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.


Scorsese on Hugo and 3-D

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Books, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

After a screening of Hugo earlier this month at the Regal Stadium 14 in LA, Martin Scorsese proclaimed in a panel discussion moderated by director Paul Thomas Anderson that the experience was an “enjoyable headache…a discovery with each shot.” But in the excitement of “going back to square one,” he came away convinced that 3-D is now part of the toolset. He said “every facet of it was a redesigning of how to make pictures.” It was also a “recreation of a boy’s memory of where he was in the past.”

Thus, Hugo is a bridge. It’s like watching Antoine Doinel trapped in a clock with a rear window view of Scrooge, who, in this case, is forgotten French film pioneer Georges Méliès. And to soak up the period of Paris from 1929-1931, Scorsese studied such surrealist films as René Clair’s Le Million and Under the Rooftops of Paris as well as Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite and L’Atalante.

But recreating the legendary films of Méliès (including the recently restored A Trip to the Moon) as well as his glass studio gave Scorsese “a great deal of enjoyment.” It took nearly a year to pick and choose what to use with the final decisions coming about four weeks before shooting.

Scorsese, who was joined by production designer Dante Ferretti, cinematographer Bob Richardson, composer Howard Shore, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and VFX supervisor Rob Legato, underscored the vital influence of the whole transitional period from silent to sound, right down to the autochromatic look of the cinematography.

“He couldn’t trust using colors so he painted the sets — the sets were done in black-and-white,” Scorsese explained. “And most of the costumes were in black-and-white. The rest he borrowed from the theater and those were in color. A lot of the makeup was heavily done a certain way: in some cases, people painted gray with black lips. Because until panchromatic film came into existence, it was very difficult to get the true grays and blacks and whites, so this became interesting on set.”

Ultimately, Hugo is a valentine to the history of cinema and its crucial preservation, and should be required viewing in every introductory movie course.

But it’s the future that Scorsese addressed in his final comments on 3-D, which he has managed to use creatively like no other filmmaker yet in this stereoscopic renaissance. Riffing on the theatricality of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, Scorsese uses depth to frame his sublime story and to make every object a character. But it’s “a heightened expression of reality” that goes beyond theater and 2-D.

“For me, it’s just another element to tell a story,” he explained. “Most people have stereo vision so why belittle that very important level of our existence? There’s gotta be a way to find, for all our technical expertise, a comfortable way of dealing with [it]. The cameras are getting smaller, the issue of glasses is being worked on. If everything moves along and there are no major major catastrophes, we’re headed towards holograms. Why can’t you have 3-D where Hamlet comes out to the middle of the audience and says, ‘To be or not to be?’ I mean, they do it theater. Why can’t you have it in a movie theater or at home? You have to think that way. Don’t let fashion inhibit you if you’re being creative.”

J. Edgar and Rosebud

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

Friday night’s LACMA screening/Q&A of J. Edgar hit home the Citizen Kane analogy for Clint Eastwood’s biopic. The absolute corruptibility of power; the yearning for a love unfulfilled; and sublimating those urges to wield power. In this case, J. Edgar blackmailed the powerful through their sexual indiscretions (Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, Martin Luther King) to make up for his inability to express his own sexuality.

Arguably the most powerful figure of the 20th century, J. Edgar shrewdly set up the FBI and created his own law enforcement empire for nearly half a century, pioneering the science of forensics, cunningly promoting his image, and manipulating the media. In this regard, the snapshot of the Warner Bros. gangster film and its shifting emphasis from Jimmy Cagney’s gangster in Public Enemy (1931) to his lawman in G Men (1935) is fascinating and pure Eastwood.

Yet it’s the tender love story between Leonardo DiCaprio’s oppressive J. Edgar and Armie Hammer’s loyal lieutenant/partner Tolson that transforms the movie. Ironically, this could well be Eastwood’s most beautiful love story. During the Q&A, the celebrated director said he was attracted to the notion of exploring the secret behind the myth. I asked him afterward at the reception if he saw any connection between Hoover and Dirty Harry as law enforcement officers driven over the edge, and he just smiled and said that Dirty Harry came out at a time when attention was paid to victim’s rights.

For screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk), “it’s a cautionary tale” tied to our post 9/11 fear of terror. As for the notorious cross-dressing scene, he said it was crucial to find an emotional hook: Hoover’s mother. Eastwood said he’s particularly proud of the way it was handled: “It’s his way of bringing himself closer to his mother [during such a vulnerable moment].”

I asked Hammer which was more challenging, the brutal lover’s quarrel fight in a hotel suite or the quiet moment of emotional reckoning at the end? He responded that it was the latter because of the emotional complexity and the physical limitations of the makeup and his character’s stroke. Fortunately, it was the last scene that they shot.

Both Hammer and DiCaprio rejoiced in the famed Eastwood method of no rehearsals and one or two takes. DiCaprio even wondered if maybe Eastwood did more takes than usual since they often did four or five. I asked Eastwood if he altered his method and he replied, “No, I always do a few takes but make sure I get lots of coverage.” Why no rehearsal? “I want to see the moment of discovery in their eyes and get the actors to trust their instincts, and I want to get it on film.”

18 Animated Features Submitted for Oscar Race

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

Here are the 18 animated features submitted for consideration in the Oscar race for the 84th Academy Awards. They will now be evaluated and short listed by the animation committee, which will lead to five eventual nominees if 16 qualify or four if at least 12 qualify. And, yes, in the end I think The Adventures of Tintin will qualify because it meets the qualifications of frame by frame animation despite the performance capture. Same should apply to Mars Needs Moms.

The Adventures of Tintin
Alois Nebel
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Gnomeo & Juliet
Happy Feet Two
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Kung Fu Panda 2
Mars Needs Moms
Puss in Boots
The Smurfs
Winnie the Pooh

Smurfs Scribes Set for Sony’s CG Popeye

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

After successfully taking The Smurfs into CG and 3-D, Sony Pictures Animation now wants to do the same with Popeye, and has hired The Smurfs scribes Jay Scherick & David Ronn to craft an all-new Popeye animated feature. The Smurfs has grossed more than $550 million worldwide since its July 29 opening and the duo is hard at work on a Smurfs sequel. Popeye will be produced by SPA and Arad Prods.

“Scherick & Ronn have a remarkable talent in re-energizing beloved characters,” says Bob Osher, president of Sony Pictures Digital Prods.  “As they demonstrated with The Smurfs, they embrace the iconic characteristics of these timeless characters and craft a story that really engages moviegoers today.”

“We’re thrilled that Jay and Dave are helping us reintroduce Popeye to a new generation,” adds Michelle Raimo Kouyate, president of production for Sony Pictures Animation. “Their take on the world of Popeye has just the right blend of comedy, adventure and heart — all the elements that made a great animated film.”

“Popeye has been my childhood favorite character,” says producer Avi Arad. “To me he was always the everyday man who gets special powers and actually becomes the first superhero in the best meaning of the word.”

Incidentally, you can get the best Popeye cartoons on DVD from Warner Home Video: Popeye The Sailor 1933-1938 and Popeye The Sailor 1938-1940.

Lasseter Gets a Hollywood Star

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Shorts, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

John Lasseter got a long-overdue Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday right in front of the El Capitan Theater, surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, including Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey, Pixar’s Ed Catmull, Jim Morris, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, composer Randy Newman, and Owen Wilson, Bonnie Franklin, Patton Oswalt, John Ratzenberger and Don Rickles.

The stars were aligned just right, with the release of Cars 2 on Blu-ray/DVD and 2012 marking the 25th anniversary of Pixar. Indeed, in a tearful acceptance, Lasseter praised Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away three weeks ago: “Today I share this star with Steve Jobs; without him Pixar and all these amazing films would not exist.”

I’ve had the honor of interviewing Lasseter on several occasions throughout the last 10 years, and his most revealing observation concerned mentor Catmull: “Lucasfilm had the cream of the crop in computer graphics research, and I asked Ed how they did it. He said, ‘I always hire people smarter than myself.’ I was inspired by that philosophy.”

Meanwhile, Catmull told me years ago that the Pixar epiphany came with their first Oscar-winning short, Tin Toy: “When the baby walked up to the couch and the toys cowered underneath, we realized that the adults laughed and the kids didn’t,” he said. “And when the baby fell over, the kids laughed and the adults didn’t. That taught us how to achieve the physical layer for children and the cerebral layer for adults.”

And Pixar has never looked back.

Animated Oscar Feature Entries Due Nov. 1

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Entry forms and supporting materials to qualify for the 84th Academy Awards’ Animated Feature category must be submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 5:00 p.m. PT on Nov. 1. The deadline to submit accompanying film prints is Nov. 11. Thanks to a new policy, a maximum of four films can now be nominated if 13-15 qualify. In the past, anything under 16 qualifiers meant three Oscar nominees. So expect either four or five nominees this Oscar season. So far, Rango‘s the front-runner, but it’s the most wide-open field in years, with The Adventures of Tintin, Cars 2, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, Happy Feet 2, and Winnie the Pooh all vying for slots. Plus there are the late season indie entries Chico and Rita and A Cat in Paris.

Complete 84th Academy Awards rules are available at Additional information may be obtained by contacting Meredith Shea by phone at (310) 247-3000, ext. 1190, by fax at (310) 247-2600, or by e-mail at

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live Jan. 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

First Look at Frankenweenie Images

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

Just in time for Halloween, Walt Disney Pictures recently unveiled the first set of images from Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie in black-and-white and 3-D (Oct. 5, 2012). Apparently Burton always intended for Frankenweenie to be a feature, but had to settle for a short back in 1984. Producer Don Hahn recently told me that this project is so personal to Burton (a metaphor for his lonely youth in Burbank) that he’s serving as sole director.

Expanding on the Frankenstein myth, Victor Young Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) toils away in his attic lab, trying to bring his beloved dog Sparky (a playful bull terrier), back to life, taking to heart what he’s earned about electricity from science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau). He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers, and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.

The rest of the voice cast includes Winona Ryder as Elsa van Helsing, Catherine O’Hara as Victor’s mother Susan, along with Martin Short, Tom Kenny, and Conchata Ferrell. Would love to see this on a double-bill with Young Frankenstein.

Puss in Boots Sheds Shrek Image

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Puss in Boots continues the DreamWorks momentum that began with Kung Fu Panda and continued through How to Train Your Dragon: it’s witty, ironic, unpredictable, beautifully designed, and heart-felt. Best of all, this origin story about Puss redeeming his past and forging a legend works as a standalone distinct from the Shrek universe from which it sprang. The DreamWorks animators have created a rich, naturalistic world that recalls Leone, The Mask of Zorro, and a surreal fairy land that’s literally up in the clouds, and director Chris Miller has pulled it all together with verve and fun. (You can read all about the design challenges for the characters and environments along with the new procedural animation for clouds and the beanstalk in Ramin Zahed’s superb The Art of Puss in Boots, Insight Editions.)

Credit exec producer Guillermo Del Torro for his outside the box influence and live action ethos (from suggestions about cutting to recommending that Humpty Dumpty be a da Vinci-like inventor). Speaking of Humpty, his wily character is a refreshing surprise that adds balance and pathos to Puss’ coming of age tale. The end of the year is shaping up nicely for animation and Puss in Boots is a definite Oscar contender.

Arndt Boards Phineas and Ferb Feature

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Movies, Tech | Leave a comment

Disney’s upcoming Phineas and Ferb feature just got hotter and more interesting with the hiring of Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt and a release date of July 26, 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times. The mix of live action and animation (will it be hand-drawn or CG?) and Arndt’s skill will certainly raise the wacky Disney Channel series to new heights, as step brother inventors spend their summer vacation fighting overachieving villain Dr. Doofenshmirtz with the help of pet platypus, Perry, who’s really a spy. Mandeville Films (The Muppets) is producing.

Trailering ParaNorman

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

Focus Features has just released the teaser trailer to Laika’s stop-motion ParaNorman (Aug. 17, 2012). It certainly looks broader and more frantic than Henry Selick’s acclaimed Coraline, but then it’s boy-centric. And perhaps more iconic in design. Yet it’s undeniably Laika in conveying a goth-like Pacific Northwest. Animation supervisor Brad Schiff (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline, Corpse Bride) has certainly raised the stakes, too. Can’t wait to see more.

Misunderstood Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) speaks to dead people and takes on zombies, witches, and ghosts. Chris Butler and Sam Fell direct, and the voice cast also includes Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, and Elaine Stritch.