Introducing Moviemaker Taylor Davis

Taylor Davis“I dream for a living,” Steven Spielberg once said. And that appropriately sums up the aspirations of my son, 17-year-old homeschool graduate Taylor Davis, moviemaker extraordinaire. Taylor was raised in a family of movie lovers. We quote from them constantly, recall many favorite moments from movie history, watch the ‘making-of’ documentaries, and just generally love the visual form of storytelling. Taylor also took a liking to Legos early on and has amassed quite a collection of kits and pieces. So when he received his first video camera, a hand-me-down from his dad, it naturally followed that he would start filming Lego characters.

For years Taylor has educated himself in the art of screenplay writing, stop-motion filming, visual and sound effects, and film editing, improving his skills year by year. In spite of not making use of the instructors and upscale equipment some public high schoolers have, Taylor still managed to win first place (with a monetary award) in the local high school’s video contest for a Just Say No to Drugs PSA. Following that, he won third place in the comedy category in the Utah High School Film Festival, a very competitive statewide competition.

His YouTube channel boasts several million views which, besides leading to some heartfelt fan mail from young fans, have led to some money-making opportunities, including invitations for blog posting and a partnership with another YouTube channel that provided him with a brand new high-def camera, which is already improving the quality of his latest projects.

Taylor will be headed to college soon, where he hopes to develop a moviemaking career. You can see some of his stop-motion, animation, and live action films at TaylorPlacePro and BrickUltra.

 

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” Shameless Fun

Yes, I love my classics. I enjoy trying to lift my mind to a higher plane than where much of the world around me resides. I love to learn and gain insight from the great writers of yesteryear. But sometimes, ya just gotta lighten up and have some silly fun. I think everybody has their favorite stupid books and movies. Nothing wrong with that.

Thanks to my kids, I have been introduced to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and movies, which follow the hilarious daily life of tween Greg Hefley, his brother Rodrick, his friend Rowley, and several other of his family and friends. The books, written as Greg’s diary, are a super fast read, and the movies, let me tell you, I only watched the first one because my son just wanted me to watch it with him. I was doing a favor, you know. But I honestly haven’t laughed that hard and continuously at a movie since, I can’t remember when. The subsequent two movies were equally entertaining. I can watch them over and over.

Kinney has a way of taking experiences like we all had in junior high school and showing us how insanely funny they are, with maybe a little exaggeration thrown in. So go ahead, read, watch, nod your head, or shake it. It’s okay.

 

Front Row Center Seat for “Les Miserables”

I once saw an excellent stage production of “Les Miserables”. And a few years later, I had tickets to see it again, front row center, right in front of the orchestra pit. I had to give up those tickets due to unforeseen circumstances, and it smarted for years. But all has been made right now with the movie version starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway. Every seat in the theater is like front row center for this bigger-than-life film and its timeless music.

The story contained in French novelist Victor Hugo’s tome is well-known in its portrayal of justice, mercy, and redemption among the poor, pitiful unfortunates during politically unstable times in early 19th century Paris. What brings this version to boisterous life is the raw, gritty realism with which it’s portrayed, with actors who lost weight, faces full of blood, dirt, and stained teeth, and the ugly, vulgar squalor of peasant life.

Massive, epic scenes of a monstrous ship, of prison labor, of an ancient hilltop monastery, and of barricades across a Parisian cityscape are contrasted with tight close-ups of dirty, teary faces passionately singing songs of deep feeling and lament. In these close-up solitary character studies, the camera doesn’t cut away till the last note’s echo has died. It’s an effect that seems to involve all of your senses and binds you more closely to the story than smelling the pages of an old book.

Strangely, it’s the realistic look of the film, with all its ugliness, and its story of the triumph of the human spirit that fashions the finished product into a thing of beauty.

If You Loved “Lincoln” You Will LOVE…

…the 1989 film Glory. The Academy Awards happen this Sunday night, and history buffs and many others will be rooting for Steven Spielberg’s excellent film Lincoln, nominated for Best Picture and 11 other Oscars. If you are one of those who appreciates the attention this film is getting, and if you never saw Glory, I highly recommend this precious celluloid gem, which won three Oscars in 1990 among many other awards. It has remained a top 10 favorite of mine ever since.

Glory tells the true story of the 54th Colored Regiment during the Civil War, and it is brilliantly told, powerfully acted, and stunningly filmed. Matthew Broderick plays the very young Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, thrust into a position of leadership he was hardly prepared for. (The real Colonel Shaw is pictured at right.)The real Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

The cast is filled out by some fictional characters who effectively capture the essence of the 54th Regiment. Morgan Freeman is the seasoned soldier who keeps the younger ones in line and reminds them of why they’re there. Denzel Washington (Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor) is the rebellious runaway slave, at once difficult but courageous. Andre Braugher is Thomas Searles, a proud freeman who must toughen up to serve alongside his brothers in arms. Jihmi Kennedy is Jupiter Sharts, an illiterate field hand eager to do his part.

The molding of these characters into a cohesive, stalwart unit is a remarkable story, and the film is an inspiring, memorable piece of work and a fine tribute to that brave regiment.

                                            

Retro Date Night: Titanic

Titanic

With Valentine’s Day looming, are you looking for an inexpensive, at-home date night? Quite possibly you already have this treasure on your shelf. Why not get it out, dust it off, cozy up to your significant other, and watch it together?

Titanic is one of those rare and wonderful films that remind us of why we like to see movies. Since the sinking of the famous ship over 100 years ago, there have been several films on the subject, including A Night to Remember in the ’50s. However, this 1997 Academy Award Best Picture winner benefits greatly from contemporary moviemaking technology and a fresh, fictional love story, and it is not true that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. It may be helpful to know something of the background of the movie to more fully appreciate what you see.

At a cost of 200 million dollars, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made, but the money was accounted for with a detailed and quite precise re-creation of the ship and its palatial interiors, with stirring actual footage of the ship where it lies today at the bottom of the north Atlantic, and with carefully researched period trappings from the hand-sewn beads adorning women’s gowns to the stamped silverware and china, exact replicas of those used on the ship. Such details may not be individually noticeable to many viewers, but it’s knowing that a filmmaker would take time and care for such things that insures that he will do right by the bigger aspects of his work. The scenes of men working in the steamy boiler room and of the colossal, shiny, new gears and machinery powering the massive ship are pure art.

The story begins as a treasure hunter (Bill Paxton) and his crew are descending in a tiny submarine to search the interior of the wreck of the Titanic on the ocean floor. They are looking, in particular, for a diamond believed to have been part of the crown of Louis XVI. Instead they find a drawing of a nude woman who is wearing the diamond. When the drawing is shown on the evening news, a 100-year-old woman named Rose Calvert (Gloria Stuart, a former star who was acting for the first time in 50 years) comes forward, claiming that she is the woman in the drawing. She and her granddaughter join the treasure hunters on a ship which takes them to the wreckage site. Rose’s emotion at seeing some of her personal effects for the first time in 85 years leaves no doubt that she was Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), the fiancée of rich businessman Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). She then takes her eager listeners back in time for a spellbinding story of love, vengeance, and destinies changed forever during the course of a terrifying two hours during the sinking of the great ship herself.

Rose was being forced into an engagement she didn’t want when she meets the dashing Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) aboard ship. He is a third-class passenger with only 10 dollars to his name, a carefree drifter who loves life and the uncertainty of it. In four days aboard Titanic, Jack introduces Rose to the real world and real love for the first time.

The film worked with audiences because it possessed all those traits we enjoy most. There is humor as the division between the stuffy upper classes and the immigrant passengers in steerage is shown. Kathy Bates appears as Molly Brown, who, although rich, is down-to-earth and likable. There are amazing action sequences and unbelievable photography of this page of history we could only imagine until now.

But at its heart, Titanic is a passion-filled love story between two people who live the happiest days of their lives aboard a ship no one knew was doomed. At three and a half hours, Titanic is longer than it took the real ship to sink, but the time flies.

And if, like me, you enjoy some occasional movie trivia, knock yourself out with this lengthy list of fascinating facts.

Lincoln vs. Congress

imgresLeave it to Steven Spielberg to make history entertaining for the masses. His movie Lincoln, an adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, is a cinematic wonder. In it, he takes just one month of Lincoln’s war-racked presidency, January of 1865, and dissects it like a frog in a biology class.

Although Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation two years previously, he was legitimately concerned that it wouldn’t be enforceable at the conclusion of the Civil War and that, while freeing slaves, it didn’t actually abolish slavery. He felt that only an amendment to the Constitution could effectively and permanently rid the nation of this heinous blot on our history. The 13th Amendment had passed in the Senate in 1864, and now it faced its toughest battle in the House of Representatives.

Lincoln is told early on that there are not enough votes to pass it in the House, no matter how they count it up. Undeterred, he gives his advisors a mandate to do what needs to be done to get it through the House. He could not envision a future where slavery had any chance of rearing its head again, where hundreds of thousands of Civil War deaths would be in vain.

Politics being politics, one character jokes that the amendment is being passed through bribery and corruption. But clearly, as the Founding Fathers intended, it is not supposed to be a quick and easy thing to change the Constitution. Any amendments should be analyzed and debated at length before becoming the law of the land in perpetuity. The logical question is raised, if an entire subpopulation is suddenly freed, how will they be assimilated into society? Will they be able to prosper or will being thrust haphazardly into the unknown bring them to ruin? Lincoln shows his adept leadership by admitting he doesn’t know what will happen. It will be new ground for everyone, but they must not be afraid to take steps forward, trusting that they would find their way as they go. Time was of the essence, and progress could not be stopped long enough to plan the next several decades. The film teaches a good lesson in doing what needs to be done right now, seizing a chance that may never come again.

Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is of a generally calm, unruffled but determined man. In meetings he often seems distracted, like he’s not taking things seriously, but then, launching into a retelling of one of his famous stories, it is obvious that he not only heard every word and considered it, but that he is adamant about the direction they need to go. The audience gets the feeling that this backwoods man has somehow so far exceeded his colleagues in intelligence that he must descend to their level to work with them, yet he does so with firmness, patience, and good humor.

We are also treated to a glimpse of Lincoln’s personal life—the husband of the emotionally unbalanced Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), the father dealing with, at once, a mischievous 12-year-old boy and his oldest son Robert, who wants to join the military to his mother’s dismay. It is easy for the audience, after deeply acquainting themselves with Lincoln in a freshly unique way, to discover sadness anew when the film reaches its inevitable conclusion.