2014 in review

December 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 83,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Merry Christmas from Under the Hollywood Sign

December 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Thanks for reading this blog, which I began nearly six years ago to promote my work; it has been a labor of love. Nevertheless, if a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who’ve read my posts and pages would watch my films or read my ebooks, I’d be much happier. The documentaries are available for sale (via DVD or Vimeo download) or rent (via Vimeo); the ebooks are available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other ebook sellers. All are linked through my website http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com

Films:
Under the Hollywood Sign
Peg Entwistle: The Life and Death of an Actress
The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection (available on DVD; downloadable in 2015)
Jim Thompson, Silk King (New edition coming on DVD and download in 2015)

Ebooks:
Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign
On Blade Runner: Four Essays

“Force Majeure”: Everything “Wild” Isn’t, and More

December 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Facing the Avalanche in "Force Majeure"/Magnolia Pictures

Facing the Avalanche in “Force Majeure”/Magnolia Pictures

My previous post on “Wild” contained a quote from the film’s location manager that claimed the inaccurate and easily accessible locations were necessary compromises.

Most of the time you just can’t send a movie crew out into some of these places. You need locations that are accessible, cinematic and can serve several purposes so the crew doesn’t have to pack up each day.

Let’s hope she’s had a chance to see “Force Majeure,” Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Film, because it make a mockery of her claim. Although a psychological drama with comedic elements, “Force Majeure” is a masterpiece of outdoor filmmaking that makes the most of its stunning location, a ski resort in the French Alps. Beyond shots of chair lifts and ski runs, the director, Ruben Ostlund, and his two DPs, Fredrik Wenzel and Fred Arne Wergeland, use beautifully composed long shots to establish the locations and its characters place within them. So along with the medium and close shots of the actors–an attractive young Swedish couple, Tomas and Ebba, and their son and daughter–we see their environment from afar, perched on a plateau surrounded by mountains. We see not only daytime ski runs but the nighttime march of snowcats on the mountainside, and the snow machines at dawn.

It didn’t surprise me to learn later that Ostlund got his start making ski documentaries, since he films every aspect of the resort and the skiers so expertly. When Tomas and his Norwegian friend ski in deep powder in a location that must have been accessed via helicopter, the sequence is not only breathtaking but painstakingly composed. I can only imagine how difficult it was to get the crew and equipment there, and how long it took to shoot.

Johannes Kuhnke in "Force Majeure"/Magnolia Pictures

Johannes Kuhnke in “Force Majeure”/Magnolia Pictures

Of course there’s a fascinating script beyond the perfect cinematography, and great acting. But what stayed with me the most was the way Ostlund, Wenzel and Wergeland matched the film’s visuals with the unfolding drama. It’s rare to come across a perfect film like “Force Majeure.” See it if you can.

The Not-So-Wild “Wild,” and Two Films That Put It to Shame

December 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Wild-2014-Movie
My massive interior paint job, now mercifully completed, has kept me from blogging, but I’m back. In the midst of the upheaval, I managed to get out to some screenings–three in as many nights. One of them was “Wild,” the much-anticipated adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I was aware of Strayed’s colorful back story, but expected, not unreasonably, that the story of a woman’s solitary three-month hike through the wilderness would depict a) solitude and b) wilderness. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

I realized almost immediately that screenwriter Nick Hornby (yes, that Nick Hornby) and director Jean-Marc Vallee had zero interest in depicting either solitude or landscapes, preferring copious chatter (via voiceover during the hike and during the many, many flashbacks) and closeups. Not only are almost no long shots in “Wild,” but none are held long enough to be classified as establishing shots. Instead, we get endless close-ups of Reese’s worried/exasperated/exhausted face, and medium shots of her trudging along the trail. I kept wanting the DP, Yves Belanger, to pull back and show reality–a lone woman hiking through an enormous landscape–but he never did, creating what is surely the most claustrophobic and unnatural film ever made about trekking. Cluttered, chatty and overwrought, “Wild” isn’t worthy of its name. It’s also long and boring, like the hike–but without the vistas.

The baffling lack of establishing shots is partially explained in this NYT travel section article about “Wild,” which appeared 12/5/14. http://nyti.ms/1u0GGhz The reporter, Tim Neville, explains:

In fact, while “Wild” the book has story lines in Minnesota, California and Oregon, all but seven of the movie’s scenes were filmed in Oregon, and only two of them were actually on the Pacific Crest Trail. “This wasn’t ‘Into the Wild,’ where we were ready to backpack into places to get some shots,” said Nancy Haecker, the location manager for “Wild,” who also worked with Sean Penn on the film version of Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild.” “Most of the time you just can’t send a movie crew out into some of these places. You need locations that are accessible, cinematic and can serve several purposes so the crew doesn’t have to pack up each day.”

Hmm. Vallee and Belanger would have done well to watch “Jeremiah Johnson,” the 70’s Robert Redford film whose locations hardly look accessible and are properly shot. As for the character’s solitude, I can recall only one or two lines of dialogue in the entire movie: it’s practically a silent film. Yet strangely “Jeremiah Johnson” is a lot more interesting to watch than “Wild.”

Another film that should have been a model for “Wild” is the Cohen Brother’s “No Country for Old Men.” DP Roger Deakins begins with a series of long shots, each held for 5-6 seconds, that tell us everything we need to know about the setting (Marfa, Texas). These establishing shots, each beautifully composed, take up an astonishing 1 minute, 22 seconds, but there isn’t a wasted nanosecond.

As it happens, there’s a new film that takes place in a mountain setting that is everything “Wild” is not: gorgeously photographed in often difficult settings, beautifully written and acted, and endlessly compelling. I’ll be writing about it in my next post.

The Hollywood Sign in Rain, Disappearing and Reappearing

December 3, 2014 § 2 Comments

Los Angeles has been blessed with rain–the first big storm in two years. It started on Monday, picking up force yesterday and weakening today. Through it all I’ve been working in the most distracting room in my house–the one with this view. (My usual workspace, the living room, is off-limits because it’s being repainted.) Yesterday morning at 11:30, the Sign was ghostly-looking through a scrim of mist.

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By 12:30, it had vanished into the rain clouds.

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Today it has been playing peekaboo, and currently looks like this:

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