Sunday, May 25, 2008

Help! We've been attacked!


An article recently surfaced which caught my friend's attention and he asked me to comment on it. The article is

Here's my response:
I think this guy has 8 or 9 articles that he merged into one and makes a lot of generalizations which don't generally hold true. You have to read it, however, like a big textbook and agree with some and disagree with some. If the guy wanted to make sense, he should have stated that his article was targeting a specific type of blogger rather than everyone except for himself. For example, I loved Bobby and Darjeerling Limited and promoted the hell out of them, which are two movies he likes.
I also think Premiere was a great magazine (which is ironic because the author hates it) and I mourn its death as much as the next guy. I actually don’t particularly want to be a “blogger” and really want to be in the print media anyway. This started out as a way to promote my stuff so that I might get hired in the print media, and I would gladly seize doing this at once, if it meant that someone in the print media who I am a fan of, could keep their job.
I think it's very sloppy to imply that Ebert has never contributed much. Yes, Ebert the TV critic just does thumbs up or thumbs down, but in writing he has great insights and he is constantly stressing to his readers in his Q and A not to pay too much attention to stars. I agree that a lot of criticism boils down to "Is the film good or bad" but that's mostly in the world of print media, anyway, because print media caters to what the everyday Joe wants to know which is "should I see this movie?” But the internet sites have the advantage along with more in-depth journals and academic literature of analysis.
He might be right that historical context is missing from the great majority of film criticism. I think that's one of the most important things you gain from studying movies is understanding history (and not film history but actual history) better. There are courses in most film curriculums that focus on movies and society, however.

Here is his list of ten things which film bloggers and other critics make the mistake of doing:
1)“The Three Amigos” Iñárritu, Cuarón and del Toro are Mexico’s greatest filmmakers while Julian Hernandez is ignored.

Yeah, sorry never heard of Hernandez. Just like every member of the public I can’t know of every person who’s ever picked up a movie camera and made a film. I’m not making a conscious decision to denounce him. If you want to promote Hernandez, fine, great. Point taken. You might also have a point that as amateurs we don’t have access to someone like Hernandez, but that’s hardly a new discovery.

2) Gus Van Sant is the new Visconti when he’s really the new Fagin, a jailbait artful dodger

Gus Van Sant isn’t that much of an auteur, I personally don’t care for him, but more to the point, he’s not the central point of a lot of discussions. In terms of a couple of his films I know of, Finding Forrester was primarily a Sean Connery vehicle and Good Will Hunting’s autuers, at least in the eyes of the public, were writer-actors Damon and Affleck who initiated the project. So to me, you might call me in agreement with you. I don’t really know who Visconti and Fagin are, sorry.

3) Documentaries ought to be partisan rather than reportorial or observational.

I think that people tend to place partisan labels on a documentary that the documentarians don’t see themselves. I also feel that Armond White shows his blog himself, person is biased against the “liberal elite” or whatever. When he writes. “but it is the shame of middle-class and middlebrow conformity that critics follow each other when praising movies that disrespect religion, rail about the current administration or feed into a sense of nihilism that only people privileged with condos and professional tenure can afford,” he clearly can’t avoid his own partisan biases either, which I think is worse when he’s trying to suppress other people’s right to voice their own opinions.

Nevertheless, I think the view of most critics is that documentaries come in all shapes in sizes: A documentary can be partisan or non-partisan, so long as it doesn’t try to pass itself as the wrong category. The current beating the HBO film “Recount” is taking, is an illustration of that point, since it’s far less observational than it claims. I think Michael Moore, which I imagine White is referring to since a discussion about documentaries can’t possibly exclude the most influential and commercially successful one of the decade, is fairly handled by critics. Most critics advise their audiences to take Moore with a grain of salt, knowing he has a clear partisan bent.

4) Chicago, Moulin Rouge and Dreamgirls equal the great MGM musicals.

Well, I am somewhat of an expert on musicals so I can answer this. First off, there’s hardly any agreement on whether Chicago or Moulan Rouge is the true second coming of the musical. There’s plenty of people who hate Chicago and like Moulan Rouge and plenty who feel the opposite. Dreamgirls is generally considered as a respectable follow-up by Condon to Chicago, treated adequately by the awards season: A proverbial “6th nominee” that feel just short of making the final five. I don’t think much of the literature on Chicago and Moulan Rouge as the revival of the musical is saying that Chicago and Moulan Rouge equal the high point of MGM but they revived the musical and made it marketable again as evidenced by the fact that after 2002, the genre was able to be marketable and Broadway adaptations (Rent, Producers, Dreamgirls), remakes (Hairspray) and all sorts of experimental films (Across the Universe and Sweeny Todd) were able to make it to theaters. If you look at the AFI list of top 25 musicals recently released, Chicago and Moulan Rouge were on their but towards the bottom, behind the great MGM musicals.

5) Paul Verhoeven’s social satire Showgirls was camp while Cronenberg’s campy melodramas are profound.

I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t think Cronenberg’s melodramas are profound. He does a good job at creating tension and makes a good thriller (are you referring to History of Violence and Eastern Promises?) but I don’t know by what criteria you call them campy. Showgirls was rated X and I was like 11 when it came out, so I didn’t see it unfortunately. Should I catch it on DVD or so, so I can enter into the conversation?

6) Brokeback Mountain was a breakthrough while all other gay-themed movies were ignored.
No, anyone who follows the Oscars is aware that Transamerica and Capote were honored well-enough. This might have been a complaint perhaps a decade ago when Ian McKellan from Gods and Monsters lost to Hillary Swank.

7) Todd Haynes’ academic dullness is anything but.
Again, I don’t think people are analyzing Todd Haynes in an auteur sense. I think people saw merit in Far From Heaven and I’m Not There (although I’m Not There had fairly mixed reactions).

8) Dogma was a legitimate film movement.
I think you mean “Dogme 95” but nonetheless, I think there’s a great deal of filmmakers who find Von Trier’s films insulting and nonsensical, and surely the general public feels antagonized by him even more. Whether it’s a legitimate film movement is not really for us to judge. That’s like judging whether you have a legitimate article. It’s an article you wrote, but does it say good or bad things, well that’s the debate. I think Dogme 95 creates more constraints on the filmmaking than its worth (he had to break some of his own rules to make Dogville), but at the same time, I think some of his ideas have some merit and some don’t. I also think it’s clearly worth studying the movement’s context in history just as you say.

9) Only non-pop Asian cinema from J-horror to Hou Hsiao Hsien counts, while Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Stephen Chow are rejected. 10) Mumblecore matters.
Don’t know much about Asian cinema, so I won’t respond. Don’t know what mumblecore is.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I believe there's such a thing as too much George Clooney

I don't know about anyone else but I am so sick and tired of hearing about George Clooney. Don't get me wrong, I don't really have anything against him: he has been in some good movies lately. I think very highly of Syriana and Michael Clayton, and he seems like a nice guy, but there have been a constant stream of articles coming at me for 3 years, all virtually saying the same thing: George Clooney is great, he's selfless, he does charity work, as if he's the only actor in Hollywood ever to be good-looking AND promote good causes.

Time Magazine recently had an entire cover story on Clooney with teases like "what are his secrets to success?" "how does he do it?" I already know the answers to these questions:

He does it because he doesn't take himself too seriously, he owns a lot of money and a condo in Italy, is friends with Brad Pitt, he has a famous show business aunt, he likes movies from the 1960s and feels passionate about how movies can carry political messages blah, blah, blah.

It's the same interview over and over again.

Here's the way Hollywood stars generally work: Sometimes, a star does something really great and breaks out (i.e. Jamie Foxx in Ray, Jonny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Helen Mirren in The Queen, Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain) and they're the focus of a lot of attention for a while and then the buzz generally dies out while newspapers and magazines write about other people. A way to really break out is if you have two movies close to each other or within the same calender year: Seth Rogen had Knocked Up and Superbad pretty close to each other, Jamie Foxx had Ray and Collateral, Michael Caine had a "career resurrection" with Weatherman, Bewitched AND Batman Begins; Leo DiCaprio had Blood Diamond and Departed.

This enables a magazine writer to not just conclude that the breakout star had a good performance but that he's on a roll.

Back to business: George Clooney had a breakout period in 2005 when he released Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck: Two movies that were message pictures. The themes of Good Night and Good Luck which Clooney directed, wrote, and everything else was: 1) the Red Scare was bad 2) Edward Murrow was good and 3) All journalists suck today. Syriana's theme which Clooney didn't write was that oil was a big and complicated issue.

Anyway, this period where the press becomes infatuated with a star usually lasts for a short while (it culminates into orgasmic proportions around the end of the calender year when magazines and newspapers do entertainers of the year-themed issues), but the press has been infatuated with George Cooney since 2005 and it's become a love affair that has to stop.

I know that Clooney is a charming and nice guy, but this is not news after constantly telling us this for 3 years. Unless he's done something new, like develop superpowers, I do not want to hear it. And Clooney, you're not helping either. Stop hogging the spotlight, and dominating press interviews for films like Ocean's 13 and Michael Clayton when you're clearly not the best actor in the film.

But back to the press: If you still insist on covering George Clooney, how about talking about Darfur. That's this region of Sudan that your boy George is apparently doing something to help make peace or facilitate, or something like that. I don't really know because you never really tell me that: all you tell me is that George Clooney is such a dreamy and great guy because he helps with Darfur, yet I haven't learnt a single thing about what's going on in Darfur from any of these articles since George-mania has struck. Off the top of my head, didn't Jane Goodall do a lot of charity work in Africa for her foundation. Do articles about Jane Goodall talk about how great of a person she is or do they just cut right to the chase and talk about the charity work.

Other examples of Clooney overkill:

The Washington Post wrote an article after the Oscars that reported "George Clooney, who has recently replaced Jack Nicholson as the big man in Hollywood, was on hand at the Oscars....." I'm sorry, how is this objective reporting? By what standard has Clooney replaced Nicholson? Why does George Clooney even need to be mentioned in the article, if he didn't even win anything? George Clooney was nominated but seemed like a pretty poor sport throughout. He was probably the 4th or 5th most talented nominee in the field yet, he kept spouting off about he pissed off he was about how he was going to lose to Daniel Day-Lewis, as if Jonny Depp and the others wouldn't have also beaten him. George Clooney was also on a ridiculous special by Oprah at last year's Oscars, where 6 Oscars winners interview each other. Clooney had an interview with Julia Roberts. Don't Julia Roberts and George Clooney talk all the time since they've worked on films together? How is this a special occasion? This past week Time put Clooney on the top 100 most influential people AGAIN with a tribute that said the exact same things everyone else said before

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saying goodbye to Season 4's most dynamic character

With the arrest of Ryan in this past week's season finale on The Office, the show might have jumped the shark on the only character arc worth following in season 4.

I found Ryan to be boring in Seasons 1-3, but he became immensely interesting this past year. I find him incredibly relatable to real life for a lot of us young 20-somethings, who see some of our less intelligent peers excel through the ranks very quickly and let it get to our head.

Beyond that, Ryan was the only truly dynamic character in Season 4. Dwight has softened up over the last 2 seasons and has gone from stiffie to sympathetic figure but a lot of that was last season and some of the better characters had their coming out parties in prior seasons where they developed personality and became interesting characters: Oscar in season 3 (where he literally came out), Meredith in Season 2 revealing her alcoholness, Angela in season 2 and 3 revelaing her insanity, Dwight in season 3, creed in season 3 with his creepiness, Kelly in season 3 (the customer service episode especially).

The problem here is that the show aims for realism so the writing staff has to make sure the characters aren't overly dynamic, undergoing humongous character arcs. The only option in turn is to bring out interesting facets of characters, and the writers have done the best job with Ryan. I know we don't like Ryan as a person, but I loved where the character Ryan went this season as a study of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Friday, May 16, 2008

2 Shows that shouldn't have been cancelled

I dislike shows that are cancelled too soon so I was happy with the effect of the writer's strike because in theory, it was supposed to give freshman shows a better chance to get to a second season with the reasoning that the initial season was cut short and there wasn't enough information to determine if they really were successful or not.

Promising shows like Pushing Daisies, Big Bang Theory and Samantha Who lived to see the light of season 2 but I was hoping for more.

Two shows I was particularly fond of, one a midseason replacement and one a fall debut show have been cancelled and I'm particularly sad to see this news. I'm hoping like the fans of Jerico something could be done with mobilization of fans and letter-writing campaigns, but it's a little too early to tell.

The shows are:
Aliens in America-Think of a more upbeat and self-aware version of the Wonder Years meets Perfect Strangers. Dorky teenager Justin lives in the Midwest with a set of parents who were once the Homecoming Queen and Star Athlete and a sister who is one of the most sought-after girls in school. His mom is desperate for him to fit in with his classmates, so she gets an exchange student for him so he'll have at least one friend, but is thrown for a curveball when she finds out that the exchange student is Pakistani. Justin and Raja end up forming an unexpected bond and he slowly grows on his new family (he has a slightly better work ethic than your average American teenager). Meanwhile everyone in school is in a state of culture shock over the new kid. The show is something different in the high school genre: It is just a little bit smarter and more self-aware of the genre's conventions than other shows are. I also like how it isn't just a parody of high school (I'm a little too far removed from high school to really get into a John Hughes movie, for example) but uses the typical high school awkwardness genre to be somewhat edgy about racial stereotypes and perceptions. Add to that a good odd couple chemistry between the two stars, an equally rewarding odd couple chemistry between the two syblings who enjoy different degrees of popularity, a good dose of warmth and humor and it was a fanstastic show

Miss/Guided-Another show about high school that was more about the teachers than the students. This past year, I've done some substitute teaching and sometimes I'm just in shock and awe to think of the things that have changed in my status as a member of society that now I can go into a high school and go into the teacher's lounge, for example. It is all so very, very cool. In short, teachers, especially the younger ones are overgrown high school students. A better way to put it might be that they're reliving their high school days whenever they're in the classroom.

When I substitute taught fourth grade on my first day, the thought occured to me that I hadn't been in a fourth grade classroom since the fourth grade and it suddenly gave me a very clear memory of what my fourth grade experience was like.

I generally like to teach middle school because I hated middle school and teaching middle school allows me to work out my past middle school experiences and traumas (of course, I'm not teaching as a means of therapy, but it's just an interesting side effect I've noticed), it also allows me to try to ensure that within whatever influence I might be able to have, these kids have a better middle school experience.

Nonetheless, Miss/Guided is a show based on the premise that most high school teachers are overgrown high school students who are carrying the baggage they had with them in middle school. It's a very sweet (or should i use the adjective "cute"?) look at the high school genre, where the dorky student trying to rise up to become mrs. popular, is actually not a student but the school guidance counselor, Becky Freely. She is played by Judy Greer in what might be her first starring role in any movie or tv show, and she is terrific. Freely goes back to her old high school, where she was a big dork, to become a guidance counselor and develops a crush on a teacher. The problem is she has competition: the english teacher who also attended the same high school and was the most popular girl in school. The show is produced by Ashton Kutcher who makes a hillarious guest appearance and which he mocks himself brilliantly.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What the writer's room on SNL might have looked like this past week, based on the end result

A transcript of the show, or at least a summary of it's highlights can be seen at

"Ok, let's start off with you, writer #1" (Kind of stumped)
"That Suze Orman Show skit killed let's do that again."
"Um, ok. How about you, writer #2"
"Well, I was thinking of a skit where everyone stares at a couple of attractive girls at a resturaunt"
"Um, okay, and then what......"
"Oh, that's pretty much it. but they'll have really funny expressions"
"Oh, jesus christ, where did we hire you from? (humoring him), yeah we'll get back to you if we don't ahve any better ideas"
"Oh, well, just another digital short, this time, i was thinking of people walking around with no pants, and here's the added twist, well, pretend that this is an acceptable thing in society" (immature writers in the room laugh...head writer knows that anything that says Digital Short in front of it regardless of how retarded the idea is, will sell, so he jut shrugs and moves along)
"Ok, next" "How about Shia dressed up as a woman"
"Um, hasn't that been done before by Antonio Banderas, Jake Gyllenhall, Justin Timberlake?" "Yeah, but this won't be in the monologue"
"Um, sounds kind of like it's been done before"
"Ok, what if we get Amy Poehler to do a funny voice"
"Ehhh, I don't know"
"You know, we'll try to introduce a catch phrase like "Funky fresh" which Amy Poehler will use to describe her daughters"
"Yeah, but how does it make it any funnier?"
"Well, if Amy Poehler says it funny enough, we'll turn it into a catch phrase like "Making copies" and "That's the ticket" and just keep recycling that skit, and i won't have to come up with any new ideas all year....oops, did i say that out loud?"
"Ohhhhh, i see we're you're coming from. Next"
[Writer presents the one good original idea in the show: A parody of The Match Game intertwined with a murder mystery]
"Nice. What have you got Bruce?"
"Well, guys, me and Bill have been thinking a lot and we all know how Keenan Thomas acts great as a full-of-himself doofus. What if we talk that character he always does and use it as a skit about a guy in the scared straight program...."
"You know, I liked it better when Chris Farley did it. But it seems like a slow week, we'll get back to it if we have no new ideas"
[Head writer goes around the room and no one has any better ideas] "Ok, Bill and Bruce, you guys are in. Let's do that staring thing because it sounds like the easiest thing to pull off, and hmmmm....which recurring skit hasn't appeared in a while, find the script of that Italian TV show host and pretty much retype it word for word....ok, what are we, 5 minutes short...add some MacGruber sketches and..."
"Hey, I was wondering if my MacGruber sketch could involve an ending other than the factory blowing up. Maybe, i can write it for a full five or six minutes"
"Hmmmm....Nah, let's run it into the ground a little more. The audience finds it funny, let's just stick with what works. Tell you what though, try to find a new angle on it. Maybe Shia Le Bouf is his son or something, I don't know. Work with it"

Saturday Night Live keeps going

I think that what's interesting about Saturday Night Live is that while it's not as popular as it was in the Rock/Farley/Spade/Hartman days, it still manages to poke its head into pop culture when you're ready to call it down and out.

I would've actually thought that Saturday Night Live stood a good chance of being killed when youtube started becoming popular since both youtube and saturday night live both cater to the audience who wants their comedy in 5-minute sketches but SNL found a way to jump on board the trend with the digital shorts produced by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaeffer and Jorma Takome (Andy is the one on camera). "Dick in a Box" and "Lazy Sundae" are two that have gone viral on youtube, but there's also "Iran so Far," Adam Samberg's love song to the President of Iran with Adam Levine providing some of the vocals, and a hillarious one with Tom Hanks singing "Don't Touch my Testicles." The "Iran So Far" is probably the funniest thing Andy Samberg has done in my opinion and it's possibly the best thing Saturday Night Live has done all season.

The other smart thing Saturday Night Live is doing that nothing else on NBC is doing is its not giving away all its content for free on the internet. You can't watch an entire episode of Saturday Night Live online like you can for many shows on hulu or their respective network sites. They usually post about 2 or 3 sketches a week but I recently discovered that the people in charge of posting the sketches online aren't picking the best ones. I think this is smart because SNL isn't like a TV show. It does basically the same stuff as youtube. A lot of the funnier material (the stuff that isn't recycled from past skits) is usually in the show and it's that five-minute stuff that you're dying to see over and over again.

I would have thought that the show would have suffered because about 2 years ago they had some serious budget cuts and had to cut 5 or 6 people, and now their cast is much smaller and less experienced. Then again, an astoundingly high number of the members of the current cast are capable of doing a Christopher Walken impression. Check out this skit where you will see 8 seperate members of the current Saturday Night Live cast impersonate Christopher Walken:,cClips,1 After watching this, I can reach two conclusions: 1) It's very easy to impersonate Christopher Walken or 2) The cast is, in fact, a talented group of comedic actors All I can say is I tried seeing if I could talk like Christopher Walken for a few minutes by playing this skit and trying to mimic the way they talk. It's harder than it looks.

At the same time, one of the show's weaknesses is that they seem kind of lazy in the writer's room. In my next post I will present what I imagine their pitch meeting went like last week:

Sunday, May 04, 2008

If you check the news on most internet outlets or listen to the radio right now), you'll see news about the film Iron Man having had a $100 million plus weekend. Specifically, boxofficemojo has the number at about $750 thousand over the 100 million mark. This is somewhat of a big deal as only a small handful of films have ever grossed that much in a 3-day period. Spiderman was the first to do it in 2002 and since then, I believe 6 other films have done it (Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Carribean II and III, Star Wars III, Shrek II and Spiderman III, correct me if I'm wrong).

Does anyone ever wonder how the reports of the box office weekend can come out before the weekend is over? Movie theaters around the country are just beginning to close at this hour and the general managers are counting up the revenue produced at the box office for the day. That's an entire third of the weekend. Well, what actually happens is that the box office gurus predict the weekend count based on Friday and Saturday's take and extrapolate for what Sunday is supposed to be. On Monday afternoon and even on Tuesday, studio estimates will continually be updated as returns come in. So the actual figure of whether Iron Man grosses $100 million dollars is a very loose figure, but it still is one that newspapers will take and run with tomorrow morning. Keep in mind, the actual figure could be higher or lower than the current estimate, but either way, $750 thousand is a small enough margin of error, that newspapers should mention because if they don't, it wouldn't be an entirely honest headline that will line the top of the arts/style/life sections of newspapers nationwide tomorrow morning.

So whatever happens, Iron Man is pretty much now a hit and has made history as the first non-sequel film since Spiderman to gross $100 million in a single weekend, even if it really hasn't. Five years ago, Matrix Reloaded was given a very low exit score by dissapointed viewers walking out the theater, and it's not particularly well-remembered today but as far as the studios are concerned, it will always be known as a commercial success for its historic first weekend and history is likely to repeat itself tomorrow morning.

On a side note: The opening number for a weekend box office gross is very important, as movie theaters make a mid-week decision as to what to run the following week, based on weekend box office figures. As a result if a film doesn't have a good opening weekend, it haseven less of a chance of doing well the second weekend and each subsequent weekend thereafter, so be sure to see a film you want to support between Friday and Monday.