Practical Effects

Practical Effects

Before CGI was cheap and realistic all movies relied on practical effects done with the camera or other tools to visually portray something that is not real. These are known as practical effects and were very fundamental to sci-fi and horror. Classical examples of superb practical visual effects are 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Thing. Here is a comparison of The Thing and The Thing from 1982 and 2011 and how the practical effects from 1982 made for a more realistic monster.

In this video you can see how Michel Gondry used forced perspective to give the illusion that Jim Carrey was a child-sized adult. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind was very successful in combining computer effects with practical camera work and effects. Using practical effects like this captures the audience more, because it visually makes sense. A lot of CGI is very noticeable and can pull you out of the movie, especially if you’re looking for it.

 

Advertisements
Editing: Fast Cutting

Editing: Fast Cutting

One of my favorite techniques in editing is fast cutting. Fast cutting is having quick shots in succession and it can be a useful storytelling tool, but also can have downsides. A lot of people were very critical of the cinematography in the Jason Bourne sequels because they used fast-cutting during fast action scenes and it made a lot of the movement unintelligible. It’s hard to tell in this scene who is even throwing the punches or wielding the weapon because of so many close ups and flash cutting.

One of my favorite uses of fast cutting is in The Graduate. The Graduate is all around a well edited movie and ahead of its time when it comes to the romantic comedy genre. In this (NSFW) scene fast cutting is used to put you in the main character’s perspective as he forced into a very awkward and stressful situation by a friend of his parents’. Despite the awkwardness he is still tempted in glancing down at Mrs. Robinson several times which shows his young curiosity and teases his eventual agreement with her.

Edgar Wright has actually formed a large part of his visual comedy on the use of fast cutting. He does quick montages of monotonous activities as a visual gag.

You can see how he can change a boring sequence of getting ready for work into a humorous montage that gives his movies a strong visual style.

Directors and Performance

Directors and Performance

An actor’s performance is heavily influenced by the director. This is why in some movies actors can have ground breaking performances and in others they fall flat. P. T. Andersen is a very performance-focused director and has worked with many A class actors. One of the best examples of how he can shape an actor’s performance into something greater than what they normally do is Adam Sandler’s character in Punch-Drunk Love.

sandler

Punch-Drunk Love feels like P. T. Andersen took a mirage of over the top characters that Sandler has done and injected a realistic connection to them. What I mean by this is there are moments in the film where Sandler uses his soft, goofy voice, moments where he is a befuddled goof, and moments where he uses an aggressive Mr. Hyde-esque side to his goofiness and it is all grounded by the fact that he is a man with a personality disorder.

A lot of the direction is extremely deliberate, which is contrasting to Sandler’s own productions where he is mostly winging it and having fun. There are cues to his performance based on what is else is happening in frame and how the camera is moving and he sells the naturalness, but also the weirdness of this story. An aspect that he delivered well on was his character discovering other people. He is struggling the whole time with talking to others and articulating things because as he says in one breakdown he doesn’t understand what others think or do.

There are several moments where his character acts out aggressively due to the stress of his situation and Sandler his able to easily sell this aggression and this immediate regret. His work on this movie is easily a caliber higher than pretty much everything else he’s done and he has Paul Thomas Andersen to thank. It really makes you wonder what an “Adam Sandler movie” would mean if he continued to work with prolific directors instead of cashing a pay check and vacationing with friends.

Prequels, Sequels, and Reboots (oh my!)

Prequels, Sequels, and Reboots (oh my!)

I wanted to dedicate a post to sequels and reboots because it is the most dominating trend in cinema right now, especially as they evolve into the concept of a cinematic universe (which I’ll discuss on its own). The idea of a sequel or some other artistic follow up to a story is not new and is not exclusive to films. However, it is now the biggest trend in the industry and this is because of financial aspects. Film production companies have realized that the one way to stabilize the return on investment on movies is to make every movie relate to something the audience previously saw and enjoyed.

There is definitely split opinions on sequels and reboots. A lot of people assume they inherently bad, that they are weaker works compared to the original or that they are a “cash-in” by the studio. This is subjective though, as sometimes sequels or reboots are rated higher than their predecessors, and sometimes sequels are what truly establish a movie in culture. Imagine Star Wars but never hearing about Vader being Luke’s father or Jabba the Hutt or the Emperor.

Reboots are on the rise now, since everyone is used to normal sequels. Reboots also have a bad stigma, but there have been some decent ones that offered something new to their originals. The new Planet of the Apes trilogy is one of the best reviewed blockbuster trilogies and they were a complete reboot from a failed reboot in the early 2000s. Modern approaches to digital effects allowed for a recreation where instead of ape costumes from the 60s (which some looked great and other movies in the series were.. not) we got fully realistic rendered apes performed by the pioneer of motion capture performance, Andy Serkis. Because of this and the amazing scripts they wrote, the new Planet of the Apes not only offers character development and insights that the originals didn’t, it offers a look into characters that aren’t even human. Not to mention the apes in these movies are better written, more sympathetic, and better performed then most human characters in any other blockbuster.

0.0

Neo-Noir

Neo-Noir

Traditional noir was defined by crime drama and harsh shadows, and only movies from a certain period are called film noir. The style lived on and inspired other works however, and anything under that umbrella is called neo-noir. A great example of neo-noir is Blade Runner. Blade Runner is a somewhat dystopian future type sci fi movie that has themes centered around technology, AI, and humanity. Both Blade Runner and its sequel utilize neo-noir style imagery, with harsh shadows and extreme angles used to evoke emotion. The movies also play out like crime thrillers which along with the visual style definitely solidify the series as neo-noir. In the following picture notice the Venetian blinds lighting (the horizontal slits of light coming from the window), the smoky atmosphere, the silhouetted character, and the extreme angle of the wall on the left which helps push your eyes to the right to see the character.

Blade-Runner-1982-e1353967313457

The plot for both Blade Runner movies can just as easily be compared to film noir. The characters are both some form of law enforcement or detective with a large looming mystery of a plot and background to them. The movie is also filled with the film noir cynicism and sexuality. These attributes make most neo-noirs fairly ‘hard-R rated’ compared to other popular releases. Because of this many movies just lift elements of neo-noir and film noir that the director thinks would fit the movie better. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy features some elements of noir, especially in Batman Begins where you see it in the cinematography that highlights the seedy Gotham underground and the plot which is gritty and filled with a detective approach from Batman. Another film that utilizes noir elements without considering the whole product film noir is Disney’s Zootopia. Zootopia as the detective crime elements and mystery as well as visual nods and it questions the characters cynicism and morality, but in a light, Disney, kid-friendly fashion.

Age of Superheroes

Age of Superheroes

Hollywood has always had a trend of big, exciting blockbusters dominating the market, but now it has gone in a very specific direction: superheroes. Early superhero movies like Superman and Batman sent the message that it was possible to adapt heroes from the pages of comic books to the silver screen. It wasn’t very financially beneficial however, until CGI cheapened the process behind visual effects and superhero movies found a more solid footing in the mainstream market. Since the early 2000s we’ve even seen superhero movies become more experimental and start to be adapted in other countries.

As more experienced and artful directors are taking on superhero movies we have entered a renaissance for the genre, with filmmakers finally branching from the usual superhero plots to more character-driven and well developed movies like Logan. The closest superhero cliche Logan has is an evil corporation going after supers, but it is done in a more gritty manner and it has a direct impact on the relationship between Wolverine and his daughter/clone. It is also unlike other superhero movies with high dramatic stakes and characters who are vulnerable. In the film the mutants are almost extinct and it is possible that the kids who escape are the last of their kind. The movie also deals with the mental degradation of Professor X and Wolverine dealing with a poisoned body. logan_2017_highonfilms

Because of mainstream American embrace of superheros it is allowing movies like these to stand a chance and offer a new experience. It also extends into other genres such as western and noir and is a modern starting point for people looking to branch into other genres of movies.

Slice of Life

Slice of Life

Slice of life defines movies that have a naturalistic realism to them. A recent American movie that falls under this category is The Florida Project. The movie is a realistic look at a little girl living with her mom in a motel. It deals with gritty struggles to survive in a slummish area in Orlando and because of this it is a darker movie than other slice of life films. The cinematography and performances work together to make the movie as realistic as possible, the ending shot really sells this as it was done guerrilla style with an iPhone used to shoot the scene and brings the characters fully into a realistic world. This realism makes it easy to sympathize with the characters even if you haven’t experienced the hardships they do.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in "Before Sunrise"

One of my favorite directors, Richard Linklater, specializes in slice of life. I wrote earlier about his character driven films and Boyhood is a perfect example of slice of life, but I’d like to also consider his Before trilogy. The plot in these movies is almost non-existent, each film takes place over a single day and is just about 2 characters running into each other at different points in time. Similarly to Boyhood, Linklater used time and aging to his advantage by shooting each movie roughly 9 years apart and picking up at the characters during each decade. These movies are extremely intimate as they completely revolve around the relationship between 2 people and by focusing on this it feels like an excerpt from life.