Jury Coordination and Notes

Revenge of the Sequel by Keefer C. Blakeslee

May 31st, 2016

sequelprequel.jpgA sequel blog to a remake blog? It sounds like a paradox. For those of you who don’t remember, my last blog discussed remakes and looked at them from a more positive point of view. I thought it would be fitting to talk about another one of Hollywood’s quick cash schemes - the sequels and prequels. You all know them, the continuation or back story to a film that has already been made. Now, I don’t particularly dislike sequels as much as remakes. There are some cases of necessary extension of a film’s story. Indiana Jones (not including Crystal Skull) still kept its charm with each new installment. Each Back to the Future film had enough comedy and adventure to make audiences come back to the theater. Finally, who can forget the Toy Story trilogy. This group of films got better and better as time went on.

I have to say that I am a sucker for prequels. I love the idea of taking a film’s story or character and pushing rewind to see how it all started. Red Dragon managed to give an equally thrilling experience from its predecessor Silence of the Lambs. Audiences saw how Hannibal Lecture was captured and the relationship between him and the man who caught him. One of my favorite prequels is X-Men: First Class. Not only is this film strong enough to be its own film but we’re also exposed to Professor X and Magneto’s original friendship, turned rivalry. That’s what makes a good sequel and prequel. Being able to regain the same essence that made people love the original or, better yet, add something new that makes people love the story even more.

Keefer.2014.5.jpgAll of these are examples of films with good sequels or prequels. Where are the bad eggs and what makes them rotten? Most prequels and sequels that get negative responses happen because they’re unnecessary. Do we really need four Alvin
and the Chipmunks
films? One was enough. Back to the Hannibal Lecture trend, Hannibal Rising is a non-essential prequel that killed the mystery of one of cinema’s most terrifying characters. Audiences don’t ask for films such as this and yet, studios keep pushing them out. Films like these make moviegoers and film buffs continue to believe that Hollywood is running out of ideas.

While we can point the finger at studio executives, we need to understand that certain audiences contribute to the sequel and prequel madness. They say, “I loved Frozen and ‘Let it Go.’ I want more Elsa.”  “Wow, how did Anakin Skywalker turn to the dark side?” A lot of the time audiences want to see and ask for more. I’m not saying we are to blame but we are not completely innocent. When producers or studio board members get a pulse that they’re making a lot of money from a film, they want to see how long they can drag it out. Example, “We made a lot of money with Lord of the Rings, let’s see if we can take The Hobbit and make it into three films and make more money.” I understand that’s a cynical way of looking at it and I’m sure filmmakers are not purposefully trying to make poor sequels and prequels but when they seemed forced and redundant they come across that way.

Should we stop asking for more? Of course not. There are films that many people want to see continued. I’ve personally been waiting for another Incredibles film or maybe see the back story for The Matrix. Sequels and prequels aren’t all bad. They just need to be created naturally instead of forced.

Theater History Lesson: Margaret Hughes by Brianna Hope Beaton

May 24th, 2016

MargaretHughes_1.pngAs the first actress on the English stage, Margaret Hughes is said to be the one who  broke boundaries and made the way for many future actresses to come.

There is not much on Margaret’s early life other than she was born on May 29, 1630. On December 8, 1660, she played Desdemona in the production of Shakespeare’s Othello on the Vere Street Theatre. At that time, female and male characters were both played by men. Women were not allowed a career in theater. Margaret made history when she became the first actress to appear on the English stage.

After the debut of Margaret Hughes, the idea of female actresses became increasingly attractive and accepted by the public. King Charles, who loved going to the theater, had observed this change and the many benefits it had to the development of the theater. Around this time and after MarBriannaHopeBeaton2.jpggaret performed on stage, the idea that a man playing female roles became “unnatural.” In 1662, King Charles issued a royal warrant stating that all female roles must only be played by women. This made the demand for female actresses spike as more and more directors began casting woman.

Margaret Hughes played an extremely vital role in the progress of women in theater. It was her beautiful performance in Othello that gave women their right place. She set the stage, in England, for women to have careers in acting.

Thanks to Ms. Hughes for all her wonderful contributions to the world of theater.  I absolutely love performing in theatrical plays and could not see myself being excluded from participating in them. Without you, I’m sure the progression of women in the field of theater would not have gotten to the point we are now.

The Art Of Cinema by Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

May 13th, 2016

artofcinema_1.jpgThe art of cinema is much more than big budget, Hollywood movies. I  was lucky enough to take a Cinema and Literature course at NYU this past semester. In this course, I was exposed to the art of film and its relationship to the art of literature. From silent films to French New Wave, from low-budget independent films to Italian art films, this course had it all.

The first screening was Metropolis by Fritz Lang. It was released in 1927 and is still considered a masterpiece of the silent genre. This is the only film in the class that I thought was a little slow and boring. Our second screening consisted of a very intense, French New Wave film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. This film was also slow, but in a very interesting, intellectual way. It’s a love story between a French actress and a Japanese man, both of whom are harboring sad memories of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Les Miserables was another film that we screened. There have been many films based on this classic Victor Hugo novel. We watched the 1935 Hollywood version, directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Charles Laughton. I really enjoyed this film. It had action, romance, politics and even obsession.Clayton.jpg Then we screened a wonderful, low- budget, independent film called Sugar Cane Alley. This film is a coming-of-age story of a young boy, Jose, growing up in Martinique. His Grandmother, Martine, makes dire sacrifices in order for young Jose to get a good education.  The most intellectually difficult film we watched was Death In Venice by the Italian director Luchino Visconti. This film is based on the novella by Thomas Mann. It is one of the most gorgeously shot and scored films of all time. It concerns a German composer who is blocked creatively and travels to Venice to get inspiration. The last film we saw was Gemma Bovery, a satire of the original book Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Set in France, it is a charming comedy-of-manners.

This course widened my view of movies. I now have developed the patience to watch these intellectual and slow paced films. Compared to the typical Hollywood blockbusters that are offered, these films are truly an art form that deserve to be studied and belong in a museum. I urge all of you to expand your viewpoint on movies and sample some of these films.

Looking Back by Gerry Orz

May 7th, 2016

TCMClassicFilm.jpgWith Turner Classic Movie’s Classic Film Festival taking place in LA, I have been looking at films from 40 plus years ago and realizing how much work was required to create these films. In today’s filmmaking world, anyone with some knowledge of computers and specific programs can impose an image onto a green screen to bring animation to life, fake gun shots and more. However, when films such as Ace in the Hole (1951) were produced, they didn’t have that sort of technology at their disposal. For a green screen, they used big bulky machines. For a gun shot, they had to physically insert a gun shot in the film and physically add thAceinHole.jpge sound. Just a few days ago, during the annual Star Wars Day, people were reminded about how many amazing things were created 40 years ago such as space ships, planets, blasters, light sabers and more. All were created manually along with careful set designs. Now, entire films can be filmed in front of a green screen or in front of panels. For example, in 2013, Gravity was made almost completely in a room filled with TV panels. Sixty years ago, to get the needed look, they built sets the size of cities! The 1916 movie Intolerance was a $2.5 million dollar film ($60 milliStarwars.nh.jpgon in today’s dollars) Oh, how times have changed. It required constructing a life size Great Wall of Babylon. For people in Hollywood, that might have looked similar to the architecture of The Dolby Theater. This set, along with thousands of extras, is a perfect example of how classic films got their desired look. Today, put some people in front of a green screen and you’re good. In some ways, set design and so many other artsHeadshot.GerrySM.jpg applied to filmmaking can be considered a lost art now. It makes you wonder, in another 90 years, what will be considered lost arts of 21st century? Only the future will tell.

Recycling or Re-imagining? By Keefer Blakeslee

April 30th, 2016

remakes.jpgHollywood! Whether you love it or you don’t it’s still the movie capital of the U.S. Many of the finest work of cinema come from the palm tree palace. However, with every yang there is always a yin. Case and point - the remake.

Hollywood is known for taking a film that’s already been done and creating a new one with a different twist. Sometimes they can be better than the original and others (most of the time) should have been left alone. Regardless, I’ve always been skeptical about remakes. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” That’s my motto. Why reboot a film that was already amazing. Honestly, if Hollywood wants to do remakes, why don’t they regurgitate terrible films? That way, they have a second chance to make a great new story and if it’s a flop, it no worse than the original. Instead we get remakes like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes (oddly enough both directed by Tim Burton) that, in my humble opinion, tarnish classics.

I’ve always hated the excuses studios give on why they decided to “improve” classics. “Because they Keefer.2014.5.jpgnow have better video quality and special effects.” To me, that is not a valid reason. If you’re going to do a remake don’t rely on CGI tricks. I’m talking about Ben-Hur. Say what you want.  Is Hollywood out of ideas or are they just doing it for the money?  There is another legitimate reason why Hollywood might remake films and it’s a good one - to re-imagine the story.

I don’t hate remakes. Even though I’m not 100% in favor of them, I understand why filmmakers want to create them. I believe filmmakers are smart enough to know that you shouldn’t go into a project with the intentions to top the original. The audience decides that. Instead, they go with the mindset of not re-making, but re-imaging.

Directors have different styles of telling stories. If you gave the story, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to a bunch of different filmmakers, each one would have a different vision. Spielberg would focus on the adventure and wonder. Howard would show the survival aspect. Anderson would probably make the Nautilus a pink hotel. Now, these new visions can breathe new life into these classic stories, but they should also bring back what made them great originally.

As I said before, there are good remakes. Recently, my favorites have been Disney’s live action remakes of The Jungle Book and Cinderella. These films not only re-create the magic that made us love the original, but they also give it a modern touch that invites a new generation to be exposed to these stories. Hollywood has given me hope for good remakes - scratch that, re-imaginings. As much as you and I may hate remakes, you have to admit that good can come from them. Now, sequels and prequels, that’s for the next blog.

Remembering Shirley Temple by Brianna Hope Beaton

April 23rd, 2016

download.jpgFrom an early age, her parents encouraged her to pursue our dreams. They instilled in her the idea to work hard at what she loved doing. Being the youngest nominee for the Oscars at age six, Shirley Temple took her parents advice.

On April 23, 1928, the world welcomed Shirley Jane Temple with open arms in Santa Monica, California. Shirley was an exemplary actress during the Great Depression. When she was just three years old, Shirley acquired a contract with Educational Pictures, which presented her acting in a clump of low-budget movies dubbed “Baby Burlesques.” Her mother enrolled her in dance classes at 3 ½ and her father took the role of her agent and financial adviser. With all this exposure, Fox Film Corporation made a contrShirleytemple.jpgact with Shirley. She was six years old when she appeared in her first Hollywood feature film, Carolina. During this time, she also attended the Westlake School for Girls and made eight other movies with Fox. President Roosevelt called Shirley “Little Miss Miracle” and even stated “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.”  By 1940, Shirley already had 43 films to her name. Her bubbly personality on screen made her so loveable and she was basically loved by all. Even today, when people watch her films they are reminded how this little girl made them feel and it brings back happy memories.

As Shirley’s entertainment occupation flickered out, she refocused her labors on a career in public service. From 1969 to 1970, she served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Shirley was appointed ambassador to Ghana in 1974. Two years later, she became chief of protocol of the United States, a position she held until 1977. In 1988, Shirley became the only person, to date, to achieve the rank of honorary U.S. Foreign Service officer. In 2005, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.
During all of this time, Temple married John Agar Jr. in 1945, at the age of 17.  They divorced in 1949. During their four years of marriage, Linda Susan was born. In 1950, she married Charles Alden Black, becoming Shirley Temple Black. Two children, Charles and Lori were born of this marriage. Shirley became a widow when Charles died from a bone marrow disease in BriannaHopeBeaton2.jpg2005. Nine years afterwards, on February 10, 2014, Shirley died at age 85 from COPD and pneumonia.images.jpg

I salute Shirley Temple for a lifetime of outstanding achievements as an actor and diplomat. Her legacy is cherished and appreciated by the grown-up and the child in all of us.

What is the Point of Artistic Criticism by Willie Jones

April 5th, 2016

filmcritics.jpgThe actors of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice responded to the overwhelmingly bad reviews of the film by saying that the film is for the audience. Essentially, they were saying that the critics’ opinions don’t matter and that films are made for the enjoyment of the audience. But are they?

A common argument in the artistic community is whether or not artists do what they do for fans or for critics. Many actors will say the fans, but I beg to differ. Fans are important, don’t get me wrong. Their support keeps the art alive and atmospheric and they motivate us. By the same token, they aren’t the ones who etch an artist’s work into history among other works of art. Sure there’s the rare cult classic like Scarface (1983) or The Rocky Horror Picture Show that makes reviewers and critics take a second glance at something, but they are a rarity.

It is now a popular thing for fans to not care about the opinions of critics. If a film or play gets a bad review, it usually won’t stop box office revenue, though fans often tend to agree with the critics. Whereas years ago, critic’s opinions meant much more. Art was validated by the positive reviews of major critics. None of this is to dissuade you from experiencing a piece of art because it gets bad reviews, but I want to bring up the point that perhaps a critic’s opinion weighs more than a casual fan’s.

Why is that? Well, consider this. If you are a painter and you’ve just painted something and put it on the street, would a negative review from an expert mean less than a positive review from a casual fan. See, while artists would like for fans to appreciate their art, there are certain aspects of art that only experts and connoisseurs are truly going to appreciate because of their knowledge. No one has greater respect for artists and their work than those who know what it’s like to create or have the intellect and learning to break apart their craft and evaluate what was attempted.

So, while that cliché action movie may seem great to you, critics hate it because of reasons that, frankly, no normal person cares about. What critics look at, and allow me to use film as an example here, are those categories at the Oscars the casual film buff doesn’t care about. Things such as production design or sound mixing or art direction. Those are things most people don’t care about, but they are things that play great importance in the success of a film. The same thing applies to a play or painting or a piece of music. Experts in those fields, whether they are critics who studied it or artists themselves, see and appreciate things that only they and the creator themselves can appreciate.

So, while casual fans provide the money and fame and other such things, it is connoisseurs of the respective craft whose opinions an artist truly cares about. It is a critic that translates an artist’s work. It is a critic that looks deeper into something and finds the meaning and motivation behind it that cannot be found on pure aesthetic. For example, there’s a scene in Taxi Driver when Travis looks into a cup and it bubbles. To a fan, that scene doesn’t mean much and they may even question it, but to those who’ve studied cinema, they recognize that that shot is an homage to shots used in earlier films for the same reason Scorsese used it. While a fan may fawn over the look of the film and the action and even the acting, it is a savant that fawns over things that an artist wishes his fans could see. Willie1.jpg

There is a scene in Bridge of Spies when Mark Rylance wipes off his palette that seems simple and easy and unsubstantial. But, when I spoke to an actor of over twenty years, he said that was perhaps his favorite moment of the movie. He said the way Rylance pays attention to such detail as he did it, and how motivated he was in wiping the palette was beautiful. That is the difference between the appreciation of art from a fan and from a pundit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that fans are stupid or unworthy or anything of that sort, I am saying that experts of a certain field have opinions, more often than not, that contain more validity because they are formed with the same knowledge and understanding as that of the creator himself. That is often why artists call themselves misunderstood or are called misunderstood by authorities of their craft. They are misunderstood by the majority, which are fans, yet they’re etched in legendary status by the minority, the mavens.

In conclusion, I believe that the whole point of artistic criticism is to give the artist the understanding they need from the people they need it from. They need fans to enjoy their work, but they need aficionados to relate to and appreciate their process shown through their work.

What Makes a Good Horror Film? By Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

March 29th, 2016

I saw The Witch yesterday and it started me thinking about what makes a great horror film.  There are two primary elements that make up a horror film: shock and suspense. Some horror films are only shock and some are only suspense.  The best films incorporate both.  Hitchcock said that good suspense is created when the viewer is informed of the impending doom and is complicit in the action.  He felt suspense was the more important element because one can close one’s eyes and still feel the spine tingling horror of anticipation.  But a viewer can close his or her eyes at the jump scares and not really feel anything.

The Witch primarily utilizes the suspense factor.  The film is set in Puritan times in New England.  Due to religious heresy, a family is banished to the wilds outside the settlement where they must start anew.  The director, Robert Eggers chose to have the actors speak in old English which made it atmospheric.  He uses everything in nature to create suspense, such as a black goat, a rabbit with bulging eyes and the sound of rustling leaves.  There are only a few jump scares towards the end of the movie. The brilliance of The Witch is how the suspense is built using period details, old language and religious mythology so well that you feel as if you are part of that world.
The Conjuring is one of the best horror films that I have seen.  It uses suspense and jump scares in equal measure, which makes it a truly great horror film.  In contrast, the Insidious series mostly uses jump scares. At the end of the day, I feel that suspense is the actual horror and not some cheap shock jump scare.  Even though the jump scares are terrifying they are not really scary in a horrific way.  They just scare you for one second unlike suspense, which is always lingering.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to making a great horror film besides suspense and jump scares.  Music is very important for building suspense. I’m thinking of Psycho and Jaws. Make-up is also another element, which adds to the fright factor.  And, humor can be used to good effect in horror movies. Good examples are American Werewolf in London and Nightmare on Elm Street series. After researching and writing this blog, I’m excited that there are so many more terrific horror and suspense films to experience.

Super Hero Overdose by Keefer C. Blakeslee

March 22nd, 2016

Superheroes.jpgSpring! Birds chirping, flowers blooming, people carting their Kleenex around because of all the pollen in the air (an unenthused yay). With the new season upon us and new movies opening in theaters, you can’t help but notice the plethora of comic book based films. In March, an epic battle between two of the most iconic heroes of their universe hits the screen. May brings an epic battle between two of the most iconic heroes of their universe. Wow! Where does Hollywood get its ideas from? In all seriousness, I’m not the only one to point out that two superhero vs. superhero movies steal the spotlight a month apart. Speaking of which, X-Men Apocalypse comes out in May as well. That means three comic book films open in the next few months. That doesn’t include Deadpool which opened last month, Suicide Squad which comes out in August or Doctor Strange which opens in November. Six comic book films take the spotlight this year. You might think that I would be jumping up and down from excitement. While my inner geek feels ecstatic, I can’t help but also feel overwhelmed.

Look at it this way. Consider my favorite dessert - chocolate. I love eating it at the occasional birthday party or maybe a wedding. When I eat cake once in a while, I enjoy every bite. When I finish it, I feel fulfilled because it’s a rare gift. However, imagine that I wake up one morning and my dessert choice is chocolate cake and I can eat it every day. It sounds like a dream come true, but as the weeks pass by I start to feel sick. I want to have something different for dessert. That anticipation for creamy chocolate goodness is gone because I have made myself fat and grown weary of it. Now I’m not saying my love for comic book films has disappeared. I still plan to see Captain America: Civil War and, get that adrenaline rush every time Tony Stark suits up. However, the hype of anticipating a new comic book movie has diminished.

As much as I hate when a trailer comes out and I have to wait for a film to be released, it creates an excitement that makes me want to see the film. When Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, the film ended with Han Solo being frozen in suspended animation. The next film, Return of the Jedi, didn’t come out until 1983. The three-year wait allowed audiences to get excited. Same thing happened with Avengers. We had multiple films leading up to the grand assembling of our favorite Marvel heroes. The power of making your audience wait is strong.

When Hollywood knows that they have a hit, they try to do everything in their power to exploit every ounce of it. Hollywood knows that audiences love comic book based films. The films they push out please audiences, but the mass production of comic book films, I believe, will spiral out of control. The more audiences want comic book films, the faster Hollywood makes the movies. The faster they make the films, the sloppier the films become. Then, it doesn’t matter how many people in capes appear on screen because the story behind that masked character will be forced and rushed.

The reason I feel frustrated with this is because I know that super hero films can be great! I understaKeefer.Superhero.pngnd some people disagree with me (Willlie! I still respect you, sir), but comic book based films contribute a lot to the movie industry, not just financially but artistically. I’ve said this before, movies are supposed to bring you into new worlds and create interesting characters. Comic book films create a connected universe where you can place these super powered characters in a room and the script creates itself. They have built a following that attracts both moviegoers and comic book enthusiasts from around the world. These films serve as examples of the power of filmmaking. I just hope Hollywood realizes, soon, the concept of quality over quantity.

Who is most important in making a film? by Gerry O.

March 7th, 2016

Professional films have a huge number of people working together to make the production come to life. Usually, the number people involved in a feature story production is around 500, but some films stick out. For example, Iron Man 3 listed credits for over 3,000 people - the size of a small town – who contributed in making this two-hour film. Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Who is the center of that large crowd? Who makes it all happen?”

There is a Director of Photography who sets up the camera shots. The director and assistant director envision the whole thing and assign each team their tasks. The producer takes care of a lot of the business side of the film. Actors make the film’s characters come to life. Editors assemble the whole thing and enhance the beauty aspects. Hair and makeup artists do the same to people. Writers give the actors the blueprint for what is expected from those characters, from dialogue to stage direction. Of course, there are many more people involved who help organize everything, build sets, place props on the sets and bring lunch to everyone!Gerry.O.jpg

So, WHO would you think is the most important key person in all of this organized chaos? Most would say director or actors, but really, a film isn’t made because of actors or directors, it is made to tell a story. All these stories are made for people to enjoy and learn from. Yes, movie lovers, DVD collectors and film historians are really the most important.  They are the reason for the film’s creation and, at the end of the day, are the reason films are still so huge today. Without an audience, none of these films would be made.

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