Archive for May, 2010

Courtesy of IMDB.com

3. Casablanca

Director: Michael Curtiz

Productions Designer: Carl Jules Weyl

This 1942 cinematic legend proves that while color can certainly help the visuals in a film, black and white can be just as stunning. The visuals in this film draw their impressive quality not from CGI (which of course didn’t exist), elaborate sets or even abnormally inspiring costuming (although the costumes are beautiful), but rather from the simple way it is filmed and how it tells the romantic tragedy of the two most famous lovers in cinematic history. As with most films of the time, the camera movement is slow, but calculated and unlike today, every single shot is used to convey some aspect of the story line, with the care taken to establish the frame and actors in each scene apparent from the very beginning. All this considered, you don’t see many films like this today with the level of visual excellence and production design of Casablanca. Yes, it is slow, yes, it is black and white, but if you can put away your cinematic inhibitions for a bit, you may just be surprised by Casablanca‘s abnormally modern look and feel, especially considering when it was made.

3 Scenes to Watch

Courtesy of IMDB.com

4. The Golden Compass

Director: Chris Weitz

Production Designer: Dennis Gassner

The Golden Compass, based on the book The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, the first installment in the His Dark Materials series of books, is one of those rare exceptions where few liked it, but those who did, LOVED it (myself included). It failed financially (domestically) due to heavy protesting by American conservative Christians and a dramatic, fatal last-minute edit by New Line, who feared the film was too dark and that the ending was too sad for a film aimed at children. The result is a film that is too short for the subject matter, disjointedly edited and wholly unfinished feeling at the end. If you don’t know how it ends, I won’t ruin it for you, but suffice to say it takes about 30 minutes longer than the film currently ends, the bad guys get away, a main character dies and Lyra is left in a situation that to say is bleak would be a horrible understatement…and no, that is not giving away much at all. Visually though, the film is probably the single most impacting of any on this list. A mixture of steampunk, art nouveaux and victorian aesthetics make this fantasy a visual piece of candy. Mix this with CGI (particularly the Magisterium zeppelin, the Alethiometer and Iorek Byrnison) that is mind boggling and some of the coolest costumes ever seen in a movie (designed by Ruth Myers) and you are set for an experience, that while not emotionally fulfilling, will leave your brain’s occipital lobe abuzz.

3 Scenes to Watch

(Left: Any Scene Involving the Alethiometer. Center: The Sky Ferry/London Sequence. Right: Lyra in Oxford)

Casablanca and The Golden Compass, and their images, are the property of Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Pictures respectively.

What are your most visually stunning movies of all time?  Leave a comment and tell me below!

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Photo is Property of Paramount Pictures

Racebending.com needs to walk the walk

It is the summer season and now is the time for butt-kicking blockbusters and good, no-nonsense fun at the movie theatre. But this season’s glut of Blockbusters is plagued by a movement that has reared its ugly head just this last year, a movement that seriously needs to take a look at itself in the mirror and ask what it is TRULY fighting for… Racebending.com.

This site and grass roots movement was born out of rage from Asians and Asian-Americans concerning the casting for M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount Picture’s film The Last Airbender, and has since spread to Disney and Bruckheimer’s new film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  The interesting subtext to the criticism of both of these films is that they are: 1. Two of the most expensive movies of the year and 2. Based on pre-existing, popular material. For those who don’t know, I’ll elaborate.

The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an action/adventure/epic based on the first installment of the wildly popular video games series Prince of Persia. The Last Airbender is also an action/adventure/epic based on Nickelodeon’s television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar was dropped from the title so as to avoid confusion with James Cameron’s film), and was created by Michael Di Martino and Bryan Konietzko.

Both films are based in fictional realms, with Prince of Persia taking place in a romanticized and fantastic version of ancient Persia and The Last Airbender taking place in a wholly  fictionalized realm with Asian/Nomadic/Western influence driving the storyline, but primarily Asian culture influencing the aesthetics of the world.

Both films have been lauded as visually capturing the aesthetics of their respected worlds, so where does the controvery come from? Simply put: Casting. Now before I continue, I should note that what follows is purely my own opinion based on the information that has been presented to me, unlike my counterparts at Racebending.com, I do not claim to know the minds of the creators/filmmaker/cast/producer and will do my best not to make any assumptions heretofore beyond what has been confirmed by either Paramount, Shyamalan, Marshall (producer) and/or Konietzko/Di Martino.  Despite this disclaimer, I realize my own fallibility and biases, I must and do recognize this for the sake of professional fairness.

Racebending.com’s general qualm with both of these films is that, put simply, since they are influenced by Persian and Asian culture respectively, they should have cast Persian/Asian actors in the lead roles. The logic in this argument is sound, you would be a fool not to recognize it. However, just because the logic of the argument is sound, doesn’t mean the argument itself is sound. Which it isn’t.

Racebending.com asserts that since both films are confirmed by their respective creators (for the record, all of who are caucasian in both camps, but this argument I realize holds no water, it is a point, though, that I feel needs to be acknowledged) as being heavily influenced by Persian and Asian culture, art, mythology and theology. This fact is incontrovertible, as Racebending.com recognizes and tauts. The problem with Racebending.com’s argumentation comes with the WORDING of this fact, namely, ‘influence’. The whole of Racebending.com’s argument is based on the confirmed fact  (and blatantly obvious representation) of these respective influences. They assert that since a film/world/etc. is based on a culture or aesthetic, then the corresponding people who are usually (and mostly stereotypically) asso0ciated with the specific culture/aesthetic in question are the only people suitable to fill the roles of the stories taking place in the worlds in question.

This is where the problem lies with Racebending.com. To say that simply because a film/story/world is based upon a realm/culture in the real world they (the filmmakers) should cast individuals who sometimes correspond to the aesthetic presented is, in and of itself, completely and utterly racist. Especially in today’s world of acceptance and understanding, saying that because Persia and/or Airbender have Buddhist/Hindu/Asian/Middle Eastern influences constitutes the restrictive casting of individuals who are racially connected to these influences is not only a contradiction of its own proclaimed message, but it is the very definition of racism.

Let me review (I realize the long-windedness of the previous, for which I apologize), 1. Confirmed Asian/Middle Eastern/Western influences. 2. Logically, Influence =/= Race.  Now, again let me reiterate that this is simply my opinion and mine alone, but Merriam-Webster (dating back to 1933) gives a chilling definition of racism, one that when considering Racebending.com’s argument, should send a sickening chill of familiarity down the spines of anyone who is reading:

Racism: 1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

Yikes. This is exactly what I thought when I first read Racebending.com’s doublespeak filled website. I was raised to believe that no human being is different from another and that any cultural differences we have as a species should be recognized, honored and respected in all instances, even when used fictional and/or humorous outlets (I believe in the ability to poke fun at and laugh at one another’s cultures, beliefs and stereotypes, including my own, but that is another blog and issue entirely). Essentially, I was raised to be colorblind, but not culture blind. The problem is most people believe that culture and color go hand in hand. For example, because I am white/caucasian, my primary language should be English, I should be Judeo-Christian in religious orientation, live somewhere in a westernized country and wear khakis and polos to work…ridiculous right? Insulting right?  While this is admittedly an exaggeration, it is the quintessential argument that Racebending.com is making.

If calligraphy, asian iconography and martial arts and the fact that some characters were drawn with darker skin, different eyes, different clothes, etc. means the film has to feature asian actors in its main roles, then by the same exact logic, films that occur in a fictionalized version of England can only feature pasty white/caucasian, tea-drinking, bad-teeth touting, english accented prigs in fancy hats/dresses? All because that is the cultural association? Insutling, isn’t it? Racist, isn’t it? This sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it is absolutely no different from what Racebending.com is asserting about The Last Airbender. If I were a member of the asian community, which admittedly I am not, I would be downright embarrassed by what the people who claim to speak for me are saying, much less willing to rally behind their cause. If you want to see  an example of racism wearing a different hat, look no further than Racebending.com.

Additionally, apparently the casting of multiple actors/actresses of Middle Eastern/African American/Asian descent or heritage in pivotal/key roles does not constitute a culturally/racially diverse film for the supporters of Racebending.com. Why? Because they are not strictly Asian, a point that is reiterated over and over again on the Racebending.com webpage (Don’t believe me? Go read for yourself: http://www.racebending.com). Not culturally diverse just because it does not exclusively cast asian/nomadic actors/actresses in the lead roles? That is racism at its ugliest if I have ever seen or heard it.

A few things to note:

I am very hard on Racebending.com, because I DO believe that while their intentions are noble, which they most certainly are, their views and methods are inflammatory and increasingly verging on libelous.  They also do this, in part, because many of them are fans of the original show, something we most definitely share as I followed the show since its very first season and it, its story of hope, love, friendship and quest for peace, has enriched my life. Lastly, I do recognize their frustration concerning the lack of casting of asians in films, as well as their point regarding the third-party casting agencies poor choice of words on their casting call, saying “Caucasian or any other race”, for which there is absolutely no excuse. However, these frustrations taken into account, going about it by boycotting films that increase awareness of asian influences/culture (despite the casting) and may possibly break ground for more films like it is not, in my opinion, at all the way to go about it. I equate it to the Christian community’s boycotting and protesting of The Golden Compass. Now the film’s inadequacies notwithstanding, the Christian community’s protest and eventual success (again, in my opinion) in ruining the financial success of the film did not do anything in the end for the Christian community. It did not increase the number of Christian/Christian-based films in the mainstream market, increase awareness of the Christian message and/or cause, and it did not stimulate conversation between believers and non-believers. At the end of the day, all that movement did was destroy the American box office success of a film that could have potentially stimulated questions and the opportunity for conversation/ministering to non-believers, not to mention unfairly discounting a story as “satanic” and ‘dangerous” that touts poignant messages of hope, courage and love. I am a Christian, and it was sad what my own people did to The Golden Compass, and I would really hate to see the same thing happen to The Last Airbender and by unavoidable extension (whether right or not) the Asian community.

I would never dare tell you what to think. I can only voice an opinion. You, my readers, must ultimately make the decision for yourself. I, nor Racebending.com, has the right to tell you that either one of is definitively right or wrong (who am I to judge?). What I can offer are my primitive observations and one seriously passionate opinion. In the end, it is your choice and that is the one thing no one can take away from you.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment below (disrespectful or hateful comments, directed at myself, Racebending.com, Paramount, or anybody else, will be deleted, at my subjective discretion, without warning or explanation, so please think before you write).

EDIT: For those who read my blog (all ten of you), note that I realize that this is not at all in tune with my normal pieces of writing and I will return to my normally light hearted writing. Regardless of what people think or say about the above entry, I just had to say something or I knew I would regret it. I’ll be back this week with more fun blogging! Thank You to everyone who reads!

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Movies are visual creations. Whether or not a movie is any good relies heavily on the visuals that help convey the story at hand, in other words, if the CGI, costumes, production design, etc. suck, then in all likelihood, so will the movie. Now the dialogue, editing, direction skill and everything else that goes into any one film has to be top notch as well for it to be watchable, but that is another blog entirely…these are the most visually stunning films of the past 50 years. Some are considered classics, others…not so much. But one thing is certain: they are fun to look at!

(No Particular Order)

1. Moulin Rouge
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Production Designer: Catherine Martin

Courtesy of IMDB

This 2000 film was the third film outing for visual powerhouse director Baz Luhrmann and his production designer wife Catherine Martin. The costumes, over 1000 different pieces in total, are cause alone for this musical menagerie to make the list. Add to it Luhrmann’s  distinctive quick editing and sets so intricate they are overwhelming to behold (especially in the sensory-bombastic finale) and you have a recipe for visual greatness. This one has the added boot of being considered one of the best movies of the last decade, insuring that its visuals will be enjoyed for years to come. The best part? Almost all of the visuals are accompanied with insane special effects, editing and thrill ride-like filming that transports the viewer at a furious pace through the dark, wonder-filled tragedy of the denizens of the Moulin Rouge. Be warned, Moulin Rouge is as much liked for its visuals as it is hated, with some claiming that seizures, motion sickness and even migraines resulted from the occasionally frenetic action. Just like a true thrill ride, if you are prone to these conditions, then please don’t get on. If not, then brace yourselves for one of the most immersive, thrilling and moving films ever made.

3 Scenes to Watch

Spectacular, Spectacular! (The Finale to Moulin Rouge)

Elephant Love Medley

The Can-Can!

Lara in the Temple of Light

2. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Director: Simon West

Production Desinger: Kirk M. Petrucelli

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a 2001 cult-favorite by director Simon West and Paramount Pictures. Based on the best selling video game series of the same name, Tomb Raider debuted with a lead attached who was unmatched at that point in the form of Angelina Jolie, a relatively new actress to the action world, having specialized in dramas and independent pieces up to that point. The film was unfairly panned by people who, for the most part, did not really understand its point: pure, unadultered fun. Since its release in 2001, the film is one of the rare exceptions in the film industry in which the film has actually gained popularity in its maturity, with most, including revered film critic Roger Ebert remarking in retrospect that in 2001, it was “ahead of its time” and paved the way for more successful films like Iron Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Batman Begins. Visuals are the film’s strongest point, still holding records for two of the largest sets ever constructed (the Temple of Light and Croft Manor) and some of the most intricate designs for working set pieces to date (see the Lot in the Temple of Light and the Orrery in the Temple of Time).  Mix in the still insanely covetous Croft Manor and the bungee ballet scene and you have a recipe for a visual good time. Even if you don’t like the story,  just pay attention to the art contained within, I still have yet to see an adventure film that matches Tomb Raider in visual eye candy.

3 Scenes to Watch

Orrery, Temple of Time (Siberia Sequence-Finale).

Temple of Light (Cambodia Sequence)

Bungee Ballet (Croft Manor)

Pictures are courtesy of Tombraiderchronicles.com and Allmoviephoto.com, Moulin Rouge! is property of 20th Century Fox and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is property of Paramount Pictures.

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First broke by Lance at Screamscape… Disney Parks, as part of their ultra-top secret “Nex-Gen” initiative (a plan from Walt Disney Imagineering to completely reinvent the theme park experience), has been testing a talking Mickey Mouse walking character.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a real, live, TALKING Mickey Mouse is now wandering around Disneyland.

According to reports from within Disney Parks itself, the character is capable of interacting directly with guests, right down to saying their name and using completely improvised, unique material with each guest (think Turtle Talk with Crush only with a standing, breathing Mickey). The technology, if deemed succesful and ultimately accepted by the populous, could eventually be adapted in all of the suited characters in Disney Parks worldwide.

At first glance the effect is a bit unnerving, but I attribute this to the conditioning of the masses (like myself) who are used to the static characters already present in theme parks around the world. Once you experience it for a bit, the effect becomes natural and in all seriousness, completely changes the interaction for the better. To say it anthropomorphizes Mickey would be an understatement, it takes the much loved character/symbol to a new level of awesomeness unseen anywhere until Disney premiered the technology.

If this is the first step in the cloak & dagger-esque “Nex-Gen” initiative, then fans and Imagineers the world over should be very, VERY excited and Disney’s competitors very, VERY scared.

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Photo courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel

The Last Airbender camp has been busy these last few days! They have released a new trailer, photo of Prince Zuko in action (played by Dev Patel) and a website that puts Ironman’s to shame! I was seriously skeptical, even downright negative, about this film when the first trailer and photos released. However, the more I see of this film, especially in comparison to what I am seeing from the other 2010 summer movies, the more I smell a hit.

The Last Airbender easily has released the best trailers for this summer, in fact, it is the only film many of my constiuents and others in the film universe seem to be excited about beyond Ironman 2, which the Last Airbender will not generally compete with seeing as the two release almost two months apart. If this keeps up, and the footage we see keeps getting better, The Last Airbender may just be the surprise hit of the summer.

The Last Airbender Official Website

Click on the website to view the EPIC new trailer! Featuring footage not previously released!

What do you think of The Last Airbender? Leave a comment below!

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© Andrew A. Vest

An Excerpt from the Memoirs of Sir Winston Earl Grey IV

Good day my little Lemurs! As of writing this I am trolling down the enchanting streams of exotic Cambodia! I am simply dizzy with anticipation! Today, we are discussing the harrowing danger of SMEF’ing! Brace yourselves!

So, my cheeky wee monkeys! Exactly why is a raven like a writing desk? Well, let me tell you something: it isn’t! Whatever the utterly fabulous Lewis Carroll was smoking when he came up with this little nugget of tommyrot was definitely illegal. A raven is a bird! It flies through the skies! It poohs menacingly on unexpecting victims! Whereas a desk is…well…a desk. A bit of wood propped up on legs. That’s about it.

The two have absolutely nothing in common in the slightest! Save for one simple thing: their lot in life, and believe me, it’s wretched. So wretched, in fact, is the life of the raven and the writing desk that both are permanent members of the SMEF list.

“But Winston! What is the SMEF list?”

Allow me to illuminate you. SMEF is a naughty acronym derived from the brilliant mind of philosopher and all around ninnypants Douglas Adams of the 20th century. It stands for Sudden Massive Existence Failure. Simply put, a bit of matter (you, your dog, a paperclip, lint, the Republic of China, etc.) becomes so utterly distraught with its own existence that is simply decides to stop being.

Office supplies have a horrific tendency to SMEF, due to their likelihood of being lost forever behind desks, stuffed between seat cushions, made into cute desk ornaments or slobbered on by children. I recall the tale of King Bic, ruler of Stapledom. He was accidentally dethroned by a disgruntled insurance salesman having a steamy affair amongst his quarterly progress reports. Tragically, in the throes of angry sin, the insurance salesman thrashed his arm across his desk, casting King Bic into the bottomless abyss of Waste Basket, wherein he became so distraught with the hand he was dealt that he said to himself:

“I don’t think I want to exist anymore…” And POOF! He was gone.

Consequently, the absolute most incredible SMEF was performed by the entire city of Atlantis in 9600 BC. Luckily, a hotel has taken its place.

Ravens have no purpose in life and writing desks are rudely written on by writhing workers working while writing (say that twice and try not to cuss!). Both are such sensitive beings of existence that simply looking at either in a less-than-pleasant manner will cause them to implode unto themselves without a thought otherwise.

If you find yourself in the position of either the raven or the writing desk and feel as though you might not want to exist anymore, then simply think back on your life and consider that it could be a lot worse…you could have been a paperclip.


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Literary Agent Elana Roth is giving all looking for professional representation a one-of-a-kind look into the life and mind of a literary agent. For the first time that I have ever seen, an agent is detailing exactly how many queries they reject or accept, some of the flaws contained within the queries and the best part: exactly why they accepted or rejected them. Ms. Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency is just that agent, blogging her statistics, and better yet her commentary on exactly why so many of the queries she receives get rejected almost immediately. Now, here at the Rogue Imagineer, you all should know better than this, but just in case you don’t, here are some of the things she outlined. Needless to say they are stupefying:

“…there were a few cases where the querier CCed the entire industry on the email. I don’t respond to those and they get deleted.”

“This was the first month I got a query sent from an iPhone. Yep, “Sent from my iPhone” signature at all. And it was one of the categories I don’t rep. So that person’s tactics probably need some re-evaluation.”

“…the ever-rising syndrome of “just plain unprofessional” letters, that show me people are querying somewhat casually. Several other agents have commented on this on their blogs this week, so I’ll just reiterate their points. Whether it’s just that the internet blew the lid off the filters, or that people are lazy, it is definitely too easy to send off those letters.”

Think that is bad? That is only the beginning. People spelled her name wrong, queried her for genres she clearly does not represent, ignored her requests for no specific characteristics (E.g. vampires. I hear you, Ms. Roth), in the words of Yul Brenner: “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…”

I have included the link to Ms. Roth’s blog below. Go read it. NOW.
And as always, keep writing, keep moving forward and keep your chin up! Getting published sucks! Might as well have some fun with it! Leave me a comment below!

Elana Roth’s Blog

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