Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Running out of "Movie Stars"

Thompson on Hollywood
One of the running gags at Saturday night’s 24th annual American Cinematheque Ball was how strange it was to be honoring a movie star who hasn’t yet cracked 40. “What can you say about Matt Damon that hasn’t been said about Brendan Fraser?” roasted Jimmy Kimmel. “You’re here tonight because were running out of stars.”

He’s right. Truth is, while plenty of older stars and filmmakers deserve awards like this (Clint Eastwood routinely turns them down), Matt Damon is one of the few movie stars with the stature to command the necessary support from the studios and agencies which must wrangle clips, buy tables, line up video tributes from such pals as George Clooney (who pretended to be undergoing a prostate exam), ex-president Bill Clinton (who lauded Damon’s humanitarian work for Haiti and Water.org), Ben Stiller, et al. Damon fit the bill perfectly, boasting two studios with Damon franchises. Universal (Bourne) and Warner Bros. (Oceans) both came through, along with the Weinstein Co., Morgan Creek and WME. The best footage came from Entourage (Damon hocks Chase for a big check) and Jimmy Kimmel (Sarah Silverman’s “I’m fucking Matt Damon!”). “The worst thing I could say is, you know, Matt Damon is like, maybe he’s a perfectionist,” said Silverman.

Casey Affleck was even funnier than brother Ben: “He’s always been a guy imagining that he was a movie star who pretends to be a good guy,” Affleck said, and then displayed a strategically doctored nude photo of Damon (small black rectangle) and himself (large black rectangle). Damon turned beet red.

Among the few folks who stayed dignified in the roast atmosphere were Clint Eastwood, who directed Damon in Invictus (for which he earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination) and the upcoming Hereafter, and Paul Greengrass, who flew in from London to make the Bourne clip intro.

Damon pointed out in his hilarious acceptance speech that whenever he cracked Green Zone jokes, everyone laughed except the studio suits at the Universal table. As Damon talked about first meeting Clinton during Good Will Hunting (for which he and Ben Affleck won the screenplay Oscar), he nailed his impersonation of the president. Robin Williams thanked Damon and Affleck for giving him his “Oscar moment.”

Long-time Affleck/Damon mentor Harvey Weinstein warmly greeted the duo with a bear hug. He recently bought Affleck’s next, Company Men, and told me one of the other TWC movies he’s high on is Butter, starring Jennifer Garner.

Affleck’s wife introduced her husband as “half of one of the greatest love stories ever told, not with me,” she said, reminding that Affleck and Damon grew up together and still talk incessantly about the Red Sox. Damon’s “hetero life-mate” Affleck added that he was not receiving this award, but presenting it to the guy who would soon be playing Liberace’s boyfriend. “As some of you may know, I started out at the same time as the guy.”

In this terrific Q & A with Damon, he talks about working with the Coens on True Grit, why he and Affleck made their deal at Warner Bros., why he didn’t make Avatar and how much he looks forward to directing. In that arena, at least, Affleck is ahead of him: Damon said he has seen The Town, which Affleck directs and stars. “It’s amazing,” he said.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Whats Really Funny Anymore?

Annie Hall opens with a great joke, "two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." No set up whatsoever, all you have is Woody Allen staring at you as if you met him at a party and he slings a zinger at you trying to win you over in order for you to hang out with him for the rest of the night.

And it works, you are enamored with the charm and the wit of this man that you can't help but wait to hear what he has in store for you in the course of two hours. And where does the charm come from? Yes the joke is funny in its own right but there is something in it that lures you into the humorous anecdote. And I think that I found out what it is and it took me nearly a year to figure it out.

It's that it is clean.

No sexual innuendos, no crass language nothing that implies any type of filth in it. Now far be it from me to be demean any writer who uses language in their dialogue to emphasis a joke, which is what those words are supposed to do. And I admit that I do love the expletives in several exchanges in some of my favorite movies and plays. George Carlin, God bless him, became famous on the words that too taboo to say on TV.

Martin McDonagh has implemented choice words and phrases in his pieces that truly fit the characters and allow the language to roll off of the actors tongues as if it was apart of the Bard. And its damn funny, as seen in a dialogue example from "In Bruges"

Ken: Harry, let's face it. And I'm not being funny. I mean no disrespect, but you're a cunt. You're a cunt now, and you've always been a cunt. And the only thing that's going to change is that you're going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Harry: [furious] Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!
Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.
Harry: Insult my fucking kids? That's going overboard, mate!
Ken: I retracted it, didn't I?

The sincerity of the lines from Ken, as crass as they are, are validated cause he is genuinely trying to give an honest opinion. And the humor comes out of the fact that Harry doesn't even defend the fact that his kids are "cunts" but that he would rather leave them out of the argument in order to make a point.

In movies nowadays you hardly are able to get a great bit of dialogue without the gross out toilet humor that we frequently see in the "Scary Movie" franchise or "Superbad" which brings me to the thought that some writers are sacrificing good jokes with just toilet humor in order to garner a laugh.

The Marx Brothers themselves were able to use simple jokes in order to distinguish themselves as a great comedians such as:

"Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas, what he was doing in my pajamas I don't have the slightest idea."

I think I am able to respect people who are able to use clean dialogue to make me laugh. It requires someone with great comedic timing and charm in order to make something so simple seem so funny.

Which allows me analyze why recent films use dirty language blanketed in "fucks" "shits" and "cocks" that have been layered throughout the movie "Cop Out" and several others ones through the recent year. And it all comes down to one thing, cheating.

"Cheating" in my sense of the word when it comes to writing is when a writer bombards their scenes that are comedic with the language that we are often so fond of. It shocks the audience into an uncomfortable position that they have no other choice but to laugh. Its definitely a cop out. Speaking of which lets examine a scene when a grown man interrogates a ten year old kid from the movie "Cop Out"

Paul Hodges: Now we need to know about the Mercedez
[Jimmy looks on with a grin]
Paul Hodges: that was stolen a couple o' nights ago, in the back of a Mini-Mart, in Bay Ridge!
Tommy: I ain't tellin' you shit! You can't DO shit, cause I'm a miiiinor
Jimmy Monroe: Heh heh heh heh
Tommy: Fuck you too, Professor Ass-Licking Mother Fucker!
Jimmy Monroe: You are an angry young man.
Tommy: Yo, you're messin' with my business, bitch.
Paul Hodges: Whose car is this?
Tommy: Yo Momma's!

I am not too sure but when I look at this exchange it kind of irks me that the laughs seem manufactured and it is just the product of lazy writing. Not to mention the topical mention 'yo momma' as a slam, man I remember the 90's too. The dialogue results in not only a frustration with the characters but also a frustration with the audience and not in a good way. This scene has the potential to be funny, the scenario itself is ripe for comedy and could be lengthened to a much more than a minute and a half.

The possibilities of great comedy are there in the premise but they are diluted with language that lowers the scene, the comedy and the actors themselves on an entirely different level. The result of a badly written comedic scene can only be blamed on the poor taste of the writers and the laziness of the production company for not being able to see the apathetic approach to making a good comedy.

There aren't really too many incarnations of previous classical comedy writers such as Woody Allen or Steve Martin, the only ones that I can specifically point out now are Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais. Their use of comedy is poignant and presented in a pleasant way that doesn't make you feel like you need to take a shower immediately after watching one of their shows.

I just hope that in the end the audiences are able to find the humor in alot of the intelligent dialogue of what the joke can be and not just the words that emphasis the scene.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hollywood tells Directors "You want to direct this movie? You’re doing it in 3D, motherfucker!"

The aforementioned quote is from James Cameron who describes Hollywood executives' current attitude toward their big money generating tentpole films. Cameron, along with Michael Bay, features in a rather lengthy and somewhat depressing Deadline Hollywood piece about 3D in which the directors continue to slam 2D to 3D conversion.

First up, Michael Bay is apparently under pressure from Paramount Pictures who want him to 3D-ify his forthcoming "Tranformers 3." The director, who did some initial test shooting with 3D cameras but decided they were too heavy for the kind of work he generally does, isn't sold on the conversion process: "I am trying to be sold, and some companies are still working on the shots I gave them. Right now, it looks like fake 3D, with layers that are very apparent. You go to the screening room, you are hoping to be thrilled, and you’re thinking, huh, this kind of sucks. People can say whatever they want about my movies, but they are technically precise, and if this isn’t going to be excellent, I don’t want to do it. And it is my choice.” Regarding that last statement, it will be interesting to see who blinks first between Bay and the studio.

Bay goes on to say what we've been saying all along, "This conversion process is always going to be inferior to shooting in real 3D. Studios might be willing to sacrifice the look and use the gimmick to make $3 more a ticket, but I’m not. Avatar took four years. You can’t just shit out a 3D movie. I’m saying, the jury is still out.”

As for Cameron, who conveniently leaves out the fact that's converting "Titanic," he says, "Now, you’ve got people quickly converting movies from 2D to 3D, which is not what we did. They’re expecting the same result, when in fact they will probably work against the adoption of 3D because they’ll be putting out an inferior product.”

Not only that, the director is worried about virgin 3D directors and is offering his services as a "crisis counselor to any director who asks." Cameron even goes so far as to suggest that Marc Webb, who he was rumored to be meeting with, had 3D shoved into his lap for the "Spiderman" reboot, "Sony says, we’re doing Spider-Man in 3D.’ The director doesn’t say, `Hey, I want to make the movie in 3D.’ The studio says, `You want to direct this movie? You’re doing it in 3D, motherfucker!' That’s not how it should be."

So just what upcoming films are being considered for 3D? "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader," "Gulliver’s Travels" and "The Hobbit" are among those being eyed. For the latter, director Guillermo Del Toro is apparently leaning on going 2D but Warner Bros. want to pump as much money out of the franchise as possible and the decision on whether or not 3D-ify the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy will depend on "The Hobbit" decision as they don't want Del Toro's film to appear as being visually inferior.

We can't really say we're surprised by any of this, but if "Alice In Wonderland" is any indication -- taking the top spot at the box office three weeks straight -- audiences don't care about craft. And as long as audiences keep making 3D converted films tops at the box office, studios will keep shoving them down our throat. - Kevin Jagernauth: The Playlist

Monday, March 22, 2010

Silence in Films

With our fast paced world of quick thoughts and quicker words, we often find ourselves lost. We live in jump cuts and sudden, unexpected thrills. Meanwhile losing a handle of the most important things in life. What are these important things? Well there are the certain contenders such as family and relationships in general. However, the one I chose to outline over here is the beauty of silence. In the cluttered world we live in we barely get a chance to breathe and see the world for what it has become. Rarely do we listen to silence anymore and ingest moments from the day. 

You wake up with the radio, move into traffic, travel through coffee shops with lines on either ends, and finally end up at your work place with clutter and more clutter. You come home and check your favorite blogs and your facebook page. You didn't get to sit down and think did you? People don't get to do much of that. It sounds like a guitar thats been strung to death. Yes we know you have complaints against the importance of silence and solitude. 

Well not quite. It's your life isn't it? I rather not tell you what to do. Though I am a film maker and I find it necessary to write a blurb about the silence in film. back in the day when things were calmer and people had longer attention spans there were moments in film that developed forever. Now if there isn't a cut in less than thirty seconds we feel as if the film has gone on too long. What the audience seems to be looking for these days is a montage that outlines developments in a plot, rather than scenes. 

There is the physical development of a plot, and than there is the emotional development. People seem to completely forget the second aspect of it. Think back to the days before texts and chats, those past versions of ourselves use to sit and talk. Weather it was something insignificant or something as serious as a confession of love. 

Scenes in a film represent scenes from life. The day you got courage to say "I love you" to her, wasn't cut into fifty pieces before the three minute conversation was over. There are the awkward pauses, the moments when nerves get the better of you, and more. All this has to take time to develop. A good director knows when his audience needs a second to ingest a tough scene. 

Girl asks for a divorce, the guy is taken back by the unexpected moment. The audience needs a second to realize what has happened. The film, the plot, the character needs that extra few seconds. Hence, the importance of silence. Silence is crucial in film. A writer writes dialogue and hands it to a director, trusting that the director along with his actors, will be able to figure out the dramatic beats to conversations. It is this silence that makes everything in life more real. 

Action packed films are made more interesting with those moments and dramas cannot breathe without them. Every beat of silence makes the audience ever so eager to get the outcome. The best thrillers entirely depend on these moments of silence and non action, to jolt the audience, with the next bit of trickery. It's something that every filmmaker should be aware of. 

Never underestimate the importance of silence. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mother: Reviewed

The films of the South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho operate like slyly constructed Rube Goldberg machines. His 2007 The Host, which made my list of 10 best films for that year, was a Godzilla-style monster movie that popped open to reveal a ghost story and a touching family drama hidden inside. Now, there's Mother, a Hitchcock-ian murder mystery that unfolds into a maternal melodrama worthy of Joan Crawford, shot through with bursts of black humor. Bong's ability to sustain three or four different tones in one movie without betraying the emotional truth of the story is nothing short of amazing: He can pat his head, rub his stomach, and break our hearts all at the same time. 

Do-Joon (Won Bin) is a man in his late 20s who still lives, and shares a bed, with his widowed mother Hye-ja (Kim Hye-Ja) in a rural Korean town. The virginal, goofy Do-Joon is mildly mentally handicapped, but don't call him "retarded"—he'll fly into a rage and deck you with a Bruce Lee-style karate kick. Because of his friendship with a local hood, Jin-Tae (Jin Gu), Do-Joon sometimes gets in minor trouble with the police, but when he's accused of murdering a teenage girl, the whole town is shocked. The night of the murder, Do-Joon was so drunk that he can't provide a reasonable alibi, and a golf ball signed with his name is found next to the body. Confused and intimidated by the cops, Do-Joon signs a confession even as he maintains his innocence and is sent to jail to await sentencing. His mother sets out on a mission to clear her boy's name, teaming up with one of her acupuncture clients to investigate the background of the murdered girl, who, as it turns out, was part of a schoolgirl prostitution ring.

Mother is a weird wild ride of a film, one that asks the viewer over and over again to let go of the movie we thought we were watching. As the twisty plot progresses, with the night of the murder returning in flashback from various witnesses' points of view, the audience's sense of security starts to unravel: Can we trust the mother? Can we trust the son? Can they trust each other? Kim Hye-ja is both funny and fearsome as the unyielding, overprotective, eventually near-deranged mother, and Won Bin, a former teen heartthrob in Korea, pulls off the difficult task of showing a simpleton's hidden depths. The movie's final image echoes its opening one: Hye-ja, the primal mother, dances, first alone, then absorbed into an ecstatic crowd. It's a fitting coda for a movie that begins as a comedy, segues into a murder mystery, and builds to an emotional catharsis that's reminiscent of Greek tragedy. - Dana Stevens

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Movie Studios' Big 3D Scam

Are we ready for 3D? As CG supervisor and avid moviegoer, I'm sad to say that I'm not convinced we are. Yet. And the worse is yet to come, as studios try to milk us all for these half-baked goods.
The only time that I have felt it was worth it was Avatar and even then I wanted to yank the damn thick-rimmed glasses off my face every 3 minutes.

The good Avatar 3D experience happened because James Cameron is a technically savvy director, and thus the 3D aspect of Avatar was technically well executed. When done right it allows the viewer to more seamlessly enjoy a 3D film. Done poorly and all it does is get in the way. One of the reasons I'm not digging it is that many of the stereoscopic movies have been made 3D after they were shot, which can cause heaps of distractions in the final product. Even if the film was originally shot 3D it takes someone knowledgeable in the field to make it effective. Decisions on convergence between the left and right eyes are just as much a part of the visual storytelling as lens choices, lighting, rack focusing, etc. If you overlook that you get a sloppy 3D experience.

The problem with fake 3D

The process of making a movie 3D after it was shot is a complicated and time consuming process but can be somewhat convincing. The problem is it will never reflect the same results as if you were filming using two cameras, simultaneously, from slightly different perspectives. Endless rotoscoping provides layers that can be separated to fake a different perspective for the second eye, but that's what it looks like, layers. So yes, you can push things away and pull things forward and enhance the depth, but the content within each layer has no depth. We use our eyes everyday and whether you know the geek stuff or not it's just not what we are used to seeing. The stereo technicians involved in bringing the images to us in 3D in the best possible way have their hands tied in some ways, they're not often working with two true perspectives.

The problem is it's expensive and difficult to do it right. Double the camera gear means double the footage and often doubling the camera crew.  It also doubles much of the visual effects work as you have to render everything twice. A lot of the old gags we once used to do our "movie magic" no longer work in stereo films.

But what you get is the real thing, a true stereo view of everything in the frame. Just like a director or cinematographer chooses to focus the camera to direct the viewers eye you must make the same decisions in 3D to direct the convergence of the two eyes. Not doing this right (or having to do it with a faked perspective in the second eye) is like overlooking composition or sound design, it's crummy movie making.

Avatar hit this right. They shot it stereo and kept all the depth within screen like it was a window into another world and never tried to wow you with shoving stuff into the theater at you. When you bring elements of the image into the room you run into the problem of the edge of frame cropping the content. During the end titles for Alice In Wonderland they created a false black edge to the screen so that when content did break frame and bring things into the theater they weren't cut off. But this isn't an option for the duration of the movie unless you're willing to give up valuable screen space. IMAX helps relieve this by filling your field of view but we are all far from having IMAX theaters at every cinema and you still have a limited view from within the frame of the glasses.

Milking the 3D cow

This problem will get even worse when you all get sucked into buying a 3D TV for your living room where the size of the screen fills even less of your view. And now there's talk on the rumor mill of re-releasing Titanic in 3D? Watch out for a flood of classics being shoved down the fake stereoscopic pipeline and into your Blu-ray player for an extra $10. Hopefully Cameron will continue to help set a higher standard.

And there's the final nail in this absurd 3D show: The eyeglasses. Simply, watching a $200+ million dollar movie with $.03 crappy plastic glasses is just silly. They are not only optically poor but they take almost a full stop of light out of the image. That's almost half the amount of light!  None of the prints or projectors I have seen 3D movies in properly compensate to counteract that loss of light. When I saw Alice In Wonderland at one of the industry screenings—where you think it would be dialed in just right—the image was still painfully dark. The situation in a majority of theaters out there is as bad or worse. - Alexander Murphy (io9)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

400 Screens, 400 Blows - Distribution Blues

You go to the multiplex and scan through all of the titles and decide that there's "nothing good." And sometimes it's true. If only there was a multiplex that let you decide from among all the movies in the world. If viewers knew the number of titles that never make it to the United States, their heads would spin. And you might assume that we get the "best" of all the films, but that's not necessarily true. Some of the greatest cinema masters in the world have trouble finding distribution here. Their films are not easily marketed, and probably not worth the financial risk, even if the rewards would be far greater than financial.

Right now we have one to celebrate: Alexander Sokurov's The Sun (3 screens) very recently snagged U.S. distribution, even though it was made all the way back in 2005. (I reviewed it for Cinematical back in 2006.) Sokurov earned some distinction and a minor arthouse hit with his Russian Ark (2002), which was filmed in a single shot. But aside from that feat, Sokurov is a wonderful filmmaker with a very vivid, painterly style, whose first major films were made in the early 1990s. Ironically, The Sun is the third part of a trilogy about world dictators, the first two parts of which did not get distribution (though the second film, Moloch, is on DVD).

In the 1990s, the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien was roundly declared the greatest filmmaker in the world. He had been working since the early 1980s, and critics discovered him in the mid-1980s. He kept getting better and better, culminating with masterworks like The Puppetmaster (1993) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998). Yet to date only three of his 18 films have received theatrical distribution in the United States. The first two made it because they starred Shu Qi -- otherwise known as that hot chick from The Transporter (2002) -- and Flight of the Red Balloon, which contained Juliette Binoche's finest performance to date.

Unfortunately not even a star is a guarantee of distribution. The latest film from great Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, the wonderful The Man from London, has still not seen U.S. theaters, despite the presence of Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton. And even a recent film from the old-time French New Wave director Jacques Rivette, The Story of Marie and Julien, went straight to DVD even though it starred the exquisitely gorgeous Emmanuelle Beart.

Two of the top rated filmmakers of the 2000s, Pedro Costa from Portugal and Hong Sang-soo from Korea, did not have a single film distributed, even though they earned some of the most enthusiastic acclaim of any filmmakers during the past ten years. Some of Hong's movies made it to DVD in the past couple of years, but trying to find anything by Costa, even if you had an all-region DVD player, was frustratingly futile. Happily, the Criterion Collection will distribute a trio of Costa films on DVD in just a few weeks. (Colossal Youth is picture above.)

Many American journalists have traveled abroad or attended film festivals, have seen movies by these filmmakers, and have managed to draw some attention to them, but even that is just a drop in the ocean. It's mind-bending to think of the brand-new masterworks out there that we will never see. - Jeffrey Anderson

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hate Filled A-Holes of the day: Proposed Law would deny Tax Breaks to Films that feature Gay Characters

Well, our hopes for a sequel to The Birdcage just got dampened. That's because a new bill that increases tax incentives to lure television and movie production to Florida would deny those tax breaks to films that feature gay characters. And unlike the ultraconservative Republican politician in The Birdcage, it doesn't seem the bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Precourt, will have a change of heart anytime soon.

Current laws prevent tax breaks for films that feature smoking, sex, nudity, or profane language. The proposed changes make Florida guidelines seem even more like the Hays Code that censored Hollywood from the the '30s to the '60s. Thankfully, Precourt hasn't borrowed more ideas from that censorship office and written in language that would also disallow interracial relationships, suggestive dancing, and "lustful kisses."

"Precourt says he's not targeting the gay community but that shows with gay characters would not be something he'd want 'to invest public dollars in,' " reports the Associated Press.

Besides not offering tax breaks to films that "exhibit or implied act" of nontraditional family values, films with gratuitous violence would also be left out.

In recent years, Florida has slipped from third in the country in terms of film production, only behind California and New York, to out of the top ten. Other states have aggressively offered more generous tax credits.

Recently, the cast and crew of the show Burn Notice, one of the few TV shows to actually shoot in Florida, lobbied the legislature to increase tax incentives for show business productions. They claim they've paid nearly $25 million in wages to Floridians and booked more than 7,000 nights in hotel rooms during the shooting of the show. The show received about $5.2 million in tax breaks last fiscal year but could find itself out of luck depending on how the "gratuitous violence" clause is interpreted and wouldn't be free to introduce LGBT characters.

The bill, which also has a companion bill in the Senate, still has to go through various committees before it reaches the House floor. - Kyle Munzenrieder

Friday, March 5, 2010

Are You Weird Because You Don't Like The Godfather?

We love watching films. We love taking out the time and experiencing a reality that we haven't experienced before. Now the key to creating that reality obviously is to ground it in something that we have experienced before. The everyday speech patterns, occurrences, and blunders make a film beautiful. Heroism and cowardice exist in everyday life and it is these acts magnified that make the spectacle. Now the question we must ask ourselves is where does our interest lie. Why do we watch films? The answer should be different for everyone that ventures into that question, barring the obvious facts of attraction. 

The subject became ever so demanding when a few friends decided to arrange movie night. What is it about wednesdays that leads to such activities? So the four of us sat down and started to decipher our tastes in film. Most of us agreed to watch the classics, to better aquatint ourselves with the art of film. And than there was Hasburger (not the real name). Hasburger's tastes vary quite a bit. He doesn't agree with a lot of the classics. He doesn't care for Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Jack Nicholson and more in the category. He also has certain questionable (by me) taste in films. 

Who doesn't like Good Will Hunting? Scratch that, Who in this world doesn't like, nay love The Godfather? I guess Ciudad de Deus (City of God) could go either way, even though I don't know how that is possible. Not everything I love has to be loved by there rest of the world. But I thought there were certain films that everyone had to love. Then again we wouldn't be human if we all loved the same things. 

So what is it that draws us to films? The question that has been ailing studios for decades, and publishers for centuries. But we all have always known the answer to that. It's good stories. Blahh. What does that mean? Good stories are telling of the human condition, the struggles and more. It is these stories that make us see ourselves in these extravagantly constructed lives.  

Now after a few hours of ideas we were able to come up with certain genres that we can agree on. Anything that has to do with Sci-fi or Samurai's is something that he would be interested in. Which again made me think. Do movies only appeal to us when it boils down to our personal likes and dislikes. I didn't care for Midnight Cowboy too much, perhaps because the subject matter didn't please me much. I loved Seventh Seal, but then again I'm a sucker for philosophy. 

An acquaintance of mine recently decided to lecture me on films. He hates the likes of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. He says that they are not real. He doesn't quite grasp that it is the fictional construct of these fantasy lands that help glorify the human traits that are so necessary for any good film. He even went as far as to say "Hurt Locker, what is that? That's not real. That's Afghanistan." Needless to say the comment had us screaming with laughter. Though his choices brought up a good point. The man loves math and science. He is a business man and he thrives on perfect equations. It made sense that he didn't love the venture into the land of imagination and make believe. He is a realist. 

Just like Hasburger who is a gamer and has developed affections towards the worlds that exceed reality. He appreciates well made films, however almost alway they have to go through the filter of his existing likes, that surpass the film world. He associates with the creation of other worlds because to him these worlds are quite normal. They are not superstitious at all, they are a part of his every day reality. 

Same goes with actors. Most of the ones I know tend to favor strong performances. They love to see the world created through emotions and they love to see their counter parts raise up a storm. Directors look for well shot sequences in the films, writers favor plot points. So on and so forth. Everyone seems to have a filter of their own. It's not necessarily a good versus bad filter, rather its a very personal biased filter. Things that are a part of your everyday life, the comfort zone if you may call it, become a major part of this filter. 

Now that brings up a more interesting thought. Do critics have the same filters? Absolutely. They have the same filters and often their filters are biased in somewhat of a similar way seeing that most of them have been watching movies for a while, and have lived a similar life to their counterparts. Makes you think if we wouldn't be better off getting a Plumber, a Mechanic, a Soldier, and an Athiest to be the judging panel for a film's well being. At least there is diversity there. Sure they wouldn't admire the art of film as a well taught critic. But films are not made to serve the critics, are they? they are for the mass audiences.

So I shall go out on a limb and say: chances are that films about labour unions would appeal to factory workers, films about prisons would appeal to those incarcerated, and films about sports would appeal to athletes. Now that is not to say that the rest of us can't appreciate a true struggle of an athlete to become the best he can be, because we are all trying to do that in our own fields, or can at least admire it. It just means that an athlete may connect to it on a different level. Just like Hasburger loves well created worlds that let you escape from the constricting reality that we abide in. 

We all have biases. The festivals have their biases. The academy theirs. You rarely, if ever see a comedy nominated for a best picture award. These biases are real, and to undermine them is folly. To understand them is impossible. However, to accept them is perhaps the sanest way to live. You have to find your own taste and hope you find people that share it. Chances are you will never find a perfect match, otherwise it would be love wouldn't it. Maybe my next article will be about how to find the love of your life through ten simple films. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole with Alice

When a film transgresses from reality to find a fictional, shall we say dreamlike, world to tell of the human condition, it almost always is a struggle. First there are many who rather see a work of realistic fiction, second it's almost impossible to strike a balance at any given time. The worlds collide and the audience either finds itself too much in the wraps of things or too little. Now a good film leaves you wanting to explore the world further, but it also gives you the satisfaction in this trip. Yes the gondola ride could have been longer, but nonetheless you found it very satisfying. 

Pan's Labyrinth wove an intricate association between the two worlds as the audience travels from one to the other. There was a delicate balance and a heavy correlation between the two. It made sense and more so helped the story along. It changed the way the audience perceived this little girls world. Like most often it was a story of growth of realization, about dreams and their relation to day to day life. There were always subtle visual techniques that brought the two worlds in sync even when we were in the realm of reality. 

Hollywood has always somewhat leaned towards fantasy (Sci-fi being a part of it). Though it seems that recently they have taken a more realistic turn into the magical realm. It pays the same dues as Sci-fi by creating real human characters that suffer the faiths that we all do, in a different light. The struggle of heroism in day to day situations, or the struggle against ones self as our perceptions of the world fall by the way side.

It is perhaps the escapist aspect of these stories that give the audience that much desired pathos. Being caught in an unreal world when the current one might pose too many real problems gives the audience a chance to breathe. The stories of Avatar are widely relatable. They have been seen and heard numbers times. However, you regenerate them in a fictional world that draws the viewer in, and you have the master piece. 

Alice in Wonderland is another one of these stories. It is the key that unlocks most of them. It is the reference that we use for every other story. Statements like "down the rabbit hole," originate in the world where Alice literally takes the plunge. So yes when you see it, it might seem a bit used but it is original. The recent release with Johnny Depp again tries to capture that lightning in the bottle; that Pan's Labyrinth did so well and others fail to do immensely over and over again. 

Alice does what every one of the sub real films should do extremely well. It creates a fictional world but gives the characters real motives. Makes them question the meaning of love, destiny, and faith. The over arching theme, used many times before, is that one cannot escape their destiny. Now the beauty of the film is that ever scene makes you question if that is the theme. The events unfold and they seem to take wings. 

This is not to say that Alice in Wonderland is a flawless film. It has its ups and downs. Yet for what it is, it is something worth watching and worth admiring. It delvers a beautiful, talented young actress, with a well matured cast such as Johnny Depp and Helena Carter. Every character is carefully conceived with an interesting back story. It tries to avoid cliches and reinvents them when they do come up. There is no doubt about the fact that the source material helped the creators of the film, but there are many novels turned films that are absolutely horrendous. 

The ending is a bit contrived, though everything else seems to coexist in its own harmony. Above all the characters seem real. They have their moments of constraints and their moments of liberation. They find themselves in binds and find ways out in unique fashion. They reinvent themselves over and over until their destinies are achieved. There are lines that repeat themselves and there are thoughts that string together to form this film. 

By contrast a film like Immaginarium of Dr. Pernasus suffered from its lack of coherency and its attempt to tackle themes bigger then itself. Though it does cary a larger than life cast, the film seems to fail in its attempt to create something magnificent. It brings up philosophical thoughts but leaves them unfinished. A film of this nature does not need to be high in philosophy, rather it has to complete the ones that it does chose to tackle. 

Heath Ledger's death during the filming couldn't have been much of a help. Though it still seems that the story could have been salvaged to a certain degree. Since it is a film about dreams, it could have found its way to a better conclusion. Fortune has it that it didn't and Terry Gilliam found his post Monty Python adventure a bit stale. 

It is always hard to draw that line between everyday life and dream. The best ones are when the elements of real life are clear in the dream. Because when we dream we dream of real emotions and real events happening in obstructed setting and disheveled orders. Dreams are surreal, they give you a world that is hard to understand, but they give you emotions that are anything but. 

Alice in Wonderland finds its marks and hits them very well. It marries the realm of fantasy beautifully with true human emotions. It does fail to break the mold completely, which would have made it a great film. Yet, it fills the mold perfectly and therefore creates a film that is definitely worth a repeat watch. The conception the creation, the nuances and the not so subtle outburst of visuals, make it a wondrous film to experience. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What Will The Post-Lost, Post-Heroes Era Look Like?

Two genre TV shows really broke out of the pack and captured the popular imagination in the past half-decade: Lost and Heroes. They both showed how genre TV can rule the DVR era. What's going to happen when they're gone?
We still don't know, of course, if we've seen the last of Heroes. It could come back, either in the fall or in January, but if it does, it'll likely be some kind of "final chapter" miniseries, wrapping the show up. Whether we get to see Sylar channeling Daniel Day Lewis in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being one more time, though, it feels like the era of Lost and Heroes is coming to an end with this TV season.
It's hard to remember now, but there was a time when Heroes was up there with Lost, and both shows were among the dozen or so most discussed series on television. Heroes' first season was a phenomenon, for similar reasons to Lost's success — a sprawling family drama, dark mysteries and unpredictable characters (like HRG and Clyde).

Both shows managed to thrive, in the era of TiVo, by being watercooler viewing. If you missed the newest episode of Lost or Heroes, you'd have to listen to your coworkers talking about it the next day. The challenge of DVR viewing is especially huge for shows that capture a large nerd audience, probably because nerds are early adopters. I always think it's funny when TV execs tout the large numbers of people who watch their shows via DVR after the fact — sure, it adds to the overall number of viewers. But when genre shows have large numbers of late DVR viewers, that's not good news. It means those shows aren't addictive enough to be same-night viewing.

(And also, of course, the "watercooler" thing is probably way less effective for shows that air on Friday nights, in which case you have until Monday to watch them, even assuming your coworkers are going to talk about them anyway.)

In the past half dozen years, a lot of other shows have had strong opening weeks — followed by sharp drop-offs. I've argued before that science fiction movies and TV shows show the same pattern, in fact. A blockbuster opening weekend, fueled by buzz and spectacle, and then catastrophic drops in successive weeks. SF shows with record-breaking huge pilot ratings have included Bionic Woman, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, FlashForward and V. Pilot episodes tend to be mini-movies, too, directed by actual film directors or hired-gun pilot directors, and featuring huge special effects budgets. It's always a bit of a letdown when a show settles into its normal pattern of smaller-scale adventures, after a huge blockbuster pilot.

By contrast, Heroes started off with 14 million viewers, and then actually built up to 16 million viewers over the course of the fall. By the time its first season finale aired, it had softened slightly, but still managed to score close to 14 million viewers. Season two bowed to nearly 17 million viewers and managed to hold on to 11 million of them.

And Lost launched with nearly 19 million viewers, garnering 23.5 million viewers for its second season premiere. As recently as season four, it was garnering 17 million viewers, and the final season premiere won an impressive 14 million viewers.

With both these shows gone, there'll be no model on television for how a science-fiction show can gain a mass audience and sustain it over weeks and years.

So how did Lost and Heroes buck the trend and convince those 17 million Americans they were must-watch TV? A few things suggest themselves: They're both shows about ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. They don't try to adapt the "police procedural/CSI" model to science fiction — as so many other shows have tried to do. The characters aren't experts, and in fact they usually know less than the audience does. (I think this might be key for the "water cooler" factor, actually.)

Instead, both shows are what you might call "paranormal soap operas." (I'm using the word "paranormal" loosely here.) As I mentioned above, there are sprawling family sagas in both shows — in fact, they both feature a blonde illegitimate daughter who unknowingly meets her bio-dad's family. There are also mysteries within mysteries — remember when we were dead curious about the shadowy "Linderman" on Heroes, before we found out it was just Malcolm McDowell being campy? — and characters whose allegiances were unclear.

The tone and composition of the shows varied a lot — Lost was a good deal darker and more literary than Heroes turned out to be, and tough guys like Jack, Sawyer and Locke turned out to be a lot more watchable than the mom-obsessed Petrelli boys. But it does seem significant that the two most successful SF shows of the past six years follow a soap-opera model. You can see why, with the success of shows like CSI, the idea of a CSI-X-Files hybrid might have felt like a no-brainer. But in practice, it seems like TV audiences only want to watch experts at work in a few very specific contexts, like hospitals and crime labs.

So what will the post-Lost/Heroes era look like? We posted a list of 18 upcoming shows that could be the next big thing, but many people seem to think it'll be a bit of a wasteland. In any case, the end of Lost, in particular, will leave a huge vacuum. At some point, the wheel will turn again and one of the "big four" broadcast networks will be willing to take a chance on another potential juggernaut.

What will the next Lost or Heroes look like? It's always hard to predict these things, of course. But there are a few possibilities:

1) Another sticky soap opera about ordinary people to whom weird shit happens. I'm racking my brains — has anybody actually launched a show that meets this description since Lost and Heroes? I guess FlashForward tried to do that — but the soap-opera elements have felt like weak tea, and "FBI agents investigating weird shit" isn't really the same as "ordinary people who get swept up in weird shit."

2) A show about a single ordinary person who gets swept into an extraordinary world could also work. But I feel like Bionic Woman met that description, and the new Jaime Sommers wound up just feeling like a tool of the mysterious organization, and she also stopped feeling like an ordinary person pretty quickly. I would imagine that's a peril of the "single ordinary person in an extraordinary world" format.

3) Something that capitalizes on the success of the other geek-oriented show to build an audience in recent years: The Big Bang Theory. From around 8 million viewers in its first season and 10 million in its second, the nerd-comedy show has been getting up to 16 million viewers lately. If someone finds a way to do a version of Big Bang that includes more overtly science-fictional elements mixed in with the nerd humor, it could be equally huge.

There's one thing that won't give us the next mega-hit, I feel confident in saying: A show about FBI agents investigating stuff. If a duo of FBI agents were going to be the next Jack Shephard and John Locke, then it would have happened by now. And if the "CSI-meets-X-Files" thing was going to bear fruit, then Fringe, a truly excellent show, would be getting 15 million viewers a week.
But it's entirely likely the next huge genre mega-success on television will be just as unexpected and hard to predict as Lost and Heroes both were. Let's hope it's as great as both shows were in their heyday. - Charlie Jane Anders