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
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
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.
Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man trailer has been leaked (originally sourced at movie-list.com) ahead of its Comic-Con premiere in Hall H this weekend. Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has definitely slinged a nerdier and creepier reboot with Social Network’s Andrew Garfield in a Zuckerberg-like reversal of iconoclastic empowerment. Co-starring Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Dennis Leary. VFX looks more low-key as well, but Sony Imageworks will certainly make use of new HDRI advances with the Spheron digital camera for quicker and superior integration of CG environments. Coming July 3, 2012.
Marvel saved one of the best for last with Captain America in setting up The Avengers (May 4, 2012). And Joe Johnston returns to form, channeling The Rocketeer as well as October Sky, with his affectionate comic book rendering of World War II occultist megalomania and mayhem. Yes, it evokes Raiders of the Lost Ark, but without the tongue-in-cheek irony that made Steven Spielberg’s serial adventure so unique 30 years ago (as IndieWIRE’s Anne Thompson rightly points out). But when Joss Whedon rolls out The Avengers, the dynamics should work out just fine with earnest, patriotic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) complementing the snarky Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).
So, just when superhero fatigue was setting in, Captain America: First Avenger blows in like a breath of fresh air like a real movie and not just a Marvel franchise. Scrawny, orphaned, Rogers just wants a chance to join the fight against the bullies, and gets his chance with some superhero juice that does the trick better than spinach, going up against Teutonic master of delusion Red Skull (the ever reliable Hugo Weaving), who’s found his own supernatural Lost Ark with which to rule the world. The VFX (overseen by Chris Townsend) is seamless and unobtrusive; in fact, this doesn’t seem overly vfxy at all, despite more than a dozen vendors involved. However, the 3-D conversion leaves much to be desired and turns out to be more distracting than enhancing. Now we have to wait and see how this all plays out with The Avengers next summer, with the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. fitting into place and Thor’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston) going after the MacGuffin for world domination.
Score another one for Rango, which is the best animated feature so far this year. The Blu-ray released last Friday from Paramount Home Ent. is stunning reference quality, which is ironic given the dirty aesthetic: We luxuriate in every dirty, grimy, dusty, fuzzy detail; the blacks are deep; and the spaghetti Western-inspired compositions are full of depth. Who needs 3-D when you have such a tactile experience with reptilian skin and parched desert surroundings?
ILM’s first foray into animation proved to be a smooth transition, considering its legendary achievements in photoreal VFX. The San Francisco studio created a unique “photo-surreal” look that embraced imperfection. The performances were also aided by director Gore Verbinski’s live-action mode of shooting Johnny Depp and the other voice actors. Check out the audio commentary that includes animation supervisor Hal Hickel and VFX supervisor Tim Alexander, as well as the “Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History doc. As an added bonus, there’s an extended cut with a four-minute coda in which the inhabitants of Dirt take a detour, so to speak.
“What he wanted was something very different from the neat and tidy and colorful mainstream feature animation that we’ve become accustomed to,” Hickel suggests.
How does Bruce Wayne regain his humanity before he’s completely swallowed up by his Batman legend? A more immersive Gotham (spearheaded by VFX supervisor Paul Franklin and assisted by IMAX, no doubt); the tug of war for Wayne’s soul between Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul and Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon. The eerie image of Tom Hardy’s Bane, but no allusion just yet to Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman. What a contrast to Potter. But then Christopher Nolan plays in a whole other cinematic sandbox. Coming July 20, 2012.
Just posted “Winding Down Potter’s VFX” at IndieWIRE’s TOH. The Soho VFX companies have come of age with the Wizard of Hogwarts and are certainly poised for life beyond Potter. In due time, I’ll be covering the accomplishments of Part 2.
Watching the end of Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I was struck by how it all coalesces wonderfully like a magical spell. I admit that I wasn’t totally hooked until The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment, when Harry’s rite of passage finally seemed arduous and riveting.
But the narrative unfolds and climaxes nicely with operatic action, and stirring revelation, justifying the strategy to divide Deathly Hallows into two parts. There are plenty of surprises and delights, of course, beginning with the horcrux raid of Gringrots and the thrilling ride atop the poor dragon that has been enslaved. Or the Hogwarts statues that come to life in grand Harryhausen fashion (Isn’t it about time, incidentally, that the London VFX community, which has come of age with Harry, gets some Oscar love?)
Then there are the unlikely heroes that emerge to prove their strength and loyalty to Harry and Hogwarts. And those solemn moments of recognition and reversal that are the fundamental stuff of drama and help Harry fulfill his destiny as the Chosen One, including a sublime moment with Snape and surreal encounter with Dumbledore.
Ultimately, it becomes clear why J.K. Rowling captured lighting in a bottle with Harry Potter: She conjured just the right mixture of Christ parable, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, King Arthur, Grimm, Dickens, Wagner, Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, among others, along with a dash of Joseph Campbell for good measure.
But that wasn’t enough: Rowling and the filmmakers made Harry the Millennial sensation by tapping into the post 9/11 ethos of fear and terror. Director David Yates makes this most clear in the image of falling ashes during the destruction of Hogwarts.
Yet the most successful film franchise rests with the maturation of its three leads: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. No other franchise has taken its stars on a journey from adolescence to adulthood in real time as closely as this one. It’s amazing to look back at The Sorcerer’s Stone and see how far the actors and characters have come in a decade. And now that it’s over, we’re going to want to revisit the previous films and connect the dots and read between the lines. In that sense, our journey with Potter has just begun.
The Hugo teaser trailer is now available (shortened from Hugo Cabret and opening Nov. 23). It’s immediately clear that it’s Martin Scorsese’s valentine to French cinema, particularly Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the father of special effects. He soaks up the period with steam trains and mechanical gizmos.”It’s Neverland and Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped into one.” The director/cinephile’s first foray into 3-D and children’s wonder is surely a holiday must-see.
An adaptation of Brian Selznick’s bestseller about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s and a mysterious encounter with Melies. Scorsese told The Guardian: “Every shot is rethinking cinema, rethinking narrative — how to tell a story with a picture. Now, I’m not saying we have to keep throwing javelins at the camera, I’m not saying we use it as a gimmick, but it’s liberating. It’s literally a Rubik’s Cube every time you go out to design a shot, and work out a camera move, or a crane move. But it has a beauty to it also. People look like… like moving statues. They move like sculpture, as if sculpture is moving in a way. Like dancers…”
Rob Legato serves as overall supervisor; Pixomondo LA is the lead vendor. He told me a while back that “the Melies recreations are stunning-looking. In some cases impossible for the trained eye to see what might have been restored from what was recreated. First choice, of course, is restoration but we have recreated some moments and the behind-the-scenes shooting of the same. We recreated the glass house studio and the painted backdrops and fantastic costumes. A treat for film lovers.”
Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) are back and the game’s afoot with Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (opening Dec. 16). Naomi Place plays Slim, the latest femme fatale, and Stephen Fry is along for the explosive Victorian ride as brother Mycroft Holmes. Looks just as action-packed as ever, as Guy Ritchie continues his mashup of Holmes, Bond, and Jim West.
Chas Jarrett is back as overall VFX supervisor, with Framestore, MPC, and Cinesite sharing duties.
Walt Disney Pictures has released the John Carter teaser trailer this morning and it looks terrific, melding sci-fi and Western sensibilities (but uniquely different from Cowboys & Aliens). Coming off the heels of WALL•E, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton has made a smooth transition to live-action sci-fi with his visually striking adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars book series. Shot in Monument Valley, John Ford country, John Carter looks organic to the period.
Taylor Kitsch plays Confederate soldier John Carter teleported to Mars (or Barsoom), where he gets caught up in a civil war and the aggressors are 12-foot pale green, slim Tharks. Peter Chiang is the onset VFX supervisor and Double Negative is the primary vendor, with support from Cinesite, MPC, and others.
Definitely the forerunner to Avatar; however, this is no CG intensive movie. The VFX seamlessly blends in with the real world locations and exotic vibe in a photoreal way. The animated Tharks look dangerous and vulnerable at the same time.
The cast also includes Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Hayden Church, and Willem Dafoe. John Carter opens March 9, 2012
The Dark Knight Rises teaser poster has been unveiled by Warner Bros., and the graphic design of Gotham City immediately brings to mind visions of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Obvious marketing connections aside, I asked VFX supervisor Paul Franklin about the take away from Inception during the run up to Oscar in February. First off, he said that Nolan was now very comfortable with signing off on early animatics or simple setups rather than waiting for a shot to be nearly finished.”I could quite happily show him stuff at early stages that in the past I might’ve hesitated to show to a director,” Franklin suggested.
Key, though, was the new level of photorealism achieved on Inception that was going to pay dividends in the depiction of a more complex Gotham.”There’s nothing that gets me too worried about environment work anymore,” Franklin said. “There’s no standing still with Chris Nolan.”