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.

Home Entertainment

Going Blu with Criterion in B&W

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Home Entertainment, Movies, Trailers | Leave a comment

I’ve been getting immersed with Blu-ray for quite some time, including many of the monthly offerings from Criterion and Eureka (the Criterion of the UK with its prestigious Masters of Cinema series). And I look forward to making Blu-ray and DVD coverage a regular staple of my blog.

So I’d like to start by highlighting some of the recent Criterion offerings: High and Low (1963) has always been my favorite Akira Kurosawa and the Blu-ray only reconfirms it. Adapted from Ed McBain’s novel, King’s Ransom, High and Low stars Toshiro Mifune as a successful shoe magnate who initiates a take-over bid of his company to preserve the integrity of his craft. However, when a kidnapper grabs a neighbor’s son instead of his by mistake, Mifune faces a moral dilemma that’s almost Shakespearean. The film represents the pinnacle of Kurosawa’s fascination with American storytelling and seamlessly turns it into an intense Japanese procedural and family drama. Given that High and Low is shot in Scope, the film achieves a strange sense of claustrophobia as result of its gripping narrative, use of black-and-white, and oppressive compositions. In retrospect, the sense of anxiety is heightened by the fact that the film was released the same year as the Kennedy assassination.

Speaking of black-and-white and claustrophobia, there’s no better way to also get reacquainted with Paths of Glory and Sweet Smell of Success (both from 1957) than on Blu-ray. Stanley Kubrick’s early masterwork takes us inside the opulent chateau of France’s aristocratic General staff and onto the brutal trenches beyond with voyeuristic delight, where a World War I suicide mission reverberates with corruption and inhumanity. Kirk Douglas’ idealistic and fair-minded Col. Dax is nearly swallowed up in the power play.

Meanwhile, Burt Lancaster’s Walter Winchell-like columnist does the swallowing up in the wicked Sweet Smell of Success, and Tony Curtis’ oily press agent becomes his accessory in the ruthless game of gotcha. Director Alexander Mackendrick taps into a smoky, seedy, and seductive Manhattan, complemented by the jazzy beat of Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets’ biting script. It picks up where Abraham Polonsky left off and signals the coming of David Mamet. “A cookie full of arsenic,” indeed.

Blu Goes Blu for Rio

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers, Videogames | Leave a comment

There’s a lot of blue this week with The Smurfs hitting theaters for Sony and Rio coming out on Blu-ray today for Fox (with a lead macaw named Blu and Blue Sky doing the animation, no less). Happily, HD intensifies the craft and experience because Rio is really the star of Carlos Saldanha’s very personal tribute to his native country, despite the charming love birds (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) and madcap adventure. And as much fun as the 3-D was theatrically, the colors pop even more on Blu-ray without the dimness factor. Also, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 really propels the bravura Carnival dance sequence.

As I reported previously for AWN, Blue Sky certainly raised its game to achieve the level of animation necessary to match Saldanha’s ambitious vision. “But even little things were complicated like populating the city with trees and flowers,” he said. “Those became our biggest problem complexity wise when the leaves were moving, and the technology we used had to be improved to handle this.”

Birds were the first challenge, of course. There are 12 bird species (chicken, crow, egret, frigate, goose, macaw, sparrow, spoonbill, toucan, cockatoo, cardinal and canary) and a total of 51 unique ones. The hero birds required special rigging for the wings, which double for gesturing when not used for flying. In the case of Blu, that’s most of the movie. In fact, Blu’s entire groom had around 5,000,000 individual hairs to make up all of the feathers.

“The wing rigs are complicated and you want to give them some personality and the ability to emote and articulate their feathers,” suggests Robert Cavaleri, CG supervisor. “And those are two very different kinds of control sets that you have to blend together in a way that allows to them to go from being like a normal bird and something that can be caricatured in a particular way.”

Extras include a deleted fruit stand scene, a tour of the real Rio, and three Angry Birds Rio offerings.

Source Code Goes Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Home Entertainment, Movies, VFX | Leave a comment

Source Code (on Blu-ray July 26th from Summit Ent.) proves that Moon was no fluke. Duncan Jones follows his brilliant debut with a more conventional sci-fi thriller, yet Source Code is just as trippy and existential, and even more gripping. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a mysterious soldier transported to a Chicago commuter after it’s exploded as part of a secret military project. It’s part Ground Hog Day and part Twilight Zone. Gyllenhaal takes the guise of one of the commuter passengers, and races against time in continual eight-minute loops to identify the bomber before he can strike again, piecing together the puzzle on the train as well as his own strange circumstances. In fact, Source Code turns into a fascinating love triangle involving one of the passengers (Michelle Monaghan) that humanizes him and the military liaison  (Vera Farmiga) that guides him on his journey. It’s a sublime time travel story about destiny.

The subdued color palette from cinematographer Don Burgess comes across effectively on Blu-ray, and the CG environments and digital doubles principally handled by Modus FX seamlessly blend together without notice.

Spielberg and Jackson Tout Tintin at Comic-Con

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Books, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, performance capture, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Sorry I’m unable to report directly from Comic-Con’s Hall H in San Diego to bring you Steven Spielberg’s historic appearance, but, rest assured, I will have some very privileged Tintin access very soon. However, according Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times, Spielberg showed off some action-packed footage of Tintin engaging in both a gun fight and fist fight, and pursuing some baddies on wet cobblestone streets. The celebrated director also discussed raising the performance capture bar at Weta with his surprise guest, Peter Jackson, who still plans on directing the second installment if The Adventures of Tintin proves popular after its North American release on Dec. 23.

“Do I shoot this live-action with a digital dog or do I shoot this computer animated?” he originally questioned. “This was the medium which was begging us to use it.” While he wanted to capture a physical resemblance to the Herge comics, he didn’t want them to look cartoony, which is why the photoreal skin textures were applied to the characters.

Like Cameron, Spielberg had a virtual camera to see the rough performance capture renders and shot the whole thing using the V-Cam; this gave him a lot more freedom with action sequences than he’s accustomed to with a real camera. He also enjoyed the intimacy with the actors: “This is much more of a direct to canvas art form.” He was amazed at the emotion they were able to achieve with the animation. As for the virtual technology, he praised it for being “realistic to the point where the animators can create the musculature, nerves, and replica of a human body which responds the same way as we do.”

Oh, by the way, Spielberg took the opportunity to announce that, among his many projects, is Jurassic Park 4 (Universal Home Ent. releases Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy on Oct. 25).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqn_rjQudps

Star Wars Saga Deleted Scenes Trailer

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Fox Home Ent. has released a Comic-Con exclusive deleted scenes sizzle reel for the upcoming Star Wars Saga Blu-ray set. Enjoy the fun until the set gets released on Sept. 16.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlMjnHvlehw

Rango Revels in Dirt on Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Home Entertainment, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Score another one for Rango, which is the best animated feature so far this year. The Blu-ray released last Friday from Paramount Home Ent. is stunning reference quality, which is ironic given the dirty aesthetic: We luxuriate in every dirty, grimy, dusty, fuzzy detail; the blacks are deep; and the spaghetti Western-inspired compositions are full of depth. Who needs 3-D when you have such a tactile experience with reptilian skin and parched desert surroundings?

ILM’s first foray into animation proved to be a smooth transition, considering its legendary achievements in photoreal VFX. The San Francisco studio created a unique “photo-surreal” look that embraced imperfection. The performances were also aided by director Gore Verbinski’s live-action mode of shooting Johnny Depp and the other voice actors. Check out the audio commentary that includes animation supervisor Hal Hickel and VFX supervisor Tim Alexander, as well as the “Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History doc. As an added bonus, there’s an extended cut with a four-minute coda in which the inhabitants of Dirt take a detour, so to speak.

“What he wanted was something very different from the neat and tidy and colorful mainstream feature animation that we’ve become accustomed to,” Hickel suggests.

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