Saturday, April 28, 2007

Grindhouse

Reposted from my review on Horrortalk.

[rate 3.5]

Grindhouse, the collaborative effort of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (R&T), pays tribute to the schlock and exploitation films of the 70's. It's broken into two complete films: Planet Terror, written and directed by Rodriguez and Death Proof, written and directed by Tarantino. Filmmakers Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and others also contributed fake trailers that are shown in between the two features. The fake trailers alone are worth the price of admission.

The first thing I noticed watching Grindhouse was that R&T took great pains to re-create the nostalgia of the drive-in experience. They dug up old coming attraction promos and feature intros, complete with the corny music--imagine going to see "I Spit on Your Grave" introduced with music that sounds like a high school marching band.

R&T chose two different paths for their respective films. Rodriguez actually made a schlocky movie from the 70's with Planet Terror, while Tarantino made a Tarantino movie that captures the spirit of the time.

Planet Terror



Planet Terror's plot is simple, and perfect for schlock. A group of mercenaries, making a deal for some dangerous chemicals, use an abandoned military base two miles outside a small town to complete the transaction. But, naturally, things go awry. The airborne chemicals find their way to the town (why do they always pick on small towns?), and the good town folk start turning into--zombies. The sheriff (Michael Biehn) and his deputies are on the case, but seem to be out of their league. So, true to a schlock movie, it's up to a drifter (Freddy Rodríguez), his stripper...er, go-go dancer girlfriend (Rose McGowan), and an abused nurse (Marley Shelton) to save the day. To complicate things (sort of), the story has an "As the World Turns" style subplot that takes place in the hospital where the nurse works. Of course, if this were an actual movie form the 70's, the subplot would disappear mid-movie, leaving the audience confused. But this one actually makes its way to the end, and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

I liked Planet Terror a lot. It was fast paced, over-the-top violent, and extremely funny--all the elements of a good zombie movie. The gore effects were done in "Dawn of the Dead" style, but updated. Ironically, Tom Savini--who pioneered those gore effects, and played a deputy in Planet Terror--didn't work on the makeup (at least according to imdb, but he's probably proud of how it turned out.

The acting was perfect, at least for its purpose. While the film never takes itself too seriously, the characters very much do. They express a seriousness that suggests the actors are subconsciously winking at the screen. And that works here.

Rodriguez also added a ton of film grain to make the movie look old, and added jumps and splices, often at opportune moments.

For anyone that likes zombie movies and/or schlock, this segment is just right for you.

Death Proof



Tarantino took his segment in a different direction, one that Tarantino fans will love, but cult-horror fans may not.

This segment follows two different groups of chicks, as they go out on the town, and on the road. Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) is a radio personality who needs to blow off some steam. She gathers her drinking buddies and they head for their usual watering hole. One of them catches Stuntman Mike's (Kurt Russell) eye and he follows, but keeps a low profile. For a while, the chicks have a great time. They drink, tease, flirt, and talk shit in a way only Tarantino could dream up. But when they leave the bar, Stuntman Mike has plans for them.

The next group, played by Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, drives out to the middle of nowhere to find Zoe's (Bell) dream car, which she desperately wants to drive. Zoe is in from New Zealand to visit Kim (Thoms), a fellow stuntwoman. They convince the owner of the car, who's selling it, to let them test drive it (the argument between the girls on how to pull this off was hillarious), and they take off. Unfortunately for them, they run into Stuntman Mike while trying some daring stunts with the car. But, look out! These chicks don't take any crap.

I liked Death Proof about as much as Planet Terror, but for different reasons. It's more a film for Tarantino fans than cult movie fans. True to Tarantino form, Death Proof has snappy dialog performed perfectly by a first-rate cast. A better portrayal of realistic banter you will not find. The film also has a soundtrack that would make Scorsese jealous. I imagine Tarantino sitting his his house, a juke box filled with songs from the 60's and 70's next to him, blaring away.

Death Proof also has some of the best driving stunts and cinematography I've ever seen.

But there is little story to speak of. A man stalks two groups of chicks sums it up. Of course, whether or not character-driven stories have or require a strong plot is debatable.

Overall, I recommend Grindhouse, if not in the theater, than on DVD, where it's sure to have a lot of extras.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The How-To for YouTube

A couple months ago, I started uploading videos to YouTube (you can find my videos here); basically, some of my old shorts and a couple of Timewarp's trailers.

The first thing I noticed was that the format in which a video is uploaded can make a difference in how it looks and sounds on YouTube. My first attempts had muffled and distorted sound and a pixelated picture--yuck!

So, I did a little research, and here's what I found:

First, YouTube makes the requirements for the best quality clear in the help center. They are:
We recommend the following settings:

  • MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format

  • 320x240 resolution

  • MP3 audio

  • 30 frames per second


Resizing your video to these specifications before uploading will help your videos look better on YouTube.


Second, how do we accomplish this? Simple. Here are a few tips and free tools to help improve the quality of your uploaded videos.

  1. Download the Divx codec. There are free versions for PC and Mac.

  2. Download Virtual Dub, a free video editing tool that converts between various video/audio formats. If you already installed Divx, you will see it as an option in the conversion menu.

  3. Now open your video in Virtual Dub (File->open video file).

  4. Next, open the video compression screen (video->compression), and select Divx.



  5. If your video is not 320x240 (or 360x240, which I use) then you need to add a resize filter (video->filters->add) and select resize



  6. Now to audio. To convert to MP3, you must first select "Full Processing Mode" from the audio menu. Then you can open the audio compression menu (audio->compression) and select MP3.


  7. Finally, select Save as AVI from the file menu and you're good to go.


Of course the quality of your video is subject to the quality of the original version. But with the variety of affordable digital video camcorders out there, that shouldn't be a problem. However, all bets are off for camera phones.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 Does Encore

Adobe recently announced the release of their upcoming Creative Suite 3 (CS3). I always keep an eye on Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro to see if the update will make my life easier. And it looks like Premiere Pro CS3 definitely will.

In addition to some nice perks like direct-to-disk recording, DVD / Blue Ray output, support for mobile devices, and the long-awaited time remapping, Premiere Pro CS3 will also include Encore, Adobe's DVD authoring software.

To date I've been using DVD Lab, a capable, low-cost alternative that got me through my first professional project. But the makers of DVD Lab are the first to admit that if you're doing professional authoring work, you should get a professional authoring program. So, now that I fit into that category, I've been looking a little harder at Encore.

Even before the announcement, choosing Encore over other professional authoring software was a no-brainer. It has a good reputation, and integrates extremely well with Premiere and After Effects, which I use. And now that it comes with Premiere Pro CS3, it's just an upgrade away.

Thanks, Adobe.

Click here for more information on Adobe Premiere Pro CS3.