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.


Serkis Talks More Apes, Hobbit

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Events, Home Entertainment, Music, Oscar, performance capture, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

With a Best Supporting Actor nomination at stake, Andy Serkis was back in town discussing performance capture and trying to educate his fellow actors on getting over the fear of computer technology. You can read all about it along with the unusual approach to sound editing/mixing of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in my latest TOH column at Indiewire.

What’s changed as a result of Weta’s new active-LED system used for Apes is that there are no longer any breaks in the capture sequences: “Every reaction, every emotion, every acting choice and beat happens there and then,” Serkis emphasized.

Korzeniowski Talks W.E.

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

Golden Globe nominee Abel Korzeniowski tells me about scoring W.E. and working with Madonna in my TOH column at Indiewire. With its haunting melodies, we get the back-and-forth between illusion and reality that underlies Wally’s misconception that King Edward VIII’s (James D’Arcy) abdication of the British throne for the woman he loved, chic American divorcée Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), was the perfect love story of the 20th century. In fact, it was a constant struggle.

You can listen to the score on TWC’s awards site.

The Artist/Vertigo Music Controversy

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Movies, Music, Oscar | Leave a comment

It was bound to happen: Some sort of backlash against The Artist, which is the best picture Oscar front runner. And the weak spot apparently is the use of Bernard Herrmann’s love theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo at the climax. Kim Novak watched her DVD screener and was outraged, so she launched a press release and took out a trade ad in protest, which Deadline reports.

However, composer Ludovic Bource’s score has already been deemed eligible by the Academy’s music branch, which took the Vertigo sampling into account, and director Michel Hazanavicius has already explained his reason: He used the Vertigo theme as a temp track, and, when Bource’s riff didn’t move him, he went back to Herrmann. Sampling is fairly common,  but here’s Hazanavicius’ response when I posed the question at the press junket:

“For people it’s a little bit shocking to have the music of another movie. When I saw Casino, Martin Scorsese used the music of Le Mepris from Jean Luc Godard and for a few seconds I questioned it. Finally, I accepted it. So we had two options: I asked the composer to compose on the same structure but with our own thing, and I did not have that feeling of something special from the last movement. And also this theme is so beautiful, so perfect, so sensual that, finally, I decided to keep it. And this movie is not just a tribute to silents: it’s wider than that. It’s a tribute to all the classical Hollywood movies. That track had legitimately to be here and any way you can find Herrmann, the music is so beautiful.”

Michael Giacchino Performs at Bad Robot

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

Last night film composer Michael Giacchino gave an intimate concert on the roof of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot studio. The performance was in honor of Super 8, and the illustrious crowd included Brad Bird, Jon Favreau, Dennis Muren, and Karl Urban. Giacchino led off with the tender theme from the Steven Spielberg tribute, saying he was glad to have the opportunity to be “10 again.” With his small orchestra, Giacchino also performed suites from Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Star Trek, and Lost.

Afterward, I remarked how wonderfully romantic and melancholy his music is, and Giaccino said that’s what he lives for. My late father used to call it “smaltzy,” and Giacchino responded, “Smaltzy is good.”

Meanwhile, Abrams begins shooting his Star Trek sequel next week and showed some of us around his geeky-looking studio. He lamented the closing of Kerner Optical (the former ILM practical effects division). “It’s over, it’s all CG now and I have to live with it.”

I also had a chance to congratulate Bird on the enormous success of Ghost Protocol, which surpassed his own expectations. He was glad people enjoyed the old-style action that wasn’t too intense.

Tellefsen Pitches Moneyball

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Editing, Home Entertainment, Music, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

In my latest Immersed in Movies column for TOH at Indiewire, I speak with Moneyball editor Christopher Tellefsen about internal rhythms and getting under the skin of Brad Pitt’s Oscar-contending Billy Beane.Tellefsen works well with director Bennett Miller, who has a fondness for quests, and this is even more ambitious than Capote. Moneyball comes out this week on Blu-ray/DVD from Sony Pictures Home Ent.

Daldry & Crew Discuss Extremely Loud

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Events, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | 2 Comments

Director Stephen Daldry discussed the delicate balancing act last night at the Landmark between “what to show and what not to show” in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Joined onstage by production designer K.K. Barrett, composer Alexandre Desplat, and VFX supervisor Kevin Mack, Daldry explained that the film works as a catharsis for dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.This was as true for the cast and filmmakers as it is for the viewers.

The director told moderator Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood that the key decision was casting newcomer Thomas Horn. Producer Scott Rudin discovered the prodigy on teen Jeopardy! (Rudin is a former winner) and he was invited to audition rather late in the casting process. Daldry worked out an analytical methodology with Horn that worked out well, and the director believes he’s delivered one of the best child performances in movie history.

Barrett added that Horn was able to tap into his emotional life for the role and, as production designer, it was his job to convey the character’s point of view. Barrett went on a “lost and found” expedition throughout New York City in search of distinctive ways of portraying the various locations. He found it helped being a New York outsider.

Desplat, who came in at the last minute to compose a whole new score in only three weeks, said he wept when viewing the rough cut before beginning work. The use of piano was instrumental in conveying the haunting tone and Desplat said he was fortunate to hire pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (who is performing the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 with the LA Phil through January 8 at Walt Disney Concert Hall).

Mack said he was charged with recreating the attacks on the World Trade Center in the background with matte paintings and the New York skyline before and after 9/11, which has obviously changed. They also played with camera perspective shifts. But Mack’s proudest shot is the devastating image of the falling man that opens the film and recurs as a metaphoric thread.


Immigrant Song Video Propels Dragon Tattoo

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

David Fincher directs this video of the howling, sadistic, cyberpunk, oil-drenched cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Karen O, which is used in the opening credits of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Featured on the three-disc soundtrack by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, it’s wild, creepy, and sadistic: it’s like Maurice Binder on acid and brings back memories of Se7en.

Immersed in Blu-ray: St. Louis, West Side Story

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar | Leave a comment

Vincente Minnelli’s masterful Meet Me in St. Louis (Warner Home Video) arrives on Blu-ray just in time for the holidays. It’s my favorite of Minnelli’s musicals (the first of the movie genre to dramatically integrate music into the emotional fabric of the story). The Technicolor looks stunning in HD, as we progress throughout the seasons, going from the heat of summer and the beauty of spring, right on through spooky Halloween and chilly Christmas. It all coincides with the emotional ups and downs of the middle class Smith family and culminates with Garland singing the melancholy “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to the scene-stealing Margaret O’Brien.

Then something miraculous happens, of course, when O’Brien, in a fit of rage, decapitates her snowmen because the family’s relocating to New York. It’s brilliantly shot in close-up from her innocent point of view. But there’s no place like home and the 1904 World’s Fair arrives as the harbinger of a new beginning. The circle of life, indeed.

By contrast, the arrival of the Oscar-winning West Side Story in a gorgeous and 50th anniversary Blu-ray set (Fox/MGM Home Ent.) represents a stylization of a different sort, in which both song and dance express emotional states of mind in this Romeo & Juliet of the street.

I still think The Sound of Music is Robert Wise’s musical masterpiece, but this comes a close second in a powerful and poetic adaptation of the Bernstein/Sondheim Broadway smash. The loss of innocence circa 1960 in New York City anticipates the violent destruction that would rip the hearts out of a nation coming to grips with race relations. Jerome Robbins’ choreography steals the show, though, in this large-format sensation that sounds as great as it looks in the home theater. It captured the zeitgeist of the era and certainly has its roots in hip-hop and beyond. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer have no right to be as good as they are, and best supporting Oscar winners George Chakiris and Rita Moreno are unforgettable.

Golden Globes Gets Animated

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

Grabbing Best Animated Feature nominations today for the 69th Golden Globe Awards are the five studio films you could count on: Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin from Weta Digital (Dec. 21); Aardman/Sony’s Arthur Christmas; Pixar and John Lasseter’s Cars 2; DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots; and Gore Verbinski’s Rango, the front runner and ILM’s first animated feature. Gnomeo & Juliet’s “Hello Hello” from Elton John and Bernie Taupin was nominated for Best Original Song.

What does this mean for Oscar? I think it’s a race between Rango and Tintin with the other two or three spots wide open. But don’t be surprised if one of the 2D indies sneaks in, such as A Cat in Paris.

“To make a movie so far afield from the norm was very gratifying,” admits Hal Hickel, Rango’s animation supervisor. “It’s hard to buck the trend but we’re so thrilled to be getting such a great response. And it was a great fit for us to work in a world that had such a photographic and textured look. The freedom not to be in that live-action box was new and exciting and it was helpful having Roger Deakins come in and show us that we had all these lighting options. We looked at There Will Be Blood, and liked the solutions they came up with for those hot, dusty exteriors.

“Where do we go from here? We’re dying to do another one, with or without Gore. In fact, I’d prefer to do something else that’s completely original. We can do so much more.”

For director Chris Miller, Puss in Boots provided an opportunity to do something totally different from the Shrek world and was a liberating experience. “It’s reflected in the movie,” Miller adds. “Guillermo [del Toro] came aboard at a great time for us. It was fated in a way. It was surreal when he asked to participate and helped us achieve the story we wanted to tell. We’ll see if there’s an appetite for the cat to come back.”

“I’m just delighted that the brilliant craftsmanship, hard work, and dedication of the team who made Arthur Christmas has been honored by a Golden Globe nomination,” remarks director Sarah Smith. “Thank you to the HFPA; we hope the movie gives Christmas pleasure!”

The Golden Globes will air live on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm PST on NBC.

Revisiting KFP2 on Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

With this week’s release of Kung Fu Panda 2 on Blu-ray/DVD (DreamWorks/Paramount), featuring stunning picture and sound and plenty of great bonus features (“Animation Inspiration” and “Animator’s Corner”), it’s time to revisit the work on display for Oscar consideration.  As director Jennifer Yuh Nelson has revealed in my interview, this cried out for a sequel that is more epic and intimate than the original.

“It’s more epic, it’s more emotional, and, graphically, it goes beyond the original in so many ways,” asserts Rodolphe Guenoden, supervising animator and fight choreographer. “And the original had a pedigree that was not such an easy task.”

For the sequel, the dramatic stakes are also raised with Po discovering his origin and how it relates to the conflict with Lord Shen (Gary Oldman).

“It was great seeing her be a part of the entire animation process because before she was part of the upstream departments with storyboards and visual development,” Guenoden adds. “But to actually have that collaboration in animation was [valuable]. She never lost track of the story she wanted to tell.”

This character arc is clearly evident in the fight sequences, according to Guenoden. “The scale and tone of the fights are different,” he says. “For the first battle sequence when we see Po in action, we wanted him to perform in the same way as his dream in the original movie. So it had to be slightly fantasized, and then each one after that had to reflect the story point that Jen wanted to emphasize.

Guenoden also enjoyed finding a different way for the Lord Shen to fight, and was assisted by new R&D for feathers from the technical department. “I took a lot of inspiration from rhythmic gymnastics as well as traditional assault forms,” he explains. “I wanted him to be very graceful, and I wanted him to be original and super flexible and unpredictable. I looked at a lot of videos of girls jumping around and doing incredible flips.”