In Motion

“Birdman” (2014) dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

One of my favorite directors, Inarritu, has completed his fifth feature film in his departure away from multi-dimensional narratives centered around a tragic accident (think the trilogy 21 Grams, Babel, Amores Perros and maybe even Biutiful….yes, the rest of his films). Now, he is focused on a character study and, more importantly, an ‘unedited’ style of storytelling-an ‘inescapable reality’, according to Inarritu.

This is a change in his storytelling style, moving towards a persistent linear plot. Inarritu mentions in his recent Variety interview that he feels life is experienced in a sort of linear, Steadicam form, and so he uses much of that visual style in Birdman. Just look at the beautiful Steadicam shots in the trailer! I love the sense of the floating, following perspective that the camera creates.

Of course, another new feature in this Inarritu film is its genre: black comedy. With that dream cast, it looks like it might be one of my favorites of the year!

I’m excited to see how Inarritu streamlined the film to appear as a constant un-cut motion. Its not that its technically difficult, just that it will be interesting to see how it ties into the Broadway setting of the film and the back-and-forth transitions between real life and on-stage acting that the main character experiences. The character’s time on the stage in theater becomes inseparable form his personal life. Birdman is more than fiction, it appears. It really is an ‘inescapable reality’, as Inarritu wishes to convey.

I always like to see the visual style, and even the sound, reflect on the character study.

It comes out October 17th!


A little tangent on the use of steadicam…

Two great, and different, uses of it come to mind. The first is the classic long take with no-cuts that leads your gaze as it follows the action in a scene.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, along with director Cary Fukunaga, use this method in a memorable scene from a True Detective episode. This technique has been used in many classic films since the 70’s (Goodfellas, The Shining, Rocky) but I decided to use this newer example (starts around 02:00):

True Detective S1 E4 Final Shot from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

And then there’s the Terrence Malick way of using many cuts at different angles or rotations of the Steadicam to create a collage of a scene and/or encourage the sense of constant motion and wandering:

Watching Soon…

Terry Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem” (2014)

You may recognize Gilliam’s visual style from his other well-known works, “Twelve Monkeys”, “Brazil” and others…

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…lots of fish-eye, caricatures of characters, carnival/theater-type settings and props, eccentric or outcasts as main characters. Cinematographer Roger Pratt worked with Gilliam in these older films to achieve that visual style, but it seems Gilliam still keeps it consistent in his latest.


Charlie McDowell’s “The One I Love” (2014)

Ari Folman’s use of Animation

…exploring 2 works by director Ari Folman.

 Waltz with Bashir (2008)

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This film is a beautiful showcase of the advantage of using animation…and especially in a documentary. Folman explores his & his old friends’ memories of the 1982 Lebanon War and a massacre of which he feels guilty of taking part, even though he was on the outskirts of the city & was only part of the group of soldiers that lit flares throughout the night, not knowing what was happening in the Palestinian refugee camps.

The art style is much like a graphic novel, and was essential to streamlining the images from memories, dreams, interviews, and scenes from the Lebanon war. I was surprised by how emotionally moving and ‘real’ the film is, due in part to the choice of animation.


There was criticism of the film stating that it depicts the partakers in the war as another kind of victim, instead of perpetrator, since Folman and the others he interviews in the film are heartbroken at how they were involved and the film highlights the effects it had on the soldiers years after the war. However, many of the scenes from the war illustrates the damage that the Israeli soldiers caused in their callousness and how they blindly followed orders as IDF soldiers. I don’t think the film is intended as a plea for sympathy for the soldiers, nor does it stand out as such, but rather, it takes a ‘conflicted’ perspective, and it certainly displays the victims of the massacre.

I really liked the animation style and the way Folman built up to his memory of the massacre, with the help of former soldiers and others who were present. I highly recommend this one.



The Congress (2013) 


Yes, Robin Wright as…Robin Wright, but somewhat in the future, after she signs a contract with Miramount Studios, allowing them to use a ‘scanned version’ of herself in any films the studio chooses so that she won’t ever have to actually ‘act’ anymore and can spend time with her family.  That forms the beginning of a increasingly complex story about how Hollywood grows to take over the world, in a sense, as people of the near future seek to escape their ‘real’ selves by taking on the forms of any celebrity/character they choose.


The animation style is much more caricature-ish and reminded me of old cartoons. It actually gets a bit confusing towards the end as Robin Wright attempts to reach her son after lost connection with him in her years of being in the ‘animation’ realm..(?)..but I did appreciate and enjoy the film’s take on the concept of escapism from dystopia that appears frequently in modern sci-fi films.

The entertainment industry is the leader of this movement and becomes a sort of dictatorship, allowing everyone to become distracted enough (by their ability to become anything/anyone, live any kind of life they want) to not question the rule of Miramount Studios or their alternate ‘real’ life. Finally, the last step in Miramount’s plan is to introduce the “free choice” drug that allows anyone to visualize whatever movie/story they want in their imagination. So, the film explores the idea of escapism via delusion/alternate realities, and the idea of ‘free choice’.


^That’s the character voiced by Jon Hamm.

One of the reasons the film seems too complicated and confusing is that there are scenes in which Robin Wright is struggling to maintain a consistent reality. Sometimes it is unclear if she is hallucinating or is seeing/living ‘real’ life…but I think that this confusion of reality in INTENDED for the audience.

I believe you are supposed to feel a little disoriented, much like Robin Wright throughout most of the film……


….but I could see how that would be just too uncomfortable or confusing, or how it becomes ‘too much’ by the end of the film. I do wish there was a little more clarity on the details of the story and concepts.

Yet, I still recommend it and I look forward to Ari Folman’s next work!

Michel Gondry

is one of my favorite directors known for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Science of Sleep”, and his latest film appears to be an even bigger dosage of his familiar surrealism and theatrical visual effects. It will be released in the U.S. this summer…

“L’ecume des Jours”

(Mood Indigo)


Some who have seen it already claim that the effects are too much this time and drown out the story, but I would think that most of Gondry’s dreamlike scenes and magical quirks and props are not supposed to be ‘relevant’ to a cohesive plot, but stem from the idea of playing with surrealism and visual gimmicks for the sake of the childlike wonder with blending imagination and reality…for the sake of playing with film itself. That’s the way I read Gondry’s style, which is much like the theatrics of early films from the 1910’s and 20’s. I still have to wait to see it when its released soon, but so far, I like his work.

Gondry, like a few other notable filmmakers, started out, directing music videos for musicians like Bjork, the White Stripes, Radiohead, etc. In case you haven’t seen his feature films yet, you can get an idea of his innovation with dream-like effects and motion in film, and a love of theater-stage-like-settings and props. Here’s one he did for Bjork in 1993:

To Be Seen in 2014

“The Double” (2013) dir. Richard Ayoade

Recently screened at Sundance 2014, this second feature film by Richard Ayoade, based on a Dostoevsky novel of the same name, centers on the nightmare of losing one’s identity to a ‘double’ or, in the words of the novel, a doppelgänger.

So far, it has been getting a lot of praise regarding the charming mix of surrealist paranoia and dark humor, and Ayoade’s growing talent as a new director. It will be released in theaters in late spring.

“12 O’clock Boys” (2014) dir. Lotfy Nathan

And this very new film (which is released today!) by Lotfy Nathan is about a group of dirt-bikers in Baltimore who like to perform stunts on the city streets. The film seems to center on the tough, young Pug wanting to soon join the dirt-bikers, whom he sees as heroes. From what I read about it, Nathan neither romanticizes them nor antagonizes them, but portrays them from various angles and from how Pug sees and admires them to do them justice in this visually stunning doc.

So far, I only know of screenings for it in Pasadena but keep an eye out for its release in your area soon.

Revisiting Romanian New Wave

“Dupa Dealuri”

(Beyond the Hills)

dir. Cristian Mungiu (2012)

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Two young women, who grew up in the same orphanage, are reunited at one’s home monastery but discover that their relationship is being torn by their conflicting desires and attachments. Their situation becomes chaotic when the monastery’s nuns and priest try to help the two friends.

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In case you aren’t already acquainted with this filmmaker’s style (director of ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’), Mungiu seems to really like stories about characters caught in a desperate act, pushed into a corner by old societal pressures and failing institutions. This film examines the failures of both church and state, and, also, the divide between them as a parallel to Voichita and Alina’s strained relationship.

The awkward tension between Voichita’s new identity as nun and past life is noticed by Alina when she fails to communicate what she really wants and seems to simply echo what she has been taught at the monastery. The nuns misunderstand Alina and her acts of anguish and desperation. Only Alina, who also stands out in wardrobe, is expressing herself honestly and bluntly to the point that it shocks the other characters. The failures in expression and understanding are purposeful in this brilliant screenplay.

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I love Mungiu’s directing and the precise cinematography of this film. The only real ‘cues’ to what a character is thinking is the camera angle and focus, such as when Voichita watches the priest and nuns pray over Alina and she stands out as observer (above).

The story ends in a confusion of judgment, I thought. There is no ‘good’ character, everyone is guilty of something connected to the ending, but no one is an antagonist, either.

I’ll close with a quote from Mungiu from an interview in FilmComment: “My responsibility is to present the situation and [let] the audience interpret it. I don’t think cinema should pre-interpret things for people. It is important that the story triggers the audience’s desire to meditate upon values and on their own position on the situation I have presented. Ideally, this is what cinema should be about.”



Discovering Shane Carruth

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UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) dir. by Shane Carruth

Definitely a new favorite director & writer of mine. WOW, Carruth. Consistently gorgeous, distinct cinematography and a bizarre, fresh story.

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Almost the entire film is quick, 3-4 second shots, lots of cuts and variations on camera angles in the same scene. Very montage-like, and dreamy, especially with the soft, muted colors and lighting that add a calming effect (?) to the film even during the most eerie scenes.

I think its an intentional peaceful mood, despite the chaotic and confusing storyline, that adds a reassurance, for the audience, that it is all part of a planed, controlled cycle or, maybe, it creates the sense of a distance between the audience and the characters’ experience.

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“So much of the film is nonverbal.” -Shane Carruth (pictured below)


The storyline is unclear at first, but everything begins to fall into place slowly, although there isn’t quite a definite explanation of what the characters are going through or what is ‘real’ or just metaphor? But I liked this. What matters is that you begin to see how things and the characters are intertwined, there is connection in cycles, sound and shared memories.

It’s on Netflix, go check it out. I’m excited to see his other film, “Primer” (2004).

Continued Thoughts (with spoilers):

Sound is a big part of the film. The sounds that attract the hosts are repetitions, cycles of random sounds, a wave-like soundtrack used to lure the hosts, much like the worm movements of the parasite. The CYCLE of the parasite and hosts is broken at the end when the parasite is removed, no longer allowed to affect the flowers and get passed on to the hijackers. The characters seem to create their own narrative after the pig farmer is killed, who isn’t even an antagonist…? But they don’t seem aware of what actually happened, just trying to take over the narrative.

Then there’s Thoreau’s “Walden”. It’s no coincidence that some of the themes in Walden are meditations on transcendence of human existence and letting oneself be immersed in nature. In the film, there is a literal fusion of the worm parasites with the human and pig characters and a transcendence of the characters’ identities and willpower as they become one and are hypnotized into becoming one. It seems that the book’s call to ‘transcendence in nature’ is tied to the ending, when the characters go back to the pig farm and take over the care of the pigs. The different bodies come together in one mind and memory. But then again, I like that there’s no ‘point to the story’ or lesson being taught, which is what Carruth tries to avoid in his films.