Batman v. Superman and the Perpetual Second Act

Even after the 29% Rotten Tomatoes score and the Ben Affleck meme going around, I still managed to fight the crowds of a busy Friday night to see the Bats punch out the Supes.

I really believe there is a bit of critical conspiracy against Zac Snyder and the Nolan-esque grim realism comic book style. I loved Watchmen when it came out and I still regard it highly as one of the best comic book films ever made despite what the internet thigns. I’ll cut right to the chase and say that Batman v. Superman wasn’t a great film but I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoyed Avengers II: Age of Ultron (which got 75% on the RT meter) and a whole lot more than the disaster film Man of Steel.  If I had five stars to give, I’d hand it three.

Now Kiss!!!

Now Kiss!!!

Still the poor critical reviews haven’t slowed down the box office. Bats v. Supes is now in the record books as having the highest March opening of $170 million domestically and the highest grossing opening weekend of 2016 so far. Internationally, the two DC titans have brought in $424 million, the fourth highest opening for a film ever.

So there seems be a disparity between critics and audiences – it’s cool to be jaded online about all the failings of the film but the DC property is really valuable despite the all the attention (at least in films) being focused on the Marvel universe. Walking around the mall waiting for the show to start, I saw dozens of people donning Batman t-shirts, it didn’t register to me that they were here to see the film till much later.

Truth be told, I am not a comic book geek. I have never read a comic book in my life – but I have watched all the Batman films and much of the television shows. Superman hasn’t been my favorite character but I did have a love affair with Teri Hatcher in sixth grade over the first season of Lois & Clark… unlike the stars who still look great, that show hasn’t aged well.

But I digress… as Marvel and DC push their films from outings into a part of a larger “universe” (here in trying to introduce the members of the Justice League) we run the risk of being stuck in a perpetual 2nd Act.


I learned of this term listening to a Kevin Smith podcast as describing the story arc of a comic book hero. Origins stories are your Act One – once those are done, the comic books have to constantly hurl the heroes into new and more troubling low points. It never stops: if you deliver a satisfying ending, comic book sales for the next one stop.

So >MAJOR SPOILER<  that’s why when Superman dies at the end of Batman v. Superman I felt nothing. The funeral scenes, the ceremonial 21 gun salute – it all meant nothing because we know he’s not going to stay dead. He’s Superman you can’t kill Superman. >END SPOILER<

I can see that as a real potential problem facing these large scale comic book franchises. The more connected each film is going to be to the larger universe, the smaller the climax becomes and the less valuable the journey. James Bond has been able to skirt this problem by just avoiding timeline continuity all together. A more recent example is Mad Max: Fury Road which takes a title character from 3 other films and puts him in a completely self contained story with a great climax. Two other Marvel movies Antman and Deadpool (which is easily my favorite Marvel film) don’t have the weight of the big heavy MCU machinery to bear and are allowed to have their own story with achievable stakes. So it’s possible to compelling narrative in the frame work of these comic book universes, but the big tent pole milestones like Captain America: Civil War just feel like yet another grind through another Act 2 – the big draw is to see your friendly neighborhood Spiderman out of the hands of Sony.

What am I ultimately getting at with this post? As DC and Marvel set up these large multi franchise Universes, the general appeal of the films will get lower. We have to have smaller stories with more focus.  In The Dark Knight, the Joker only blew up a hospital – now days every outing is on the brink of armageddon. There’s only so many times you can blow up Metropolis before people start moving away.

How Alfred Hitchcock Blocks A Scene

The Nerdwriter breaks down a scene from Hitchcock’s Vertigo to look for story clues in the blocking.

I’m always troubled by these kinds of “readings” of movie scenes for two big reasons: (1) it assumes that Alfred Hitchcock was entirely responsible for the blocking and (2) that only Alfred Hitchcock is capable of that kind of blocking.

Hitchcock Blocking

First of all, when you go to block a scene you have to work with actors – the dance choreography of a scene like this always requires collaboration between actors and the director – the director does not dictate every movement and every gesture – that is the actor’s job . Hitchcock may have told Stewart to act casually in character and Stewart brought the looking around the room and gestures – the actors always bring a lot to the blocking table. Where the director is solely the master is in the camera positioning and shot choice and even then some collaboration with the director of photography is expected.

Secondly, this scene is key to Vertigo but there isn’t anything that terribly uniquely Hitchcock about the blocking. There were a lot of great theatrical style directors working in the time frame. I know we use Hitchcock as a way to get people’s attention, but this style of blocking isn’t terribly hard to do and it’s something that most directors are capable of.

Still the video does draw a lot of good points worth looking at – especially on angle and camera movements.



Face Swapping Technology Means You’ll Never Know What’s Real Ever Again

What if you can realistically control an actor’s face using only a basic webcam? The technology is quickly coming thanks to the researchers at Stanford University who just released a paper and video on some amazing real time face capture and Reenactment software.

From Video description:

We present a novel approach for real-time facial reenactment of a monocular target video sequence (e.g., Youtube video). The source sequence is also a monocular video stream, captured live with a commodity webcam. Our goal is to animate the facial expressions of the target video by a source actor and re-render the manipulated output video in a photo-realistic fashion. To this end, we first address the under-constrained problem of facial identity recovery from monocular video by non-rigid model-based bundling. At run time, we track facial expressions of both source and target video using a dense photometric consistency measure. Reenactment is then achieved by fast and efficient deformation transfer between source and target. The mouth interior that best matches the re-targeted expression is retrieved from the target sequence and warped to produce an accurate fit. Finally, we convincingly re-render the synthesized target face on top of the corresponding video stream such that it seamlessly blends with the real-world illumination. We demonstrate our method in a live setup, where Youtube videos are reenacted in real time

Check out the project page here:

3d Transform Pipeline

What is a Timeline – Editing Basics

We all got to start somewhere… The Basic Filmmaker covers the basics of timeline editing – what is a timeline and what does it mean.

Do note that if you are working with a 29.97 fps sequence which is a broadcast and television friendly frame rate (really you should always be using 29.97 if you’re shooting 30 fps and 23.976 if you’re shooting 24p), then the frame after 00;00;59;29 should be 00;01;00;02 because of something called drop frame. This “leap frame” is just the timeline compensative for the extra .03 frames gained every second – after 60 seconds the time code is ahead by 1.8 frames – so two frames are dropped now putting the time code .2 frames ahead. This continues 9 times until the 10th minute when there is no drop frame when 29.97fps and 30fps match perfectly.


Keynote with Mark Duplass from SxSW

Mark Duplass, a director, actor, writer, and producer, discusses the migration of filmmakers to television, to the emergence of VOD and its impact on micro-budget film. Duplass has eight pieces of advice for those who want to start a career in filmmaking. He also talks on the changing models of film and television distribution/production, how those changes affect those in the independent sphere, and why carving out your particular corner of the sandbox is going to be the key to maintaining creative control in the future.

Mark Duplass

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