Category Archives: movies

My* film premieres today! Rising Star: A cinematic poem to Hartford

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* Okay, it’s not really my film. But it feels like my film. Read on to learn why…

I’ve always loved movies. Growing up as a teen in Portland, OR, I’d escape the heat on unseasonably warm days at The Guild Theater. I saw an incredible number of wonderful old films there, including Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend.

Flash forward to late summer 2010…

I learned about a kickstarter project funding a charming Indie film about work/life balance that would not only film in Hartford, it would feature Hartford locations prominently:

Rising Star

I’d never used kickstarter before. I’d never helped fund a film before. I didn’t even know if I could write off my donation on my taxes (until then, a prerequisite).

I visited Rising Star’s kickstarter page several times and went on my way without donating. But something about the film kept drawing me back. How often do you see Hartford featured in film or TV as an attractive, interesting place? It seemed whenever Hartford is on-screen, there’s a focus on crime and blight. Such a sad depiction for a stately city with a rich sense of history.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about Rising Star. How wonderful it would be to see Hartford featured on-screen in a positive way!

When I lived in Portland OR & Seattle, I loved seeing the city I lived in (and loved) featured prominently in films, seemingly an unbilled cast-member. It was fun seeing the places I loved shared with the world on the big screen. Those films felt like a lovely poem to my city.

I knew I had to donate to Rising Star. So, I donated $52 (big spender, I know!). That $52 made me eligible for several things: An autographed special edition DVD, Soundtrack – CD or digital, Personalized thank you letter.

I didn’t it realize at the time but that $52 donation opened up a wonderful new experience learning about filmmaking. Director Marty Lang (twitter: @marty_lang) and Producer/Lead Actor Gary Ploski (twitter: @garyploski) shared Rising Star’s (twitter: @risingstarmovie) progress and the film’s every success with folks on twitter, facebook, and via email. I didn’t just feel like I’d donated to a film. I felt a part of the film.

I watched Film Courage’s interview with Director Marty Lang and learned how the good will of the community enabled the filmmakers to include so many lovely Hartford locations. I have a feeling the community was as excited as I to see Hartford portrayed in a charming, positive light.

I saw how diligently Gary Ploski shared information about the film’s progress and began to realize how much hard work is involved in making and promoting an Indie film. I saw Marty’s and Gary’s generosity and patience in answering questions about the film, and realized my $52 donation was actually an opportunity to support something wonderful, something magical.

Flash forward to May 2012…

Tonight, Sunday May 6, Rising Star will have its world premiere at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival. Please join me in congratulating Director Marty Lang (twitter: @marty_lang), Producer/Lead Actor Gary Ploski (twitter: @garyploski) and the rest of the cast and crew on Rising Star’s (twitter: @risingstarmovie) open!

Rising Star Official Trailer
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Hereafter, a review

I saw Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter today. It was a thoughtful, moving film Hereafter Posterthat reminded me of Gran Torino: Themes of loss, life’s fragility, the wisdom of children, and how our connections to others enrich our lives.

The main characters are Paris-based journalist Marie LeLay (Cécile De France), San Francisco factory worker George Lonegan (Matt Damon), and the young sons of a troubled, addicted mother, Marcus and Jason (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren) of London.

While Gran Torino was set in a Detroit neighborhood, Hereafter’s locations are more varied: Thailand, Paris, London, San Francisco. As in Gran Torino, the film shows the main characters experiencing an intense loss. Initially, their lives take on a fragile quality and we wonder if the characters will be able to put the loss into perspective and move on with their lives.

As the film progresses, each character struggles with finding balance. They each feel isolated and alone. Like Walt Kowalski’s reaction to Father Janovich’s supplications  in Gran Torino, they  experience frustration because those around them cannot understand their profound experience.

The pivotal moment in the movie provides each character with the support and connections to others they so crave. Like a balm, they also receive acknowledgment for how their profound experience has impacted their lives, and indeed their very essence.

As I watched Hereafter, I noticed how the children were portrayed with the utmost respect and empathy. Not as side characters, nor as comic relief, but as people whose cares and struggles were as important to the film as those of the adult characters. Marcus and Jason are to Hereafter as Sue and Thao were to Gran Torino – intelligent, compelling characters whose presences enriches the film.

I’ve always liked Clint Eastwood as an actor, but developed a deep respect for him after seeing his directorial efforts. Gran Torino is one of my favorite films and I’ve watched it many times… it’s difficult not to be moved by how Eastwood’s character is initially annoyed by the neighbor children (“Get off my lawn!!”), but then develops a bond and sense of responsibility for their well-being.

Hereafter is a love it or hate it film – I doubt folks will feel lukewarm about it:
* If you liked Gran Torino (or enjoy Eastwood as a diretor), you’ll probably like Hereafter

* However, if you are looking for a horror or action film, you’ll be disappointed.  The pacing is leisurely, and the film is far more thoughtful than action-filled.

While not for everyone, I loved Hereafter and highly recommend it to Eastwood fans.

My favorite iPad apps (so far)

ipad I love my iPad 3G, it’s a pleasure to use. While iPad apps aren’t as numerous as  those for iPhone/iPod Touch (yet), I’ve found some worth recommending. Note: Links point to iTunes.

News –

Thomson Reuters Pro: I respect Reuters as a news organization, and their iPad app doesn’t disappoint. Wide range of topics and elegant presentation. (Free)

France 24: Excellent news content and easy to use app. (Free)

SkyGrid: Interesting new app that presents 10 “Featured Streams” based on current newsworthiness. App also provides ability to subscribe to specific news categories. (Free)

npr: Nice content presentation and all the news you’ve come to expect from npr. (Free)

WSJ: Love it for the dead tree newspaper-like experience. I have a WSJ Online subscription and so far using this app has been free. Will I recommend it when I’m paying ~$18 per month? Not sure. (Free app. WSJ subscription required after trial)

NY Times Editors Choice: Not the full newspaper content, thus the “Editors Choice” label. Nonetheless, I enjoy it for the dead tree newspaper experience similar to WSJ app. (Free)

USA Today: If you like the USA Today newspaper or iPhone app, you’ll like the iPad app as well. ‘Nuff said. (Free)

Finance –

Bloomberg for iPad: Think Bloomberg app for iPhone, on steroids. Track your portfolio, monitor Finance news and watch the markets. (Free)

Thomson Reuters MarketBoard: A different presentation than Bloomberg app, with a cool animated market board. Also features news, corporate call information, and ability to monitor your stocks. (Free)

Books –

Kindle: LOVE it! Offers the reading experience I’d hoped for from Kindle hardware. Tip: Want cool iBooks-like page turn animations? On Home screen, tap “i” (lower right of screen), then Settings, and then set “Basic Reading Mode” to OFF. (Free app. Kindle books can be had at a variety of prices, including free)

iBooks: Apple’s own eBook Reader. I think the Bookshelf UI is a bit tired but, nonetheless, easy to use and beautiful interface. (Free app. Lots of books available and many free offerings)

Alice for the iPad – Lite: A great example of what’s possible with eBooks. Beautiful graphics and cool interactive animations. (Free)

Marvel: Gorgeous comic book graphics – even if you’re not into comic books, worth downloading just to check out. (Free app. There are a few free comics available, but most are paid.)

Twitter –

I haven’t found an iPad twitter app that knocks my socks off yet, but here are the frontrunners at this point…

Tweetings: Makes good use of iPad screen real estate and fairly robust. Also offers notifications, which is a plus. ($2.99)

HelTweetica for iPad: Similar UI to Tweetings, but also includes retweet, fav, @ and DM commands on main twitter list. I like how clicking a link drops you directly into the web page. (Free)

Weather & Traffic –

As with Twitter apps, I have found some good options but am hoping there continue to be improvements in this space.

Weatherbug Elite for iPad: A very useful “at a glance” view — main screen is 3/4 map with weather details squeezed into the right-most 1/4 of the screen. (Free)

The Weather Channel Max for iPad: Select from six screens: Maps, Local, Video, Severe, Social, & On TV. Great for when you want more detail than Weatherbug provides.  (Free)

Beat the Traffic: Uses GPS to show your location on large map, along with real-time traffic info and slowdowns. (Free. US & Canada only)

Productivity & Reference –

I’ve purchased Numbers, Keynote, and Pages but haven’t used them much yet. Here are some noteworthy productivity apps…

MaxJournal: Great journaling / note-taking app with a beautiful “Day-Timer” interface. Can be password-protected. ($2.99)

Dragon Dictation: Amazingly accurate voice to text capability. (Free)

MindNode: I’ve tried both MindNode and iThoughtsHD but prefer MindNode for ease of use and its clean, easy to read diagrams. MindNode also supports exporting your maps. ($5.99)

WolframAlpha: The fantastic reference app that used to be $50 is now affordable and should be on everyone’s iPad/iPhone. ($1.99)

Dictionary.com Dictionary & Thesaurus: Straightforward dictionary and thesaurus reference. The price is right. (Free)

Entertainment –

Cartoons HD: MSNBC political/news cartoons. (Free)

Yahoo! Entertainment: Yahoo’s contribution to the iPad – news, book reviews, fashion, comics, and more. (Free)

ABC Player: Love being able to catch up on some great TV on my iPad: LOST!
:-)   (Free)

Netflix: For Netflix fans, this is a must have. Manage your queue, browse DVDs, and watch streaming video via “Watch Instantly.” (Free app. Requires Netflix subscription)

IMDB: Needs no further explanation – perfect app for serious movie fans. (Free)

Audio –

WunderRadio: I like WunderRadio for its flexibility. A great iPhone app is now an equally good app for iPad. ($6.99)

Pandora: Gotta have it. Love Pandora’s Spa Radio Channel. (Free)

Relaxation –

iZen Garden for iPad: Beautiful graphics and soothing sounds. Great for unwinding after a hectic day. ($5.99)

Magic Window: Gorgeous animated scenes with soothing ambient sounds. Love to open this app and then just leave the iPad standing on a desk. ($2.99)

Marine Aquarium: A colorful aquarium available anywhere, anytime. ($.99)

Games –

Scrabble: Disclosure – if there were a 12-step program for Scrabble addicts, I’d be first in line. Familiar scrabble board and tiles. Just wish the board were a bit bigger. ($9.99)

Shanghai Mahjong: Beautiful mahjong game, with a wide variety of tile graphics, board layouts, and backgrounds. ($2.99)

Pinball HD: Beautiful images and fun game play. ($2.99)

Angry Birds HD: I don’t know what got these birds so P.O.d, but this game rocks! Very fun and addictive. ($4.99)

Honorable Mention –

The Elements: A stunning display of periodic table elements. ($13.99)

What cool iPad apps have you found? Add a comment to share your recommendations.

Netflix, how I adore thee…

Netflix

I confess, I was late to the party on Netflix — I only became a subscriber a few months ago. No matter, Netflix has changed my movie rental and purchase patterns irreparably.

I love movies. Aside from photography, catching a movie is my favorite way to relax. Up until now, time-shifting movies via my TiVo, Amazon video on demand rental, and the occasional blu-ray purchase has worked pretty well for me.

And then I learned about Netflix Watch Instantly streaming video feature…

Watch Instantly enables Netflix users subscribed to any unlimited plan (i.e., any Netflix plan except the $4.99/monthly) to stream any Watch Instantly movie on demand (via streaming video) with no limits and no additional charges. Free is a very good price!

Good-bye, Amazon video on demand. It’s been good amazonwhile it’s lasted but I’ve found a less expensive way to satisfy my urge for instant gratification when I want to see a specific movie.

Good-bye, Comcast premium movie channels and your corresponding monthly charges. With Watch Instantly, I no longer have to plan in advance and ensure comcast the TiVo is set to record a desired movie. Since IFC and Sundance channels are included in your digital package, I can still watch Indie films to my heart’s content.

So long, monthly blu-ray purchases. While I’ll still pick up a blu-ray disc here blu-ray and there, it’s far more convenient to stream films I want to see. And I can always use my 1-disc a month unlimited Netflix plan to satisfy my desire for blu-ray goodness.

Of course, Netflix Watch Instantly isn’t for everyone.

  • The movies tend to be at least a year old — if you prefer the most recent movies, you’ll likely be disappointed.
  • Also, you’ll most likely want to stream to your TV rather than only watching on your PC/Mac – my TiVo Series 3 supports Netflix Watch Instantly. I have also heard good things about the Roku box.

For movie fans like me who love movies of nearly any genre and release date, Netflix’s Watch Instantly is too good of a deal to pass up. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend subscribing to Netflix for a trial period to check it out. If you’re a movie lover, I’m betting you’ll like it!

The Dark Knight: Impressive 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes

Vantage Point

I just saw Vantage Point, a suspense film starring Dennis Quaid, Forrest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, William Hurt, and many other fine actors. The suspense begins nearly immediately, and never lets up. It feels impressively authentic, like watching a documentary.

The premise is a story of an assassination attempt, told from many different perspectives (thus the title). As each vantage point unfolds, you realize that the event’s facts are just beginning to become apparent. As the viewer comes to this realization, curiosity and suspense build.

This is one of those films where revealing some aspects of the story would probably spoil it entirely. So, if you enjoy suspense films, then consider Vantage Point a must see.

Reservation Road: Every parent’s nightmare

I just saw Reservation Road, a Terry George film released in 2007 starring Mark Ruffalo, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Connelly, and Joaquin Phoenix. I’m not sure how to best categorize this movie, whether as suspense or as a psychological study. One thing is for certain: The film depicts every parent’s worst nightmare.

The catalyst occurs early in the film: Mark Ruffalo’s character, an attorney and divorced dad, is driving down a rural road with his son late at night and swerves to avoid oncoming traffic. The swerve, an event that occurs in a blink of an eye , sets off a horrifying chain of events that haunt Ruffalo along with Joaquin Phoenix’s character (and his family) for the remainder of the film.

The film could have been maudlin and depressing to watch. However, it’s impossible to see this film without empathizing with each character. They each struggle to come to terms with what’s happen, to find meaning in their lives that have been forever changed.

I had seen trailers for Reservation Road last summer. I’m glad a friend urged me to see it – it is a very moving film. Highly recommended.