Archives For Steven Spielberg

Is 3D the New CGI?

March 19, 2012 — 9 Comments

Remember the emergence of CGI? There had been a few of films to employ the technique in the 80s. Tron, Young Sherlock Holmes, The Abyss. But really, CGI came to the fore with two landmark films in the early 90s. The first was James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and the second was Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Both films used CGI in very specific ways, and both sparingly. They look like CGI, but their very deliberate usage means they don’t feel too dated, even compared to a lot of modern CGI. But after those films came all the bad CGI. The Mummy is probably the most notable. That thing was a total CGI fest. Of course, at the time CGI was still something of a novelty, bringing images to the screen that were previously impossible. Sure, it looked like CGI, but it was also cool. Now it just looks like dated crap.

These days CGI has become the norm. Some CGI is better than others, but for the most part it all looks pretty good, and we’re starting to see directors like Christopher Nolan and Brad Bird scale back on the CGI in favour of melding the computer animation where necessary with practical effects taking the spotlight. But otherwise, I feel like we can say CGI has essentially matured into something that will generally look great and become more photorealistic and refined over time. So what’s the next “new” technology? I’m starting to feel like 3D is the answer. Click to read more.

It happens sometimes. You go see a mediocre movie, or even a bad movie, and you come away feeling pretty indifferent to it all, except for one scene or sequence. John Carter, for example, has loads of problems, though it’s generally a fun time at the movies. But there’s one very emotional action scene in the film that takes things to a whole other level. It’s so good you almost wonder how it ended up surrounded by such a flawed film. You’d think the people who could come up with that one scene could have made the entire movie that perfect. John Carter isn’t the only example of this. It does raise the question, though, is it worth seeing an entire film just for one scene? Click to read more.

Such a disappointment. I’d heard this book pimped by so many cinephiles, including the guys on Filmspotting. How could it possibly not live up? Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is Peter Biskind‘s book about the New Hollywood of the late-60s and 70s. It promised to run through everything. All the little details. A journalistic look at how the era came about and eventually faltered. Unfortunately I wasn’t told that the journalism was less New Yorker, more People Magazine. Click to read more.

The “Whoa…” Moment

February 7, 2012 — 37 Comments

One of the greatest pleasures of moviegoing is the “Whoa…” moment. It’s that point in a movie where something so amazing happens your jaw drops to the floor and your brain momentarily ceases all rational function. Sometimes it comes about because of some incredible plot twist, though that’s quite rare. Usually it’s the product of an incredible image, often aided by special effects, that stretches the definition of awe and cool. But how do these moments come about, and has the proliferation of CGI killed off the “Whoa…” moment? Click to read more.

I don’t like writing about the Oscars. It’s not some hoity toity snobby thing. In general I actually love the Oscars. I mean, I hate them because they’re stupid and meaningless, but I love the game of it all, and I love the passions it sparks, and I love the whole circus surrounding them. I just don’t like writing about them. It feels too formal. It’s a set of awards I don’t actually take seriously, so why should I grant them the permanence of written prose? But this is the internet, and I have a movie blog, so it’s basically obligatory. ON WITH THE OSCAR BLOGGING!

So let’s talk about these nominations. Click to read more.

Honesty in Interviews

January 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

Interviews with actors or writers or directors or anyone involved in film and TV production are a strange beast. On the one hand they can be quite illuminating in terms of the creative and logistical process of making the entertainment we so enjoy. On the other hand, there is almost always a deep artifice to these interviews. They are usually arranged through publicists, and the only reason they happen is to drum up publicity for whatever property needs to be promoted. There’s also the issue of artistic ego and general politeness and all of it combined means most interviews, while partly illuminating, usually aren’t very honest about the work being discussed.

Sometimes, though, you do get honesty. For example, Rian Johnson, director of Brick and The Brothers Bloom, has appeared several times on the /Filmcast. He’s often on to actually review and discuss new films, and he has little problem being critical. In one episode, while it wasn’t the main topic of discussion, Johnson talked very specifically about why he did not care for the Coens’ Burn After Reading. I happened to agree with him, but I was also pretty surprised about how forthright he was. Click to read more.

“They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.”

That’s the thought that was running through my head after I saw War Horse for the first time. It took a few minutes before I realized the irony of that notion. War Horse is a brand new film, yet it feels so old-fashioned that my immediate reaction was to think of it alongside old John Ford and Frank Borzage movies. I’m not the only one to have picked up on this. It’s been mentioned in almost every review of the film out there. What I found more curious was the reaction of people to the sentimental and melodramatic aspects of the film.

The most common complaints about War Horse relate to its sap and sentimentality. What’s weird to me is that many of these complaints seem to take for granted the idea that sentimentality is a bad quality in a film. How did this become the case? Why is it a bad thing to be sentimental, or sweeping, or even sappy? The way many critics and film lovers talk, you’d think that for sentimentality to be acceptable it has to be couched in raw reality or ambiguity or even an ironic wit and cynicism. It doesn’t make sense to me that films like Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life can be called masterpieces, but War Horse can be taken to task for its sweep and romance. Click to read more

Recently I’ve been thinking about when it’s appropriate for a director to take responsibility for the artistic failure of their film, or at least admit it its failure. This also got me thinking about whether it’s okay to take pride in a film despite its failure. Last week, The New York Times published a piece that included an interview with John Lasseter regarding the critical response to Cars 2. Let me be the first to say that the article is very poorly conceived and written. Much of it is purely speculative, and though it attempts to portray Lasseter as a man stuck in a difficult corner, defending his film from attack, his response actually seems quite open and honest. He clearly acknowledges that the film didn’t take with critics, but the film is very much his baby and he’s proud of it, and he’s proud of the ability of the series to connect with young boys.

He dismisses the claims that Cars 2 was only made for the merchandising profits, saying, “I make movies for that little boy who loves the characters so much that he wants to pack his clothes in a Lightning McQueen suitcase.” The cynical people reading this might read it as a contradiction, but I don’t see it. Lasseter is saying that the merch is not the important thing, but that it’s a reflection of how much young people love the films and their world and characters.

Cars 2 was a critical failure, and at the domestic box office it landed well below the first film and expectations for Pixar films. But so what if it’s a “failure”? What definition are we using anyway? John Lasseter made a film that he considers very personal. It is important to him, and he feels that he made the best film he could out of that. He’s takes pride in whatever successes the film had, and he takes pride in a film he considers to be quite good. There is nothing wrong with that. Should we really expect every director who makes a film we don’t like to come out and say that they admit it is was shit?

Today, Empire published a piece about Steven Spielberg, which included some choice quotes on how he feels about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. On his opinion of the film he says,

I’m very happy with the movie. I always have been… I sympathise with people who didn’t like the MacGuffin because I never liked the MacGuffin. George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin. I didn’t want these things to be either aliens or inter-dimensional beings. But I am loyal to my best friend. When he writes a story he believes in – even if I don’t believe in it – I’m going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it. I’ll add my own touches, I’ll bring my own cast in, I’ll shoot the way I want to shoot it, but I will always defer to George as the storyteller of the Indy series. I will never fight him on that.

Again, you could say that this is an admission that the film is not very good. Or you could take it as deflecting the blame. Either way, you might not be totally wrong. But I think the key here is that Spielberg likes the movie he made, and that though he clearly agrees it has some problems, he is willing to explain why those problems exist and why he let them slide. Now, maybe he shouldn’t have let them slide, but I don’t begrudge him the desire to work with Lucas and Ford on another Indy movie.

His next quote, though, is much more telling. When asked about some of the specific things people didn’t like about the film, Spielberg says,

The gopher was good. I have the stand-in one at home. What people really jumped at was Indy climbing into a refrigerator and getting blown into the sky by an atom-bomb blast. Blame me. Don’t blame George. That was my silly idea. People stopped saying “jump the shark”. They now say, “nuked the fridge”. I’m proud of that. I’m glad I was able to bring that into popular culture.

Spielberg doesn’t just like the movie he made, he take the criticisms of it with good humour, and actually takes pride in the things he contributed on his own that people have taken issue with. That nuking the fridge scene is completely ridiculous, but it’s also pure Spielberg: the grown up director who’s still a child at heart. In my opinion, that scene is the highlight of the film. A moment of pure, childish, playful glee. And not only did Spielberg put it in the film, he takes pride in it. He takes pride in it despite so many people hating on it. And he actually takes pride in the way that people have responded to it.

Guys, there is nothing wrong with this. Spielberg should take pride! He made something that he likes. Sure, the audience is the ultimate judge, but I always reflect back on the old adage at Pixar. “We make films that we would want to see ourselves.” This is the guiding principle at Pixar, and it has paid off commercially and critically with almost every film. And even when it doesn’t work, there is still some pride left to be taken in the end product. The same can be said of Spielberg. He admits that there are elements of the film that were not to his liking, but he took the story he was given and made out of it a film that he would want to see, that he thought he’d enjoy. And guess what, he enjoys it. He deserves to take pride in that.