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Entries in Art Direction (56)

Wednesday
Jul302014

Why I'm Not Seeing "Lucy"

"Lucy" will be discussed soon on the podcast but at least one member of Scarjo-loving TFE refuses to see it. Here's Matthew Eng to tell you why. - Editor


I don't care if Lucy is every bit the gloriously silly and shamelessly outré action fireworks show that gung-ho summer audiences have made into a "surprise hit." I care even less that Luc Besson has managed to curb his own gonzo cheese-fest tendencies to a running time of less than 90 minutes, compared to the ceaselessly spinning tops and chiseled self-mythologizing of every Christopher Nolan movie post-Insomnia. And, though it's been tempting, I finally don't care that Besson and Co. have seemingly put the newly-rejuvenated Scarlett Johansson (so good in Under the Skin; so great in Don Jon) on a pedestal of full-out Film Goddess proportions, in a genre where movies in which women are front and center and not merely killjoy bystanders or fatal love objects is an all too well-known rarity.

That last fact has been my greatest lure towards shilling out for Lucy (aka Scarlett), but I refuse to believe that we should have to tolerate, much less applaud, any old action movie, no matter how dire the prospects, because some Hollywood bigwig has had the amazing insight to put a more-than-deserving actress at the forefront. I, too, was giddy about Angelina Jolie snatching Salt right out of Tom Cruise's hands, until I actually sat down and watched the thing, only to realize what a sorry, secondhand vehicle Jolie was actually driving. If you really want to watch a fully-realized femme figure take names and kick ass with the full support (and smarts) of the filmmakers behind her, then by all means rent/stream/buy the Alien series or the Kill Bills or the Terminators, or, for something less familiar, take a gander at Kathryn Bigelow's exquisite Strange Days, in which a bravura Angela Bassett is every bit the strong and stalwart action heroine she needs to be, while also, you know, playing a recognizable human being.

But what finally set aside any and all chances of me seeing Lucy was this image, ℅ of Rena Meownegishi, who found it and translated. [more ...]

 

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Sunday
Jun292014

Our Link Summer

Must Reads
The Atlantic 'How Brando Broke the Movies' -excellent piece from Tom Shone on perceptions of movie stardom, acting and chameleon tricks
L'etoile on summer's anniversary nostalgia and childhood idles
Pajiba shares fun excerpts from Neil Patrick Harris' upcoming autobiography. Sounds like a must-read. The Scott Caan story is delicious 

More Links & News
The Guardian "The Glorious Folly of Dance on Film" Singin' in the Rain, Pina and more
The Dissolve Bond 24 gets a rewrite. But why? Daniel Craig returns of course with Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris in tow
Geeks Out Boo. Disney is taking pains to make sure we know that 'Wandering Oaken' from Frozen (the guy with the store and sauna) isn't gay like the internet said
Kenneth in the (212) Shia Labeuf and the Jordan Almond defense
Towleroad Gay Iconography: Bette Midler
Vérité recommends Rob the Mob (2014) with Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda. This is one of those rare 'under the radar' recommendations that actually is. I hadn't been aware of this Bonnie & Clyde like tale but I'm up for more Arianda for sure.

Off Cinema
Salon has a list of the 19 greatests 'double entendre' songs from "Brand New Key" to "Milkshake" and so on. I object to the exclusion of Cyndi Lauper's "She-Bop"
Gizmodo how long until we get this weird 'Smart Morphable Surface' technology in sci-fi movie designs? 

Oscar Notes / Production Design
In case you missed it as the weekend began, AMPAS made some minor adjustments to the rules (as they are prone to do) which In Contention analyzes. Mostly it's technicalities like how nominations are credited for Song & Best Picture but the super interesting one is that movies nominated for Production Design which feature heavily digital environments will now have an added nominee, the digital designer. I personally suspected /was hoping that the change which was bound to happen would be closer to the Black and White vs. Color designations that Oscar went through from the mid30s through the mid60s in cinematography and I was hoping it would happen in both cinematography and production design since visual fx achievements keep winning in one or both of those categories (think Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Gravity, Hugo, etcetera). But I guess that was wishful thinking.

Tuesday
Jun102014

Best Shot: OITNB Season 2

No sophomore slump for this sensation. Orange is the New Black's second season arrived on June 6th for the masses to binge watch on Netflix. We ended Season 1 with a cliffhanger battle between Piper and meth-head hilbilly Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning,) which landed Piper in the SHU (solitary confinement) and as Season 2 begins she's being hauled off in the dead of night, completely unaware of what's happened, whether Pennsatucky is dead or alive, and where she's headed. The unfamiliar guards act as if she isn't even there.

Please tell me where we're going."

It's a sensible enough question, and a perfect one for a new season which no longer has the source material to work from (Chicago was the end of Piper's jail term in the book and here it lasts just the first episode of the season). Untethered to adaptation, and with the rich often fictionalized world of the prison already established where will Jenji Kohan take us? [More...]

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Monday
May192014

Oscar Predictions & Curiousities : Visuals & Score

I haven't forgotten about the Oscar charts. This first installment is the most time-consuming is all, as it sets the templates up for an entire years worth of handwringing and hiearchy juggling. With this latest update we only have the "big eight" categories left to do (minus actor & supporting actress which we've already surveyed). But here are a few thoughts on new charts that are up...

WarDaddy's (Brad Pitt) team in "Fury". The film is scored by Oscar-winner Steven Price

SCORE
I perhaps overstate the music branch's love for their favorite sons each year. It's not that that love isn't evident each year (stop to consider how many composers, for example, have 8 or more nominations and how rare that is in many other fields) it's that Hollywood's favorite composers are quite prolific so, John Williams & Alexandre Desplat aside (who never miss for a nomination)  aside, there's no guarantee that any of them will win traction since all of their rivals are also in the mix each year.

A few things to be curious about in 2014:

• Steven Price (Gravity) just won the Oscar on his first nomination so can he become a favorite? If so he's scoring Fury, the WW II tank drama with Brad Pitt in the lead this year. 
• Which Desplat score will they go for since they always have (at least) a few choices: Grand Budapest Hotel, Unbroken, or Godzilla? Or all three. Heh.
• It's been awhile since James Newton Howard (Maleficent) or Danny Elfman (Big Eyes) were in the mix. This year?
• Will Thomas Newman (Get On Up, The Judge) ever win the statue? He's the most nominated working composer who has never won with 12 failed attempts

CINEMATOGRAPHY
I would've given them their whole post but I can't even talk about this today. *sniffle* Gordon B Willis (RIP) 

Maleficent wonders which fairy tale Oscar wants to hear

COSTUME
The internet did a good job of spreading the fun factoid I once shared that Colleen Atwood (Into the Woods) and Sandy Powell (Carol) don't win the costuming Oscar unless the other one is nominated. So we'll have to look elsewhere for fun trivia this year. A few things I'm curious about this year:

• Milena Canonero is back! The three time Oscar winner  did wonderful work on Grand Budapest Hotel. Oscar tends to shun creative stylized work like that (what a shame that they passed up her instantly iconic work on The Royal Tenenbaums) when they can opt for period realism instead so that's kind of a longshot but wouldn't it be sweet?
• Will Oscar help Anna B Sheppard stretch? If they like her Maleficent costumes maybe she'll get offered movies outside the World War II genre, the box that Hollywood likes to keep her in (She also costumed Fury this year.
• Which of the rising crop of costume design stars is going to make it to an Oscar nomination first: Jane Petrie (Suffragette - I have it for 2015 but maybe it'll  be released this year), Kurt & Bart (Hunger Games: Mockingjay), or Steven Noble (Two Faces of January, Theory of Everything) ?

FILM EDITING 
It's too early to talk about this category really since, more than any other category, it depends entirely on what people like for Best Picture. 

Will AMPAS finally embrace the creative achievements in Wes Anderson's filmography

PRODUCTION DESIGN
My prediction for Grand Budapest Hotel is, I'll admit instantly, wishful thinking. (But it's early, so I'm allowed a few of those). It's perplexing that the art direction branch, like the costumers, often shun cool stylization such as the kind you often see in Wes Anderson features. But I'm hoping that the production designers can't help but recognize Adam Stockhausen's extraordinary range, hopping from pre Civil War realism (12 Years a Slave won him his first nomination) to Wes Anderson's fanciful dioramas with not only ease but confidence and panache. 

A few other things to be curious about:

• Is Oscar done with the Middle Earth films (last year they had their first miss in this category) or will they want to send the Hobbit trilogy away with a 6th nomination for Dan Hennah?
• Can Maria Durjovic (The Imitation Game) finally snag a nomination? She's done great work before and been egregiously snubbed (think Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and somehow the Oscar heat from Billy Elliott and The Hours didn't rub off on her either time
• Is Dennis Gassner a contender for his second win? He won the category for the very handsome Warren Beatty picture Bugsy (1991) but he's designed several completely gorgeous, classy and showy movies since then like, oh,  The Truman Show (1998), O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), and Big Fish (2003). Will Into the Woods be received well enough to make him a frontrunner?

 

Which Oscar fates are you most curious about for this season?

 

Tuesday
Apr082014

From Russia With Love's Visual Style

On the 50th anniversary of "From Russia With Love"'s US release our friend and James Bond expert Deborah Lipp (she even wrote a book about him!) is here to talk 007...

Sean Connery in "From Russia With Love" released 50 years ago today in the States

After 23 official films and 2 unofficial ones, From Russia With Love, the second James Bond adventure, remains the greatest of them all. Considered an iconic film in many ways, it may surprise the casual Bond viewer to note that certain "iconic" aspects of the Bond franchise were missing from or created in this film.

Let's focus on From Russia With Love's extraordinary visual signature on this anniversary

The first James Bond film, Dr. No, featured the production design of Ken Adam. Adam is justifiably famous. In Dr. No, he designed such sets as the nuclear launch room, and, needing one last set when the budget ran out, came up with an exquisitely simple interrogation room, as perfect as any of his more elaborate work. Adam worked on a total of seven Bond films, creating such sets as Goldfinger's Fort Knox and the hollowed-out volcano lair in You Only Live Twice. He is considered synonymous with the look of James Bond movies, but he didn't do From Russia With Love. He was busy working on Dr. Strangelove—go ahead and revisit the war room scene in Kubrick's film and ask yourself if it doesn't look an awful lot like a James Bond movie.

No, art direction for From Russia with Love was done by Syd Cain. Cain is kind of impressive. Like Ken Adam, he did multiple Bond films and worked with Stanley Kubrick (in Cain's case, on Lolita). 

The eye-popping chess tournament scene in From Russia with Love, in which the chess game takes place on a raised dais above a checkerboard floor mimicking the chessboard itself, is Cain's work. The movie also featured Blofeld's yacht-based lair, extensive scenes on the Orient Express, and location footage in Istanbul augmented by opulent set design. In fact, opulence is a good word to hang on Cain's work, and FRWL is an opulent movie.

Another iconic visual element in Bond films is the title sequence. Title design by Maurice Binder is considered part of the Bond signature, and Binder was there from the beginning. Dancing girls, silhouettes, sinuous animated movement, and the famed gunbarrel sequence were all Binder's designs. He did the title sequences for every Bond film from the first one in 1962 through License to Kill in 1989. Except two: From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. Robert Brownjohn did those. 

FRWL's title sequence features the credits projected on the mostly-nude body of a bellydancer. It's beautiful and so very Bond, so typical of Binder's signature work that you may wonder if Brownjohn wasn't influenced by the first Bond title sequence. He wasn't: Dr. No's titles are a psychedelic explosion of colored dots. Male and female dancing silhouettes come in around the 1.40 mark, and by 2.15 we're into the "Three Blind Mice" sequence—three blind beggars who turn out, as the movie begins, to be assassins. Nope, the sensual body of a woman in Bond titles wasn't made iconic by the iconic Bond title designer. 

From Russia With Love is great for many reasons: Plot, dialog, cast, and locations all play important roles. But the visual style is a key component. How interesting, then, that it stands separate from what we think of as "the" Bond style.