Getting More Immersed with Indiewire


  The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor.  Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart


The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing. In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film


For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson). Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.

Below the Line

Descending From Telluride

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Festivals, Movies, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

Critics and journos are spilling over with praise for Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (Nov. 23) at Telluride this weekend, which gives it lots of Oscar buzz.  And I’m sure it isn’t merely the bucolic beauty of the surroundings or the fact that George Clooney was there with Payne (a critical darling since his last film, Sideways), flashing his movie star charisma like a polished Presidential contender at Iowa or New Hampshire. The Descendants has been earmarked for Oscar ever since it was announced. Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, Clooney plays an indifferent real estate lawyer Matt King forced to reconnect with his two daughters and confront his demons after a boating accident puts his wife in a coma. And the Hawaiian setting serves as a volatile metaphor for all the pent up emotions (shot by Phedon Papamichael, who also worked on Sideways).

And the early returns suggest a funny, quirky, and reflective film about repression, change, responsibility. Just the kind of indie prestige film critics flock to and the Academy craves, especially in this 10th anniversary of 9/11. Yes, I believe that’s going to be the cultural undercurrent this season.

“Payne’s heartfelt comedy about a father and his two daughters facing the death of his comatose wife manages to sidestep the pitfalls of the weepie,” writes Anne Thompson. “Articulately narrated by Clooney’s Matt King, a sad sack real estate lawyer in Hawaiian shirts and kakis who considers himself ‘the back-up parent, the understudy,’ the movie is full of characters who are hiding deep emotion…”

“But The Descendants is about more than one’s own personal journey of self-discovery; it is about selflessness, and how most of us are really here not to polish our own knobs 24/7 but to look out for others, especially those we’re responsible for, those we’re leaving behind,” effuses Sasha Stone.

Can’t wait to see it myself and chime in with my personal observations and interview coverage.

Trailering Living in the Material World

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Movies, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison doc, Living in the Material World (HBO, Oct. 5 and 6), premieres at Telluride this weekend. It beautifully introduces the spiritual journey that encompassed Harrison’s musical and cinematic life. He was always the soft, sensitive, enigmatic Beatle — and yet his career as exec producer  (The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits) should also be revealing. The doc is lensed by Robert Richardson (Shutter Island) and edited by David Tedeschi (No Direction Home, Shine a Light). Christian Kontis did digital restoration.

As previously reported, the doc makes use of archival home movies, personal photos, and concert footage to tell the story of the legendary rocker and spiritual seeker. In addition to material provided by Harrison’s widow Olivia Harrison, there are interviews with Eric Clapton, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, George Martin, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty, Phil Spector, Ringo Starr, and Jackie Stewart.

“Like so many millions of people, I first came to know George through the music, which was the soundtrack of our world,” Scorsese, who also directed No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, said in a press statement. “So when I was offered the chance to make this picture, I jumped at it.  Spending time with Olivia, interviewing so many of George’s closest friends, reviewing all that footage, some of it never seen before, and listening to all of that magnificent music — it was a joy, and an experience I’ll always treasure.”

Indeed, it’s the spiritual connection that infuses Scorsese’s interest in Harrison, which should make for a fascinating overlap.

Clipping Warrior

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

Warrior (Sept. 9) has been cultivating great word of mouth as a stirring, brutal, Rocky-like boxing picture. And, given the success of last year’s The Fighter, might have Oscar potential. Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory, Miracle), the film concerns two estranged brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), on a collision course with each other in the ring. The brothers have their own reasons for getting into the ring: Tommy’s a former wrestling champion, who enlists his father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic, to help train him. By contrast, Brendan’s motivation is more desperate: he needs to become a fighter to pay for his daughter’s medical bills and to keep the bank from foreclosing on his house.

In this first clip, Tommy plans his return to the ring; in the second, Brendan argues with his wife (Jennifer Morrison) in the bathroom that he’s not going back to an impoverished life, despite the physical dangers of entering the ring. As they say, the sins of the father are visited on the sons. Dan Leigh is the production designer (Pride and Glory); Masanobu Takayanagi (Babel) the cinematographer; the editors are Sean Albertson, Matt Chesse, John Gilroy, and Aaron Marshall; and Mark Isham composed the score.

Bond 23 to Shoot in India

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, James Bond, Movies, Tech | Leave a comment

Bond 23, helmed by Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig in his third outing as 007, has been given permission to shoot in India, reports The Hollywood Reporter. The Indian government has cleared the way for shooting in Delhi and Goa and close to Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. And, according to the The Times of India, a set piece is being planned for the famed Daryaganj bazaar and flea market Sarojini Nagar in Delhi. However, while permission has not yet been granted for a fight on the rails in North Goa, negotiations are still taking place with the Railway Ministry.

This marks the first time since Octopussy in ’83 that the Bond franchise has ventured to India. For instance, Roger Moore’s Bond is assisted through the bustling market of Udaipur with a young operative handy with a racket played by tennis star Vijay Amritraj.

The upcoming Bond movie, which offers our first fully-formed look at Craig’s 007, is scheduled to begin production in November, and will be shot digitally with the Arri Alexa by Roger Deakins — a franchise first– who collaborated with Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes are the super baddies, sparking speculation that perhaps they might be returning once again to the Fleming short story, Risico, for inspiration. It was previously tapped for For Your Eyes Only in its use of rivals to manipulate Bond. Naomie Harris is reported to introduce Moneypenny to the origin story. Steven Begg is the VFX supervisor and Tanq Anwar is presumed to be the editor.

The untitled Bond 23 will be released Nov. 9, 2012, in honor of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Trailering Drive

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

Drive (Sept. 16), directed by Cannes winner Nicolas Winding Refn, is one of the most highly-anticipated fall films — the new Bullitt. The very hot and versatile Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March) plays a Hollywood stuntman and sometimes wheelman who fights for his life after a contract has been put on him for a heist gone wrong. Co-starring Carey Mulligan (An Education), Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks. It evokes a gritty, neo-noir ’70s look (designed by Beth Mickle, shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, and edited by Mat Newman), epitomized by the ’73 Chevy Malibu that Gosling drives and personally restored. VFX by Ring of Fire and Wildfire VFX.

Trailering Apollo 18

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

What if there were a secret follow-up Apollo mission in December of 1973 funded by the US Department of Defense and kept under wraps by NASA that went awry, ensuring that we never returned to the moon? That’s the conspiratorial premise of Apollo 18 (opening Friday), directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov. Shot like actual footage captured by the two astronauts on that horrifying mission, the result looks like Blair Witch in space.

The minimal VFX (around 100 shots) were by Image Engine (District 9) and Russian-based Bazelevs and Artifex Studios. They are mostly focused on creative set extensions of the lunar surface that you see in the trailer. Production design is by Andrew Neskoromny and cinematography by José David Montero.

Anonymous Gets VFXY at Toronto

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Anonymous (Oct. 28), Roland Emmerich’s provocative political thriller about the identity of William Shakespeare — Amadeus meets Shakespeare in Love — is one of the techie treats premiering at The Toronto International Film Fest. The movie posits that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), is not only the incestuous lover of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), but also the real author of the Bard’s works. As the Essex Rebellion conspires against her succession, political intrigue abounds between the Tudors and the Cecils.

Shot at the Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, (the first major movie to use Arriflex’s new Alexa digital camera), the VFX challenge was to virtually recreate Elizabethan London. This task fell to Uncharted Territory, headed by Volker Engel and Marc Weigert, who’ve taken on more of a production partnership with Emmerich since 2012. They serve as exec producers on Anonymous.

Thus, after lots of testing, Weigert tells me that we can expect some stunning advancements in digital cinematography and High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) for photoreal environments that match seamlessly with the 70 sets that were built.

9/11 Anniversary Vibe to Pre-TIFF Oscar Predictions

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

The Gurus o’ Gold made their initial predictions for best picture Oscar nominations heading into the Toronto International Film Festival, and, guess what? There’s a definite post 9/11 10th anniversary vibe with a lot of upheaval and soul-searching.

1. The War Horse

2. The Ides of March

3. The Artist

4. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

5. The Descendants

6. Midnight in Paris

7. J. Edgar

8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

10. The Tree of Life

Well, obviously, the specter of 9/11 looms large in Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Christmas Day), in which a precocious 9-year-old (newcomer Thomas Horn) searches the five New York boroughs for the lock to the mysterious key left by his father (Tom Hanks), who perished in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Talk about reconnecting, land baron George Clooney reaches out to his two daughters in The Descendants (Nov. 23) from the always quirky Alexander Payne. Then director/actor Clooney turns the dirty and corrupt political culture on its head in search of reform and redemption in The Ides of March (Oct. 7).

Which leaves David Fincher to make sense of the the whole malaise in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21), in which Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara search for a woman missing for 40 years linked to a serial killer that was never caught.

And what would Oscar season be without allegorical period pieces to bridge the past and present: Steven Spielberg separates a boy (Tom Hiddleston) and his horse in War Horse (Dec. 28) like lovers during the tumult of World War I. In The Artist (Nov. 23), a French black-and-white silent, the talkie revolution in Hollywood of ’27-’31 hits the industry like an earthquake. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio gets caught in another identity mind twister of sorts in Clint Eastwood’s biopic, J. Edgar (Nov. 9); and the Cold War espionage games implode in the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Nov. 18).

By contrast, Woody Allen does the time warp for spiritual guidance in Midnight in Paris, and Terrence Malick book ends his surreal ’50s family saga with contemporary context in The Tree of Life.

To be continued as we head into the Oscar season…

Spielberg Adds 3-D Frisson to Fright Night

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Steven Spielberg is apparently having a lot of fun with 3-D, and not just with Tintin. According to Fright Night VFX supervisor Joe Bauer, he added a dramatic touch to Colin Farrell’s pool attack. When the teenager releases a cross underwater, Spielberg added a more dramatic shot looking up in the cross part of the metal that is tumbling down through the water and toward the camera.

In addition, Spielberg wasn’t quite satisfied with the stage-four look of Farrell — it wasn’t scary enough. But when the filmmakers reviewed the original concept design, they discovered a shark-like look to the bite, so Spielberg recommended that they make it more, well, Jaws-like. So Luma, which did the bulk of the CG heavy lifting, including the vampire mouth rigging, post tracked more than a dozen shots and created an uglier bite in which the jaw opens much wider and we look deep into his mouth.

Nine Shortlisted for AMPAS Sci-Tech Awards

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Events, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Nine scientific and technical achievements have been selected for further awards consideration by the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These include the Micro-Voxel Volume Rendering by Side Effects Software; Contour Dense Mesh Motion Capture by Mova (pictured above from MPC’s Hades in Percy Jackson); Cinema System for theatrical projection of stereoscopic content by RealD; Phantom High-Speed cameras by Vision Research; and the “Lowry Process” by Reliance MediaWorks (witnessed in such exceptional catalog Blu-ray/DVD titles as the Bonds and Indiana Jones, among hundreds of others).

The list is made public to allow individuals and companies with similar devices or claims of prior art the opportunity to submit their achievements for review. The deadline to submit additional entries is Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 11:59 pm PST.

The committee has additionally selected these other methods or devices for further consideration:

  • ARRI Zeiss Master Primes Lens Family (ARRI Inc.)
  • Phantom High-Speed Cameras for Motion Picture Production (Vision Research Inc.)
  • Pictorvision Eclipse (Pictorvision, Inc.)
  • FUJIFILM Black and Whit1e Recording Film ENTERNA-RDS for Archive (FUJIFILM North America Corp.)
  • Lyre Microphone Suspension (Rycote Microphone Windshields Ltd.)

After thorough investigations are conducted on each of the entries, the committee will meet in early December to vote on recommendations to the Academy’s Board of Governors, which will make the final awards decisions.

The 2011 Scientific and Technical Awards will be presented at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012.

Claims of prior art or similar technology must be submitted on our online site at www. oscars.org. For further information, contact Awards Administration Director Rich Miller’s office at 310-247-3000, ext. 1131, or via e-mail at scitech@oscars.org.