Douglas Trumbull demonstrated and discussed the MAGI medium (120 fps, 3D, 4K digital projection) at the Toronto Film Festival on Thursday afternoon. The ten minutes of MAGI-captured footage he showed was from UFOTOG, a who-gives-a-shit? short about an eccentric guy tracking UFO activity. And yet the nighttime footage in this short was drop-dead amazing — it was the first time I’d seen footage that accurately simulated what nocturnal vision actually looks like. Trumbull’s main point was that shooting at 60-frame-per-seconds is just a matter of flipping a switch on any high-end digital camera — no extra costs, no nothing. All MAGI does is take 60 fps footage project an alternating left eye-right-eye image or 60 frames per second per eye, which results in 120 frames of pure fluid motion per second. I think it looks fantastic. The MAGI process costs very little, Trumbull stated again and again. It seems to me like the only way to really up the impact levels big-time when it comes to theatrical presentation of action and CG-driven fare. Trumbull believes that James Cameron will definitely be shooting the Avatar sequels in a high-frame-rate process, and he reported that a name-brand action filmmaker (possibly Michael Bay, I deduced) is also keenly interested.
I had a couple of opportunities to see Julianne Moore‘s performance as a psychologist and college professor coping with “Al Z. Heimer” (a Norman Mailer term) in Still Alice. If I’d gone I could offer an assessment or two, but I decided against seeing it because I have a problem with “surrender to the void” movies in which the main character is totally doomed from the get-go. The young organ donors in Never Let Me Go, Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A.. It’s great that Moore is now back in the conversation as a potential Best Actress contender, but I’m going to have to overcome my resistance to what sounds to me like a feature-length version of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which Keir Dullea disconnects HAL’s higher brain functions.
I just did a phoner with Love & Mercy director Bill Pohlad, who was calling from his home in Minneapolis. We covered the usual bases. I emphasized that it would be a shame if his film isn’t released this year, at least on a platform basis, so as to qualify for awards and nominations and whatnot. (Pic was acquired during TIFF by Lionsgate/Roadside.) I went apeshit for Love and Mercy and particularly Paul Dano’s phenomenal performance as the younger version of Brian Wilson. The film time-flips between the mid ’60 and mid ’80s; John Cusack plays a 40-something Wilson in the ’80s portion. As Variety‘s Andrew Barker wrote, Love & Mercy is “a wonderfully innervating cure for the common musical biopic.” Again, the mp3.
Paul Dano in mid ’60s Brian Wilson mode, Bill Pohlad during filming of Love & Mercy.
“Once in a while, though, you see a biopic that brings off something miraculous, that recreates a famous person’s life with so much care that the immersion we seek is achieved. When you watch Love & Mercy, a drama about Brian Wilson, the angelic yet haunted genius of The Beach Boys, you feel like you’re right there in the studio with him as he creates Pet Sounds. And it’s a little like sitting next to Beethoven: the film is tender and moving, but also awe-inspiring. Paul Dano, the audacious young actor from There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine, plays Wilson in the mid-1960s, when he was becoming the greatest creative force in American pop music. The moment we see Dano in the film’s daringly off-kilter opening shot, which is just Brian noodling around at the piano and talking to himself, the actor seems to transform into Wilson’s very being. The pale, cute moon face, the smile with a hint of a grimace, the disarming spaciness — this isn’t just acting, it’s channeling of a very high order.” — from Owen Gleiberman’s 9.11 BBC.com review.
“It’s hard to say if Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader give wonderful comic performances with a tragic dimension in The Skeleton Twins, or wonderful dramatic performances with a comic dimension. What’s easy to say is the key word wonderful, which applies equally to the film. This short, sweet and stirring feature, directed by Craig Johnson from a script he wrote with Mark Heyman, sweeps away any distinctions between funny and serious. It plays to the antic gifts of its stars, two Saturday Night Live luminaries reunited in the roles of troubled twins reunited by near-tragedy, yet it also turns them loose to explore deeper regions of hurt and love. Johnson’s work with his actors is impeccable, and his style is freewheeling — from the delicacy of the twins’ first tentative encounters to serial explosions that include a crazed adventure in dental hygiene and a triumphant duet, lip-synced to Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, that transports Maggie and Milo to a happier time.” — from Joe Morgenstern‘s 9.12 Wall Street Journal review.
With a new trailer for Tommy Lee Jones‘ The Homesman (Roadside, 11.14) having popped, here’s a condensed version of my 5.18.14 Cannes Film Festival review: “Just because it’s a feminist western with an oddly unusual story that regards the plight of Old West women in a compassionate light…that doesn’t mean it gets a pass. It basically says that life on the prairie could be so brutal and unforgiving that some women went plumb out of their heads; it also says some were so gripped with despair that they offed themselves. That’s a new kind of sadness to bring into a western, and that’s what The Homesman is selling. But it only warrants a modest salute.
“Based on a 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout (The Shootist, Where The Boys Are), it’s a well-made, handsomely-shot drama (set in Nebraska territory) with a few plot turns that are just too what-the-fucky to add up or calculate in a way that feels right. It’s an odd, minor-key effort at best.
Here’s how I replied when I received this morning’s EPB vs. ETP piece: “Yes, Boyhood is basically a stunt film, but does that make it synonymous with esoteric (i.e., ‘intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest’) and thinky? I think not. Thematically and gut-wise Boyhood is an emotional sweep piece about the changes and struggles and evolutions that we’ve all been through, especially as parents. I know you weren’t that taken with it, but I don’t see how esoteric and thinky fits into that. The whole movie is an Emotional Push Button (i.e., EPB) experience. You could also call Birdman a stunt film by virtue of the one-take, no-visible-cutting visual scheme (or the simulation of same), but again, does that make it thinky or esoteric? It’s the new 8 and 1/2…it’s all about acting and the fear of failure and irrelevancy and trying to get back and the chasm between the Hollywood cultural genocide machine and the risky, snap-crackle-pop humanistic stage…plus it’s funny. Plus it ends with a great EPB moment.
A Voice From the Gulf (i.e., an industry-savvy guy I’ve known for several years) wrote this morning to remind that most Academy voters tend to vote like abused, emotionally-needy children and that when push comes to shove the Best Picture contenders that offer emotional comfort-blanket assurance tend to win. I think a few of us may have pondered this one before but fine. I was going to post my response at the tail end but nobody will read that far so I’m posting it subsequently (i.e., see above). Here’s how Gulf Guy puts it:
“No offense to Sasha Stone, but your friend is out of her mind for thinking Boyhood is going to win Best Picture. Didn’t she watch your Huffpost interview with Brad and Anne? Anne thinks Birdman has it in the bag for Best Picture. They’re both nuts. Thank God Brad pointed out the obvious fact, which is that these are CRITICS CHOICES, not OSCAR CHOICES. By and large, Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, et al. are going to be Critics’ Choices and there’s nothing wrong with that, but critics awards don’t always correlate with the guilds and the Oscars.
“Look to the British biopics (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game) and possibly Unbroken (if I were to hazard a guess) for your Oscar winner. The Academy goes for Emotional Push Buttons (EPB), not Esoteric Think Pieces (ETP). There is the very rare exception and that one that comes to mind is the Coen brothers‘ No Country for Old Men, which falls into the Way Overdue Artist (WOA) category. But that’s rare.”
Quick Wells response: I hear this same EPB vs. ETP dynamic every year, and it profoundly nauseates and infuriates every time. For decades members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have made themselves infamous for succumbing to soft, tepid emotional impulses in their voting for Oscar winners. The problem with the Academy can be boiled down to the ‘deadwood’ members — the over-the-hill crowd that doesn’t work that much (if at all) and whose tastes are conservative and smug and myopic. Again, from a piece I wrote on 10.31.13: “If the Academy wants to be part of the world as it is right now and have the Oscar winners reflect this, it has to reduce the influence of people whose professional peaks happened 15 or 20 or more years ago. These people will retain membership and all the priveleges that go with that, but their votes won’t count as much as those who are actively working and contributing to the films of today, or at least films made within the last five to ten years — simple.”