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Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Best Sounding Movies of 2018

It's been a fantastic year for sound in film, and as GeekRex's resident sound guy, I look forward to making my picks all year! The lineup of films is pretty awesome, and one of my picks has maybe the best mix in cinematic history. Hopefully this will open some ears and give you a peek behind the curtain into the insane efforts that sound professionals go to for the movies we love!

Alfonso Cuarón  - Director
Skip Lievsay and Craig Henighan  - Re-Recording Mixers
Sergio Diaz - Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
José Antonio García - Production Sound Mixer

Alfonso Cuarón’s newest opus really captures the magnificence of an ordinary life, how every life is full of strange, coincidental, scary, tragic, and even heroic moments. It is fitting, then, that he and his sound team crafted a film that is just as intimate in the aural realm as it is in the visual. The level of detail in the sound is pretty incredible; at any given moment, you are sure to hear a dog barking next door, a man walking down the street blowing a whistle, children playing a few blocks away, an airplane soaring overhead, and a radio playing on a nearby rooftop on top of what is actually happening just in front of the camera. The exceptionally rich ambiences are only made better by what I consider to be perhaps the most beautiful film mix in cinematic history. Skip Lievsay manages to keep every sound, from those ambiences to voices to footsteps, exactly where they should be in space around the viewer, even as the camera regularly does 360° turns. This brings a wonderful immediacy to every scene, as it places the viewer very firmly inside what’s happening.

There’s a moment when Cleo says something like, “This place looks like home. It even sounds like it.” Cuarón and co. have managed to create the sound version of his signature long take, and the results are sublime; after spending time with the movie, it begins to sound like home. Without a doubt the best sounding movie this year, and one of the best of all-time.

More about the sound of Roma:

A Quiet Place
John Krasinski - Director
Brandon Proctor - Re-Recording Mixer
Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn - Supervising Sound Editor
Michael Barosky - Production Sound Mixer

On the surface, you might think it would be easy to work in the sound department of a movie where the characters’ survival depends on them being silent at all times. What this means, though, is that because of the near complete lack of audible dialogue, the film’s entire soundscape is carried by ambience and foley. The sound team had to find ways to record the quietest sounds–like a piece of felt touching a board game–and make them audible and meaningful within the mix. The result is a mix that is rich with incredibly subtle detail, and one that really amps up the terror with the contrast between these quiet scenes and the intense ones. Like the loudness wars in modern music, modern films tend to not have much dynamic range (the range between the loudest sound and the quietest sound) because we’re taught to keep things at moderately consistent levels for the comfort of the listener. But that isn’t how life sounds, and the team behind A Quiet Place really understands that.

More about the sound of A Quiet Place

Mission Impossible: Fallout
Christopher McQuarrie - Director
Gilbert Lake and Mike Prestwood Smith - Re-Recording Mixer
James Mather - Supervising Sound Editor
Chris Munro - Production Sound Mixer

Action and war movies always take center stage in the sound categories at the Oscars, and there’s a reason: every bullet fired, every explosion, and every car crash has to be created and edited in place. For a film like Mission Impossible: Fallout, there are all those challenges and more. Here’s an example: the production sound team led by Chris Munro managed to actively record dialogue during the real high altitude jump and the real helicopter chase by hiding mics in helmets and even utilizing a military grade microphone that resides in a custom earpiece and records the voice through the bones in Cruise’s skull. They did this while also recording live surround sound effects that were used throughout the final mix. Another example: according to Supervising Sound Editor James Mather, every punch in the film is made up of about 20 different elements to achieve just the right impact. The result is a film that feels as real in the sound realm as its incredible stunts, and will certainly leave a lasting mark on how action movie sound is done.

More about the sound in Mission Impossible: Fallout:

Coralie Fargeat - Director
Cristinel Sirli - Re-Recording Mixer
Alain Féat - Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Zacharie Naciri - Production Sound Mixer

While the academy has come around to recognizing the sound achievements of sci-fi, those of horror films tend to be sadly overlooked, especially indie ones. Revenge is all about the impossible survival of a young woman who is pushed off a cliff, the the brutal retribution she doles out on her attackers, so there’s a lot of bloody material for the sound team to work with. From the sounds of ants and splintering wood as she gets herself off the sharp branch that has pierced her body, to the sizzle of searing flesh as she cauterizes the wound with a fire-heated beer can, the movie is full of hard-to-hear sounds. The surreal cave sequence as Jen struggles to maintain the focus to stay alive is particularly impressive, but the whole film is a study in awesome bloody sound design.

First Man
Damien Chazelle - Director
Ai-Ling Lee - Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Frank A. Montaño and Jon Taylor - Re-Recording Mixer
Mildred Iatrou - Supervising Sound Editor
Mary H. Ellis - Production Sound Mixer

While the film itself is a bit of a letdown after the successes of La La Land and Whiplash, from a sound perspective it is firing on all cylinders. The team worked to make the sounds of the original spacecraft as authentic as possible, but the goal was to make everything as intimate as they could, with something like Das Boot as the reference for the feeling of claustrophobia. The use of the astronauts’ breaths contrasted with the impossibly loud rocket launches are wonderful, and the creative use of sound to help sell when Armstrong is trapped in an uncontrolled spin really work. If nothing else, First Man is able to place the viewer squarely inside an important historical event in a way that feels authentic and real, and that’s worth a lot of praise.

More about the sound of First Man:

Ari Aster - Director
Lewis Goldstein - Re-Recording Mixer / Supervising Sound Editor
Tom Ryan - Re-Recording Mixer
Steven C. Laneri and Viktor Weiszhaupt - Production Sound Mixers

And the award for the sound effect I’ll never be able to get out of my head! Hereditary has some of the most disturbing sound design moments in any film I’ve ever seen, and in the two scenes I’m particularly thinking of (the car and the attic), you hear what’s happening before you see it, so the sound is crucial to the buildup. In addition to the great work done in the scariest spots, there’s a lot of subtle work done to help put the viewer on edge, from moving sounds and music around throughout the surround field to soft creaks in the house that hint that they are not alone. The team also worked carefully to provide different perspective throughout different rooms in the house, which really gives you a sense of space not usually present.

More about the sound in Hereditary:

Some Others Worth Mentioning:

The Haunting of Hill House - Easily the best sound in a series I’ve seen in quite a while, particularly in the incredible long take episode (read more here).

They Shall Not Grow Old - The monumental task of recreating the sounds (and voices!) of 100 year old World War I footage with incredible authenticity is worth a big shout out.

Blindspotting - One of my favorite movies of the year, and the sound in the dream and flashback sequences are super interesting and surreal.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse - Super fun comic booky sound design that led my wife and I both to remark about ‘that awesome sound that plays every time the Prowler shows up’.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 162: Our Top 5 Films of 2018

It's that time of year again, and we've got almost a full GeekRex crew to wrap up the year! We talk about each of our top five films for the year (spoiler: there's a lot of overlap), and quickly toss out our biggest movie surprises, disappointments, and resolutions for next year. See you all in 2019!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

ROMA takes SEFCA's top prize

As it's that time of the year, it's time to share another regional critics prize list: this go-round, it's the larger critical body of which I'm a member, the Southeastern Film Critics Association, made up of regional critics from Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and other Southeastern states. It's quite a crew!

This year, SEFCA awarded the Alfonso Cuaron film ROMA as Best Film, with THE FAVOURITE garnering runner-up status. You'll recall, the latter film won the top prize with the Atlanta Film Critics circle, which announced its winners just a few weeks ago.

Take a look below at the full-list, which is made up of some pretty formidable choices. Ethan Hawke and Olivia Colman both continue to come on especially strong, and it's starting to look like Cuaron's Best Director win may be a forgone conclusion. More to come!



Runner-Up: The Favourite

TOP 10


2) The Favourite

3) A Star Is Born

4) BlacKkKlansman

5) Vice

6) If Beale Street Could Talk

7) Green Book

8) First Reformed

9) Eighth Grade

10) Leave No Trace


Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Runner-Up: Christian Bale, Vice


Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Runner-Up: Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born


Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Runner-Up: Mahershala Ali, Green Book


Winner: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Runner-Up: Rachel Weisz, The Favourite


Winner: The Favourite

Runners-Up (TIE): Vice / Black Panther


Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, ROMA

Runner-Up: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born


Winner: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite 

Runner-Up: Paul Schrader, First Reformed 


Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Runner-Up: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? 


Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Runner-Up: RBG



Runner-Up: Shoplifters


Isle of Dogs

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


Alfonso Cuaron, ROMA

Runner-Up: Robbie Ryan, The Favourite


Green Book

Runner-Up: Blaze
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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 161: Reviewing ROMA and THE FAVOURITE

This week, Hannah and Kyle discuss Netflix's most ambitiously produced film yet, the Alfonso Cuaron-directed ROMA, and then we take on the new Yorgos Lanthimos' slice of satire: THE FAVOURITE. A double-header well worth talking about.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

THE FAVOURITE dominates the 2018 Atlanta Film Critics Circle Awards

Yesterday, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle (AFCC) hosted its second vote for year-end awards, and the results are in: our favorite is The Favourite. As you can see in the announcement below, The Favourite nearly swept, taking home Best Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Ensemble and Best Screenplay.

Other notable wins include Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director for Roma, Ethan Hawke for Best Actor in First Reformed, and Sam Elliott getting the nod for Best Supporting Actor in A Star Is Born.

Take a peek at the full awards list below, as well as the final tally of the group's top ten films. Another great year of cinema!

Atlanta Film Critics Circle Announces Its 2018 Winners

For the second year, the 25 voting members in Atlanta’s only dedicated city-specific critics group, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, has awarded its top films of the year.

The number one film this year is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s gender-bending tale of female jockeying for power during Queen Anne’s reign in 18th century England, The Favourite. Featuring a powerhouse female cast including Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, the film also garnered a Best Actress Award for Olivia Colman, a Best Supporting Actress nod for Emma Stone, as well as Best Screenplay and Best Ensemble Cast awards.

“The film is defined by incredible performances and a powerful rendering of the viciousness behind class divisions,” says AFCC co-founder Felicia Feaster. “Though set in the 18th century, there is clear resonance for our current age and the often brutal circumstances for women who are powerless and lack social standing in Yorgos Lanthimos’ trenchant rendering of gender divisions and power,” says Feaster.

Actor Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut A Star Is Born was the second of the top 10 films, with Alfonso Cuarón’s unconventional autobiographical tale Roma centered on his beloved housekeeper coming in third. Roma also netted awards for Best Foreign Language Film, for Best Director and Best Cinematography.

Other notable winners included Best Documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? which spotlights the revered PBS television program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” host Fred Rogers, who brought uncommon kindness, civility and a social conscience to his work with children.

For his role as a morally conflicted priest in the somber Paul Schrader-directed drama First Reformed, Ethan Hawke won a Best Actor Award with Sam Elliott garnered a Best Supporting Actor award for his turn as the older brother and surrogate father to Bradley Cooper’s country music star in A Star Is Born.

The AFCC also presented special awards for Best Breakthrough Performer, a category that was tied between Elise Fisher as the painfully awkward teenager at the center of the funny, poignant Bo Burnham film Eighth Grade and Grammy-winning Lady Gaga as the rising pop star in the musical melodrama A Star Is Born.

“Our list includes period dramas, inventive horror, commentary on religion, race relations and the environment, minimalist art-house fare, stark social media observations, sci-fi fantasy and a fresh take on the traditional Hollywood epic,” says AFCC co-founder Michael Clark. “It covers the gamut and I’m very pleased with the members’ collective enthusiasm.”

About the AFCC

Co-founded by longtime Atlanta film critics Felicia Feaster and Michael Clark, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle is an attempt to fill a void in the local film community and in the representation of Atlanta’s media on the national stage.
Composed of a dynamic mix of Atlanta-based critics working in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, the AFCC’s mission is to establish a national presence for a film critics group in Atlanta and to foster a vibrant film culture in Atlanta, already home to an exploding film industry production presence.
Founding members (critics living in and/or currently writing for global, national, regional and/or Atlanta metro area outlets) of AFCC vote in early December for the group’s annual awards.

Complete AFCC Award List

Top 10 films

2.       A STAR IS BORN
3.       ROMA
4.       A QUIET PLACE
8.      Tie: FIRST MAN

Best Lead Actor

Best Lead Actress
Olivia Colman in THE FAVORITE

Best Supporting Actor
Sam Elliott in A STAR IS BORN

Best Supporting Actress
Emma Stone in THE FAVORITE

Best Ensemble Cast

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón for ROMA

Best Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for THE FAVOURITE

Best Documentary

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Animated Film

Best Cinematography
Alfonso Cuarón for ROMA

Best Original Score
Justin Hurwitz for FIRST MAN

Tie: Elsie Fisher and Lady Gaga

AFCC Special Award for BEST FIRST FILM
Bradley Cooper for A STAR IS BORN

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Monday, November 19, 2018

BAFF 2018: Best Short Films of the Fest

This year's Buried Alive Film Festival has perhaps the best crop of short horror films I've seen to date! As always, if any of these sounds interesting to you, seek them out and support the filmmakers!

Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre
Dir. IIja Rautsi – Finland – 15min

I was thrilled to see the amount of fantastically feminist shorts at this year's festival, and this was one of my favorites. After a couple has a car accident, they are held captive by a bunch of men who cannot believe the woman is a horror fan. With my favorite jump scare of the whole festival–a man bursts through a door saying, "You're not a real horror fan! Name your top ten horror films!"–this one is super clever and painfully funny.

Should You Meet A Lady In A Darkened Wood
Dir. Daniel Stankler – UK – 4min

This animated short is totally gorgeous, done in a very classic looking animated style that feels incredibly Halloweeny. You can watch the whole film above, and if you're reading this, stop and watch instead. I'd love to see more like this!

Tuesday’s Crowd
Dir. William Kioultzopoulos – 20min

I'm generally staunchly against 'long' short films, but this one works very, very well. A fry cook who is having a bad night intersects with a couple gangsters in a night that gets increasingly weird. This plays like a sequence from an early Paul Thomas Anderson film, and is definitely worth seeking out!

Dir. Kate Dolan – Ireland – 9min

Another great feminist piece! After a man exposes himself to some women on the street, he finds himself being hunted by them, only now they have turned into terrifying cat-women. This is a fantastic concept that feels sadly relevant, and is the perfect kind of subject for a short film.

Post Mortem Mary
Dir. Joshua Long – Australia – 10min

This exceptionally well produced period piece sees a young girl in the 1840s helping her mother in the extremely creepy job of taking post-mortem photos. She is told to make a dead child seem alive, and the results are spine-tinglingly eerie. Definitely a prestige kind of short film, and one that seems ripe for feature adaptation.

Great Choice
Dir. Robin Comisar – 7min

I think we've found a well deserved successor to Too Many Cooks! This bizarre and hilarious film starts with a Red Lobster commercial from 1994, then rewinds the tape to see it play out again and again, with the woman becoming more self-aware that she's trapped in a loop each time. The awesome Carrie Coon (Fargo, Gone Girl) stars in what becomes a surreal, nostalgic nightmare.

Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix
Dir. Jennifer Proctor – 9min

Using only clips from other films, this film cuts through all the repeated motions of women in bathtub scenes in film (and horror movies in particular) history. We go from opening the steamy door, to dipping the toe, to drinking a glass of wine, all the way to the often bloody end. All the shots that are used (and overused) in these kinds of scenes create its own surreal, anxious narrative when placed together. This one could not have possibly been more up my alley, and belongs in the best experimental shorts blocks!

Riley Was Here
Dir. Jon Rhoads and Mike Marrero – USA – 15min

This somber, dark film takes a unique spin on the zombie genre and tells a very compelling story within that universe. In a world where the zombie outbreak was quelled and a vaccine was created, some extremists intentionally get infected as a sort of high. This is all slowly revealed in this excellently shot and tensely edited short.

We Got a Monkey's Paw
Dir. Aaron Pagniano – USA – 9min

This short film tells the story of two roommates: Zach is obsessed with occult adventures but Jakki is sick of it and looking for a way out. When Zach reveals he has a monkey's paw, their wishes (of course) go awry and cause all kinds of chaos, from time travel to 'mombies' (mom zombies). It's got a fantastic sense of humor, great performances, and some super clever gags, so I'm looking forward to what this crew does next!

The Buried Alive Film Festival happens in Atlanta, Georgia in November each year. Check out buriedalivefilmfest.com for details on next year's fest!
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BAFF 2018: Feature Films Overview

This year's selection of feature films at the Buried Alive Film Festival 2018 was easily the best I've seen in years. From an insightful documentary to neon gore, there was certainly something for every horror fan! Here is my rundown of all the features shown at this year's festival.

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