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.

James Bond

Revisiting Cowboys & Aliens VFX

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Last summer ILM had competing aliens with Super 8 and Cowboys & Aliens. Now you can compare both at home on Blu-ray/DVD. In fact, Jon Favreau’s western/sci-fi mash-up arrives this week via Universal Home Ent. with an extended cut that’s 16 minutes longer. It looks and sound stunning in HD, as does Super 8. As far as Oscar, though, the J.J. Abrams homage to Steven Spielberg has the definite edge. No matter: ILM had fun with both and each offered their tech challenges. For the Daniel Craig/Harrison Ford actioner, ILM was tasked with animating a 10-foot tall, bipedal reptilian-like creature.

“We created an uber alien in evolutionary scale to make it more complicated in hierarchy,” says ILM visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, who also oversaw onset VFX production. “We used the Legacy design as a foundation and then [VFX art director] Christian Alzmann and others developed it.

“And I thought that the irony of all this was that the aliens turn up and it could be more exaggerated for them. This is not their planet. They’re frontiersmen in a way: traveling to another place and having to deal with all the adversities of the climate. And in our case, we played up the fact that they weren’t comfortable in our world. There are flies all around them; they didn’t like the light; when they were wounded and exposed, a strange fungus grew around them.”

ILM keyframed all the animation (overseen by Marc Chu) because after doing some MoCap tests (a la Super 8), they found that it didn’t work to take the motions of a human and remap it onto the creature. “I set up an all-CG test for the studio where the cowboys were mocap,” Guyett continues. “It gave you an idea of what the aliens could do and we explored some fighting techniques (including Last of the Mohicans-style hand-to-hand) to see how they would attack a creature of that size. They have a complicated anatomy that we made organic to their behavior and in relation to their ship.”

Bond Gets His Q: Ben Whishaw

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

Daniel Craig’s James Bond apparently gets introduced to gadget man, Q, in Skyfall, to be played by the youngish Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas), according to The Guardian. That totally changes the dynamic because, at 31, Whishaw is younger than the 43-year-old Craig. In fact, they previously worked together on Layer Cake.

Of course, Desmond Llewelyn was the popular head of MI6′s Q Branch for a record 17 films as the proud purveyor of gadgets and gruff guardian to 007. Major Boothroyd, armorer, or Quartermaster, showed an obvious dislike of Bond’s ill-treatment of his ingenious weaponry, particularly his tricked out Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger.

Now it should make an interesting reversal with Bond being more like an older brother to the high-tech genius. The rivalry continues, nonetheless, which also means the introduction of some noteworthy gadgets. In fact, when recently asked in a video interview with Cowboys & Aliens director Jon Favreau about the return of gadgets, Craig suggested that it would only work today if you could access top secret military toys.

Deciphering Skyfall

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in James Bond, Movies | Leave a comment

Yesterday I analyzed what we know and don’t yet know about the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall for my TOH indieWIRE column. The most significant thing is that the plot centers around MI6 coming under attack, which implicates M and some secret past that comes back to haunt, which means that Bond is the only one to clear her name and find out the truth. I quote Daniel Craig about the the importance of Judi Dench’s M in his films and also speculate about what it would be like to resurrect Blofeld, which has been rumored. Skyfall, which implies a state of mind of Bond’s world falls apart (or might even have a more personal reference to Bond becoming an orphan), opens Nov. 19, 2012, in honor of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Bond 23 is Skyfall

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Events, James Bond, Movies, Production Design, VFX | Leave a comment

Better get used to the title Skyfall for the 23rd Bond film (Nov. 9, 2012). Like Quantum of Solace, it apparently refers to Bond’s troubled state of mind. “It has emotional context which will be revealed in the film,” promises producer Barbara Broccoli.

But there was precious little revealed at today’s London press conference, amid speculation about the return of Blofeld and the possibility of M’s shocking demise. Fittingly, today also coincides with Sean Connery’s announcement as Bond 50 years ago.

Yes, Javier Bardem plays the super baddie, no doubt a new breed of grounded Bond villain; Berenice Marlohe plays the seductive and enigmatic Bond girl, Severin; but Naomie Harries plays a field agent named Eve, not Moneypenny; and Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney have not yet been confirmed as friend or foe (although it has been suggested that Finney plays M’s boss).

Speaking of M, according to the official announcement, Skyfall is about how “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.  As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”

Meanwhile, director Sam Mendes (who was first approached for Die Another Day, but it understandably wasn’t the right fit) suggested that Skyfall will offer a return to classic Bond action and is first and foremost an audience film and not a high-brow experience, as 007 travels to Istanbul, Shanghai, and Scotland (his ancestral home). How ironic that both Mendes and Craig first got hooked on Bond through Live and Let Die, and that their association on Road to Perdition has serendipitously taken them down this road to Bond’s maturity.

Make no mistake: Skyfall is our first glimpse of Craig’s fully-formed Bond and will likely define his legacy as 007. Speaking of Craig, he came to the press conference with very short hair and some stubble on his face. All he had to say was this was going to be “Bond with a capital B.”

The crew includes director of photography Roger Deakins (Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, who will be using the Alexa); production designer Dennis Gassner (Quantum of Solace, Road to Perdition, and Jarhead); editor Stuart Baird (Casino Royale); costume designer Jany Temime (Harry Potter); second unit director Alexander Witt; stunt co-ordinator Gary Powell; SFX supervisor Chris Corbould; and VFX supervisor Steve Begg.

Finney Tagged for Bond 23

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Books, James Bond, Movies | Leave a comment

A week before the official Bond 23 press conference at Pinewood in London, Bazz Bamigboye of the Mail gets a scoop that Albert Finney has joined the illustrious cast of Bond 23 (or Skyfall, as it will likely be confirmed). Bamigboye already broke the signing of Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny. Not only that but Finney made a surprise visit to the rehearsals this week. He will apparently play “a Foreign Office mandarin” above MI6, meaning M’s (Judi Dench) superior. The casting of the legendary Finney, 75, who is in remission from prostate cancer, not only provides a curious link to the kitchen sink dramas of the ’60s (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), but also the current spy tradition (The Bourne Ultimatum and the upcoming Bourne Legacy). We could be witnessing a new hybrid of Fleming, Le Carre, and the hyper real cinematic world of Bond.

We will just have to wait until next week to sort some of this out, what with rumors flying of Blofeld returning and perhaps even the shocking death of a major character. At least we now have a better idea that producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are trying to distance themselves from father Cubby Broccoli, and that they’ve upped the prestige factor with the hiring of director Sam Mendes and the casting of Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and now Finney. Daniel Craig and Dench are certainly in great company in honor of next year’s 50th anniversary of the franchise. Bond 23 opens in North America on Nov. 9, 2012.

Will Skyfall Fly for Bond?

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

So, there’s been a lot of Bond news and speculation lately: the title Skyfall (based on several domain names privately registered for MGM and Sony Pictures), which might turn out to be true or just as bogus as Red Sky at Night. If true, it’ll be fun figuring out the context: Operation Skyfall?

What we do know, however, is that French TV actress Bérénice Marlohe has been officially signed as the next Bond girl along with Helen McCrory (Harry Potter’s Narcissa Malfoy) and Ben Whishaw (Layer Cake with Daniel Craig) in undisclosed roles. They will join Craig, Judi Dench, and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes have long been speculated as the super baddies, with scribe John Logan teasing a literal or metaphoric return of arch rival Blofeld as the head of the SPECTRE-like Quantum. That would fit Fiennes nicely. Or they could replay the old good/bad reversal game from For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights (culled from Fleming’s Risico short story).

Meanwhile, India has been derailed as a prime location because of a railway dispute involving a vital action sequence on top of a train, so they now will shoot in South Africa. Also, Istanbul returns to Bondage (previously used in From Russia with Love and The World is Not Enough) for the opening. Sultanahmet Square and Bosporus have been earmarked for 10-15 minutes of action. Finally, the exterior of Duntrune Castle in Scotland has been leaked by the owner as the site of Bond’s ancestral home for the climax in which all the villains are gathered.

The 23rd Bond entry begins shooting in November with Sam Mendes at the helm for domestic release Nov. 9, 2012, in honor the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Bond 23 to Shoot in India

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

Bond 23, helmed by Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig in his third outing as 007, has been given permission to shoot in India, reports The Hollywood Reporter. The Indian government has cleared the way for shooting in Delhi and Goa and close to Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. And, according to the The Times of India, a set piece is being planned for the famed Daryaganj bazaar and flea market Sarojini Nagar in Delhi. However, while permission has not yet been granted for a fight on the rails in North Goa, negotiations are still taking place with the Railway Ministry.

This marks the first time since Octopussy in ’83 that the Bond franchise has ventured to India. For instance, Roger Moore’s Bond is assisted through the bustling market of Udaipur with a young operative handy with a racket played by tennis star Vijay Amritraj.

The upcoming Bond movie, which offers our first fully-formed look at Craig’s 007, is scheduled to begin production in November, and will be shot digitally with the Arri Alexa by Roger Deakins — a franchise first– who collaborated with Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes are the super baddies, sparking speculation that perhaps they might be returning once again to the Fleming short story, Risico, for inspiration. It was previously tapped for For Your Eyes Only in its use of rivals to manipulate Bond. Naomie Harris is reported to introduce Moneypenny to the origin story. Steven Begg is the VFX supervisor and Tanq Anwar is presumed to be the editor.

The untitled Bond 23 will be released Nov. 9, 2012, in honor of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Nine Shortlisted for AMPAS Sci-Tech Awards

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

Nine scientific and technical achievements have been selected for further awards consideration by the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These include the Micro-Voxel Volume Rendering by Side Effects Software; Contour Dense Mesh Motion Capture by Mova (pictured above from MPC’s Hades in Percy Jackson); Cinema System for theatrical projection of stereoscopic content by RealD; Phantom High-Speed cameras by Vision Research; and the “Lowry Process” by Reliance MediaWorks (witnessed in such exceptional catalog Blu-ray/DVD titles as the Bonds and Indiana Jones, among hundreds of others).

The list is made public to allow individuals and companies with similar devices or claims of prior art the opportunity to submit their achievements for review. The deadline to submit additional entries is Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 11:59 pm PST.

The committee has additionally selected these other methods or devices for further consideration:

  • ARRI Zeiss Master Primes Lens Family (ARRI Inc.)
  • Phantom High-Speed Cameras for Motion Picture Production (Vision Research Inc.)
  • Pictorvision Eclipse (Pictorvision, Inc.)
  • FUJIFILM Black and Whit1e Recording Film ENTERNA-RDS for Archive (FUJIFILM North America Corp.)
  • Lyre Microphone Suspension (Rycote Microphone Windshields Ltd.)

After thorough investigations are conducted on each of the entries, the committee will meet in early December to vote on recommendations to the Academy’s Board of Governors, which will make the final awards decisions.

The 2011 Scientific and Technical Awards will be presented at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012.

Claims of prior art or similar technology must be submitted on our online site at www. For further information, contact Awards Administration Director Rich Miller’s office at 310-247-3000, ext. 1131, or via e-mail at

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.