Active Ice AerialCam Showreel

posted Jul 29, 2013, 12:49 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Jul 29, 2013, 12:51 PM ]

I got to edit some aerial footage for the first time and it was a load of fun.

Hopefully it turned out half decent, take a look.

Let's Have a Brief, Spoiler Ridden Discussion About: Trance

posted May 6, 2013, 6:10 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated May 13, 2013, 6:09 PM ]

Danny Boyle made a fatal mistake with his latest movie Trance, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the film.

“I love watching those movies, I’m a big fan, Chris Nolan, Ridley Scott and they mustn't stop making them, but they are not really the ones for me.” - Danny Boyle

In context this was a broad statement about his appreciation for refined big budget blockbusters while expressing no interest in undertaking them, specifically Bond. Unfortunately, out of context, it's an endorsement of Nolan's Inception right before Boyle makes Trance. This line has tainted reviews of Trance and polarized people's approach to the film in general.

Now, it's no secret that I'm not a fan of Nolan's work. I find most of it glorified gimmick mongering with a side of bland exposition. So it makes me incredibly sad to read droves of reviews simply stating, "Trance is Danny Boyle's attempt at Inception." This film deserves far more credit than that.

This is written with the presumption that you have seen the film, seriously spoilers.

The Man You Love to Hate:

James McAvoy as the initially lovable and eventually detestable leading man was perfect casting. People love him, especially when he speaks. Having him face-on narrate the entire opening creates a powerful connection between the viewer and his character. It's a very personal sequence, as if he were speaking just to you and no one else in the cinema. This 
opening sequence is carefully constructed to draw on the 

viewers prior knowledge of heist movies. It's evocative and reminiscent of the Oceans films, because that's the connection it wants you to make: James McAvoy is George Clooney, or rather James McAvoy is every plucky crime hero.
This is not just a great example of Boyle's genre mashing; it also sets a precedent as that specific character archetype is always redeemed. Redemption is what this film is really about, but not the act itself. Trance is about making the audience expect, hope for, and eventually crave McAvoy's redemption. In that order.

Which leads us to...

Welcome to Salem:

You will figure out the plot early, or at least the declared plot. The film wears the core of its story on its sleeve and this is intentional. When McAvoy meets Rosario Dawson's character at her practice there's no hiding that she recognizes him and by the time they talk about quitting gambling on the roof you should have pretty much put it all together.

In many movies this would simply be the machinations of story structure clicking along predictably, but in Trance this is something else completely - Trance is a witch hunt. You know that something isn't right with McAvoy's character, yet time and time again the film brings you back to the only female character seeming to be the antagonist. You will find new
ways to accuse her every few minutes, as she infiltrates a group of strong independent men using intangible, almost supernatural means. When she sleeps with Vincent Cassel's character Franck, you feel like she's doing something very wrong, when in the bigger picture this is completely innocent.

It wants you to blame the girl every step of the way. It wants you to watch McAvoy descend into madness but lets you cling to him, and it wants you to question her at the end of everything. Then, at that end you can choose to accept what you are given or distrust her even further. Even if that was the only thing the film did, it would still have accomplished something great.

This isn't to say Trance is flawless, far from it in fact  It often buckles under the weight of it's own multitude of misleads and it will take a DVD release to really piece together whether or not every thread pays off. I just strongly feel the film shouldn't be dismissed, especially when it accomplishes something so many R-rated films fail...

Giving Hyper Violence a Point:

There are only three truly violent scenes in Trance, each serves a powerful purpose and the film would be weaker without them.

The first is the half-missing head reminiscent of the Constantine demon hordes (though I'm not attempting to draw any parallel there, it was simply my first thought in the cinema.) This shot makes the viewer understand just how wild west the character's minds now are. It marks the boundary between the film's easy going first half and its psychedelic second.

Next is the case of the rape prevention where McAvoy shoots a man in the penis. This scene plays into the idea of attempted redemption because it's something so directly harsh that you struggle to reconcile it. It's an excess committed by McAvoy that shows not only his obsession with Dawson's character but again begs the viewer to stop rooting for him. This section as a whole also unsettles the third act, in a good way. It raises strange questions about Cassel's 
character being willing to leave Dawson in danger, and reminds the viewer that these men are indeed criminals.

The final piece of violence is more macabre than slasher and echoes the works of Francisco Goya, the artist of the painting chased through the film. I'm of course speaking of the girl in the trunk. You can't look at her, the desecrated form of an innocent girl as a painting of witchcraft is removed from the boot of the car, and then she is burned. This body personifies Dawson's guilt.

In closing, I want to stipulate that Trance is not the second coming, and it's certainly no Sunshine. Trance is simply a good film that deserves some thought rather that a barrage of "Style over substance." and "It's not as clever as it thinks." Those things are easy to write and will probably get quite a few reviewers' comment sections roaring in agreement, but they fail to actually accomplish anything. They are empty gestures like so many are accusing the film of being.

Rosemary Towns End Album Promo - Characters

posted Mar 15, 2013, 3:19 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Mar 15, 2013, 3:26 PM ]

Eons ago in the winter (or something resembling it) of 2012, I got to spend a few days in a beach house with these fantastic fellows. Also them.

I made a 4 minute video. The others were much more productive and recorded an entire album. A debut album in fact, called Characters. You can check out a few tracks over on their Soundcloud.

Sort of a Review: The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

posted Dec 13, 2012, 2:05 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Dec 13, 2012, 4:14 PM ]

 "I spent much of The Hobbit thinking about Lord of the Rings...

Let me start with full disclosure:

I won't spoil stuff, even though the book has been around for 75 years.

I watched the 24 frames per second 2D, because in South Africa you have little choice.

I walked in wishing the film had been directed by Guillermo del Toro.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a game changer. Peter Jackson stepped in and proved to the world that epic fantasy was not only massively profitable, but could also be done with finesse and respect to its deeply revered roots.

Most importantly he didn't screw it up.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey must have been an interesting undertaking. There was no real way for him to top that feeling of watching the The Fellowship of the Ring in cinema for the first time. There was no way for him to surprise the viewer; Jackson's only possible direction was to just avoid Hindenburging.

In many ways The Hobbit is a safe film. It's interesting, but down the street interesting, not fly overseas interesting. Most of the risks have been piled onto the HFR 3D. (The film itself was never in any danger of tanking at the box office and Jackson and other parties would have seen a good opportunity to test the public.) Unfortunately, it's within this safety net that I felt least comfortable watching the film. The juxtaposition of classic Lord of the Rings melancholy with the lighter tone of this trilogy's subject matter meant the film never developed its own voice. I spent much of The Hobbit thinking about Lord of the Rings; that was simultaneously the point and the failing.

The humor didn't always sit well, like an awkward elephant in the room that tells fart jokes rather than keeping its mouth shut. I felt like I forced a laugh or two to save face before remembering it was too dark to care. The film is still very funny when it needs to be, but the wit outshines the physical. It is Martin Freeman's honest performance that hold it all together; he provides a solid base and takes every opportunity to slip in a special moment for the vigilant.

Weta's visuals confuse me once again. Simultaneously masters of compositing, and kings of the uncanny valley, every pan felt slightly like Russian Roulette. The 2D version of The Hobbit seems to hop from lush and active CG, to under populated and under textured shots. I want to blame a lot of it on my cinema, so I will, but what I cannot blame on my local pit of ineptitude is the rehashed feeling the monsters gave me. Jackson clearly intends the films to sit naturally in a viewing alongside the previous trilogy, and while the goal has been achieved by a mile, I can't help feeling cheated. Gollum is still a masterpiece, but a little Pan's Labryrinth couldn't have hurt the orcs and goblins.

Side note: Whoever is responsible for the pacing of the riddles in the dark scene deserves a medal.

Some scenes felt exactly the same as the Lord of the Rings films. Blow for blow, uncomfortably so. Obviously there's writer's symmetry to consider, both from the screenplay and the books themselves, but the throwbacks still detracted more than they added. What should feel like a nice reminder of the film's pedigree comes out instead, as awkward Déjà vu.

Okay - this has sounded pretty damning so far, as if I'm speaking of some early Wright Brothers' plane mangled in the dirt. The Hobbit does not fail to fly. It reaches the heights of its predecessors, and even manages it with a little more grace at times. Casting, wardrobe, and sets are all up to the staggering standard Jackson set for himself with his first venture into Middle-earth. Howard Shore's stirring music strikes a nostalgic cord when it isn't directly revisiting parts of the old Lord of the Rings' soundtrack - Interestingly, it's this bridge between the films that works flawlessly where others had felt forced or overkill.

Allusions to something greater are perhaps The Hobbit's strongest moments; clearly the access to The Silmarillion coming through in the wonderful script. Guillermo's influence manages to instill a constant sense of a world beyond the frame, not just in scope but also in heart. This is what I've come to expect from him; and was clearly necessary to help it sit comfortably along side Peter's previous achievements.

It was a great cinematic experience, and one I would gladly repeat in 48 frame were I able.

Yet at the back of my mind, under the layers of fandom and quality film making I've just been exposed to, I can't shake the feeling that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not the film it should have been. It's not often the studios align, allowing a chance to make something like this. Peter Jackson has done a wonderful job once again, but he shouldn't have.

I walked out wishing it had been left in Guillermo's hands. We would have gotten something truly special rather than an extension of something beautiful we already had.

Belle Vie Commercial

posted Dec 12, 2012, 4:06 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Mar 15, 2013, 3:22 PM ]

A friend and I shot and edited a commercial for the guys over at Belle Vie. We had no time, and even less equipment but I think it came out pretty decent.

Sort of a Review: The hunger Games

posted Apr 17, 2012, 8:01 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Apr 18, 2012, 9:58 AM ]

 "Sure, its world is a little broken, but its people are shattered.

st elmos wire the hunger games
Teen books making the transition to movies defiantly don’t have the best reputation at the moment. Though Harry Potter was... passable, it wasn’t anything to set your watch to. The vampire incident, I can’t even bring myself to write about. So you can understand why I was extremely cautious as I approached a midnight screening for the Hunger Games.

There are two things to note when you read this.

The first is probably the most important. I have not read any of the books. I also have no intention of doing so. I have heard mostly positive things about them, but as books they fall into an extremely diverse arena where they can and will be outshone. And this is where I think their movie iterations will become very important. There aren’t that many respectable uses of dystopian worlds in cinema at the moment. The technological pessimism of the 70s, 80s, and 90s is over. Public interest has shifted to mankind slowly euthanizing our environment and our economy rather than building T-800s. We just don’t make nihilism like we used to. Now as I’m sure I’ve said somewhere before: I don’t give a rat’s ass if “that one part makes so much more sense if you’ve read the book.” I’m not watching a film with a prescribed text. If you can’t translate a book into a movie with substance and its own voice, don’t do it at all.

The second important point is how late this film released in South Africa. The reason this is relevant to my opinions isn’t just due to my rage at our cinemas, it’s also because other people’s writings on the film have influenced me somewhat.

Right, now that we’ve tripped through that preamble let’s talk shop. The last decent post apocalyptic film I watched involved a blind man and a cat. If you don’t know what I’m talking about it’s probably good because I just spoilt the entire thing for you. If you do, then you might agree with me. It combined the right amount of cool and desperation that the genre needs to not depress the living hell out of you. The Hunger Games is different right off the bat, mostly because it has trees and more than one desert local, but more importantly because its desolation manifests in its people not its world. Sure, its world is a little broken, but its people are shattered.

Ironically it’s these broken people that give the Hunger Games a voice over the standard dystopia (Usual population: One incredibly skilled, silent badass and a million dirty indiscriminate cannibals.) Jennifer Lawrence is solid in her role and I’m very excited to see how she handles becoming a ruined mess as the subsequent films release. She proves that X-Men: First Class was just a bit of a hiccup. Woody Harrelson and the cleverly cast Lenny Kravitz also pay off handsomely.

They made some very good decisions with the visual design of the world, allowing the film to immerse without being distracting. The opulence and ridiculousness of the ruling class quickly becomes normal to the eye, and is never taken too far in the characters that are meant to be feared or respected. There were only one or two scenes where I felt the budget let the visuals down, the chariot scene being the major culprit. I guess it also helps the film dramatically that most of it takes place in a forest.

I was quite worried about the cinematography in early scenes, an over dose of shakey-cam that just wasn’t necessary, but the film cleans up substantially as it goes on and proceeds to shake only to distract from the R-rated brutality that it can’t show it’s largely teen audience. I had a good laugh when they make the transition from fighting one another to the CG mutts – the camera was suddenly steady, then a teenager has a weapon and is bleeding on screen and it all goes to hell again. Outside of this, I was impressed by how the film didn’t tiptoe around the violence that is so integral to it. It’s not Battle Royale, and it might be better for it.

I suppose the question comes down to: Is the Hunger Games a good movie in and of itself? If a good movie is something that keeps you watching and uninterruptedly entertained though you knew little to nothing about it when you walked in, then yes the Hunger Games is a good movie. I was particularly proud that it didn’t try to explain everything all at once. That may seem obvious, but so many films fall into this trap. If you would like to watch an entire film about just this; it’s call Inception and for some reason people thought it was clever. Interestingly the films lack of hustle to get you into the actual games gives it a wonderfully foreboding quality. At no point do you really know just how close they are to culling all the characters they have introduced; it’s like every Game of Thrones.

These days I advocate watching something before you read it, and not just because I read like a sloth. You can get everything good out of a film or TV show and still find more in the books, but for many people it doesn’t work in reverse. This creates a new generation of angry people, and we really don’t need more of them.

I guess this hasn’t been about the Hunger Games that much.


That’s why it says “Sort of” in the title.

Sort of a Review: 21 Jump Street

posted Mar 29, 2012, 11:13 AM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Mar 29, 2012, 11:42 AM ]

 "What I wasn’t prepared for, was for 21 Jump Street to be a modern day Hot Shots!

st elmos wire reviews 21 jump street
People say that Hollywood has run out of ideas.

I would argue that they didn’t have many to begin with, and we should give them some credit for what they’ve managed to achieve by gluing stacks of money together.

Regardless of your stance on the subject, no one can deny the wincing pain brought on by the sight of a poster or trailer for something that most respectable people forgot about a decade ago. 21 Jump Street is the filmification of, well, 21 Jump Street. A show from the late 80s about Johnny Depp pouting.

I’d seen the trailers, and raved about how much I hated Channing Tatum’s face. I thought it looked funny in that worrying kind of way where the three laughs in the film are in the trailer. What I wasn’t prepared for, was for 21 Jump Street to be a modern day Hot Shots! That sentence ends with an exclamation point because the film title does, not because I was yelling. Though if you watched Hot Shots! when you were young and impressionable (or its aptly named sequel Hot Shots! Part Deux) I’m not sure how you could read it without getting at least a little excited.

Not everyone will enjoy 21 Jump Street, (I would worry about the world if everyone did) but the film skates that wonderfully thin ice between underhanded wit and toilet humour. It has that duality of a post season 3 South Park episode where one side of the audience will laugh at a dick joke while the other will snicker at a reference to the absurdity of modern action films, all within 8 seconds of each other.

Another stand out aspect of the film is its powerhouse comedic cast. I especially loved Dave Franco proving that he’s much funnier than a failed Scrubs Season 9 implied. And then there’s Channing Tatum, a man whose very name makes me want to sucker punch him and run. Yet it’s arguable that he gives one of the strongest performances in 21 Jump Street, and believe me that’s a tough thing to admit.

Fairly unpredictable and surprisingly fleshed out, 21 Jump Street will hopefully set a new precedent for modern parody films, because we really really need one.

Sort of a Review: Lucky

posted Mar 19, 2012, 5:18 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Mar 19, 2012, 5:18 PM ]

 "I came out feeling like I'd watched a great film that happened to be in South Africa...


lucky south africa
I’m really not sure how I got invited, but I somehow got to enjoy the festivities of the Cape Winelands Film Festival's opening night. I got to wear a suit, which almost never happens. The Cape Town film youth came out in numbers and pulled no punches with the formal dress code, it was quite a sight.

Aside from some entertaining accidental racism (where an older guest handed my friend's boyfriend his coat thinking he was an usher) the real star was the premiere of the film Lucky. It’s an absolutely charming local film that only resembles Central Station if you look at it from, well, any angle. I point out its similarities to that film not to detract from it, but rather as high praise. A friend of mine at the premiere mentioned how much it felt like Central Station and once seen, it couldn’t be unseen.

Lucky tells the story of an orphan who heads to the city in a noble attempt to go to school and ends up with an angry old racist Indian woman, which is education in its own right I guess.

Much of the film revolves around the breakdown in communication between the boy and the old woman, and it’s in these moments that Lucky really shines. The charisma and subtly exhibited by both the leads is admirable and carries the film through its most formulaic sections. With these two on screen the film has a very natural flow. Unfortunately it does suffer from a few pacing issues. There are sections where you feel like you are approaching the films conclusion when it's still a good while off. Thankfully, the characters are easy to invest in and you quickly forget the feeling when you realise you aren’t done with them yet.

The best part of the film for me as a South African (I rarely call myself that) is the use of the setting. I touched on this in my ramblings about Safe House, but that was more about foreigners using African settings. In the case of local film there is a different problem, especially in South Africa. Filmmakers and script writers in this country seem to think that there film's identity is defined by being a ‘South African’ film. Very few films can actually get away with the country being their identity and their voice. A notable success would be the stellar District 9. Thankfully Lucky stands on its own legs, the film doesn’t pander to its setting and it’s stronger for it. They never even bother to say the name of the city. I came out feeling like I'd watched a great film that happened to be in South Africa rather than a South African film. Believe me when I say there is a big difference.

Sort of a Review: John Carter

posted Mar 12, 2012, 3:19 PM by Rowan Jackson   [ updated Mar 12, 2012, 7:51 PM ]

 "If I saw a film this entertaining every few months, I would be a very happy man." 

John Carter of Mars. You know, the planet?
If you don’t know what John Carter is, it isn’t your fault. It’s Disney’s fault. The marketing of John Carter was one of the worst atrocities performed to a great movie in a long time.

I can just imagine the marketing executives now, having written “John Carter of Mars” on a piece of paper and shown it to exactly one person who responded with “Why Mars?” they desperately scribble over the last part and attempt to purge it from their marketing campaign. Because who could get into a movie about other planets represented in a fantastical way, am I right? Not just that, but then they failed at getting rid of the Mars part anyway, leaving a slew of perplexing "M"s in banners and alternate posters.

And that was just the start, as they churned out trailer after trailer ignoring the most interesting parts of the film, and completely neglecting its clever Pixar styled humor. John Carter is actually very funny at times? You didn’t know that? Again, not your fault. Ironically it is this misunderstanding of how to handle the source material, and a fear of America not being able to get behind a man on Mars, that stunted the development of this project time and time again. You see, the film has been in pre-production, in some form or another, since before you were born. Unless you were born before 1931, in which case you are incredibly old.

You might be wondering why all this matters. The truth is it wouldn’t matter much at all, except that John Carter is fantastic. If I saw a film this entertaining every few months, I would be a very happy man. Whether it is a 250 million dollar film, I’m not convinced, but again I couldn’t care because it was worth watching. This is not to say John Carter isn’t niche or flawed, but its imperfections are completely forgivable when standing in the shadow of its towering entertainment factor and outstandingly charismatic animation. Pixar’s hand in John Carter is unmistakable and the film is wholly better for it. The new Mission: Impossible should be indication enough that that company at least knows how to entertain in live action.

Normally I couldn’t be bothered with avoiding spoilers but, much like Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, I’m going to assume a fair amount of people haven’t yet gone to watch John Carter and it deserves your full attention. To put it in perspective, John Carter was everything I was hoping Phantom Menace was going to be as a small idealistic Star Wars fan in the 90s. So, what are you waiting for?

Sort of a Review: Goon

posted Mar 3, 2012, 6:33 PM by Saint Elmos Wire   [ updated Mar 12, 2012, 7:49 PM by Rowan Jackson ]

 "...featuring some of the best fist to face responses I've seen." 

Many people say that we live in a culture of violence. We glorify war, blood, and masculinity. If there was ever a poster child for this new age of brutality it would be Hockey, specifically the ice kind. Goon is a film about being true to one’s self. It’s a tale of victory over mounting adversity. Most importantly, Goon is about beating the shit out of people hilariously.

There’s a real treat to be had when you sit down and watch a properly funny film. Comedy is where Goon really shines. The film’s script is simple yet self-aware. Doug, the protagonist, is as loveable as a giant teddy bear and as dangerous as the less stuffed Kodiak version. The film takes the concept of punch line to a whole new level, featuring some of the best fist to face responses I’ve seen. The fighting is the message. So, as a disclaimer I guess, if you don’t like hockey violence don’t watch Goon?

Now that those douchebags are gone we can talk about how wonderful hockey violence is.

Okay, I may be over selling the violence here. The film is totally solid outside the rink, too. (Doug fights people outside as well, but that’s not the point.) It has an adorably off-beat love story, an indie pedigree without shoving it down your throat, and Liev Schreiber who is just kind of awesome. It’s like watching The Mighty Ducks except two men ate all the children and then started fighting. It’s nothing like The Mighty Ducks.

I’d also like to see Alison Pill in a lot more films. She has a really interesting screen presence. Go watch Goon today; it’s worth your time.

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