Posts Tagged ‘Drive’

The debate between the advantages of shooting on digital and celluloid is now at the forefront of the film world’s psyche. Filmmakers do not agree on which medium yields the most benefits – Roger Deakins is beginning to favour digital, while Christopher Nolan’s preference for film remains unchanged. While the aesthetic advantages of each format are hotly debated, most agree that digital’s role within the industry will continue to grow. The advantages held by the digital format in economy and practicality are vast, which would seem to suit the studios perfectly – as Martin Scorsese says, “anything cheaper and faster makes sense for the businessman.” However, the champions of film will not be swayed.

Christopher Nolan and his director of photography Wally Pfister assert that digital technology is not yet advanced enough to exceed the visual quality of film, and they are technically right – there is no medium which yields a higher resolution than 70mm IMAX film, which was used in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. However, filming in 70mm is incredibly costly. Its use is only justifiable in productions with stellar budgets, and even then it is limited to certain scenes. 35mm is still the predominant medium in feature films, and its quality is far more comparable to that of digital. David Lynch and Roger Deakins both consider digital to be equal or superior to 35mm film in its aesthetic, and Deakins even underlines the visual edge the Alexa Arri camera has over film. He explains that the film speed of the Arri allows far greater versatility in extreme light conditions, whether bright or dark. Deakins also believes that the deciding factor in Sam Mendes’ decision to film Skyfall in digital was the clarity that the medium gives the characters’ eyes. Skyfall is among the hot favourites for the Academy Award for cinematography, and if Deakins is successful the tenth time around, it will be a huge achievement for the digital format – three of the last four winners of the award will have been filmed digitally (Avatar and Hugo being the other two).

It would seem, then, that the issue of visual quality is unresolved. Everyone can agree that film and digital stock are vastly different media, and some go as far as to argue that only celluloid constitutes real cinema due to its full, organic look. They certainly have a point: if we reimagine some of the masterworks of cinema in digital – Once Upon a Time in the West, for example – instinct tells us that the result would not be as richly satisfying. Digital is, for now at least, best reserved for certain kinds of projects, whether that be the homemade feel of Cloverfield or the modern, night-time cityscapes of Drive and Collateral. The use of digital in The Hobbit, however, gave the film a sharpness and gloss which felt wrong – film is undoubtedly more suitable for period and fantasy pieces.

Aesthetics are only one of several issues which are central to the debate. The fact that filming in digital is more practical and cost-effective is near undisputable. However, the related issue of the “democratisation” of the filmmaking world is a more contentious one. While the ease of production allows people to create films who would previously have been unable to access or operate the technology, we need look no further than the music industry to see that, once a product becomes too easily produced, it also becomes easily digested and disposed of. There are worries within film circles that democratisation leads to popularisation of the ‘lowest common denominator’. The most viewed filmmakers on YouTube use silly special effects in daft action sequences – and the audience seems to lap it up. On the flip-side, however, a culture in which so many people have the means to produce a film must surely nourish the highest quality of art. Many of the most promising films in this year’s festival lineups were filmed digitally, and it is a fair assumption that some of them would never have been produced if not for the advancement of digital technology.

What must be understood is that film and digital are two entirely different media, and each one can communicate its message in a different way. While the look of celluloid has a certain magic to it, digital cinematography has begun to yield some fantastic results. Selecting the right medium is an artistic choice, and one that directors will hopefully continue to be afforded. The fact that digital technology gives opportunities to a whole new world of filmmakers can be construed in different ways – while it may be too early to tell, it would seem that the democratisation process will simply widen the gulf between true art and mass entertainment. Should we pick sides in what has been called the “battle between digital and film”? Not necessarily – above all we should support intelligent decisions on which medium is most suitable for conveying a particular film’s message.

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Opening with a 3D credit sequence that would make Gaspar Noé proud, Dredd 3D announces its presence with artsy dynamism. Drum & bass and electro rock the soundtrack, slow motion invades our senses and the film confronts us with Nicholas Winding Refn’s staple cinematic materials: colour and violence. Could it be that director Pete Travis has graced us with a comic book reboot for the Drive generation?

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, doing his best Clint Eastwood impression) is a futuristic cop who acts as judge, jury and executioner out in the field. The problem arrives when he has to run a trial mission with rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a strangely attractive female mutant with a shockingly low IQ. The justification for her trial is that she is psychic and therefore worthy of a pop.

Dredd takes Anderson to Peach Trees, a notorious 200-story tower block run by an ex-prostitute, turned drug baron named Mama (Lena Headey). Mama is peddling a drug called ‘slow-mo’ which makes the brain experience time at one percent its normal speed. Everyone in Peach Trees is hooked and Mama is indulging in torture, murder and general dictatorship.

Recalling Robocop and The Terminator, Dredd 3D like Drive is a modern take on the kind of film they made best in the 80’s. It also recalls The Raid, the stunning Indonesian martial arts flick that will certainly be remembered as one of the best of 2012. Both The Raid and Dredd 3D involve an assault on a tower block in order to dismantle the criminal mastermind at the top. Sadly, Dredd 3D falls down (no pun intended) when it comes to the gravitational pull of basic sense.

Rookie Anderson is an utterly confusing character. She is a mutant, yet we never understand how or why this makes her psychic and we never encounter any other memorable mutants throughout the film. The notion that Anderson suffers from a deplorably poor IQ also comes across absurd, since she is pretty smart.

The film is smattered with satirical lines, yet there is no overall focus for parody. Where Robocop mocked the corporate culture of the Reagan eighties, Dredd 3D looks purely at itself as the subject of ridicule, allowing for some truly shocking exchanges to slip in. The worst moment sees a cornered Dredd tell his adversary to “wait” before shooting, which provokes a bizarre diatribe from his opponent about why, indeed should he wait.

The film also fails to address the ethics behind the role of judge, jury and executioner. The film’s conclusion plays out with a potentially reckless move from Dredd, yet instead of building tension and moral unease director Travis opts for coolly irrelevant spectacle.

The fact that Dredd 3D falls behind its potential is all the more disappointing, given the things it does right. Pete Travis and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle photograph key scenes with an irrefutable flare, using the high-rise geography to present impressive firefights. The film’s use of 3D is also superior to much of late, particularly when illustrating the effects of slow-mo.

Dredd 3D is a welcome, vibrant contribution to the detritus of recent 3D cinema, but there is a fundamental sense of disappointment due to its hit and miss construction. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will iron out the problems and make for a 3D actioner that is properly prepped for “Judgement Time.”

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1) DRIVE (DIR. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN) – USA

Drive is a Hollywood film directed by a distinctly European director. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn rethinks the Hollywood crime thriller with minimal dialogue, strong colour, offbeat casting and an idiosyncratic soundtrack. While embracing it’s influences Drive also subverts numerous cliches and Refn shows a remarkable talent for crafting scenes that are emotionally gripping and utterly tense.

2) ANIMAL KINGDOM (DIR. DAVID MICHOD) – AUSTRALIA

David Michod’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished Australian equivalent to Michael Mann. Animal Kingdom tells the story of a naive young man in the midst of a dangerous crime family and the havoc he causes them. With an impressive cast including Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, Michod rarely puts a foot wrong, from the staging of each scene to his choice of music. Not only an extremely impressive debut, but a great Australian film.

3) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR. WERNER HERZOG) – GERMANY & CANADA

Werner Herzog has been working hard lately, with the release of Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into The Abyss premiering at various festivals in 2011. Out of the two unique documentaries Into The Abyss hits the hardest, with some of the best interviews Herzog has ever conducted. Probing the subject of death row Herzog puts together a restrained, yet unmistakably Herzogian investigation, which places moral  questions centre stage.

4) THE SKIN I LIVE IN (DIR. PEDRO ALMODOVAR) – SPAIN

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is an intriguing, intelligently structured and stylish film that successfully pulls the rug from under the audience’s feet in a manner that is as entertaining as it is unsettling. Almodovar blends classic horror with the themes he is famous for and gains great performances from his cast. Antonio Banderas turns in a dark, well judged portrayl and Elena Anaya brilliantly gains the audiences empathy within an utterly bizarre scenario.

5) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (DIR. WOODY ALLEN) – USA

Midnight In Paris sees Woody Allen at the top of his game. Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter (Gil), who aspires to become a novelist. He falls in love with Paris while on holiday with his fiancé (and her parents) and begins wandering the streets at night revelling in the city’s mythology. Upon meeting a number of unlikely personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali among others, Gil becomes far removed from his normal life to wonderfully Allenesque effect.

6) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (DIR. TOMAS ALFREDSON) – UK

Where Drive was an American production directed by a Dane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a British one directed by a Swede. Tomas Alfredson brings a distinctly Scandinavian approach to this classic cold war story. Like his vampire film Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor makes use of wide open spaces juxtaposed with dingy interiors to create an appropriate paranoia. Alfredson’s remarkable ensemble cast create numerous memorable performances, particularly Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

7) HUGO (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE) – USA

An ode to cinema by Martin Scorsese, Hugo tells the tale of French film director George Meilies through the eyes of a young boy called Hugo Cabret. Directed with a youthful flare by Scorsese, we follow Hugo’s journey to fix an automaton left behind by his late father, which leads him to a discovery of Meilies forgotten cinema career. The story of a young man discovering cinema and it’s possibilities for the first time is clearly one close to Scorsese’s heart; that’s why Hugo is such a good film.

8) DREAMS OF A LIFE (DIR. CAROL MORLEY) – UK

Dreams of a Life and it’s central character Joyce Vincent captured the hearts and minds of cinema goers this Christmas. Joyce Vincent died in 2003 in her North London bedsit and went undiscovered for three years. She had been a popular, outgoing and successful young woman who became increasingly alienated in the years preceding her death. Director Carol Morley investigates the circumstances that lead to Joyce’s death and meets with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and others to paint a portrait (using excellently performed reconstructions and talking head interviews) of a woman who no one would expect society to leave behind.

9) SNOWTOWN (DIR. JUSTIN KURZEL) – AUSTRALIA

John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer is the subject of Snowtown. Directed by Justin Kurzel, with cinematography by Animal Kingdom DOP Adam Arkapaw, this film is a gruelling telling of a series of crimes orchestrated by Bunting between 1992 and 1999. The film’s graphic style is tough going even for hardened film viewers, but Daniel Henshall’s intelligent and rounded performance as Bunting demands the audience’s attention. Along with Animal Kingdom, Snowtown shows contemporary Australian cinema in a very good light.

10) PINA (DIR. WIM WENDERS) – GERMANY

Wim Wender’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch contains perhaps the best use of 3D seen in 2011. The film, made after Pina’s death, sees Wenders stage the choreographers work in a manner that complements her work effectively. The juxtaposition of Pina’s choreography and Wender’s choice of locations, camera work and music creates a kind of posthumous collaboration, which functions as both a moving tribute to and preservation of Pina’s remarkable style of choreography.

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Honorary mention:

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Dir. Mark Cousins) – UK

A remarkable television series for Channel 4 telling the history of film in Mark Cousins’ unique style.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-story-of-film-an-odyssey

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In the UK 2011 has been quite a year for Ryan Gosling. Blue Valentine was released on the 14th of January, and then in September we saw the release of Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love. By late October The Ides of March hit the cinema screens, making it pretty hard to deny that 2011 is the Year of Ryan Gosling. Not only has Gosling dominated our screens by number of releases, but it is the quality of the films he has been involved in that really makes the difference. Drive was a directorial tour-de-force by Nicholas Winding Refn, which brought out the badass in Gosling. Blue Valentine was a raw and honest portrayal of the fate of a romance without the necessary maintenance. Crazy, Stupid, Love portrayed another failed relationship; this time Gosling took on the role of ladies man/dating coach, to hilarious effect.

This brings us to The Ides of March, a classy political thriller and George Clooney’s fourth feature as director. Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, an idealistic Junior Campaign Manager for the Democrat’s presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is convinced that Morris is the one man in America who can make a difference to the lives of ordinary people, stating “I’ll do or say anything if I believe in it, but I have to believe in the cause.” And he does believe in the cause, until he meets a young intern called Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and discovers something equivalent to his worst nightmares. From here all hell breaks loose, both within the campaign and within Meyers’ own system of values.

It is here that Ryan Gosling shows us the kind of rounded performance he is capable of. Having convinced us of Meyers’ integrity and idealism, Gosling soon makes the transition to a revenge driven individualist. Unlike Drive where Gosling internalised nearly every emotion, The Ides of March shows him reaching for more raw emotions; in this sense the film has more in common with Blue Valentine. The Ides of March sees Gosling playing wildly divergent character traits within the same character, to utterly convincing effect. With this film Ryan Gosling seems to have skilfully established himself as an actor of some authority, not just ‘one to watch’.

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