Extrapolation, Squared

I've always taken an interest in the creation and execution of visual effects. It pretty much started the day I came back from seeing Star Wars, and never stopped. Additionally I've found myself in "the industry" so along with genuine curiosity comes a professional necessity to keep on top of things. Talking about the future of virtual actors below I was caught up with thoughts of where cinema has taken things. Be it the digital double usage that started in Jurassic Park to the crazy-azz digital character insertion in the Star Wars Prequels. Each somewhat culminating with the most emotive of its ilk with Gollum in LOTR, and his digital successor King Kong. This is some amazing stuff.

So while I keep my nose to the silicon grindstone, nothing really prepared me for the level of work that was done on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. You'll recall I really liked it. I knew there was a lot of digital work going on, but it's the extent of which that really floors me. No prosthetic make up for Bill Nighy as Davey Jones, or his entire crew? That's all digital folks, and the methods employed are something I knew was possible, but the sheer scale of production just sets me aback. And then I smile, because I can only think of what's next.

Check out this site dedicated to the digital characters in Dead Man's Chest: "The Show," hosted by Industrial Light and Magic.
Also read this article at CG Talk, Shades of Davy Jones.

As with all technology, or any example of perceived power, the responsibility lies with its creators. It's not hard to think of the bad that may come from a rampant, unchecked, bubbling spigot of digital and virtual creations. But oh how nice it is to think of the good.


The Departed vs. Infernal Affairs

For those not aware (like me), the recent Martin Scorsese powerhouse The Departed is a remake of an HK flick called Infernal Affairs. My buddy Ben in Japan tipped me off and even got me a copy of Infernal Affairs because he's cool (and knew I would like it). Anyways he wanted to know how the US version panned out, and perhaps you do, too-- so here's just a lift from one of our recent e-mail back-and-forths. BTW, I saw Infernal Affairs first and then went and saw The Departed.

-- Wicked SPOILERS --

You said that IA was part of a series, and you didn't know how many movies The Departed covered. Well as far as I can tell it's a direct remake of IA. And it was 2.5 hours long, to boot. The plot is exactly the same, as are most all major characters. Now I have to say The Departed is a really good movie. Scorsese knows his territory here and he cast the fucking hell out of it. I'm really surprised they didn't find a part for Deniro because he's really the only one missing in a movie like this. But the thing is, I also know they cast the hell out of IA, I mean it's Tony, Andy, and company after all.

The movie starts the same way, in cadet school, with flash backs to how they were from different backgrounds. In IA the two adult cops actually meet early on, but in The Departed they don't meet until after the crime boss dies.

The biggest differences are the weight of the roles. Since the crime boss is Jack Nicholson, I expected he'd have a much larger part in things and he does. He's kind of the main character alot of the story revolves around and connects to.

Another big difference is the shrink, she's barely in IA but it's a major role in The Departed. And they mix it up by removing bad cop's (Lau/Damon) girlfriend and making it the shrink. Then of course good cop (Leung/DiCaprio) has to see her and they get involved so there is the hollywood love triangle. Gone also is good cop's former lover (and implied daughter).

It was real funny to see what was lifted directly, and there's alot. The scene with the arm cast happens much earlier in The Departed, which I thought was better in IA because it's after the first raid and means more. The first raid is almost exactly the same, but without the morse code angle (too bad I thought that was a nice touch in IA that really pays off in the finale). The scene where bad cop pretends to be the lawyer is there, but it was way cooler in IA. The scene at the theater where good cop/bad cop almost see each other is exactly the same. So is the detail with the writing on the envelope and it's payoff, but in The Departed it's really blunt. IA handled it more believably I think, but I think it's because it's easier to believe that you can mistake a chinese symbol rather than an Irish guy not knowing how to spell.

The ending is almost scene for scene, right up to the rooftop and the elevator, to the clapping back at the department-- even the secretary handing him a drink!! But The Departed has one extra very last twist-- and it's not the HK alternate ending. Necessary, unnecessary? Eh.

The Departed is much more violent than IA. No where near as violent as Gangs of NY, tho (which I did not enjoy). It's a thuggy, Goodfellas type violence, mostly to set up DiCaprio's character as fucked up as possible. In IA good cop has been undercover for 9 years (!), in The Departed it's only 1.

So yeah The Departed is a really good movie, and 99% of people just aren't going to know what came before. I'm sure there'll be all kinds of oscar stuff thrown about. But ultimately I felt IA had more... nuance, if you get me. It wasn't afraid to have the unconnected minor characters and I really enjoyed the little details here and there.

One thing that is notable for The Departed, however-- It is very noticeable that this is a contemporary film, for America, at least. Primarily because of the role of the cell phones. Some people say computers instantly date films but they have a ubiquitousness about them that I think is pretty harmless. Lots of modern thrillers involve a major computer detail or two. The cell phone is certainly prevalent in our society but it was a little odd to see a Scorsese movie revolve around it. I just wonder how it will appear years down the road, possibly invisible because cell phones will be a staple. Goodfellas was set in a specific time period, but it could have had cell phones and been the same movie. I don't know quite how to put it, I just noticed it is all. It's weird because it was more natural to accept the HK version for whatever reason, but here you've got Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen texting with the kids. I think because of this, because of the cast and the director and the overall quality of the movie, it is one of those film notables that won't be recognized until much farther down the road.


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Again I'm wondering where I stand in relation to the masses. Box office phenom that it is, there's a discrepancy of thought in regards whether Pirates 2 is any good. My god, man, good? It's fantastic!

I loved the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl. It was good in a way I never could have anticipated, it's... really good. So my anticipations for Dead Man's Chest may have been a little lofty. The movie is a bit slow to get the ball rolling, but once it does (literally), the damn thing snowballs like a man possessed.

I usually judge sequels on their ability to stand alone. Are they good enough to let the viewer assimilate what has gone before? Pirates 2 does not have this, it relies heavily on the first film both in story, introduction of characters, and the relationships therin. But somehow it all works, while at the same time introducing huge new plotlines that could have been two movies on their own.

It's amazing how Johnny Depp can play a character like he doesn't care he's playing a character and still come across so genuine. He can really hold his own even though he's pitted against powerful antagonists who devour the screen. Bill Nigh as Davy Jones is awesome, the whole movie could have been just him and Depp going at it. The other characters are what they are, nothing terribly prestigious, but they also play through every situation that's thrown at them.

I did wonder how Pirates 2 could match the first in terms of pirate coolness, I mean how do you top the undead skeleton crew from Curse of the Black Pearl? Well, throw in another cursed crew of Davy Jones's Flying Dutchman, where each deckhand is some grotesque amalgam of sea creature and man. I am all over that.

When I left the movie I kind of wondered "Whatever happened to Indiana Jones?" I think the spirit lives on in Pirates of the Caribbean, the action sequences just keep one-upping themselves. Each time you think, "oh, this is the big action finale," some crazy ass shit keeps going on and you think "oh, THIS is the big action finale." Finally you're just thinking, "well that could happen next, but they can't possibly have that happen next..." and then it happens.

The movie also pulls a Back to the Future II at the end... Dead Man's Chest isn't even close to being a stand alone movie but I sure as hell enjoyed it.

Superman Returns

Time to break the silence! I saw Superman Returns last week. I've read all kinds of reviews since and I was struck by how much it was loved by fans almost de facto... Not sharing much of this adoration I sort of sat back and took it in. So is it just me? Then I remembered, it's never just me.

I tend to refrain from using "gay" as an adjective, but Superman Returns? Pretty gay. I'm sure mothers and daughters will love it the world over. There were moments when I saw the visceral impact of what Superman on film should be, but they were quickly derailed by way too much thematic exploration and hack story points meant to force emotion.

My main objection to the film is a little deeper, in that I felt like I was watching a film I'd already seen. This was director Singer's homage, as it were, to the original film with fleeting references to the second. But it's one thing to film an homage, or even a re-imagining, but it's another to use the same lines of dialogue from that which one is honoring. The first instance was cute, by the fifth I'm just a little insulted. The action scenes were cool, but also anemic in their repetition of what had come before.

Superman Returns is good looking, all the money is on screen and Singer paints a pretty picture for his love of all things Reeve and Donner. But if someone gives you 200 million dollars to make a movie, why wouldn't you make it your own?


Way better than Avian Flu

Saturday eve I partook of a unique LA tradition of recent years, Cemetery Screenings. Down in Hollywood, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, folks can come set up on one of the lawns for a picnic and enjoy a classic film projected on a mausoleum wall. It might seem a little creepy, but it was a cool crowd and a neat way to spend the night outdoors.

The screening we saw was for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, which is a classic for a reason, it's just a plain great film no matter what you want to read (or not read) into it. Being with a big crowd, there were alot of moments that got everyone laughing, albeit for reasons that date the film-- but everyone couldn't help but acknowledge the skill of one of our master filmmakers as tension grew and an eerie fate befell the sleepy town of Bodega Bay.

The projection was surprisingly sharp and it wasn't hard to be mesmerized by the stunning Tippi Hedren, whether seductively coy or being pecked to death by thousands of birds. No one ever said Hitchcock didn't know what he was doing.

Lots of great movie caps, photos, and tidbits: Cinema Astoria, The Birds [URL no longer valid-BD].