Thursday, October 30, 2008

How do film buffs/film snobs read Eastwood?

I wrote this on a message board for classic film lovers and got some interesting responses. This is my initial message:

"My guess, right off the bat, is that those high brow viewers might not be big fans of Eastwood, because his films rely more on emotionally rich stories and characters than a sort of film making style that can be dissected, analyzed and torn apart. I find Eastwood's films, except for Unforgiven and Letters, to not be something that an astute film buff and your average viewer could see two different films out of.

If a film buff saw Chinatown, Midnight Cowboy, Lawrence of Arabia, Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Mullholland Drive, Man Who Wasn't There, Third Man, The Prestige (with it's art imitating life themes), etc., they would come away with a greater appreciation of the film than an average viewer because the films work on multiple levels, they're brilliant in subtext and in text.

I feel like Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River are simply effectively told stories that connect equally to your average viewer and someone looking for rich symbolism and mise-en-scene and everything else.

Do you think this is a valid theory?"

There are those who didn't like Eastwood's styles much and seemed to break down his style as amounting to "just not very good."


"If you're saying you think film elitists would look down upon Eastwood films because they rely on heavy handed emotional manipulation, laboured moralising and rather standard filmmaking techniques, you'd probably be right. Then again, I don't think you need to be a "snob" to see that much"

"His narrative technique hasn't really changed and his films often feel over-simplified. He tends to use first take, shoots first draft, and so his films often feel like they need to be re-edited or should have been re-written a couple of times before entering production. Some would praise his simplicity, which strikes you on the first viewing, but when you re-watch his movies you notice how little there is behind what is being told"

"I'm a buff though not a snob. I have mixed feelings on his films. I haven't seen all of them but of what I've seen, Letters From Iwo Jima works on every level and its just a pretty brilliant war film. Flags of Our Fathers, not so much, though it does feature a great performance from Adam Beach. The 2nd half of the film though is just completely misjudged. Million Dollar Baby worked for me initially but on rewatch not so much. Well acted and a decent story but a lot of the stylistic touches are off putting to say the least. His direction is by far the film's biggest problem. Mystic River I found to be absolute drivel. And Unforgiven, though certainly a well made western is far from great."

There were also some interesting comments that compared Eastwood's style to that of the Golden Age directors and mentioned Welles was even a fan of him:
"He's a good director; Times when he hits greatness. What more do you want?
The Golden age had lots of directors who were his equal. They served the story first and personal agendas second. A lot of great films resulted.
Eastwood said that Orson Welles told him that if someone else had directed Josey Wales it would have been hailed a masterpiece."

Along with another story:
"I saw Welles once (well, more than once) on the Merv Griffin show and on one occasion Merv asked him about some current releases - this was in the summer of 1982.

Welles got to Firefox and pretty much dismissed it, but added that Outlaw Josey Wales was one of the best films he had ever seen that was directed by an actor. He added that it was difficult to do both at the same time. It's my favorite of all of his films."

There are some who defend Clint on all levels as well and maintain that he has the critical respectability of his peers:
"Actually Clint Eastwood is internationally respected and feted as one of America's most interesting and talented directors active today, especially in the mainstream. His unpretentious approach to storytelling and character and his fast and economical way of working and also his total lack of sentimentality is prized worldwide.

In France, Eastwood is seen as an auteur and his films get good coverage in Cahiers du Cinema, Positif and also Sight and Sound magazine in the UK.....

Well you are wrong on both counts. Thinking that these films are "easy" or something. They aren't. Especially the harsh masterpiece that is Mystic River, one of the greatest American films of this decade.

Eastwood is a very talented film-maker, a rare(and welcome) minimalist in American cinema. My favourites include Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart, Unforgiven and among his earlier stuff The Outlaw Josey Wales."

And this message board response couldn't deny the one thing Eastwood has going for him: No other filmmaker has had as much praise from the critics of his era this decade. Scorsese might come close:
"No other director or actor has had anything remotely resembling his career trajectory. From television player to movie star to director to auteur to great humanist filmmaker, & at the top of his game in both roles even as he nears 80. He also of course was responsible for ensuring that his actors dominated the Oscars two years in a row what with Sean Penn & Tim Robbins winning for Mystic River & Morgan Freeman & Hilary Swank winning the following year (& Eastwood nominated for his performance too) for Million Dollar Baby. No other director has won Best Picture & Best Director twice since at least as far back as the 1970's. That in itself shows how much the film community regard Eastwood as the greatest living director.

Granted, not every movie is a knockout & Eastwood's notorious impatience has resulted in scripts going into production before they're ready. And yet .. any filmmaker with a body of work as large or larger than Eastwood's is going to suffer from poor scripts/ movies at some point. It's inevitable. What's more important is that in nearly 40 years of directing Eastwood has amassed at least half a dozen great movies, a string of near great ones & a varied oeuvre that encompasses an unexpectedly wide range of genres including, remarkably, arthouse pics. Moreover he was producing strong work right from the start. Play Misty For Me still holds up, likewise his second feature High Plains Drifter, & then came his first masterpiece The Outlaw Josey Wales in 1976. The following year The Gauntlet showed that Eastwood was capable of handling action setpieces on a much larger scale than anything he'd done before. Over the years he's shown a fascination with dismantling his screen persona, taking it off into darker areas (Tightrope), or satirizing it(Bronco Billy) or brutally pulling it down altogether (White Hunter Black Heart). And Eastwood's output this decade has resulted in a succession of varied, powerful & resonant work at a level no other contemporary American filmmaker has matched & that is remarkable, not least given the man is well into his 70's.

I find it fascinating that some people have this attitude - which is essentially Pauline Kael's attitude - that Eastwood is not a 'proper' director & therefore can't be taken seriously. This condescension is endlessly amusing. The Outlaw Josey Wales, way back in 1976, with its striking tracking shots in which characters appear to literally slide off the screen during moments of intense emotion, was a quite wonderful bit of work & a film that was highly praised - as most here will know - by none other than Orson Welles, who called it one of the great westerns that belonged up there alongside the best works of Ford & Hawks. Bird in 1988 was another bravura directorial piece in which the shadowy lighting & what has since become Eastwood's trademark rueful, melancholy feel were unmistakable. And Million Dollar Baby, with its characters bisected by pools of light in otherwise complete darkness, was not only thematically apt but direction so discreet that, as one critic noted, watching the movie you were barely even aware of the camera. That approach to me is exactly what narrative storytelling should be. After all that classical style didn't exactly hurt the great movies of the 1930's & 40's & yet it's important to note Eastwood isn't trying to slavishly imitate those old movies. He may be working in the classical style, a style that drives younger viewers weened on the juiced up editing style of a Scorsese, to distraction but there's nothing old fashioned about his fearlessness in tackling dark & disturbing material."

As what might happen when describing Eastwood's films this decade, people are bound to compare him to the other guy who has pulled off 3 nominations and one win in the directing department, Martin Scorsese. Comparing Scorsese and Eastwood could bestbe done with Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby because the similar boxing themes:
"Yep, better written, acted, directed, scored, etc. Raging Bull is thematically muddled, poorly written & repetitive. Scorsese has no interest in explaining LaMotta's motivations to the audience & ends up with a boorish, alienating thug the viewer can't wait to see the back of. In its musical scoring of the boxing scenes the film is downright pretentious & the ending with its quote from scripture, implying that LaMotta has seen the error of his ways, is downright laughable. We've just spent two hours in the company of a thug who has done precisely the opposite! As one critic memorably wrote, the film is a celluloid bimbo because Scorsese has no interest in explaining the character. The technique is what RB is overly celebrated for & wrongly so IMO.

Million Dollar Baby far surpasses Scorsese's movie in that it does actually have a narratively sound, thematically coherent (about how we choose to live life), script. Coming on as a familiar boxing yarn it's really a sensitive father-daughter love story that turns brutally dark in its third act & climaxes with the father having literally sacrificed his soul. For this reason, as well as Eastwood's beautiful direction, & the three powerhouse performances that are at the centre of the film (including Eastwood himself who gives a career best turn) & infinitely more empathic than the repulsive LaMotta, the film actually surpasses Eastwood's other Best Picture winner Unforgiven as his best work. It's a brutally tough work of art & one of the all time great Oscar winners."

Because there is so much attention bestowed upon Scorsese, I'm going to have to include one more pro-Eastwood side of the argument here:
"When you have to dredge up pablum like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore as proof of Scorsese's ability to flesh out character then you're really scraping the bottom of the Ragu sauce!

Look, at the top of his game, Scorsese is brilliant! Taxi Driver is a bonafide masterpiece. The Last Waltz may well be the greatest concert film ever made. But oh my God are you going to defend the cardboard cut outs of The Aviator and the cliched stereotypes of Gangs Of New York as proof of Scorsese's genius, too? The only thing great about Raging Bull is Robert DeNiro's ferocious and justifiably lauded performance. As cinema, Raging Bull is about as audacious as Lady Sings The Blues or any other biopic. Scorsese is successful with a certain type of character which is why his most successful work like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino is populated with them. He does one thing and he does one thing well though it's getting so old hat that I could only take 36 minutes of The Departed before said, "Oh, God, not again!" and turned it off. When Scorsese attempts to deviate from the tried and true with stuff like Age Of Innocence, New York New York, Last Temptation Of Christ, he stumbles. He's out of his element.

And don't get me started with Scorsese's inability to portray female characters (even he admits he's not very good at it) and rarely are women at the fore of Scorsese's world. Whereas Eastwood has been great at it at the very beginning from Jessica Walter's psychotic in Play Misty For Me, Sondra Locke's vengeful rape victim in Sudden Impact, Meryl Streep's Italian housewife in Bridges Of Madison County, Hilary Swank's struggling boxer in Million Dollar Baby or, if the early reviews are any indication, Angelina Jolie as the distraught mother in Changeling. Whereas Scorsese struggles whenever he leaves the "crime" environment, Eastwood is a chameleon able to shift gears easily."

One response suggested Eastwood might benefit from a historic flip:
"My point is that in the long run ultimately what we think of Eastwood today while it might be of curiosity to moviegoers in 2108 is unimportant. In 2008, is it important that in 1956 a big bloated elephant like Giant was lavished with Oscar nominations when Ford's The Searchers was totally ignored by the Academy? Not really. What is important is that posterity has rectified The Searchers standing over 1956 sensibilities. Who knows what the future will bring. In 2108, contemporary critics and film buffs may consider Adam Sandler to be the one of the great comics of his generation and "misunderstood" by contemporary audiences of his day. In that respect, the general contemptuous regard in which Sandler is held today may be an interesting footnote but unimportant to 2108 audiences and critics."

Should W see W?

The White House spokeswoman Dana Perrino said George W Bush had better things to do than see a ridiculous film like "W" but it might have been a great piece of insight lost that no one in the administration saw the film.

Oliver Stone, who felt a special connection to W. being that they were at Yale at the same time, among other commonalities, surprised many people who had him pegged as someone making a propaganda film by restraining himself from taking a couple cheap shots at the president and offering a very sympathetic portrayal of Bush. Stone essentially basic premise is Bush wasn't a man who wasn't particularly sinister or idiotic but a man who simply made a crucial error in judgement in 2003 that undermined his presidency. Stone's mission is to probe the man and his past, daddy issues and all, to understand why he would make such a mistake.

There are concerns that we've seen so much of these characters in the news, why would we want to watch them for two more hours, but I saw it differently. Because these characters are already so familiar to us, it is enjoyable to watch fine actors test their mettle in the difficult challenge of playing their interpretations against very public images. These include Richard Dreyffus playing Cheney in a very unanimated manner, which sort of makes sense because Cheney never has much stage presence, even if the the supposed depths of his misuses of power could allow for someone to play him as a classic villain. Tobey Jones is also particularly appealing as Karl Rove, who seems little conniving underneath the surface. Jeffery Wright feels a little stiff but seems more or less spot-on. Scott Glenn is very interesting as Rumsfled but he's not in the film much.

The film is also a great narrative: The issues of a man trying to make hard decisions, a man trying to turn his life around, and most prominently, a son trying to please his father. Even though you've seen this guy on the news for several hours of your life at this point, Stone recreates the character in a different light: He is not an authority figure who you want to look up to in need of leadership only to be disappointed. Instead, he shows him as a man you look down on with empathy as you see him trying to make good on his strengths and cope with flaws.

With all this in mind, it is a shame that the administration reacts so negatively upon this, and that is indicative of a bigger problem. It seems to me that the Conservative party does not like to come upon information that they might not like. This is what got them in this bad of a war in the first place, after all. Although there are exceptions to every rule, it strikes me that members of the conservative party have their own news channel that tells them what they want to hear and serves to invalidate all other sources of information. As what often happens with movies that are being protested by the right, they won't even bother to watch the movie before denouncing it.

One item that comes to mind is how annoying it is when commentators of Fox news and the conservative radio are dedicated to suppressing the discourse of ideas that aren't conducive to their agenda. Once respected sources instantly become invalid once they stop saying things that conservatives like hearing. Recently, and this is one of many examples, Campbell Brown at CNN came under fire for being soft on Obama and hard on McCain. Campbell was right on the money, however, responding that she calls things as she sees them and its ridiculous to think that she's obligated to produce exactly the same number of hard-hitting criticisms of the democrats that she's unleashed upon the Republicans. The McCain campaign said "We once liked Campbell Brown but lately she's gone insane" or something along those lines. Don't launch some kind of smear campaign on her because she's stopped playing for your team, all of a sudden. It shows a lack of integrity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Artistic integrity can't interfere when tentpoles are at stake

Three is no longer the fitting number for movie sequels when it comes to maintaining artistic credibility. It's now a matter of how long the studios can keep making money from these sequels because Hollywood is just too addicted to tent poles and the instant stream of revenues they create to be able to maintain any artistic integrity anymore. What comes to mind when I say this is the fact that Shrek, Spiderman, and Pirates of the Carribean are all going to be releasing a fourth installment of their series in movie theaters, despite the fact that despite great starts and sophomore outings, most critics and viewers agree the franchises all sputtered out of gas by the time they hit the back-ends of their trilogies.

What most viewers don't know is that except for the two Star Wars trilogies (the prequels and the originals), Shrek, Pirates of the Carribean and Spiderman have been the three biggest trilogies ever to hit the box office, boasting a combined four films in the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time and 8 in the top 30, so far. Even when the quality of their films declined heavily in poorly reviewed third installments, they were still able to gross monstrous amounts based on name recognition alone, when viewers set massive opening weekend records in May of 2007 when all three film trilogies came out. Before anyone qeven had time to tell their coworkers when they got back to work on Monday, just how bad the films were, these films made their money back in three days, and that's likely what will happen when the franchises come back again in part IV, until people wisen up and break their moviegoing habits.

Even worse in this trend is that studios can't afford to give their star properties much breathing room anymore. Look at The Incredible Hulk, Star Trek, James Bond, Batman and the previously mentioned Pirates of the Carribean in comparison to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones and Star Wars were films that essentially stopped after their stories were done being told. Due to fan demand and an appropriately long enough hiatus, these two franchises came back 16 years later in the case of Star Wars and 19 years later in the case of Indiana Jones. Part of the justification was that the stories could be introduced to a new generation. Although neither one of these franchises were particularly good when they were rebooted, one can't deny that the hype, anticipation, and ultimately, their opening weekend grosses, were far greater than that of any of the films in the first category.

In the first category of films, there was virtually no time to wait until a generation had passed. Hollywood tides move much faster than they used to and no one can afford to wait 15 or more years to not capitalize on a hot property of theirs. Thus we have:
-James Bond rebooted after a measly four years (Die Another Day 2002-Casino Royale 2006)
-Star Trek reappearing in theaters after only a 7 year break (Nemesis, 2002) and a 4-year break since the Star Trek franchise dissapeared on TV (Enterprise in 2005)
-Batman taking only a seven year break between Batman and Robin (1999) one of the decade's biggest failures and Batman Begins
-Hulk rebooting after only a five-year break without even pretending to be any sort of sequel or prequel. It was simply marketed as a "do over."
-Pirates of the Carribean set to appear only three or four years after Pirates of the Carribean III was lampooned by most critics

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Self-Analysis: Why I watch the movies that I watch....

I think the best strategy to maximizing your chances at the box office, is to do extensive surveying by people over what films they chose to watch over a period of time and why. I don't think there's enough emphasis on this in box-office analysis. The two measures that box office analysts look at are actual opening weekend numbers and cinemascore (the grade the moviegoer gives the film upon walking out of the theater). As far as I know there's not much surveying being done as to what drew the moviegoer into the theater in the first place.

Nevertheless, here's what drew me to the films I wanted to see this year. This has no relation to whether I was satisfied by the films or whether I actually made it to the movie theater. I admit the second factor is important, but sometimes circumstances determine whether you see the film in a theater or not (for example, was I busy that weekend, did I have anyone to go with). Coincidentally, if someone drags me to a movie, that doesn't mean it's a movie I wanted to see, so I didn't include those films. As you read this, think about what draws you to a film:
Disclaimer: I'm going to be doing some rambling here

Be Kind Rewind: Movie enthusiasts naturally want to see films that are self-reflexive and are about the movies and while the movie's main draw was that it would present 2-minute parodies of classic films, that you might also be able to see on youtube, the whole theme seemed very intriguing. In this day and age, anything that's a compilation of sketches and skits does not bode well in movie or tv form, considering you can watch great 3-minute pieces of entertainment all day. Movies are about wanting to be entertained by a 90-minute arc and that can't be found on youtube. Anyway, I'm going on a tangent here.....Be Kind Rewind also had Jack Black who I absolutely love and Danny Glover, and the setting of a video store resonated with me since I worked at Blockbuster the summer before

21: Bringing Down the House: An interest in seeing a new side of Kevin Spacey combined with the fact that I've heard much about this interesting story. Of course, as the film got closer to the premiere date, I heard on that it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual story, so I lost considerable interest.

Iron Man: If I knew that Jon Favreau directed it beforehand, I might have had second thoughts (yes, I knew he directed Elf), but it's a standard superhero film and when it hit #1 and broke records, there definitely was a bandwagon aspect. You want to be on board the next big thing. A lot of people talk about the unconventional casting of Robert Downey Jr but I don't think that's so unconventional: Nothing about Tobey MaGuire, Ed Norton or Ben Affleck ever screamed out "action star." It's been the standard for the last decade to have an A-list actor with box office draw as opposed to an action-hero type: Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, or Vin Diesel. Besides, Robert Downey Jr. was by no means a down-and-out actor. Rather, the inclusions of Gwenyth Paltrow and Terrence Howard were points of interest to me. The overall visual look of the film and the idea of self-made superhero as opposed to superhero through scienctific freak accident.

The Happening: M. Night Shamylan's films are always original and inventive, whether they're hit or miss, so even if it ultimately doesn't hold up, I tend to appreciate the effort. Mark Wahlberg is also a fascinating actor and this felt like an out-of-his-element kind of role

Indiana Jones: How could you not see it, considering Indiana Jones is my favorite movie series

Get Smart: Fan of the TV show and the supporting cast struck me as an insanely interesting combination: You have the standard SNL guys in Koechner and Kevin Nealon, the action hero trying to expand himself into comedy in Dwayne Johnson, the nerd from Heroes in Masi Oka, and the established comic vet in Arkin, who alone is enough reason to want to go see the film. Oh yeah, and the guy from Borat. There's also the allure of the James Bond-like gadgets.

Wall-E: I like sci-fi dystopian movies, and the idea of making a children's cartoon out of that is highly intriguing. Not to mention the good reviews and the fact that I missed out on Ratatouille last year.

The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger as the Joker sounded like an interesting choice, and the Joker vs Batman is a great matchup. Besides, I usually see sequels of films I like. Simple as that.

Hancock: Will Smith always makes it a point to infuse blockbusters with humor and fun. I also love genre deconstructions, particularly superhero spoofs. Jason Bateman has become gold in the last year and a half and never lets you down. Also Charlize Theron is a wonderful actress. So Bateman, Smith, Theron struck me as a trio with potential.

Pineapple Express: To be honest, I don't think I've ever really seen a film that's so exclusively about pot, so I thought that would be interesting enough in itself. I wasn't a humongous Superbad fan, but I think that Seth Rogen is a capable actor (not a great writer, IMO) and the idea of a cross-hybrid between stoner and action was an interesting blend. Plus, I was in the mood for something really dumb, really lightweight, really funny, and perhaps a little action-oriented.

Step Brothers: Anchorman is one of my favorite comedies of all time, and Talladega Nights is one of the best of its year, so it's safe to say I'm a big fan of the improvizational style of the McKay-Ferrell writing team. It seemed like a lackluster concept, but on the upside, Mary Steenburgen cusses a lot in this film!

Bottleshock: I'm not particularly interested in wine, but I would like to see wine culture scrutinized and possibly parodied. I also liked the period aspect of it, even if it was 30 years ago, and it seemed like a good ensemble piece.

Encounters at the End of the World: I don't usually see a lot of documentaries at the theater, but when it comes to a documentary, the key is picking a subject that is a) interesting and b) something which we don't know a lot about, and Warner Herzog found the perfect subject here. Explorers in the Arctic: neat stuff

Burn After Reading: I didn't really want to see another Coen Brothers film and I have zero interest in seeing more of George Clooney on screen but two things that drew me to this were: 1) Brad Pitt was acting really wacky in the preview and 2) It takes place in Washington D.C. where I'm from, and the Coen Brothers usually incorporate a strong sense of place into their films

Ghost Town: Seemed like a lighthearted comedy with a good concept. Also Ricky Gervaise is relatively funny and he picks his projects carefully. I knew he wasn't doing this for a paycheck. I also like Greg Kinnear

Blindness: Fernando Meirelles is someone I have only seen one and a half films of and I absolutely think he's genius, so that was a good reason. Julianne Moore is selective about her roles, so that had a certain stamp of crediblity. I also felt the whole humanity fighting against a large force of nature concept carries interesting appeal to it: I liked Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day, for example.

Religulous: I have to see this. I love Bill Maher, and I'd be curious for a good examination on the state of religion. I also like that he's going to be equal opportunity about offending the three main Western religions.

W: We see so much parody of the president, but I see very little portrayal of the man's past. Even if Stone might be biased (or maybe he isn't), it would be a highly eye-opening look into the man.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Family Guy's moral worth

I have been watching a lot of Family Guy recently and because it is such an intelligent show, I wanted to get some opinions about the nature of the show. I googled "Family Guy essay" and the first hit was an essay submitted for a "Studies in Pop Culture class" that was posted online by a guy named Adam Cozens who identifies himself as Christian. His "Christian reading" of Family Guy wouldn't interest me because I'm not Christian myself and generally feel that Christian entertainment watchdog groups are somewhat detrimental to the entertainment industry (i.e. baseless protests over the Da Vinci Code, Dogma, and The Life of Brian and inflating support for a bad film like Passion of the Christ), but he attacks the show mostly on secular moral grounds, and I found that interesting. I do tend to agree with the author that movies and tv shows can have bad moral content and it is a concern of mine. I objected highly to Sin City, for example, on moral grounds: It just preached nihilism and celebrated violence and misplaced masculinity to excess.

His essay can be found here:

His essay has a very interesting insight about how bad fathers on TV are a result of how baby boomers's dads had to work multiple jobs in single income households and that prompted children of the 60s to love mom and resent dad. The children of the 60s set the template for the modern family sitcom and took that resentment with them to those shows, creating multiple generations worth of loveable and affectionate TV mothers and lazy, slobby, hard-drinking, disinterested-in-their-kids dads. These stereotypes exist far more on TV than they do in real life at this point but TV is one generation behind society in this sense. The writers of these shows that feature such figures were born during that postwar suburban boom and they are writing about the nuclear family as they remember it from their roles as kids and not as parents or adults. Bernie Mac of "The Bernie Mac Show" was born in 1958, Ray Romano of "Everybody Loves Raymond" was born in 1957, and Jim Belushi of "According to Jim" and Matt Greoning of "The Simpsons" was born in 1954.

But the bulk of his essay talks about Family Guy's lack of morally redeeming value. He summarizes the show as about a "an overly obsessive daughter, a blissfully ignorant son, a beautiful submissive wife, a maniacal toddler and an arrogant, emotionally distant, and yet, still so lovable father." So, here's my response:

Family Guy's purpose is not to be morally redeeming but, rather, to entertain. It provides escape, like the author says, but it does so very intelligently, and I think there's morally redeeming value in entertainment that's intelligent. Intelligent entertainment, like art, is a work of beauty to be appreciated and has the potential to inspire.

Another way the show is morally redeeming is through positive portrayals of minorities, in Cleveland, and the handicapped, as is Joe. For a show that attacks anything and everything, the show has handled these two characters with the greatest of sensitivities.

I also think the author greatly misreads the characters. The show takes pages from pop culture and parodies them, and a parody draws focus to certain elements that ordinarily don't get focused on. The character of Meg for example, has low self-esteem about her looks and is treated with an absurd amount of apathy from her dad. He doesn't abuse her and act like a bad dad, but rather he acts like she doesn't exist: He can't remember her name and actively wants her removed from the family, at times. It's a comic method, Gerald Mast in "The Comic Mind" calls "ad absurdium": No dad would act like that in real life. A abusive dad might unintentionally say mean things to their kid which could scar them, abuse them, or neglect them, but for Peter to actively forget the daughter's existence, considering he plays an active role in the lives of his other two kids, highlights the absurdity of the situation and of the societal context in general. It's a form of parody, and so we must examine what is being parodied: Some ideas to throw around here are 1) the fact that teenage girls in the media, a class of people largely filled with girls who star on sitcoms, are so closely scrutinized about their looks. Meg is really not that much more overweight than her mom, who is considered hot, so there's a certain rediculousness to the way she's perceived by the people of Quahog. 2) the fact that sometimes child actors get written out of sitcoms (see Family Matters, Happy Days, Roseanne) and they act as if they were never part of the family. Peter's selective memory is an example of this. 3) The lazy father archetype mentioned earlier. To draw light in a satirical way to an issue like portrayal of teenage girls in the media is morally redeeming in my opinion.

In all, the show teaches us not to take things at face value. The author mentiones that Chris seems unintelligent, but that's because he talks slow and doesn't sound intelligent. He has actually said some surprisingly intelligent things. To dismiss Peter as an uncaring dad is also somewhat baseless. In the episode where he became a lobbyist, he stopped campaigning for smoking because he saw the effect on his kid, for example. He also saves Stewie from the horrors of Disney World. If anything, my complaint about Peter is that he is written inconsistently: Sometimes he's a perfectly capable father, sometimes he's virtually retarded, sometimes he's apathetic.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Big Bang Theory" great show but could have been written a little differently

Big Bang Theory is a great show about the unlikely mix between geeks and beauties. A beautiful young girl, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in next door to a pair of advanced theoretical physicists (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons), who are textbook examples of geekiness. With their two friends (Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar), they spend much of their time playing Halo, going on second life, watching sci-fi shows and collecting comic books. One of the two roommates (Johnny Galecki from Roseanne) is in love with the girl across the hall and a great deal of the show centers around this tension between this very shy and socially-akward guy and this girl who is out of her league.

The show is very entertaining for two reasons. The first is the hilarity that results from watching these nerdy geniuses and their two friends (Simon Helberg in fish-out-of-water situations where they are forced to interact with normal people (mainly in the form of Penny). Second, is the endearing and unlikely nature of the budding chemistry that develops between Penny and Sheldon. It might be a lost cause for him, but we're happy just to see sparks fly in the meantime.

One problem with the show, however, is that Penny spends an awful lot of time hanging around with Sheldon and his three friends when she has little in common with them in the first place. I understand that Sheldon is such a nice guy underneath with a desire to be sociable that she might form a friendship with them, but of the remaining three characters: Raj is too shy to speak when he's around her, Leonard is hostile and Wolfowitz is creepy. The writers construct situations where Penny is interacting with the "gang" instead of just Sheldon because that way she's not dating him yet and it keeps the sexual tension flowing, but how many situations can the writers construct before the "they're neighbors" excuse doesn't cut it anymore. This is especially true when she's actively annoyed with some of them (an example is when Leonard actively snuck into her apartment and cleaned her room). Sometimes, there are valid excuses that can make the interactions seem more plausible, like she's dropping off their mail or there's an episode where they're invited to her party.

Essentially what many unlikely storybook romances need, in both the movies and in real life, is for characters who wouldn't normally associate with each other to be stuck in some sort of confined situation where they have to do so. This reminds me of a film theory called the "Grand Hotel" or "Ship of Fools" theory that says when characters from different societal classes are forced to spend time in a confined space, they become a microcosm of society. If Leonard and Sheldon and Penny had daily schedules that forced them to unknowingly spend a lot of time with each other, step outside of their comfort spheres, and realize that the other wasn't so bad, I think that would be a great concept for a show.

What if the show was set in the physics lab where Sheldon and Leonard work?
If the show took place at their university and Penny was hired as a seceretary or clerk, all of their physics jokes would seem more natural since they'd be forced to talk more physics around her anyway. All the interactions would still be there but they'd also be more natural if she was spending what I currently see as excessive time with the gang of four.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blindness (2008) review

Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, and Gabriel Garcia Bernall star in a
Dystopian sci-fi thriller of sorts that takes place in an unnamed (and
unfamiliar looking) that doesn't seem so far removed from us in what
appears to be the not-too-distant future. When an epidemic causes
people to suddenly go blind, the police place the first wave of victims
in a quarantine with limited resources and as the prison guards become
less visible for some unknown reason (the film brilliantly provides us
only with the point-of-view of the people inside the prison), anarchy
develops from which separate wards engage in a struggle over food.

"Blindness" is Brazillian wunderkind Fernando Meirelles' second
English-language film after breaking out to North American audiences
with his Oscar-nominated gang epic "City of God," and while it lacks
the frantic pace of "God" or "Constant Gardener," the rawness and
visual intensity of Meirelles' previous works is still on screen. The
film's epilogue runs a little long and the pacing is a little slow, but
it's thought-provoking and has a unique voice.

One might compare it to Children of Men or No Country for Old Men in its lack of interest in character development in any conventional sense. If there is any prologue before the action sinks in, it's of very little use. The characters are defined mostly by action when confronted against a seemingly unstoppable force (in Children of Men, it's a mob, in No Country for Old Men, it's a seemingly invincible man, and in Blindness, it's a natural epidemic). However, I sensed a richness to Blindness that I didn't sense in Children of Men or No Country for Old Men (even though those were Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films and this got bashed review wise) in that the situations the characters were placed in made for a compelling morality play as well.

I saw a sort of first-world/third-world metaphor with Ward 3 and Ward 1. Ward 3 had superior firepower (the gun) so they were able to control the resources and subjugate the other wards, much like Europe was able to do with South America, Africa, and the rest of the world. There were many other takes on the film that my friends had as we had a sort of discussion afterwards. I never saw Children of Men or No Country for Old Men having that kind of potential (although NCfOM came closer). Blindness had a clear aim to be about something more than the immediate action at hand.

Monday, October 06, 2008

What a godawful weekend at the box office....

If you read any newspaper's weekend section, you would have seen reviews for Nick and Nora's Playlist, Religulous and Blindness and Beverly Hills Chihuaha was most likely relegated to the "Also Playing" section, because it didn't seem particularly noteworthy. Besides, you already pretty much know it's for the same crowd who finds those 30-second spots for Taco Bell amusing and figures that seeing a talking chihuaha on screen for a couple hours is a little safer than the 3 aforementioned films of Ed Harris' critically acclaimed Appaloosa, and there's not much to explain in the story.

Well, mediocrity wins again for a 3rd straight weekend: Previous box office champs have been Eagle Eye and Lakeview Terrace, neither of which have been appealling.

One notable thing about this weekend's winner is that it was directed by Raja Gosnell who Richard Roeper cited in his book "Hollywood Schlock" as one of the worst directors in America, and although Roeper is just one person, I'm moderately inclined to agree with him. Unless you found the Scooby Doo series to be successful, than anyone looking at his imdb profile could easily see he's produced bad movies all over the place. Roeper also notes in that same book that bad directors have the edge over good directors that they're name isn't attached to films. If a good or great director like Ron Howard (example of a good director) or Fernando Meirelles (example of a great director) makes a film, whether good, bad or slightly dissapointing, than people will remember it because their name is always marketed with the film. The fact that Raja Gosnell is nothing to be proud of means he has immunity and he can continue to go on and make awful movies.

Raja Gosnell who Richard Roeper lists as one of the handful of
1 N Beverly Hills Chihuahua BV $29,000,000 - 3,215 - $9,020 $29,000,000 - 1
2 1 Eagle Eye P/DW $17,700,000 -39.3% 3,516 +6 $5,034 $54,605,000 $80 2
3 N Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist Sony $12,000,000 - 2,421 - $4,957 $12,000,000 - 1
4 2 Nights in Rodanthe WB $7,355,000 -45.2% 2,702 -2 $2,722 $25,075,000 - 2
5 37 Appaloosa WB (NL) $5,015,000 +3,321.6% 1,045 +1,031 $4,799 $5,570,000 $20 3
6 3 Lakeview Terrace SGem $4,500,000 -35.4% 2,574 +107 $1,748 $32,140,000 $20 3
7 5 Burn After Reading Focus $4,083,000 -34.1% 2,397 -252 $1,703 $51,641,000 $37 4
8 4 Fireproof Gold. $4,069,000 -40.5% 852 +13 $4,776 $12,491,000 $0.5 2
9 N An American Carol Viv. $3,810,000 - 1,639 - $2,325 $3,810,000 $20 1
10 N Religulous LGF $3,500,000 - 502 - $6,972 $3,519,000 - 1
11 N Flash of Genius Uni. $2,328,000 - 1,098 - $2,120 $2,328,000 - 1
12 N Blindness Mira. $2,002,000 - 1,690 - $1,185 $2,002,000 - 1