Saturday, November 29, 2014

What do movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have?

What exactly do the movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have? This isn't a grandiose introduction to an essay but rather a public exercise in self-reflection as I struggle with this.
I have a great amount of appreciation for the democratic nature of movies and how the medium allows supporters to directly fund the movies they like through ticket sales. The good news is that movies seem to be doing fine without me. The question is what do movies have with me.

I didn’t always have a love affair with the movies. I grew up in a household with a slightly restrictive set of rules on TV. Up until I was about 16, TV or film wasn't one of my main intellectual interests or hobbies: It was just my favorite activity in the world. Nothing gave me greater joy in my youth than finding a way to sneak in more TV than whatever loose quota my parents set for me (usually an hour or a half-hour). 

My parents usually only used TV to watch news and believed too much TV would "rot your brain" unless you were watching educational television which was erroneously defined as Channel 26 or PBS. Of course this isn't true: Breaking Bad is a master's course in chemistry, CSI teaches you about DNA, the Americans teaches you about Cold War History, and Turn is a great way to get acquainted with the Revolutionary War. Deciding to use part of my parent-funded-college education on a film studies minor was, in fact, a form of rebellion. Before that I would often spend my time arguing with them about whether TV was a brain rotter. 

My family and I went to the movies in what I imagine was a regular capacity and I often would argue, "Hey. You watch a two-hour movie, what's the difference?" My dad would argue that a movie is different. [Editorial note: Not sure whether to pull this down two sections] More on that later.

At some point, movies became a hobby. The summer I turned 16, I came across a list by the American Film Institute of the 100 greatest movies ever and was fascinated by the fact that I had seen so few of those movies. I went to the library and spent that summer checking out films like "The African Queen," "Roman Holiday," "Palm Beach Story," "Bridge on the River Kwai," "All About Eve," "Network" and many more. A few summers later, I was out of school for a semester and kept myself busy writing user reviews on IMDB which prompted eventually morphed into a great determination to write better reviews (declaring a film studies minor when I returned to college) and watch more movies. I excitedly went to the movie theater all the time, even by myself (which for some reason was and is a taboo), and would soak up bad and good movies alike. The bad ones were great because as any film critic can tell you, there are few things more cathartic to do with the written word than rip on a bad movie.

I kept track of how many films I watched and rated them all on a four-star scale like Roger Ebert did. I usually watched about 30 films in a calendar year by the time December (or maybe January/February) rolled around. 

These days that number is significantly less. I've only watched seven films in a movie theater this calendar year (Lucy, Begin Again, X-Men Days of Future Past, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Grand Budapest Hotel, Interstellar, Gone Girl) so far this year at a theater and haven't found anything on my last stop at the Redbox to pique my interest. Granted, a lot of films from one year I catch in the following calendar year. In 2014, for example, I've watched the following 2013 films: "12 Years a Slave" I watched on the morning of the Oscars, "Nebraska" I watched in early January, "Philomena" I caught on Redbox, "Man of Steel" I saw on pay cable, "White House Down" I saw on Redbox, "Frozen" I saw on Itunes.

What's taken the place of movies these days for me is TV. Serialized dramas, the occasional escapist procedural and multi-layered comedies have so much to offer these days. I often say this is the Golden Age of TV and Oscar-winners like Halle Berry (Extant), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Dustin Hoffman (Luck), John Voight (Ray Donovan) Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society), and Jane Fonda (Netflix's upcoming series) are flocking to the small screen in droves. I love the idea of leaving my home to support and experience the arts (I would be a proponent of viewing parties although I've never facilitated one and have very very rarely been invited to such a thing. On another note, please invite me to more viewing parties), but these days, I'm going the path of Berry, Spacey and Voight and finding more richness in TV.

Back in the days when I would have a running argument with my dad over why movies were considered a more acceptable activity, he would argue that movies are different than TV because they are a communal activity.

Personally, I long ago decided that movies don’t function as a social activity considering talking during the movie can now get you kicked out of theaters. Of course, most of the talking and conversation happens after the film.

Now imagine if you could constantly talk during the movie as the storyline plays out without disturbing the people in the theater. That’s essentially what TV has become nowadays. As serialized dramas unfold and as procedurals and comedies tweak their formats on a week-to-week basis, people have rich and detailed conversations through twitter, on message boards, and through professionally written week-to-week reviews. The progress of ongoing TV shows is also a great social conversation topic and it’s far more engaging of a process to talk about a story as it’s unfolding. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Newsroom Review

At best, there's a love-hate relationship with Sorkin's stubborn insistence on sticking to the same tropes for every TV show of his: Characters that have three conversations at once talking 50 miles a minute, male protagonists with godlike egos, characters indistinct from each other in their level of intelligence and temperament, romantic relationships and flirting based on an intellect (even when the participants are friends with benefits), and the list goes on and on.

If people are still watching Sorkin, however, there are things to love: If there's anything that dramatically hooks the viewer, then the stakes and tension can get high. The dialogue itself can be grating but there can be something majestic at times about watching intelligent people passionately go toe-to-toe with each other.

But there's a big catch here: At some point, Sorkin will wear thin. Around "Studio 60," Sorkin's inflexibility with writing even a single character different from the standard Sorkin prototype reached a boiling point and he suffered backlash before moving on to success with films such as "Charlie Wilson's War", "Social Network", and "Moneyball" (one suspects the greater control allocated to directors in filmdom tempered Sorkin's voice).

In "The Newsroom," Sorkin essentially recreates "Studio 60" with a climate more appropriate--a cable news channel--to Sorkin's voice where characters don't look out of place walking around with a sense of urgency and spouting off facts about economics.

The end result hardly looks less ridiculous and at this point, I'm at my Sorkin saturation point. On the plus side, the cast is amazing and in the two episodes I watched (the first two of the third season), this show has the potential to launch some meaningful discourse on various news issues (which I'm a sucker for as a journalist). In one episode, for example, Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) overhears a conversation by a government official and considers using it as breaking news. This is the kind of ethical dilemma that one hopes the public actively thinks about in order to appreciate the news.

However, as previously mentioned, there's so little differentiation between them. And it's a shame because that's all I'd need to consider the show watchable. Throw in a janitor or someone walking around scratching his head and going "huh?" into the mix and that would do miles for this show.

What baffles me most is that if you make a list of some of the most interesting stars who I never would have guessed were available on the TV market-Olivia Munn, Alison Pill, Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterson, Dev "Slumdog Millionaire" Patel-you could not do better than the "Newsrooom" cast and that's not even counting Jane freakin' Fonda, Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, and 2 Broke Girls' Kat Denning doing double duty in guest star roles. I'm sure someone like Emily Kapnek or Greg Garcia could use these actors and they don't write such hackneyed dialogue.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Directoral Progress Report

New Additions in Bold:
Within each number I rank the directors in order of how ashamed I am of having seen them with the most ashamed being on the bottom.

18 Alfred Hitchcock-Family Plot, Torn Curtain, Rebecca, 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Saboteur, The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, The Birds, Psycho, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions), Rear Window

14 Stephen Spielberg-Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Temple of Doom, Color Purple, Last Crusade, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Terminal, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

14 Woody Allen-Hollywood Ending, Curse of the Jaded Scorpion, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Small Time Crooks, Sweet and Lowdown, Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Melinda and Melinda, Midnight in Paris, Sleeper, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Bullets Over Broadway

10 Billy Wilder-Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, Double Indemnity, Sabrina, Ace in the Hole, Major and the Minor, 1,2,3, The Front Page

9 Joel and Ethan Coen-Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Ladykillers, Man Who Knew Too Much, Intolerable Cruelty, Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, True Grit
9 Mike Nicholls-Primary Colors, The Birdcage, The Graduate, Working Girl, Charlie Wilson’s War, What Planet Are You From?, Postcards from the Edge, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, Regarding Henry

8 (1/2) Clint Eastwood-Mystic River, Unforgiven, Bronco Billy, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Invictus, Gran Torino, White Heart Lonely Hunter, Play Misty for Me (Trouble with the Curve) (Clint Eastwood wasn't credited as the director but some say he directed it)

8 Martin Scorsesee-Color of Money, Age of Innocence, Goodfellas, Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Hugo
8 Howard Hawks-Sgt. York, Bringing Up Baby, Big Sleep, Ball of Fire, Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Perfer Blondes, Monkey Business
8  Rob Zemeckis-Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future I-III, Contact, Romancing the Stone, Flight

7 Vincente Minelli-Meet me in St Louis, American in Paris, The Pirate, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon, Kismet, The Sandpiper 
7 Rob Altman-Mash, McCabe and Mrs Miller, California Split, Buffalo Bill and the Indian, The Player, Dr. T and the Women, Prairie Home Companion
7 Steve Soderbergh-Erin Brockovitch, Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Full Frontal, Good German, Ocean’s 13, Informant
7 Ivan Reitman- Ghostbusters, 6 Days 7 Days, Old School, Space Jam, Fathers Day, Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd, Ghostbusters II
7 Jay Roach-Austin Powers I-III, Meet the Parents, Mystery Alaska, Dinner for Schmucks, The Campaign

6 Frank Capra-It Happened One Night, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, It's a Wonderful Life
6 Stanley Donen-Take Me Out to the Ballgame (most sources insist that he really was the director, not Bugsy Berkley), On the Town, Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade, Bedazzled
6 Stanley Kramer-Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Wold, Ship of Fools,  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
6 Terry Gilliam-Time Bandits, Brazil, Fisher King, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brothers Grimm, Baron Munchhausen
6 Barry Levinson-Tin Men, Rain Man, Sleepers, Good Morning Vietnam, Man of the Year, Wag the Dog
6 Mel Brooks-Spaceballs, High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I
6 Ron Howard-Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind, Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels and Demons, The Paper
6 Bryan Singer-Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, X-Men Days of Future Past
6 Roland Emmerich-ID4, Stargate, The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow, 2012, White House Down
6 Tony Scott- Enemy of the State, Déjà Vu, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Taking of Pelham 1,2,3; Unstoppable
6 Rob Reiner-Stand and Deliver, Princess Bride, Rumor Has It, American President, Ghosts of Mississippi, Misery
6 Gore Verbinski-Pirates of the Carribean 1-3, Weatherman, The Mexican, Rango
6 Brett Ratner-After the Sunset, Rush Hour 2, Family Man, X-Men 3, Red Dragon, Tower Heist
6 Frank Oz-Bowfinger, In and Out, Stepford Wives, The Score, What About Bob, Housesitter
6 Peter Segal-Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, 50 First Dates, Get Smart

5 Orson Welles-Citizen Kane, Lady of Shanghai, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil
5 John Ford-Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Hurricane, How Green was my Valley, The Whole Town's Talking
5 George Lucas-Star Wars I-IV, American Graffiti
5 Peter Weir-Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander,Year of Living Dangerously
5 Christopher Nolan-Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Interstellar
5 Blake Edwards-A Shot in the Dark, Pink Panther, Return of the Pink Panther, Great Race, What Did You Do in the War Daddy
5 Wes Anderson-Rushmore, Royal Tannenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Darjeerling Limited, Grand Budapest Hotel
5 Johnothan Demme-Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, Manchurian Candidate, Married to the Mob, Rachel Getting Married
5 Sydney Pollack-Sabrina, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Interpreter, Slender Thread
5 Tim Burton-Batman, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Alice in Wonderland
5 Adam McKay: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman 2
5 Robert Rodriguez-El Mariachi Trilogy, Spy Kids and Lava Girl, Sin City
5 Curtis Hanson- LA Confidential, Wonderboys, In Her Shoes, Lucky You, 8 Mile
5 Barry Sonnenfeld-Men in Black I, II, Wild Wild West, Big Trouble, MiB III
5 Cameron Crowe-Almost Famous, Jerry MaGuire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo
5 Joel Schumaker-Time to Kill, 8 MM, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Client
5 John Glenn-5 Bond films
5 Tom Shadyac-Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Evan Allmighty, Ace Ventura
5 Chris Columbus-Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Stepmom, I Love You Beth Cooper
5 John Lynn-Whole Nine Yards, Trial and Error, Sgt Bilko, Trial and Error, My Cousin Vinny
5 Peter and Bobby Farrelly-Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, Fever Pitch, Shallow Hal, Osmosis Jones
5 John Lasseter-Lady and the Tramp, Toy Story 1, Cars, Toy Story 2, Cars 2
5 Jon Favreau-Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens, Chef

4 Sidney Lumet: Network, 12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4 David Lean-Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Passage to India, Summertime
4 John Huston-Beat the Devil, Key Largo, African Queen, Man Who Would be King
4 Alexander Payne-Election, Sideways, Descenants, Nebraska
4 James Cameron-Terminator, Terminator 2, Titanic, Avatar
4 Terrence Young-Wait Until Dark, 3 Bond films
4 Harold Lloyd-Safety Last, Feet First, The Freshman, Kid Brother
4 Guy Hamilton-4 Bond movies
4 Kevin Smith-Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma
4 Penny Marshall-Awakenings, Rennisance Man, Big, League of their Own
4 Christopher Guest-For Your Consideration, Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman
4 Sam Raimi-Spiderman 1-3, Oz: The Great and Powerful 
4 Ernst Lubitsch-Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka, Merry Widow, Trouble in Paradise
4 Lasse Holstrom-What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Hoax, Cider House Rules, Shipping News
4 Michael Moore-Roger and Me, F 411, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story
4 James Mangold-3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, Kate and Leopold, Night and Day

4 D. Herek-Mr. Holland’s Opus, Three Musketeers, Mighty Ducks, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures
4 Sam Weisman-George of the Jungle, Dickie Roberts Former Child Star, Out-of Towners, Mighty Ducks 2
4 Dennis Dungan-Happy Gilmore, Beverly Hills Ninja, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
4 Spike Lee-Do the Right Thing, Bamboozled, 25th Hour, School Daze