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.


Stainton to Head Paramount Animation

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Movies, Oscar, Tech | Leave a comment

Paramount has tapped former Disney Feature Animation head David Stainton to run the new in-house animation division, signaling an end to the DreamWorks Animation partnership. Stainton capped his 17-year tenure at Disney by spearheading the difficult transition from hand-drawn to CG-animated movies, including Chicken Little, American Dog (retitled Bolt), and Rapunzel (retitled Tangled).

In his new role, which takes effect this week, Stainton will report to Adam Goodman, president of the Paramount Motion Picture Group.

As Deadline reports in breaking the story, Paramount Animation will attempt to emulate the successful model forged by Chris Meledandri at Fox/Blue Sky (Ice Age) and now with his Illumination Ent. company at Universal (Despicable Me). The initial plan will be to release one title a year, with budgets of up to $100 million. This is less than Paramount’s Rango, animated by Industrial Light & Magic, and currently the favorite in the Oscar animation race, grossing $240 million worldwide. The broadest range of family fare will be the mandate, according to the official announcement, with a key piece being titles under the Viacom’s Nickelodeon label.

However, it has not yet been reported who will animate the in-house division.

“The success of Rango this year helped us recognize our potential and ability to create wonderfully imaginative animated pictures with global appeal,” said Brad Grey, chairman & CEO of Paramount Pictures. “David is a proven leader with a broad portfolio of experience in animation and family entertainment. He will be a welcome addition to Adam’s highly talented team.”

“David’s accomplishments speak for themselves, and I am glad to welcome him to the lot as we start this exciting new chapter,” Goodman added. “With David’s leadership, we will look to build on what has been a very strong year for our studio in animation, with Rango and the upcoming Adventures of Tintin pointing to the kind of artist-driven, broad-appeal films we intend to make at Paramount Animation.”

“Today’s marketplace affords terrific flexibility as we set out to create fresh, new and different films and seek to attract great talent to Paramount,” Stainton said. “It is a great honor to be joining a company as storied and successful as Paramount and to be able to shape its future in animation. I look forward to helping usher in this new era.”

Meanwhile, The Aventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, will be Paramount’s next animated release on Dec. 21

The Hugo Cineaste Factor

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Festivals, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (Nov. 23) is indeed the work-in-progress mystery movie tonight at the New York Film Festival, as predicted by, among others, Deadline’s Pete Hammond and Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells. Can’t wait to find out what the reaction is. Meanwhile, what fascinates me is the analysis that Wells got from someone who attended a September test market screening in Chicago. In fact, I already have it on good authority that the depiction of silent film legend Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), the father of special effects, is “a wonderful distillation” of Scorsese’s efforts to restore the reputation of Michael Powell (The Red Shoes), which is alluded to in the analysis. I’ve also heard that Scorsese’s stereoscopic aesthetic is very much rooted in the theatricality of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, which is downplayed by the anonymous attendee.

Here are some of his other comments:

“Lots of wide-angle and tracking shots. In fact, there’s one tracking shot in the opening 10 minutes that outdoes the Copa shot in Goodfellas in terms of sheer technical razzle-dazzle — it follows Hugo across and around catwalks, down a ladder, around a spiral slide, through walls, etc.

“The most consistently impressive aspect of the 3D is actually the particulate matter Scorsese adds to all the shots in the train station — amber-hued dust, snow, seta, etc.

“I actually think it may be his most ‘personal’ film since…I don’t know, Goodfellas? … I shit you not — the last act is all about the importance of film preservation…. It’s a movie made for cineastes.”

Animated Tatsumi Enters Foreign Language Oscar Race

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Books, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

Variety reports that Singapore has entered the animated doc, Tatsumi, about legendary Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, in the foreign language Oscar competition. Directed by Eric Khoo and based on the book, A Drifting Life, and five of the artist’s short stories, Tatsumi centers on his impact in bringing manga to an adult audience during post-war occupied Japan. It was animated at Infinate Frameworks Studios in Batam, Indonesia.

Will Skyfall Fly for Bond?

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

So, there’s been a lot of Bond news and speculation lately: the title Skyfall (based on several domain names privately registered for MGM and Sony Pictures), which might turn out to be true or just as bogus as Red Sky at Night. If true, it’ll be fun figuring out the context: Operation Skyfall?

What we do know, however, is that French TV actress Bérénice Marlohe has been officially signed as the next Bond girl along with Helen McCrory (Harry Potter’s Narcissa Malfoy) and Ben Whishaw (Layer Cake with Daniel Craig) in undisclosed roles. They will join Craig, Judi Dench, and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes have long been speculated as the super baddies, with scribe John Logan teasing a literal or metaphoric return of arch rival Blofeld as the head of the SPECTRE-like Quantum. That would fit Fiennes nicely. Or they could replay the old good/bad reversal game from For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights (culled from Fleming’s Risico short story).

Meanwhile, India has been derailed as a prime location because of a railway dispute involving a vital action sequence on top of a train, so they now will shoot in South Africa. Also, Istanbul returns to Bondage (previously used in From Russia with Love and The World is Not Enough) for the opening. Sultanahmet Square and Bosporus have been earmarked for 10-15 minutes of action. Finally, the exterior of Duntrune Castle in Scotland has been leaked by the owner as the site of Bond’s ancestral home for the climax in which all the villains are gathered.

The 23rd Bond entry begins shooting in November with Sam Mendes at the helm for domestic release Nov. 9, 2012, in honor the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Remembering Steve Jobs, VES Summit, Gaeta

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Festivals, Movies, Tech, VES, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

In this week’s TOH indieWIRE column, I elaborate on my memorable encounter with Steve Jobs and recap last weekend’s VES Production Summit and my casual conversation with John Gaeta at the Palo Alto Film Fest. Somehow it all fits.

Arthur Christmas Trailer #2 Arrives

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

A new trailer for Arthur Christmas (Nov. 23) has gone live and it further demonstrates that Aardman and Sony are a great match and play to each others’ strengths. Aardman’s trademark British wit and offbeat designs are beautifully complemented by Sony’s lively character animation and sumptuous environments. It’s breakneck action and snappy timing as the family of Santas tries to salvage Christmas for a deserving child and the hapless Arthur comes of age.

Asbury Enters Pooch Café with Sony Pictures Animation

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

On the heels of its smash hit, The Smurfs, which has grabbed nearly $520 million globally, Sony Pictures Animation has hired Kelly Asbury (Gnomeo & Juliet) to write a CG-animated adaptation of Paul Gilligan’s popular comic strip, Pooch Café. The project is being exec produced by Gil Netter, Bridget McMeel, and John Glynn.

Asbury told me that he’s taking it one step at a time but there’s always the possibility that he could direct if Pooch Café gets greenlit: “It’s the world as seen through the eyes of this dog, Poncho, who’s roommates with a human, Chaz, and they’re really close,” Asbury explains. “But when Chaz falls in love, it becomes the disruption of a bromance by a real romance and then comedy ensues.”

Kelly describes Gilligan’s graphic style as a cross between Picasso and Charles Schultz, “a cubist world that is very appealing and its simple shapes would translate well into CG if done right.”

“Kelly’s wit and cinematic sensibility pairs wonderfully with the irreverent characters and wry comedy in the Pooch Café comic strip,” says SPA president Michelle Raimo-Kouyate. “We’ve been looking for something to do with Kelly, and this was a perfect match.”

The strip stars Poncho, a cheese-loving, squirrel-fearing, toilet-drinking mutt who joins his canine friends at the Pooch Café, a neighborhood hangout where dogs can be dogs — comparing notes on such weighty issues as avoiding baths, zebra-flavored kibble, and the construction of a giant catapult with which to hurl all theEarth’s cats into the Sun. The strip was nominated for the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award for Best Comic Strip in 2008.

Asbury co-directed Shrek 2, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and has also worked on Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Toy Story, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. He’s also a noted author and illustrator of several children’s books, and, as a change of pace, penned Dummy Days: America’s Favorite Ventriloquists from Radio and Early TV.

A New War Horse Trailer Gallops on Display

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech | Leave a comment

As with The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21), the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (Dec. 28) emphasizes more action. A galloping horse named Joey leaps across the exploding battlefield at night during World War I, underscored by John Williams’ majestic score. Flashback to Albert taming, training, and riding Joey in the warmth, beauty, and comfort of rural England. But all that is shattered when Joey is taken from Albert, and we follow the horse on its epic journey that reaches No Man’s Land.

As production designer Rick Carter asserts, this is part of his post 9/11 “nature of conscience” exploration amid the “Goya-esque disasters of war.” The same goes for Spielberg as well.

RIP Steve Jobs

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Movies, Oscar, Tech | Leave a comment

Steve Jobs has passed away from cancer at the age of 56. The co-founder of Apple and chief executive of Pixar (he became a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney 2006, following the acquisition of Pixar by Disney) was arguably the leading technological visionary of our time. He transformed the computer industry, revolutionized animation, and, most recently, reshaped delivery systems with the introduction of the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad.

In 1986, Jobs purchased the Graphics Group from Lucasfilm for $10 million and spun it off into Pixar, retaining Ed Catmull, who became CTO, and John Lasseter, who oversaw all film projects as exec producer. He eventually directed the breakthrough Toy Story in 1995, the first CG-animated feature.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jobs at a Pixar party in LA to celebrate its 15th anniversary. I had just written an overview of Pixar for the Los Angeles Times that was published earlier in the day. Jobs read it and thanked me for my kind words. He was casually dressed in jeans and a button down shirt, and struck me as very easy going and caring. He asked me if I’d every been up to Pixar, and I told him that I recently enjoyed covering Monsters, Inc. “You should come up during the start of a production,” he suggested. I took him up on the offer and got the first sneak peek of Finding Nemo for Premiere Magazine.
I also remember overhearing Jobs discussing the upcoming Oscar race with a couple of his Pixar colleagues. Shrek, which eventually won, was viewed as the front-runner, but Jobs remarked that Monsters, Inc. would wear longer because it had more going for it than topical satire. Always competitive and thinking about the future.

New Action-Packed Tintin Trailer Unleashed

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

A new Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21) trailer has arrived, and it definitely amps up the action, which isn’t surprising after the slam-bang footage I viewed at Weta in July.

As I commented for indieWIRE, “[Tintin] looks like the best example yet of the fledgling and controversial [performance capture] technique, thanks to noticeable improvements in facial modeling, skin texturing, and more believable eyes. The result is a unique hybrid of caricature and photorealism. And despite the fact that most Americans are unfamiliar with Herge’s Belgian comic books, Spielberg has potentially pulled off a rousing adventure in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

And that’s what Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson are now trying to emphasize.

As for the performance capture, the rendering continues to improve and I see no Uncanny Valley ill-effects. The animation Oscar race just got potentially more interesting: “Tintin clearly pushes boundaries with a new kind of artistic layering of animated expression.” But I’ll know more, of course, after viewing the finished film in 3-D.