In 500 Words: Little Miss Sunshine

I originally planned on not reviewing Little Miss Sunshine, primarily due to a lack of time. But after seeing the film (twice, actually, which is a rarity for me), I can see that this would be a tremendous mistake. Just for this movie, I am adding a star rating system. Because the movie is just that good.

Again, this italicized introduction (and the stars) do not count against my 500 words. But the following words do:

Little Miss Sunshine is the best movie since The Life Aquatic. Similar to that movie, Sunshine is a bittersweet, humorous yet misanthropic look at family. Also similar to Life Aquatic, Sunshine is not a comedy in the classical sense. It is a tragedy.

I’m big on tragedies. Most stories worth telling are tragedies. As Mr. Marshall pounded into my brain in AP Comp and Lit, tragedy isn’t about disaster or despair. It is about hope and renewal. It is the stripping away of old, dead tissue so that new growth may take place. That is what Little Miss Sunshine is all about.

Although perhaps my most-anticipated movie of the summer, I honestly thought there was no way that Sunshine could live up to expectations. After taking Sundance by storm and getting positive testimonials from every reviewer in the universe, I wondered how it was possible that a little independent film could be so widely accepted. Turns out it’s because it’s really good.

As the movie opens, we are dropped directly into a household and given only a few moments to get our bearings. There is a subtle yet tangible animosity in this family and the tension begins to build almost immediately. The movie rapidly builds into the classic “road trip” picture, which I’ve always avoided, but this was somehow different. All the driving in the movie serves as a way to build the tension necessary for a tragedy. There are a few jokes and plot elements that I found to be clichéd or a bit dumb, but they are easily outweighed by a few moments that are tremendously courageous and serve to remind us that we are watching more than just fluff. The long conversations in the car could be intractable, but the character acting is largely good enough and the family members bounce off of each other so well that the scenes stay amusing.

The acting is mostly superb. I’m usually wary of Steve Carell, but he is amazing in this film. I want to see him play other characters like Frank. Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette are both good (and suitably mundane) as middle-class parents, Paul Dano gives a strong performance as Dwayne, his complexity coming as a pleasant surprise although I don’t quite buy his given age of fifteen. I’m not a big fan of Alan Arkin’s character but his performance does wonders to advance the story. Abigail Breslin is fine as Olive, although I maintain that the only truly “good” performance I’ve ever seen from a child actor was Flora Guiet in Amélie.

The ending works. It shouldn’t. On paper, it doesn’t. But somehow it does. Like any good tragedy, it gives the balloon of tension a little pinprick. But it does so in a superbly unexpected way.

Little Miss Sunshine is a mix of smart comedy, great characters and touching moments that point to an underlying humanity that’s becoming rare in film. The fact that so many people like it gives me hope.

[rate 5]
Five Stars.

Sick and tired (but at least I'm here)

Hello everyone! After a FASCINATING 1000-mile drive I’m now at MCAD! I’ve got the rest of the day off and only one class (Drawing 1… ugh… I can’t draw. Which makes art school the logical choice, right?) tomorrow, which starts at 1:00. I’m all moved in to my apartment, but because it’s underground I can’t get cell reception. FUN! So now I get to leave my phone on the windowsill whenever I go in so I can at least hear it ring and then go outside to call the person back! So if you try to call me, expect a dropped call and then an immediate callback from me. That’s just the way it’s gonna be.

Well, I need to get files all copied over and get Final Cut installed, so I’ll be cutting this entry short with a quick (and devilishly appealing, if I do say so myself… which I do) picture of myself in the MCAD courtyard, taken by the camera in my BRAND NEW MACBOOK!

Andrew at MCAD


Vodcast: a message to my friends

If you don’t know me personally, this probably isn’t worth watching. Be forewarned: I get a bit touchy-feely.

“We were friends and have grown distant from one another. But it is right that should be so; let us not dissemble and obscure it, as if it were something to be ashamed of. We are two ships, each of which has its destination and its course; our paths can cross and we can celebrate a feast together, as we did—and then the brave ships lay so peacefully in one harbour and under one sun that it might seem they had already reached their destination and both had one destination. But then the almighty power of our task drove us apart, to different seas and different climes, and perhaps we shall never see one another again—or perhaps if we do we shall not recognize one another: different seas and sun have changed us! That we had to grow distant from one another is the law over us, for the same reason that we should also become more venerable. And thus the thought of our former friendship should become more sacred. There is probably a tremendous invisible curve and star orbit within which our so different paths and destinations may be included as tiny stretches of the way—let us raise ourselves to this thought! But our life is too short and our power of vision too weak for us to be more than friends in the sense of that exalted possibility. And so let us believe in our friendship in the stars.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Great last day

Today was my last day in Fort Collins before heading off to the bitter North and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Last night I went out to eat with my grandparents while Parker oversaw the last of the Terminal Philosophy shooting. We had dinner at a nice nearby Thai restaurant and went back to my grandparents’ house for dessert—a French silk pie from Perkins. “Special circumstances call for special pies,” my Grandmother said. She’s an amazing woman. Any secular Mennonite who’s willing to dress up as a nun for a movie is good in my book. She also gave me a box of homemade cookies and zucchini bread to take with me.

After pie and coffee and a lot of talking (but not enough) I said goodbye. On our way out we finished a puzzle they had sitting in their sun room. There was a piece missing.

This morning I woke up way too early with nothing to do. I forced myself into a sixth hour of sleep before I got up to finish packing. I folded up all my clothes and picked out a few books and movies to take. Incidentally, the nine movies I’d have to have if I were stranded on a desert island (or barren, windswept sub-Canadian wasteland, as the case may be) are apparently: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Brazil, Dazed and Confused, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Garden State, Bowling for Columbine, Dr. Strangelove, A Fish Called Wanda, and Waking Life.

I ate Thai leftovers, then called up Arin and planned to go see a movie. Little Miss Sunshine. I’ve heard very good things about it. While I waited for the movie, my dad and I loaded up the van for the drive to Minnesota and I started shuffling files around on my hard drives so I’ll have all the data I need when I get my new laptop on Sunday.

4:something swung around on the clock and Arin picked me up for the movie. We stopped and grabbed Evan on our way to the theater. We were a bit on the late side. Luckily, the advertised start time in Colorado theaters is actually when the ads start, or we would have been REALLY late. As it was, we just missed the first couple minutes.

Although I may never get around to writing a full review, let me just say that Little Miss Sunshine may be the best film to come out of anywhere in the past five years. It’s the first film since The Life Aquatic to get my five-star rating. Regarding my Snakes on a Plane rant: if you saw SOAP and want to cancel out your bad movie karma, go see this film. There may be hope for modern cinema yet. And Steve Carrell, who I’m always a bit wary of, is REALLY GOOD.

Anyway, after the movie we stopped to get a couple frozen pizzas and headed back to my house. Parker, Ethan, Ruth and Aubrie also stopped by. For lack of anything better to do, we watched Fear and Loathing.

Then people left.

I have to say that leaving here has to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Making a feature film with no money and unpaid actors doesn’t hold a candle to saying goodbye to everyone I know.

I leave at 6:30 in the morning, and then I’m off in a foreign land until Thanksgiving. That’s a scary thought.

So call and write lots. I promise to do the same.

I’d also like to note that computer things may be wonky for me server-side and client-side for the next few days until I get my laptop running smoothly. E-mails may bounce around several servers and perhaps even get lost, so maybe the best way to reach me for the next 5-7 days is by phone.

Diary of a Mad Filmmaker: Terminal Philosophy Actors

In this edition of the Diary of a Mad Filmmaker vodcast, Andrew, Parker and Vynni (Leo) come to you from the excellent and kind and hospitable Ever Open Café (1422 N College Ave, Fort Collins, Colorado—you should all eat there if you ever have the chance).

Today we do an overview of the cast, including:

Friedrich Nietzsche: Sean Cummings
Satan: Gale McGaha Miller
Soul Reaver: Evan Riffe
Mr. Bee/Vii: Mikhail Twarogowski
God: Leroy Twarogowski

Then we show you a piece of the first scene of the film, in which Amelia Streza (she’s a wonderful sport, by the way) gets run over by a bus. KIDS, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. WE ARE UNPAID PROFESSIONALS WITH EXPERIENCE PRETENDING TO RUN PEOPLE OVER WITH BUSES. IF YOU TRY THIS YOURSELF YOU WILL BE ARRESTED, OR KILLED, OR BOTH. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. We can’t show you the sound for this scene yet because it is set to music which we are still in the process of obtaining rights for, so for now you’ll just have to use your imagination to add music and a big “splut” sound when the bus mows into that poor woman.

Also, I’m now going to make an announcement all subtle-like because I don’t have time for fanfare at the moment: Principal photography for Terminal Philosophy was completed last night, a day early. What are the odds?

Freud eating pancakes!

Posts this week will be rather sparse as I’m working on:

  • The Wholesale Souls DVD
  • A Ghosts of Verona concert video
  • Two vodcasts
  • Terminal Philosophy (of course)

and I’ll be leaving for college this Thursday. This is all going to be complicated by the fact that MCAD issues all incoming freshmen with brand new Mac Books, which is awesome for me but it also means I won’t be taking my computer along and so I’ll be without e-mail or internet access for a few days.

For now I’ll leave you with a picture of Sigmund Freud eating pancakes in purgatory:

Sigmund Freud eating pancakes!

and I have two phrases to whet your interest until I get back to regular posts:

Still-life with nun and sparkler (loosely relevant to “Nunzilla”)


Study of God as a librarian (also: study of God as a couch potato)

More information forthcoming.

Why I'm not going to see Snakes on a Plane

It was long ago when I first heard of Snakes on a Plane, that movie that I’m sure you all know about because of the cult following it has already gained throughout the internet. When I found out about it, I couldn’t wait to see it. It just sounded so… bad! A typical example of the sort of idiocy Hollywood has been shoveling for decades.

But now I have decided that I can’t see this movie. It’s become an intentional mockery of itself, for no purpose other than profit. When I see the trailers now I can’t help but see behind the screen all that is wrong with the studio system of film production, and with the Web 2.0 mobocracy.

Here’s what happened to get this movie where it is today: Some brainless money-machine in a development department somewhere discovers that there’s never been a movie about a terrorist plot involving snakes. So he calls up his buddies and tells them they’re going to make a killing if they can get an A-list celebrity to star. They send a treatment over to a screenwriting factory farm, which churns out a rough draft in five days. The script gets sent out to a few A-list agents. Most of them throw it away, or the actors do. They’re not idiots. But Samuel L. Jackson, tired of taking himself so seriously and wishing to relive his glory days of being eaten by a shark, signs on for a lark. The movie takes two weeks to shoot, and another two to edit. It’s in the can by Easter. In the meantime, someone somewhere has leaked that Sam Jackson is working on a movie called Snakes on a Plane. The blogosphere, full of reclusive Monty Python fans hungry for the absurd and anything to distract them from their intensely unhappy personal lives, goes wild. They start making movie posters and putting fake trailers up on YouTube. The studio gets wind of this while the movie is still in production and tries to change the title to something less idiotic, but that’s stopped when Jackson, who is on this ride to make a REALLY BAD MOVIE, DAMMIT nips that in the bud by threatening to walk off the set. At this point the production’s wall of confidentiality is leaking like a New Orleans levee. Within days everyone knows about Jackson’s power play and the studio is forced to keep the working title.

So far this is all pretty amusing. Here’s where it gets more worrisome:

The studio realizes that there’s no way this movie is going to be taken seriously no matter how they sell it or who they sell it to, so they decide to go in the opposite direction. They cut the effects budget in half so it’s impossible to do anything but cheesy CG, they drop in some intentionally ridiculous dialogue and tell the marketing department to sell it as a bad movie. On the web side of things, Wired has picked up the story and now every single blogger on the internet is just about peeing his pants with excitement for how SUPREMELY BAD this movie is going to be. Not wanting to be left out and trying to appeal to a younger, more-hip demographic, Leno has the production’s snake handler on his show. The technocracy is now in a frenzy and the studio’s marketing department embarks on selling the general public on a bad movie. It’s not really that difficult. They’ve done it before. The blogosphere and the studio marketing department keep fueling each other and the frenzy just keeps getting bigger and bigger. In the business, this is called ‘buzz.’ It’s what sells movie tickets.

Question: What’s so funny about an intentionally bad movie? Discuss.

And it IS intentionally bad. This web buzz has been very successfully controlled by the studio. They quite effectively turned it to their advantage. If they had WANTED to be taken seriously—if they were at ALL genuine in their belief that what they were making was worthy of being made—they would have called up YouTube and made them take down all the phony trailers. They would have marketed the film on a more selective scale. But that way, they wouldn’t have made as much GREEN.

Snakes on a Plane is the product of a sick and decaying system run by cynical investors who don’t give a shit whether or not a movie has any merit or integrity as long as it grosses big on opening weekend. Guess what? They just tricked millions of people into paying millions of dollars to see a bad movie that nobody cares about. NOW who’s the idiot?

We need to seriously re-examine our priorities here. Whatever marketing executive thought this would be a good idea, whatever story developers and executive producers sponsored this project to make a buck, deserve to be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, deserve to have this film be such a failure that they are ashamed to have it in their filmography. Snakes on a Plane deserves to be a spectacular flop—to bomb on its opening weekend while everyone points and laughs. It should be the next Gigli. Instead, it will turn quite a hefty profit. The development staff behind this Frankenstein monster will proudly flaunt their involvement in the film, and we’ll be seeing dozens more intentionally bad films from Hollywood in the next five years. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to endure that.

In short: Snakes on a Plane has the potential to be the highest-grossing film of the year, if the viral ad campaign doesn’t lose steam soon. What does that say about Hollywood? But more importantly, what does it say about you, the movie-going public? Because to a filmmaker like me, you seem to be saying that you don’t care about quality.

Busy beeeees

I’m just here to let you know that I haven’t been swallowed up by demon-beasts from another dimension (that was last week). As self-important as this sounds, I’ve been too busy to do a blog post recently. I’ve been in New York (upstate; think cows instead of skyscrapers) visiting family last week, and I’m leaving for Minneapolis and college and all that it entails on the 23rd, so Parker and I have been rushing to get everything done at any possible moment on Terminal Philosophy (just this evening we up and bought a scythe. A SCYTHE!) So shooting continues and the rush is starting because when I go off to college I’m taking the camera with me and that pretty much shuts down principal photography, ready or not.

I also just saw my most-anticipated movie of the year, A Scanner Darkly. Expect a review later this week. And I’m working on a vodcast, I swear. Actually, two. Or three. You’ll see.

In the meantime, props to all our cast and crew so far for doing a fantastic job and not getting impatient or histrionic with us. While you’re waiting for my next post, here’s a prompt for you to debate in the comments:

Discuss: Keanu Reeves looks like a mole.

Keanu Reeves = Mole?

I expect your answers spell-checked and typewritten (duh). You will receive your grades by mail in 6-8 weeks.

Purgatory: DONE! (almost)

“Beware; for when you gaze long into the bottomless cup of coffee, the bottomless coffee cup gazes also into you.”

Purgatory 1

As I write this, it has been 13.5 hours since we wrapped shooting of Purgatory at the Ever Open Café (a wonderful place, I might add, not only because they let us in but because they have good food and friendly service and free wi-fi. Go eat there! Take all your friends! Tell them the crazy late-night filmmakers sent you!)

It was a long-stressful night and I’m not quite sure where to begin, except to say that we got there at 11:00 at night and we had completed our shooting by 3:45, 15 minutes ahead of schedule! That’s never happened to me before, not just on this film but ANY film! It’s a miracle that we were able to get a location at all, but we also had some wonderful and cooperative extras who, although they had no sense of rhythm and acted like a herd of cattle with lobotomies, were well-intentioned and cheerful all night and tolerated my ill-tempered squalling.

Leo was great and Odin was great and Nietzsche was great and had a quite convincing costume (I’m just now reading the package the mustache came in and it says it was made of 100% human hair…that’s kind of creepy). The lighting was tough but we made it work, and we still have to shoot Purgatory exteriors (maybe at Ever Open, or maybe somewhere else).

I would like to let all of you who participated know that I’m planning on blocking out my memories of all the negative energy I was feeling and pretend that it was the most fun I’ve ever had shooting anything. That may actually be the truth. It was at least an adventure, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat (but next time Parker gets to do my job and I get to do Parker’s). Thank you all for a fantastic shoot, and you can expect a vodcast on this subject in the near future.

Purgatory 2

“In heaven we all wish to dwell,
But this place ain’t as bad as hell.
The blender may not work at all,
But still at least the pancakes sell!”

Progress… TO THE FUTURE!

So, we’ve done much. If you’ve seen the vodcast, you will know both that and that I am very ponderous when on camera. We have shot, as of now, approx. 11% of the movie. We’ve shot a disgusting man riding a tricycle, people dying, Satan, and a little more. Exciting.

MORE exciting however, is this Thursday, when we will be shooting Purgatory at the Ever Open Cafe (thank you Gale). Come to that, please! Slightly less exciting than Purgatory, but still quite exciting, we will be shooting Heaven next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday! Woo! Once all of this is done, we will be more than halfway finished. Hazaa!

If Eric is reading this, could you please email me at, I’ve already sent you an email so I suppose you could just respond to that. I’ll call too.

For the rest of you! Here’s this.


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