers on a game soundtrack…or practice your sketching skills with an intricate character design.

I singled out role-playing games because those tend to be the “deepest” in their scope. Since they are designed to take the player on an epic journey, their creators have to literally build a world from the ground up. Do you know how much creativity is required to put the pieces together? Honestly, I’ve been more moved by some video game stories than by many movies. Writing the characters’ dialogue is also an art unto itself, as each must have a unique personality to match their look.

As for physical health concerns, that holds a bit of merit; you should rest your eyes from the screen periodically. As with anything else in life, you must keep it in moderation. However, playing video games is a great way to improve hand-eye coordination as well as social skills (via multiplayer).

The moral of the story: don’t be so quick to disregard video games as a meaningful form of media. They employ artists, bring people joy, and are ingrained in cultures around the world. Who could ask for anything more?!

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Posted in Film and Television

Happy 30th Anniversary, MOONSTRUCK!

As far as I’m concerned, Moonstruck is one of the finest comed- no, roman- no, FILMS, period…ever made.

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It really has it all: a wintry NYC setting, a moving story, plenty of smart humor, Italian-inspired music, and a phenomenal cast giving knockout performances. Here’s my one problem, ironically…the movie is so perfect that I find it difficult to watch. Why? Well, because it makes me feel a lot of things.

You guys must know by now that I’m a sucker for a good Puccini aria. Combine that with thoughtful, hard-hitting love commentary and I’m a dead woman. Honestly, it’s hard for me to adequately put into words how good Moonstruck is. Maybe it’s because its screenplay was written by John Patrick Shanley- a bona fide Broadway baby- and its direction done by the great Norman Jewison.

Maybe it’s because of Cher and Olympia Dukakis’s Oscar-winning performances, in which they nail their characters with perfect line delivery and emotional introspection. (Also, this might be Nicolas Cage’s only film that you can’t poke fun at.)

Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that it follows a stereotype-free Italian family in the Big Apple…something I only rarely get to connect with.

Whatever the source of its magic, it’s impossible to deny that Moonstruck is a very special movie. And I couldn’t be happier that 30 years after its debut, it is still being celebrated by cinephiles, Italians, and hopeless romantics alike. Want to know a secret wish of mine? That the story will come to Broadway someday, with Shanley writing the libretto…and myself penning the song lyrics. Mr. Shanley, if you’re reading this, don’t forget about me!

(Check out this fun fantasy list of potential leads for a musical adaptation. Also, if you’ll be in the Astoria area tomorrow, attend this very cool screening…I wish I could!)

Posted in Personals

How to Be Saved

Howdy! Sorry this post is so delayed…it may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. I’ve been stressed out for a while and finding it difficult to buckle down on what I want/need to do.

There’s a certain line in Hugh Wheeler’s book for A Little Night Music

“I should never have gone to flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved.”

These words are spoken by Fredrik Egerman right before his soulmate, Desiree Armfeldt, sings “Send in the Clowns.” Fredrik and Desiree regret that their paths didn’t cross at the right times; they are now both changed people, and frustrated that their present circumstances will likely keep them apart.

Of course, for those two, the musical comedy world mandates that they overcome this obstacle and get together in the end. In the real world, it’s more complicated.

I often think about myself, and how I’ve always felt a need to “save” people. But I also think about how I occasionally think that I, too, need to be “saved.” What does it all mean? Why do I feel this compulsion to make people happy, to lighten their burdens? It doesn’t fall on me to do it for them, especially if they don’t want to be “rescued” from whatever they’re going through.

But Lord, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be the one who makes it better from them. As for me- to name an example- I look at this one relationship of mine. How one of the things I really like about it is that it enables me to “escape.” But at the same time, I don’t think I am doing all I can to save myself…for reasons both internal and external. And tethering the “escape” to an interpersonal relationship creates unnecessary pressure for the other party, and dependence within myself.

I suppose the point of this whole thing is the following: do I keep trying to rescue others, or know when to stop? And at the end of the day, can I gain a new life for myself?