First Look: “Devil’s Advocate”

The film is shot, the footage is in virtual chunks across my editing suite, and it looks like I will meet my Friday/Saturday self-imposed deadline. Huzzah! But while I finish editing my first short film, I thought I’d show off a few stills to warm you up during the wait :D


Special thanks to my incredible cast and crew for making this happen! Particularly my actors Kathleen O’Shaughnessy and Michael Daly, and my lighting guy Ahren Ciotti who is basically a lighting god and is about 95% responsible for these shots looking so pro ^_^

For any of you film geeks out there, we did this on the Canon 70D with both the native 18-50mm lens and a “nifty 50” macro lens. It’s incredible what cameras that cost under $1000 can do these days. I’ll be posting a “behind the scenes” featurette along with the film, as is required by the contest, so you’ll see more about how we did it then. Have a great day!



2015 In Film: Hits and Misses

Last year, I had fun writing my response to 2014’s hits and misses from Hollywood. So here I am again, using the same categories to describe what I watched in 2015!

As I said last year, all of these are movies I’ve seen. Most are “big” movies. I’m a pretty mainstream person. And this year, Oscar bait has tanked left and right, so I didn’t miss much.

I did not see as many movies this year as I normally do. Several movies I intended to see in theaters were left off my viewing list because they got bad reviews or I simply never got around to them. This includes Hitman Agent 47, Taken 3, Tommorrowland, Inside Out, Kingsman, Crimson Peak, Pixels, Ex Machina, Chappie, Cinderella, The Age of Adaline, San Andreas, Everest, The Walk, Self/Less, Spectre, The Man From UNCLE, Bridge of Spies, Goosebumps, and The Good Dinosaur. Some (the good ones) are on my HBO queue. But either way, here’s my response to what I did see:


Most Overhyped MovieFifty Shades of Grey

The source material is notoriously bad. But with trailers suggesting decent actors, tasteful elegance, and a Beyoncé soundtrack, I wondered if the filmmakers molded Fifty Shades of Grey into something more refined.

Nope. It’s actually just boring, and spends entirely too much time showing us Dakota Johnson topless and Jamie Dornan….not. While I never got the impression that Christian Grey is as loathsome as critiques say he is, I did continuously think “these characters aren’t all bad on their own, but they are definitely not right for each other.”

Runner Up: Minions. Not that I’m the biggest fan to start, or the target audience – my Mom likes it and it amuses me enough to accompany her to every cinematic event involving minions – but this seemed phoned in. Not a bad movie, but certainly not deserving several years of hype. The one memorable quality was Scarlett Overkill and her husband having the power couple relationship that I aspire to have!


Biggest Surprise –  Jurassic Word

After Jurassic Park III, this sequel would really have to screw up to become  the worst in the series (although Terminator Genisys did set new records for how worse you can make an already downtrodden franchise). But none of us expected Jurassic World to be as good as it was, even with the star power of megahunk Chris Pratt. And we definitely did not expect it to become the #1 grossing movie of the year (pre-Star Wars, anyway).

I understand why some people didn’t like it. But World was fun in the best ways. I also love director Colin Trevorrow’s tongue-in-cheek parallels between the plot’s overly corporate management of spectacle versus the existence of Jurassic World itself as a manufactured nostalgia product. And despite the naysayers, I think it’s awesome that Bryce Dallas Howard never took off her high heels.

Runner Up: The Gift.  Joel Edgerton – known for playing, depending on who you ask, a weirdly mustached Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, or young Uncle Owen in Attack of The Clones – makes his directorial debut in this stalker thriller he made for a cool $3 mil. This movie was very simple in execution, which made me realize how bizarrely Hollywood has “trained” my mind with all these popcorn movies. I kept expecting character deaths, major plot twists, or other thriller tropes. But Edgerton never gave us any whoppers or big cinema. He just left us with one eerie question at the end – “You see what happens when you poison other people’s minds with ideas?”


Movie That Deserves a Rewatch – Mad Max: Fury Road

Last year, I picked Godzilla because it initially underwhelmed me, but I loved it on the second viewing. I single out Mad Max for a different reason – because its brilliance cannot be fully appreciated in one viewing. Amid car chases, explosions, and death cults, this is a movie of great subtlety – from the worshipped V8 symbol on all the steering wheels, to the characterizations, to the incredible editing and directorial efforts put into eye-tracking during action scenes (aka, why you never lose track of what’s happening in Mad Max, but less thoughtful action movies look like an orgy of mechanical garbage candy). It was everything I want in a movie. No nonsense, non-misandrist feminism. Visual spectacle for the casuals, but accompanied with deeper meaning for the film snobs. Charlize Theron being amazing. So grab some popcorn and watch this one a few times in the coming year to fully grasp its scope.


Biggest DisappointmentJupiter Ascending

I don’t think it was as bad as everyone says it was. The true shame is that the Wachowskis did not gain audience trust, and did not create proper suspension of disbelief. Objectively speaking, “Bees don’t lie” is equally dumb as Wookies, a talking raccoon, “There is no spoon,” and Leeloodallasmultipass. But the audience embraced those films as classics. Something about them grabbed the audience’s attention and made them believe in the story. Jupiter didn’t. Still, it was a visual treat.

Runner Up: Avengers: Age of Ultron. Good things? Vision being a real actor in a costume instead of CGI. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Hulk/Widow. Hawkeye’s home life. Bad stuff? Dream sequences. James Spader wasted on a villain who woke up evil. And what was up with that Thor scene? It was a punishing exhibition of director vision clashing with studio intervention. Although, I am of the unpopular opinion that the first Avengers worked because the Whedon influence was kept to a dull roar. Ultron turned all the characters into walking quip machines, which I HATE about Whedon’s work.


Best Streaming Find – Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Netflix)

I should have watched this heartwarming, funny horror flick one a long time ago. Far less scary or gory than I anticipated, Tucker and Dale is ultimately a story about judging people on their appearances. Alan Tudyk is hilarious as a misunderstood redneck, and gets most of the movie’s best lines.

Runner Up: Mr. Universe (Netflix). It may seem odd that a comedy special makes my list, but I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard all year. Jim Gaffigan is a hysterical observational comic, and all of his specials on Netflix are worth watching. And for those who don’t like crude comics, Gaffigan’s jokes are totally PG.


Worst Streaming Find Exodus: Gods and Kings (HBO Now)

New category for 2015! I don’t think any singular movie made me as bored, angry, confused, and disappointed as Exodus. I love sword and sandal epics. Especially Biblical epics. The Prince of Egypt is one of my favorite movies. But Christian Bale plays the whiniest, most apathetic Moses ever put to screen in a distractingly white Egypt. This movie does to Bible myth what Immortals did to Greek myth – takes a cursory glance at the source material, ganks a couple names, puts all these people in the same room, then heartily chucks the source material out the window.

The only redeeming quality of this three hour borefest is that Ridley Scott attempted to give natural explanations for the plagues and mystical phenomena. But then he spent a disproportional amount of time warping the source story for literally no gain (In most adaptations, Moses kills a man, feels guilty, and flees. In Exodus, Moses kills multiple men, no one ever finds out, it has no consequence; then someone randomly accuses Moses of being a Jew and no one believes it, but he’s still exiled because….rumors?). So if you want a Moses story, stick with The Ten Commandments or Prince of Egypt…because this one certainly isn’t worth watching.

Runner Up: The Legend of Hercules (HBO Now). At least it’s so hysterically bad, that you can have laugh at the awful dialogue, awful cinematography, awful CGI…and then get a little terrified that the studio spent $70 million to make this dumpster fire of a movie. $70 million on what? Where did it go? Drugs? I’m gonna say drugs.


A Movie You May Have Missed –  Victor Frankenstein

Quietly released over Thanksgiving week to less than stellar reviews, I bet you overlooked this buddy drama with James McAvoy playing the eponymous Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe playing the innocent, impressionable Igor. Ignore the reviews. It’s actually a beautiful, interesting film with good performances and chemistry between the leads. An interesting feature of this film is that there was no bad guy – conflict came from moral disagreements between flawed, but otherwise decent people. And unlike most steampunk-lite Victorian films, this used a full color palette instead of blacks and blues. Very refreshing. It still should be in theaters, so check it out this weekend!

Runner Up: The Scorch Trials. The Maze Runner movies are without doubt the best modern YA adaptations we have. Yes, better than The Hunger Games, and miles beyond the Divergent movies. This sequel was certainly different in pacing and environment than the previous effort, but served its purpose as an entertaining and dutiful “middle movie.” I did miss some of the intrigue from the first film, but the omission of bizarre questions and mystery allowed the characters and story elbow room to capture us by their own merits.


Most Visually InterestingAnt Man

Ant-Man is a perfect representation of the phrase “I liked it.” Not adoration, not love, but like. It was charming. I like Michael Douglas. Paul Rudd has really pretty eyes. But the one thing I did love was the fascinating visuals. The small scale fight scenes were beautiful and interesting to watch, and they made an otherwise forgettable movie memorable. Bravo to the art direction.

Runner Up: Insurgent. The reason Insurgent fails as a story is that 60% of the movie takes place in virtual reality without any real stakes. However, these VR landscapes are pure eye candy.


Best FilmThe Martian

No contest.  Of all the films I saw this year, this one achieved the most on a cinematic, acting, and technical level (Mad Max would be the Runner Up though). This adaptation far surpassed the book in quality and continues a trend of positive science representation in media. I hope the Oscars don’t snub it like the Golden Globes have. And weirdly enough, this came from the same director who made Exodus. Ridley Scott, I think we have a love-hate relationship.


Favorite MovieStar Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m calling it.

Why? Because none of the movies I’ve named, even the ones I enjoyed, could possibly take that title. Except maybe my runner up, if Star Wars turns out to be abysmal. It’s not been a very impressive year for film, and frankly, Star Wars does not have much competition for me.

Runner up: Furious Seven. My big dumb favorite franchise with an equally big heart. The Rock drove an ambulance into a helicopter. And Paul Walker and Vin Diesel flying a car through three Abu Dhabi skyscrapers was more entertaining and spectacular than anything in the Avengers. What more do you want? Plus, if you’re not laughing at every line Tyrese says, or  bawling your eyes out during the Paul Walker tribute, you may not have a soul.

What were your hits and misses for this year? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2016? I will probably do a 2016 scorecard prediction in the next post, and then I’ll check back next December to see how accurate I was :)

AetherHouse’s Year In Review: The Movies of 2014

It’s time for the lists! Yes, I know we’ve got a few weeks left in this month, and a few more movies I plan to see (The Hobbit conclusion, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and possibly Night At The Museum 3), but I’m doing this list anyway. I have a feeling that none of those three movies, except perhaps Exodus if it’s really stellar, would make any of these categories anyway. So here goes!

1. All of these are movies I’ve seen from start to finish. So you won’t see me bashing Transformers or Ninja Turtles, as I didn’t bother forking over money for those. On the flipside, you may believe that an art film like Boyhood was the best movie of the year, but I don’t tend to see movies like that in theaters. Most of these are blockbuster “big” movies. I’m a pretty mainstream person.

2. I have both “best” movie and “favorite” movie in here for a reason. My favorite movie is one I simply adored watching. The “best” film is one that’s good on a technical level: a well-written story, well-acted and well-told. My favorite movie will not win an Oscar, but I think the “best” movie ought to.

Legho! Also, mild spoilers!

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Stop Whining About Book-To-Movie Adaptations

I’m going to see The Maze Runner tonight, and I’m sure the chorus of voices saying “it’s not as good as the book!” has already begun. Yet despite being a writer and reader, I feel there are plenty of times where movies are good, if not better, than the books. Perhaps it’s because I’m both a novelist and a filmmaker, but to me, they’re all just stories.

And we know this stems from some readers being elitist, right? That whole “I’m better than you because I read” nonsense? Even though each medium has both trashy stories and fantastic stories and NEITHER MEDIUM IS ALWAYS BETTER?

Also, Harry Potter spawned a generation of people who feel entitled to closely executed adaptations. Because let’s be real, before/during the HP craze, most adaptations used the books as a starting point and then ran in another direction with the concept (a la every Disney movie ever). I can’t think of any scene for scene adaptations before HP. But HP movies were direct adaptations, if you can look past stuff like Hermione getting Ron’s lines.

Anyway. I think people who go into book-to-movie adaptations with buckets of reluctance, or who put the source material on a pedestal, are massively overthinking this. And often, they’re just looking for something to complain about.

Yes, some movie adaptations are sub par. There’s nothing wrong with the movie Never Let Me Go…except for the fact that it’s a movie. This is one of the few stories that I advise people read the book instead/first, because the process of reading it is the best part. You’re thrown into a conversation with the narrator who assumes you know her world, and she slowly peels back the layers. The movie played it straight, as it had to, even giving away the book’s secrets in the bloody trailer.

Equally, Deathly Hallows Part 1 was a cash grab of wizards camping, so fans had a right to be irked.

And on rare occasion, literal adaptations work. True Grit the book could have been the shooting script for the Coen brothers.  But they’re the Coen brothers. They weaved trademark Coen humor into the source material, making it their own while still doing a line-for-line remake. They also picked a project that catered to their style in the first place. This is a rare accomplishment.

But sometimes the film can fix stuff about the book because books are not infallible tomes of sacredness. I love the writing and the story in The Time Traveler’s Wife, but the characters are such poorly drawn hipsters. In 2009, the movie with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams came out…and I prefer it over the book. Sure, cutting out the pretentious weirdness made it more “mainstream,” especially because some of the novel’s crude elements vanished in the PG-13 movie. But I think it was for the better.

In the same way, I’ve seen a few people with their fingers crossed that the Mockingjay movies will “fix” some of the problems the book had – even going as far as not killing….well, you know.

More detail in the books =/= inherent quality. I’m not a huge fan of the Lord of The Rings movies, but I think they cut to the chase a lot faster than the books. Hilariously, The Hobbit has the opposite problem.  See, there’s no formula for this. Some work, some don’t. We shouldn’t generalize.

And remember how much it sucks when they stick too closely to the source material. Hey, remember Watchmen? That movie no one knows how they feel about? One of the biggest complaints is that it was too literal an adaptation. I mean, it’s a shot-for-shot remake of the graphic novel, save for that plotline about a Black Freighter. Most critics complained that Snyder was trapped by his loyalty to the source. He forgot he was making a film instead of a graphic novel with moving panels.

Movies should be an opportunity for new vision. I liked the book The Princess Diaries. I REALLY liked the movie. They’re incredibly different, and only similar in premise and a few character names. To me, that’s whatever. If I want to experience the storyline from the book, I’ll read the book. I’d be pretty bored sitting through an exact rehash in the movie theater. I like what the story became in Gary Marshall’s hands because it was surprising and entertaining.

In fact, some of the greatest movies ever made were based on books. Gone With the Wind. Wizard of Oz. Fight Club. The Shawshank Redemption. All based on books. Due to their lasting effect on popular culture, we’ve got to admit that these movies are at least as good as the source material, if not better. Back in the day, I doubt anyone scorned these films on the principle that they were adaptations, or whined that “they didn’t include my favorite scene!”

Finally, just have some perspective about how movies work.  Ender’s Game, as a flick, seemed empty compared to its source. While entertaining, the film washed away the darker, deeper themes from the book. But understandably, the studio did not want an R-rated Ender’s Game for adults. The most marketable thing to do was to release Ender’s Game as a pre-Christmas sci-fi epic for the family. Especially considering that most people read Ender’s when they’re children. For all intents, it’s a children’s book. Despite that, Disney’s animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is about as thematic as you can get in a film aimed at younglings. Books have a lot more wiggle room with content because they’re non-visual, but nudity, violence, and lust are things are nonexistent in movies that a 10-year-old is going to see (save for The Road To El Dorado which was…proof that the 1990’s were kind of weird). It might not be the most savory fact, and you don’t have to like it, but marketing concerns are something you should at least acknowledge.

Artemis Fowl fans are mad that the upcoming movie will be a combo of books 1 and 2. Even though that’s my favorite series, I ain’t even mad. They’re short books, much like A Series of Unfortunate Events. Because 2 resolves a lot of the seeds that 1 planted, I can easily see how they could be combined. I’d be less eager to combine other books in the series, but if I was the one writing the Artemis Fowl script, I’d probably do  the same thing. And unlike many readers who feel protective over their cherished books, and who feel like people who get into fandom because of the movie are “posers,” I’m psyched that millions more people may be exposed to the Fowl universe.

Overall, books have to be marketable towards readers, but movies are advertised to the general public. Due to the visual, fast-paced nature of film, we are unable to get inside the character’s heads and we gloss over some details. But often, this isn’t a huge loss. I prefer that The Hunger Games movie shows us the bigger picture than just Katniss’s perspective. And I certainly don’t mind that Peter Jackson skipped over all that Tom Bombadil stuff in Fellowship of the Ring. I see movies as a great shortcut to experiencing stories I wouldn’t waste 8 hours on (like The Maze Runner), or for sharing obscure stories with a wider audience. The key is to remember that movies are different for a reason, and that source books are nothing more than a starting point. They aren’t meant to be a stencil.