Posts Tagged: film

Spectre: uneven movie, great cinematography

With Roger Moore’s passing, I’ve been revisiting Bond movies. Catching up with Spectre wasn’t part of the plan. It’s overly long, with a convoluted plot, some slack action scenes, and a miscast villain. Yet in terms of camera work, Spectre is stellar. I’d rank it second only to Roger Deakins’ outing on Skyfall.

DP Hoyte Van Hoytema’s lensing gives the film a different look than other Bond films. Visually it’s romantic and elegant. Yet as with Van Hoytema’s other work (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Interstellar), Spectre has a dark tone. He deepens what’s an often lightweight picture with more thematic weight. (Mild spoilers for Spectre to follow.)

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Moonlight: personal, humanistic, and warm

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It’s easy to see why Moonlight is the most critically acclaimed film of the year. Everything just works as a complete package, with stellar acting, direction, and screenplay. Its humanistic story is memorable, emotionally complex, and subverts racial stereotypes.

Among such skill, it’s Moonlight‘s striking visuals that left the biggest impression on me. Though it has been months since my last viewing, I can recall certain shots as though I saw the film yesterday. With strong saturated colors and high contrast, Wong Kar-Wai is a clear influence. Yet interesting changes in angle, perspective, and a heavy reliance on handheld give this movie its own unique character. (Mild spoilers for Moonlight ahead.)

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La La Land: balancing modernism and classicism

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From the moment I heard La La Land talked up as a “modern” musical, I got worried. Updating older genres and tropes is en vogue these days, but it’s easy to mess up. Balance is key. Some films follow the rules of the past slavishly, making it hard for audiences to connect. Others cheat, creating an entirely modern film with a few half-hearted old school references.

Thankfully La La Land is an exception to this rule. Much of that credit goes to the film’s impeccable costuming, choreography, music, and direction. But I can’t imagine the movie fully gelling together without the skill of DP Linus Sandgren.

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Sicario: tension and realism

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Last year’s drug war thriller Sicario was universally praised for its cinematography. Much of that credit goes to Sicario’s DP Roger Deakins, one of the most respected cinematographers working today.

One of Sicario’s standout scenes follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) on a van convoy to pick up a drug kingpin. It’s a vehicular sprint from the U.S. to Juarez, Mexico and back again. Tensions rise as threats loom around her and the rest of the convoy. The camera work conveys disorientation, claustrophobia, and the increasing threat of the Mexican drug cartel as Macer and her allies race through the streets. (Spoilers follow for the film’s first 30 minutes.)

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A Most Violent Year: beauty within decay

NY skyline, cars

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J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year is the rare crime drama that balances epic and intimate themes well. Chandor’s screenplay makes big statements on capitalism and the American dream. But it’s also microcosmic in its scale, a character study of Abel Morales’ (Oscar Isaac) struggle to protect and grow his heating-oil business.

Abel built his company legitimately, and he takes pride in the righteousness of his decisions. Yet given external threats to his company, AMVY asks how much Abel will give into gangster-like behavior to stay ahead.

As underlined by the title, time and place is key to Abel’s predicament. New York City in 1981 had record high crime rates and was in the midst of a recession. Capturing the city rests on DP Bradford Young. His cinematography is authentic and realistic; rough edges, industrial sprawl and graffiti abound.

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Uncharted 4 and the blurry line between game and film

Uncharted 4 is the rare example of a action adventure game with emotional heft. It’s one thing to match expectations for pretty scenery, tight gameplay, and big set pieces. It’s another to have UC4 generate the emotions and surprise that I associate with a well crafted movie. Technological breakthroughs push the game into new territory.

That’s not to say story, dialogue and acting isn’t important. But gaming has reached the point where strong narratives are no longer revelatory. In recent years we’ve had the superb Tales From the Borderlands, Firewatch, and the Walking Dead series. Until Dawn and Heavy Rain also have their moments. And The Last of Us has a heartbreaking storyline that works on many levels.

UC4’s story is strong, but isn’t a high point for gaming. Graphics are the differentiating factor this round. It’s all in the faces.

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Nightcrawler: shots that create empathy

Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom

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Most critical attention on 2014’s Nightcrawler centered on Jake Gyllenhaal’s lead performance. It’s understandable; Gyllenhaal’s character actor eccentricities gel together in a way we’ve rarely seen before. He’s intense and deeply unsettling as lead character Lou Bloom.

However, it’s smart cinematography that underlines his performance and sets the film’s dark, gritty tone. DP Robert Elswit forces the audience to empathize with Lou’s own sociopathic worldview.

Nightcrawler chronicles Lou’s growing career in L.A. crime journalism. Along the way we get a handful of conventionally filmed conversations with Lou at diners, cars, and TV stations. But crime scenes are the heart of the film and push the story forward. It’s also where Elswit makes many strong and unconventional shot choices.

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Hannibal cinematographer James Hawkinson on the shows disturbing, dark beauty

It’s a bummer that Hannibal only got three seasons. Great acting across the board, especially by Dancy and Mikkelsen. But it’s DP James Hawkinson’s visual language – striking, dreamlike, horrific, often all at once – that makes it especially unique.

Stanley Kubrick’s ‘James Bond’ moment

Ken Adam is a legendary, British production design designer, most famous for his innovative work on early James Bond films (e.g. Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball). Later in his career, Adam was the production designer for The Spy Who Loved Me. To quote the Youtube video:

One of the sets included the villain’s secret lair that was located inside of an enormous tanker ship. Adam struggled with lighting the massive set, and called in a favor from his old boss…Stanley Kubrick. Under an
agreement of total secrecy, Kubrick was snuck onto the empty set, where he spent 4 hours setting lighting and advising Ken Adam.

Let’s go home, Ellie

Wonderful post by Miguel Penabella over at Kill Screen Daily on The Last of Us, the critically acclaimed adventure/horror PS3 game from 2013. There’s many parallels in The Last of Us with not just zombie and post-apocalyptic films, but also John Ford’s The Searchers. Penabella’s breakdown of the similarities in theme and tone is very well done.