Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I want to feature your photos on my blog banner

While amusing and unquestionably brilliant, the sight of me romancing the film reel has run its course.

I need a new look. Some fresh material. Inspiration. A prettier muse (than myself). A new and improved brand. Something that makes us all awe, a little bit more, in 2009.

That's where you come in.

I'm redesigning my blog banner again and need your photos to make it swank.

Please send in your shots of the local movie industry, and I'll work them into the new design. I'll accept just about anything but headshots. What do I want?
  • You and a star? OK.
  • A movie production takes over your street? Better.
  • You and your Sharpie chasing Jack Black through the Hilton? I like tenacity.
  • A DVD shrine to movies made in The Shreve? That'll work.
  • You as the Incredible Hulk? I know you're out there.
  • An autographed body part? Now you're talkin'.
  • You kicking me off a set? I dare you.
  • Yellow location signs with cryptic acronyms like "ILYPM," "BIH" and "BARD?" I get you.
  • A movie shot of Maggie's Hangar on Commerce Street ("The Guardian"), or Artisan's Court on Texas Street ("Factory Girl")? Old school references will do.
  • A poster for a locally made movie? Love it.
  • A fake poster for a dream TV series? Maybe. (Think "CSI: Bossier City.")
  • You and Josh Brolin in fisticuffs? I'll contemplate retirement.
Whatever you have, send it to akent@gannett.com and I'll get crackin'. Just about everything goes, but remember: I privilege the unique, the daring, the stupid and the obscure.

PRIZES: Top two photo-submitters will receive a "W." mini-poster or a "Harold & Kumar" plastic gambling visor. Free of charge. Can you believe my generosity?

Button vs. Gump: Round 2

Let me introduce this half-baked thought about the reception of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Lots of critics have compared it rightly to "Forrest Gump," for screenwriter Eric Roth adapted both. (For some food for thought, check out the review that LaMovBlog super-reader Chris Jay pimped in the previous post.) While "Button" and "Gump" are great companion pieces, the stories come from different eras and paint their heroes with wildly different brushes.

Right now, I’m thinking about “Benjamin Button” as the anti-Gump. Pitt’s Button is very ordinary, stone-faced, melancholic and good-lookin’. (Perhaps Pitt is doing his best Keanu Reeves impression.) Never really accomplishes anything. Witnesses history but never takes part in it. Loves and always loses. In the end, a lost man. A poor man. Perennial loser.

Not like Hanks’ everyman, who was extraordinarily ordinary, innocent, funny, accidentally heroic and kinda homely. Loves, loses but endures. In the end, a happy man. Stinking rich. An agent of renewal.

I think critics are defining their ideal heroes when they compare Button and Gump. If more favor Gump, then it supports my pet theory about Hollywood heroes: Losers never win.

Who has more to say about who we are? Which movie do you like better? Or do you, like this critic, loathe both?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Do we see ‘Benjamin Button’ clearly?

Have you seen David Fincher's new masterwork yet? I caught it yesterday with a theater full of patrons. If you've been living far, far away from Planet Louisiana, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" was shot in New Orleans. It easily represents the state's biggest project of the decade – "Ray" was no slouch, either – and should garner quite a few Oscar nominations.

I'm a bit dismayed by the critical reception Fincher seems to be getting these days. Most critics single out the technical wizardry of his movies – "Zodiac" was similarly praised – but they don't seem to feel his stories, his characters have genuine heart.

Here are a few excerpts from "Button" reviews:

Lisa Schwarzbaum, for Entertainment Weekly: "… this Button is a curious case indeed: an extravagantly ambitious movie that's easy to admire but a challenge to love."

Claudia Puig, for USA Today: "'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (* * * out of four) is worth seeing just for the superb prosthetic makeup and seamless computer-generated effects in which Pitt's head is digitally imposed onto older bodies. The film, ambitious if flawed, also is lyrical and melancholy as it tells the story of a man aging backward.

"But the tale, though laudably imaginative, is overlong and not as emotionally involving as it could be."

Peter Travers, for Rolling Stone: "What Fincher does, shooting digital instead of on film, is simply extraordinary. His astutely restrained direction fuses ferocity and feeling and creates a world you want to get lost in. …

"What Button shows is that Ben is ultimately not the hero of his own life or his own movie. He gets inside our head, that's for sure, but, frustratingly, we never get inside his."

A.O. Scott, for The New York Times, sees the film more clearly: "Above all, though, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' is a triumph of technique. Building on the advances of pioneers like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Robert Zemeckis — and on his own previous work adapting newfangled means to traditional cinematic ends — Mr. Fincher ('Fight Club,' 'Zodiac') has added a dimension of delicacy and grace to digital filmmaking. While it stands on the shoulders of breakthroughs like 'Minority Report,' 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Forrest Gump' (for which Mr. Roth wrote the screenplay), 'Benjamin Button' may be the most dazzling such hybrid yet, precisely because it is the subtlest. While he does treat the audience to a few grand, special-effect showpieces, Mr. Fincher concentrates his ingenuity on the setting and the characters, in particular — and most arrestingly — on the faces of his stars, Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt."

Kenneth Turan, for the L.A. Times, is baffled: "... 'Benjamin Button' would've had a better chance of success if it had landed in the hands of a director with more of a facility for telling emotional stories than Fincher, whose films include 'Se7en,' 'Fight Club' and 'Zodiac.' No wonder everything feels icy and removed. Giving Fincher this project is like asking the great French humanist director Jean Renoir to do a slasher movie. As my mother used to say, no good will come of this."

I haven't quite worked out my response to these critiques yet, but I'm working on it.

My thoughts run along two lines:

1) As critics and moviegoers, we don't assess digital filmmaking very fairly. We're too hung up on spectacle, and the mere act of perceiving visual innovation/invention. We want to be impressed more than we want to be immersed. (That's not very well put, but I'm working on it.)

2) We're also losing our appreciation for tragic characters like Benjamin Button. We too often dismiss them as "flawed," too often put them at a critical distance, too often describe them as unknowable, or too unlike us.

Again, I'm still cooking on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and will write more about it later.

In the meantime, I'd love to know what you thought about the movie.

PHOTO: Brad Pitt and Tilda Swinton. (Merrick Morton/Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

Some local movie-lovers offered their favorite Christmastime movies in today's Times. From "Gremlins" to "Scrooge," it's a pretty fun list.

Allow me to offer my Christmas favorite. Remember, I'm a bit dark in taste. I don't expect to be forgiven.

"Die Hard" – set on Christmas Eve – comes close to my favorite. I'm just lying if I don't consider "A Christmas Story," however over-played it is. I love "O Lucky Man!" for one jaw-dropping Christmas party. (Do not rent this and show it to kids.) "It's a Wonderful Life" features my favorite actor of all time, Jimmy Stewart, so it's really hard not to select it. "Love Actually," which is more honest about Christmas blues than most, is growing on me. Last year, I celebrated the shock-and-awfulness of "Star Wars" Christmas special, but there's one that stands out among the rest.

This year, I have to go with what I want for Christmas something a bit obvious: "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Scared the living daylights out of me when I first saw it. I was 17 or 18, mind you. I still don't know why I responded that way. Because of its subversive quality? Danny Elfman's hypnotic score? The gloomy synergy of Tim Burton and Henry Selick? Was it hearing the bones of children – and teenagers – rattle in horror until the credits rolled? I don't know. I don't really want to know, frankly. I just love it.

Enough of me.

What's your favorite Christmas movie? I'm making a list, checking it twice and don't really care if you're naughty or nice.

Just post your favorites and argue! (Consider it practice for extended family visits.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Surviving 'Synecdoche, New York'

"Synecdoche, New York" is one of the most depressing movies I've seen in a long time -- we're talking anything Bergman to the 10th power -- therefore I recommend it wholeheartedly. Bleak and pretty brilliant.

I saw it about a month ago and initially shrugged. After writing about it, though, I learned my feelings ran deeper. It's playing at the Robinson Film Center.

It's the anti-Christmas. Have fun!

But seriously, see it. It's as purely cinematic as movies get. You couldn't tell this story through any other medium.

It's no secret to my friends -- hey, I count at least two -- that I love a good downer. Why? I have my theories. So does my imaginary shrink. Here are the top five:

5) It's evidence that I'm happier than somebody on Planet Earth.
4) I'm an enigma wrapped in shadow lost in confusion.
3) I'm obsessed with books and movies about self.
2) Sad movies are sources of existential renewal.
1) In the words of Le Frog from "Flushed Away," "I find everyone's pain amusing, except my own ... I'm French!"

I'm actually German and therefore have deep misgivings about Le Frog. That's why he's 100% right about me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Derek Johnson on ‘Front of the Class’ role

Q: What was your role in the locally filmed "Front of the Class?" and how did you prepare for it?

A: I played the Tourette's Group Leader in the support group scene. I actually auditioned for the lead role of Brad Cohen, so I studied him and various other people with Tourette Syndrome. I also researched many books and literature on Tourette's, and a couple of years ago, while doing research for another film in which I played a character with schizophrenia, I met many people with Tourette's at conventions, so I pulled out my observations from those people and put together a series of tics of my own.

Q: What did you learn about the process of making a TV movie?

A: Making a TV movie is similar to a theatrical film, only the turnaround is usually much shorter, so the wait to see it from production to release is not as long and drawn out. Everything seems so much faster and before you know it, the movie has already aired.

Q: What did you enjoy most about the experience?

A: I enjoyed the research process and the chance to play a different kind of role. I've been told that I do my best when I play "extreme" characters and not just the "norm." I also enjoyed the cast and crew, especially getting to know the real Brad Cohen. He is such a phenomenal person and his story is so uplifting. Going to the premiere in Los Angeles was a great experience as well, as everyone was so generous and pleasant.

Q: What Shreveport-based projects have you worked on, and what advice would you share with local actors about getting work?

A: I've worked on several of the Shreveport-based films, including speaking roles in "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" and "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." I've also worked on several independent films, many of which I have written, produced, and directed. Getting the part is not an easy task. It takes a lot of work to prepare for an audition and to make the character your own. If you want to be an actor, then you have to "be" an actor. You can't just say you are and not put any work into it. Take classes, study, research, and practice.

Q: How have you college acting and filmmaking experiences at Stephen F. Austin State University helped you prepare?

A: Earning my degree in film was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I had the opportunity to both act and make films on a weekly basis while in school, which only gave me more and more practice and exposure. I learned what I was doing wrong early, and had the chance to fix it. Getting ripped apart from your peers and instructors is vital to success as an artist, and many actors starting out jump right into it with nobody telling them what they are doing wrong. I'm proud that I was put in my place early, because constructive criticism opens your eyes.

'X-mas Under the Ground' set for Saturday

Twelve local artists and filmmakers will showcase their work Saturday for minicine?'s "X-mas Under the Ground." The grinches include Bill Daniel, Michelle Glaros, Sara Hebert, Chris Jay, Leo Kacenjar, Mindy McKoin, Shannon Palmer, Rob Peterson, Jon Rothell, Katie Matza and Matthew Keus, Austin Meyes and Mike Schwalke, and students from the Renzi Art and Education Center. It's all curated by Jen Wasson. Learn more here.

If you go
WHAT: "X-mas Under the Ground."
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 13).
WHERE: Lee Hardware Art Gallery, 719 Edwards Street, Shreveport.
COST: free.
ALSO FEATURING: music by A.J. Haynes and Paleo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The 'Bitch' is from Bossier City

I'm way too excited about "Bitch Slap," a movie starring Erin Cummings. She lived in Bossier City as a kid.

I interviewed her in 2007, and she remains one of the funniest, smartest, most honest subjects I've met.

Cummings was here filming a scene for "Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins" and talked about the nerves involved in working with Martin Lawrence and crowd full of a extras. It was for the opening talk show scene, which was trimmed mercilessly for the theatrical release.

Cummings is a pro, so acting in front of audience isn't anything new. But she had do stunt work while wearing 6-inch stiletto heels, braided hair, a prosthetic lip and giant butt implants.

"When you're presented with an opportunity like that you can do one of two things," Cummings said. "You can succumb to the anxiety and the nerves and the intimidation of what it is, or you can welcome it as a step on the road."

I remind you of this to emphasize this point: Erin Cummings is fearless, and it shows in this trailer for "Bitch Slap." Cummings knows her martial arts. She understands parody. And, as evidenced by "Bitch Slap," she can deliver B-movie sexploitation dialogue with the best of 'em.

Watch this trailer. Learn from Erin. And most importantly, leave hundreds of comments about why this movie must win a trailer Oscar. I want this gem sparkling on 20 of Shreveport-Bosssier's finest screens by April.

Retire? Nah. Go act.

Jerald Amaya gained good memories on the set of "Front of the Class," which debuted Sunday on CBS.

The TV movie is based on Brad Cohen's autobiographical book, "Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had."

Amaya, of Greenwood, played a classroom observer toward the end.

"It gave me the opportunity to not only meet the original Brad Cohen, but it (also) gave us a chance to make a friendship," Amaya said.

The local actor was thrilled to be able to sit in a director's chair. Amaya was also a bit surprised when the movie's star, James Wolk, began talking to him about acting.

"It was almost the teacher asking the student for advice," Amaya said. "I have retired from GM, and this is new to me."

He worked at the Shreveport plant between 1992 and 2006. While retirement's nice and all, Amaya's wife encouraged him to try his hand at acting. "It was either sit home and watch reruns of 'The Blues Brothers' and 'Meet the Fockers,' or get out there and try this."

Don Logan, also a local actor, sent an email about his involvement in the project. Logan's a retired DJ (remember Dandy Don, anyone?) and continues to be an all-around music man.

For "Front of the Class," he worked as an extra (or background actor). Unfortunately, his scene was left on the cutting room floor.

"Hopefully in the DVD, they will use some extended cuts," Logan wrote. "OH WELL, as you guys say in SHOW BIZ, those are the breaks."

Like Amaya, Logan believes that getting older doesn't mean you have to drop out of the workforce.

"Remaining active is very important as you become older to stay the well-rounded person you are," Logan wrote. "There are some jobs I can't do. I can't even do all the things I did at 30. But, I can run, jog a little, stand on my feet for long hours and am in good physical health, so I am a background natural for any director wanting the 'grandfather' look."

Monday, December 08, 2008

La. Produces meetup to feature Will Greenfield

The monthly meetup at the Robinson Film Center will feature Will Greenfield, associate production office coordinator for "Leaves of Grass." Green's credits include "Disaster Movie," "Soul Men" and "Elizabethtown." If you need details, contact Clare France at RFC.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 9).

WHERE: Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas St., Shreveport.

COST: free.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

CBS's 'Front of the Class' draws from local talent pool

I spent my Sunday night watching the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame movie "Front of the Class." It was filmed in Shreveport and was a pretty solid two hours. It's based on Brad Cohen's book of the same name, which details his life with Tourette's syndrome.

I saw lots of local faces, including local stage actors like Tyler Krieg, Mike Martindale and Patrick Kirton.

Krieg's scene, in which he's a member of a Tourette's syndrome help-group, earned notice in this Reuter's review. Here's an excerpt: "Tom Rickman, who adapted the book, puts Brad's struggle in admirable perspective. There are the obvious school scenes in which his behavior is mistaken for intentional clowning. But there's also a scene with the boy and his mother (Patricia Heaton) attending a Tourette's support group. When they realize that nearly everyone in the room has lowered their ambitions as an accommodation to the condition, they don't stay long."

While there's not much critique in this excerpt, it's a sign that local actors' work is getting noticed. There's a lot of talent in this city, and I've witnessed a lot of it on local stages. "Front of the Class" is evidence that local talent can both feed and succeed in the industry.

Good work, everyone. Let me know if you had a role, and I'll feature you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What’s up in Dec.?

UPDATED with new show, "Sinners and Saints": 5:39 p.m. Dec. 5.

The latest update from the state follows. Take note of the available jobs at Bullet Films in Lafayette. Really important job opportunities:

Here's what's happening in Louisiana Film for the first week of December 2008:

Bullet Films in Lafayette is looking to add staff for 2009 and is now accepting resumes for the following positions:

Sound Effects Editors, Dialog Editors, Re-recording mixers, Colorists, 2D Vfx Artists, 3D Vfx Artists, Web designers, Graphic Artists/Concept Artists, Assistant Editors, Editors, Composers, Cinematographers

Resumes are currently being accepted by e-mail at jobs@bulletfilms.net

The Most Wanted Films feature film "Sinners and Saints" is in pre-production in New Orleans with shooting scheduled from December 8th through January 15th. Resumes are being accepted by e-mail at info@mostwantedfilms.com.

The Liberty Mutual Independent Media, Inc. short film "Prodigy" is in pre-production in New Orleans with shooting scheduled from December 12 through December 20. This movie is crewed up and no longer accepting resumes.

The Lifetime movie of the week "Acceptance" is shooting in Shreveport with through December 17. Inquiries are being accepted by fax at (318) 682-5671 (no headshots, please).

The independent feature film "Skateland" starring Shiloh Fernandez and Ashley Greene is shooting in Shreveport through December 11. Inquiries are being accepted by e-mail at skatelandproductions@gmail.com

The Marquis Productions feature film "Fight or Flight" is in production in Lafayette with shooting scheduled through December 20. Resumes for cast and crew are being accepted by e-mail at marquisprods@gmail.com

The independent feature film "My Own Love Song" starring Renee Zellweger and Forest Whitaker is shooting in New Orleans through December 13. Inquiries are being accepted by e-mail at myownlovesong08@gmail.com

The Faulkner McLain Entertainment feature film "Alabama Moon" starring John Goodman is shooting in Covington through December 16. Resumes and inquiries are currently being accepted by email at info@faulknerproductions.com. For casting information, please visit www.couloncasting.com

The Mandalay Lifetime Network television movie of the week based on the Nora Roberts book "Tribute" is shooting in Jefferson Parish through December 18. The production is currently crewed up.

The HBO television series "Treme" will begin shooting in New Orleans in early 2009. Resumes for CREW ONLY are being accepted by fax at (410) 986-0029.

And for more information about the film and television industry in Louisiana please visit us online at www.louisianaentertainment.gov and at www.lafilm.org

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Make love to the camera (and I'll feature you)

NPR recently logged a funny story about a book of unforgettable headshots. It's called "Holy Headshot! A Celebration of America's Undiscovered Talent." Our local mugger Eric Gipson is represented. (I can call him a mugger because he stole my wallet once and termed it "magic." True lie, honest.)

Reports NPR, "Most head shots are straightforward pictures of an actor's face. But every now and then, someone decides to get a bit more creative." Check out the gallery for samples.

The books writers supposedly went through 50,000 headshots and selected just 103 for publication. Along with Eric, five other actors with the local Landrum Arts LA agency made the cut.

Eric is excited to be featured. While the headshots are presented in "Holy Headshot!" with a sense of humor, the book goes a bit deeper than laughs. Trying to get acting work as a relative unknown ain't easy, as y'all know.

"It's really kind of a celebration of the struggle," Eric tells me. The book also includes the talents' resumes.

For fun, I asked Eric to play casting director and assess his own headshot. "I would probably say, first of all, that is no Tom Cruise. That is no Brad Pitt. But that may be a guy who has some potential as a character actor."

James Eakin, a Shreveport photographer, deserves credit for the camera work.

This example begs the question: Just how creative is Shreveport's talent?

If you have a nutty headshot, send it my way. Include a 10-word caption, too, which explains your look. If I get enough, I'll post a Shreve Muggers gallery (and send the URL to SPD).

Must be fully creative, now. Nothing straightforward. I'm expecting something with pipe tobacco, a waffle iron and a ferret. If you achieve that look without Photoshop, you get first billing. Email Eric for tips.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

This has nothing to do with movies ...

... but it's funnier than every comedy released in 2008. Please, please, please turn Drew Pierson's "Ranking the 50 state flags" into a viral hit. Click here.

Here's a sample:


Wins award for "Best incorporation of a murder scene on a state flag."

P.S. I just told Drew I was going to make him viral. His response? "Sounds like a date I had." Dude's nuts. ... And ladies, he's available.

'W.' actors arraignment postponed

By Loresha Wilson

The arraignment of "W." actors Josh Brolin, Jeffrey Wright and five fellow film crew members arrested in July after a brawl at Shreveport bar is postponed until January.

Shreveport City Judge David Rabb ordered the arraignment, scheduled at 8:30 a.m. today, for Brolin and others postponed to Jan. 6 to allow for "discussions about a possible resolution" to the case that made national and international headlines.

Brolin, Wright and the other crew members were not present in court.

Click here for more details.