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.


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.

Brad Bird Talks Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

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

In my latest TOH indieWIRE column, Brad Bird discusses making the transition from animation to live action, IMAX vs. 3-D, riffing off Raiders, Tom Cruise getting more playful, and Peter O’Toole revealing a secret he learned from Audrey Hepburn. Plus the latest trailer and featurette.

Winnie the Pooh Finds New Life on Blu-ray

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

After being pulverized at the box office by the Harry Potter finale last summer, Winnie the Pooh gets a well-deserved second chance on Blu-ray this week from Disney Home Ent. It’s not often that we get to bask in the splendor of hand-drawn animation, and this first theatrical rendering of Pooh and his pals from the Hundred-Acre Wood looks dazzling in HD.

Disney’s 2D dream team, hot off The Princess and the Frog, did well by the beloved franchise: Dale Baer (Owl), Andreas Deja (Tigger), Eric Goldberg (Rabbit), Richard Haycock (Eeyore), Mark Henn (Pooh and Christopher Robin), Bruce Smith (Piglet, Kanga and Roo), and senior story artist Burny Mattinson.

They not only went back to the roots of Pooh to rediscover its wit and simplicity, but they also went to Milne country in England to soak up the places that inspired the author, especially Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, where they sketched, painted, and captured the architecture and soft English light.

The result is a Winnie the Pooh that channels the past yet bears an unmistakably contemporary stamp, with more slapstick and artistic plussing that comes from the latest and greatest digital enhancements. The honey, for instance, may look like CG, but it’s actually hand-drawn with some creative Photoshop filtering.

“This is obviously a simpler film, Hall says. “We just had to get everybody’s head wrapped around, mostly in effects, not doing tone maps, casting shadows very sparingly. At first, they were like, ‘Well, what are we gonna do on this movie?’ I told them to trust us. You’re going to have plenty to do — the honey sequence and the Backson sequence. So it was really more about training people not to bring all their tools to this.”

“They were actually going to try to make it look exactly like the original,” Baer adds. “Make it look like film, Xeroxed, paint shatter, cell shadows, which would’ve been neat. But with the technology today we’ve been able to enhance everything that we couldn’t back in the ’70s.”

John Lasseter told them that this was their generation’s Pooh, and not be afraid to be more expressive. So they turned it into a wacky variation of Cuckoo’s Nest.

Directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall were inspired as well: Hall concurs that this wasn’t anything like the pressure of Frog, where he served as head of story. “This was playtime; we were happy just to entertain.”

Along with the informative featurettes is the marvelous 2D short, The Ballad of Nessie.

Jurassic Park Trilogy Invades Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, stop-motion, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Universal Home Ent. is on a Blu-ray roll this year with Scarface, American Graffiti, Animal House, and Blues Brothers. But with today’s release of the Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy, they’ve definitely hit a new milestone. It’s not only the first of the prestigious Steven Spielberg Universal franchises to go Blu (next year will see Jaws and E.T. plus the Indy trilogy over at Paramount), but it’s obviously also a VFX touchstone. ILM’s CG dinosaurs were an animated game-changer and they look terrific in HD. The skin shines and the reptilian textures are very believable. In fact, the animated performances still work wonders. And without that sense of awe when looking at the T-Rex and his pals, Jurassic Park never would’ve achieved such greatness. Of course, it helped that Michael Crichton hit a cultural nerve with his thrilling cautionary tale (raising the stakes after The Andromeda Strain and Westworld). And the CG work only got better in The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. It changed animation and VFX and we are beholding its legacy today.

Of course, the dinosaurs were all set to be stop-motion, courtesy of Phil Tippett’s Go-Motion technique made famous in Dragonslayer, but Dennis Muren wanted to at least try out a CG T-Rex test, and Spielberg gave him the OK: “He’s never really been interested in technology, but his ideas have given opportunities for that technology to be used,” Muren told me a few years back. “He would’ve been OK with stop-motion dinosaurs in Jurassic — we were going to add blurs to them and everything. But there was something else we could do better at the time.”

Tippett said he felt extinct (which Spielberg turned into a joke in the film), but the director wisely kept him on to supervise the animation of all 50 digital dinos because of his invaluable knowledge of movement and behavior, and it earned Tippett his second Oscar. Not only that but this led to a ground-breaking transition at Tippett Studio from stop-motion to CG.

New Hugo Trailer & Poster

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

As you can see by the new Hugo poster and trailer, the look is getting more dazzling, the visual details more intricate, and the action swifter and more mysterious. To be sure, there’s a melancholy undercurrent that we’re told has a terrific payoff. Can’t wait to see what Martin Scorsese has conjured for his first 3-D movie. Opens Nov. 23.

Fall/Holiday Preview: Four Films to Get Animated About

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

I provide a sneak peek of The Adventures of Tintin, Puss in Boots, Happy Feet 2, and Arthur Christmas in my weekly Immersed in Movies column at indieWIRE’s TOH. Can’t wait to see them all, but from what I’ve seen they strive for strong performance and thrusting us in unique worlds (or, in the case of Happy Feet 2, returning us to the Antarctic with a new adventure).

Clipping the Making of Tintin

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

Here is a making of featurette that reveals the performance capture work in LA, the molding of Snowy, and the amount of frame by frame animated work from Weta Digital that brought these characters and environments to fully-rendered life, as we are now beginning to witness in the latest trailer below.!

New Tintin Trailer More Revealing

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

There’s a new HD trailer for The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21), which visually sharpens the focus and provides greater depth, balancing the Raiders-like action with Hitchcock-inspired compositions and fluid overlapping of time and space. It’s really looking more and more like Spielberg was fully liberated, and found a unique hybrid of photorealism and caricature. With critical raves coming out of Europe in anticipation of next week’s opening, I think I’ll be seeing it sooner than later.!

Descending on Forster

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

It was surreal: I had just seen The Descendants last Tuesday and then ran into Robert Forster at the Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver on Wednesday. He smiled and sat down when I explained the coincidence and we chatted for an hour. He told me that he thoroughly enjoyed his turn as the grieving father in the Alexander Payne-directed odyssey shot in Hawaii and starring George Clooney.

Originally Forster only had a single scene, but that expanded into two. Payne graciously asked Forster if he’d like to do his set up first and gave him as many takes as he needed, which weren’t many. Not surprisingly, Forster explained that acting for him is finding the emotional moment and making his stand. Speaking of Clooney, Forster said he was the very gracious in his own right, making sure everyone was comfortable. And Forster suggested that Oahu was paradise.

Forster asked what I thought of the comedy-drama and I told him it’s a haunting film and one of my favorites of the year. I noted that it’s Clooney’s greatest dramatic stretch and that I appreciated the fact that each character isn’t what he or she initially seems. For instance, Forster’s character is understandably gruff but reveals a tender side that’s quite affecting.

Forster recalled working on The Stalking Moon with Gregory Peck early in his career and how the sound mixer had to call him out for speaking too softly.The actor appreciates the advancement in technology along with more believable and naturalistic dialogue to work with today. Of course, Forster credits Quentin Tarantino with rejuvenating his career with the Oscar-nominated turn in Jackie Brown (which has just come out on Blu-ray). He agreed that Tarantino, like Payne, knows how to get the best out of his actors and give us memorable movies to hold on to. Forster then excused himself to get some sleep before another day’s work on the J.J. Abrams-produced Fox series, Alcatraz.

Trailering More Muppets

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

After parodying The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Disney has released a new, wacky, legit trailer for The Muppets (Nov. 23). The gang definitely goes Hollywood as they re-team to save their studio from the greedy grip of Jason Segel. Jim Henson would be proud.