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.

Tech

Trailering The Avengers

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

The Avengers (May 4, 2012) appears to be in good hands with Joss Whedon, judging from the new trailer, which exhibits lots of Loki mayhem (ILM and Weta Digital have VFX duty on this epic) and superhero jostling. As anticipated, Robert Downey Jr. gets most of the screen time as Iron Man, and his ego doesn’t sit well with the other team members: Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as the revolving Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye.

Trumbull to Receive VES Georges Méliès Award

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

Douglas Trumbull will receive the 2012 Georges Méliès Award from the VES, which will be presented at the 10th Annual VES Awards, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Feb. 7, 2012. Trumbull, who’s advanced VFX with his pioneering work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner, has also directed Silent Running and Brainstorm. He also revolutionized large-format filmmaking with Showscan in the mid-’80s, which offered unparalleled viewing at 120fps.

Trumbull most recently served as a creative consultant on The Tree of Life birth of the universe sequence. With the privately-owned film studio, Trumbull Ventures, he is specializing in the development of advanced integrated systems for high-resolution digital production utilizing virtual sets and locations, high frame rates, 3-D, and advanced previsualization. Trumbull is presently developing multiple feature film projects that he intends to write, produce, and direct, using his virtual set technology

“Doug Trumbull is a leading light in the field of visual effects and technology,” said VES chair Jeffrey A. Okun.  “He is an innovator in all things entertainment and equally important is his genius for re-imagining the impossible into a compelling visual that not only has never been seen before but also goes to the heart of the storytelling. We are seriously honored to know and work with him.”

“It is truly an honor to receive the Georges Méliès Award from the Visual Effects Society,” said Trumbull. “My philosophy is that everything in a movie is an illusion of some kind, and I am very excited that the industry today is now embracing 3D, higher frame rates, and other opportunities that can expand the movie-going experience, and deliver to audiences the kind of immersive and other-worldly images that we in the VES can provide. The role of the VES at this time could not be more important, and I am very grateful to receive this astonishing recognition.”

Trumbull has been the recipient of the American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and has recently been selected by his peers as a VES Fellow of the Visual Effects Society (only the third to receive this distinction).

Previous recipients of the George Méliès Award were Robert Abel, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ed Catmull.

The Tree of Life Goes Blu

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

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life bows on Blu-ray today (Fox Home Ent.), providing the opportunity to dip into his brilliant summary statement about coalescing nature and grace. The imagery by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is stunning in HD (which is why he’s the Oscar front runner so far). Coupled with the superb DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (the score by Alexandre Desplat is magnificent along with the use of various requiems), this is reference quality.

The Tree of Life is a free-form, existential journey that captures fleeting moments of life.  It primarily focuses on a Texas family in the 1950s, setting up a tension between nature (personified by Brad Pitt’s conflicted, talkative father) and grace (personified by Jessica Chastain’s peaceful and quiet mother).  It’s bookended by a present-day segment about the alienation experienced by the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), a successful architect haunted by childhood memories.  Early on, sparked by a moment of grief, the film suddenly leaps to a birth of the universe segment that addresses the meaning of the cosmos.

The bravura birth of the universe sequence can now be studied and appreciated more closely as well (also a VFX Oscar contender): “It’s a real coalescing of ideas and metaphysics about the history of the universe that takes us from [notions] of origins right through some semblance of the Big Bang to the early genesis of stars and galaxies and planets forming, ultimately life itself on planet Earth,” explains Dan Glass, the esteemed visual effects supervisor who oversaw the VFX-laden sequence.

The work was divided into three realms: Astrophysical, which dealt with the early cosmos and evolution of the universe, stars, galaxies and planets, principally handled by Double Negative in London (under the supervision of Paul Riddle); Microbial, the molecular and cellular origination of life, which was primarily done by the London boutique One of Us, with supplemental work by Method (the splitting off of DNA strands to form more complex organisms, supervised by Olivier Dumont) and the father/son team of Peter and Chris Parks, who shot interesting flows of colors; and Natural History, which focused on the much anticipated dinosaurs, created by Prime Focus/Frantic (supervised by Mike Fink and Bryan Hirota).

Editorially, Malick utilized what editor Mark Yoshikawa calls a “relay system of editing.” He adds, “He didn’t want the presence of the editors’ fingerprints on it.  That is why he always had Chivo [Lubezki] and Joerg [Widmer, the camera operator] grabbing bits that we could never really use for traditional coverage.  It was very challenging.”

Hugo Reactions

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

The reactions to last night’s work-in-progress preview of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (Nov. 23) at the New York Film Festival were mixed in degree of enthusiasm, but the takeaways were pretty uniform: The second-half valentine to silent French director Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) and the importance of preserving our cinematic heritage was spot on, and the live-action 3-D experience was the most immersive since Avatar.

In fact, Hugo is a thinly disguised tribute to Michael Powell (The Red Shoes). “Marty has restored the reputations of so many filmmakers, mainly my [late] husband’s, and the film’s a wonderful distillation of that,” editor Thelma Schoonmaker recently told me. “But, of course, that is why he was drawn to the story in the first place: the chance to show this genius who is thrown aside and then to show his greatness.”

Weaving the subsidiary characters into the narrative, such as Sacha Baron Cohen’s station master, and not lingering too long on the mysterious setup are among the challenges, and last night’s sneak peek probably confirms what the filmmakers already know.

“Though Hugo will be sold, somewhat correctly, as a children’s adventure film set amid the great creaking clocks and colorful characters of a Paris train station, it’s a love letter to movies, and more specifically the importance of preserving films for future generations,” enthuses Cineblend’s Katey Rich.

“His introduction — comprising a whooshing tour of the station, a hungry pursuit by the game, gimpy Baron Cohen and his equally game Doberman, and finally a gorgeous perspective on winter lowering over Paris — is a thing of nearly wordless beauty,” observes Movieline’s S.T. Vanairsdale.

“Hugo‘s fantastical mystery leads us to the birth of cinema — which is where Scorsese’s heart lies, and the film takes off,” suggests indieWIRE’s Anne Thompson.

“If anyone, it’s for (and about) Scorsese, the great film lover, historian, and preservationist. At it’s core, it is the most expensive and creative Film History 101 course of all time,” offers THR’s Scott Feinberg.

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.

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.