Friday, November 21, 2008

Recent Movies I've Seen

Let's get one thing out in the open off the bat, I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to movies. The only one I've ever walked out on was the sequel to Dumb and Dumber. I just usually want to like them so much that I'm willing to overlook a lot. I recently saw a couple that really rendered me unable to do that. The first was Quarantine, which I saw in the middle of a weekday (the best time to see a movie in a theater). I really wanted to like this one. I liked Cloverfield, which was shot in the same style. The inhabitants of Quarantine, however are so disconnected from anything resembling reality that they kept me disconnected with them. I should have said that the one thing I can't get over is stupid characters who do stupid things. I'll give you an example which was, for me, the most glaring and representative of stupid characters everywhere. Here's the setup. Oh yeah, I guess I should put up a spoiler warning although this one is so contrived you'll actually see it coming while the previews are on.

SPOILER

The characters are trapped in an apartment building where some unseen pathogen is turning them one by one into ravenous killers. Who they are and why they ended up there is irrelevant because they all deserve to die anyway.
Anyway, the characters have just witnessed a deranged, pale old lady froth at the mouth and go into a frenzy, attacking a fireman and biting him. The fireman then froths at the mouth and tries to attack the others. A classic setup, right? Anyone who's seen Salem's Lot can figure this one out. A little girl who, according to her mother, has just come down with an "illness" which makes her pale and listless, runs amok and heads upstairs into a dark room. A cop finds and approaches her. He turns his flashlight on her. Notices her pale appearance. Notices the froth from her mouth. Notices her deranged behavior. And in an inspired moment, approaches, sticks his hand out, and says,"Come here Honey. We're not going to hurt you." or something to that effect. I don't have to tell you what comes next. But he had it coming.
After this, I was rooting for the unseen pathogen and, since I was the only one in the theater, cheered everytime the body count increased.
It was all handheld, so the dolly work doesn't apply.
The other movie I saw was Alien vs Predator: Requiem. I'll keep this short. Really slick, pretty cinematography. Dolly work was a centerpiece, with a lot of unmotivated booms up and pushes-in. If you shuffled all the scenes up and then strung them together and showed it to an audience, it wouldn't make any less sense than it did when I watched it. An entire platoon (or maybe a brigade) of trained, armed National Guardsmen is wiped out by aliens, yet a few pretty, twentysomething slacker types and a small town cop manage to dispatch them in various awesome ways. The worst thing was the way the hack director shot the Guardsmen slaughter. Aliens appear from seemingly thin air with no strategy or finesse. You can almost hear the Second Unit DP saying, "Let's just get through this montage and go home." There's a wide shot of a soldier with nothing behind him. Cut to a closeup of him looking around as the segmented Alien tail rises behind him. It would have made more sense if they had cut in a shot of James Doohan as Scotty beaming them down. The actual battles between Aliens and Predators were shown in such tight shots that I didn't know whether they were attempting to mate or fight. There's so much shooting, gore, and incomprehensible dialogue coupled with stupid decisions that I lost interest and folded laundry. I don't know who won and don't really care.
Now, two movies I saw recently surprised me with how good they were. The first is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I hadn't seen it in so long that I never noticed the dolly work, which some unnamed Italian nailed. Really impressive, beautiful sled work.
The other is a mostly forgotten George Clooney vehicle which I've always liked called The Peacemaker. The train sequence at the beginning is a masterstroke of dolly and crane work and editing, with little or no dialogue. It's a beautifully composed scene and the moves are perfect. Check it out.

19 comments:

Wick said...

Peacemaker was on TV here last night. My old company provided the crane for that opening sequence. It was hot in Slovakia, with the crane inside a freight car with the roof removed. I wasn't on that one, but one of my Technocrane techs was.

One of the worst films I ever sat through was "Deep Blue Sea". Any film that includes concrete burning underwater is requiring a major suspension of rational thought. I'm heading to Poland at the end of next week for the Camerimage Film Festival, hope to see some great stuff there. If you're not familiar with ti, it's based on cinematography and a slew of A list DPs are there. Plus you're in Poland in winter, what more could you want?

D said...

Thanks for the comments, Wick. Have fun at the festival. If you run into Phillipe Rousselot there, tell him I need work.

D said...

By the way, "Deep Blue Sea" was one of those I was able to suspend disbelief enough to be entertained. This is how deranged and forgiving I am. NOBODY likes that movie.

Azurgrip said...

Waterworld = Fishtar?

Wick said...

This got me thinking. I watched the restored 15 hour version of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" over the Christmas holidays last year. Apart from all the other superlatives about it, there are several extremely long takes that incorporate some really precise dolly work. It was shot on 16mm, so there are some takes as long as 8 minutes like that. It hit the point where I was stopping the DVD and rewatching scenes just for that.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I'm a wannabe ghetto grip, with an old japanese milk truck carrying my matthews dolly, a 6 foot ride-on and now an advantajib. I have no stories of peril or romance, but when i'm using mcguyver skills to build a weird camera mount or finding a use for one of my "you never know!" things i've chucked in the truck, i think about your stories here. I doubt i'll ever push a panther, but I can still pretend i'm not a middle aged post production guy who wandered out into sunlight by mistake. Thanks guys!

D said...

Doing the impossible with next to nothing is what it's all about. And besides, nobody likes pushing Panthers unless they live in Germany and even then they don't really like it. Ballhaus makes them pretend they do.

Dan said...

I would dump the magnum I have to work with right now, for a peewee or or even Fisher 11 any time.

You have to rebuild those german Dollys with low shot extensions on every second shot wich makes them a pain to work with (The standard height is just too high).

On my last TV Movie I changed the configuration of the Fisher 11 maybe 10 times for the whole show on this show I rebuild the Magnum more often on the first Day, for similar shots.

Greets Dan

The Grip Works said...

Ha ha ha !!! Agree wholeheartedly about the Balhouse comment. The dolly has several irritating features. The worst is the height. Next is the fact that it cannot be shifted from crab to steer easily. The operator can never be made comfortable in low mode. Low mode is really wobbly with a heavy camera on board, and also panning the camera with a backloaded mag is difficult because it hits the lowmode post. etc etc. However .... it is a really useful dolly to have as a 3rd dolly on a movie. It does a few things really well. The onboard track wheels are very smooth. It is great for really long dolly moves on dancefloor as long as the lens height is greater than 48 inches since chassis rotation does not affect the operator since the camera is centred and the dolly is symmetrical. It also has a really strong lift for its weight.
Having said that, I would not like to be stuck with it as my only dolly on a movie.
PS. For those interested - I just spoke to Armin at GFM , who is sending out their new dolly for test rides in the German film industry. Tony Tundo (the designer at GFM) has apparently addressed these problems with the new dolly. Any one in Germany who gets their hands on one please report back here. - Maybe Wick ?

Wick said...

Ahem - *full disclosure * - I run J. L. Fisher's European support office, which is why I describe myself as a semi-retired grip. I also know all the guys at Panther, Movie Tech and GFM fairly well. I'll stay out of the scissor lift vs. center column debate, except to say that both Chapman and Fisher are gaining market share in Europe. There could be a lot of factors involved that have nothing to do with the advantages D, Dan and Sanjay already describe, like exchange rates and a move by DPs to geared heads. I haven't heard anything yet about GFM's dolly in use. I did see it at the Cinec, and the general reaction there was not as enthusiastic as I think some people had wanted to be. I'll keep my ears open, and if anything comes up will pass it along.
I do agree with the notion of an electric center column as the 3rd or alternate dolly on a movie, basically replacing what Elemacks were (and sometimes still are, if you can find one in good shape). And anon, like d said it's all about the ability to work with what you have. "You go into a film with the truck that you have, not the one you wish you had". I had one of the early AdvantaJibs, it's a sweet little arm and John is a good guy with some good ideas.

D said...

Thanks Wick, Dan, and Sanjay for your expert comments.

D said...

Waterworld was a simply awful movie which, again, I didn't mind that much. It didn't inspire the rage that the other two I mentioned did.

Dan said...

To say something positive about the Magnum, I really like the ability to detach the center collumn from the base of the Dolly! You can easily carry that thing in two parts over even the roughest terrain with two people.

The chassi is rally rigid, so building of center camera mounts on them is much more rigid than on a peewee or fish 11. Even a Hybrid is slightly more wobbly.

Today we did a slider shot (with an Panther U-Bangi II) that would be much more wobbly on a small scissor lift dolly. The Hybrid would have been way to big to squeeze in that small Location set.

The lifting power of the collumn of a Panther or Magnum dolly is also very helpful for U-Bangi or Jib shots.

I did a U-Bangi on Vario Jib on Magnum shot once that would not have been possible on a scissor dolly.

But still for everyday use a scissor dolly would pe my preferred machine.

A center collumn Dolly is a "comfy tripod" with tracking ability nothing more nothing less.

If you use two steering collumns on a Panther or Magnum and use enough strength you can prevent any twisting of the dolly even slight sliding is possible if you use the soft compound wheels on tiles (as if you had roundy and crab at the same Time).

Greetz Dan

Sorry for O.T. I haven't seen a good film recently...
The last good one I saw was "Children of Men" awesome shots in this one... but more a handheld camera Movie.

danworx said...

Hello guys,

I had a nice visit to the G-F-M Factory today and was very impressed by those guys. They really care about the users opinion about their Equipment. Even the Techies were around and we had a nice chat about the new dolly and some older gear.

The dolly is nearing completion and the unit that was there was pre production but quite workable. The Collumn runs very smooth and more silent than the Magnum. They have a new bearing technology wich seems to work a little better than the ones on the Magnum.

They also have an beetwheen the rails steering-option with switching capabilities betwheen front steer back steer and Crab.
But The switching needs precise alignment of the wheels so it might be difficult to do that during a shot.

The new remote Control Handle was quite impressive it shows the battery, motor and collumn Status on a small Display on the Handle.The radio connection worked very well (we'll see how it performs on the set) and you can switch to cable mode in a matter of seconds.

The things I didn't like about the unit are partially due to the prototype state of the dolly so I will wait for the production units before I leave any comments on those.

If you want to know more, feel free to ask the guys at G-F-M or ask here.

greetz danworx

Onno said...

Hello All,

As a owner-operator of a SuperPantherIII and a Panther Evolution for over 12 years I need to jump into this...

I just love my Panther (as much as I hate it as well!) It is true that with the centercolumn it is hard to get the lower angles. They have some "bandages for the bleeding" like extended snakes etc, but it is a temporarily cure. The rigidity of the dolly when straight on the column is great! Operator and FP can go up and down with great steadiness. Accesoires to come along are well made and make a lot of far-reach(?) shot very do-able.
A slider or Ubanghy in comination with the SuperJib1 is a perfect tool!
The evolution has a crab steer and that works, but as mentioned the wheels needs to be aligned precisely.
I have not this much experience with scissor-dollies (anymore) execpt now and then as the third-dolly on set (haha).

One reason for the popularity of the columndollies in Holland is that you can buy them. Subrenting from rental houses never gave a financial benefit for the grips renting in. Taking the step buying equipment is then easier made. There are some Dario ("copy-kind-of-peewee") available but all the Chapmanequipment is out of Holland. There is a Fisher available but if it works its loan???
One big advantage of the columndolly's is that the operator actually can have a full control over the jib by the remote handset. (although I have seen an italien scissor with a electronic remote handset at Cinec)

Using either dolly is just where you get used to. You swallow each cons and glory each pro. I would say it is matter of taste.
(Although I would admit that when shooting a feature with just kids as leads a scissor dolly is preferable, same as for shooting in a bar with standing people with a column.)

For this far!

Good luck to you all.

Onno Perdijk
KeyGrip
Netherlands
www.solidgripsystems.eu

D said...

Great comments Onno. Thanks for the input.

Onno said...

By the way: The combiwheels of these columndollies are great! No need for scateboardsleds etc.

Onno

Dan said...

And no need for lubing exept on circle tracks!

Greetz Dan

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