How CGI can suck the drama from a scene

Over the last week I’ve watched two films; the latest Spider Man film, Homecoming released this year and Wolfen, a cult horror film from 1981.Both are good films in their own ways with Homecoming following the Marvel formula down to a tee, while Wolfen is an interesting eco-horror film from Michael Wadleigh who directed Woodstock. If you’ve not heard of it check it out as Albert Finney turns in a nice performance, Wadleigh uses the then new Steadicam to brilliant effect, James Horner tries out his Wrath of Khan score and there’s some nice nasty gore.

While watching Wolfen after Homecoming one scene on both films showed how film-making has changed in the 35 years between films. Both have crucial scenes of exposition and plot that act to push on character too but there’s a difference and here’s why.

There’s a scene in Homecoming after the ferry scene where Peter Parker is bollocked by Tony Stark who feels let down by Peter. There’s a lot going on in this scene and is arguably, the dramatic crux of the film. Both Downey and Holland turn in good performances but have a look at the scene…

The CGI backgrounds jar to the point where the brain doesn’t accept the unreality of the setting of the scene as it tries to process it so what should be the key scene is muted because it’s directed so blandly thanks to the reliance on CGI. At every point in this scene it is clearly two actors in a studio in front of a green screen. Now take this scene from Wolfen where Albert Finney climbs Manhattan Bridge in again, a crucial dramatic scene.

No green screen, just a pair of actors on top of a very, very, very high bridge with the wind in their hair and the incredible background of a very real New York City behind them. Now both are good scenes but what one looks and feels better? It isn’t the one that looks bland.

CGI is a tool. It can help enhance a film, but it has also become a crutch which is a shame as films start to look less like works of cinema than just extended cut-scenes. CGI should help film the unfilmable not just make it so actors just react in studios to as little external stimulus as possible. Look at the Wolfen scene again, both Finney and an incredibly young Edward James Olmos are using their environment to help make their performances, and the scene, better. Holland and Downey are reading their lines and doing the best they can but there’s only so much they can do.

Perhaps filmmakers will return to the idea of filming in the real world wherever they can, but with studios so keen to churn out ‘product’ it seems CGI will continue to be used when better, even cheaper options are available just because they can.

 

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The Guardian and the censorship of horror films

The Guardian is the so-called ‘liberal voice’ of the UK, and now proposes itself as one of the leading liberal voices online. It often comes out against horror films and this week, Jigsaw (a return of the Saw films) is released as this particular film series returns from the dead.

An article by Benjamin Lee was published in the paper decrying the ‘return of torture porn’ and yet again the paper sets their sights on the horror genre and in particular, ‘torture porn’ which they’ve written more or less the same article since 2007.

I get why middle class liberals at the Guardian may hates films like Jigsaw. They are after all designed for mass audiences and this sort of middle class sneering is aimed at all mass forms of entertainment, but it’s the priggish sense of superiority from the contributors and commentators mixed with a barely suppressed push for censorship that should be concerning. This isn’t to say I think Jigsaw will be a good film, it probably won’t be as barring the first Saw film there’s pretty thin pickings in that series but I get why people watch them. These are rollercoaster rides. The audience can safely wallow in gore, enjoy a few mild scares and go home safely. Yeah, the films are shite without any real importance but so what? Censoring them wouldn’t work but it’d make these middle class liberals happy they’re controlling the ‘masses’ for what they think is their own benefit.

Violent and gory stories are part of our culture. They’re embedded in religion, history and culture, so while things like Jigsaw may be bad films but they’re just part of who we are. Censoring for the wider public good is simply, bollocks and perhaps the middle class media shouldn’t be so sneering at such entertainment because people might enjoy them for what they are?

A quick word about Harvey Weinstein

Larger than life‘. ‘I heard the stories but not first hand‘. ‘He had a reputation‘. All phrases I’ve heard about film producer Harvey Weinstein in the last few days as the scale of his sexual assault and rape has been unravelled in the American media in horrible detail. I mean, listen to the fucking prick here…

That above clip is from this incredible New Yorker piece which is some of the best journalism you’ll read this year. Fact is though, people knew Weinstein was a rapist to the extent where comedy programmes like 30 Rock joked about it.

And Seth MacFarlane more or less let it all hang out at the Oscars in 2013.

Channel 4 journalist Alex Thompson sums this all up.

Every single time a case like this breaks it turns out victims have been harassed and that people knew, and not just folk like you or me who may have heard stories down the pub, or somewhere online, but people who work with or know the person/s involved. People could have spoken out but these powerful people would have destroyed their lives as much as they ruined the lives of the people they assaulted and abused.

People like Weinstein aren’t protected by one or two people. They’re protected by an entire establishment, and although I don’t buy the line that the films he produced are ”tainted” somehow, I will say that some people who had close relationships with him over the years have got some serious questions to answer because there is fuck all chance people like, say Kevin Smith, knew nothing.

It is ultimately simple. These people profit through inflicting power. One person can’t fight them alone. We all have to. Be that Savile, Weinstein or whoever is next exposed like this because there will be another, and another and so on because I hope these people’s days are numbered. They sadly won’t be, but if we can all work to expose as many as possible then maybe someday wankers like Weinstein are relegated to history.

Mickey Mouse in Vietnam

One of the sad things about the 21st century is there’s not really a political underground movement or even much of an underground scene anymore. Sure there’s bits and bobs online but most of it is bollocks with the odd exception here and there which makes a point. Part of the problem though is that there’s little in terms of the establishment to take down these days.

Back in the 1960’s the Underground scene was hugely influential in tearing down icons, especially during the Vietnam War where America and its imperialism was brought into question. One such piece of Underground media was Whitney Lee Savage and Milton Glaser’s Mickey Mouse in Vietnam. A film long lost lost if anything sums up the Underground ethics of the peace and love era it’s probably this so enjoy all 66 seconds worth of it.

In celebration of Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton has passed away, and the acting world is a little bit lesser for it. Stanton was in my mind one of the finest actors of the last 50 years, and not as the BBC would have it, a ‘cult actor’. In fact it’s only when you look at his C.V. that you realise the man didn’t stop working for six decades so you can’t call someone who appeared in huge mainstream films and on massively popular TV series as a ‘cult’ actor. He was an actor who didn’t look like a leading man, but instead looked like ‘normal people’ and this was his attraction in a medium where people look extraordinary.

Like most people of my age I first noticed him in Alien. where he enjoys a great death scene.

Imagine Alien though without Stanton (or indeed any of the cast) and with traditional Hollywood actors and it wouldn’t work as well. In fact you only need to look at Alien: Covenant to see what that looks like. However as my education into film progressed it wasn’t hard to see Stanton seemingly everywhere from the glorious Cool Hand Luke to what’s still one of my favourite WW2 films, Kelly’s Heroes.

It is safe to say though that after Alien, Stanton became a higher profile actor and during the 1980’s carved himself a niche playing roles in some of the best (and in some cases vastly underrated) films of the decade. From The Rose, to Escape From New York, Stanton would appear in crucial roles but three films he appeared in during the 80’s also happen to be in my mind three of the best films ever made.

Death Watch is a SF film shot in a Glasgow still blacked by the industrial revolution and still dragging itself into the 20th century. It’s a fantastic backdrop for a story that seems prescient as reality TV vomited into the world a few decades later.

Repo Man is one of the few films that hits a perfect Punk attitude. The film shares some of its DNA with the comic Love and Rockets, and is wonderfully seedy in a way we never seem to get in film anymore.

Paris, Texas is one of the best films ever made.Stanton makes the film soar with one of the best openings you’ll ever see in a film.

In 1990 Stanton and director David Lynch finally linked up with Wild at Heart, then a few years later with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

He later worked with Lynch in a small, but crucial role in The Straight Story and Inland Empire, while seemingly never stopping working in films good, bad and just plain bloody awful or popping up in cameos in mega-blockbusters like The Avengers.

A few weeks ago the Twin Peaks return finished on a high with Stanton returning playing the same role as he did in Fire Walk With Me 25 years ago.

I could list more and more, but Harry Dean Stanton had a career like no other and will never be replaced because he’s a one-off who leaves us an amazing body of work. He’ll be missed.

The making of ‘Day of the Dead’

George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead is probably his most underrated of his zombie films. For me I’ve always loved the film for not just the fact  it’s the goriest thing you’ll ever see but because it has a weight no other zombie film since Dawn of the Dead, and to be blunt, no other zombie film since comes close to it.

It is hard to see how a divided, angry, emotionally drained, group of people grouped into their own echo chambers against a single-minded menace is relevant today, but somehow Day of the Dead has more to say as the years go on. This making of documentary dates from 2013 and is fantastic. It also serves as a reminder of Romero’s talent and I only wish we’d had more from the man.

Anyhow, chow down and enjoy…

Sean Young’s Making of Dune

Another David Lynch related blog but this one is pretty short and sweet. Sean Young was one of the stars of Lynch’s Dune, Lynch’s only real ‘failure’ but I film I highly regard as something unlike any other science fiction film of the time, or indeed, since. It doesn’t quite work but it is less turgid than the book which I’ve never, ever liked however it does create a future which is utterly alien and familiar at the same time.

Turns out Young had a Super 8 camera with her and here’s a brief video of her home movies from behind the scenes filming Dune. Enjoy.