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.

VFX

Sneaking Puss in Boots in 3-D

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

One of the highlights at this week’s 3D Entertainment Summit at the Hollywood & Highland Center was a sneak peek of the first 18 minutes of DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots (Nov. 4) as part of tribute to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s pioneering efforts. Not surprisingly, the film really pops in 3-D, thanks to the continual improvements in the stereoscopic aesthetic (kudos to Phil McNally).

Puss (Antonio Banderas) walks into town in search of a heist. First, he’s ridiculed in the saloon, but after demonstrating his notorious feline skills, he attempts to steal the magic beans from the villainous couple, Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris). Just then, a masked rival mucks things up and Puss seeks revenge, resulting in a wild kitty litter dance competition and sword fight. But the mysterious opponent turns out to be… Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). The screw turns when another old rival, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), saunters in to offer a heist proposition.

Puss in Boots looks smart, witty, naughty, and visually fun. Director Chris Miller (Shrek the Third) is definitely reaching beyond Shrek and has benefited enormously from exec producer Guillermo Del Toro.

Moneyball: ‘The Island of Misfit Toys’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Comments Off

Moneyball (opening today) reminds us that baseball is as much about psychology as poetry. As with anything in life, you can’t fulfill your promise without confidence and nurturing. And, not surprisingly, director 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,  rekindling his love once again (the script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian crackles with metaphor and wit).

Moneyball ironically begins in 2001 with the A’s losing a devastating playoff series to the Yankees, and subsequently losing their stars to free-agency. With a small payroll, there’s just no way to compete with the Yankees, but, thanks to a young economics wiz (Jonah Hill), Beane embraces a revolutionary approach to scouting players through computer analysis, and slowly transforms his “island of misfit toys” into a competitive team, and going on a wild, record-breaking ride in the process.

Moneyball is fundamentally about the difficulty of adapting to change and learning to survive and thrive with less — an apt metaphor for our times. Wally Pfister ‘s cinematography has a gritty yet surreal quality at times, in keeping with the volatile tone. The transparent VFX wizardry involving stadium seating is by Rhythm & Hues (supervised by Edwin Rivera).

VES Issues Bill of Rights

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

The Visual Effects Society (VES) today issued a Bill of Rights that more forcefully addresses the downward spiral of working conditions and benefits for VFX artists and dwindling profit margins for facilities than its previous open letter. Indeed, it was approved unanimously by the VES board.

“In the VES Open Letter, we said it was time to step up as the voice of the visual effects industry by talking to all parties regarding their concerns,” said Eric Roth, VES exec director, in a prepared statement. “At this time we have engaged in a vigorous dialog with key stakeholders at all levels and believe our Bill of Rights lays out the vital concerns of each segment of the industry  Our next step is to focus on bringing all parties together to seek solutions.”

To address these concerns, the VES Bill of Rights states that visual effects artists and practitioners, facilities, and studios all have basic rights that need to be upheld in order to recognize the contributions of each group while improving the quality of life and work for artists, practitioners, facilities, and studios.

For artists and practitioners, the VES advocates “a clear understanding of the work he/she is being hired to perform, including knowing what they are being paid per hour, per week or per job, as well as the duration of the assignment, with strict adherence to all local labor laws and tax codes regarding overtime, sick time, vacation time, working conditions, safety, and other aspects of a professional work environment…”

Crucially, the VES calls for “quality health care coverage no matter where in the world he/she may be working.”

The VES suggests that facilities should be entitled to a “clear and reasonable deal memo with the artists and practitioners for hire delineating the scope of the work, the schedule from commencement to completion, and the agreed upon price; and retain ownership of their intellectual property and proprietary tools…”

Meanwhile, studios should be entitled to “a clear and reasonable contract delineating the scope of the work, the schedule from commencement to completion of the project, and the payment schedule based on the agreed upon price; be informed in a timely manner before incurring any excess charges, delays or problems with work for which it has contracted…”

The first opportunity to address the Bill of Rights will be at the third annual VES Production Summit (“Trending the Global Marketplace: You Are Here”) Oct. 1 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The VES Bill of Rights can be accessed at:www.visualeffectssociety.com/visual-effects-industry-bill-of-rights.

A Dangerous Method Dissected

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

There’s an interesting irony that the very week Citizen Kane bowed on Blu-ray, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (Nov. 23) took some early critical hits for being uncinematic. Just because it’s theatrical and talky and visually spare? Some Came Running’s Glenn Kenny hit back with some very persuasive aesthetic arguments about the power of Cronenberg’s visual style and how it serves as a compelling counterpoint to the rivalry between Michael Fassbender’s romantic Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen’s rigorous Sigmund Freud.

It just so happens that I attended a screening a couple of weeks ago, and I was particularly struck by the strong visual style. As Kenny points out, for instance, the depiction of the initial treatment of Keira Knightley’s tortured Sabina Spielrein is brilliantly constructed. Jung insists on sitting behind Sabina as she attempts to describe what’s troubling her in an attempt to remain unobtrusive and detached. And as she recounts her sexual repression and compulsion for S&M, her face and body contort as though she were possessed by the devil. All the while, the two-shot and closeups reveal an attraction/repulsion that will develop between Jung and Sabina.

Meanwhile, screenwriter Christopher Hampton told F.X. Feeney during a Q&A how rigorous a director Cronenberg is and how much he’s learned from his narrative skill (which can’t be divorced from his visual style). I look forward to exploring this and more in greater detail as we get closer to the film’s release because it’s such a rich cinematic experience.

A Dreamy Drive

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Clips, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Drive (opening today) is like being in a dream. Director Nicolas Winding Refn seems to be channeling Michael Mann from the ’80s with Tangerine Dream. In fact, it doesn’t seem like the 21st century at all. Everything is faded, dingy, grimy, low-tech, thanks to Beth Mickle’s production design and Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography. It’s set in LA (downtown, Echo Park, the Valley), and the vibe is neo, neo noir.

Ryan Gosling plays the stuntman/part-time getaway guy (who gets in way over his head) as the iconic loner in his ’73 Chevy Malibu: Steve McQueen-like, only without the movie star charm and charisma. But he’s effective: a quiet, anonymous drifter forced out of the shadows when he befriends Carey Mulligan (a latter day Tuesday Weld) and her son. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman play terrific baddies; and Bryan Cranston makes a crusty foil to Gosling as his unlucky pal.

However, the opening downtown getaway, which sets up Gosling and the milieu so brilliantly, (edited by Mat Newman), is never matched in terms of excitement and fascination. And the bone crunching, bloody violence is so over-the-top that it wakes you up from the spell. But then that’s probably the intention (VFX is by Ring of Fire and Wildfire). It’s a real treat.

Fall/Holiday Preview: Five Glorious VFX Films to Watch

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

I preview five VFXy films to keep an eye on this fall/holiday season in my TOH indieWIRE column: Hugo (Nov. 23), Real Steel (Oct. 7), Immortals (Nov. 11), Anonymous (Oct. 28), and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16). And not a contemporary setting among them.

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

Spielberg to Release Original Raiders, E.T. on Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Steven Spielberg has always had one foot in analog and one in digital, and reaffirmed it Tuesday night after an L.A. Live digital screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark hosted by the Hero Complex’s Geoff Boucher. Spielberg proudly proclaimed that the audience was seeing the original theatrical version. He was then joined onstage for the 30th anniversary screening by Harrison Ford, who proclaimed that shooting the swordsman was his idea.

“This is the best I think it’s ever looked,” Spielberg said, “because, in preparation for the eventual release on Blu-ray, we had to correct the print again and get the original negative out of the salt mines, and then we had to do the separations, and basically the files, which are just amazing, with all the technology of today, without changing any of the movie materially, we haven’t removed anything, we haven’t added CGI, there’s no digital enhancements! It’s purely the movie some of you may remember from 1981.”

Meanwhile, Spielberg announced that the beloved Raiders trilogy and E.T. would be released on Blu-ray next year in their original theatrical versions, again, looking better than ever with only nominal digital cleanup. (He previously told Ain’t It Cool News that Jaws would go Blu in 2012). However, in sharp contrast to his good friend George Lucas, who enjoys improving his films as technology evolves, the celebrated director regrets digitally tampering with E.T. (Remember the guns being replaced by walkie-talkies and the CG enhanced extra-terrestrial?)

“…I was disappointed in myself. I got overly sensitive to E.T., and I thought if technology evolved… it was OK for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T.

Trailering Twilight Breaking Dawn — Part 1

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

The second trailer went online yesterday for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. And it doesn’t disappoint in teasing the tense wedding, bed-breaking sex, and horrifying pregnancy that will unleash the powerful offspring, which poses a threat to both the vampire and werewolf clans. It’s the ultimate in post-modern kitsch, with sex, birth, and death, which is probably what attracted Bill Condon in the first place. Imagine Gods and Monsters meets Chicago.

Meanwhile, Tippett is back doing CG wolves, and there is other VFX from Method, Modus, Lola, Hydraulx, Wildfire, Spin, Image Engine, Mr. X. And there’s stylishly spooky below-the-line work from production designer Richard Sherman (Gods and Monsters), cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), costume designer by Michael Wilkinson (Watchmen), and editor Virginia Katz (Dreamgirls).

What’s to become of Edward and Bella? Opens Nov. 18.

Catching Contagion

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Steven Soderberg’s Contagion gets under your skin immediately, which is exactly its purpose. Using the Red camera, the director achieves a gritty look to this cautionary tale about mass hysteria stemming from a mysterious pandemic that baffles the scientific community and sweeps the globe like the Black Plague. At the same time, flashbacks of Hong Kong and other locales have a naturalistic beauty, heightened in IMAX, that allow us to appreciate life and the world around us.

It’s a gripping procedural with scattered emotional beats from a fine ensemble cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, and Elliott Gould), and the perfect film to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What have we learned besides blogging at its worst is “graffiti with punctuation”?

Soderbergh’s cinematography stands out along with Howard Cummings’ production design, Stephen Mirrione’s editing, and VFX by onset supervisor Tom Smith of Method Studios (the creepy CG bat is particularly effective).

Rick Carter’s 9/11 ‘Aftermath’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Production Design, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter has put together a very personal photo-exhibit called “Aftermath” of paintings he made following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“As it probably is for you, it’s still hard for me to emotionally process,” Carter explained by email. “Part of it for me personally, however, has been the movies I’ve production designed since then exploring the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war: War of the Worlds, Munich, Avatar, War Horse, and the upcoming Lincoln.

“In the last few months I’ve begun to look back over my first artistic responses to 9/11, which are represented by these paintings I wanted you to share with you. It’s all just part of my artistic journey over this last decade.”

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, it’s very fitting, indeed, to reflect on Carter’s artistic journey, delving into “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war,” as he suggests. In War of the Worlds, the opening Martian attack was designed and shot as a gritty metaphor for the destruction of the World Trade Center, right down to the fallen embers. Munich took it a step further in its terrifying depiction of the ’72 Olympics massacre of the Israeli athletes and the Black September reprisal. Avatar then became an epiphany of sorts for Carter. “I always saw the movie as The Wizard of Oz meets Apocalypse Now,” he told me. “It’s like this EKG kind of brain wave going from Kansas into Oz and into this mystical, bioluminescent dream state, the phantasmagoric, which is what [Cameron] called it in the script.”
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see how Carter extends the nature of conscience further in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming War Horse (Dec. 28) and Lincoln, amid the horrors of World War I and the Civil War. In fact, it’s no coincidence that Spielberg is the catalyst behind four of these five films with Carter. He’s become the prime force in exploring the post 9/11 ethos in American movies.