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)

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.

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.

2013 Spotlight

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” (2013) 


So obviously, the cinematography and effects used to recreate space are the big attraction here…

I can’t remember the last time I saw a film about space or one that recreated space so well that just the physics of space movement and gravity alone were enough to have me gripping the armrests of my seat and gritting my teeth! (who knew space DEBRIS could be scarier than Jaws & zombies combined?!) It was the closest cinematic experience to living through the horror of spinning through space with Sandra Bullock’s character and getting pushed out away from Earth with her…the real monster here is isolation.


I also saw a subtle theme of being ‘reborn’ linked together through some of the images of Sandra Bullock’s character through her attempt to survive the disaster in space:


The fetal position that Sandra rests in once she escapes the violence space debris, the umbilical-cord-like-tube-thing to her space suit, and the ending that has her swim to the surface for her first gasp of air on Earth…whether intentional or not, there does seem to be a ‘rebirth’ of Bullock’s character after she fights the temptation to give up and uses her last shreds of hope and strength to push forward for life.

I guess a lot of people were annoyed with Bullock’s character, but I though it was easier to sympathize with her and find yourself holding your breath along with her in the film. She doesn’t start out strong and confident, unlike Clooney’s character, but instead, she is fragile and distracted by her fears and what she can’t let go of…there is nothing heroic or courageous about her, until she is forced to let go of her attachments (literally, too) and learn to use gravity to be ‘reborn’ on Earth.

Only the big screen can do it justice, go see it in theaters while you can.

What I’m looking forward to (SO MANY THESE NEXT 2 MONTHS):

1. Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix in a weird romance set in LA? Done. I don’t want to reduce it to just that, but I’m just excited to see what Jonze is trying to say with the film…and Phoenix’s acting.

2. Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013)

This is going to be such a sweet film with grade-A cinematography and a story that, I feel, will resonate well with audiences:

3. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

I’m seeing this ASAP. I don’t even know why I still haven’t seen it. Stellar cast, and a crazy story about a freedman who gets tricked and sold into slavery…it’s going to be WOAH. Michael Fassbender can be so scary LOL

4. Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)

Again, excited about the cast and it’s a Coen Brothers’ film! I read that it’s a story about grieving, which makes sense with the fuzzy light and sad, grayish colors of the film. bring it onnn…..

5. Calin Peter Netzer “Pozitia Copilului (Child’s Pose)” (2013)

Oh you betcha I’m plugging a new Romanian film by a filmmaker whose films, I admit, I have not yet seen or heard of, so he’s a fresh new face and will be featured at the AFI FEST IN HOLLYWOOD NEXT WEEK (heaven yea, i’ll be there!), so hooray Romanian filmmakers again!!! It was also co-written by Razvan Radulescu, who did “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”. I am so proud for the decade-strong, growing recognition of ‘new wave’ Romanian filmmakers…so proud.

And oh, how it fits into the themes that I’ve noticed Romanian filmmakers like to explore today- generational distance and conflicts, and the bleak, desperate self-preserving attitudes of the wealthy class.

AFI Fest next week has a bunch of screenings worth checking out, and its FREE! I’ll be there, and I’ll be back here after then.

*Sneak Peeks*

Its been wayyy too long.

Just felt like sharing a few trailers/previews of upcoming films you will want to see soon!

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, or if you just like watching trailers!, here’s the first trailer for

Quentin Tarantino’s

“Django Unchained”

I’ll also be seeing The Hobbit, but other than that, I don’t have much excitement for any of the other ‘mainstream’ American releases this month. (Gangster Squad is in January and The Great Gatsby was pushed back to May. :/ )

However, if you’re into foreigns (!), this one, “Barbara”, is one from Germany and looks like a great acting piece. Supposedly, the Germans have been coming up with some really cool films recently, so I’m trying to catch up with the newest of their creations LOL and this will be playing at the UCI Edwards Theater soon, I think.

and now for some Romanian love:

This is a trailer for a new film “Usturoi” (Garlic) which I’m curious about:

USTUROI from E-Motions Films on Vimeo.

And of course, Cristian Mungui‘s newest film, “Dupa Dealuri (Beyond the Hills” (2012) which I was going to see at the AFI Fest but missed out on! 😦 So I’m waiting for Netflix…. 😦 He’s a brilliant director! And at the forefront of the “Romanian New Wave” of cinema!!! If you like a film that lingers in your thoughts days after you’ve seen it and presents you with a raw “realism” in the dialogue and cinematography, this is for you! 🙂