Civil Twilight – Letters From The Sky

 

 

It’s gotta be a pretty amazing song to create not just one great music video for it, but two. “Letters From The Sky” by Civil Twilight, off their self-titled debut album “Civil Twilight”, is just that: an absolutely amazing song. What strikes me about their first video for the song is the shear simplicity of it. It’s all about lighting and composition, with a dark brooding build-up of drama. I wish it was in HD to fully appreciate the incredible photography. The second video also has a really simple concept and beautiful execution with the use primarily of natural light. Both characters in the narrative of this video are appealing on camera and I love how the camera lingers on them.

I’ll let these 2 music videos and the still images from them say the rest. Pure photographic and emotional poetry. Enjoy the music and the visuals.

Purchase music from Civil Twilight on iTunes or Amazon.

The Script – For The First Time

 

I’ve been in love with this song ever since I first heard it. It’s just got a raw energy that I connect with. The Script is one of those bands you’ve probably heard on the radio but maybe haven’t connected their music with their name. This song is the one that finally made that connection for me. The music video for this song is excellent. I love the mixture of different looks they’ve thrown together here: black & white, modern and vintage colors, and all the shades in between. It really works. And the weaving of a sort of cinematic story between the 2 characters and footage of the band is a technique that almost always works in music videos. I’m not sure what kind of cameras were used for shooting this video, but some of the footage has the look of the Canon 5D with its extremely shallow depth of field. The in-and-out of focus look of the band footage really works, especially in contrast with the rest of the video. I can’t say enough about the impressive use of lighting in this video, both natural and artificial. Just ponder the beauty and artistry in the 70+ still images below from the video. Each one tells a story and fits beautifully with the music. The filmmakers involved in this project really came through and created a piece of work that matches the craftsmanship and talent within The Script. I’m looking forward to their next video for sure!

 

  

 

Purchase this song or the entire Science & Faith album at iTunes or Amazon, and incorporate The Script into your music collection if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it.

 

Sarah’s Key

MOVIE RATING:  4 stars (B+)

(Updated February 19, 2012)

The best movie I’ve seen in 2011 so far is Sarah’s Key (2010). This French-English import is one of those little “sleeper” movies that totally surprises you and blows you away when you see it. Sarah’s Key has a very emotional core to it that really looks into the human condition from multiple perspectives. And it searches for the “truth” within. This is a movie much in the vein of Schindler’s List (1993)The Pianist (2002)The Reader (2008), and The English Patient (1996). It’s not exactly “light” fare. But it’s also not quite as dark as Schindler’s List or The Pianist. I found the weaving of the two main story lines, one past and one present, to be perfect. It’s not always easy for a filmmaker to pull together past and present set stories, with actors playing the same character at various ages, but director Gilles Paquet-Brenner found a way to do it brilliantly. And the same can be said for the way he weaves together both French and English languages into the movie. I never felt like I was “working” to follow the dialogue through reading subtitles. Granted, the movie is only partially subtitled. Parts of it are in English and parts are in French.

The story centers around the events of the French round-up of its own Jewish citizens in July 1942. That’s right…the French, not the Germans. Of course I’m sure the French were feeling pressure from the Germans during the time. And yet it’s hard to overlook the fact that the French were just as guilty of genocide as the Germans and Russians. One can truly understand why there was a “World” war at this time. Sarah’s Key is simply sharing another piece of the puzzle that we’ve been reluctant to look at until recently because of how ugly the puzzle is. The impact of this ugly mindset at the time spreading from country to country across the globe must have been like a virus, gradually infecting each host and getting them from within. The opening scenes with the capture of Sarah’s family and their move to an internment camp at Auschwitz are gripping to say the least. Sarah, played brilliantly by young actress Mélusine Mayance, makes a choice on how to save her younger brother from the horrors she anticipates will fall upon them. But that choice has consequences, as we soon find out. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, since it is much better to let the movie unfold it for you.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays a modern journalist, investigating this historic incident, while at the same time unravelling a very personal and ironic connection to it. The film does require that you let go of what could be too “coincidental” for reality. But remember, this is a fictional movie at the end of the day, inspired by real events. And movies by their very nature, are contrived to some degree. I never found myself getting lost in my mind thinking about how unrealistic some of the story arcs were. Instead, I simply felt emotionally engaged in the suspenseful and thrilling discovery of all of the secrets that Sarah’s Key possesses. And I credit all of the talented artists who contributed to making that possible in this film. The writing, editing, cinematography, production design, acting, music and sound are top notch for this small indie film rumored to be made for less than $10 million. Sarah’s Key is an amazing accomplishment for so little money, and a reminder to Hollywood that it’s not the size of the budget of a movie that really matters for its quality. To me its the assembly and collaboration of many talented people unified to tell a great story.

There are two scenes that really stand out for me in the film. The first being the opening with Sarah and her brother tickling and giggling with each other under the covers in bed. The director is clearly showing us the innocent fun times of childhood. The camera work there and that little slice of “happy” to start the film with are an incredible contrast to the darker more “adult” tone of the rest of the film. The second scene that really caught my eye is when Sarah and a fellow young female companion are floating in a murky, muddy river, cleansing themselves. Both of these scenes are just small, idealized, dreamy cinematic sequences that on their own, offer needed artistic moments of escape from the story. Within any horrific context, there’s always still something beautiful to be discovered and seen if one looks for it. And director Paquet-Brenner shares that.

Music composer Max Richter has created an unbelievably perfect music score for Sarah’s Key that not only elevates the film, but is an incredible work to listen to all on its own. The score has mostly a classic sound to it, but Richter also incorporates bits of modern music composition and style as well. It’s one of the best film scores I’ve heard in years. Within the film, the score gives many scenes their emotional gravity, as is typically the case. But something about Richter’s music here stands out from the typical score. And you’ll know it when you hear it.

I could spend a lot more time discussing the themes, ideas and incredible filmmaking prowess present in Sarah’s Key, but I firmly believe in letting movies speak for themselves as well. I’ve given you a little to chew on and hopefully inspire you to see this film, even though on the surface (or by its book cover), Sarah’s Key looks like a “heavy” film. I challenge you to watch it and grab on to it in some manner. It’s movies like this that really give cinema its name. And I’m glad to see that we are still making these films, especially within the broader worldwide cinematic context we are now within.

At the end of Sarah’s Key, my eyes were red from the tears that flowed throughout the film. And my mind was speechless as I just embraced the very strong emotional connection I felt with the story and the film. I’m personally always looking for movies that can give me that kind of experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love the epic, action-filled extravaganzas like Inception (2010) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) as well. But it’s small films like Sarah’s Key that more often fill my cinematic diet now with the nutrition that I need.

 

  

 

 

 

Check out details on this film and its excellent Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.

Jackie Daum – Going To New Mexico

 

As a new filmmaker, I’ve been chomping at the bit to put my skills to work on various projects that showcase my talents, skills, experience, and interests. Ever since I met Jackie Daum back in May 2009, I’ve wanted to work with her on a music video for her debut music album “The Sky Inside”. Two years later, we finally created the opportunity. And the culmination of our creative collaboration is this music video for Jackie’s single “Going To New Mexico”.

About the production process:

Read my previous blog post from right after shooting this video as well.

While typically there’s a lot of pre-production work that goes into creating a music video or a movie, Jackie and I decided that we wanted to have more of a fun, spontaneous process for creating this video. Jackie had gone through a rigorous pre-production process on her “You Give Me Air” video, but wanted to try something different on this project. And I felt up to the challenge as well. Jackie even chose the single Going To New Mexico in sharp contrast to You Give Me Air, which is much slower and more contemplative. We knew Going To New Mexico would be a more fast-paced and energetic video. So the only pre-production work came down to logistical things like figuring out when and where. We settled on a weekend in March of this year and chose for her to visit me in Phoenix, AZ. We knew that we wanted to film in the desert so that we could get a bit of a “New Mexico” look into the song. And parts of Arizona aren’t too far off from looking just like parts of New Mexico.

At the time of shooting, I was living in downtown Tempe, a part of the Phoenix Metro area. One night while driving home, I got the idea of filming some scenes for the video with Jackie walking on the bridge over Tempe Town Lake. But with a large concert going on the night of the shoot, we were confronted with having to shift locations at the last moment. So instead of the bridge, I thought of shooting at a light rail train station nearby, thinking that could present an interesting venue. And of course it did! Our first night of shooting was about 3 hours long. With trains buzzing in and out of the station the entire time, we both felt completely energized there and captured about half of the footage we would end up using in the video at that location.

The next day, we starting driving from Phoenix to Globe via U.S. Highway 60. Jackie had this idea of shooting in front of an old wooden fence. And then BAM! We ran across an old wooden horse corral by a trailhead along the highway. So our second location clicked into place for about 2 hours. We also shot at two further locations along Highway 60, one of which we didn’t end up using at all in the video. I think what guided Jackie and I through this spontaneous process was our mutual commitment to making the video with whatever options presented themselves. I wanted to see simply what we could put together with just the two of us, shooting “guerilla” style! And I think the results speak for themselves. While it could have been nice to have more of a structured narrative weaving through the video, I also like the loose narrative we crafted here.

After shooting, we started editing a rough cut the next day. And we found that we wanted a few additional pieces of footage at the light rail station, so we went back from an hour or two more. And by the time Jackie left Phoenix just 5 days after arriving, we had all the footage for the video and about half of a rough cut. The video then simmered on the back burner for a few months while we both worked on other projects. But we got the opportunity to get back together for more editing for 2-3 days in San Francisco while I was up there on a work trip. We locked ourselves in our “editing studio” and went to work fashioning a full rough cut for the video.

For another month, I worked on the final editing, color correction, and other little touches to finish the video, getting it ready for its world premiere on YouTube on July 13, 2011. In the course of 4 months, we were able to shoot and edit the video and package it for distribution. It was an exciting process with Jackie as an integral part throughout. I couldn’t have done it without her enthusiasm, commitment, energy, and creative ideas! Thank you Jackie…for the opportunity to collaborate and complete my first music video. I’m already planning the shoot for my next one with another musical artist whose a friend of mine. And that one will actually be shot in New Mexico…so looks like I too am “going to New Mexico”!

Purchase Jackie’s music through her website or iTunes.

OneRepublic – Good Life

 

OneRepublic’s latest music video for their song “Good Life” off their album “Waking Up” is fantastic. I love the creativity, simplicity, and design of this production. And the song has really grown on me since I first heard it. I still like “All The Right Moves” and “Secrets” the best on this album, but now that I have the entire album, there are a lot of good songs on it. Including “Made For You” and “Fear”. Check the band out on iTunes and get some of their music if you haven’t already. Clearly this is another talented band, much like Lifehouse and Coldplay…with a heart and soul to their music, but also a solid rock band quality.

I love the clever concept of using art canvas, and its texture, as the visual theme for this video. It really works well here. Giving all of the “canvas” scenes out in the landscape of what looks like New Mexico (or maybe its Northern California) an oil painting look on the canvas texture is a unique style. The brown, green, black colors of that photography, along with the strong contrast, have a nice natural and artistic feel to them. Overall, I can’t say enough about the quality of the music and videos that OneRepublic puts out. This is simply another great example of their work. I look forward to the next one. Enjoy each of the individual photographic paintings below from the video.

Purchase music from OneRepublic on iTunes or Amazon.

 

Redlight King – Old Man

 

Redlight King’s “Old Man” is a really great example of the brilliance that can come from taking something old and giving it new life. From “sampling” someone else’s work to inspire your own. Every artist is inspired by other artists and it comes through either consciously or subconsciously…but it comes through. This is a direct example of one artist taking another artist’s work and giving it a modern remix…reinvigorating it and making it totally badass!! In this case, it’s Neil Young’s “Old Man”. And Redlight King uses it as the canvas for this new musical painting.

When I first heard this song, I was blown away by its pure cool factor. It just oozes old spice, grease, and sweat. It’s a man’s song. Of course the title says so…Duh?!!

I finally checked out the music video for this song today, after purchasing the song on iTunes. I’ve been hearing the song on the radio in the car while driving the last few months…turning up the volume every time it played. But I wanted the song on my iPod finally so that I could turn up the volume at home as well. I absolutely love this music video. It’s just like the song. Pure cool. The photography is simple, gritty, and urban. Just like the song. Filled with out-of-focus detail shots of both the ordinary and extraordinary, the director of photography did a great job capturing the “old man” side of Los Angeles where I assume this video was shot. It’s a look at L.A. that we don’t see often, and I like that. As usual with great photography, the lighting is key, both natural and artificial. Both are used to great effect in this video, the camera capturing magic hour light and nighttime scenes equally well. I have no clue what kind of camera was used to shoot this video, but if I was guessing, I would guess the Canon 5D. It has the look and feel I’ve come to expect from that camera, with extremely shallow depth of field when desired.

Overall, I can’t say enough for how much I appreciate the craft and creativity that went into this song and video. Make sure watch the behind-the-scenes promotional video below about Redlight King as well. It’s also a great piece of work with incredible photography, heartfelt emotion, and plain old soul.

 

 

 

Purchase music from Redlight King at iTunes or Amazon.

The Lonely Island

WARNING:  The content in the videos linked within this blog post are for mature audiences and contain raunchy & explicit language…but they’re also REALLY FUNNY!!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you if this stuff offends you.

I admit that I’m pretty serious and “dramatic” most of the time in my blog posts, reviewing and analyzing movies, music videos, photography, and TV in a professional and intelligent manner. But sometimes all of that just needs to be thrown out the window so you can just enjoy a good laugh. And The Lonely Island (comprised of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) are absolutely brilliant at making me laugh my ass off!!! They even do it in a professional and dramatic way, with music videos that have some of the same production values as mainstream Hollywood movies. With gorgeous photography, production design, epic sound, incredible acting, and everything else you can think of.

I’ve been a little behind on watching The Lonely Island’s hilarious music videos, but I caught up this week after I saw their new music video “3-Way (The Golden Rule)” on the season finale of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Justin Timberlake. It’s the third video in a series done by Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake, which started with “Dick In A Box” and then “Motherlover”, both of which I saw on SNL when they each debuted. All 3 of the videos are just hilarious. It’s great to see an incredibly talented musician and actor like JT willing to participate in making fun of himself and others. Watch the “dick in a box” trilogy in order:

 

 

 

In addition to this series of funny music videos/digital shorts from Saturday Night Live with Justin Timberlake, The Lonely Island have been making their own music albums with big-time featured guest artists. Here are my favorite music videos these guys have come up with so far. Amazingly, some of the music is really good in these videos too, standing on its own! But of course it’s all meant to give us a smile and make us laugh. They say laughter is the best medicine and these guys are in my medicine cabinet for when I need them. I gotta say the Jack Sparrow video with Michael Bolton is probably my favorite of the bunch…it has made me laugh so hard. But all 5 of these are killer!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purchase music from The Lonely Island on iTunes or Amazon. Or just enjoy their music videos over and over like I do.