Category Archives: Film

Does film belong on the (very) small screen?

Today, our world is constantly drawing nearer to Ashton’s fabled “internet of things.” Every few months, it seems, there is a new way of connecting our lives to the internet and, thus, to the world of film. Apps for services like Netflix and Amazon’s Video on Demand bring the cinema to these personal devices, like smartphones, tablets (like the iPad), or even Laptops, which –although having been around for quite some time—seem to be gaining in popularity is a method of media consumption. However, this might not necessarily be good news.

In our first Film Studies class this week, the professor led her instructions on screening the required films with the statement that watching them on anything smaller than a television screen in the Library was unacceptable. Though I did not take down a quote, I think it is appropriate to paraphrase that she said she would “have a conniption” if she caught us watching or even talking about watching the films on a mobile device. To back this up, she sent us a link to an excerpt from and interview with David Lynch from the special edition copy of his film, Inland Empire which seems to agree with her assessment of the mobile device as a film consumption mechanism:

“Playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think think you’ve experienced it, but you’ll  be cheated. It’s –uh—such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your FUCKING telephone. Get real.”

Though both Mr. Lynch (whom I deeply respect) and my Film Studies Professor (whom I just met, but suspect I will also come to deeply respect) are incredibly vehement in their positions on the issue, I don’t think that the simple and broad conclusion they have come to is necessarily correct. Though it isn’t perfect, I think that a mobile device can still provide an effective presentation of the film.

When I thought of an instance where the effect of a big-screen presentation is vital to the understanding of a scene, the first shot that came to mind was the helicopter shot that occupies much of the opening title sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s famous adaptation of The Shining. On a big screen, this shot has a special kind of power for me: looking down and following one little car as it travels up a curving mountain road and curving with the road has two effects on me: it first reminds me how small and insignificant I am, but secondly – and almost more importantly – feeling the frame move along swiftly, as if being dragged by the car gives you this feeling of lack of control, of instability, as if you are being pulled by an invisible spiritual string towards the vehicle. This sense that you are actually moving is what makes these shots great, and you risk losing it entirely if you watch the film on a phone or tablet.

However, this is not an issue of screen size as much as it is a combination of screen size and distance from the screen. In my own personal tests, I found that this sense of motion was preserved on a variety of devices from a variety of distances, as long as the film’s frame occupied the vast majority of my vision. On my laptop, which has a 15.6” screen, I was able to sit up to about 18 inches away from the screen and still feel the motion. On my 10.1” Motorola Xoom tablet, I had to be much closer: about 12 inches away. Finally, on my smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus with a 4.65” screen, I found that I had to be the incredibly close (and possibly eye-damaging) distance of 4 inches from the screen. Though this sounds crazy, it does show that the effect of motion is preservable on these smaller devices.

Another argument made is that, because the films are so much larger on the big screen, you might miss something interesting or important in a shot. This is once again largely covered by moving closer to the screen, however there is another issue that plays into this: resolution. If the screen does not have high enough resolution, then there is no possible way to see all the details that one might see on the big screen. Luckily, most devices today have incredibly high resolutions. The third generation (most recent) iPad, for example, has an incredibly sharp display at 2048×1535 pixels. This screen is more than capable of handling 1080p video, which has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, and even the lowest end phones and tablets have screen resolutions of 1024×768 or higher, something that, while not adhering to any specifications for HD video, is perfectly capable of playing back DVD-quality video, which only has a resolution of 720×480 pixels.

The last argument that people make against film on a small device is something that I just can’t possibly refute. I agree wholeheartedly that many films, especially comedies, are community experiences. When you’re watching a comedy alone, it’s just not as funny. Jokes may strike you as amusing, but your own personal guards keep you from laughing or enjoying them. In a group, the mob psychology seems to kick in. Personal inhibitions are lifted and everyone laughs at the jokes that he or she finds funny.  The movie is transformed from just a picture on the screen to a bona fide social event. There is no way to replicate this personal interaction, and there never will be.

All these things said, filmmakers will still have to adapt to the use of mobile devices as film consumption tools. Here, Kubrick’s The Shining is an interesting example again. I found it odd that The Shining would be presented in the film cell’s (and television’s) raw aspect ratio 4:3, so I did a little research. As it turns out, there is indeed a story to it. Knowing that the film would find its way to home video and that the studio would “pan and scan” the film to make it fit onto a television set (thus compromising his notoriously meticulous directorial decisions), Kubrick decided not to film it with an anamorphic lens, as he would have otherwise. Instead, he filmed directly onto the 35mm film stock, giving him a 4:3 aspect ratio, which he cropped for theaters to get the widescreen look he wanted. With every shot he made, he considered how it would look both on the big screen and at home. This mirrors what filmmakers need to do today. There is now a huge range of different screen sizes that may be used to watch a film. Sometimes, directors and cinematographers will need to compromise to ensure that the important things can be seen on any device. It’s not the ideal solution, but – like it or not – mobile devices are here to stay.


Is Flightplan an Unofficial Remake of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes?

When watching Alfred Hitchcock’s classic comedy-thriller The Lady Vanishes last night, I couldn’t help but keep returning to a movie I saw several years ago, a Jodie Foster thriller named Flightplan. The similarities are uncanny. Someone close to the main character disappears from a moving transportation vehicle without a trace and nobody remembers what happened.

That was excusable, but I felt that the line between “homage” or “allusion” and “rip-off” was crossed when Flightplan blatantly copied one of the key plot points from The Lady Vanishes.

In The Lady Vanishes, the woman who disappears writes her name in the mist on the dining car window.  Later, when the main character is dining at that same table, she sees the name in the mist. Similarly, the daughter in Flightplan draws a heart in the mist on the airplane window, a heart which Foster’s character is able to find by breathing warm air onto said window. Here’s the video evidence:

Internet Fun: Last Exit to Nowhere

I’ve known about this website for a while, but until I started these “Internet Fun” posts, I never really had anywhere to share it. It’s called Last Exit to Nowhere. They make T-Shirts based on movies. They’re awesome T-Shirts. I want all of them. There’s really not a lot more to say.

You may remember that some time ago, I wrote about something which I called the Carmen Sandiego Effect, the idea that fictional universes can intersect with our own by creating physical manifestations of that world that are “left behind” – things like websites, in-universe fiction, and – in this case — T-Shirts. These are awesome and you should go buy one.

Five Favorite Christmas Films

After reading a friend’s blog post on her favorite Christmas movies, I was inspired to do some writing of my own and create a similar list. I only wish that ours didn’t overlap so heavily. After all, originality is always a point of pride with me.

1. Love Actually

This star-studded, Christmas-themed film is a pastiche of numerous different love stories.  From Colin Firth (delicious) being in love with a maid that once worked with him to Liam Neeson’s really horny son, this movie is packed with wonderful feel-good moments. Ultimately, though, one love story in particular attracts me to this film again and again.

The ever charming Alan Rickman stars in this film as an office manager who buys a gold necklace and, instead of giving it to his wife, he gives it to his secretary. Naturally, the wife finds out. One could argue, and I would, that this- in fact- is the greatest love story out of all of them. The wife loves her husband and children so much that she is willing to overlook his terrible sin and continue the relationship. Personally, I would have dumped Alan Rickman, but she doesn’t. True love: what more is Christmas about?

2. White Christmas

I took some time considering whether I should go choose this or Irving Berlin’s slightly earlier songbook film Holiday Inn, but ultimately chose this one on the grounds that it isn’t as racist.

I jest, of course. I get really mad every time I see the black-faced routine in Holiday Inn.  Anyway, there are two fantastic love stories in here and they both come with great music.  Everyone knows this one, so I’ll keep it short. I dare you not to cry when the snow finally falls in Vermont.

3.  Meet Me in St. Louis

OK. You caught me. I’m cheating a little. This isn’t exactly a Christmas movie, but it does have Christmas in it, so it counts. Right?

Judy Garland, a young woman famous for a certain other musical, showcases some phenomenal acting and singing by playing Esther Smith, a young woman madly in love, but hit by tough times. Many people do not realize it, but this is actually where the Christmas standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came from. Plus, with other great little ditties like “The Trolley Song,” which won a well-deserved Academy Award for best song, how can you go wrong? Maybe It’s something wrong with me, but I’m a sucker for just about every musical ever made, and this is no exception.

4.  It’s a Wonderful Life

This seminal Christmas hit is more of a study on chaos theory than it is a Christmas film, but still I love it so. Anyway, you all know the story, so I’ll skimp there. Here’s the bottom line:

James Stewart does a great job (as always) starring as a banker who decides the world would be better off if he had never been born. Then, he gets taken through this alternate timeline by an angel. There you go! That’s the story. Sound familiar? If not, you may have been living on the planet Venus. I enjoy it anyway, and it makes me bawl, so there.

5. The Thing (1982)

OK. Now I’m really cheating, but there is lots of snow. So there.

Anyway, after spending so much time blabbing about the “Christmas spirit,” standing in line at the store waiting for the cashier to finish checking out the lady who bought the entire store’s worth of tacky Santa figurines, wrapping gifts with paper that seems to in fact be engineered to make wrapping impossible, and listening the the Chimpunks’ Christmas Song 87 times in a row, you really want to watch things die. That’s where Mr. Carpenter’s classic horror film comes in. There is enough blood and guts in here to make David Cronenberg cringe. Plus, it’s really scary. It may not make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but just imagine that the characters in this film are actually annoying Christmas shoppers. Instant stress relief!

So there’s my list. It’s a little unusual, but I think it does a good job of covering all my favorites. What’s yours?


Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe star in Daybreakers.

Daybreakers is the rarest of Hollywood Action-Horror crossovers: it succeeds in both genres and has a concept that allows it to pursue complex moral questions and modern-day issues without ever getting preachy or lame. The script had flaws, but- and I very rarely say this- the rest of the film was good enough to overlook the script issues.

Vampire films are a dime a dozen these days. Two Twilight Saga films come out every year; rip offs of those, and even things like HBO’s True Blood crowd the marketplace for vampire-related fiction. In order to stand out, a vampire film has to be really different, with a special “hook” to grab you and interesting characters to make you stay. Daybreakers does this incredibly well. Here’s the hook: In the year 2019, most of the population has been transformed into immortal vampires. However, they require human blood to live. (Their own blood disfigures them and causes brain damage.) For the last ten years, human blood as a resource has been dwindling, causing a need to find a blood substitute.

The beauty of Daybreakers lies in its not-so-subtlety and beautiful use of blood and gore. It’s a great big-budget b-movie.

Film Review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes – 2006

The Poughkeepsie Tapes was, for a time, one of the most highly anticipated horror film releases of the year 2006. As it made a limited festival run at the big names (primarily Tribeca), it gained a small, eager following. After Tribeca, MGM acquired the film and planned for its release. However, as we know, MGM shortly after hit money troubles and the planned re-shoot of several major scenes was cancelled, making the film a lame duck in MGM’s catalog and causing an indefinite release delay. After four years, of sitting around, the original screener cut was given a limited theatrical release then shelved again. A DVD has been promised, but not delivered. I lost patience. My review here is, thus, not based on any official DVD, but a screener copy that I downloaded off of BitTorrent.

The plot of The Poughkeepsie Tapes centers around the idea of a serial killer who spent more than fifteen years active in the Poughkeepsie and Putnam counties in New York. After years of hunting, the FBI has finally caught a break when an IP-address trace on some of the killer’s internet activity provides them with a street address. The arrive at the home, bash in the door with SWAT Team members, and discover the house to be empty except for three things: cadavers in the backyard, a barely breathing past victim, and thousands of home-recorded VHS tapes depicting his crimes. These tapes become the basis of the film. Unlike most found footage films, however, The Poughkeepsie Tapes continues to frame these tapes with narration and interviews from the various parties involved. This is, at heart, a deeply disturbing horror mockumentary.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes was directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil, Quarantine 2: Terminal). He shows surprising agility and aptitude with storytelling and scare-delivery. There were no cheap “jump out of your seat” moments in this film. Instead, it relies on steady, building tension throughout the film. The collaborative script written by him and his brother, Drew Dowdle, creates the necessary atmosphere and only feel stilted once during the film. The quality of film wasn’t good, but in a mockumentary / found footage film, this was excusable.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a unique, riveting film about a truly terrifying idea. If you can stomach it, check it out. I give it a 3.5/4.