CGI: Does it Help or Hurt

There us no mistaking it. Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI, is now the mainstream in movie making. In recent years it has become cheaper, faster, more advanced, and, most importantly, widely successful. Visual effects have been used since even before computers were used to generate images. As in the reading, Movies as old as Citizen Cane used visual effects to produce unique scenes and shots. In many cases of older movies that didn’t have the luxury of CGI, there was a lot of work that when into creating scene that were unique to those films. Effects were produce by camera angles, costume, and in many cases, extreme uses of mise-en-cine. These days such effects are seen as cheap and uninspired because the modern audience is so used to seeing more realistic images in modern movies. This particularly true for modern day action and Science Fiction movies. Does our dependence on CGI, spoil us to the true effort that has gone into legacy films.

An example of how I feel that CGI has hurt movies is in my favorite movie, The Thing (John Carpenter 1982) which later got a sequel The Thing (2011 Matthijs van Heijningen Jr). From the common viewer both movies have the same mindset and plot in mind. In the isolated and frozen Antarctic, a team of scientist discover a horrific alien with the ability to absorb them. When the alien is discovered as a team member, it “reveals itself,” usually in a gruesome and gory manner. In 1982 these scenes were done with plastic, puppeteering, latex, synthetic slime, and more to create truly gross scenes. The 2011 movie did nearly all of it with CGI and, while still being a typical horror gross-out, was not received as well by the fans of the first. Of course, staying true to the traditions of the first movie would have corny to see in theaters, but without the legendary, and “natural” creature effects of Rob Bottin, there is a major difference in the creature design that made the first movie so successful.  There are few images from both movies below.  Can you tell the CGI from the non-CGI?  Which one do you prefer?

  

   
There is, however, an example of when the use of CGI can bring something new to film series. The example I use for this is another classic The Terminator (James Cameron 1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron 1991). In the first movie, unique visual effects weren’t used until near the end where robot is seen chasing Sarah Conner. In most movies where a “hunter” is coming for the “hunted,” it’s usually just a guy in a costume. But for this move, it had already been shown that the “guy” had been stripped away and all that was left was the robotic endo skeleton. To do this, James Cameron employed the use of a puppet and stop motion animation. The took several pictures of the machine, while slightly changing the position of its hands and legs, to create the illusion that it was walking, climbing, etc. Despite how strange and impractical the effects looked, it was successful in giving off the eerie image of a murderous robot hunting its victim. In the second movie in 1991, when CGI was seeing much growth, James Cameron had a different idea of how to upgrade his killer robot. The T-1000, or the liquid, robot was shown transforming from person to person, or creating swords and crowbars from its arms, all using CGI. Such a use of the CGI made the villain of the second movie as iconic as the first and accomplished its goal of introducing the new antagonist.

    

 

   

As movies are becoming more expensive to make and require higher revenue to be considered successful, how far can CGI go. Marvel movies rarely go to locations outside the United States to be made, unlike other iconic movies such as Lord of the Rings, which were filmed places like New Zealand. Will we get to the point where entire “live-action” movies are made with CGI. As facial structures and movement become more refined, will we even need actors in the future?

The Duality of Ideologies in “Do the Right Thing”

The picture below is the iconic photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. This picture is shown in portraits, history books and shown many times throughout the movie being held by “Smiley” the mentally challenged man. MLK Jr and Malcom X are widely accepted as two of the most influential civil rights activists in American History. Both are seen as the pioneers to leading African Americans to fight for equal rights in American society. However, despite having the same intentions in mind, their methods where completely different. Even I ask how these two could possibly get along when their morals and methods of achieving civil rights were so different.

Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to fight for civil rights but believed it could be achieved exclusively by non-violent protests. He wanted for blacks to accepted by whites and fully integrated into their society rather than just the “equal but separate” tactics imposed by Jim Crow Laws. Malcom X was different. During his time in the Nation of Islam, a time where he made most of his speeches and teachings, he rejected white society. He promoted the Nations ideals that Blacks were superior and should form their own society and culture to be better than that of whites. He was criticized for advocating violence as a means to achieve his goals, though he would disguise it as “self-defense.” The duality in this movie isn’t immediately shown, but does drive the events that lead to the end of the movie. What starts as a push to get equal representation escalates to riots and destruction of property and the death of community member.

Other examples of duality come up in a few places in the movie like in the scene where Radio Raheem is showing Mookie his new knuckle braces and gives him a speech about love and hate. The speech he gave was about how love and hate coexisted, but did it have a deeper meaning of how one cascades into the other. He says “If I love you, then I love you. And if I Hate you…” He doesn’t finish the line about hate. Is that significant to how he is uncertain of what will happen when he allows hate to take over. I feel that the duality in this movie isn’t just about how whites and blacks go about life separately, but how a clash of ideologies in civil rights leads to disaster. Is there any other meaning one can derive from this?  What was the significance of this photo being held and sold by someone who was mentally handicapped?  Do you think the ideologies of this movie led to its outcome? Professor Zinman said this movie was very relevant today more than ever, and I believe him. How relevant do you believe this movie is?

“Unsane”: Is it Experimental?

The link I have is an analysis of a recent experimental film that came out this year called “Unsane.” The article claims that this movie is experimental based on how the aspect that makes is so seems to be very modernized. While the author of the article praises the movie I myself am inclined to believe it is not very good provided that at my theater in Warner Robins Georgia, only one person came to see it, but I was still curious to what it is about and how it was created. The film seems like an “ordinary” thriller about a girl being hunted by a stalker after being checked into a Mental Institute. What makes this film Experimental is the fact that it was filmed completely on an iPhone. This is different from other “Found Footage” type films because this is the first movie filmed a cellular device. But is this film truly fit the definitions of Experimental film discussed in class.

For one, this film isn’t completely low budget. There is a pretty sizable cast (including a cameo Matt Damon and Juno Temple). Some of the experimental films like those seen in class had actors but not well-known movie stars. I feel as though experimental films wouldn’t be mainstream enough to warrant a large enough budget for these actors. Another point would be that this movie has a well-defined plot and theme to it. It doesn’t show the audience an artistic experience, rather it’s just another thriller movie filmed on cheap hardware. While the films shown in class weren’t necessarily filmed with better hardware for their time period, they still seemed to lack an easily comprehensible plot.

I for one do not believe this movie is not fully experimental, but it does have an interesting take on how to film a motion picture. As explained in the article, filming on the iPhone allows for quicker and more agile camera motions without the large bulky setups caused with normal films. On a sense it could potentially allow younger or otherwise more tech-wise views to connect relate of the “cinematography” of the film since just about anyone has seen YouTube videos or “vines” taken with cellphone cameras or simple recorders.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/steven-soderberghs-inspired-iphone-experiment-in-unsane

Genre: The “Genus” of the Movie

This week we will be entering the sturdy of Movie Genre. According to the reading genre has been around for much longer than film, but it’s purposes are just as relevant to telling an audience what to expect from a piece of media. I find it interesting that as Films began to adopt a sense of genre it became a medium for the formation of studios who specialized in making certain types of movies. Since the Post-war era, movies became more and more popular allowing the multiple Genres to be created and explored.

The week before the midterm introduced us to narrative films, films made for the sole purpose of complex storytelling. Within the realm of genre, it can be said that there are more than just the six types mentioned in this weeks reading. However, the reading only focuses on comedy, western, melodrama, musical, horror, and crime. Why would that be? Is it because there isn’t enough realism in other genre’s to be considered or is it simply to limit the number of talking points in the chapter. In addition, can a sub-genre be considered as its own genre. For example, should a romantic-comedy like Yes Man (2008) or a sci-fi western like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) be considered their own brand of movie or just two concepts put into one.

In terms of this week’s feature, what kind of movie are “super-hero” films considered as. Before even seeing a movie about [insert superhero] we know them by the comic they are introduced in. Comics, especially those about Batman, were about solving/stopping crime. As comics gained popularity, the concept of the “super-villain” was introduced, comics began to change genres to a more “action” or “sci-fi” type stories. Do you think modern action movies are on par, as far as official classification, with the other genres mentioned? Is The Dark Knight (2008) a “realistic vision” of comic book crime as quoted by Christopher Nolan, or is it just another high budget superhero movie?

 

The Power of Montage

Google Dictional defines narrative as “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.” A narrative is primarily a story that involves many events and people that all seem to have the same event or person in common. The most important aspect of telling of a certain event or person and how different stories relate to that event or person. But how does one make a narrative with realistic, relatable characters? One cannot learn what makes a person or relationship between multiple people just by one or two occurrences or scenes. You can’t show how someone develops as a character just by talking or interview people who are close to them. How would you show how something changes or develops with time as characterization realistically can’t be fully explored with just one scene or event? People are dynamic, but it takes time; usually large amounts of it. Because of this Orson Wells takes advantage of the use of Montage to show gradual changes over what is perceived to be large periods of time.
In this week’s feature, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Wells, montage is used repeatedly to show how a person, a relationship, or a situation grows and develops over large periods of time. A good example of this is scene of Charles Kane and Emily Norton seated at the dinner table having “snippets” of conversation regarding her husband’s work at his newspaper. Using montage, Orson wells shows the snippets of conversation getting progressively negative and Emily growing more uncomfortable and angered at her husband’s newspaper. In addition, we also get to see Charles grow more ambitious and obsessed with the success of his newspaper. In each little scene of the montage we see the couple grow older just a little indicating the passage of months, possibly years between conversations. Small details about their snippets of conversations show that they have a son who has been exposed to Charles newspaper at his nursery, which Emily does not approve off but is immediately silenced by her husband at the notion of removing it from the nursery. In the final scene not a word is said. The two even refuse to make eye contact, indicating that their marriage has all but come to a cold close.

For this reason, montage is one of my favorite effects in film. I really appreciated it when montage is used to forward plot in such a manner. I modern movies, especially action movies, montage is usually only used once in the beginning or towards the end of the movie, depicted small snippets of the main character growing up to what he is today, or the preparation they must do prepare for a showdown. Super-hero movies do this a lot, but they are no where near as powerful as some of the scenes in “Citizen Kane.” The only other movies where montage is used is old 80’s movies that would always play stereotypical synthwave music while getting a large amount of work done. Like in this clip from a totally 80s (not really) movie “Kung Fury.”

My questions to the class is how else, other than the passage of long periods of time, is montage used to tell major points of the story. Are there other, more recent movies that still use montage the way “Citizen Kane” does. In the scene from “Citizen Kane” above, is this a true montage despite the fact that is uses the “sliding windows” effect to imply the passage of time?
(Is “Kung Fury” the greatest movie of all time?)

Setting the Pace with Editing in “City of God”

“City of God” is a Brazilian crime film released in 2002 which tells the story of the emergence of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro. It has received worldwide critical acclaim and has been nominated for several awards for best cinematography and editing. The scene I found fit this week’s subject was the opening one that sets the stage and setting of the film. A link has been posted at the bottom of this blog.
In the opening scene we get a very special set of edits in the form of fast paced, and fast-moving cuts. The first 1 minute of the scene simply shows a chicken being slaughtered for food but in this minute, we get several, short and fast cuts (nearly 7 cuts in the span of 4 seconds). In these cuts the camera moves back and forth between a live chicken, a butcher’s knife, a dead chicken being plucked or filleted, a knife being sharpened, a couple of customers and preparers, weapons on the table etc. The fast pace of this one-minute sequence tells the reader that the story takes place in a large bustling city, where everything is moving fast, work needs to be done quickly, and everything occurs in a neighborhood that is poor. The sequence is supposed to build the “hype” for the setting, getting the heart rate elevated to match the pace of the setting.
The next one minute of this scene goes into a chase for one chicken that seems to have escaped. The are lots of cuts and camera movements as the views switch from preparing food in a poor neighborhood to chase of escaped poultry. There are several camera shots showing again, the fast pace of the city setting, the suspense of the escaping chicken, one of the towns folk giving orders and finally the children of the neighborhood in pursuit. Close-shots, long-shots, crane-shots, tracking and chasing shots along with several instances of match-on-action editing when rounding corners or jumping from builds, make for a very artful and ridiculous chase scene.
Lastly there is the final 30 seconds of the scene where the main character has the chicken corned and the kids who where chasing it tell him the catch it for them. Suddenly a police squadron shows up on the opposite end of the road and both sides draw weapons. It is in this scene where a very peculiar camera trick shows. I would usually call this a 180 degree cut, with the main character at it center, but instead of using cameras to cut between the view of the children and the police the main character acts like a pivot and the camera revolved around him and we see the two sides ready to fire. This edit sets up one of the most important themes of he movie: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If he stands still, he’ll be killed in the shoot out. If he stays still, he might be targeted as a suspect to gang violence and might be killed by the police. If anyone knows what this is really called, I’d really like to know what you think. At the very end this camera rotation is used to jump back to his past as a child and I’m very interested to know what the edit is.

Use Setting and mine-en-scéne to Convey Human Traits

Wes Anderson is one of my favorite writer/directors in American film.  Not just for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but for many of his works such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom.  In each of his movies he pays close attention to the setting he uses to set the general mood of a particular scene.   As a result, Wes Anderson’s movies tend to take on a “play” or “theatre” style.

For example, when we see The Grand Budapest Hotel in its 1932 setting, we see a bright, colorful and fantasy palace-like building and background.

This setup is akin to a “doll-house” where the vibrant colors signify a high society or royalty might visit for comfort and recreation.  This setting might represent a persons’ “dreamland” where they can escape to and marvel at the landscape of the countryside from a Grand Place.

Another example would be the gathering of Madam D.’s family.  The room where they are deciding who gets her fortune is filled with animal fur carpets, stuffed bears,  and head mounts.  The setting in this scene also symbolizes a wealthy society, but also fits a symbol of human greed and avarice.   Such is shown as the all of the members of the extended family show up to the reading of the will in an attempt to gain as much wealth as they can.

Lastly, one of my favorite scenes in the movie was the mountain chapel where they go to meet the butler.  At first, it was strange why Wes Anderson decided to place a chapel so high on a mountain only accessible by a cable car.  I feel that he does this, not only to signify the high place of the Church in the society of Europe, but to signify the perceives effort it takes to be recognized as a devoted member of a religion, and how easy it is to “fall from grace.”  The latter meaning is reinforced shortly after the Serge X is killed, when Mr. Gustave and Zero enter a rapid, downhill chase after his murderer.

Many of Wes Anderson’s scenes capture a mood, a feeling, or trait that fits the characters and the setting of the stories he tells.  What other scenes may there be examples of this.  Not just in The Grand Budapest Hotel but maybe other Wes Anderson movies.