» Linotype: The Film

In the same vain as Helvetica, but seemingly more of an ‘indie’ endeavour, this Kickstarter-funded movie about Linotype, the almost lost art of traditional typesetting and the eponymous machine is almost done. Check out the trailer below, or visit their site. It may be interesting to those loving typography.

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»  Ten for Grandpa

If only all shorts were as well directed, captivating and sublime as this one! Loved it.

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2011.07.04

Collaborative. Digital. Action!

In 2008 Canon released the EOS 5D Mark II. This was the successor to the synonymous (Mark I) camera that made full-frame DSLRs accessible to people unwilling to spend a small fortune to get one — the EOS 1Ds usually costs around $8,000 when a new revision of it is released.

But it was also the beginning of a revolution that went well beyond still photography, redefining an ‘art’ that was, until then, totally barred to mere mortals; a revolution in cinematography. 5D Mark II, and a year later 7D, featured HD video recording capabilities with quality that rivalled that of high-end professional digital camcorders. Canon had a winner in their hands, even though, by their own admission, they never meant to create a tool for cinematographers, but allow photojournalists to take short videos. Many of the limitations of the 5D Mark II were removed by community firmware, such as Magic Lantern and Canon itself paid some more attention to later versions of the official firmware as well as the 7D.

An increasing number of (largely independent) cinematographers choose DSLRs to shoot shorts or complement the production of features. They’ve got the flexibility, the lenses, the features and the quality. Sure, there are still missing features and you wouldn’t expect a 5D Mark II to replace RED or the higher-end cameras out there, but for stuff that remain within the limits of HD they’ll do just fine — with superb results. The increased power of software in post (for syncing, grading, etc.) largely negates them.

The HDSLR (a misnomer that has somehow prevailed since 5D Mark II appeared in 2008) revolution is a bottom-up phenomenon; Canon never intended or expected it to happen. But the company is not standing idly by. In 2010 they commissioned a collaborative film contest titled ‘The Story Beyond the Still’, whereby different people collaborated by filming/producing a single chapter in a six chapter story. The winners were picked by a commercial Los Angeles-based director, Vincent Laforet, the film was edited and the final cut appeared in the famous Sundance Film Festival (and, of course, Vimeo) in January 2011. You can watch the final, complete film here (or below); despite the fact that the characters are played by different actors in each chapter, that they were completely shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D cameras, despite the fact that this is not a high-budget production, that it is the result of a collaborating community and not the work or vision of a single person, makes it — at least in my eyes — a unique achievement.

But it is much more than that; it is a prime example of how technology is making moviemaking accessible to a much larger number of people. We live at a time where anyone can cheaply create professionally looking films on a shoestring budget, distribute them for free on a website like Vimeo. Films that are artistic expressions in the truest sense, totally unrelated to the laws of the market, totally untouched by commercial concerns of profit, censorship or the star system. Films that compete on those classic values that made early cinema so intriguing, rather than the annoying techdemo exhibitions that define modern Hollywood.

Beyond The Still is not such a film. It is by no means a masterpiece, it doesn’t try to be and it probably couldn’t ever be one. It is, however, a fantastic example of what is possible with modern, accessible technology, love for film making and a collaborative spirit. It is proof that in 2011 independent film makers have little to be jealous of their commercial counterpartsm especially when it comes to the most fundamental aspects of film making: cameras, editing and distribution. I, for one, am looking forward to a world with more independent films, of higher production quality and fewer ‘stars’. Vimeo, and apparently Canon, seem to agree — even if their immediate goal fully remains within the realm of profitability.

You can watch the 38 minute film below.

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2011.03.04

Inside Job (2010)

The Inside Job (2010)The Inside Job is a documentary like few of its contemporaries: mainstream and accessible enough to win an Academy Award, yet sharp, piercing and well-researched enough to actually convince even the most sceptical among the viewers. This is a film narrated by an A-list hollywood star, Matt Damon, that dares to shred the current global economic system to pieces, along with the financial organisations that comprise it. A film that presents — in (perhaps over)simplified, digestible fashion — all those aspects of the financial crisis of 2008 that torment and dehumanise billions of people globally; that exposes the incomprehensible greed of those in the U.S. financial sector, the history behind financial deregulation from the 1980s onwards, the excesses, the abuse and the corruption that remains to this date unchallenged by the political powers, in the States and elsewhere, despite the damage the the system (not the crisis itself) has caused to both U.S. and European countries.

A matter of reputation

What really stuck in my mind after watching Inside Job, is how — throughout the film — the importance of credit rating organisations is highlighted and showcased in several occasions; organisations like Finch, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s that provide ratings for anything ranging from corporations, bonds and sovereign states. Corporations that gave AAA ratings to CDOs based on subprime mortgages, allowing them to be bought by large institutional investors with strict requirements with regards to their portfolio contents. Corporations that had a determining role in the ‘creation’ of one of the greatest global financial crises of the past century and that continue to do so, through collusion with large financial organisations and as seen through their effects in the recent — partly unfounded — rating downgrades of various european states based on their national debt.

Surprisingly, those organisations were not affected by the crisis, despite their role and their position in the market. When asked, they all stated that their ratings only reflect their ‘opinion’, somehow deflecting the real issue — their de facto institutional part in a system of ‘free market’ that is largely guided by them. Despite their monumental failing, their antisocial, anti-investor, borderline illegal masking of the true value of subprime based CDOs in the mid 2000s and up until the 2008 crisis, those organisations continue to provide ratings as if they have a perfect reputation. I cannot imaging any other profession or industry when a person or corporation has consistently failed so bad at their core function and have remained in business, let alone maintained a dominant position that largely determines the actions of the largest institutional investors and with them the market.

For someone without intricate knowledge of economics and the way the financial sector in the U.S. works, Inside Job is worth watching even if it were only for the interviews and the simplified explanations of the crisis — which occasionally border on oversimplification. It serves as an eye opener that showcases how little has changed since the 2008 crisis, how consistent the actions of recent U.S. presidents (including Obama’s) have been with regards to turning a blind eye (or even supporting) Wall Street’s reckless course for profit, how the system is still as fragile, dangerous and completely inadequate, run by the same people and organisations that caused the 2008 crisis and (un)regulated in the same way. If anything Inside Job is approachable and basically sound, which is more than one can say for most other works out there that often border on sentimentalist, populist drivel similar to Moore’s works or high-brow academic works that alienate the intellectually-challenged.

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» Urbanized

The latest film by Gary Hustwit (Helvetica, Objectified). Good to see he keeps working along the same lines. I found both of his films interesting, at the very least. Hopefully this one is going to be equally good (if not better).

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2010.08.21

Inception (2010)

Inception movie posterThe Thirteenth Floor. Existenz. The Matrix. Movies that more or less, in their respective segments, defined a time, set a trend. That was 1999 and while the first two movies became ‘cult’, mostly due to their lower budgets and respective promotion, the latter ended up being a megahit that drew praise from geeks, critics and philosophers alike, before the writers decided to sell out and botched the story and the universe they created with two poor sequels.

One basic premise of all of those films was the multi-layered existence of the characters, their ability to ‘live’ in mulitple worlds; usually, for the sake of audience comprehension, those worlds were limited to two: the ‘real’ world and a virtual one. A mechanism for moving between these two ‘worlds’ was presented and it always had to do with technology (technology being an easy way to ‘explain’ the impossible without going into much detail). Christopher Nolan could not have escaped the effect that those movies had, when he first imagined Inception in 2001, just a year after Memento, a film he directed and co-wrote, was met with great acclaim. Originally imagined as a horror film, Nolan decided to film Inception as a heist movie instead and this ended up being one of the most important decisions he could have made.

‘Inception’ is a ‘product’ of that first generation of Hollywood productions involving the multi-level existence of the protagonists, but it goes a step further: it marries a complex concept — that of a thief stealing ideas from people while they are dreaming — with masterfully simplified narration, intense action employed as a plot device, as opposed to an entertainment feature of the film, and a superficial, underdeveloped but fundamental to the story backdrop of human emotion. This movie is a brilliantly engineered hollywood blockbuster, rather than a cinematic masterpiece. Great entertainment, it ultimately lacks the originality, the depth, the masterful storytelling that would propel it to levels beyond those of a blockbuster; Action, emotion and scientific/philosophical components are amply sprinkled in support of an average story aimed to satisfy almost everyone watching it.

For those accustomed to brainless Hollywood films, Inception may seem brilliantly nuanced and complex. On the contrary, those trapped within the cinephile, high-brow notions of classic european films, will probably find the marriage of uncelebrated action to a deeper, more complex and, above all, ’emotional’ setting acceptably thrilling. In the end Inception is a film designed to be liked by the majority of its audience; and that is perhaps its greatest flaw, for it could have been a rare example of great contemporary cinema instead of a polished blockbuster for the masses.

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»  That Parade of Clichés that we call Cinema

Excellent, albeit over-the-top. But so are most Hollywood productions anyway. I mean over-the-top, not excellent. =)

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2009.08.31

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds PosterTo say that I’m no fan of Quentin Tarantino is no exaggeration. I find Tarantino gifted, but the gift lies not in his direction, his cinematography or his script-writing: it is his deep knowledge of the cinema and a twisted sense of æsthetics, ethics and bold storytelling fascinate and engage audiences and critics alike. But are his films worthy of the praise and celebration they’ve garnered over the years?

I think not. While Reservoir Dogs and, to a lesser extent, Pulp Fiction, introduced a fresh, raw perspective on crime films, a style that subsequently became Tarantino’s trademark, all of his later works, with the exception perhaps of Jackie Brown, were mediocre and shallow entertainment.

Inglourious Basterds is no exception. It is a very entertaining movie that satisfies a viewer watching it, having come to the theatre with zero expectations; it’s fun and easy to watch, its characters caricatures, more suited to a comic rather than a film, but nevertheless likeable and entertaining. But it’s far from what Tarantino subtly tries to make it: a big movie worthy of any sort of presence in Cannes, a brilliant story, whose script was worked upon for more than a decade, an epic portraying Tarantino’s idea of the racial and sociological status quo in World War II France. Basterds is not even close to evoking any sentiment or engaging the audience in this respect.
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