Thursday, December 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: December 2011

We close the year, appropriately, with the one Christmas movie in the bunch. Love Actually is one of Mrs. Mosley's favorite films. Ejiofor doesn't have much to say, but there is this memorable exchange:

Peter: "Who is it?"

Juliet: "It's carol singers."

Peter: "Well, give them a quid and tell them to bugger off!"

Folks, as you've seen the posts get smaller and smaller here at Acrentropy, you have probably guessed I am winding it down with blogging (and you would be right). As part of that, I'm shuttering the "Quote-of-the-Month" posts, which has been the only regular feature of this blog since I started it back in 2004. The big film project is also on hold until I find sometime in between family and (increasingly irritating) work.

I've made statements before on how I'll be slowing down only to do anything but, yet If the past six months are any indication, this time it's the real thing. For those few of you who turned in over the years, I thank you for your appreciation.

Take care, folks. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Secret Santa LEGO

Life has put my dream project on hold, but I have kept my hand into LEGO just to keep myself sane. In this case, I signed up for a Secret Santa exchange through the members at BrickLink. My designated guy expressed a liking of Pirates of the Caribbean sets, so taking that as inspiration, I created a spiffy treasure chest (with loot and monkey)!


The priciest piece that I had to order were the six tan arches (Part 6183), which were only available in a couple of Star Wars sets from 2003 and 2004. Overall, I'm very pleased with the result. I can only hope that the LEGO fan in Montana I was assigned likes it as well. Merry X-mas!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: November 2011

There are some movies that are required to pull off an interesting balancing act. Two characters are thrown together that appear to be polar opposites: One is uptight and the other is wild and crazy. This is the classic buddy cop mold, but it's used for much more than cop movies. The balancing part is having both characters appeal to the audience without going to an extreme with their behavior so that it turns them off.

We get a prime example of that with Talk to Me. In that film, we have a wild and crazy ex-con DJ named Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) and an uptight radio station executive named Dewey Hughes (Ejiofor). From the beginning of the movie, we like Greene and his over-the-top personality, but we also feel bad for Hughes and the trouble that Greene has given him. So when the two meet in a pool hall to settle their differences over a game of nine ball (while a crowd of bar patrons look on), It's nice to see Hughes totally turn the tables and surprise the hell out of Greene:

Greene: "I'm about to run this rack."

Hughes: "You're chalking up your cue a little heavy there, ain't you? I mean, that ain't your cellmate's dick you're holding."

(Man in the crowd laughes)

Greene: "Just for that, I'm gonna drop the nine ball off the break."

Hughes: "Nigga, you couldn't drop your drawers to fuck The Supremes if all three of them was lying butt-naked on this table."

(Astonishment from the crowd)

Hughes: "What's the matter, big time? You thinking about all that money lying in your lady's lap? Is that why you're sweating? Or maybe it's all that whiskey you've been sucking on. Or maybe you're sweating 'cause you know that even if you give it your best shot, you still might leave 'em standing. 'Cause this ain't Lorton anymore. This is the real world. And you ain't shit out here."

Green: "Are you through?"

Hughes: "Knock 'em down, champ."

(Petey breaks and fails to sink a ball)

Petey: "Damn!"

Hughes: "Too bad, big time. I had faith in you. One ball, corner. (sinks the one) Two ball, side pocket. (sinks the two) Three ball, corner. (sinks the three) See, negroes always think that if you speak correct English, or you wear clothes other than clown suits, that you're not real. Four ball, side pocket. (sinks the four) And to you, what's real is a nigga loud-mouthing, right? Telling everybody how bad he is while he's looking for a handout. Five. (sinks the five) But you give him a chance to take what's his, and he can't sink one single ball. Six. (sinks the six) Lucky seven! (sinks the seven, the crowd is impressed) Now, you were so busy running your mouth, you never really asked yourself why I chose a pool hall to meet. 'Cause this uppity nigga could never have grown up in these projects, or made his way through school hustling dumbass niggas who thought he wasn't down. (sinks the last two balls) They call me Mr. Hughes. Grew up in the Anacostia projects."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: October 2011

Sometimes it's bloody difficult to get these quotes. Although all of the actors are stellar and they do wonderfully with the roles they are given, some are not necessarily quip-worthy. I remember wanting to use Mountains on the Moon (which I had seen many years before) for one of the Delroy Lindo quotes back in 2007. When I sat down and watched it again, I discovered that Lindo stayed mute for most of the film. Scratch that one.

That being said, I had none of these problems with Kinky Boots. It's probably a rule of Hollywood that if you're going to play a drag queen in a movie, you're going to get some of the best lines in it. And if you happen to be the star of the film, well, it's all you, baby. Ejiofor plays Lola with all the style and sass at his command, which is a lot. Picking a line from so many is a difficult task, but I'll happily dive in:
Lola: "I'm not merely a transvestite, sweetheart. I'm also a drag queen. It's a simple equation. A drag queen puts on a frock, looks like Kylie. A transvestite puts on a frock, looks like... Boris Yeltsin in lipstick. There, I said it."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: September 2011

With the exception of Redbelt (which I am not counting out of personal animosity), none of the films we have covered so far have exactly been chatty. Oh sure, Serenity has awesome dialogue, but I'm thinking chatty in terms of like a stage play. Ejiofor is such a poised, fiercely intelligent actor, such a film would be an ideal place to watch him do his thing.

Endgame is part of the "Masterpiece Contemporary" series from PBS. It's the story of how a series of secret discussions on a remote estate in the UK helped to bring peace to South Africa and end apartheid. Ejiofor plays Thabo Mbeki, head representative of the African National Congress during the talks. And that's what they are: Talks. Oh sure, we get some action and suspense here and there, but mostly we get Ejiofor sitting at a table and drawing us in with his words. It's all the more appropriate, then, that his introduction is as a speaker to some UK bigwigs as he pleads his case:


“My name is Thabo Mbeki, and I am a terrorist. No doubt, that is what you have been told. (opens jacket) No incendiary devices. No concealed weapons. I am just a man, as you are. Every day, the president of South Africa, under the mantle of his state of emergency, deploys thousands more of his troops in the townships, brutally crushing the rising resistance to his oppressive regime. Yet the United Kingdom is still one of South Africa’s leading trading partners. Every company, every financial institution which continues to invest there is a source of political and economic strength to P.W. Botha. If it is true that money talks, then let it speak clearly. Let your voice join ours when we say the bloodshed of our people must end. The time to shout ‘enough’ has come. The time for you to act is here."

Monday, August 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: August 2011

When John Singleton took a whack at remaking Shaft in 2000, it didn't impress a lot of people (myself included). The new film was too slick and too Hollywood, which stood in stark contrast to the gritty piece of New York art that Gordon Parks shot on location in 1971. And though the reboot had an able assist from king ass-kicker Samuel L. Jackson, the movie just couldn't capture that same magic.

Flash forward five years later and Singleton releases Four Brothers, which seems to have some of what his Shaft remake lacked: Run down buildings, freezing weather, and a couple of main characters who do nothing to hide their true nature as out-and-out thugs. Ejiofor, as the main villain Victor Sweet, doesn't get to do nearly as many physical beat downs as Mark Wahlberg does, but that's only because he's one of those villains who doesn't have to. He specializes in verbal intimidation and humiliation, and his introductory speech to his crew gives the audience of good idea of this.


Victor Sweet: "Out-of-town shooters. That's what I said. I remember hearing myself saying, 'Out-of-town shooters.' You know what? You don't pay a ho to fuck you. You pay her to leave. What you pay out-of-town shooters to do? You pay them to get the hell back out of town. That's why I asked for out-of-town shooters. What'd I get? In-town shooters. Someone decided to hire in-town shooters. You know what else I got for my money? In-town police. In-town trouble. Who's got to get in the ring with me on this?"

Friday, July 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: July 2011

Children of Men, by any measure, is one of the best Sci-Fi films to come out in the past ten years. It's also a lesson in how a book adaptation needn't be faithful in order to produce a great movie. I read the original book by P.D. James before the film came out and thought it was a moving story. The film took quite a bit of liberties while retaining the bare bones plot, but there's little arguing with the results.

Our protagonist Theo (Clive Owen) lives in a future where pregnancies have suddenly stopped and the human population is in the midst of it's slow shuffle to extinction. He is soon recruited by an old flame to help her radical group transport a refugee out of the country. Something goes wrong and they have to retreat to a safe house, where upon the refugee takes Theo aside and shows him that she's actually pregnant. Chiwetel plays one of the radicals, Luke, and arrives just after Theo finds out.

Luke: “When you’re ready, come inside. Everybody’s arrived.”

Theo: “She’s pregnant.”

Luke: “Now you know what’s at stake.”

Theo: “But, she’s pregnant.”

Luke: “Yeah, I know. (pause) It’s a miracle, isn’t it?”

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Ten": The First Shot

So, here we are: The first shot. And, true to form, I didn't pick an easy one.


The very first shot of the film after the opening credits will be a slow zoom up the skyscraper. That shot will dissolve into another slow zoom up to the window of the Office. That's the shot we're working on today.

Originally, I thought we might be able to pull this off with stop motion. I even created a dolly platform to measure out each shot as the camera moved forward. This didn't turn out so well, however, and I decided to go with straight video.

This would involve mounting the camera and rig on wheels and slowly moving in to the Governor. At the same time, the elevator doors would open behind him. The gears I had previously shown didn't work too smoothly, so I had to redo this setup so that it worked at the push of a button (or rather, a LEGO axle).


After a number of tries and a rearranging of lights, I finally got my shot. I haven't the video to show you, but enjoy these behind-the-scenes shots of the set.




Next time: The Meeting

Saturday, June 04, 2011

"Ten": The Gamechanger

The title of this week's update has two meanings. First off, I am going to depart my rigid weekly schedule of postings. Things get bust and sometimes I don't have the time to make a Saturday update every week, so I'll instead be posting whenever I have something to post (whatever that might be). Rest assured, the next post really will be the First Shot.

The second is a discovery I made just last night. I had just done some test shots and processed them in Power Director with some unsatisfactory results. Whenever I converted the video to Black and White by lowering the color saturation, the video turned splotchy and wholly unacceptable. Then I started playing around with the camera and found, lo and behold, an option to shoot in Black and White. I'm pretty sure I had already checked before for this option and didn't find it. For whatever reason, it was easier to find this time around.

So, things are looking up. Stay tuned for info on the First Shot any day now... except Saturday.

Next time: The First Shot

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: June 2011

This month, we once again return to the realm of David Mamet. What I have stated previously about Mamet remains true: Mamet dialogue is not natural dialogue. It may be catchy and it may be memorable, but it is not what I would call natural.

The degree of how his style makes an imprint on a script varies from film to film. Back in 2007, I highlighted the film Heist for February's Delroy Lindo quote. Of that film, I only have good memories of an exciting and clever crime film. And as evidenced by the use of the film for Delroy, it had it's share of great dialogue too.

But then there are films like Redbelt, where the style goes to ridiculous levels and impedes any enjoyment of the film itself. Now normally, these monthly posts are to highlight a great line of dialogue by the actor chosen for the given year. In Ejiofor's case, who stars in the film, I'm sure he's given some great lines. I wouldn't know as I stopped watching 20 minutes in.

So instead of showcasing a great line, I'm going to show how Mamet's style can border on the ridiculous. First, let me present a skit from the MST3K episode "Prince of Space" that will put a smile on any science fiction fan's face.



Clever, huh? I can't imagine what a pain in the ass it was to write that scene. Now let's look at an early dialogue scene from Redbelt between Mike (Ejiofor) and Gini (played by Cathy Cahlin Ryan):

Gini: "Joe still inside?"

Mike: "No, he just left."

Gini: "Left?"


Mike: "Yeah, maybe he went to the club."

Gini: "What happened to the window?"

Mike: "Isn't he on at the club?"

Gini: "Um, that's funny."

Mike: "Weren't you going to the mountains?"

Gini: "Why would he go to the club?"

Mike: "Isn't he working tonight?"

Gini: "The club? No. No, no, no. He hasn't worked at the club in months. Listen, uh, I have to tell him something. Okay? Tell him."

Mike: "Why?"

Gini: "Why what?"

Mike: "Why hasn't he been working there?"

Gini: "Yeah, I know. Listen, I gotta get home."
Ack! Unfortunately for Mamet, he can't blame such conversations as this on Time/Space distortions. Too bad. It would have made for a more interesting film.

That is two bad Ejiofor films in a row. For July, I promise a good one. Until then.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Ten": The Storyboard

Storyboarding is a lot of fun. While creating them, I think back to watching "Making of" specials when I was kid showing Spielberg and Lucas doing the same for their films.

Instead of the random-sheets-of-loose-paper method I've used in the past, I got a mini notebook earlier this year for the sole purpose of the storyboard.

And here, dear reader, is a sneak peak at the first several pages:





Some explanations are needed here. The first page of the book (not shown) is a key that shows the layout of the first scene location (The Office) and creates a notation system in regards to the camera. There are letters for the four walls that indicate which wall will need to be removed for this particular shot (thus the minus sign in front of the letter). The first shot has the office enclosed, but the remaining either involve the Front wall removed or the Back wall removed. I also have notations as to if the camera is still (Full stop) or moving (In motion), and the further notations if the shot will be Stop motion or Video. Finally, I have the beginnings of lines from the script to indicate where the shot is in terms of the dialogue.

Sorry, folks. That's all the movie magic I have time for tonight. It's time to turn in and get some sleep before we start toilet training little C.C. tomorrow morning (Ah, the joys of parenthood). G'night!

Next Week: The Gamechanger

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Ten": The... aw, who am I kiddin'?

No post this week as I'm on the road (And yet, I'm publishing a post. SCIENCE!).

Besides, the world is going to end sometime today, so who has time for LEGO?

See you next Saturday.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Ten": The Camera Equipment

The camera I'm using for this project is the same one I used for the other three: A Canon Powershot A570. It has a video option, which will come in handy. Though, as I have already implied, I'm going to try and rely less on video this time out.

When I did the first short, I knew I was going to need a rig to keep the camera steady. It seemed natural to create one out of LEGO that could, if need be, actually attach to the LEGO floor for some shots. Though the rig went through several redesigns in the four years I created it, it's more or less the same basic design:



Nothing fancy here. The key part to the rig is the Technic Engine Cylinder, and the reason it is key is the hole in the middle where a Technic piston would normally go. In this case, it proved the perfect size for the screw I found that matched the threads in the tripod mount at the bottom of the camera. The Technic Engine Cylinder on the other side simply serves to balance the rig out. Matched with some pins and blocks, the rig worked perfectly.



It was a fine build, but it didn't solve problems I needed with higher angle shots. Fortunately, Mrs. Mosley purchased a new digital camera several years ago and it came with a mini tripod, which I will be borrowing for the project.



There is one more piece of equipment to show (and one of which I am quite proud of), but I am going to save that for the post on the first shot two weeks from now. Until then...

In Two Weeks: The Storyboard

Saturday, May 07, 2011

"Ten": The Lesson Plan

Though I came up with most of the film making techniques and tricks on my own the first three times out, I realized with this new one I would need help. Fortunately, as with every other endeavor, there is support to be found on the Internet.

I started by studying those YouTube stop motion films I had come across over the years that I admired. Fancy Pants Productions produces some quality work, including their most famous short, The Force Unleashed. Although I don't plan of having any light sabers in my film, the fight choreography is of great interest to me for my own big fight scene. They also have some lovely tutorials on lighting, camera movement, recording voices and other animation techniques.

Custard Productions is another one of the YouTube LEGO powerhouses. They reached fame very early on when they recreated the Dark Knight trailer in LEGO mere days after the trailer debuted (That's some fast work there, boys). That video went viral and they've been at it ever since showcasing their adherence to violence through a prodigious use of Brickarms.

Then there are the websites devoted to LEGO stop motion. Brickfilms is one I've consulted now and again since I started doing these years ago. Bricks in Motion is another that I discovered only recently and looks very promising. And a special note should be made for LegoMatrix, which is an entire site devoted to one short film that recreates a scene from The Matrix in LEGO. The creators have the entire process broken down by shot-by-shot, which makes for a fascinating study in the stop-motion art.

The lessons don't stop with LEGO, either, as I endeavored to learn the ins and outs of Power Director through their own YouTube channel. Then there are lessons to be learned in regards to Audacity and ZynAddSubFX, which are the excellent (and free) audio editing and production softwares (respectively). Unfortunately, they do not have their own YouTube channels, but plenty of users have posted their own tutorials so I won't have any problems there. (Correction: Someone in the comments corrected me and pointed out there is, indeed a YouTube channel for ZynAddSubFX. Thank you, Paul! I don't know how I missed that.)

The time is now approaching for me to study all this because I will be shooting actual footage very soon.

Next Week: The Camera Equipment

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: May 2011

I'm going to be quick this month and choose a movie that I haven't seen and never want to see: 2012. And given that I haven't seen it, I'm just pulling one of Ejiofor's lines completely out of context from the IMDb entry and you can have at it:
Adrian Helmsley: "The Director of the Louvre was an enemy of humanity?"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Ten": The Going Concern

That post title may be wishful thinking, but we're trying to be optimistic here.

Three months ago, I posted about the LEGO store I had opened for the primary purpose of funding my project. It turned out to work very well, and I was able to buy all sorts of parts that I needed with some Paypal funds left over for several non-LEGO related items.

Three weeks ago, Mrs. Mosley became interested in this and proposed making it a family business. We would put forward some money for buying LEGO on the cheap and then selling it in the store. She became very enthused about it, and I myself got excited when I happened upon some massive clearance sales at the K-marts in town. I ended up buying several hundred dollars of LEGO sets (mostly from the outgoing Toy Story line) for less than a third of their normal prices. This was going to be fun!

Alas, just about the time we started this, the sales at the store (which had been fairly consistent since I opened it) suddenly dried up. As of this post, we haven't had a sale since April 11th. It was disheartening, particularly for Mrs. Mosley, but I have reassured her that it's bound to bounce back. We'll eventually make a profit on the sets we bought with the seed money (though most of them have been put into storage and will only be offered several years later when all the store copies are gone).

This post is let you know about the store, and also for myself to keep a list of hyperlinks to the places I need to check for LEGO to buy with our remaining seed money (and if you want to use them too, knock youself out!):

Craigslist

LEGO Store Deals

Amazon

Kmart

Walmart

Toys R Us


Next Week: The Lesson Plan

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Ten": The Office (Part Three)

I'm going the full "Gregg Toland" on this project, which means the ceiling will be visible in this room. I was able to take advantage of a fistful of windows I had grabbed at one of my last visits to Pick-a-brick at Downtown Disney. These were placed in a grid pattern inside a frame of black bricks. This is the result.


The ceiling itself is does not cover the entire room but only about 3/4 of it. I need to have some room where the camera is for closeups and the ceiling would have gotten in the way. With this design, it can slide back and forth and hold it's position onto any combination of walls depending on the shot (The two notches of ceiling flanking the window bank are permanent pieces since I won't need to put the camera there).

The final element was the elevator and doors. I had done the swooshy "Star Trek" doors before in the Blast Reynolds short, but those doors were operated individually. This time, I wanted a single control to open and close the doors smoothly at the same time. So, we bring out the gears.



The turning of one gear turns the rest of them and the doors open and close simultaneously. This will make filming a bit easier. And so, we now have our Office.


Finally, here is a test shot, converted to B&W and widescreen dimensions:


Next Week: The Going Concern

Friday, April 22, 2011

Indiana Jones and "The Chicago Way"

(Earlier this month, my grandfather-in-law Don wrote a post in his brand new blog that was based on a discussion I had with him several years ago on the morality of heroes in contemporary Hollywood films. My response ended up being so long that I went ahead and turned it into a post. Go have a look at his original essay before reading mine. It'll make more sense that way.)

One of the most famous scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark came about because of dysentery. As the story goes, the original script directed Indiana Jones to disarm a hulking swordsman with his whip. Harrison Ford, however, was suffering from food poisoning that day and suggested to Steven Spielberg that Indiana would more likely just shoot the guy. And so, cinematic history was made.

Spielberg has stated repeatedly that his intention in creating this film was to pay tribune to those old Republic serials of the 1940's. In those films, the heroes very much wore white hats (if not in the literal sense) and the villains were very black-hearted foes indeed. But with the post war period and the rise of film noir, our heroes started to take on a grayer sheen. Their motivations weren't always so pure and their actions weren't always so ethical, but we rooted for them anyway because, on the whole, they fought for the forces of good.

Looking at Harrison Ford's other iconic role of Han Solo in Star Wars, we get a prime example of this. Here we have an independent beholden to no one and not above petty crimes such as smuggling to make his living. In a character-defining scene early on in the film, he shoots a bounty hunter under a table as his opponent holds a gun on him and jokes about killing him.

Is it self defense? Yes, but not exactly what you'd call fair play. Yet in 1997 when Lucas made a modification to this scene so that Greedo shoots first, there was a fan uproar that was deafening. In his book "On Writing", Stephen King wrote that you can write anything as an author as long as you tell the truth. In simpler terms, you must be true to your characters. Lucas's little edit might have made Han's actions more morally acceptable, but it struck a false cord with a character that had been embraced for his flaws.

Getting back to Indiana Jones, the swordsman scene as scripted could have been taken out of one of the old serials that Spielberg loved so much: An honorable fight between two great opponents. And though Indiana is clearly Han Solo's moral superior (he "steals", yes, but not for a profit), his decision to shoot the guy comes at the halfway mark in the film after we have seen Indiana endure so much already. Again, it comes down to character, and his expression of "I really don't have time for this" says all that needs to be said about his character's actions.

Which brings us to The Untouchables. Like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is meant to be a fun action film. Unlike those two films, it's not the escapism of Sci-Fi or Treasure Hunting Adventure. We're dealing here with real history and real people that once existed. Furthermore, the film is directed by Brian De Palma, who on the whole produces more disturbing films that his contemporaries Lucas and Spielberg. The Untouchables was one of his few stabs (a successful one, most would agree) at a more mainstream popular entertainment.

And yet... and yet we are presented with a scene that causes problems with some viewers. In it, lawman Elliot Ness is pursuing a hitman on a rooftop. The hitman starts to descend a rope and Ness traps him there with his gun drawn. There is a moment of consideration on Ness's face, but he soon helps the hitman up and starts to escort him into custody. While crossing the roof, the hitman brags about killing Ness's friend. Ness then force marches/runs the handcuffed hitman to the side of the building and pushes him off, where he dies on the street below.

This is the scene that Don has an objection to and I understand it completely. Coincidentally, about twenty years ago when I was attending UNF, I had an argument with a fellow film buff about this very same scene. It became very heated as he was angry that we were acting so indifferent to a scene that upset him so. Yet his objection was not to the immorality of the action per se, but rather the action being performed by a character that, so far in the film, had very much been a by-the-book cop. I never asked him about his opinion on Han and Greedo or Indiana and the Swordsman, but I can imagine he would be less bothered by those two scenes because of the characters involved.

Yet one can make arguments in defense of Ness's actions. As my grandfather-in-law pointed out, he seemed to be in a fit of rage when he pushed the hitman off the roof. More importantly, his memory was jogged when the hitman mentioned Jim Malone. As Malone told Ness in a church earlier in the film:



Malone: "You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?"

Ness: "Anything within the law."

Malone: "And then what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead."

Ness: "I want to get Capone! I don't know how to do it."

Malone: "You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!"


If a man pulls a sword on you, you pull a revolver. If a man pulls a blaster on you over a table, you pull one under it. Malone, it seems, would be in good company with Indiana and Han.

But let me address some other aspects of Don's essay and we'll get back to Mr. Ness in a moment. In terms of sadism and cruelty by heroes and villains alike, I think this is largely confined to the period of the 1980's when our action heroes were played by actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stalone. It's been noted by many a film buff that the Reagan era produced action films that were particularly brutal, such as the unapologetically violent Commando, which is the film where Schwarzenegger holds a man over a cliff edge and drops him. It's a film that really symbolizes the era, and not in a good way.

Platoon is also from this era, but I don't think it belongs in the same group as the action vehicles described above. Yes, there is action, but the film is at its core a drama about how people can lose their moral center when in the middle of a war zone. Yes, the actions taken by Chris are reprehensible, but I think the film is never meant to be looked upon as a white hat/black hat affair. There are too many shades of gray when you’re knee deep in the muck. (Speaking of War films with moral ambiguity, I would point you to my essay on The Dirty Dozen and how it presents us with flawed heroes, only to drive home at the end that they were used to do the "dirty" work that needed to be done while the more noble soldiers fought the "good fight".)

The last example noted in Don's essay was Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Given that this film was made in 2000, it doesn't have the excuse of 1980's excess to fall back on, but it does have Mel Gibson. There was an article that I read around the time Apocolypto came out that reviewed how many of the films involving Mel, whether actor or director, have a measure of sadism.

Mel getting tortured with electric shocks in Lethal Weapon.

Mel getting tortured with needles in Conspiracy Theory.

Mel getting his toes smashed with claw hammer, one by one, in Payback.

Mel getting sllloooowwwlllyyy drawn and quartered in Braveheart.

Then there are his two non-starring directorial efforts: The Passion of the Christ and the aforementioned Apocolypto. Both received generally favorable reviews, but critics were quick to warn off people who have queasy stomachs.

But quicker than you can say "What's my motivation?", you can see the clear line running through most of these films: Threat to family and loved ones. This is the reasoning/excuse that will dismiss almost any behavior by the hero imaginable. Schwarzenegger in Commando going after his kidnapped daughter. Gibson in The Patriot defending his family and avenging his son. With this, you have two age groups satisfied: Young boys who tend to enjoy violence in and of itself are pleased, and older viewers (who should know better) are able to put aside moral objections because they know that they would do anything for their loved ones as well.

But lets look at the villains. More so than heroes, villains are usually of the two-dimensional sort, and that's not confined to a particular decade. That's just a result of poor scriptwriting, which will forever and always be with us. But I'd like to offer evidence that there are glimmers of hope in this area. Some of the most successful action films of the past fifteen years have been impressively nuanced with their villain character portraits. Take The Matrix, where we get a marvelous monologue from Agent Smith on how his actions are motivated not by riches or power or love of violence, but from the desire to escape an environment he finds repellent. In essence, he tells Morpheus that he’s simply trying to complete his job so he can leave work and go home. That’s a motivation we can all appreciate.

Then there is the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, where Captain Barbossa explains to Elizabeth Swann how their quest is not riches but to simply have the undead curse lifted from them. “I feel nothing”, says Barbossa for emphasis. It’s not a haughty threat from an overconfident villain, but the plea of a desperate man. When he finally gets his wish, he is cruelly shot and his last words are “I feel… cold”. He dies, but you get the feeling that he died with a level of satisfaction that he died a feeling human being.

The crazy thing about these two films is that they didn't really need to go this extra length (and they are therefore all the more commendable for doing so). The rise in Sci-Fi and Fantasy have granted filmmakers permission to present bad guys that are embodied in forms other than human, which means that their motivations aren't entirely necessary to map out. Aliens, mutants, zombies, robots and every other hip genre trope allow our heroic leads to mow them down with wild abandon with little thought to moral consequence. One can imagine what a bloodbath a film would be that had the hero fighting rampaging aliens who had also kidnapped his daughter.

But getting back to Ness, I'd like to close this essay out by comparing his rooftop scene with a scene in the Sci-Fi show "Firefly". For those unfamiliar, It is set 500 years in the future where a totalitarian government called the Alliance rules over all the planets that humans have been able to inhabit. A renegade ship captained by Mal Reynolds tries to avoid the Alliance as best he can and make a living doing jobs that are often less than legal (and if that sounds awfully familiar to certain character and ship from Star Wars, give yourself a gold star). Mal once fought a rebellion against the Alliance but lost, and the loss of this war left Mal disillusioned and without a cause to fight for (More on this in a moment).

In the episode “The Train Job”, he and his crew are hired by a ruthless gangster to rob a train of certain goods. After the job is done, Mal finds out that the stolen material was much needed medicine for a remote settlement of farmers. He decides to return it to the proper owners, which brings the gangster's henchmen down on him like a ton of bricks. He and his crew defeat them, and then we are given this scene:



In a number of ways, it’s very similar to the scene in Untouchables: The Hero attempts to do the right thing, but the villain mouths off once too often and compels the Hero to give a little push that results in the (handcuffed) villain’s death. Both scenes are played for comedy (it’s a darker humor for sure, but humor none the less), but it’s overplayed in the Untouchables. Whereas Mal does what he does for very practical reasons (eliminating the need to run from this maniac for the rest of his life) and it’s something he very briefly debates over in his head before doing it, Ness commits his act out of rage and is allowed not one, but two one-liners after the deed is done (“Did he sound anything like that?” “He’s in the car.”). Of course, Untouchables was made in the 1980's, and delivering one-liner’s after dispatching an opponent were practically required in action films of that era.

"Firefly" was sadly cancelled after only one season, but it was allowed to be spun of into the 2005 feature film Serenity that wrapped up most of the major plot strands quite nicely. Mal, who had always exhibited a core of decency in the show towards his friends and the oppressed, finally found a cause to fight for again, and through this he becomes the true hero he was always destined to be. It was a wonderful capper to a wonderful saga, and emblamatic of the rocky path some heroes take. Not all of our movie heroes are that well drawn, but we cherish the few that are.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Ten": The Office (Part Two)

Sadly, the Office was not completed this week, but significant progress was made that I can share with you. As you can see below, the walls were finished as were the windows. You can get a better idea of how dramatic and striking I wanted those windows to be.



I added a free-standing globe to the far left corner, and you can see some parts of the wall with studs on them. I plan on placing some kind of paintings or maps there at a later date. With the studs already there, all I will have to do is stick them on.



And here we have the major furnishings for the office: Two guest chairs, the governor's chair (slightly larger, natch) and a desk roughly the size of an aircraft carrier.



This is an exaggeration, but the desk is pretty huge. I had originally wanted to do a non-rectangular design similar to the desk in the Metropolis picture I posted last week. This proved difficult, so I decided to go with a rectangle. For a smooth surface, I would need to use multiple tile pieces which would mean the desk would not have a uniform sheen to it. Then I thought of these massive 10 x 16 tiles I have from one of the Batman sets. It initially seemed too large, but it really started to grow on me and I'm liking size more and more. It suits the room and it's occupant.



One last thing for the week: The family got to all visit Chamblin's Bookmine together this morning. And as I was chasing little C.C. around, I came across a section of hardcover adventure novels for young boys printed in the early sixties. I picked one up for $7.00.


This isn't precisely the genre I'm aiming for with the film, but it could still provide some inspiration on the areas I haven't completely figured out yet. Besides, it should be a fun read.

Next Week: The Office (Part Three)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

"Ten": The Office (Part One)

In Metropolis, the shot of the skyscraper transitions to an office near the top of the building. To further steal, uh, I mean pay homage to the 1927 film, this is exactly what I'm going to do. We've seen the skyscraper already, so let's look at the office:


Impressive. And I wanted to duplicate that feeling with mine. I went through two different sizes for the base floor of the office before I arrived at 32 x 32, which was much larger than the previous two versions. Though the first two seemed to be large enough on a practical level, they simply didn't have the grandeur I wanted to communicate. Now that I have ended up making the room the size of a crater plate, this should no longer be a problem:


Incidentally, those four gray corner pieces with the holes in the sides were used for a reason, which I'll get to in a moment. For now, we need to add a a layer of black pieces to solidify the structure and then, on top of that, the brown pieces that make up my "wood floor". Like so:


This is another case of me being ridiculously anal. It's a black and white film, so you'll never see it as a wood floor because you don't see the brown. Next comes the bases for the walls, which are shown here:


Ah, but why did I build the base for the walls separately? This is why:


The four sides click into place and can be removed individually in order to place the camera for shooting. I used the same method for the Hypersleep room in Blast Reynolds and the town square in Tale of two Robots. With the time I had left this week, I built the walls up to the chair rail that extends all the way around the room:


I hope to have the room done by next week and not have to go into a "Part Three" with the blog posts. I still have some furniture to build, the remainder of the walls, the ceiling with lights and the sliding door mechanism. So I'm not done yet by a long shot.

Next Week: The Office (Part Two)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"Ten": The Three Month Update

So here we are at the one quarter mark and progress has been good. All of the larger props have been built, and so I must soon advance to the sets. There will be four sets in all: The Governor's Office, the Hero's Jet Hanger, the outside of the Villain's silo (on the moon's surface) and the interior of the silo (underground). The Office will be the first to be built.


Outside of building, business at the Bricklinks store continues on very steadily. I was even able to use some of my profits to get Mrs. Mosley an anniversary gift last March. My only regret is that I didn't know about Bricklink back in 2007. If I had, I would have bought every friggin Batman set Tuesday Morning had. The Minifigs alone would have netted me a 100% profit from what I paid and I would have still had a huge load of bricks left for my collection. Oh, well.


One piece of business to be addressed very soon is the perfection of the green screen. I want to go ahead and get a piece of green cloth for the purpose so that it's large and seamless enough that I don't have to concern myself with shifting around that piece of poster board. The table that I set up for my studio runs right up against some tall, black metal shelving, which will be ideal for hanging the fabric from.


That's all for now. See you next Saturday.


Next Week: The Office (Part One)

Friday, April 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: April 2011

Mrs. Mosley and I sat down for a movie night recently and watched Angelina Jolie kick all sorts of ass in Salt. It really is a fun ride, and Jolie has a good time with it. Ejiofor plays Peabody, who is the man chasing Salt. The fact that he is an agent in pursuit of a gorgeous woman who is incredibly deadly in hand-to-hand combat was not lost on Mrs. Mosley as she turned to me during the film and said, "So, he's the Operative".

Not quite, but a bit of that coldness came through in one great exchange between Peabody and Salt's partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber):

Peabody: "Protocol is clear. We bring her in or we bring her down."

Winter: "Do you have any idea who this woman is? What she's done for this country? Does that mean anything to you?"

Peabody: "Should it?"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Ten": The (Re)Cast

I ended up changing quite a bit with the original cast and thought I'd share that this week. Instead of a crowded group shot, let's look at them in terms of the scenes that the characters share.


The first scene is between the Governor and our Hero. Clothes and hair changed in both characters. For hair, the color stayed the same, but I was able to acquire (through BrickLink) some more detailed, nicer looking hair pieces.

For clothes, I changed the Governor's blue suit for a different black suit. When I learned that I would have to sand down the necks for easier head movement (as opposed to hollowing out the heads), I became reluctant to do that to the blue suit as it goes for a nice price on BrickLink. I'm not selling it yet, but I like to keep my options open.

The Hero's outfit changed completely because I reconsidered his role. At first, he was going to be a member of the military forces, which meant he wore a uniform. But I decided he should be an independent adventurer kind of like the Sky Captain, so he gets a bomber jacket that I thinks suits him more. Plus, as an independent, he doesn't have to explain to his boss why he hasn't shaved in three days.


After he leaves the Governor, our Hero suits up and meets with his crew in preparation for takeoff. Less changed here as the Hero's spacesuit is the same. The crew's Power Miner overalls are also the same, though I changed their helmets to a darker color and added a visor for when they are doing dangerous work. Also, one of the two crew heads are different. The remaining flesh heads I had for the crew looked virtually identical, so I got a new one off of BrickLink and there we are.


As I said in the original Cast post, I was unsure with the helmet colors of the bad guys and thought I might purchase some extra black helmets for them. I'm glad I did as the faces really pop now and will be much more satisfying in the fight scenes. I also ditched the robot and gave that torso to the lead bad guy so that he shared a similar look to his henchmen.

So now I'm done with the cast (I think).

Next Week: The Three Month Update

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Ten": The Prototype

The Prototype is the spacecraft our Hero uses to fly to the Villain's moon base. My goal was to build a futuristic looking jet that communicates the ability for great speed while also being "functional" (i.e. has a cockpit that a minifig can fit into and theoretically work). This required some LEGO skills that I do not have a great abundance of, but I like to think that after so many weeks work, I did a pretty good job of it.





The very first obstacle was the wings. My original vision was that it should be shaped like a dart and have three fins equidistant apart (think of a tiny cousin of the Star Wars Lambda-class shuttle). I quickly realized, however, that wings pointing downward would make it difficult for the gliding crash landing it has to perform on the moon's surface. Not wanting the wings to be boringly horizontal, I pointed the tips up to just a degree.

This is easier said than done, and the method of attaching the wings to the body at such an angle was quite a chore. Once the method of joining was decided upon, the shape of the wings was next. I really wanted to use SNOT methods with their construction (which is a LEGO term for Studs Not On Top). Having them in a forward-pointing orientation eventually allowed me to create the most aerodynamic design. I was particularly happy with some unique arch pieces from the recent "Prince of Persia" purchase for the back of the wings. A nice fluid design.


The cockpit needed to be detailed and visible, given that we will have multiple shots of the hero sitting inside it. I went through all the different LEGO windscreens there were available and found the best one for the job already in my collection. It had a wide curved pane that wouldn't distort or block the Hero's face in the shots during the flight. Finding the best way for it to fit the ship and appear to have an "airtight" seal was another chore, but eventually resolved itself. Of course, the most fun portion of this was putting in the instrumentation, including a new piece for the main computer screen right in front of the pilot.


And so, that's it. I'm going to take about a week's break now that it's done. Next week, we'll cover some changes I've already made to our cast of characters.

Next Week: The (Re)Cast

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Ten": The Missile and the Corpse

This week was to deal with "The Prototype", but that project is proving more difficult than I had thought, so we have a pair of simpler builds to showcase today.


The first is pretty simple: The Missile. This is the deadly projectile that our hero is sent to stop. Notice there is no detailed bottom to it, and that's because the bottom of the missile will never be in the shot. We'll see the top of it as the hero approaches the silo on the moon's surface and we'll see the shaft as he is in the silo, but never the bottom.

One further note about this build: Over 50% of it is made from parts I recently purchased through Brinklink store proceeds. That little shop is quite productive!


This second build requires some back story. I've been collecting LEGO since I was a kid and I still have parts from Classic Space sets stretching back to the mid 1980's. Now, LEGO is not indestructible. It develops wear and tear in the form of scratches, dirt and, yes, bite marks. The pieces that show the worst wear and tear are naturally the white ones.

While working on the prototype (which is going to be dominantly white in color) I started picking our the grungier white pieces and came upon an idea. The moon's defences has shot down a number of invading forces, and I was planning on this info being revealed in the dialogue between the Governor and our hero, but what if we actually showed one of those shot down ships?

I then gathered the rest of the dirty pieces and places them in a basket and worked on a ship just from that, with the intention of making the design look very much like Classic Space but with bits of it blown off and decaying. The above is the result. If nothing else it proved a morale booster: While the Prototype continues to confound me, I was able to build the above in about fifteen minutes with my daughter sitting on my knee.


The spaceman corpse was another fun idea. I have a number of torsos where the old planet symbol is fading or nearly faded off. I plopped a skull head on him and outfitted him with the space suit and presto: A callback to a distant LEGO age (Not only does this closeup give you a good look at the spaceman, but it also gives you a better idea of how grungy those bricks really are).

The more I thought about this the better I liked it. The Governor can have an additional line to the hero about "the surface of that moon is littered with shot down craft. It's like a graveyard". And that will be linked back to whent the hero lands and sees the corpse. Being that the corpse's craft and his own are both white, he can have a "There but for the Grace of God" moment when he passes it by. Maybe he'll even throw it a salute. Great stuff.

Next week (I swear): The Prototype

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hey! You found a non-LEGO related post! Five points Gryffindor!

Of the movies that routinely sustain a beating among critics, Superman Returns comes up again and again. There has been an increase of this lately as the latest "reboot" is in the works and pieces of casting news leak out every now and then. And yet, the movie holds a special place for me. For one, it was a very significant film for Mrs. Mosley. Shortly after seeing (and loving) it, she delved into her inner geek and discovered a whole world of fanfic and community that she has found endlessly rewarding. For that alone, I owe Bryan Singer a debt.

But the other reason is that every frame shows Singer's love of the original. There was genuine affection there and a desire to replicate that experience with a few modern tweaks. As an extension of the original two films, it worked wonderfully well. It's few faults (Spacey Lex's real estate scheme was nuttier and made less sense than Hackman Lex's) can be forgiven.

I bring all this up because another wunderkind director has decided to replicate another movie nostalgia. This time, J. J. Abrams has conjured up a story that seems like a lost Spielberg film done sometime between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Little surprise, then, that Spielberg helped produce the thing. The film is called Super 8. Have a look:



I have no doubt that Abrams and Spielberg, men from two different generations that yet share the same passion for filmmaking, took particular glee in making their protagonists budding filmmakers as well. And it gets to me, too, especially in the middle of the LEGO project as I am. It's an escapist fantasy that I would like to escape into, just like I did thirty years ago at the now-demolished St. Johns Theater off of Roosevelt Boulevard. I am so there.

In the end, I guess this was a LEGO-related post after all. That's OK. You can keep the points.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

"Ten": The Chroma Key

For this first green screen test, I got some standard green poster board and propped it onto the rear of the studio table. Then I took three pictures: one of the Ground-To-Air guns in front of the green screen and two different shots of the skyscraper. (Given that the Chroma Key feature of the Power Director software is for video, not stills, I can't show the finished product. But here are the three test photos for the hell of it):





I uploaded these and tested the first shot with a green screen star field behind it and the other two shots with one of the Fort Matanzas blue sky pictures I took.

The result? Promising. I didn't make any effort to get that screen and the lighting exactly right because I'm still learning, but even with a slapdash effort it looked pretty good. One corner didn't show the green screen effect, but that was because of a shadow and is easily fixed the next time. More troubling was the green aura around the guns and the skyscraper. With better lighting, this again may disappear or be minimized. However, I did discover that once the video is transferred to black and white, these effects are less noticeable. Those effected the most were the antennae on the guns, so those might eventually be pitched, which is no biggie.

I'm encouraged by these initial test and can't wait to take it further, and there's the possibility of getting some fabric to replace the poster board. But before that can be done I need to construct more of the sets and props including... a very daunting design indeed.

Next Week: The Missile and the Corpse

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Chiwetel Ejiofor Quote of the Month: March 2011

As I mentioned last month, the pic for March is American Gangster, which is the second time Ejiofor starred alongside Denzel Washington in as many years. Ejiofor plays Huey Lucas, the younger brother of Denzel's drug kingpin Frank Lucas. The exchange doesn't really give Ejiofor a memorable line, but it is notable in that Frank gives Huey a warning that he himself eventually doesn't heed for a single night, and it's this one slip up that leads to his downfall.
Frank Lucas: "What is that you got on?"

Huey Lucas: "What? This?"

Frank Lucas: "Yeah, that"

Huey Lucas: "This is a very, very, very nice suit."

Frank Lucas: "That's a very, very, very nice suit, huh?"

Huey Lucas: "Yeah."

Frank Lucas: "That's a clown suit. That's a costume, with a big sign on it that says
'Arrest me'. You understand? You're too loud, you're making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Ten": The Studio

On my previous films, I did most of the actual filming on our dining room table. Truth be told, we rarely did our dinning in there anyway, so it wasn't a big deal that I took it over. Now that we have a new home and a baby that we're trying to teach some civilized manners to, it's a bit more important that I do my LEGO filming elsewhere (not to mention keeping all the loose LEGO out of reach of said baby). The solution was to find a new table to do the filming. So, instead of buying one, I made one:


So what we have here is a hanging wooden door (which had to be removed from the laundry room when we moved in) setting atop two large boxes that our child car seats came shipped in and wallah; a table! The room is our garage where we have some black shelves with miscellaneous boxes of stuff against one wall. The table runs right up to the shelves and is in absolutely nobody's way, so it's all good.


Of course, the table didn't stay empty for long as I moved extraneous containers of LEGO (plus my creations so far for the film) over to it's surface. I also got a folding chair to sit at and we pretty much have the set up we need.

One other minor thing to note: On President's day this past Monday, Mrs. Mosley and I took a little day trip down St. Augustine way to visit Fort Matanzas. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. In addition to the pictures we took of the fort and each other, I took about a dozen of the blue skies from on top of the fort, like this one:


The purpose of these was to use them for the green screen behind the skyscraper, so although we'll be hoping that viewers will imagine the skyscraper to be in some advanced city on another planet, it will in actuality be plain old Florida.

Next Week: The Chroma Key

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Ten": The Skyscraper

When I first started thinking about the look of the skyscraper in my film, I wasn't thinking about anything fancy. As long as it looked big and imposing, I was fine with it. Given that you only see it briefly in the establishing shot, that's all it needed to be, right?

But first impressions being what they are, I decided I needed something really grand and distinctive looking (even if the shot in question only lasts about ten seconds). I decided to seek some divine sci-fi inspiration.


For those of you who don't recognize that imposing structure, it's a building in the classic 1927 film Metropolis. This picture is a favorite of mine and I've been using it as my work computer wallpaper for many years now.

I came to two decisions right at the start: First, if I were to build something like this, I was going to have to go microscale, which is a building style in which models are constructed smaller than in standard minifigure scale. Second, the tower would have more than four sides like the one in the movie. Sorry, let me adjust that statement: The tower would appear to have more than four sides. Given that the camera only sees one side of it, making a false front tower should be easy enough.

So here we have the base of our tower:


I took a T-section road plate and built the tower facets over the smooth part while being anchored to the back section with the studs. That way I could use hinges to make whatever angles I needed without having to worry about how to fasten them down. That back structure is going to be pretty thick for something that doesn't even get seen, but it's going to need to be in order to anchor down the front and ensure it's structurally sound.

Here's is the final tower (front view and rear view, which showcases the anchoring structure).


Those two structures on either side are stand-ins for shorter buildings that will be built later. The top of the tower is kind of incomplete, but the camera won't reveal it with the angles I'll use. The camera will be moving forward between two tall buildings built on those front corners and then pan up the skyscraper. Up near the top of the building will be the penthouse office that belongs to the governor, which is where our first scene takes place.

This penthouse presented me with a problem. The camera will stop on the outside of the penthouse windows and then switch to an interior shot of the office. In order for a smooth transition, the exterior (microscale) must reasonable match up with the interior (minifigure scale). My original vision for the office window (a huge rectangle of glass overlooking the city) wasn't distinctive enough to make a strong enough visual link between the scenes.

My solution was to abandon "flat" windows altogether and go with an angled look.


These roof window pieces (which are 27 year old pieces from this set) in two horizontal banks of four match extremely well with the transparent "cheese slope" pieces in the microscale tower. You'll get to see the full effect of these once the office is constructed, but that's later.

Next Week: The Studio