WHAT DOES "PERFORMANCE CAPTURE" REALLY MEAN TO THE FUTURE OF MOVIES?
Posted on Jan 13 2012 by Greg
There sure has been a lot written about motion capture, or as many actors prefer to call it, "performance capture." Much of the discussion and debate centers around whether it is true animation or not. Clearly animators are key to the process, but the films such as The Polar Express
, A Christmas Carol
and, most recently and most pointedly, The Adventures of Tintin
really beg the question, "Why aren't they simply live action films with augmented CG animated effects?"
Some felt The Polar Express
was a little creepy, particularly because the eyes didn't seem human. This is a challenge in much CG human animation, but it didn't bother me in Polar Express
because the entire movie had a dreamlike, eerie quality that fit the process. With Christmas Carol
, however, the actors were obscured by their no-cap faces, almost like excessive latex makeup. I would have preferred to see the excellent actors instead of having them hidden under a second skin.
But having seen The Adventures of Tintin
, the mo-cap process has certainly come a great deal farther -- to the point where the viewer can forget it's not live action at all. Which brings me back to the question again -- why isn't it just live action?
Is the ability to stylize a reason? Certainly. Some characters have exaggerated features and physical countenances that would be tricky -- but not impossible -- in live action (as so much was contorted in Burton's Alice in Wonderland
, which combined both techniques). But maybe the goal on the horizon is bigger than the realization of a filmmaker's vision -- maybe it's economics, politics and practicality.Tintin
, for all intents and purposes, took the viewer to exotic locations, through spectacular sets, over the ocean and among a cast of thousands. All pretty much by using actors with dots on their faces on green screens and environments created within sophisticated machinery.
Other than the mo-cap facilities, there was no need to rent soundstages, camera equipment, Chapman cranes, helicopters, cars, boats, planes, or anything you see on screen. It also means there was no need for a camera crew, lighting equipment, lighting technicians, craft services, transportation, hotel accommodations, dinners at restaurants, wardrobe people, makeup artists, permits from cities and countries for filming, police and security, stunt people, extras -- and all the insurance, unions and other ancillary issues that are part of making even the simplest Hollywood movie, much less a superspectacular, globetrotting adventure.
Remember when Fred Astaire
was electronically added to a vacuum cleaner commercial? Some folks were worried that this could mean the misuse of classic actors in roles they never agreed to. It didn't become as much of a problem as predicted. But what happens if, as so much digital technology does, motion capture becomes easier and cheaper? People can create a lot of animation on their home computers that was unthinkable not long ago.
What if mo-cap is used as a replacement for a live action movie -- say a Pirates of the Caribbean
sequel? Johnny Depp
can play Jack Sparrow for the rest of is life and never age on screen. That does not seem much of a stretch. But how about a movie that isn't a stylized costume romp -- a comedy like Bridesmaids or a drama like The Descendants
? Sure, mo-cap can't substitute for George Clooney
I'm not doomsaying here. It's not some Orwellian plot. It's just business. Making movies without locations, sets, costumes -- and actors. After all, once a CG character's performance is saved from one film, it can be used in another. So why not do the same with episodic TV and movies?
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION - FORGIVE MELINDA DILLON'S "CHRISTMAS STORY" HAIR
Posted on Jan 02 2012 by Greg
We're watching A Christmas Story
today -- one of those movies that, like It's a Wonderful Life
and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
, has been embraced as uberclassics even though they met with lukewarm receptions during their initial release.
Like millions of folks today, we love the movie. But I always get a little distracted by the anachronistic 1980's hairstyle adorning the lovely and talented Melinda Dillon
as Raphie's mom.
It's more at home for this '80s icon...
Or this '80s icon from TV's Lou Grant
Director Bob Clark
and his team clearly went out of their way to capture the 1940's American breadbasket world of essayist Jean Shepherd
. My dad also loved the movie, since he was only a little older than Ralphie during this era.
But according to Clark DVD commentary (thank you), Ms. Dillon insisted on avoiding the period hairstyle more resembling that of teacher Miss Shields (luminous Canadian actress Tedde Moore
, who was the best reason to watch Mistletoe Over Manhattan
on the Hallmark Channel).
By the way, Ralphie's
daydream about Miss Shield's delirious reception of his essay is one of my favorite Christmas Story
sequences, since I sometimes have similar expectations when turning in my writing and also sometimes get the same real-life results.
Melinda Dillon turns in an superb performance, adding a quirky dimension to her very warm and loving performance. Her top billing belies her 1983, star status in such hits as Close Encounters of the Third Kind
. So Clark didn't insist on the hair-do. And now, A Christmas Story
is probably the film Ms. Dillon is most known for, since it is run unceasingly and many have it memorized.
So maybe Ms. Dillon herself wishes in hindsight that she was more sartorially flexible. Maybe she does not. She's probably put in behind her, as I should in the coming year.
But I can't help wondering if fans still recognize her and say, "I loved you in A Christmas Story
! But what was the deal with your '80s hair?"
"ROCKETEER ROLL CALL, COUNT OFF NOW!"
Posted on Dec 21 2011 by Greg
There hasn't been a whole lot of fanfare, but for fans of Dave Stevens'
graphic novels and Joe Johnston's
1991 Disney big-screen spectacular, the appearance of The Rocketeer on Blu-ray
is somewhat of an event.
On the package is a sticker proclaiming, "From the director of Captain America
." Clearly this release is piggybacking on the successful 2011 film -- and the two films seem, at least to me, inextricably linked by their setting and their director.
But why did The Rocketeer
run out of propellant while Captain America
blasted the box office? The most obvious reason is that the Marvel character has had more mainstream visibility, though the '60s cartoon and '70s live-action series incarnations of Captain America
were not exactly stellar. It's also a tricky matter to set a film in WWII, or during the '40s and make it resound with younger audiences.
Just because The Rocketeer
wasn't a smash, it isn't fair to dismiss it as some did back in the '90s. Actually, it's quite a fine film, with a likable cast led by Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly
and Alan Arkin
, as well as a scene-chewing tour-de-force performance by Timothy Dalton
-- clearly having a grand old time playing a thorough rotter.The Rocketeer
has very good effects for its time, superb art direction and photography, and one of the best background scores of the last several decades. I highly recommend the soundtrack album
of James Horner's
sweeping score. You can also hear this music as the Epcot
fountains dance regularly, as well as in countless movie trailers for other releases.
Hopes were just a little too high for The Rocketeer
. Disney was looking for a huge franchise, so a well-done, nicely received film wouldn't cut it. Even though Johnston only mentions The Rocketeer
once briefly in his Captain America
commentary (alas, he did not do one for The Rocketeer
Blu-ray -- there are no extras to speak of), clearly the director learned and developed over the years.
Perhaps the main issue between the two films is tone. The Rocketeer
is highly stylized and inconsistently campy with a hero who's a little too cocky for his own good, while Captain America
is a hybrid between retro, comic book and contemporary action movie style, with a much more sympathetic hero.
But if you haven't seen The Rocketeer
in Blu-ray, prepare for a treat. The spot-on animated sequence, the lavish nightclub scene, and even the sarcophagus-like dwelling of the villain are as vivid as can be. You just have to approach The Rocketeer
as a jaunty romp and enjoy the ride.
THEY GET BY WITH "THE HELP" OF THEIR FRIENDS
Posted on Dec 16 2011 by Greg
I'm sure I cannot add more to what has already been said in praise of the book and the movie versions of Kathryn Stockett's The Help
, except perhaps to note that once I met a group of people in a restaurant and the film came up. They brought up Minnie's "terrible awful" incident and I asked, "Haven't you wished that just once you could do that to someone, sometime?" The reaction was unanimous amid riotous laughter.The Help
takes place in 1963 -- the same as season two of Mad Men -- but this is set in the deep south, as the civil rights movement was gaining national notice, violence was on the rise> And while some thought the injustices would never end, others were either unaware of them or looked the other way. Emma Stone
, as Skeeter, discovers far more than she really thought about. It simply wasn't discussed. When she embarks what seems to be a simple story idea, it grows to a living, breathing work that attacks the social and political abyss to a more personal, more identifiable level. Not only are the two ladies who are her narrativer touchstones (played to Oscar perfection by Octavia Spencer
and Viola Davis
) real "iron chefs" in courage, endurance and moral integrity, they're people with faults, wounds and talent. And a sense of humor -- perhaps the best survival tool of all.
While the institutionalization of bigotry depicted in The Help
is a experience too heinous to be understood fully except by those who suffered through it, most of us at some time has been wronged by a boss, a co-worker, teacher, parent or any person who held sway over our fate (or made us feel that they held sway). You can't help root for Abileen and Minnie, as well as cheer when the most loathsome character (played to the glorious hilt by Bryce Dallas Howard
) is taken down more than a few notches.
To me, The Help
is also a story about the power of the written word. Yes, it's a movie, and the visuals are superb, but Skeeter's book is the catalyst that finally sets so much in motion. While we now live in an age of high tech and endless visuals, words can still change history, especially when those words bring issues to the personal attention of those who might be otherwise unaware of them.
There is no audio commentary on the discs, which is unfortunate, but the behind the scenes featurette is among the best of its kind. The Help
is the work of mutual friends who somehow were allowed to create this great work together despite the obstacles of the publishing and film businesses. I have never heard of a similar story quite like it.The Help
-- and the story behind The Help
-- are never to be forgotten.
"CARS 2" NOT A LANDMARK, BUT NOT A RETREAD, EITHER
Posted on Nov 11 2011 by Greg
's childhood idyll of a farm family life is the stuff of legend and has influenced many a Disney film and theme park. I can also be said that John Lasseter'
s childhood of road trips in the southwest, small towns that no longer exist due to superhighways and a love of automobiles is directly attached to what is now two Cars
Most critics have been less than kind regarding Disney•Pixar's Cars 2
, but the public is clearly honing in on Lasseter's wavelength and responding with enthusiasm (and strong summer box office and huge DVD sales) for the sequel especially for Mater, who takes center stage in this family-friendly spy thriller.
In the -- THANK YOU!! -- audio commentary, Lasseter and co-director Brad Lewis
offer lots of cool factoids as well as their reasoning behind the creative decisions.
Lasseter says, "When we do a sequel, it's not just to retread the same emotional story that the original is. We want to find something new and something different." Little of the movie takes place in Radiator Springs, but rather in colorful, exciting international locales that offer the Pixar artists a chance to dazzle with truly breathtaking aerial views and meticulous details, which I find most enjoyable in high-def Blu-ray (3-D is nice, but you lose some clarlty and I'd rather revel in the details).
Lasseter also mentions that the story for Cars 2 sprang from a scene in the first film in which Lightning and Sally (who is not given enough to do in the sequel) see a spy thriller at a drive-in. He loved spy movies as a kid, particularly likes the Bourne
bourne movies and believes that Cars 2 isn't a spy movie spoof so much as a solid story that can stand on its own.
I personally found Cars 2
to be a throwback to the spy shows and films that I grew up with, like The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Secret Agent
and even Get Smart
. These were all somewhat comedic as well as thrilling (especially Smart
of course) -- but of all the spy genre films, Cars 2
reminded me most of one of my favorites theatrical features, Hanna-Barbera's The Man Called Flintstone
My I favor you with a parody of the unforgettable theme to this epic adventure, with special Cars 2
lyrics?THE TRUCK CALLED MATER
Who do they call
When gears are startin’ to fall
When all the oil is spillin’
And synth fuels beginnin’ to brew?
The truck called Mater, that’s who-oo-oo-oo!
Who’s always there,
There to shoot and fly through the air
Who defeats Pacers and Gremlins
And all those cars we disliked too?
The truck called Mater, that’s who-oo-oo-oo!
He screams after eating wasabi
Down to the lobby
To learn the charms
Of the Japanese joh–onnns!
Who is the truck
Who succeeds with mostly dumb luck
While his pal Lightning is winning
Who’s spinning the crooks like fan belts?
The truck called Mater!
Who else, who else, who ELLLLLse!!
One final note on Cars 2
-- I drove a Gremlin in college and was hysterical with laughter that it and the Pacer were held is such comical "esteem" in Cars 2
. They earned the distinction, to be sure.
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