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.

Trailers

Trailering The Darkest Hour

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

The trailer is now available along with concept art for the Timur Bekmambetov-produced The Darkest Hour (Dec. 21), about a group of American tourists trying to survive an alien attack in Moscow. Directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thurlby, and Max Minghella, The Darkest Hour has electrifying-looking creatures that descend on the planet to devour our energy. VFX is supervised by Dmitry Tokoyakov, with lots of cool-looking particle work for the “lethal wave energy” that shreds its victims. The vendors include Soho VFX, TIC, BUF Compagnie, Universal Production Partners, and Polygon Ent. Definitely a fresh design for the aliens. Tesla would be proud!

Going Blu with Criterion in B&W

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

I’ve been getting immersed with Blu-ray for quite some time, including many of the monthly offerings from Criterion and Eureka (the Criterion of the UK with its prestigious Masters of Cinema series). And I look forward to making Blu-ray and DVD coverage a regular staple of my blog.

So I’d like to start by highlighting some of the recent Criterion offerings: High and Low (1963) has always been my favorite Akira Kurosawa and the Blu-ray only reconfirms it. Adapted from Ed McBain’s novel, King’s Ransom, High and Low stars Toshiro Mifune as a successful shoe magnate who initiates a take-over bid of his company to preserve the integrity of his craft. However, when a kidnapper grabs a neighbor’s son instead of his by mistake, Mifune faces a moral dilemma that’s almost Shakespearean. The film represents the pinnacle of Kurosawa’s fascination with American storytelling and seamlessly turns it into an intense Japanese procedural and family drama. Given that High and Low is shot in Scope, the film achieves a strange sense of claustrophobia as result of its gripping narrative, use of black-and-white, and oppressive compositions. In retrospect, the sense of anxiety is heightened by the fact that the film was released the same year as the Kennedy assassination.

Speaking of black-and-white and claustrophobia, there’s no better way to also get reacquainted with Paths of Glory and Sweet Smell of Success (both from 1957) than on Blu-ray. Stanley Kubrick’s early masterwork takes us inside the opulent chateau of France’s aristocratic General staff and onto the brutal trenches beyond with voyeuristic delight, where a World War I suicide mission reverberates with corruption and inhumanity. Kirk Douglas’ idealistic and fair-minded Col. Dax is nearly swallowed up in the power play.

Meanwhile, Burt Lancaster’s Walter Winchell-like columnist does the swallowing up in the wicked Sweet Smell of Success, and Tony Curtis’ oily press agent becomes his accessory in the ruthless game of gotcha. Director Alexander Mackendrick taps into a smoky, seedy, and seductive Manhattan, complemented by the jazzy beat of Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets’ biting script. It picks up where Abraham Polonsky left off and signals the coming of David Mamet. “A cookie full of arsenic,” indeed.

New Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol Image

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

How’s this for a ghostly image of Tom Cruise from Brad Bird’s upcoming Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (Dec. 21)? Looks a little like Eminem, who sings “Won’t Back Down” in the trailer. The IMF is shut down when Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is framed for a terrorist bombing, and he must go rogue (like 007 has so many times before him) to defeat the real culprits. Co-starring Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg. VFX by ILM (supervised by John Knoll). Will screen in IMAX.

Trailering New In Time

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

Fox has released a new In Time trailer (Oct. 28) from Andrew Niccol, which contains more of the framing of Justin Timberlake’s character for murder along with the class divisions and sexual overtones. In a futuristic sci-fi twist on Hitchcock’s pursued pursuer, time is currency and the wealthy live forever while the poor struggle for every minute of their 25-year limit. Timberlake has more time than allowed and takes Amanda Seyfried hostage to crack open the corrupt society that has set him up. Matt Bomer and Cillian Murphy (as the time keeper) also shine. Roger Deakins’ gritty cinematography is up to its usual high standards, as is Alex McDowell’s alluring production design, evoking a Fight Club-like underworld. VFX by Luma, Wildfire, Soho, Rez-Illusion.

New Monkey Business

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

“It’s a question of simian survival.”

It’s as true in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as it was in the 1968 original Planet of the Apes. Only now we have a new origin story for the 21st century propelled by genetic engineering and CG DNA for the apes, courtesy of Weta Digital.

Yes, Andy Serkis’ remarkably nuanced portrayal of Caesar finally puts to rest any notion that performance capture can’t evoke pathos and is unworthy of recognition. His primate pantomime is utterly believable because of his character arc and Weta’s latest advancements in photoreal animation. The new facial model adds all the dynamics, ballistics, and secondary motion, while keeping the volume of the face. The fur is is now directly manipulated for greater detail. And the muscles in and around the eyes fire more accurately coupled with requisite moisture and refractive lighting. Speaking of which, lighting is more realistic overall, thanks to the new active LED system of motion tracking and the ability to shoot on location and on set with the other actors.

Such interaction is key, according to Serkis as well as Terry Notary, the talented movement coach, ape stunt coordinator, and choreographer. He played Alpha, father of Caesar, Bright Eyes, his mother, and Rocket, the ferocious Alpha-male, along with 20 or so other background apes during the rampage.

“It’s not the big stuff that makes the difference when I’m choreographing movement but the little nuances,” Notary suggests. “And it was so much about getting into how to be still in the character and how to just live by doing nothing. Actually the quadrupedding, the leaping, that looked great. I developed arm extensions and that are about a foot long and have these cuffs go in your arms and it worked out great because we could make it look and feel as though [we] had the same anatomy as an ape.”

Perhaps now the cognitive gap between performance and recorded image that exists in the industry can be broken down. And if Rise becomes a box office success and spawns more sequels, eventually intersecting with the original story, which is already hinted at, imagine the possibilities for more evolved performances. And yet despite the cumbersome makeup, one still marvels at John Chambers’ Oscar-winning achievement and how expressive and entertaining Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Maurice Evans were in the original, which had the right mixture of drama and satire. Rise definitely has room for growth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

First Looks at Superman and Catwoman

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

So what are we to make of our first glimpses of Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman? Cavill, who was deemed too young for Bond, strikes a familiar if grittier pose in keeping with the presumably more grounded reboot being directed by Zack Snyder and shepherded by Chris Nolan. “I’ve never gone after an actual character in making movies from graphic novels or comic books,” Snyder told me a while back. “I’ve gone after literary or thematic concepts. Where I feel like with Superman, you’re going after a mythology in general. Very different… It’s funny because the thing about Superman that’s stylistically interesting to me is that he’s relevant if he’s real. That’s what Chris Nolan and I talked about early on. The only way I could do this is if Superman were living in the real world with us. And I think that helps him to be credible. It’s just funny because, for me, I haven’t made a real film.”

Amy Adams plays Lois Lane; Laurence Fishburne is the new Perry White; Kevin Costner and Diane Lane portray Clark Kent’s adoptive human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent; Russell Crowe commands Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El; and Michael Shannon recreates villainous General Zod.

As for Hathaway’s Selena Kyle, there’s barely a hint of a feline disguise, though she’s certainly high-tech like Batman with her goggles and cycle. Nowhere near as sexy as Emma Peel but could be a good foil to the grieving Bruce Wayne, who must also battle the menacing Bane (Tom Hardy). With Marion Cotillard as the new ally, Miranda Tate. Nolan vows this will end the trilogy with a sense of realistic and satisfying closure.

The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20, 2012 and The Man of Steel bows June 14, 2013.

Trailering Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

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

While awaiting the steely Bond 23 (Nov. 9, 2012), John le Carré’s masterful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gets a big-screen remake, and it looks like it delivers all the delicious espionage goods. Gary Oldman reprises the role of George Smiley made famous by Alec Guinness in the ’79 mini-series, the anti-Bond called out of forced retirement to weed out a Soviet mole, possessing the same “quiet intensity and intelligence” to pull off the end of Cold War cat-and-mouse. Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, and Benedict Cumberbatch round-out the remarkable cast of suspects. Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directs from a script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. Thankfully, this really is a teaser in the best sense. I once had the pleasure of interviewing le Carré (David Cornwell) about The Tailor of Panama: “In retrospect, the Cold War was a war of fantasies as well as a war of hardware. It was a war of perception,” he told me back in the spring of 2001.

VFX by Framestore (some animation and matchmoving, supervised by Oskar Larsson). Opens Nov. 18 from Focus Features, and I see lots of Oscar potential.

Cowboys & Aliens VFX on IndieWIRE

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

I’ve got an article about ILM’s space invaders from Cowboys & Aliens under my new Immersed in Movies moniker at IndieWIRE’s TOH.

Blu Goes Blu for Rio

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

There’s a lot of blue this week with The Smurfs hitting theaters for Sony and Rio coming out on Blu-ray today for Fox (with a lead macaw named Blu and Blue Sky doing the animation, no less). Happily, HD intensifies the craft and experience because Rio is really the star of Carlos Saldanha’s very personal tribute to his native country, despite the charming love birds (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) and madcap adventure. And as much fun as the 3-D was theatrically, the colors pop even more on Blu-ray without the dimness factor. Also, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 really propels the bravura Carnival dance sequence.

As I reported previously for AWN, Blue Sky certainly raised its game to achieve the level of animation necessary to match Saldanha’s ambitious vision. “But even little things were complicated like populating the city with trees and flowers,” he said. “Those became our biggest problem complexity wise when the leaves were moving, and the technology we used had to be improved to handle this.”

Birds were the first challenge, of course. There are 12 bird species (chicken, crow, egret, frigate, goose, macaw, sparrow, spoonbill, toucan, cockatoo, cardinal and canary) and a total of 51 unique ones. The hero birds required special rigging for the wings, which double for gesturing when not used for flying. In the case of Blu, that’s most of the movie. In fact, Blu’s entire groom had around 5,000,000 individual hairs to make up all of the feathers.

“The wing rigs are complicated and you want to give them some personality and the ability to emote and articulate their feathers,” suggests Robert Cavaleri, CG supervisor. “And those are two very different kinds of control sets that you have to blend together in a way that allows to them to go from being like a normal bird and something that can be caricatured in a particular way.”

Extras include a deleted fruit stand scene, a tour of the real Rio, and three Angry Birds Rio offerings.

Trailering Like Crazy

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

Paramount Vantage has released the trailer for Drake Doremus’ indie sensation Like Crazy (Oct. 28), which nabbed the Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. As Anne Thompson relates in her informative interview with the director today at TOH, Like Crazy is a romantically voyeuristic adventure. Using the Canon 7 Digital SLR camera (photographed by John Guleserian), he captures an improvisational vibe inspired by jazz and the naturalism of Lars von Trier. Judging by the trailer, Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones (The Tempest) are achingly sublime in their intimacy (it has been trimmed to PG-13 by Doremus). At first blush, Like Crazy harkens all the way back to Murnau and Borzage, for starters, yet it’s totally fresh in its post-modern take on first love, in which Brit college student Jones falls for American classmate Yelchin, only to be separated when she violates the terms of her visa. Immersive mise en scène comes in many forms, thankfully.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnFKe9eWVMw