Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

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Wednesday Links: 2000mm Lens Edition

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Vashi Nedomansky on d.p. Hoyte van Hoytema’s dramatic use of a 2000mm lens in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The Dr. Strange screenwriter explains how the handling of The Ancient One is “the Kobayashi Maru of the Marvel Universe” – YouTube video of a radio interview

NYTimes: Cindy Sherman Takes On Aging (Her Own)

The New Yorker profiles some pioneers of virtual reality movies

“I will always circle back to writing because I think writing is the most pure and joyful experience as far as creating stories go. There are no boundaries, there are no foreign sales estimates, there’s nothing that gets in your way. It’s really fun to problem solve.” —Slashfilm talks to Green Room writer/director Jeremy Saulnier

TechCrunch: Lytro’s 755 megapixel Cinema light field camera is going to kill the green screen

Variety: AMC Entertainment CEO backpedals: “No texting allowed”

A movie that isn’t at least 10% weird is 100% worthless.

Selling a Film without a Name Actor

What were Fassbinder’s favorite films?

Director Rainer Werner FassbinderEveryone knows German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was profoundly influenced by the melodramas of Douglas Sirk. His most-acclaimed work, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a remake of Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. But in 1980, when Fassbinder was asked by a publsher to list his top ten films, he had some surprising choices, none of them directed by Sirk.

Many, however, are directed by Sirk’s contemporary Hollywood master filmmakers, people like Howard Hawks, Michael Curtiz and Nicholas Ray. There are also some decidedly non-Hollywood choices, like Pier Pasolini and Max Ophuls (also a favorite director of Stanley Kubrick). What ties all these films together, and the films of Douglas Sirk, is a heightened sense of drama, and real feel for the emotional inner lives of the characters…

10. Flamingo Road (1949)

A carnival dancer (Joan Crawford) and a businessman team up to get revenge on a crooked political boss in this Michael Curtiz-directed film noir. We’ll see more carnival dancing later on this list with the story of Lola Montès.

9. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

This notorious Pasolini-directed film is based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. It is reportedly nearly impossible to watch, depicting a series of atrocities that are meant as a critique of the culture surrounding the government of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

8. The Naked and the Dead (1958)

This adaptation of the Norman Mailer novel was directed by Raoul Walsh. It’s a study of men in war, but it’s a thoughtful study and perhaps that’s what attracted Fassbinder.

Continue reading

Blu-ray Review: The Emigrants / The New Land

This new double-feature from The Criterion Collection is as epic a movie experience as I’ve ever witnessed. Over the course of two 3+ hour films, I experienced the sweep of years of history, with one, specific Swedish family somehow standing in for many American immigrant experiences.

Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann play a husband and wife, poor farmers who are struggling to survive in Sweden even before some turns of bad luck make them decide to emigrate to the United States. The story also has many side characters, including some fellow Swedish villagers who are persecuted for practicing their own brand of Christianity. In one of the bitterest ironies of the whole saga, we see that religious persecution isn’t always left behind in the land from which you escape.

The movies unfold at their own pace, but are never slow. Director/cinematographer/editor/co-writer Jan Troell, with his production designer, has a remarkable eye for historical detail. When von Sydow’s farmer plows his field using an ox, it is just as farmers of that time must have done. Likewise, we see the characters cook meals, mend shoes, build houses — all as naturally as if a documentary filmmaker had somehow been transported back to the 1840’s.

Each film has an intermission, so the whole experience can easily be broken into four separate viewings, which is pretty much how I experienced it. Because it is based on a series of connected novels — Troell and screenwriter Bengt Forslund adapt The Emigrants books by Vilhelm Moberg — the parts all feel like one organic whole, even as years pass, characters die, and new characters enter.

Continue reading

Wednesday Links: The People vs. Screening Room

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Fast to Create: How 6 Great Proof-Of-Concept Shorts Spawned Feature Film Deals

Vox: The worst movies with the biggest box office – Michael Bay’s Transformer films are, statistically, the biggest lightning rods. I will not defend them, but Armageddon is also on the list. And that’s definitely the fault of the critics.

The Memory Palace tells the incredible true story of MGM’s lion (podcast)

The A.V. Club: The villain gap: Why Soviet movies rarely had American bad guys

Movie Mezzanine has an in depth article that starts by exploring the dearth of female directed films on boutique labels and goes much deeper… “For a while, Warner refused to sub-license and instead took the cheapest shortcut in releasing films: they threw a bunch of titles on VOD platforms without doing any restoration work on them. This is why sub-licensing is so important. If you give DVD distributors a chance to beautify a beloved classic, everyone benefits: the studio, the DVD distributor, and cinephiles alike.” Also read Criterion’s response

Slant Magazine: 100 Essential Films – The list is from 2003, but it’s been going around this week. Lots of provocative and interesting choices for alternative ‘classics’.

City Absurdia: The Phantom Menace: the Most Influential Film of the Nineties? (Video)

Deadline sat down some Hollywood lawyers to talk about The People vs. OJ Simpson, but they also addressed the movie industry:

ZIFFREN: I’ll give you some startling numbers. In the United States, one-third of the populous does not see one movie in a theater in a year. One-third.

DEADLINE: I’ve heard that figure before and I always find it hard to believe.

SINGER: You think it’s too high?

DEADLINE: I think it’s too low.

SINGER: I agree with that. I think it’s more than a third.

GLASER: It’s high.

ZIFFREN: The next step is of the remaining two-thirds, there are roughly more than half of the remainder who go to one to five movies a year. Eleven percent of the populous buys 52% of the tickets.

GLASER: That’s interesting.

SINGER: That’s amazing.

ZIFFREN: Here is the real problem. The problem is those are not the 18 to 24 year olds. They’re older. So we’re losing the core audience. That’s the problem with the movie business.


Wednesday Links: Critical Kryptonite

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Deadline: How Batman V Superman will turn a profit despite the critical kryptonite – See also Vulture’s speculations on what Lex Luthor’s plan was meant to be, exactly. And the SlashFilmcast had a healthy 2-hour discussion of the film, the first part of which is spoiler-free.

Hollywood is overwhelmingly left. Perhaps there’s discrimination after the fact but creative areas are almost always heavily left. Police, military, engineering, there are certain things that are more conducive to minds predisposed to conservatism.” – Economist Tyler Cowen has a wide-ranging discussion with sociologist Jonathan Haidt, which touches on political attitudes in creative fields.

Nerdwriter: How Alfred Hitchcock Blocks A Scene

FiveThirtyEight: The First ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ Was The Blockbuster Nobody Saw Coming

Scorsese didn’t get to be Scorsese just from watching so many movies. He studied movies deeply. And he learned by making movies.

Movie Review: Batman v Superman

Batman vs Superman early teaser posterI hope it’s not just the contrarian in me, but I rather enjoyed Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice. I certainly entered with diminished expectations, and I was not surprised to find the movie crammed with vestigial appendages. The first thing I would excise are the dream sequences.

But I might keep the lyrical evocation of young Bruce Wayne’s childhood traumas. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but never quite like this. Director Zack Snyder has been unfavorably compared to Michael Bay, but I might favorably say that he matches Bay’s gift for glossy imagecraft. All those pearls dropping in oh-so-slow motion, you know.

There are films like Watchmen and 300 where Snyder’s imagery is nurtured by a well-balanced script (if not by assured acting). Here, writers Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) seem to struggle against what the title promises for too long, then brush through it too quickly, eager to arrive at a baffling CGI slugfest.

Perhaps that is what all these critics are throwing rotten tomatoes at. Well, physician, heal thyself. Star Trek Into Darkness had some equal preposterosities, but JJ Abrams still got the keys to the Star Wars franchise. I suspect the critics had out their knives, or kryptonite spears, from the start.

Let’s enter the spoiler zone to speak of plot points good and evil. Continue reading

Your Weekend Viewing: Stop-Motion Laundry Gets “Shiny”

Check out this creative use of stop-motion animation. Surreal, hilarious, and also a great reminder: I have to do some laundry!

One of the writer-directors, Daniel “Cloud” Campos, has a Wikipedia page. And so does the other, Spencer Susser. Susser is a member of the Australian film collective Blue Tongue films, hence the weird VHS-style car chase logo that opens the short. Campos has a pretty extensive dance and choreography career, which explains how the movement in this mini-musical got to be so well-choreographed.

I’m also a fan of the sound design, which helps sell the parts of this world we can’t even see.

Wednesday Links: Is YouTube Still Creator-Friendly?

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

The Film Stage: Watch a 2.5-hour documentary on the life and career of Stanley Kubrick

WaPo’s Alyssa Rosenberg argues Pain & Gain explains this year’s election

Vox: Zootopia and racism – Also, what’s up with Mike Yanagita in Fargo?

We Are Mel: Can IMDb’s ratings be trusted?

Jacknjellify: Why We’ve Had to Stop Animating on YouTube – It’s always been nearly impossible to make a living from YouTube videos, even if you have big numbers.

After the Fine Bros. debacle, and the shift to YouTube Red, I’m starting to wonder if YouTube is still friendly to small-time creators.

The Verge has some background on the complaint system issues, which I don’t think would have been allowed to fester so long if YouTube’s strategy hadn’t been so star-focussed of late. At first it was old media stars. Then it shifted to homegrown stars. But either way, YouTube has moved away from its ‘long tail of video’ origins. From a short-term business point of view, it makes sense. They lose money hosting unpopular, un-monetized content. However, there is no emergence of viral hits from the masses without the masses. When you have kids who have spent years of their lives creating original content for peanuts, it would do well to respect them enough to keep them buying tickets in the internet fame lottery.

Blu-ray Review: 2 Films by Agnès Varda starring Jane Birkin (Jane B. par Agnès V. & Kung-Fu Master!)

Agnès Varda has been overshadowed by other filmmakers of the French New Wave like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. This pair of films, rescued by the new label Cinelicious Pics, make a great argument for what a mistake that has been. Fans of beautifully-presented, groundbreaking movies — such as the US’s Criterion Collection or the UK’s Eureka! Masters of Cinema Series — will want to take a good look at this double-disc set.

Jane B. par Agnès V.Agnes-Varda-and-Jane-Birkin

The first film, Jane B. par Agnès V. (1987), was Varda’s followup to her acclaimed Vagabond (1985). It’s a strange hybrid of documentary, short film, philosophy and feminist cultural criticism. I found it far more successful (and watchable) than any of Godard’s formalist experiments in the last several decades — and yet it was never released in the United States. Perhaps it was because it was ahead of its time. It still feels, in many ways, ahead of its time.

The project began when Varda struck up a friendship with the actress, model, singer and 60’s and 70’s icon Jane Birkin. Continue reading

Your Weekend Viewing: A Video Essay on The Fountain

Movies with Mikey lets us know — on no uncertain terms — that The Fountain, the mind-bending Darren Aronofsky film from 2006, has been misunderstood:

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I remember a sort of poetic ambiguity that recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick understood that a certain amount of ambiguity in the interpretation of a film left room for the audience to write some of the story:

I didn’t have to try for ambiguity; it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to “fill in” the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting — you don’t need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to “explain” them. “Explaining” them contributes nothing but a superficial “cultural” value which has no value except for critics and teachers who have to earn a living. Reactions to art are always different because they are always deeply personal.

Not that a filmmaker shouldn’t always have a clear idea of what the movie means. But being open to the audience having other interpretations is one storytelling strategy. It certainly works for filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky or Terrence Malick.

In this past year, a movie like Ex Machina might be a good example. The story is seemingly simple, but the amount of interpretations it has generated is enormous. What other films do you feel have been misunderstood? What do you think about the use of ambiguity in cinematic storytelling?

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