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Entries in Cinematography (195)


Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Michael C here to review my most anticipated film of the summer. Isn't it wonderful when anticipation and quality go together?

With each passing Summer the concept of the Event Movie gets a little more cheapened, a little more downgraded. Like eyes adjusting to darkness, we see weightless CG blurs collide with other weightless CG blurs and deem it good enough. That is until a film like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road comes along to rip the curtains down and the light flood in. No, that image is not strong enough. Fury Road tears through the multiplex like a great cleansing fire, leaving the great herd of lesser, timid blockbusters scattering to escape its path. 

It may seem an odd declaration to make about a franchise reboot, itself the third sequel in a series dormant since 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome. But Miller proves that any project can attain greatness with the right spirit of reckless ambition. The prevailing mentality is that an established brand is an excuse to play it safe, to scrub a rehash of the original story down to a neutered PG-13 so as not to risk alienating a single ticket buyer on Earth. George Miller goes full tilt in the opposite direction, embracing the franchise’ twisted id...

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Podcast: Max & Furiosa On The Road

Nathaniel welcomes back Anne Marie and regular Nick Davis and new guest Kyle Stevens to discuss George Miller's critically drooled over action masterwork Mad Max Fury Road. Though is it really as good as they say? We look deep at that misdirection of a prologue, the hallucinatory visuals, and the central conceit vs the female characterizations. We even talk Oscars a little bit. There are a few spoilers so it's best to see the film before listening if you care about such thing.

Please to enjoy and continue the conversation in the comments. You can listen at the bottom of this post or download from iTunes.  

Companion Links
Michael's Fury Road review
Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero"
Kyle's Twitter Account - Follow him. He's fun!

Fury Roadcast


1979: Revisiting The Black Stallion

In honor of the Year of the Month (1979) and horse racing’s most exciting month – with the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, being run today – Lynn Lee revisits a childhood favorite movie, The Black Stallion.

As a little girl, I didn’t ride horses but I loved reading about them, from Black Beauty to Misty of Chincoteague to just about every book in the Black Stallion series.  Naturally I loved the Black Stallion movie and watched it multiple times in my pre-teen years.  I recently decided to watch it again and see how I felt about it over two decades later.  Here are the five things that struck me most strongly this time around:

1. How quiet the film is.
There’s barely any dialogue.  That makes sense for the first half, most of which takes place on a desert island where the two shipwrecked protagonists, the boy Alec and the Black Stallion, slowly earn each other’s trust.  But even after they’re rescued and return to society and enter a big honking horse race, the quiet remains.  Most of the human characters have only a handful of lines... [More]

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Best Shot Special: The Orson Welles Centennial !

HMWYBS: Mid Season Finale 

Orson Welles  burst on to the cinematic scene in 1941 with Citizen Kane, which has led numerous film polls across the decades as the 'Best Film Ever Made'. (Kane's nearest rivals for the title in frequent pollings here and there seem to be Vertigo and The Godfather) It famously lost all but one of its Oscar nominations (Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz his co-writer took the Original Screenplay prize, Welles' only competitive Oscar) but genius is rarely fully appreciated in its time. Incredibly, the writer/director/actor was only 26 at the time but he was no one hit wonder adding several more classics to his filmography before his death at 70 years of age in 1985. For today's Hit Me With Your Best Shot episode, our midseason finale (the series returns on June 3rd), I asked participants to choose between Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, my personal favorite of his), and The Lady From Shanghai (1948) depending on what they felt like watching.

Gawk at beautiful screengrabs from those movies from 10 Best Shot participants. Click on any of them to be taken to the corresponding article singing that shot's praises...

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"A bright guilty world." - On The Lady From Shanghai

Hit Me With Your Best Shot S6.10
Mid Season Finale (See all the pics tonight at 11!)
The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
Directed by Orson Welles. Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.

Though we're usually tasked to watch the same film for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, today for the Orson Welles Centennial, participants had their choice of three films. I chose The Lady From Shanghai (1948) largely because the only image I ever see for it online is Orson Welles seizing Rita Hayworth, both of them reflected by mirrors in the über famous "Crazy House" finale. It's one of those movie sequences you learn by osmosis just watching other movies (remember Woody Allen's take on it in Manhattan Murder Mystery?) even before you get around to this 1948 noir (Technicall IMDb says 1947 but it was released practically everywhere in 1948). Though the hall of mirrors contains roughly 50 shots that could justifiably be called "Best" it's their proximity and their dizzying accumulation of lies (all about to shatter) that really does it for me so I looked elsewhere.

The Lady From Shanghai is gorgeously uncluttered. It's as if only the basic tropes have room to exist: the femme fatale, the narrating dupe, the shadows, and the crimes. It's so self aware it even toasts its own genre halfway through...

Here's to crime!"

You might even call it minimalist despite the famously baroque visual finale. It was the fourth Orson Welles picture and the first to be ignored entirely by the Academy when it opened in the summer of 1948 but it won the important battle: standing the test of time.

The movie plays its hand immediately, informing you that Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) will be Michael O'Hara's (Orson Welles) undoing. But every time you look at her, which is often since Welles and Lawton Jr give Hayworth star vehicle closeups throughout, you hope it won't be true.  One very smart recurring visual motif is that Mrs Bannister is bathed in light more often than she's in shadow. She so clearly has her own key light that at the tail end of the movie's first sequence, when Welles jumps in a horse drawn carriage with her, their images seem artificially conjoined since he's so shadowy and she's so bright.

But this lighting motif is a lie, one you catch if you a) believe the narration and b) listen to the dialogue of the film's oiliest and most repulsive character who refers to the paradise around these rich sharks as a  "bright guilty world." One notable exception, the one I'd select as Best Shot if I could have two conjoined images to illustrate a point, is when Elsa and O'Hara meet in an quarium. This time they're both bathed in shadows though something is very different about the shots: when O'Hara stands next to the glass they're like harmless magnified fishies; when Elsa picks a spot to stand the marine life is far more disturbing, gasping for air. 

But for Best Shot I'm going minimal, and brightly lit, conveying the intoxication of Rita Hayworth. The shot below is breathtaking in its sensuality; Elsa gets the full glamour treatment, the glistening eyes and slightly parted mouth, the soft but ample lighting. But Welles doesn't rest on his co-star and lover's beauty alone. There's an impressive array of choreographed movement that keeps whiplashing the camera back to her, reclined, through lots of business with her three men and one cigarette. You're constantly aware of the relationships between the four principles. This is is not a typical triangulated affair or evil quartet but a circle with Elsa Bannister always at its center.

best shot

And since we're speaking of juxtapositions, if you pair this hypnotic sequence -- your eyes are getting heavier... You will do whatever Rita breathily implores! -- with an even more brightly lit but far less serene shot of her face in the climax, this star turn reveals itself as quite a bifurcated triumph; it's half fawning iconography (until the mask of her glamour finally drops) and half shifty performance. 

By all means if you haven't seen this movie -- or any of Orson Welles's masterpieces, do. 


Visual Index ~ Bright Star's 'Best Shots'

We're almost to the mid season finale of Hit Me With Your Best Shot. This week's episode looks at Jane Campion's sorely underseen Bright Star (2009). The romantic drama about the poet John Keats and his unconsummated love with the headstrong Fanny Brawne was lost in the 2009 shuffle, but is a true beauty and a worthy entry in Jane Campion's tremendous filmography. It introduced the film world to the then 34 year old DP Greig Frasier, who had previously made shorts and obscure features, before Campion's film provided his breakthrough. He went on to plum assignments like Foxcatcher, Zero Dark Thirty and Snow White and the Huntsman. Frasier has yet to be Oscar-nominated but he's already one of the best DPs in the business.

Even more impressive, given that Bright Star is such a successfully intimate portrait of new love, is that the movie introduced its star Ben Whishaw to its film composer Mark Bradshaw; they were married just three years later. 

Bright Star's Best Shots
11 images chosen by 13 participants
(in the order the articles came in this time)
Click on the pictures for their corresponding articles 

One of the prettiest things I've ever seen.

Bright Star is all about the subtle touches of skin..."
-A Fistful of Films many beautiful images that also happen to be encapsulations of the universal aspects of falling in love"
-Coco Hits NY

What is it that she spies beyond the boundaries of her domesticity, fenced off by windows and hidden behind opaque curtains?"
-Lam Chop Chop 

In a film with mostly subdued feelings, this particular scene is electric with emotions..."
-Sorta That Guy

The years have been kind to the film..."
-Film Actually


This is the first time i’ve done a HMWYBS where I was absolutely disinterested with a film..."
- I Want to Believe


Fanny, trapped and bleached of color, but already pushing against her confines with a creative act."
-Anne Marie, The Film Experience 

a film about four things: romance, Romanticism, being outside, and costuming..."
-Antagony & Ecstasy 

What is young love if not...
-Evan Stewart

I truly and deeply hope that more people will seek this film out."
-Movie Nut

 Unrequited love...
-Hey Norge

Campion has rightfully earned a reputation as a fiercely feminist filmmaker..."
-The Entertainment Junkie 





April Foolish Predictions: Direction, Costumes, Cinematography, Sets! 

The April Foolish Predictions probably won't be quite finished by April's end, damnit! So we'll have to save four categories (Actresses and Screenplays) for May 1st. Blame Nathaniel's BFF who has demanded a Marvel marathon which starts very soon and which will then usurp a good chunk of the next 24 hours of Nathaniel's life. Since the bestie rarely wants to play movie games, Nathaniel obliges. Nathaniel also talks about himself in the third person for which he apologizes. 

But while we're talking Oscar predictions -- even deferred Oscar predictions - let's talk Visual Categories and Best Director. Since more charts are now up!

This question will horrify the Birdman haters (they are depressingly legion) but could Alejandro González Iñárritu manage back-to-back Oscars for direction? It's only happened twice before, both times in the 1940s (John Ford in 1940/1941 and Joseph L Mankiewicz in 1949/1950), but since The Revenant will be such an about face from Birdman the fire could still be burning for honoring the Mexican auteur's work. Especially since Oscar has never ignored one of his films. Between the five titles there are 21 nominations and 5 wins so if the new picture becomes a perfect average it's looking at 4 nominations and an Oscar somewhere. Other previous winners that might be in play are Spielberg, Hooper, Howard, Zemeckis, Beatty or Boyle. And will David O. Russell or Quentin Tarantino ever actually win Best Director?

Newbies? On a whim I'm going to predict Denis Villeneuve who I've enjoyed for a long time and who seems very proud of Sicario (his FBI vs Cartel drama led by Emily Blunt) and whose career seems about to explode post Prisoners. If civil rights period drama Suffragette (Sarah Gavron) or The 33 (Patricia Riggen) are good enough might we finally have another female director nominated? 

There are a three potential double dippers this year from Oscar darlings Sandy Powell (Cinderella & Carol) and Jacqueline Durran (Pan & MacBeth) to Jane Petrie (you're saying "who?" but you'll know her by the end of the year since she went from relative unknown to suddenly prolific with four period pieces Suffragette, Jane Got a Gun, '71, and Genius which will all be released in 2015 in the States if Genius gets finished and gets distribution in time.

Elsewhere we have to wonder if the very talented long time costume designer Daniel Orlandi (Trumbo) is ever going to score his first nomination. And can I just say how amusing I find it that the great Jenny Beavan who has only ever been nominated for what some might derisively call 'masterpiece theater' style dramas costumed Mad Max: Fury Road this year? That's too fun! 

Cinematography could be a murderer's row of great again since Deakins, Lubezki, Kaminski, Deschanel and more all have projects this year. As for the rest and the general overview - i made small adjusments to picture and supporting actor as well due to rethink of craft categories and the hunch that Sicario might really be something with Blunt and Villeneuve both still rising -- check out the all chart index 

As always, your comments are not just welcome but implored. Let's try the wisdom of crowds. What are you sensing at this extremely early date? 

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