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Silence of the Lambs Retrospective

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Entries in Art Direction (70)

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.

 

Friday
Feb282014

2 Days Til Oscar. Final Oscar Predictions

This article originally appeared in my column at Towleroad and is reprinted here (albeit slightly altered for the TFE crowd) with their permission

Gravity will win how many Oscars? The most at any rate.

Oscar Weekend is upon us! Those damn Olympics forced it into March so it already feels like its running late and pushing back the local news broadcast yet further into the AM hours. And it hasn't even started yet! But soon Ellen Degeneres will be dancing down the aisles and we'll be on our way. [Before we get there make sure to like TFE on facebook so you don't forget about us during the spring/summer. We hit it all year round!]

I've been an Oscar blogger for over ten years (yikes) and usually predicting the winners in the high profile categories is easy; it's about getting out of your own way since it's easy to overthink it and create scenarios which aren't likely to happen. This year is more volatile than usual, though, with Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, and American Hustle all displaying strength after strength during "precursor season" but meeting plenty of resistance, too, on their awards path. Anything might happen in Best Picture, which is not something you can usually say going into the big night. It'll be a groundbreaking night almost any way it turns out with a first in Best Director (first Hispanic winner or first black winner) and a first in Picture (first sci-fi winner or first film that's totally about black people) 

Oscar never presents the categories in the exact same order from year to year, but let's take these in the order the envelopes opened last year just as an outline on which to hang our predictions after the jump... 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb212014

9 Days Til Oscar. Should 9 Times Nominated "12 Years" Worry?

Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, once the Oscar frontrunner and perhaps still, has nine nominations. As we move into the final days of voting (ballots are due on Tuesday the 25th), how many of its categories can it win? I'm thinking about 12 Years again today due to Harvey Weinstein's awful potshot at it over at Deadline where he suggested that Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained was better at covering slavery.

I liked 12 Years A Slave, but Quentin covered a lot of that ground first, and dealt with violence, slavery and oppression, shining a light on the American holocaust, as he called it.

Oy!

I'll flesh out some of the following thoughts in the "final predictions" article a week from now but until then, let's discuss it's upcoming Oscar battles... 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Feb092014

More Prizes for Best Pic Nominees: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, & Her

From the USC Scripter nominees we discussed Friday the group chose 12 Years a Slave as the best adapted screenplay of the year. Since their prize goes to both the screenwriter and the original author that means John Ridley gave the acceptance speech but Solomon Northup was also a winner. He's been dead for 151 years so one wonders where his prize goes? I hope to the Faces of Solomon group.

But it wasn't all good news for the masterful slavery drama. It lost its Art Direction, Period  prize to the much showier Baz Luhrmann film The Great Gatsby. Catherine Martin, Baz's wife and creative collaborator is drowning in such prizes. She's won the ADG and the Oscar both before in this category for Moulin Rouge!

ADG AWARDS FILM

So pleased this won it's prize! K.K. Barrett is a marvel

Contemporary Film K.K. Barrett, Her
Fantasy Film Andy Nicholson, Gravity
Period Film Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby

It's worth noting that all three of those production designers are Oscar nominated as well. They're competing against Adam Stockhausen for 12 Years a Slave and Judy Becker  for American Hustle.

Television & Special Extra Film Prizes are after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan282014

Yes, No, Maybe So: Maleficent

My favorite moment of the Grammys Sunday night was the premiere of the Maleficent trailer set to Lana Del Rey's hypnotically sinister version of Disney's "Once Upon a Dream"! Runner up was Imagine Dragons. Second Runner Up was Madonna resurrecting "Open Your Heart" briefly while people of all persuasions married (awwww) thereby rescuing me from that obnoxious if well-intentioned "Same Love" rap (Keith Urban with his new handsome-lady haircut was also happy to be rescued as he was totally crying. But where was Mrs. Keith Urban Whom We Worship?). Fourth runner up was a tie between Pink and Lorde... but I digress and am running way off track with the tracks.

MALEFICENT!

Well well."

Let's talk about that "Dream" trailer only we're doing things a smidge differently because we're in a mood. We're going to judge every shot of it with our Yes No Maybe So™ system.

Ready? Go!

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan222014

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?

THE VOICES
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?

SONG ONE
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? 

 

 

WAR STORY 
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?

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