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Sunday, May 23, 2010

We have to go back...lash

Two hour & a half hour finale starts in about an hour & 20 minutes.

LOST backlash began weeks ago, with the airing of "Across the Sea" and showed up in a major way during the NY Times' lead-up coverage to the finale!

I think there's a lot to criticize about LOST: the sexism, the hetero-normativity, the way a diverse & fascinating cast got winnowed down to mostly white people, and the way it deploys references in place of nuance or answers.

At the same time, the Times' dismissive attitude to the show that seems partially rooted in the participatory nature of the fanbase seems a little wrong-headed. Have they not noticed the way many modern/contemporary novels, rely on a similar level of audience investigation & analysis to really work. For example, most of the work of Thomas Pynchon.

And the aesthetic judgements they make about the show's "pacing, structure, camerawork, and acting" aren't really backed up, except so far as they say that Locke & Desmond are good. It's hard to tell if NYT's problems with these aspects of LOST are rooted in reasonable aesthetic disagreements or completely different aesthetic expectations of what "good" TV is.  On the most basic level, where is the problem with pacing? On the seasonal level? On an episode-by-episode level? Over the course of the whole series?

Ironically, just like the producers of LOST are frequently accused of doing, Mike Hale doesn't answer the questions he raises.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jennifer Lynch's SURVEILLANCE (2008)

"You probably read the end of the book first."
"Yeah."
"That's no way to live"

SURVEILLANCE (2008)
Directed by Jennifer Lynch
Starring Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Michael Ironsides, Cheri Oteri, French Stewart, Kent Harper, Ryan Simpkins and Pell James

Synopsis: FBI Agents Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) come to a small Midwestern town to interrogate the 3 surviving victims of a brutal shoot-out.

This is a movie that is substantially less than the sum of its part.

Admittedly, Jennifer Lynch's directing career has hardly been fruitful. The last film she did was Boxing Helena about 15 years ago, and critics were less than kind to it. She broke her back and raised a kid, which took her out of the game for most of that time. She has had to suffer a lot of comparisons to her dad, heaven knows.

But the concept is strong (a series of interrogations where everyone on both sides of the table is holding something back) and Lynch pulled in a fascinating mix of has-beens, character actors and nobodies.  And she manages to get strong performances from some of them, including a child actor who is actually surprisingly good.

But, oh, how Lynch squanders it all.

First of all, you might assume this concept offers at least a couple obvious but compelling ways of telling the narrative. Perhaps you go victim by victim, showing each person's distorted version of events in ways that call the other accounts into question. Or maybe you alternate between the accounts and the investigators' attempts to make sense of them.

Or maybe you just show exactly what happens to everyone with the exception of one or two pieces of information to hold back for a "shocking" twist? Because that's exactly what Jennifer Lynch does.

And there's little else to hold onto in the film. After a couple of evocative shots in the opening, there's little of visual interest. At one or two moment, she seems to realize the creepiness of the endless plains the Midwest holds, but not to worry, that only lasts for a moment before we're back to mediocre camerawork.

If this movie wasn't so disposable, there'd be so much to pick apart about the stupidity of its morality and conception of violence. But it doesn't even rise to some height of risible violence. It doesn't examine (or do) anything.

And to make it worse, somehow some of the actors (presumably under Lynch's direction) do manage to make the ciphers they're given compelling. Julia Ormond & Cheri Oteri are particularly noteworthy, and even Bill Pullman is decent.

I know it's easy to complain that Jennifer Lynch is just doing a sub par version of her dad's work. But this could have been a nasty, brutal piece of pulp exploitation, and she doesn't do that either. Whatever creative instincts she has, wherever she picked them up, she can't make them her own.
Grade: C-

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cleaning out backlog of articles to read...

"We often have a way that we think we’re going to correct ourselves in the work that leads us to deny the talent we’re assigned or the subjects we’re assigned or the style we’re assigned. That’s certainly been true for me and I often see it with young writers"

from an interview with Mary Karr.

Earlier in the interview, she talks about how George Saunders initially was trying to be Raymond Carver, until his friends convinced him that the weird stuff was what he should be writing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Screening Log: December - January

Le Corbeau (d. Henri-Georges Clouzot) - A series of poison pen letters nearly destroy a rural French village. I think this is basically the film Michel Haneke has wanted to make his entire life. Clouzot has a keen eye for small-town hypocrisy and the cruelty of children, both in his villains and his heroes. At the end, you realize the most hateful character is the most victimized person of all, while a friendly, charming man is actually a black-hearted, twisted human being. A-

Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (d. Terry Gilliam) - Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) makes a deal with the Devil (Tom Waits) to win more souls to imagination than to earthly delights and... ? Visually stimulating and beautiful, with great moments of acid wit about wish-fulfillment. Too bad the plot is a jumble and Gilliam can't make up his mind who the main character. That said, Gilliam displays a fascinating amount of cynicism towards self-proclaimed prophets of imagination, which I never would have expected. C-

Jack Goes Boating (d. Phillip Seymour Hoffman) - A character piece about Jack (Hoffman), a man whose life seems stuck in neutral, finally getting his shit together, as his best friend (John Ortiz)'s life falls apart. Hoffman's got a great eye for color and visuals (rare in actors turned director), and his relationship with Amy Ryan is realistic yet incredibly sweet. The movie falters most when pushing the melodrama of Ortiz and Daphne Rubin Vega's relationship. C+

The Errand Boy (d. Jerry Lewis) - Jerry Lewis is an errand boy who is supposed to spy on movie productions, but mostly just messes them up. The promise of the high concept is mostly ignored, but for every stock piece of Lewis shtick, there's a sequence of absurdist wit, like Lewis continually sitting down to eat lunch in the action sequences of other films, or when a long shot out of an Minelli musical caps his ruining a musical sequence. B-

Hot Rod (d. Akiva Schaffer) - A dirt-bike riding stuntman wannabe (Andy Samberg) tries to raise money for his dad's heart operation. Story is secondary, and like Lewis's film, it's more about the comedic heights than a sustained comic genius, often defaulting to the view that the 80s are funny. With the Lonely Island crew, Will Arnett, Ian McShane, Danny McBride, Sissy Spacek  and Isla Fisher, this has to be the most overqualified cast I've seen in a small comedy, and everyone outside of the Lonely Island crew is underutilized. That said, if you like SNL Digital Shorts, there are at least 4 or 5 sequences that could have made good ones. B-

UHF (d. Jay Levey , 2nd viewing) "Starring Weird Al Yankovic" is rarely a good sign, especially in the '80s, when the shrillness of his shtick often overrode whatever humor there was in his music. Moments like "Gandhi 2" or that involve Michael Richards and/or Kevin McCarthy work well. Would have been better if Frank Tashlin or Joe Dante could have directed it. Maybe. C-

Creepshow (d. George Romero) Hit-or-miss anthology mimicking old horror comics, but Romero probably gets the best overall cast he'd ever have (Leslie Nielsen, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Ted Danson). "They're Creeping Up On You" and "Something to Tide You Over" hit that sweet spot of misanthropy, camp & dark humor that EC Comics stood for. A-

The Big Sleep (d. Howard Hawks) - It's the 40's Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen! In the sense that the whole story fails to hang together, & is more about individual cool scenes at the expense of the whole. However, what makes these scenes "cool" are dialogue, performance and mise-en-scene, not shakycam and incomprehensible action. Bogart and Bacall make it all go down smooth... B+

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exeunt, pursued by CGI

Roland Emmerich is making a movie about Shakespeare the dude crazy people like to claim wrote Shakespeare's work. The movie, natch, is called, Anonymous. Those of us hoping for an anti-Scientology movement biopic will be waiting for a while yet, I'm afraid.

To those of us who are pro-Stratfordians, this is probably good news. Even if I'd believed in 2012  or God...zilla before, I'd be much less likely to believe it coming from the guy who made Stargate. I'll go ahead and synopsize it  make shit up for you.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Considering how much they love Guilds, you'd think they'd like unions...

So, for various reasons, I recently signed up for Actor's Access, the website showing casting calls & breakdowns for commercial/film/tv work, both union & non-union. You can set up the system to notify you if there are any casting calls matching your profile.

About a week ago, I got an e-mail regarding voice-overs for World of Warcraft. They were looking for men 25-55, able to do accents.

But what was interesting about this was that it was non-union work.

It's hardly news that video game work for actors isn't very lucrative. Take a look at this NY Times article from 2008, about the dude who provided the voice & movements for GTA IV's Niko Bellic:
Mr. Hollick was paid only about $100,000 over roughly 15 months between late 2006 and early this year for all of his voice acting and motion-capture work on the game, with zero royalties or residuals in sight, he said.
RTWT, because there's a lot of great stuff in there.

Now, $100,000 isn't a bad salary, but it is spread out over the course of three different years (altogether 15 months), and the sticking point is royalties. He put a lot of time and effort into a character in a game that has enjoyed both critical acclaim & commercial success.

And one of the areas video games have traditionally had problems with is voice acting. Rock Star, the games company that put out GTA IV are known for their careful work on characterization and voice-casting. But as that linked Guardian article suggests, Rock Star is the exception rather than the rule. And considering that even Rock Star treats actors as session players, the mentality isn't surprising.

But Rock Star was paying the going union rate for some of supporting cast ($730 a day). Hellick made $1030 a day.

The posting for World of Warcraft set the minimum day rate at $200. $25 an hour doesn't sound too bad IF they keep it to an 8 hour day. However, if it's non-union, they aren't restricted to an 8 hour day.

And context is important here. Remember, Rock Star paid $730 a day for work on GTA IV.  WOW is paying just barely above a quarter of that.

Further context: in a recent on-camera class in Chicago, a freelance casting director (who works on commercials all the time) said to not bother booking non-union work if you were getting under $400 a day. That's for regional and local commercial work that's maybe seen over a couple of states. Not a video game which sold 4 million copies within the first month of release.

In other words, a Chicago-based restaurant chain could be paying actors more for a thirty second ad than one of the most popular MMOs is paying someone for recording pages and pages of dialogue.

This is why unions matter.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

We are living in the future, I'll tell you how I know

You know, in the last five years, we've had the US government basically abandon a city following a natural disaster and now we have a major US metropolis without potable water for days to come.

It's like Cory Doctorow and Mad Max and every zombie film's opening scenario merged into one.