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American Gangster


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#1 Tom Lowe

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 07:12 PM

American Gangster was a good movie. Not great, but good. I'd say it's worth going to see at the theatre.

Judging from the trailer I thought the cinematography might be a contender for an Oscar or ASC, but after watching it, I think Deakins and the others can rest safe. I loved Savides' work on Birth a few years ago, and American Gangster is well very shot. It just isn't anything that special. It's playing in the same genre as Goodfellas and Scarface and The Godfather movies, so to impress us at this point, you;d have to really bring it. And this movie is not able to top any of the above mentioned in any way.

In terms of the story, it kind of felt like I have seen all of this before in other movies. There were a few nice, fresh moments, but overall, it felt too familiar. Even the casting of mob bosses and Asian drug lords was straight out of central casting.

IMDB doesn't have any techinical specs.

I'd actually choose Zodiac over Gangster, in terms of the photography.

Edited by Tom Lowe, 02 November 2007 - 07:15 PM.

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#2 Ronney Ross

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 08:39 PM

I got a chance to see this film and like you when I first saw the trailer I hyped about the release because I thought the cinematography would be over the top. It was good like you said but not great. I think they down played the part of Frank Lucas too much.

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#3 Shawn Martin

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 02:37 AM

All I heard is that it was Super 35. It's supposed to be the cover story of next month's American Cinematographer, so we'll know more then, I guess.

My brother saw the movie about a month ago and told me it was really muggy-looking and nothing stood out. Maybe that just colored my thoughts or something, but after seeing it on opening night I had to agree with him.
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#4 Daniel Carruthers

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 09:42 PM

I really liked this movie. I thought savides work really suited the material.
Im looking forward to reading next months asc artical.
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#5 Chayse Irvin

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 11:33 PM

I felt the same way tom. I can appreciate cinematography that doesn't draw attention to itself, however I felt the content of this movie could have really used some amazingly lit scenes with some grimy compositions. As far as story goes I wasn't really attached or routing for Crowe's character nor did I care for the corrupt cops; I felt if they should have shown more of his relationship with the victims of the disease that Frank was mass producing. They hit the right note with the image of a baby crying next to a mother that is so high that she cant move to nurse or calm the baby, I would have liked to see more of that. I would have loved to see that contrast in the lighting, glorifying Frank for a majority of the movie, then switching it on the viewer by showing them what is really happening outside of his home.
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#6 David Brickley

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 11:52 PM

I caught a sneak preview of American Gangster last month, during which I noticed the boom dropping into the frame in several shots through the course of the movie. I was curious if anyone else saw this in their screenings, or if it was cleaned up before the release date? I still want to catch it in the theatre again, but I wanted to hear if anyone else saw this.
-DB
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:08 AM

I caught a sneak preview of American Gangster last month, during which I noticed the boom dropping into the frame in several shots through the course of the movie. I was curious if anyone else saw this in their screenings, or if it was cleaned up before the release date? I still want to catch it in the theatre again, but I wanted to hear if anyone else saw this.
-DB


Sounds like the projectionist misframed the 1.85 area, with too much headroom.

The movie did not go through a D.I. so the booms are there, no digital removal -- they are just outside the 1.85 projector mask area, unless the projectionist does not properly center the image vertically within the mask.

It's not a mistake either -- if the movie is projected right, the boom should not be visible. I saw the movie and didn't see the boom dip into the frame.

You can see here how much area there is on the negative for the mic boom to be photographed but still outside the 1.85 projected area:

Posted Image

I only bring this up because it is a common problem -- a movie gets misframed during projection and you start seeing posts on the internet about why the boom was in the shot so often. Next time you see it, tell the projectionist to raise the image a little to get rid of the excess headroom.
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#8 David Brickley

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:20 AM

Sounds like the projectionist misframed the 1.85 area, with too much headroom.

The movie did not go through a D.I. so the booms are there, no digital removal -- they are just outside the 1.85 projector mask area, unless the projectionist does not properly center the image vertically within the mask.

It's not a mistake either -- if the movie is projected right, the boom should not be visible. I saw the movie and didn't see the boom dip into the frame.

You can see here how much area there is on the negative for the mic boom to be photographed but still outside the 1.85 projected area:

Posted Image

I only bring this up because it is a common problem -- a movie gets misframed during projection and you start seeing posts on the internet about why the boom was in the shot so often. Next time you see it, tell the projectionist to raise the image a little to get rid of the excess headroom.



Thanks David,
I assumed it hadn't gone through a D.I. since I was able to see the boom. I've never done a theatrical print, I had always assumed the picture in a theatrical print cut off with the 1.85 frame and left the "junk" out. Next time I'll have to run up to the projectionist and ask that he correct it.

Also a side note: you wrote the Cinematography book I learned from, a wonderful resource!
Thanks again,
-DB
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#9 Tom Lowe

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:48 AM

Haha, one thing I did notice in this movie was Crowe wearing a wireless lav mic. It takes place when he is at his shady friend's house with the swimming pool. Crowe is wearing a tight white tank top, and the lav mic pack is sticking out on his waistband on his back, totally visible and obvious. It's the worst case of having a lav mic visible in an actual big budget movie I have ever seen. I blame the editor, who should have been smart enough to cut around it.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:58 AM

One of the downsides of shooting scenes with multiple cameras -- the sound people have a hard time.
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#11 Bill Totolo

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 01:34 AM

I really felt Ruby Dee (aka Mama Lucas) out shined them all.

The movie could have been cut about 20 minutes for the story they were telling, I agree, some scenes did feel like a retread.

I'm glad Harris went the straight route and avoided crazy slow mo and all the attention grabbing devices we've become used to in this genre. To follow that path would have been cliche, the characters were enough flash, I think.

I much preferred "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead".
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#12 Daniel Carruthers

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 11:58 PM

Im really into what savides is doing.
I think its very refreshing, I mean is anything original anymore? but I think what hes doing looks great and is very stylish because not alot of people do what he is doing.
I just love seeing dark,dim looking images, where you have to focus and really look so almost like your eyes have to adjust to see into the shadows.
But that being said, when I look at my work I seem to be copying paul cameron or janusz kaminski, of course Im not even in the same league as them, but thats what my lighting tends to resemble, I guess??
American gangster, is one of the best films Ive seen this year, Im probly gonna see it again
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#13 Morgan Peline

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Posted 16 November 2007 - 08:09 PM

Hi,

I watched it tonight and really, really enjoyed it.

I really like the fact that the cinematography was subtle and didn't intrude on the story. In fact I became so engrossed in the story that I completely forgot about the lighting and all the other technical aspects. To me that's a sign of good cinematography; it fit the story. Oh no, I think my former tutors finally managed to brainwash me!

Nowadays there seem to be so many big budget movies which always seem to shout: 'Look at me!! Fancy lighting! Look at me!! I'm a contender!!' to the point where all you notice is the artifice rather than the story.

I also like the way the subdued hues harked back to the look of older film stocks sometimes or maybe harked back to how we think older films stocks used to look. Which specific ones though I don't know, I'm not old enough to remember...Ektachrome? Agfa?

I find it amazing how Denzel manages to play a bad guys sometimes yet still have you want to root for him. What an actor! Like he did in 'Training Day'.

A sound recordist once told me that when the boom op is able to get the boom in so close it is actually just above the 'line' it means he is really, really skilfull - this was when they still used to 'pan and scan' movies to VHS transferring 1.85 movies to 4:3 and you would notice the boom sometimes.
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#14 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 02:59 PM

A sound recordist once told me that when the boom op is able to get the boom in so close it is actually just above the 'line' it means he is really, really skilfull - this was when they still used to 'pan and scan' movies to VHS transferring 1.85 movies to 4:3 and you would notice the boom sometimes.


That wasn't 'pan&scan', rather it was real 'full frame'.
The entire Academy aperture was Xferred. The operator and boom man were suppossed to keep the frame "safe for TV", I.E. keep the mike and lights out of the the entire academy aperture.

In those Xfers mikes are constantly showing up in 'Sleeper'.

Once while walking through SF's China Town late at night, we came across a bus wreck being shot for 'The Laughing Policeman'. The DP was David Walsh, same as 'Sleeper'.
I overheard him talking with the operator and gaffer about an arc light in frame.
The light was flagged so it didn't flare but was still visible.
Walsh asked if it was in the 1.85 area, he was told no.
He says in that case leave it alone, he doen't care if it shows up on TV.

Though suppossedly, the mikes at the tops of frames in 'Lord Love a Duck' wer deliberate.
A parody of cheap fillmaking.
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#15 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 03:47 PM

I saw a digital print of this tonight and was blown away by how good it looked, possibly one of my favorite looking movies this year. I am in awe of how Harris Savides makes such beautiful work that looks so effortless and yet is still so distinctive. Between this and Zodiac i really hope he gets an oscar nomination this year.
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#16 Tom Lowe

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 06:25 PM

I saw a digital print of this tonight and was blown away by how good it looked, possibly one of my favorite looking movies this year. I am in awe of how Harris Savides makes such beautiful work that looks so effortless and yet is still so distinctive. Between this and Zodiac i really hope he gets an oscar nomination this year.


2K projection?

I prefer Zodiac myself.

I wish Birth had gotten a larger audience. His work in that film was amazing.

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#17 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 05:44 AM

2K projection?



Im pretty sure it was 2K.
Birth is one of my favourite looking films of all time. The opening steadicam shot with Alexandre Desplat's score gets me every time.
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#18 Bobby Shore

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 02:32 PM

here's a link to an interview with Harris Savides, well before American Gangster, but he says some really interesting things about being a cinematographer... http://www.movienavi....org/harris.htm

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#19 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 06:49 AM

Wow!

Film was OK, but Harris work on it was fantastic. He's just the most tasteful DP around, I think. And so brave. I just love how he shoots single source and just lets windows overexpose and bleed and reflect. Playing characters in silhouette. Lighting rooms but not people. Never smothering in backlight. Never over-tracking and going for showy frames. Never over-lighting. He's the true successor to Gordon Willis in many ways.

I also think he's the best at lighting night exteriors, bar none. I don't even know how he does it - creating a reflection in a 1km long strip of wet asphalt for a high shot without you feeling where the source is?

Just little things - there's a scene where Crowe's cop partner (it's a dialogue scene in the car when they're talking about returning the money) where he is totally unlit. He's just on the toe of the neg and you can barely make out his features. Brave. Cool. Refreshing. He even gets away with that on Denzel's character a couple of times.

Love it. I hope Harris wins best cinematography for this one, although I haven't seen Jesse James which apparently looks amazing. But I doubt it will be as brave as this one. I hail you, Harris!
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#20 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 28 December 2007 - 06:32 PM

I think "American Gangster" looks surprisingly consistent considering the low light levels and the underexposure & pulling being applied to the negative. Perhaps a few night interiors look thinner than the rest of the picture, but that's it. It's a lovely work, the best I've seen this year, and it fits the story very well.

It's interesting, because it may well be the first time the look of a Ridley Scott film belongs more to his DP than the director himself.
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