Cindy Bruchman

Films. Culture. History. Photography. Writing. Let's talk.

When CGI Works


I revisited Life of Pi (2012) the other day and focused on the magical realism offered by Computer Generated Imagery like the algae-glowing dream sequence when the young Pi peers down into the depths of the ocean. It became a launching point that represented a step in his spiritual journey; CGI became the eyes of the older Pi remembering his experience. Down we go, swimming with the whale, circling the creatures, encountering his holy mother, and acknowledging the truth that his family was dead, entombed in the gray ship on the ocean’s floor. The realities of life are harsh and the world dim. Magical parables and mysticism found in most religions help humans connect to a positive power. CGI functions as the visual wand expressing various religious dogmas, and in this film, CGI works. Do you have two minutes? I found The Daily (November 26, 2012) video explaining the making of this film interesting.

Generally speaking, movie buffs tend to either embrace CGI’s evolution in the past forty years, valuing the technological advances as mind-blowing fun, or they hate how the overuse of CGI has substituted style over substance giving us films with alternate realities that have come to ignore the wonders and beauty of real settings. For example, compare Avatar with Dances with Wolves.  It’s the same story. Which one is better? DWW, hand’s down. Also, there is a danger with hyped up, over-the-top, fantastical worlds. Young film goers who know nothing else but CGI accept it as the reality. They prefer the fantasy world over the real world. It is stimulating and entertaining living in a bubble. Real life is a drag in comparison.

Found on the Project Gutenberg Self Press site HERE,  from the timeline of CGI in film, here are evolutionary highlights about CGI:

1960s -1970s:  2D raster graphics and 3D computer graphics for animated hands, wire-frame graphics. (Westworld, Futureworld, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Alien)

1980s:  extensive use 3D CG, animated films, shaded CGI, music video, scanner and morphing. (Tron, Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing”, The Abyss, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

1990s: digital puppetry, fire, fur, digital animated film (Toy Story); detailed facial deformation (Fight Club, The Matrix); digital flowing water (Titanic); (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) first film to use CG extensively for thousands of shots, including backgrounds, environmental effects, vehicles, and crowds. Several CG characters stood along real actors in dozens of shots, making them the first CG “supporting” cast members.

2000s: Artificial Intelligence for digital actors, 3D motion-captured, computer animated films (The Lord of the Rings, The Polar Express, Chicken Little, Beowulf). The use of performance-capture to create photo-realistic 3D characters and to feature a fully CG 3D photo-realistic world, Avatar

What was the first CGI film to gross more than 1 billion dollars? Toy Story 3 in 2010. 

For better or worse, I acknowledge there’s no turning back when it comes to CGI. I assume the next step is 4D? Can you imagine going to the movies and being in them? What will the cinema experience be like twenty years from now? What CGI films worked for you?

Lucky 13 Film Club: December Topic

“The Evolution of the Femme Fatale” was a lot of fun to host. Thanks again, Bill, at The Cinema Penitentiary Diaries for being November’s featured conversation starter. What, you missed it? No worries. I’d love to know what you think. Read it HERE.

December’s topic is director Ang Lee and his films.

“I did a women’s movie, and I’m not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I’m not gay. I learned as I went along.”

“Sexuality is a big issue, but there are others – how much you commit to a relationship, to social obligation, to honesty and being honest with yourself.”

What do you do? 

Commit to viewing or revisiting one of his films and join in the discussion on December 13. My guest movie buff and conversation starter is STU, over at Popcorn Nights.




The Evolution of the Femme Fatale


Welcome to the Lucky 13 Film Club spotlighting the bad luck charm, the femme fatale. Virtuoso BILL WHITE at Cinema Penitentiary Diaries agreed to be the guest contributor this month. Thank you, Bill! He discusses her roots and fermentation through the 1960s:

Vamps, vixens, sirens, ghosts, wasp women, nightclub singers, faithless wives, …..If you are contemplating suicide by woman, you have plenty of options.  The femme fatale, or deadly female, has been a central figure in literature and myth since mankind developed an imagination.  In films, it all started in 1915 with Theda Bara as The Vampire in A Fool There Was.  And so many fools have since followed the deadly female to destruction, be it physical, moral, spiritual, economic, or social. Some, like George O’ Brien’s The Man, in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, F.W.Murnau), escape through love, faith, and redemption. Others, like  Emil Jannings’ professor Rath, victim of nightclub singer Lola in Joseph von Sternberg’s 1930 The Blue Angel, are not so lucky.

Annex - Dietrich, Marlene (Blue Angel, The)_02

Marlene Dietrich’s Lola has been a prototype for the predatory nightclub singer that has persisted for nearly a century, with Rita Hayworth’s Gilda one of its most popular incarnations.  By the time Janet Leigh’s Cherry showed up in the 1966 adaptation of Norman Mailer’s novel An American Dream, this character type had gone beyond both its Berlin Cabaret origins and film noir trappings to become a vengeful harridan of the deadliest order, with her final line, “What did you expect from a whore?” still awaiting an answer fifty years later.


But not all femme fatales are vengeful witches. In Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur) Simone Simon plays Irena, a woman who, terrified that erotic arousal will turn her into  murderous leopard, avoids sexual relations with her husband. Not so with Shirley MacLaine’s serial widow in the frothy comedy, What a Way to Go, who keeps marrying men who are destined to get rich and die young, although she doesn’t mean them any harm. Then there are the bad girls who prove deadly only to themselves when they try to reform.  Gloria Graham’s Debbie Marsh (The Big Heat, 1953, Fritz Lang) and Jean Peters’ Candy (Pickup on South Street, 1953, Sam Fuller)  are examples of tramps whose turning of a new leaf gains them nothing but a bullet in the gut.

sm_La fiamma del peccato_loc

Then there are the relatively decent chaps who are enchanted into a life of crime by sociopathic females. In Joseph H. Lewis’s Gun Crazy (1950),  Bart Tare (John Dall) loves shooting guns for the sport of it, but his girlfriend Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), loves killing people with them. Bart soon joins her in the killing, and they both end up dead.  But usually the victim of the femme fatale has a touch of larceny in his heart to begin with. It sure doesn’t take much for Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) to seduce Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into maximizing her husband’s insurance policy before knocking him off in Billy Wilder’s 1944 classic, Double Indemnity.

Wilder’s picture might be the model for subsequent film noirs on the order of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but it is by no means a universal standard by which to measure the femme fatale.   In fact, the beast comes in so many guises that I don’t believe such a standard is possible.  We have the biblical femme fatale, marvelously embodied by Hedy Lemarr in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Samson and Delilah,  the female ghost in endless Japanese tales, most memorably portrayed by Machiko Kyô as Lady Wakasa in Kenji Mizoguchi’s unforgettable 1953 classic Ugetsu,  Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, perhaps the most evil personage of modern drama, played by Ingrid Bergman in Alex Segal’s 1963 television movie, and the vampire heroine of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 gothic serial, Carmilla,  which inspired countless films beginning with Carl Dreyer’s 1932 Vampyr, and including Roger Vadim’s 1960, Blood and Roses, which starred his wife Annette.


The sixties continued with a further evolution of the femme fatale, including Francois Truffaut’s 1969 throwback to the noir era, Mississippi Mermaid, featuring Catherine Deneuve, as well as modern variations on the siren archetype in Monte Hellman’s 1966 western, The Shooting.  And as long as we have stupid guys and devious gals, the femme fatale will continue to evolve.

Cindy’s take on it:  1970s to the Present 

Sex-appeal is a common denominator with all femme fatales through the decades. She exudes a powerful spell–the anticipation of sexual passion via body language combined with an aura of mysterious detachment. It is a heavy perfume few men can ignore.

The Emasculaters 

They are out to punish. These heartless emasculaters get off manipulating others. Often, they coax out the worst in a male to actualize their perverted prophesy. After driving him to violence they justify, “See? I told you, all men are pricks.” Debra Winger in Black Widow (1984), John Dahl’s The Last Seduction (1994), and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992) are a few that come to mind.  

The Complicated 

If a Madeleine Elster enters your life, you better run for the hills. Confused and a little crazy, men feel drawn to them and become a little crazy themselves. In one scene they’re slapping them, and in the next, they risk everything to save them. Why? Because deep down, men feel the troubled sexpot will save them. In L.A. Confidential (1997), Veronica Lake look-alike, Lynn Bracken, played by Kim Basinger, fits this mold.  Michelle Pfeiffer has made a career by playing sizzling-and-confused to perfection.

For Freedom 

Surviving in a patriarchal world ain’t easy. Girls don’t wish to grow up to be prostitutes; they are pawns and victims of male predators. Some femme fatales use their beauty to acquire eventual freedom from their oppressors. No better examples for this category exist than Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (1974) or Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). 

The Kick-Ass Present 

After Linda Hamilton’s performance in Terminator 2, a redefining of sexiness pushed femme fatales to a level of ultra-independence. As genders have become androgynous, in the last 15 years, the femme fatale has changed. She has become a super-hero (or villain).

Sexy and proud, she controls her own life. She can think and fight. She can kill as well as GI-Joe. Gone is vulnerability and dependency on a man. Do you agree?

My favorite femme fatale is Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946). Who is yours? 

How do you see the evolution of the femme fatale


Wes Anderson the Absurd

#27 Cussing photo of director Wes Anderson on the set of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

The director/writer has a cult following and a hefty percentage of people who just don’t get him. This is indicative of his work, for Anderson’s films are full of contrasts and absurdities. There is an eloquence to his symmetrical staging of nature and characters like viewing artwork in a gallery.  Also, there is a jerkiness to his presentation with frozen pauses and delayed deliveries in contrast with ramped up movement and chase scenes of the collective. His dark themes contrast with brilliant colors, unnatural and creepy, like watching a cartoon. His characters are buffoons who grow on you because their intentions are noble while their schemes are ridiculous and violent. Above all, I like the intimacy of his films; his much-favored center shot places me in the front row before the proscenium. I breathe the plot and see the shimmer of sweat on the performers before me. Like a magician, Wes Anderson has suspended disbelief, and I am entertained.

theater of the absurd in which standard or naturalistic conventions of plot,characterization, and thematic structure are ignored or distorted in order to convey the irrational or fictive nature of reality and the essential isolation of humanity in a meaningless world. 

One could argue Wes Anderson has modified the characteristics from the theater of the absurd and adapted it to his filmography. Is Wes Anderson a modern twist of Friedrich Dürrenmatt? I would love to see Anderson create a film adaptation of The Visit.

Anderson’s stories feel fragmented and bizarre, yet end up cohesive and imaginative. He has a knack for including violence and profanity into his world, and it doesn’t feel offensive. There’s a boyish charm to his stories, as though Anderson was a precocious seventh grader and never grew up, but with adult sophistication he now has the power to revisit the bullies, dogs, and authority figures and make them look ridiculous. Sweet revenge. Check out this great vimeo by Dávid Velenczei:

In The Fantastic Mr. Fox, he removes all profanity and inserts the word “cuss”.  This makes his character quirky and fun to listen. If you listen closely, all his scripts are full of puns and innuendos and satire. Anderson is one of the few directors who spreads out this talent and shares it with an ensemble cast. It’s not the principal character that’s great. It’s all of them.

You can count on his motley crew to stay put at an isolated setting. An apartment building. A train. A boat. A school. An island. A farm. A hotel. You can count on an elaborate chase scene and a fight. You can count on a quirky, perfect score of random hits and no CGI. And an askew happy ending.

It’s difficult to say which is my favorite. I hear his next film will be another stop-motion film about dogs. I loved The Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I’m all for it.

What do you think of Wes Anderson? 

Lucky 13 Film Club: The Evolution of the Femme Fatale

You don't have to be brilliant here. Just voice your opinion.
Glad you’re here. What are your thoughts?

In ten short days, it will be November 13, and time for the monthly discussion at Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. My blogging guest is FILM CRITIC BILL WHITE, who knows more about films than anyone I know. As my guest conversation starter, he will be focusing on the concept of the femme fatale pre-1970, while I will focus on her from 1970 to the present.

What do you have to do?  

Commit to an initial viewing or a revisit to a film featuring the femme fatale. 

What power does she exude?

Has she changed over the years?

Who is your favorite and which film?

All are welcome on the 13th of November to participate. See you soon! 

The Revenant and History

Punke's novel is a page-turner
Punke’s novel is a page-turner

Michael Punke’s historical novel, The Revenant, is a true page-turner accurately depicting the historical climate of 1822 on the American frontier and the Missouri River. It highlights the true account of frontiersman, Hugh Glass. In preparation for seeing the film with a limited release on December 25 and a wide release date of January 8, it is the January topic for the Lucky 13 Film Club. Would you be interested to volunteer as a guest conversation opener about an aspect of this film?

Before watching the film, I wanted to read the book. The prose of the grizzly attack is gripping as the bear slashes Glass’s throat, nearly scalps him, and leaves gashes on his back which become infected with maggots. This is the debut novel from international trade lawyer, Michael Punke, and his descriptions are impressive.

DiCaprio as Hugh Glass
DiCaprio as Hugh Glass

Abandoned by fellow crew-mates, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass sets out and crawls 350 miles to regroup at a fort before setting out to seek his vengeance. From the trailer, it looks like the script will include Glass’s lost son and this motivation propels Glass as avenger. I’ve never had a problem with film adaptations taking liberties. They are two separate texts I critique independently. I do recommend the book; it’s a quick, satisfying read. 4.8 out of 5

With Tom Hardy playing the antagonist Fitzgerald and Alejandro G. Iñárritu directing, the trailers suggest a realistic approach to the cinematography and has me itching to see it on the widescreen. You can read more about the film including watching the trailers found HERE.



In September, strong storms rolled through our Arizona valley. We live on top of a hill and when the lightning struck, the water pump blew and in spite of surge protectors, all our electronic components fried. A decade of pictures, the manuscript of my first novel, and all my files were gone. Yesterday, three bolts hit our hill. Yes, history repeated itself in a matter of a month and destroyed all that we had replaced.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were roughing-it in Colorado, camping. When the frost dampened our tent, and we shivered inside our heavy sleeping bags, and the coyotes started howling right next to us, I felt vulnerable and exposed and wished next time to stay in a lodge because I missed the comforts of home. Last week, our landlords informed us they were selling the house, and we needed to vacate the premises as soon as possible.

I study and teach history for a living. And what it has taught me about the present is how temporary life is. Our relationships alter, our jobs and goals change. Dreams pursued are either squelched, missed or acquired. We humans are in a constant state of transition. Whatever we build, crumbles. Whatever we think we own, evaporates. Stuff is just stuff. Ready or not, time marches on.

Survival stories like The Revenant remind me how easy I have it today than in 1822; to complain about my “bad luck” seems ludicrous. Books and films of history remind me how noble our ancestors were. How they survived despite the odds or how tragic their deaths. I don’t have maggots crawling out of my back after being pulverized by a Grizzly. This sounds disparate, but it helps cool the sting when I am standing in line to buy another computer and television.

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