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.


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.


Trailering Oscar: Off the Grid

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

The search is on for Billy Crystal in the new AMPAS trailer for the 84th Academy Awards(Off the Grid) produced by Funny or Die. Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox are charged with “tracking down a legend.” There are cameos by former Oscar host Robin Williams, William Fichtner, and Vinnie Jones.

“We wanted to try something a little bit different this year instead of a traditional, clip-based piece,” said Academy chief marketing officer Christina Kounelias. “The trailer has a fun twist that conveys how excited everyone is to have Billy back [hosting his ninth ceremony].”

The trailer will have a one-month run in more than 2,000 theaters beginning today and can be viewed online at

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by ABC. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.

10 Vie for Oscar VFX

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

The AMPAS Visual Effects branch executive committee has announced its shortlist of 10 for VFX Oscar consideration, leaving behind J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 in favor of the Abrams’ produced Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Also left off were Cowboys & Aliens, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sucker Punch, and Thor. ILM has three contenders (Ghost Protocol, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon). And Digital Domain is involved with three as well (Real Steel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and X-Men: First Class).

The films are listed below in alphabetical order:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • The Tree of Life
  • X-Men: First Class

All members of the Visual Effects branch will be invited to view 10-minute excerpts from each of the 10 shortlisted films on Thursday, Jan. 19. Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration. The five favorites for nomination remain: Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hugo, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. However, Tree of Life remains a definite spoiler because of the Doug Trumbull factor.

Knoll Talks M: I Ghost Protocol

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Clips, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | 1 Comment

ILM’s John Knoll discusses CG autos, sandstorms, and Brad Bird in my latest TOH column at Indiewire. As a tech aside, ILM continues to use its GPU-accelerated Plume and, for the climactic fight above, Katana and Arnold as part of a new collaboration with Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Trailering Prometheus

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

Trailers for The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, and Prometheus in one week! It must be Christmas! Ridley Scott’s return to Alien sends shivers with a sense of deja vu. As the letters vertically form the title once again, we glimpse the familiar sense of danger and destruction among astronauts in a future-retro prequel world, and the handiwork of our slimy old friend.

But instead of the original tagline, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” we get, “They went looking for our beginning. What they found could be our end.”

Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Patrick Wilson, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce are a team of space explorers investigating an alien species responsible for the origin of mankind, which turns on then.

Opens June 18, 2012, in 3-D.

Puss Grabs Momentum

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

After grabbing a Golden Globe nomination, things are looking up for DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots, which now has a better shot at getting an Oscar nomination as well. Although Rango is the clear front runner, the other three or four slots are wide open. Puss exceeded expectations and has a secret weapon in Guillermo del Toro, who took to Puss like a cat to milk and was the perfect exec producer, suggesting that Humpty Dumpty should be an inventor and the beanstalk escape needed more of a point of view in its cutting.

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,” he adds. “Guillermo 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. He just looked at it and said we needed to add stuff. You need to add a close-up here; you need to add a character reaction here; you’re not with the characters in this world. It didn’t feel long anymore — it felt right. Point of view in a big set piece. You can fall in love with the incredible artwork you’ve created. He was invaluable in those kinds of situations.

Miller wanted Puss to have a redemption story and a world that evoked Clint Eastwood and The Mask of Zorro to play off of Antonio Banderas’ persona. But when Miller heard all about Banderas’ dark experience working simultaneously on Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, he was worried that he’d come back as a very dark cat. Fortunately, Banderas easily slipped back into the cool cat.

“We’ll see if there’s an appetite for the cat to come back.”

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).

Spielberg Talks Tintin, War Horse

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

On the heels of my TOH interview with Steven Spielberg, here’s the full transcript about our discussion of The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse:

What has been like using this new performance capture technique for animation?

Tintin is only a new kind of animated movie if you immediately erase from existence Avatar and Polar Express and Beowulf and Christmas Carol because Bob Zemeckis and James Cameron set a precedent and raised a bar quite high. Tintin is the beneficiary of some amazing groundwork that has already been accomplished by two great artists, Zemeckis and Cameron, and we actually got to use every animator that worked on Avatar and moved right over to do Tintin. So I was in the crow’s nest and didn’t want to blow this opportunity to make a movie that was in the right medium for the right message.

What do you say to those who wonder why you didn’t use live actors with virtual environments?

If you have any familiarity with the Tintin books, you’ll see that they were the style guide for every single pose and every single facial expression, and everything that these characters look like in our movie is actually what they look like in the comic books. But if you’re not familiar with the Tintin books, just know that it brings you into a photorealistic world of animation and imagination.

Had I made it live action, here’s what people would be saying right now: ‘I hated all that makeup on those actors’ faces!’ Why’d he have to give him big, fake noses and big, fake ears and fake chins?’ You know, I would’ve been criticized for stylizing the movie beyond recognition and that’s why I chose this medium.

Was that fantastic motorcycle chase in Morocco, where you stage it all in one take, something you’ve always wanted to do?

No, I wanted to do this chase in one shot. I began working with the animators at Weta and we started with some previs, and I said, let’s do this entire chase in one shot, and I laid the whole thing out with the animators in one shot. I knew they could do it: I had to make sure it wasn’t going to be boring; I had to make sure it wasn’t going to need cuts and close-ups and so I was able to bring the characters in and out of their close-ups without interrupting the flow of the sequence. And once I saw it in a very rough version, the previsualization, I knew we could do the entire thing in one shot.

That alone is proof of the form that you chose.

Yeah, the form allowed me virtual freedom I’ve not had up until Tintin in my career, and the virtual freedom to put anything in my imagination up on the screen with only taste holding me back from becoming a complete hog, so to speak.

And the ability to go in and make last-minute lighting changes right up until the international release. What kind of changes did you make?

Sometimes I would convert a very bright, sunlit sequence to a very dark, film noir sequence, and we could do that in one phone conversation with the animators.

And Raiders found its way in there too.

I tried to keep the movie honest to the source material. I knew there would be some Raiders analogies because we sort of put the idea in the mind of the media when I first began telling people that I first came across Tintin when I read a Raiders of the Lost Ark review in one of the French magazines and it compared me to something called Tintin. And that’s when I discovered what Tintin was — I had never heard of Tintin before. And also the genre of the adventure movie has to follow certain principles, and those principles are the same for Gunga Din, the same for The Great Escape, the same for the Indiana Jones series, and the person that beat all of us to the punch in 1929 was Hergé.

Switching to War Horse, what was significant about it for you?

The reason I made the movie, beyond the fact that the play moved me so deeply when I saw it in the West End of London, was that here we have an animal that brings human beings together, at least in a détente of sorts, and the idea that an animal has the power to be able to bring these two warring sides together for a brief respite.

While I was watching it, I couldn’t help thinking that it was the opposite of Jaws, where you’ve got an unstoppable animal that unites people rather than destroys them.

(Laughing) Yeah, exactly, that’s a good observation on your part. And I also felt that it was very, very important to show the lengths to which a young man will travel in order to retrieve an animal that has meant so much to him and his family, that has basically saved the lives of his family by saving their farm, and that there had to be a happy conclusion.!

Letteri Talks Tintin and Apes

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

In my latest TOH column at Indiewire, Weta’s Joe Letteri compares The Adventures of Tintin with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, overcoming the Uncanny Valley with authentic and detailed facial muscles, Weta’s new fur and lighting design, which altered performance as well. Spielberg, in fact, served as the film’s lighting consultant, switching to a film noir look for interiors. The new virtual camera’s ability to shoot on location with the other actors (along with these other refinements) will definitely improve Gollum’s performance in the new Hobbit film as well. You can listen to an audio Q&A with Letteri at the Autodesk Area site!

Top 10 List: Adapt or Die

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

One glance at the movies of 2011, in the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and it was obvious that it was the year of coping with dramatic change and having to shift gears to survive. We were all Scrooge with time running out to embrace humanity. My top 10 list  (which is still in a state of flux, fittingly enough) certainly reflects this, and I will delve more deeply into the thematic threads after the Academy announces its best picture nominees.

1. Hugo

Martin Scorsese looks back and forward at the same time with this love letter to French film of the early sound era, the forgotten and embittered George Méliès, 3-D, and film preservation (with a little Michael Powell thrown in for good measure). A dreamy, Dickensian fairy tale with game-changing 3-D and emotional catharsis.

2. The Artist

Michael Hazanavicius looks back and forward at the same time with this love letter to Hollywood, silent films, the forgotten and embittered silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who can’t make the transition, and black-and-white. A dreamy, Victorian fairy tale with anachronistic techniques and emotional catharsis. Like Hugo, though, The Artist reminds us that movies remain timeless, in spite of changing technology.

3. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s summation film about nature and grace and the need for emotional connection and creative expression. A philosopher’s view of life, told in fits and starts, and wrapped around childhood memory and adult regret. Oh, yes, there’s emotional catharsis.

4. War Horse

The antithesis of Jaws in which an unstoppable beast unites people rather than destroys them. Steven Spielberg, coming off Tintin, is like a child again with this fable about love and hope between a young man and his horse. Like Gone with the Wind, The Quiet Man, and Ryan’s Daughter, the land is everything, which is never more apparent after the waste of World War I. The essence of Spielberg’s classicism applied to another story of conscience.

5. Moneyball

Bennett Miller follows Capote with another literate and mournful biopic of a creative iconoclast on a life-changing journey. Only in this case, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt at his most fascinating and charismatic best) is spiritually adrift because baseball has broken his heart (he blew his chance as a player). But that doesn’t prevent the driven and resourceful Beane from reinventing himself with a revolutionary way of evaluating players with computer analysis, which rekindles his life of life and baseball.

6. The Descendants

No one does irony better than Alexander Payne (a latter day Mike Nichols), and he gets the best out of George Clooney in this melancholy tale of an emotionally barren land baron in Hawaii confronted with death and betrayal, who gets a second chance at fatherhood and proud land owner as a descendant.

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John le Carré’s insightful Cold War dissection gets reinvented by Tomas Alfredson, and Gary Oldman carries it off as a quiet, pensive George Smiley. There’s a Soviet mole at MI6 and Smiley slowly weeds him out among a cast of characters at “The Circus” (including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong), but not before reflecting on his own failings. Lovely layers of authentic ’70s textures with compositions emphasizing claustrophobia and paranoia. Espionage was never chillier.

8. A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg conjures a fascinating rivalry between Michael Fassbender’s romantic Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen’s rigorous Sigmund Freud. But A Dangerous Method is really about the woman that comes between them: Keira Knightley’s tortured Sabina Spielrein, who’s a brilliant psychoanalyst in her own right. Human nature doesn’t change, and you can’t hide from it. Cronenberg’s spare visual style pulls us into the sly narrative without us even realizing it. He’s like a skillful psychoanalyst.

9.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Our favorite boy wizard completes his harrowing rite of passage in this action-packed finale directed with operatic flair by David Yates. It was worth the journey just to see Harry and his pals fight for Hogwarts and his surreal encounter with Dumbledore. But, most of all, the sublime payoff with Snape (the very reason you cast Alan Rickman in the first place) and his secret tale of unrequited love provides an unexpected twist that makes you want to watch it all again from the beginning.

10. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

While all the other films deal with 9/11 metaphorically, Stephen Daldry’s fable confronts it head on. In fact, it’s a little like Hugo, in which an overly sensitive boy (newcomer Thomas Horn) sets out to unlock a secret left behind by his deceased father (Tom Hanks) and settle unfinished business. Along the way, he encounters a mysterious old man (Max Von Sydow) in need of repair and redemption. And like War Horse, sentimental yet powerful.

Trailering The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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

The thrill, the chill, and the reverie are back when we return to Middle Earth in the first trailer from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14, 2012). It begins with a letter from the elder Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) to nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) about his adventures as a young man, and we’re introduced to Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo, who gets seduced into reclaiming the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug; his encounter with 13 comic dwarfs until darkness sweeps upon the land.

Ian McKellen is prominent as the wizard Gandalf, in search of adventure and then later much more pensive. And we get glimpses not only of Frodo but also Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), too. Plus there’s the hint of danger with Goblins, Orcs, Wargs, and giant spiders. Oh, yes, it ends with a shot of Gollum (Andy Serkis looking as great as ever) muttering about his “precious.”