July 30, 2014
from Indy Week
In 2002, director Richard Linklater began a remarkable movie-making experiment known as The Twelve Year Project. The idea: to make a series of short films, one per year, following a boy’s growth from age 6 to 18—from first grade to college freshman—using the same cast each year, with the intention of cutting the footage together into a feature film.
The result is BOYHOOD, one of the most engaging and flat-out fascinating films ever made. It’s one thing to dream up such an ambitious project. It’s another to pull off the logistics and make it come together as a story. From concept to execution, Boyhood is a thrilling piece of art.
Ellar Coltrane stars as the boy, Mason, appearing in initial scenes as a typical 6-year-old, playful and vulnerable. Mason’s parents, portrayed by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, have split up. Olivia is introduced as a harried single mom, loving and committed but perhaps resentful of losing her freewheeling twenties to early parenthood. Mason Sr. is the absent dad, just returned from adventures in Alaska.
Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, takes the fourth main role as Mason’s older sister Samantha, and we watch her grow up, too. Every ten minutes or so, the timeline bumps up a year. It’s an uncanny sensation to watch those early scenes and realize that they were shot more than a decade ago. As the early-2000s cultural signifiers roll by—Harry Potter at the multiplex, Roger Clemens on the mound—the film narrows its focus on Mason and his broken family.
The kids get taller and thinner, the grown-ups sadder and wiser. Olivia goes back to school and subjects the children to some truly awful stepdads. Mason Sr. settles down and finds that responsibility isn’t all that bad. The kids become teenagers and discover sex, drugs and heartbreak. Everyone does the best they can.
As with Michael Apted’s Up documentary series, which has profiled a group of British people every seven years since 1964, it’s a time-lapse view of human lives unfolding. The best cutting-edge digital technology or makeup artistry could never achieve what Linklater does here.
Even the most vérité films have subtle layers of artifice that we learn to accept almost subconsciously. We suspend our disbelief. Linklater’s grand experiment, using the same actors over 12 years in a narrative film, tinkers with the fundamentals of cinematic storytelling. It registers somewhere back in the brain stem that we’re watching real people age and change through time.
This would just be a gimmick if it weren’t executed with such artistry. But because the story is so strong, the dialogue so natural and the performances so uniformly excellent, something is essentially altered.Boyhood doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like something altogether different. I suspect that the next generation of film scholars will be flagging this one in the books, or holo-archives, or whatever the future may hold.
July 27, 2014
The 9/11 attacks were largely planned in the German port city of Hamburg. It was here that the terror cell led by Mohamed Atta first made contact with Al-Qaeda, in the late-’90s, from an apartment that was being monitored by both the CIA and German intelligence agencies.
We’re reminded of these facts in the opening title cards of director Anton Corbijn’s tense and paranoid espionage thriller A MOST WANTED MAN. Based on the 2008 John le Carré novel of the same name, the film is set in today’s Hamburg, where past intelligence failures haunt the conscience of veteran anti-terror field agent Günther Bachmann.
Bachmann is played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles. Both the character and the actor have clearly been living hard. Pale and heavy, drink perpetually in hand, Bachmann moves with the slow, ponderous gravity of a rogue planet.
When a Chechen refugee named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrives in the city, Bachmann’s antennae twitch. Karpov takes shelter in Hamburg’s Muslim community and lays claim to an inheritance, worth 10 million Euros, at a bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).
Other intriguing characters drop into the story: An Islamic philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi) who may not be as philanthropic as he seems, an earnest civil rights attorney (Rachel McAdams) who takes up Issa’s cause and a suspiciously helpful CIA agent (Robin Wright).
Corbijn (director of The American) manages the twists and turns with casual storytelling confidence. In a cerebral spy thriller, the trick is to maintain suspense with disciplined disclosure of information. Scenes are carefully assembled and sequenced to provide the audience with what it needs to know—and nothing more.
Tension is generated not with gun fights or chase scenes, but with anxious rendezvous in bleak locales—a dilapidated river ferry, a basement pub. Well, there’s one chase scene through a strobe-lit disco, which is apparently de rigueur in European thrillers. But if I remember correctly, there are no guns fired in the entire movie.
You need heavyweight performers to pull this off, and that’s what we get with Hoffman, Dobrygin, Dafoe and especially Wright, who projects lethal iciness beneath her calm professionalism (and alarming haircut). We also get some intriguing specifics on the actual process of international money laundering.
The script has some structural problems, though. Because the players keep their cards concealed for so long, the movie has no active villain for most of its running time. It’s often unclear why Bachmann is pursuing his investigation. When the double-crosses do land, the impact is blunted by lingering ambiguities, both moral and narrative.
It’s hard to get more specific without spoiling things, but le Carré’s source novel was built around a very specific critique, which is almost entirely absent here. And if you see the film, which I recommend, ask yourself this: Wouldn’t a bogus check have solved everything in 10 minutes?
July 27, 2014
June 3, 2014
from Discovery News
Those designers at Google Creative Lab sure don’t fool around.
Well, actually they do — pretty much constantly — which is how they come up with ideas like The Cube, an interactive storytelling platform that allows an online film or video to unspool on all six sides of a virtual cube at the same time.
The idea is to take that two-dimensional rectangular box we usually use to watch video onscreen, and bump it up one dimension into a 3-D cube. By using a handheld cork cube as a controller, viewers can flip the onscreen cube to watch different scenes, each unfolding concurrently.
Writers and directors could therefore construct stories with six parallel narratives playing out simultaneously. The audio is synchronized with the Cube’s movement so that only sound from the side currently in view can be heard.
“It’s really exploring different ways of approaching film,” says Google’s Jonathan Richards on the project demo video. “What would it be like if you handed the editing experience over to the audience?”
The Cube made its debut last week at the Semi-Permanent festival in Sydney, Australia. In the demo installation, viewers controlled a giant onscreen cube showing scenes from a specially commissioned short film written to the accommodate the format of six-sided storytelling. Among the characters in the short film: Mean Teen, Big Business Woman, Sliding Man and Mustache Man. I don’t know, this seems relevant.
The technology is designed to be experienced online, on a smartphone, or in a dedicated installation similar to the Sydney festival. Google hopes to release the Cube as a kind of sandbox app for creators in the coming months. So if you’re interested in next-gen storytelling, maybe it’s time to go buy one of those screenwriting books. Or six of them.
April 11, 2014
Spring has officially sprung. The days are getting longer, the nights are getting warmer and baseball season is finally underway after a historically brutal winter. For fans of America’s Pastime, it’s a glorious time of year as the Detroit Tigers — and baseball’s 29 other, lesser teams — take the field. A look at the odd origin stories behind nine famous baseball traditions, at Discovery News.
April 11, 2014
from Indy Week
Can fine art be replicated by innovative technology? That’s the question at the heart of Tim’s Vermeer, the fun and fascinating documentary from the creative team of Penn and Teller.
The film — directed by Teller, narrated by Penn — documents one man’s quest to essentially reverse engineer a painting by 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Historians have been baffled, for a few centuries running now, at how Vermeer managed to create the images he did. Vermeer’s paintings are so precise in color and detail that they look like impossible 400-year-old photographs. What Vermeer accomplished, in his time, was magic. There had to be a trick to it, right?
Entrepreneur and inventor Tim Jenison believes he has uncovered that trick, and the film chronicles his five-year quest to prove it. Jenison’ hypothesis: Vermeer achieved his effects by way of a giant camera obscura — an optical device that projects a reflected image on a wall — along with a system of concave mirrors that allowed the artist to “zoom in” and match color and detail with startling precision.
But theory is one thing, evidence is another, and Jenison is a scientist at heart. So he sets out to recreate the exact conditions of Vermeer’s studio, using 17th century math, materials and technology. What Jenison achieves must be seen to be believed. It’s no spoiler to disclose that the non-artist Jenison does indeed replicate that Vermeer painting, astonishing experts like art star David Hockney and historian Philip Steadman.
So can art be replicated by technology? The answer to that, the film argues, is that it’s the wrong question to begin with. In this case, technology is technique — Jenison simply sleuthed out Vermeer’s 400-year-old secret and repeated it. That Vermeer had a “trick” doesn’t make the work any less beautiful, any less wondrous. “There’s this modern idea that art and technology must never meet,” Jenison says. “But in the Golden Age, they were one in the same.”
Penn and Teller are the perfect guys to bring us this story, because it’s basically a fine art riff on an observation they’ve been making for years. Selectively revealing the “secrets” of stage magic — or in this case, 17th century Dutch art — doesn’t diminish the magic at all. In P&T’s humanist, rationalist, occasionally righteous worldview, Vermeer the brilliant technician is a thousand times more awe-inspiring than Vermeer the divinely-inspired savant.
As a filmmaker, Teller isn’t much of a stylist and Tim’s Vermeer gets awfully slow in spots. There are moments when we’re literally watching paint dry. But if you’re at all prone the pop scholarship of earnest inquiry and notional noodling, prepare to geek directly out.
December 27, 2013
from the The Raleigh News & Observer
As played by veteran actor Bruce Dern in “Nebraska,” the new film from director Alexander Payne, 80-something Woody is a cantankerous pillar of stubbornness. His long-suffering wife Kate (June Squibb) is at the end of her rope. Dementia is creeping in on Woody’s mind, and he’s getting into the bad habit of wandering off and out of town, down the local interstate.
Woody has a purpose, though: He’s just received one of those magazine sweepstakes coupons in the mail that says he’s won a million dollars. Woody can’t drive anymore, so he intends to walk – from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska – and claim his prize.
Enter Woody’s son David, played by comic actor Will Forte in a successfully odd casting choice. David tries to explain that the sweepstakes bit is the oldest scam in the book, but Woody chooses not to hear that. The million-dollar prize is his last chance to be a winner. David sees his dad’s doomed quest as a chance to connect, and agrees to drive him to Lincoln, over the incredulous objections of mom and brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk).
So begins the damnedest road trip movie you’ll ever see. Shot in crisp black-and-white, “Nebraska” is both bleak and funny, its moments of grimness regularly offset by scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s a potent mix, with everything rooted deeply in character. Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance, and it’s the role of a lifetime.