Grohl's rock doc and a movie that ain't 'Jack' without visual effects

While I was watching Hollywood's newest 3-D fairy tale re-imagining "Jack the Giant Slayer" the other night, one moment from last Sunday's Oscars telecast kept running through my head.

Bill Westenhofer, head of the Oscar-winning visual effects team for "Life of Pi," was onstage accepting the award for Best Visual Effects. After his thank-yous, he began to address a big issue in Hollywood: foreign subsidies destroying U.S.-based visual effects jobs.

Suddenly, he was played off by the familiar mounting cello strains of the "Jaws" theme.

Rhythm & Hues, an L.A.-based VFX house that worked on "Life of Pi," recently laid off hundreds of workers and filed for Chapter 11, while Digital Domain did the same thing last September. Outside the Dolby Theater, protesters held signs that read "Foreign Subsidies = No LA VFX Jobs" and "End The Subsidies War."

In order to compete with subsidies, these artists are forced to work for way lower rates, and it's not enough to support their businesses. After Ang Lee accepted his Best Director statue for "Life of Pi" and failed to thank the VFX artists that created so much of the look of his film, it prompted one industry professional to write the respected director an open letter.

Hollywood politics and creative accounting aside, "Life of Pi" was an absolute artistic achievement and one of the best films of the year. "Jack the Giant Slayer" isn't even in the same league, and probably shouldn't be in this conversation, except to prove one specific point: Sometimes box office grosses of movies depend on the work of these visual effects masters.

Without its computer-generated imagery, "Jack the Giant Slayer" is nothing; an absolute zero. The film is a by-the-books royal family/commoner romance with zero spark and a fantasy element sandwiched in as an excuse to lead up to an effects-heavy final scene where medieval giants raid a castle.

"Jack the Giant Slayer" is a crass attempt to pillage another widely known fairy tale ("Jack and the Beanstalk"), mold it into a typical modern plot type, and rely on talented VFX artists to provide the epic scope and "wow" factor. It's a giant step backward for director Bryan Singer, who won an Oscar so long ago for co-writing "The Usual Suspects" and helmed the exemplary superhero allegory "X2: X-Men United."

Capable actors like Nicholas Hoult (who was so much more effective in an almost wordless performance as a zombie, believe it or not, in "Warm Bodies"), Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Ian McShane are present, but they are merely window dressing for a script that's lacking in wit, warmth and actual drama. The expertly rendered giants, with three-dimensional detail right down to their nosehairs, are the real stars of the film.

Liberty Hall is hosting a special free showing at 7 p.m. Monday of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl's documentary "Sound City," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has been making its way across the U.S. in sparse, one-time-only independent screenings. The movie is also available to stream on VOD and Amazon, but nothing beats a theater screening.

"Sound City" centers on a defunct recording studio that helped provide the magic for such huge rock records like Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," Tom Petty's "Damn the Torpedoes," and Nirvana's "Nevermind," among others. Grohl explores the creative process of recording in interviews with these artists and more, including Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Neil Young, Trent Reznor, and Paul McCartney.

Not only does Grohl talk to other musicians about what made the rare analog mixing board at Sound City so special, but he attempts to prove it by recording an impromptu album with an all-star lineup. I'm not sure why Liberty Hall is showing the film free of charge. On its website, it says "WE LOVE YOU!" and I'm inclined to believe them.


Steve Mechels 8 years, 6 months ago

I was fortunate enough to see the "Sound City" premiere in D.C. a couple of weeks ago with about 200 other people, including Dave Grohl's friends and family. Grohl was there to answer questions and BS with all of us. This is a great show, entertaining and informative with quite a few laughs thrown in. Don't miss it if you love music history!

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