Thursday, June 30, 2011

Podcast Rollcall: Comedy Film Nerds

Genre: Comedy / Movies

What It's About: Cross-pollinating filmmaking and standup. The show centers on reviews of upcoming movies, as well as guest interviews and general pop culture conversations.

Why You Should Care: Founders/hosts Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini are both standup comedians who started out as (and continue to work as) filmmakers. Their insights and reviews are elevated by their film school educations and their personal experience as filmmakers. And of course, given that they're comedians, the show is always funny. If a statement like "Han shot first" has a special meaning in your nerdy little heart, this show is for you.

Frequency: Weekly

Average Length: 1 hour

As always, if you become a regular listener to a podcast that solicits donations, try to find a way to make the occasional contribution.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why "Avatar 2" Will Look Better Than "Avatar"

It's good to know I'm not the only one who's bored with 3-D movies.

Just like everyone else, I was delighted by the gimmick when it returned to prominence a decade ago.  In those days, there were only one or two major 3-D releases per year.  It was a fun little bonus to see a movie in 3-D; especially, I told myself, if that's the way the filmmaker intended me to see it.  And why not shell out a little extra to see a 3-D conversion of The Nightmare Before Christmas?  I'd already seen it dozens of times the normal way.

But it didn't take long for movie studios to abuse the trust and goodwill of their 3-D-adoring audiences.  The number of 3-D movies released per year grew rapidly.  Movies that were never intended for 3-D were lily-gilded with sloppy last-minute conversions (infamous offender: Clash of the Titans).  Increased ticket prices for drecky movies started to leave a bad taste in audiences' mouths, especially during a down economy.  Degraded picture quality and clunky plastic glasses became less tolerable.  And let's face it, the 3-D wasn't adding much to the moviegoing experience anyway.  So why bother?

At least that's the conclusion I reached a few years ago.  With very few exceptions, I've avoided 3-D like the plague.  And it's looking like the majority of audiences is starting to do the same.  This year, ticket sales for 2-D versions of movies are outpacing ticket sales for 3-D versions, casting doubts on the future of the format and pushing filmmakers to step their game up.  And the first to rise to the challenge appears to be James Cameron.

James Cameron has a history of pushing filmmaking technology past its limits.  He was an early adopter of computer animation, making then-jaw dropping use of it in The Abyss and Terminator 2.  He helped develop deep-sea cameras that could take better pictures under more extreme underwater conditions.  And whatever your opinion of Cameron's Avatar (I liked it), you have to admit that he did 3-D better than anyone before and pretty much since (although I've heard great things about Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams; and Pixar's "Day & Night" short was a smart use of the format).  Now, he's got his sights set on increasing the frame rate.  And this has me much more excited than 3-D ever did.

A quick, remedial film lesson: The standard number of frames per second since synchronized sound was introduced to movies has been 24.  24 fps is the lowest number you can have that allows enough physical space on a film strip for a synchronized audio track.  And, of course, you always want the lowest number of frames possible because the less film you use, the cheaper it is to make a movie.

But a lower frame rate also means compromised quality.  The more individual photographs you can squeeze into one second of real time -- the more visual information you're giving your eyes -- the more convinced your brain is going to be that it's observing reality.

Over the years, many improvements have been made to film itself.  Clearer, higher-fidelity pictures with more vibrant colors can be taken at faster speeds and with lower measures of light.  This has improved picture quality in movies.  But through it all, the frame rate has remained standard at 24 fps.  Now, James Cameron has said he "fully intends" to shoot the next Avatar at a higher frame rate -- either 48 or 60 fps -- taking the next step to add a sense of reality to the movie.

Now this is something I'm looking forward to.  This is something I'll pay extra for.  Roger Ebert once described a demonstration of a 60 fps movie as so clear, it was like looking out a window.  Cameron has taken it a step further, saying it "takes the glass out of the window.  In fact, it is just reality.  It is really stunning."

As someone who has never been stunned by 3-D, this is a movie experience I can't wait to have.  Mr. Cameron, let's get those cameras rolling!

(Originally appeared on Canon-McMillan Patch)