The Wizard Of Blog

I’m 40 years old and I finally saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time. Let that sink in for a second. Wizard of Oz. First time. Film school graduate.

 

We’ve talked about this on the show before. The film was atop my personal “Embarrassed As Fuck” list. Somehow it’s stranger to have not seen this than not having seen Gone With The Wind which, ok, is technically at the top of the list. I share that embarrassment with my lovely co-host Joe.

 

So why is this a thing? Did I at one point in my life decide to ban the personal viewing of all Victor Fleming films from 1939? No. I just didn’t grow up with either film in my household. Sometimes that’s just enough. (Did you hear that, It’s A Wonderful Life?)

 

Now The Wizard of Oz is so woven into the fabric of our culture it’s impossible to avoid completely which is why so much of the movie was familiar to me. I knew what the story was. I knew it switched from sepia to color. I knew there was a tornado and a bunch of little people running around. I knew about Dorothy and her dog and her three companions and the search for their individual components. I had simply never seen the goddamned thing until now.

 

It’s also practically impossible to digest one of the world’s most iconic films when you see it for the first time in your 40s, so I’m having a bit of trouble putting my thoughts into words. But I can tell you this: I liked it a lot and I’m shocked.

 

I feel foolish telling you that it’s a fun and charming musical fantasy that you should all see because you’re not a dipshit like me who has never seen it, so I’ll spare you the recap. But, as you stagger to comprehend that Nick Amado, a film school graduate who has a movie podcast review show, had never seen The Wizard of Oz, let it rattle around in your brain that I actually liked it.

 

Buck up, Mr. Fleming. I’m coming for your next biggest film from 1939 (and your short career) soon. 

 

- Nick

NETFLIX’S NEXT BIG OPPORTUNITY: NETFLIX NEWS

by Joe Vallero

We here at LWAF are big fans of Netflix. Our entire podcast is based on their vast library of movies and we often talk about our love of their original content. If Netflix has done anything it has revolutionized the entertainment industry. They have been a disrupter from the very beginning. Netflix began as a DVD mailing service and they all but killed the brick and mortar DVD Rental store business model. Then as internet speeds became fast enough and the spread of high speed internet had gotten wise enough Netflix transitioned to an online streaming service, again revolutionizing how people get the content they love. As Netflix moved to producing their own content they evolved and forced the industry to evolve with them. They invented or at least popularized the “binge watch” phenomenon making television an on-demand, watch at your own pace, form of entertainment. And now they are continuing to expand and adapt as they move into film production and acquisition. Through all of this the core tenants of the company is to deliver the products that the audience wants and giving creators and artists the resources and freedom to achieve their vision.

Now I I believe that Netflix has the opportunity to not only continue to innovate and evolve but also do good in the world. I believe it is time for Netflix to create a news division. I don’t know the technological issues with creating a nightly or even weekly news program on the streaming service but I would imagine that those hurdles can be overcome. The reason I think this could be an important innovation is that Netflix has the opportunity to provide true unbiased and unfiltered investigative journalism. One of the biggest problems with cable and network news is they are beholden to stock holders, audience numbers, demographics and the craven master of the bottom line. While of course Netflix cares about a bottom line they have also shown they create content for niche audiences. They have children’s programming, documentary series, dramas, superhero shows and a vast collection of stand up comedy specials. Those various genres of shows are not created with the idea of maximizing the viewership for each category but instead keeping a dedicated select audience subscribed to the service.

I think the same approach could be taken to form a news division. This would serve the people that are hungry for news that is done only for the sake of information and help kill the bloviating talking head format. They could collect the best news editors and reporters in the business and let them go after the stories they want to go after. They can report beyond the talking points of the day and dig deeper into stories. 13th, the Ava Duvernay documentary, is a good example of this. I’m not saying that 13th is news or even necessarily “journalism” but what that film showed was that Netflix empowered a filmmaker to tell a story that she wanted to tell and they got a powerful, informative and conversation-defining piece of art. Now imagine that power, that freedom and that platform in the hands of journalists that want to inform the public and want to tell important stories. With the governor off the newsroom the result could be as disruptive in the news industry as Netflix has already been in the entertainment industry. 

How American’s get their news has continually evolved since the advent of television. For many years there was the “network” news model. The big three networks had news divisions that operated as revenue neutral entities for the prestige of awards and the importance of breaking culturally significant stories. Over time they transformed to profit centers eroding the quality and depth of their coverage. Then CNN revolutionized news in 1980 creating a 24 hour news network. Ted Turner was laughed at and told that there wasn’t an appetite for a non-stop news network and that it wouldn’t work. But rather quickly it became clear that the CNN approach of having reporters and producers on the ground where news was happening drew viewers and launched the cable news medium. In the next 15 years many competitors entered the marketplace and they began to speak to more and more narrowly focused audiences. With the advent of financial news networks to politically aligned networks. In 1996 the cable news world was redefined again as Fox News took the punditry side of the medium to the next level. Their goal was top bring the passion of talk radio to cable news. They succeeded. They succeeded to a much greater degree than anyone thought they would. They forced all the other cable news outlets to compete with their model and in doing so drove objectivity out of the marketplace. Having an opinion and a point of view was more important than accurate reporting. It is time for news to evolve again.

HBO has started this with the creation of Vice News. The creation of ViceLand has further expanded on this idea but I think Netflix has the cache and viewership to impact the world of news to a much greater extent. I think they have the opportunity to create something that would be exactly what they have been from the beginning, disruptive and redefining. The can produce nightly or weekly news hours breaking down the stories that are important as well as long form documentaries that can expand on a single subject and tackle it from all the important angles. I know I would tune in for well told informative stories I hope Netflix sees the value in it.

FRIDAY FINDS

by Joe Vallero

 

Back with a quick Friday Finds post.

Today the internet is exploding because the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer went live. As always opinions abound. But the new trailer is not my find of the week. Instead it's the Carrie Fisher tribute reel.

Produced for the Star Wars Celebration event it is a touching and endearing look at the bold, hilarious and always irreverent actress. A compilation of interviews and behind the scenes footage through the years it perfectly captures the icons spirit. I loved the use of Bowie's Rebel, Rebel and the ever present Star Wars score tugs at the heart strings. The interview soundbites are pure Carrie Fisher and the early footage shows the star power of her captivating smile.

Get out the hankies because this just might get the water works going a little bit. Enjoy! 

Things To Watch On Netflix in April

Your affable co-hosts have been discussing a concept for an easy yet valuable contribution to the blog-o-sphere and Joe's idea was simply "how about we just tell them the best stuff on Netflix at any given time".

What a good idea!

Neither one of us is going to scan the entire massive library of content on Netflix's vaults and as you know, Neftlix (rather annoyingly) has different interfaces and different categories that show up depending on what device you are using. So for this list of recommendations, I used my laptop to go directly to the website and scrolled through the narrow scope of categories they chose for me that day. I didn't search for specifics, I only looked at what films it presented to me.

Here are titles I saw that popped out. If you're looking for stuff to watch, this is a good place to start! This is in no particular order.

1. The Verdict - A Sidney Lumet/Paul Newman drama about an alcoholic attorney who has to dust 'em off to prove he's still got it. A terrific work.

2. The Hustler - You haven't seen The Hustler? You should see The Hustler...

3. Paddington - I grew up with this little bear in a raincoat. My father would bring me Paddington swag from his business trips to London. When it came to the screen a few years back I was eager to check it out and I was not disappointed. It's very sweet and has wonderful visual effects.

4. The Shining - You haven't seen The Shining? You should see The Shining...

5. Nightcrawler - A chilling drama/thriller set in the world of on-the-spot crime "journalism" in Los Angeles. Shot almost exclusively at night, it's moody and creepy. Gyllenhal is zeroed in.

6. Boyhood - This took as much bashing for being gimmicky as it took acclaim for being groundbreaking. That this would come out as anything other than a jumbled mess is impressive. It's not a mess at all, it's wonderful. Linklater makes a touching and thoughtful film that works even without the "gimmick". To me, the trick just adds to the uniqueness. 

7. Zootopia - The Oscar winner for best Animated Feature at this year's ceremony. It's fun, clever, beautifully animated and socially poignant. 

8. Neal Brennan: 3 Mics - Dave Chapelle's former writing partner may soon drop that tag of "former writing partner"  if he keeps doing work like this. Admittedly new to stand-up, he divides the stage into three sections and uses 3 different microphones to address the audience in 3 different ways. One-liners, straight stand-up , and personal storytelling. While the set-up is a bit draining at times, the material is undeniably solid from start to finish. 

9. 13th - We reviewed this on Episode 40. Joe and I agreed it's one of the best docs we've ever seen. This could go down as a game-changer. Socially significant, artistically sound. This is a masterpiece. 

10. This Is Spinal Tap - The ultimate mockumentary. Laughs from start to finish. You've probably seen this, but if you haven't...come on... In fact, I think I'm gonna go watch it right now.

11. Glengarry Glen Ross - David Mamet's harsh look at cold calling and life as a salesman. Alec Baldwin's now famous character (only in one scene) was not in the play but he almost steals the show in the film. The cast is to drool for. Spacey, Lemmon, Harris, Pacino, Arkin...

12. Fawlty Towers - This 1970's British series is one of the funniest of all time. I've seen it a dozen times and will see it a dozen more. Some of these episodes will make you cry from laughing so hard. John Cleese at his absolute best. 

13. The Big Short - A scary and sad story that exposes the collapse of our economy in 2008 and shows the sobering reality that we are only cycling back toward something even worse. But it's got Steve Carell so it's not THAT scary...

14. The 60s - A CNN doc series that explores the depths of one of our country's most defining and damming decades. Truly fascinating and an easy binge watch. You could also learn a thing or two. The parallels to our current predicament are not to be overlooked. 

 

FRIDAY FINDS

by Joe Vallero

A few weeks ago I suggested you check out the Atomic Blonde trailer. I hope you did, it's a lot of fun and I can't wait for that film. I am back this week to suggest something new.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/s-town/id1212558767?mt=2

I have been listening to podcasts for quite awhile. It seems we are in the middle of the podcast golden era. The medium is seemingly being defined everyday and redefined just as quickly. That is where S-Town comes in. A new podcast from the creators of Serial and This American Life. Two of my all-time favorite shows. The interesting thing about S-Town is that it's a perfect combination of it's two predecessors. It has a hint of the "true-crime" investigation of Serial and a considerable amount of This American Life's small town, Studs Terkel, every person has a story, story-telling style.

The host Brian Reed, a This American Life veteran, takes you on a journey of a small Alabama town and into the life of one of the most unique individuals I have ever encountered. The show centers on John B. McLemore and as the story unravels the twists and turns are so unique they would seem to be made up. S-Town proves the old adage that life is truly stranger than fiction. The show drips with irony and human contradictions, it's jaw dropping at times. The various characters we meet always have more under the surface and when you think you have a footing the storytellers rip the rug out from under you. While it doesn't have the addictive nature of Serial it is an engrossing and dynamic story.

The other interesting aspect of the show is S-Town takes the Netflix model and drops all the episodes at once. It is not a week to week release but allows you to binge listen to the whole story at once. This has a great affect on the listener but it also would seem to be a result of the phenomenon of the first season of Serial. While Sarah Koenig was reporting and releasing the episodes of season one of Serial the podcast became a large part of the story. The fans of the show took the story and ran with it. Digging up information on their own. Serial analysis podcasts popped up all over iTunes. While that is great for a show it probably did impact the creation process. Crafting all 7 episodesand releasing them at once allows S-Town to create the narrative they wanted entirely in a bubble. I am hear to say, it is damn great story telling and well worth the listen.

I hope you check it out.

FRIDAY FINDS

I have always wanted to have a place to post and talk about the things I find on the web and LOVE. Now I do, HERE!

I’d like this to be a weekly quick post about cool stuff that I want people to see. So the first post is this…

ATOMIC BLONDE!

Ok, this looks awesome. It’s Charlize Theron as John Wick but even more bad-ass. On top of the film looking really cool with visceral and intense action, this trailer knocked me out. (stupid pun intended) I love the hand to hand one-take fight scene early in the trailer and the stylized imagery coupled with Queen’s “Killer Queen”. The melding of music and sound design coupled with humor and intense action shows the elevation of trailers as their own art form as well as a marketing tool. Kudos to the creators of this, it does far more than sell the film but it does that well too.

What I Learned from One Year of Podcasting: Part One

If it’s broke, fix it!

In the world of Silicon Valley there is the moment called “The Pivot”. It’s the moment when you realize the product you were creating just doesn’t work and you have to adjust. YouTube started with the hope of being a dating website. Twitter started as a podcasting subscription service. Twitch, a multi-billion dollar streaming service, started as a website called justin.tv, where you could watch a guy live stream his life 24 hours a day. All of these companies realized that the product they were creating just wasn’t working. The idea that they had invested time, money and passion into was failing and they needed to change course, they needed to pivot.

Nick and I started our podcast almost exactly one year ago. When we first started we knew we wanted to do a show but we didn’t necessarily know what show we wanted to do. We kicked around a few ideas and settled on a non-format-format. We would do a random show that talked about whatever we wanted to for that particular week. Our first show was going to be a “State of the NFL” discussion following the 2015-2016 season. We set up the mics and my 2009 Mac Book pro, a dinosaur by laptop standards, and we recorded. We talked for about 45 - 50 min, our long windedness knows no bounds, immediately upon stopping we both knew that the show sucked. Neither of us felt like it was entertaining and not for an audience but for US! So we went to lunch to re-access the situation. We talked about a movie podcast and I brought up a fledgling idea about randomly selecting Netflix films so that we could do a movie show and have a unique hook. As lifelong film fans we said, what the hell let’s try that. We sat down and recorded out first episode and that show instantly felt like fun to us.

As the show got started we stuck to our randomizer format for the most part. We had a couple “special” episodes early on where we discussed Keanu on episode 7 and Frank and Cindy in episode 8, but mostly we watched and discussed whatever the randomizer selected. As time wore on the format became more of a burden than a joy. The films being selected rarely excited either of us. But we were enjoying creating the show. Recording the episodes was always fun. The films? Not so much. So without mention we started to boost the star rating on the randomizer in an effort to get more enjoyable films… it really didn’t work. We had diamonds in the rough (Samsara, Victoria, Drug War, Retribution, Closure, Sophie’s Choice) but mostly we just had rough, really rough, and really really rough. The show had started to become a chore.

As the end of 2016 wound down we began to experiment with different “specialty” episodes and those were like a breathe of fresh air. Watching the films was fun, We were getting to analyze films that we loved or had always wanted to watch. But in an effort to stick with the random format we always drifted back to the randomizer. We made a mistake. It took far too long but we finally decided, hey this is not fun. Let’s change it. We had been clinging to the notion that a podcast had to have a hook? It had to have something that separates it from the rest but if we aren't having fun, then what's the point? We also kept getting the feedback from people that they didn’t want to hear discussions of films they didn’t want to see and weren’t going to see. So we have finally decided to change the show. Our final randomized show is episode 41, A Drummer’s Dream and Boy Meets Girl . That show was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. While not terrible films there is just very little technique to discuss. Little art to enjoy. They are straight forward independent films that serve niche audiences that neither Nick or I are members of. We have finally decided to PIVOT!

Starting with episode 42 we will now just watch and discuss films that we WANT to watch and discuss. We are still using Netflix because we like it and it’s convenient but now the films will just be chosen because we are excited to watch and talk about them. The recent Oscar nominated documentary 13th was chosen for this reason for episode 40 and that show was a lot of fun to record. We have also realized that the show needed a name change. Not creatively, we will always be Long Winded as F#@%, but practically. Having the word F#@% in your title makes it a lot harder to find and promote. I guess that’s why Marc Maron called his show WTF! So we are now officially LWAF.

The main lesson I learned this year was to be willing to adjust and change paths. Be open to change and trust your instincts. We knew right away the first episode we ever recorded didn’t work. We should have been quicker to realize the randomizer was a drag on the show. If you’re creating a show, or anything for that matter and there is a voice in the back of your head nagging at you, LISTEN! Hopefully our changes to the show will reflect our renewed excitement. We hope that you see the difference in the show and stay with us for many shows to come!

Stay tuned!

Next week part two of this blog post will discuss what I learned about movies and movie making in my first year of podcasting!

by Joe Vallero

 

Arrival’s Brilliance

Last night I watched Arrival for the third time. Obviously I am a fan. It is probably my favorite film this year but the answer to that question changes frequently. What I love most about Arrival is that it is a brilliant compilation of everything that makes up a cinematic experience. The film grabs you on an emotional level, visceral level and esthetic level. It is what I love most about cinema which is a director in full control of his craft and vision and working with supremely talented artists to enhance and fulfill that vision. 

ARRIVAL SYNOPSIS

When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

 

 

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Denis Villeneuve, Director

Denis Villeneuve, Director

  Bradford Young, Cinematographer

  Bradford Young, Cinematographer

The first thing that I am a sucker for is when a film has a distinctive tone and mood. Arrival’s tone is set from the very first frame. In what is essentially a prologue Denis Villeneuve immediately grabs you and let’s you know that you will be dealing with real human emotions, the perception of time and events that will change the characters lives forever. But you’re also immediately aware of the craft that is clearly on display. Arrival’s cinematographer, Bradford Young, has an eye that serves up a gorgeous palette and continues to deliver as the film goes on. The framing, lighting and floating ethereal movement set the stage for the surreal and dream like story that unfolds. Young’’s contribution can not be overstated. He gives the film a feel that not only makes it distinctive but also constantly has the audience guessing what is real and what is not. A look that only serves the film as the mind bending story unfolds. The film goes far beyond the image while it is a master class in visuals, it also incorporates layered and nuanced sound design, music and pitch perfect acting to tell a story with meaning and depth.

 

https://play.spotify.com/album/3GDfBsNm22NeGSP2vQDWnO?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=open

 

The haunting score by Jóhann Jóhannsson delivers an etherial otherworldly voice to the film. As the main characters arrive at the alien ship the score is reminiscent of whale calls. It is mesmerizing and at the same time it also lays the foundation of recognizable but unfamiliar forms of communication. Much like whales, with the aliens we know they are communicating but we don’t know what they are saying. Throughout the film the score is a perfect companion that sets the tone for where you are in the story and with the arc of the characters. It has moments of tension and even races in certain scenes but it’s at it’s best when it is telling the audience that it is in store for the unknown. Score's often help set a films mood, and Arrival is no exception in fact it is a shining example. The gravity defying entry into the alien craft would play much differently paired with Yackety Sax, but the deep tonal score sets the stage for the scene perfectly giving the right amount of tension and wonder. Throughout the film the score is a perfect companion with the sound design mixing in elements that blend perfectly with the hum of machines or the dense fog of the alien's habitat. Together the sound design and score allows the audience to always be positioned with the emotional state of the characters.

Amy Adams, Louise - Jeremy Renner, Ian

Amy Adams, Louise - Jeremy Renner, Ian

As with most great films you enter through the characters and Arrival delivers here as well. The entire cast is great but the two main characters carry most of the film on their shoulders and Amy Adams does most of that lifting. The story of Arrival is truly her story. She has the biggest emotional arc and the fate of the world is literally on her shoulders. But her emotional growth in the film is the greatest journey and Adams breathes life into the role in every frame. You feel the weight of the world on her face and in her body language, but you also see the strength of the character as she asserts her knowledge and expertise to conduct the communication with the aliens the way she sees fit. And in a surprise the emotional connection that she ends up developing with the two heptopod aliens is truthful and earned. Jeremy Renner has a smaller role but in the hands of a less capable actor it might feel like a lesser role. While Renner’s Ian isn’t the lynchpin to the story that Adam’s Louise is, he is perfectly pitched to deliver what feels like authentic person. Renner’s theoretical physicist character is assured enough to assert himself but smart enough to realize that Louise is the right person to take the lead to get the answers the world needs. The relationship that develops with them is also authentic and develops organically. By working closely and trusting one another the bond that develops feels truthful and earned.

 

What I love most about the film is what I love about all great sci-fi. The themes that it introduces and the questions that its raises will have your mind racing long after the film ends. Arrival is the definition of a conversation film. After watching it you can’t help but discuss the concepts that it lays out. What is the nature of time? Is the journey worth the eventual pain? The importance of communication and acceptance. The film does what great science fiction is intended to do. It uses fantastical situations to discuss what is happening in society today but I would imagine also like most great science fiction will only continue to grow in relevancy. This film is in league with Blade Runner, Children of Men and yes even 2001: A Space Odyssey, it gives the viewer more than they bargained for and delights all the way through.