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Alicia Vikander cast as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
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Entries in Visual FX (103)

Monday
Apr112016

The Furniture: The Forest and "The Force Awakens"

"The Furniture" is our new design series. Here's Daniel...

Once upon a time, Hollywood movie magic looked a bit different. In this age of CGI, with some blockbusters relying so heavily on digital effects that they border on fully animated features, it’s easy to forget how science fiction and fantasy once looked. This is why the throwback technical elements in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are so exciting to behold.

One could go on for quite some time about all these details, many of which come up in the extensive special features included on the Blu-ray. One production design revelation in particular that's worth celebrating is that the final fight scene between Kylo Ren and Rey, set in a dark and snowy forest, was shot on a set.

Initially, a location shoot was considered. Such a choice worked wonders for the forest sequence in House of Flying Daggers (2004) , certainly. Yet, due to the fact that the nighttime setting would severely restrict the schedule, the production design team led by Rick Carter and Darren Gilford began workshopping a solution [More...]

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Mar192016

Oscar Whisperer: Have we seen any nominees yet?

Though we all know that the bulk of Oscar nominations come from the last quarter of each and every year, have we seen any awards players yet? Here's a tricky thing about punditry -- if you start too early people say you're part of the problem in "narrowing" the field but if you don't start early how are you going to be of service in keeping the entire year in play and offering perspective on which film should be watched so that it's not all about "cramming" at the end of the year which leads to all that last quarter focus. So we start early.  Here are first quarter possibilities if the Academy has longer memories than usual this year and if they surprisingly generate excitement later in the year by way of top ten lists or second wave releases (Bluray, streamin, etc...)

January
Kung Fu Panda 3 (Animated Feature)
Both of the previous films about the round warrior "Po" (Jack Black) were nominated for Best Animated Feature. Will Dreamworks go 3 for 3 with this series? The reviews are right in line with those of the previous films but franchises often outstay their welcome when it comes to "Best of Year" accolades.

The costumes in Hail Caesar (courtesy of Mary Zophres) are great fun

February
Deadpool (Visual FX, Makeup and Hairstyling)
Hail Caesar!
(Original Song "No Dames" and Any Category, really) 
The WWitch (Sound, Supporting, and Any Category, really) 

Deadpool will surely surface for the Saturn Awards but good luck with the standard awards bodies considering that superhero films don't fare well even in VFX nominations... and Deadpool is a bit bargain bin aesthetically, however popular it may be with audiences.  An extreme longshot but it will surely attempt Oscar recognition in both VFX and Makeup bakeoffs.

As for Hail, Caesar! and The VVitch, they're the most prestigious of the year's mainstream releases thus far by way of being from beloved filmmakers or inspiring critical fervor, respectively. But will any voters remember them or take them seriously enough given traditional resistance to comedy and horror? The first step in taking any film seriously is to actually watch it; conscientous voters should watch these two films. 

March
April and the Extraordinary World (Animated Feature)
Batman v Superman (Visual FX)
Krisha (Best Actress)
Zootopia (Animated Feature) 
Hello My Name is Doris (Best Actress) 

Zootopia is by far your best bet for early bird Oscar glory given the outstanding reviews and audience love and Disney being a power player in the animated feature category. Can Sally Field's Doris generate good Golden Globe will? Will Krisha develop a following (it won the Cassavettes at the Spirit Awards for 2015 but the Spirit Awards have different eligibility rules -- festival showings sometimes count for them).

Of the two attempts at reviving the Superman franchise (Superman Returns in 2006 and Man of Steel in 2013) only Returns won Oscar favor (Visual FX nomination). Will Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice be ignored or embraced for its effects? It all depends on its future competition but it's worth noting that, for whatever reason, Batman is the favorite superhero of groups that traditionally resist superheroes. Batman films have won 3 Oscars from 15 nominations. 

What will you hope for or count on from the first quarter?

Tuesday
Mar082016

Visual Index: Best Shots from Ghostbusters (1984)

With the new riff on the ol' Ghostbusters property nearly upon us, what better time to look back at the original comedy smash? While the film's comic tone and dialogue are well remembered its visuals are less often discussed. The film was shot by the Hungarian cinematographer László Kovács. He logged a lot of quality time in the romantic comedy genre (What's Up Doc?, My Best Friend's Wedding, Say Anything...) but made his name in the 70s on scrappy, famous and/or ambitious pictures like Five Easy Pieces, Shampoo, New York New York, and Paper Moon.

Without further ado, let's see what the Hit Me With Your Best Shot club thought of the look of this picture and what slimy memories this revisit stirred up...

GHOSTBUSTERS
Directed by Ivan Reitman. Cinematography by László Kovács. 
Starring: (in order of billing) Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver,
Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, William Atherton & Ernie Hudson.
Click on the 12 images to read the 15 corresponding articles

Bill Murray. What does make him tick?
-54 Disney Reviews 

The look on their faces tho... 
-Daniel Laferriere *first time participant*

Grown white men have their fun while the rest of the world cleans up their mess...
- Bennett Prosser *first time participant*

A good old fashioned 80s Improvement Montage, complete with a song that is either brilliantly awful or secretly genius...
-Scopophiliac at the Cinema *first time participant*

It arguably has endured as a beloved classic precisely because the people in it are so full-heartedly human.
-Nebel Without a Cause

 I'm well aware that this is nobody's idea of a scary movie...
- Antagony & Ecstasy

it’s fun to see things pop in and out of frames, especially when the frames are static. It’s almost like seeing a painting being disturbed...
-Coco Hits NY


 It’s useless to try to deny my love for her and it’s inescapable that my best shot features her...
-Magnificent Obsession 

Bill Murray's chemistry with everyone... and I mean everyone in the movie.
-Movie Motorbreath

The images of Sigourney keep getting richer and sexier as the insanity mounts
-The Film Experience

We Need to Talk About Dana Barrett’s Apartment.
-FilmMixTape

Recreating the Exorcist as a screwball comedy date...
-Bohemian Cinema Salon *first time participant*

The movie doesn't really get interesting, narratively and visually, until midway when Weaver's character gets possessed by the spirit of Zuul.
-Sorta That Guy


Most of my favorite shots are when the movie embraces its crazy and over the top nature.
-Wick's Picks *first time Best Shot participant!*

Ghostbusters is a perfect '80s blockbuster version of the classic 50s monster B-movies...
-Dancin Dan on Film

 

NEXT WEEK: Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement (2007) with James McAvoy, Keira Knightley & little Oscar nominated Saoirse Ronan. [Keira Knightley Voice] "Come back to me it."

Tuesday
Mar082016

Stay-Puft, Sigourney, and the "Ghostbusters"

This is Nathaniel's entry into this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot topic, Ghostbusters (1984). Tonight, we'll see what others chose!

This may shock readers of a certain (young) age but would be blockbusters used to open directly against each other rather than giving each other wide berths to accumulate loot. No really, they did! Ghostbusters and Gremlins, courting the same demographic, opened simultaneously on my birthday weekend in 1984. I chose Gremlins (which little me loved) and caught Ghostbusters a few days later with school friends. Ghostbusters emerged as the clear champ with the public but little me thought Gremlins ran circles around the supernatural comedy: scarier, funnier, cuter monsters, better-paced... only faililng in its lack of SigWeavieness. They were both big hits, of course, but Ghostbusters was HUGE -- Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man walking amongst skyscrapers huge. And it stayed ahead in pop culture, too, netting Oscar nominations (Original Song & Visual FX) and endless sequel or revival talk thereafter.

Cut to 2016: With the gender reversed reboot on the way, it was a topical choice for Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Plus I figured I'd finally see what charms eluded me way back then...

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Mar052016

Is "Gods of Egypt" a Bad Movie People Will Eventually Love?

The cast sees the reviews! The Horror. The Horror.The ill begotten would be blockbuster Gods of Egypt, directed by Alex Proyas (I Robot, The Crow), is currently enjoying a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; you could call that score bad luck but for the fact that the movie fully earns it.

Still... There's something enjoyable about tallying up the ways it goes wrong. It continually charges toward its own spectacular idiocy with gusto. Despite heaps of exposition it never makes a lick of sense, explaining rules only to break them. It mounts each action sequence with zero artistry in disguising its shameful lust to earn extra $ as a video game (you half expect congratulatory text and bonus points on screen a la Scott Pilgrim vs The World). It builds its own crazy as high as its in-movie Tower of Babel. It wants to play with surreal Egyptian imagery but is so 2016 that it mistakes human gods with animal heads for organic derivatives of Michael Bay's Transformers

Each actor, freed from mundane concerns of "direction" or even other actors (green screens abound so half the time it's clear they're not together), does his/her own thing. The result is a hilarious hodgepodge of styles, accents, and wildly varying degrees of success at self-amusement: Egyptians with Australian accents? why not, Gerard Butler!; You once saw Pirates of the Caribbean and want to do something affected but can't quite commit to your mincing gay idea? Then do it half ass, Chadwick Boseman; You only want to entertain yourself? Thank you thank you Geoffrey Rush & Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. You are both having so much fun which is the only way to do a bad movie.

Maybe it's the time of year, the garbage dump month between serious adult films vying for metaphoric gold (it's just gold plating) and studio four-quadrant product vying for audience gold (the green stuff) but I found its monotonous/cheap aesthetic weirdly endearing; the sets and costumes are gold, the lighting is golden, some of the superpowers are fiery gold, and these Gods even bleed gold! This is not a recommendation so much as a "if you're in the mood for it" which I, surprisingly, was. It's a blockbuster dumb as Brenton Thwaites is twink pretty, but it just can't help itself.

Grade: C-/D+
Oscar Chances: Teehee. not even if 2016 ended today with only 40ish movies to choose from. 

Monday
Feb292016

In Praise of Ex Machina's Win

Manuel here. One of our favorite wins from last night’s Academy Awards was Ex Machina’s triumph in the Best Visual Effects category.

We marveled at its nod when the nominations came out mostly because it seemed like the low-key supportive use of visual effects that rarely get cited in the category (why else would you pass over the effects of say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?). Add to that a stellar category across the board—Judy! BB-8! Furiosa! Mars!—and the A24 film win feels all the more laudable. Sometimes, it seems, “best” need not mean “most” to Oscar members. 

But two things are particularly striking to the inner number cruncher:

1. Ex Machina became the second non-Best Picture nominee to win in this category since the Academy expanded the Best Pic roster. Interstellar, as Amir reminded me in the comments, was the first. As you’ll remember, the expanded field was designed (in part) to accommodate critically acclaimed blockbusters (like The Dark Knight) and true to form, whether in direct response to this or not, Avatar, Inception, Hugo, Life of Pi, and Gravity were surely helped by their Best Pic cred. We all assumed this again would be the case this year and would help either The Revenant, The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road (the latter an increasingly possible outcome given the film’s tech dominance). The same, of course, would have been the case had Star Wars The Force Awakens won but that win would have been more easily parsed. It is the most successful film of the past year having been printing money ever since it premiered which brings me to talk of box office.

2. Ex Machina became the lowest grossing winner in 18 years. When nominations were announced, it was worth being reminded that this sci-fi film was one of the lowest grossing nominees in quite some time. You had to go back to Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter’s $32 million haul to find a comparable box office example. With its win, the Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander film became the lowest grossing winner since What Dreams May Come ($55m). It’s quite a feat when, even as the category has been known to award the statuette to the lowest grossing nominee of the bunch (7 of the past 15 times), the winners have averaged a gross of $269 million. This is, after all, a category that welcomes crowd-pleasing blockbusters and effects-driven spectacles. A24 and Garland’s crew should be very proud of their win which really overcame many obstacles on its way to this surprise win.

And what a welcome surprise it was!

[Note: The film also recently won the Film Bitch Award Gold Medal in its category though we thought a correlative Oscar impossible - Editor]

Saturday
Feb272016

Avu DuVernay to direct A Wrinkle in Time

Lynn here, chewing on another bit of non-Oscar related movie news.

Ever since it was announced earlier this week that Ava DuVernay had signed on to direct the upcoming film version of Madeleine L’Engle’s much-beloved A Wrinkle in Time, I’ve been trying to imagine just how the director of Selma is going to approach a sci-fi fantasy that features benevolent shape-shifting inter-dimensional beings, entire planets controlled by a single giant brain, and children who literally cross the universe by bending the laws of both space and time.  She won’t be starting from scratch, at least; the project’s apparently been in the works for some time, with a script by Frozen’s Jennifer Lee.  But this will be the first time the book’s ever been brought to the big screen.  It’s frequently, and unsurprisingly, been called unfilmable, and the only previous adaptation – a 2003 TV movie on ABC – was such a failure that it’s best known for the quip it inspired from L’Engle:

I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

In other words, there’s every reason for apprehension.  Is there also reason for hope?

Click to read more ...