Posts Tagged: film

Burying the long tail on Netflix

On slow nights I’ll often watch something on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. There’s many great films and TV shows available; if you’ve had access to all three services over the last year you could have caught The Witch, Under the Skin, The Handmaiden, and OJ: Made In America. But most content is hard to find, buried under poor suggestion algorithms and even worse user interfaces. Given how our watching habits are consolidating around streaming, that’s a big problem.

Let’s focus on Netflix: the service spent $6 billion on original content in 2017, with plans to release 80 original films this year. However, that rapid pace becomes an undigestible blur when any single title’s discoverability is so limited. Take Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (IDFAHITWA). The Netflix exclusive won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and got decent reviews elsewhere. Genre-wise, its off-kilter sensibilities are a match for what I’ve seen elsewhere on the service. Or The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); it’s one of Noah Baumbach’s best films in years, and I watched his earlier feature Frances Ha on Netflix. But browsing through the Netflix app on my Apple TV, IDFAHITWA and Meyerowitz completely flew under my radar.

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Bright is big budget action at its worst

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Bright is a flat out bad movie. Its screenplay has too much sophomoric dialogue and tonal whiplash. Unresolved plot threads abound. Any charisma from leads Will Smith and Joel Edgerton rarely registers above the film’s mediocrity.

Bright is also an action film with a ninety million plus budget, yet the shootouts are barely comprehensible. Fights lack a clear sense of continuity, editing, and direction. To examine how and why that is we’ll break down a single action scene midway through the film (watch the scene on Netflix; it starts at 1:01:36.)

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Mindhunter and the power of smart shot rhythm

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Mindhunter shows how simple shot and editing techniques can elevate a series above a routine crime procedural. For this post we’ll look at one standout scene in the final episode of season one. Subtle changes in shot length, distance, and angle heighten emotions. David Fincher directs, Erik Messerschmidt serves as DP, and Kirk Baxter, who’s been Fincher’s primary editor for almost a decade, edits. (Mild spoilers follow.)

On paper the scene is a conversation between two characters that turns threatening. FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) profiles and studies serial killers. Incarcerated mass murderer Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) is Holden’s interview subject early in the season. This last scene serves as a reunion after many episodes apart; Kemper tried to kill himself, and Holden visits him in the hospital.

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Blade Runner 2049’s visuals can’t escape character and pacing issues

Blade Runner 2049 stands up well to the 1982 original on a surface level. The film has an immaculate sense of place; DP Roger Deakins captures future L.A. in all its neon, rain drenched glory. The production design is stunning. Yet amazing visuals can’t overpower 2049’s thin supporting characters and pacing issues.

(Major spoilers ahead for Blade Runner 2049.)

Joi (Ana de Armas) – K’s (Ryan Gosling) futuristic mashup of Stepford wife and manic pixie dream girl – encapsulates Blade Runner 2049’s character problems. She starts the film with promise; Joi opens questions on how AI intersects with love, mobility, and even societal rank (Joi is technically a slave for another artificial slave.) And in a later memorable scene, Joi uses sex worker Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) as a physical substitute for herself. Joi tries to “sync” to the movements of Mariette; the unsettling imagery of this Joi/Mariette “hybrid” making out with K has implications for identity and even future-scape pornography.

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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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