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Mad Max: Fury Road

20 May

There is a car chase in Michael Bay’s The Rock that became instantaneously famous when the movie debuted in 1996. This action sequence, involving Nicolas Cage pursuing Sean Connery through the streets of San Francisco, completely changed the way action sequences were shot and edited in Hollywood. It also is annoying and frustrating and not very good.

The Rock‘s car chase is certainly is visceral and intense. So is accidentally sticking your hand into a Cuisinart. Neither are much fun and both eventually are a complete mess. The main problem in The Rock‘s car chase is that everything is shot so close and edited so tight there is very little spatial sense of what is happening. Where the hell is anyone in relation to anyone else? A car chase is suspenseful only if we know what is going on: is Cage one block or ten blocks behind Connery? How can there be suspense if we don’t know?

Re-watching it, the sequence is rather tame by today’s standards because what it began has intensified and ramped up so ridiculously. Movies like Man of Steel and The Furious Saga are shot and edited so close, so fast… and often so dark… that all spatial sense goes entirely out the window. These movies no longer are about actual suspense, narrative tension or, god forbid, character. They are designed instead to bludgeon the audience into submission.

The use of CGI has also completely taken over these movies, actors mostly performing in front of green screens with everything digitally created around them. Consequently, nothing we see can actually happen in real life which also drains the action of any real intensity.

All of which is why George Miller’s long gestating Mad Max: Fury Road, six days now in theaters, is so incredibly thrilling, exhilarating and, please Lord, game changing. 

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Given that everything about Fury Road is awesome and mind-blowing, I will only cover a few things here. Let’s start, however, with the spatial. George Miller is not just a visionary (see almost any image within this often gorgeous movie). Miller is a master at coherent, definable space. Coherent does not mean tame! Much of this movie is absolutely insane. Take, for instance, the much talked about blind bungee jumping guitar player, hung from the front of a massive rig, who plays a real flame-throwing guitar as he blindly bungee jumps:

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Insane! But whatever is happening in Fury Road, no matter how chaotic, fast or explosive, we the audience always know exactly what is going on. Who is doing what. Where people are in relationship to one another. What is at stake. (We will get to the fact something is indeed actually at stake in a moment.)

Miller’s directing, editing, planning and use of the frame is ingenious and purposeful. It always makes sense. If we happen to be momentarily confused about something, that, too, is purposeful, Miller withholding information for a time to keep us leaning forward and to surprise us later. This understanding of the spatial alone means Fury Road should and will be taught frame for frame in directing classes for years to come. 

Then there is the CGI or, rather, the incredible lack of it. Miller is obsessed with everything happening for real. Sure there are a few CGI effects, such as the amazing desert storm with tornadoes that ends the first Act.

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Yes they also used some CGI to wipe away safety wires. But that’s pretty much it. If you see it in Fury Road, it happened. Which makes the movie incredibly organic, tangible and breathtaking. As Miller said, “We didn’t defy the laws of physics. These are real people in real cars in a real desert.” It might be cool to see amazing digital effects but the real life stunts and real life consequences in Fury Road blow away anything that’s been on screen. 

So if you see a blind bungee jumping guitar player, playing a guitar that is also a flame thrower, you can know Miller made a real guy spend six real weeks learning how to play a real guitar, while blindfolded, on a real bungee cord, while it threw real flames. You even hear his actual music in the movie (click here for more).

If you see guys on motorcycles fly over other vehicles to throw down grenades, it happened.

Or if you see this, it happened:

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As did this:

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If you see Tom Hardy hanging upside down between two huge mack truck wheels speeding thru the desert, his head inches above the ground, it happened.:

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And when you sit, after 100 minutes or so, unable to breathe, wondering how on earth they might top themselves, as surely Miller could come up with nothing else as mind-blowing as what you have already seen, this happens:

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Not even Miller thought these ‘pole-cats’ could be done for real, so crazy insane is this final action sequence. Yet with the help of an amazing team and Cirque de Soleil performers, this astounding sequence also happened. And it shows. (Even Tom Hardy, afraid of heights, swung around on these poles for a while.)

Best of all, when you see 80 or so vehicles speeding across a desert or through a canyon, as the camera swoops perfectly choreographed above, it happened. The effect is stunning. Unlike most action sequences of late, Miller knows that what is truly mind-blowing are wide shots. Because when done real time, they cannot be faked. Fury Road is filled with some of the most deliriously epic and stunning wide shots every to be seen on camera. 

Importantly, the movie isn’t devoid of character or depth. As crazy as the movie often is, there are moments of amazing beauty and haunting quiet. Much has been made of the fact the movie is actually about Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, the strongest female character to hit the screen since Ellen Ripley.

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Her performance is kick-ass, as is the character. All the characters have depth. Which lends the movie gravity. When two superheroes are flying around slamming into buildings, and ‘the world’ is at stake, nothing is really at stake because you know the superhero is never going to die, nor is the world going to end. It’s wildly different here. No one is safe and the physical consequences to the action and violence are real. Additionally, unlike most action movies, Miller is willing and able to stop the action for quiet and moving moments such as Furiosa’s devastating reaction here:

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Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible, astounding achievement in cinema. Miller long has been one of our best and most inventive directors. Unlike many, he has directed great movies in various genres, from action to comedy to kid’s movies to heartfelt, impassioned drama. Here, at age 70, he has topped even himself and outshone ‘bad ass’ directors well under half his age.

As one critic said, Fury Road “will burn your face off”.  I cannot deny this is true, I’ve had my face burned off twice. I will be back soon for a third facial. Miller and Fury Road are astounding.

 

It’s called the Game Of Thrones

15 Jun

Game Of Thrones is like standing behind a mean horse who kicks you in the head, over and over. A friend walks up and says ‘What are you doing?”

KICK.

You say, “I’m standing behind a horse who keeps kicking me in the head.”

KICK.

Your friend asks, “Doesn’t that hurt?”

KICK.

You say, “Are you kidding? It’s brutal. I’m dizzy and I can’t see straight. Watch. He’s going to do it again.”

KICK.

Your friend asks, ‘Why don’t you move???”

KICK.

You say, “Because it’s the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen.”

That’s Game Of Thrones. It pummels you, over and over, with unrelenting harsh brutality yet it is turning out to be the best show that has ever been on TV. You can’t walk away even as it repeatedly kicks you upside the head. It’s filled with amazing beauty and is as grand a narrative as you’ve ever seen.

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NOTE: Spoilers start halfway down, you will be warned before they start. Also, this is written from the perspective of someone who has not read the books. Please, if you have read the books, no forward spoilers in the comments section.

I actually had no desire to watch Game of Thrones.  Season three was over and I still refused. It’s not my genre (snore) nor did any of it sound appealing. I’ve certainly seen enough tits and ass and gratuitous violence over the years to keep the ‘R’ rated factor from being enticing. And dragons? Eh, whatever. Been there, done that as well. I was one of those people who, when fans would go rabid on Facebook, I’d roll my eyes with great patronizing condescension. Then after much bullying one of my best friends, Adam, dared me to watch the pilot. Just one episode and if I didn’t like it, he’d never bug me again.

Honestly, in about 5 minutes I was absolutely transfixed.

ned-beautiful-death What is it about this show? Certainly there is the scope. Nothing on this scale has ever been done on television. Each one hour episode is filled more stunning visuals than just about any summer movie thundering around the cineplex. And, yes, there is the “tits-n-ass and blood-n-guts” factor. The show is incredibly ‘R’ rated, so much so it spawned one of the funniest online videos of the last couple of years:

None of this, however, explains why the show is so popular and why so many of us are saying it might be the best show ever on television. For any narrative to work, the audience has to care about what is happening and George R. R. Martin, along with the creators, writers and actors of the show, have created incredible characters we root for passionately. As another great friend, Chad, remarked tonight after the season 4 finale, ‘I feel like people I know are dying.”

To read more, click the link!

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“Mariachi Band”

30 Aug

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I produced a record that we launched this week. Here is a little background on the project:

20 years ago a close friend of mine, Chad Holley, called from St. Louis to say he was engaged to be married.  Having not seen Chad for a while and wanting to meet his fiance’, I flew to St. Louis to meet Claire Chamblin, soon to be Claire Holley. There began another close friendship that has only deepened since the great day 10 years ago when Claire and Chad moved to Los Angeles.

Claire is a wonderful person and very good friend who, like my closest friends, patiently puts up with my hyperbolic passion. (I’ve written before about the wonderful arguments, um, discussions we have around the dinner table.) Claire is also an extremely talented singer/songwriter/musician. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her sing often, a few times even in my own home at magical house concerts she performs in my living room.

Two years ago, I went to see Claire at the Cinema Bar in Los Angeles. One of the songs she sang that night was a new composition, “Mariachi Band.” By the time she finished the song, I knew I wanted to produce it. Convincing her of this, however, took a little cajoling.

Tom Provost and Claire Holley

Tom Provost and Claire Holley

Not many people know it but I, too, am a musician. I was plopped in front of a piano at the age of three and forced to take piano lessons for many years. My first piano teacher was an unpleasant old woman who would cut my fingernails way past the point of comfort and rap my knuckles with a ruler. This did not make me initially enjoy the piano, perhaps the understatement of the year. She also made me do volumes and volumes of “Notes”, which was music theory paperwork designed to teach notes and chords and everything musical on the page.  At the age of 5, this was Not. Fun. It wasn’t even playing the damn piano!

Thankfully, she, well, retired in a way and I moved through a few other piano teachers until I was 18, all much more fun. I also subjected my family to learning the saxophone for band. God bless ’em. While I remain merely passable at playing the piano, I was actually kick ass on the sax. Good performer or not, the music theory I learned under the old lady stuck with me and I’ve been a music fanatic all my life. Deep down, I always wanted to try producing.

When I heard Claire play Mariachi Band in her beautiful, haunting style, I had a vision for something a little different: more upbeat, a song that would make people want to tap their feet. I wanted to arrange the song in a way that would highlight her beautiful voice. And as a passionate lover of Los Angeles, truly one of the great cities in all the world, I also envisioned an accompanying video that would be a love letter to East Los Angeles, my favorite part of the city.

It indeed took a few more passionate dinners but eventually I convinced Claire to give it all a try. She helped assemble some of the more talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. We then spent a couple of days in the studio recording, then mixing the song.

Click to keep reading and see the video!

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Try a.. Fig!

30 Sep

A few years ago, my roommate and very good friend, Adam, found a little sapling in the jungle that is the backyard. He identified it as a fig sapling. How he did this, I have no idea; if I get near a plant, it dies. Despite my near presence, Adam nursed that sapling into a short but incredibly prolific fig tree.

When Adam planted the fig sapling, another good friend of mine, Tiffany, who happens to be an amazing chef, told me that I better get ready and learn things to do with figs. She has a couple of fig trees and ‘bountiful’ doesn’t even begin to describe their produce. The upshot? Along with all the other fruit in the backyard, we get a lot of figs each year.

I’d never tried figs. Or, well, my only experience with figs growing up was eating Fig Newtons. Enough said. I eventually had a real fig at some point, but it was ghastly and I never wanted to try eating a fig again.

I think a lot of people are not fond of figs because there are some bad, gummy figs out there. Seriously.

But also there exists …..

One night I was at my favorite LA restaurant, Lucques, which was opened by my favorite chef Suzanne Goin, about whom I’ve written before. She opened Lucques along with her genius business partner Caroline Styne. It was a Lucques’ Sunday Supper, a wonderful night where you basically eat what the chef cooks that day. Late in the evening, dessert came to the table. And it was… figs and pecorino cheese on a plate drizzled with honey. I thought, “Huh, what? Where’s the hell is the dessert??” Thankfully, I was with… my friend Tiffany! (Funny how things works that way.) Tiffany happily dove in. I shrugged and tried the “figs and pecorino and honey” and… wow, oh my goodness. It was incredible. The figs were so moist and tender and full of flavor. Nothing like the terrible fig I’d had before. Combined with the pecorino cheese, with its salty tang, and also the honey… well, it was divine. I learned yet again that simplicity rules with cooking. Just a few top-notch ingredients, simply prepared, can be better than the most elaborately prepared dish.

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A Near Perfect Food

18 Feb

I was raised in the South. Port Arthur, Texas, specifically, a coastal town a literal stone’s throw from Louisiana. Being so close to Louisiana, many people in my hometown were Cajuns, my father’s side of the family included. Throw ‘The South’, ‘Texas’ and ‘Cajuns’ all together and you end up with people who overflow with hospitality and share a deep, intense love for food.

The house in which I was raised was no exception. My parents were two of the most hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. Someone was always in the guest room, on the sofa, borrowing the car, invited to dinner. Additionally, our life as a family revolved around food. What and when we would eat took precedence over just about everything else.

I tend to live by the example my parents set. If someone enters my home, their comfort is my goal and I feel embarrassed unless they immediately have at least the offer of food and drink. Given the house is a bit of a train station, with a parade of people coming in and out the door, I’ve developed some staples over the years I can throw together quickly or, better yet, have sitting in the fridge ready for use. The goat cheese spread below is first on the list, given the ease with which it is prepared. Oh, and then there’s this: it tastes really, really good. No, really. Even people who think they don’t like goat cheese devour this.

This stuff is so good, in fact, most of my friends get irritated if it doesn’t hit the counter soon after they arrive. Where’s the goat cheese? On the rare occasion I’ve been slacking and haven’t a ramekin of this waiting in the fridge, watch out.

Trust me. There is a reason this is the first food item I am posting on this blog.

GOAT CHEESE SPREAD

– 3 cloves garlic, peeled
– Fresh Rosemary  (1 or 2 sprigs)
– 11-14oz log of quality unflavored goat cheese, in big crumbles
– Juice of 1/2 lemon
– Olive oil
– Fresh black pepper

1) In the food processor, chop the cloves of garlic and the fronds off the rosemary sprigs.

2) Add the goat cheese, the lemon juice, and a few grinds of black pepper (don’t be shy with the black pepper) along with a couple of healthy glugs of good quality olive oil. Start the processor and blend, adding olive oil as needed. You want it creamy but not too soft and smooth, not runny. Add more pepper to taste if you like.

3) I put it in small ramekins such as in the picture. This recipe will usually fill three or four 4-oz ramekins. Cover them with foil and stick in the fridge. You can serve them right away but they get even better over time.

4) Before serving, take the spread out of the fridge and let sit on the counter for about 15 minutes so that it softens just a touch.

5) Serve with crackers, fresh rustic bread and/or crudite. Oh, and white wine. Always “serve with wine”, right?

** This keeps in the fridge at least a week. I’ve waited much longer to serve it, once over three weeks, and no one has yet died. It serves many purposes beyond a perfect appetizer. This spread is terrific to have waiting when you come home from a vacation, for instance, and the house is usually empty of good food. Or on a night when you don’t have time to cook and want a light supper. A ramekin of this spread, some olives and some good crusty bread is a great dinner for me. Additionally, some studies indicate goat cheese doesn’t cause the lactose problems of other types of dairy. Give it a try.

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