Saturday, June 22, 2013

Paramount's Plagued Production

Summertime for movie fans means the promise of big budget effects pictures.

The cinematography in World War Z (2013, Marc Forster) is identifiable firstly by Robert Richardson, A.S.C.'s tendency to toplight and bounce off of practical surfaces, most typically using a table top. Furthermore, Bob still creates images wherein a character finds themselves in a pool of harsh source light that is overexposed and looks like they are some sort of apparition. The scene in the underground bunker in South Korea where the Brad Pitt character receives intelligence from the James Badge Dale character is especially beholden of this distinct look.

The director really fucked up his chance to give this any clear stamp of authorship.
But, the crowd scenes in Jerusalem primarily, Philly, and also elsewhere, are magnificent in their D.W. Griffith worthy opulence. The geography of the action is layed out with forethought and polished. The edits are quick and we stay on the move. The jolts are nerve wracking. And, there are quite a few laughs scattered throughout--like when the cop shows up to take command of a throng of looters, but is revealed to be one of them.

But, for the most part, the movie feels like it keeps striking the same note again, and eventually becomes a little monotonous.
And while the film may not be the work of an auteur, I do still commend its focus and realistic commitment to the protagonist's uphill battle to save humanity. Who says the zombies aren't scary? These are the scariest kind of zombies because they bear the strongest resemblance to living humans in the sense that they are stupid, dangerous, and just clogging every thoroughfare with their rotting carcasses.

Contagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh) is a way better outbreak picture, but with Bob's lensing and $170 million for crowd scenes and effects work, World War Z manages to earn its own spot in movies that matter for me.

I did have one qualm with plot continuity. SPOILER ALERT:
Doesn't the UN chief answer the Pitt character's phonecall and tell him that "there was nothing we could do," about his wife, but then at the end we find out she was fine the whole time? Or is there something I missed? I think that the chief meant that he couldn't keep a close watch and security detail on the Pitt character's wife and girls, but it came off as though they were dead--this movie is PG-13 though, so of course no real harm can come to the Pitt character's family.


When I first began writing for Reviewiera, I had envisioned the goal of subjectively writing film criticism (as opposed to movie reviews) and writing predominantly from a first person perspective that would allow any digressions as long as I felt they were pertinent.

But, sometimes I've found myself slacking lately. And unfortunately, the result is shoddy tidbits of criticism. At least when I say something, I've tried to back it up.

So, this week I was working on a Chevy Silverado commercial that was directed and shot by one of my artistic heroes, cinematographer Robert Richardson. I picked him up from the airport 2 weeks ago and immediately gushed about how I'd been indoctrinated into personal/subjective filmmaking when I was 13 because of Natural Born Killers (1994, Oliver Stone). He was very cool and brought me along to have dinner at uchi (probably the hottest sushi restaurant in Austin--I can't believe I just said that) with he and his producer and production designer.

And nearly 20 years after being dragged out of Natural Born Killers 10 minutes into it by my disapproving parents (in their defense, maybe that isn't a movie a 13 year old should watch), my influences have remained uncannily consistent.

Richardson shot every Oliver Stone movie from Salvador (1986, Stone) to U Turn (1997, Stone), winning an Oscar for JFK (1991, Stone); he also shot Casino (1995, Martin Scorsese), which I always preferred to Goodfellas (1990, Scorsese) and when I was 14 I knew that the cinematography was stellar--he was the only D.P. I could identify by his style (particularly the blown out table tops and harsh source lighting), before reteaming with Scorsese for Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Scorsese), winnning his second Oscar for The Aviator (2004, Scorsese), Shutter Island (2010, Scorsese) and the film that earned him his third Oscar, Hugo (2012, Scorsese); and Bob's been Quentin Tarantino's D.P. since Kill Bill (2003/4, Tarantino).

I didn't see JFK until I was 24, but I fell in love with dude's style all over again. This was the same time I'd been punch drunk over Kill Bill.

If I didn't work with Bob this week I wouldn't have known that he shot World War Z, or that he took his name off of the movie because Paramount insisted on releasing the movie in 3D, despite the fact that the film was shot in 2D without 3D cameras. Richardson won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for the 3D Hugo and knows what it takes to make a 3D movie right. Anyway, on the Chevy commercial I also got to meet Bob's 1st AC, Gregor Tavenner (whose credit is still on IMDb and in the movie), his Key Grip, Chris Centrella (whose credit is still in World War Z, but not on IMDb?), and Gaffer, Ian Kincaid (whose credit, like Richardson's, has been removed from IMDb and the finished film). 

And earlier this week, after I'd spent an hour or so talking with Ian, he told me that Tarantino says, "Friends go see friends' movies on opening day," and that he always mails Tarantino a ticket stub to prove this every time he releases a new movie.

Basically I said all that to say normally I wouldn't have been inclined to go see World War Z, but I did it for Bob.

Richardson, right, with an adoring fan.

So was it worth it? Definitely. I've been known to watch a movie just because Keira Knightley is in it. Now, usually I'm an auteur theorist who follows directors like sports clubs, with the exception of Miss Knightley. I questioned the moral ramifications about watching a movie just because she's sodreamy I hang on her every syllable.

Similarly, the reason I watched World War Z, was to check out Bob's cinematography, and it was worth it for me on that merit alone. I don't know if I'll ever really come around to big budget action effects movies. The last action effects movie I saw that I thought was truly brilliant was Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron)--I know Fat is somewhere along the lines of David Foster Wallace level disdain for that movie though. For me, T2 is not only the work of an auteur, but presient about the public's taste with CGI, sexy, dangerous, and a lot of fun (but, I did fall for it when I was 12).

I see every Michael Bay movie in the theater, because since T2, I feel like he's inherited its legacy in a way, and dare I say, the Transformers films are the closest thing to T2 I've found for my tastes. (Okay, I'm also a little biased because I worked on Transformers 4 last week.) But I don't go for The Matrix films, the Star Wars prequels, J. J. Abrams, or Spielberg (although I do really like Mission: Impossible III (2006, J. J. Abrams), Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi) and  The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Steven Spielberg)). I've also never liked Peter Jackson's films because I don't like any wizards and faries films ever, but also because I feel, much like with Baz Luhrmann, that the spectacle is bloated and not edgy enough. But District 9 (2009, Neill Blomkamp) was stellar, even though I have yet to come fully on board--I can't wait to hear what Fat thought of Elysium (2013, Blomkamp).

So yeah, World War Z is a little flat and it suffers from the PG-13 curse of knowing Gerry (Pitt) and his family will be safe and he will be the hero who saves the world, to be fair. But it's got spectacle, and Bob's cinematography is amazing.



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