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Entries in Art Direction (68)


Sundance Stills: The Voices, War Story, Song One

One can never be fully caught up at festivals but one does what one can. So today, three quick takes on movies I saw yesterday during a five-film day. Let's use their festival guide images as a framing device just because I always find it interesting which images movies use to promote themselves, don't you?

This still from Marjane Satrapi's (Persepolis) horror comedy looks nondescript enough until you pair the title with a man looking at his cat. Yes, they're "talking". The cat is the Scottish brogued "Mr Whiskers" and like 99% of cats in films he is unrepentantly evil. (Can we form a Anti-Cat Defamation Cinematic League or something?) And then you notice the woman's head (Gemma Arterton's to be precise) to the left. Gross! One thing you don't get at all from this still is the film's hard working production design, which is relentlessly candy colored (bright pink is favored) and stylized. The whole film mirrors the strainuous commitment of the design elements but it's hard to know what possessed anyone to be involved let alone give it their all (I've never seen Ryan Reynold work this hard to put a performance over. Why use all that energy now on this?). It's cutesy and gruesome simultaneously which is an unwise and at time repulsive thing to attempt to pull off... but I should admit that the production design really works in the moments when it slides mercilessly off the cliff between from one moment to the other (Jerry's warped fantasies and the actual situation) as in a scene after his first kill when he starts taking his medication and we're back in reality. But still, this "comedy" about a man-boy who works at a hot pink toilet factory, eats at a Chinese restaurant with live Elvis shows, and lives above an abandoned bowling alley where he chops up women is largely unfunny. That last sentence should give you a clue as to what the movie feels like. It's like being stabbed to death by tweeness. The Voices is not even comfortable with being scary. This marks the first time I ever walked out of movie during a happy end credits musical dance sequence... starring Anna Kendrick (and other cast members) no less! In my defense this brightly lit comic number also featured an actor playing Jesus. Grade: D? F?... or maybe it's an "A" cult movie and I just didn't get it?  Distribution: Not that I'm aware of but I'm sure it'll get something. Maybe a VOD future?

This image features Franny (Anne Hathaway) falling for her brother's favorite musician James Forester (Johnny Flynn) while her brother lies in a coma. Very specific plot set up that.  I had to brighten it in photoshop so you could actually see the image which just gives a sense at how dangerously low key this film is for a festival bow. I saw it in the middle of a five film day and fought off sleep (others succumbed to the sandman without shame) but I actually think it's good if extremely modest. But relatively calm romantic dramas about women and dreamy alt-folk musicians are probably asking for it with exhausted legions of film critics who -- I'm stereotyping but I see it all the time --  prefer harrowing and heavily masculine films to anything gentle and feminine. The big selling point is the return of Anne Hathaway (what a perfect movie face she has - all anime sized eyes and expressive memorable mouth) and the films song score by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice (mostly performed by Johnny Flynn). If the movie gets a release I hope it campaigns hard for Best Original Song nominations next year. Weirdly, Anne Hathaway only sings twice and only in off-hand character beat ways, though the movie has a lot of performance scenes. In fact the film it most reminded me of was Michael Winterbottom's Nine Songs only instead of pornography inbetween each musical number there was low key family grief and a tentative 'help me through this' love story.
Grade: B/B- Distribution: Not at the moment. It's appeal is surely very limited but with no brainer marketing hooks like Hathaway and all the great music, why not a small distributor? 



Finally let's wrap up with Catherine Keener in a Mark Jackson movie about a war photographer named Lee who is shown abrasively walking and talking and wandering about in Italy. (Does Keener ever do anything non-abrasively any more?) Lee has clearly lost her mojo, is hugely depressed (a companion was recently killed, execution style, in front of her) and is searching for new purpose while avoiding loved ones on the telephone. The image above features her listening to a conversation in the street. Or maybe thinking one of her many dark thoughts. That lack of information is representative of the movie but the image isn't since Keener's massive helmet of hair is not covering her facial expressions. I found the movie maddeningly withholding in nearly all ways: narratively, visually and emotionally. Sometimes the focus on Keener in profile (essentially just a side shot of brown hair with occasional glimpse of her nose) was so tight that I couldn't even tell what she was doing in the frame. In one disposable lengthy shot, for example, I thought she might be staring at a vending machine indecisively and then she did something with her hands (offscreen) but the image was too hard to understand and the next cut didn't clear up what had just transpired. I couldn't find any way into the movie so it was inert for me as a drama, despite possibly intriguing dramatic elements like Keener's fascinating with a Libyan refugee seeking an abortion or a late film visit to a former friend (Ben Kingsley). One minor caveat, i was a bit late to the movie (I am very rarely late to a movie) so perhaps the opening scene explained everything but given the filmmaking elsewhere I highly doubt it. Grade: D; Distribution: Unlikely unless Keener and Kingsley is enough

Which of these are you most interested in and what was your last triple feature?


Art Directors Make Their Picks 

Jose here, with yet another batch of guild nominees. This time members of the Art Directors Guild have determined nominees in three categories (which are just as nonsensical as those of the Costume Designers is Her contemporary and Gravity a fantasy?). It's mostly more of the same, except for one or two rather interesting choices here and there, and truly it seems as if Oscar mostly cares about the "old look" which is why the Period nominees might pretty much translate into our final five nominees. Right?

The nominees were the following:

Click to read more ...


Podcast: American Hustle & Her

NickKatey and Joe join Nathaniel to wish you all a very happy holiday week. We begin by talking about David O. Russell's American Hustle. Katey wishes the movie had applied itself more, Joe doesn't believe a second of it, but Nathaniel and Nick enjoy the fun groovy chaos quite a lot more. We're split on Jennifer Lawrence's showboating, three of us think Bradley Cooper is amazing but the podcast quickly turns into an Amy Adams ♥fest. (Shout-outs to Saïd Taghmaoui and Michael Peña, too)

We also discuss Spike Jonze Her and its lovely script and performances. The Scarlett Johansson/Samantha Morton business on the voicework is also on the menu. Do we think Her hits its themes too hard or just right? And would we wear its futuristic fashions? 

PLEASE NOTE: If you're spoiler averse you might want to skip one minute from 18:00- 19:00

You can listen to the podcast right here at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes

Her Hustlin' Holiday


Team FYC: The Conjuring for Best Production Design

In this FYC series series, our contributors are highlighting their favorite fringe contenders this awards season. Here's Dancin' Dan on The Conjuring...

Let's face it: The Academy doesn't, as a rule, like horror films. Even when they're done well. But James Wan's The Conjuring is one we hope they'll honor, especially in the below-the-line categories. The technical elements are all exceptionally well-done, but the production design in particular is damn near flawless. For starters, take a look at that Annabelle doll. Creepy, right? But also totally believable as a toy that a girl might have loved as a child in the 40s or 50s and kept with her as a young adult in the 60s.

The whole film is stuffed with smart design like that. Production Designer Julie Berghoff, Art Director Geoffrey S. Grimsman, and Set Decorator Sophie Neufdorfer built the Perron house used in the film from the ground up and filled it with period-appropriate appliances, photos, and toys that felt used and loved - and, perhaps most importantly, that don't look "scary".

The smartest thing The Conjuring does is to not look like a modern horror movie - all dark and tinted blue or gray, with every set and prop looking like it's on the verge of decay. The Perron house looks old because, simply, it's an old house, and the Perrons bought it knowing it was a bit of a fixer-upper. The items in the basement look old and rotting because they've been blocked off for decades. The family's personal items look new, or at least new-ish, as would fit a middle-class family in 1971. The attention to period detail is all over the movie, and it gives the movie a homespun quality that always works in its favor.

There are a lot of reasons why The Conjuring works as well as it does: strong, surprisingly nuanced performances from Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Lili Taylor; the genuinely unsettling score; the almost old-fashioned cinematography - but for me the MVP is all the little details around the edges of the frame, constantly lending a sense of reality to the film. The art direction of The Conjuring is effectively scary when it needs to be (the spiral mirror reflecting on Vera Farmiga's face, that monstrous wardrobe, the Warrens' room of occult objects), but mostly it serves to remind you that these were real people this happened to - a family that could have had a normal life if things had just worked out a little differently. And that's where the true horror lies.


Maleficent Teases...

We'll save the Yes No Maybe So-ing for a full trailer, but Disney is now teasing Maleficent, their Spring 2014 blockbuster hopeful, with a Pfeifferesque Pfirst Poster and a new teaser which gives us our first taste of...

Well, if not the movie itself than its...

Click to read more ...


Yes, No, Maybe So: Grand Budapest Hotel

Hospitality is all about speed, charm and mind-reading. Get them checked in, ingratiate yourself, anticipate their every need. Movies have to do that in reverse so the new poster (discussed) and the trailer have arrived to charm and anticipate our needs. Will you check into his GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in Spring 2014? Let's check off our yes no maybe so boxes...


• ohmygod the colorology! I'm in ♥ with all the reds and purples and whites on view here. Wes Anderson movies may all look exactly like Wes Anderson movies but they do change up the color palette, so points for that.
• And speaking of which... I really think costumers and production designers on his movies do not get enough credit. It's insane to me that Karen Patch, for example, wasn't Oscar nominated for her instantly iconic work on The Royal Tenenbaums. This time it's the legendary Milena Canonero (on her 3rd Anderson picture) and Adam Stockhausen (who graduated to Production Designer on Moonrise Kingdom), respectively.
• If Wes Anderson were a hotelier, I imagine he'd have to run a very small exclusive boutique, building the perfect meticulously designed dollhouse rooms for his devout fanbase and repertory actors to squeeze into. I would glady pay rack. 
• Ralph Fiennes as a ladykiller concierge named "Gustav H"
• Tilda as an unrecognizably old rich lady horny for him? 


• Oh noooos. Tilda dies to kick off the plot? That's too little Tilda.
• ...Especially since the cast list is otherwise a total sausage party. 


• Why is this trailer square? Is Wes challenging himself with an old school aspect ratio? [update after writing: yep, apparently there are three aspect ratios here] I know people complain about his center framed horizontals but I LIKE horizontal, and love his unique aesthetic.
• Do you think this one will skew too forced whacky? (the roundelay of face-punching, the skiing) or too precious (the secret code, the name of the painting, the "lobby boy" cap)
• ...can a Wes Anderson movie even be too precious? Or, if so, should they all be animated like Fantastic Mr Fox?
Moonrise Kingdom will be hard to top but he doesn't need to. Even his least satisfying movie (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou) still has all sorts of corners and hallways and portholes to look into and at.


Are you a yes, no, or maybe so... and in what ways? Do tell.


Germany @ The Oscars

Germany has a long and trivia-crazy history with the Oscars that didn’t just begin with Sandra Bullock speaking German in her Blind Side acceptance speech or Christoph Waltz, an Austrian-German talent winning two Tarantino-Flavored Oscars for multi-lingual performances. We’ll get to more trivia in a minute but first the German shortlist.  We await their choice for Oscar’s Foreign Language Film submission with curiousity because they’re always a threat for the eventual shortlist. Germany has received 18 nominations and 3 wins over the years. They’re weighing the quality of nine different pictures before deciding. Which will they send our way?

The finalists are…

  • MY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY Michaela Kezele
    This one skews international - a romance between a young Serbian widow and an Albanian soldier 
  • THE GERMAN FRIEND Jeanine Meerapfel
    A coproduction with Argentina 
  • FREE FALL Stephan Lacant
    A gay romantic drama about two cops
  • THE GIRL WITH NINE WIGS Marc Rothemund
    I don't know what this one is about but I love the title 
  • OH BOY Jan Ole Gerster
    a popular comedy about a drop out university student 
  • RITTER ROST multiple directors
    an animated film 
    This one sounds interesting - a juvenile offender in an "open prison" discovers that his house-mother was one of his victims 
  • NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN von Katrin Gebbe (Junafilm)
    Also known as Tore Tanzt. Will this Cannes entry be too controversial for submission?  
  • TWO LIVES von Georg Maas & Judith Kaufman (DE/NO, Zinnober Film,  B&T Film)
    Also known as Zwei Leben. This film stars Liv Ullman of all people!!! It's about a woman (Juliane Köhler who starred in the German Oscar winner Nowhere in Africa), born to a Norwegian woman and a German soldier who becomes involved in war crime trials. 

It's worth noting that the acclaimed Hungarian German coproduction The Notebook which was suggested to be in the running by some outlets is being submitted by Hungary so it can't be the German submission.

Patrick, a German reader thinks that it would be a surprise if they passed on OH BOY which has been a major hit in Germany at the end of 2012. But since it’s a black and white contemporary film and youth sensation it’s no automatic draw when it comes to appealing to Oscar’s foreign language voters who are, it's important to remember, a volunteer group culled from all the branches. Anecdotally speaking, they skew even older than the typical Oscar demographic because they have to have a lot of free time to attend a least a couple dozen screenings from the long long submissions list (which is broken up into 3 sections so that each member doesn't have to watch all 60+ entries). For Germany, Oh Boy, is also facing the potential problem that The Hunt has for Denmark. It's not "new" anymore... so if the decision-makers have a fresh love...

I wouldn't be surprised if they went with Two Lives (trailer above) given Liv Ullman and Juliane Köhler's Oscar histories but the only director in the nine finalists that's previously been submitted is Marc Rothemund (The Girl With Nine Wigs). His film Sophie Scholl was an Oscar nominee in the 2005 race.

They'll announce their submission on August 27th. What do you think it will be? 

P.S. I promised some trivia so here we go...

a few German winners: Emil Jannings, Luise Rainer and Hans Zimmer

  • Germany's most frequently submitted director is (drum roll please) Wim Wenders who has been submitted only three times (The American Friend, Wings of Desire, and Pina). None of those famous films were nominated in this category. Wenders has better luck with the documentary branch where he's won two nominations (Pina, Buena Vista Social Club).  Several other directors are tied with two submissions each.
  • Germany holds two important "firsts" for the acting Oscars. The first actor ever handed an Oscar was Emil Jannings for The Way of All Flesh. Less than a decade later Luise Rainer became the first actor of either gender to win two Oscars. Since she did that in the late 30s Hollywood lied about Rainer's provenance and claimed she was from Austria.
  • The category that loves Germans most is Art Direction (31 nominations and 7 wins) but weirdly no German has been nominated there since 1972 when Cabaret took home the gold in that category. 
  • Hollywood's favorite German currently, if you subtract Christoph Waltz, is Hans Zimmer a frequent nominee for Best Original Score. [cue: loud Inception bwaaaaaaa  ♫ here]
  • The last German film to win the Oscar was The Lives of Others (2006), one of the most popular winners in this category in recent years.
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