21 posts categorized "film"

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

April 27, 2011

Rewriting "Hanna"

SPOILER ALERT. Don't read any of this until you've seen the movie!

I just saw Hanna and I'm both exhilarated and disappointed. The first three quarters of the film are wonderful: fresh and exciting and great filmmaking. Then the last quarter is shit.

The film takes a fairy tale situation and forces it into interaction with an elevated version of "reality." A beautifully filmed, highly selective version of the beauties of everyday life. A girl grows up in the forest, raised by her father, who is a hunter. She reaches a point in her growth where she has to go out into the world and claim her true identity. This is all stuff of fairy tales and myths: a child of mysterious birth who is supernaturally strong and powerful. In a fairy tale she'd be a secret princess, hidden from her father the evil king. In a myth, she'd be a demi-god, child of a god and a human, hidden from the human's evil king father, or something. Her quest is to discover her true identity and claim her power and status. So far, so good.

Along the way, on her quest, she receives help from various characters; in fairy tales they'd be kind humans and figures of power: a good witch, supernatural creatures who make bargains with her, etc. In the fairy tale, people who help her get left behind, never to be heard from again.

In the film, Hanna and her hunter/woodcutter father decide it's time for her to kill the evil king -- in this case, an evil CIA project director named Marissa Wiegler. She goes to the king's castle, kills a fake version of the king, and then escapes the castle into the "real world." Once there, the movie gets really great. The castle is an underground bunker in Morocco, and Hanna wanders through Morrocco and Spain, encountering a bunch of really surprising and beautiful set pieces, including women singing while they launder clothes in a river, and a group of Roma wearing Juicy Couture singing and dancing flamenco. She also hooks up with a quirky and wonderfully written family on vacation in their minibus, and sees what a good, albeit weird, family looks like. She gets her first kiss; not from the Spanish boys we expected, but rather from the English family's young daughter.

But then the fariy tale intrudes again. The evil king turns into a combination of evil witch and big bad wolf. Hanna careens through France and Germany and ends up confronting the baddies in Berlin. And this is where the movie turns to shit. Once she leaves the weird family, things get muddy. And, as my friend Jaime pointed out, once she starts using a computer to research her past, the movie completely falls apart.

This is because, once the English family gets left behind, she reenters the realm of fairy tale, but the filmmaker/s sort of lose their grip on the structure of the fairy tale. She discovers her true identity -- she's a genetically engineered supersoldier, of course. This shouldn't be a problem, because in a "modern" fairy tale, the demi-god/prince/ss would be a genetically engineered supersoldier. There's no such thing as gods or princesses or the supernatural in this story. And that's fine. BUT, the filmmakers -- or maybe just the writers -- let the genetically engineered supersoldier narrative take over the fairy tale, and those are two completely different (and not complementary) narrative structures. So the fairy tale goes to shit, as does the CIA supersoldier program story, because the latter wasn't how the story was set up.

The first half or more of the film is expansive, showing us how big and beautiful the real world is, and hinting at the stakes for this girl in trying to leave her fairy tale and enter reality. But the film narrows, in the latter part, to a simple confrontation between her and Marissa, and Marissa's defeat stops meaning anything broader for Hanna and for the audience members who identify with her as an everyman protagonist. Hanna, as would happen in a fairy tale, leaves all the people who have helped and nurtured her behind, but the baddies, as would happen in a spy tale, follow her and kill or hurt everyone who has helped her. Hanna never looks back, never even wonders what has happened to these people. This is made even more problematic by the revelation that she's been engineered to feel less fear, less pain, and less empathy. There's no redemption or expansion for her.

So I'm gonna try rewriting this to fix it and take this from a film that could have been great, to a film that would have been great. Wanna hear it? Here I go:

In the film Hanna doesn't return to see what happens to the people she left behind. In my version, she does. She turns around and goes back, one by one, to all the people who have helped her, thus retracing her steps back to the world of people and "reality."

We have three fairy tales being referenced here: The three little pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Once she leaves the English family, we're brought into these three, and reminded that she's on a quest through the scary forest of the CIA-ordered spy world. We also have three locations: her grandmother's house, a gingerbread house inhabited by a good gnome, and a fairy tale theme park, which was a really bad choice. But the three locations are important, because she's left four people, or sets of people, behind: the English family, the grandmother, the gnome/contact, and her father. The latter three, being part of the fairy tale world, die. But the English family's fate is left ambiguous. What she has to do is "bury" the dead, and save the family.

In the film she visits her grandmother's house -- where Marissa had invaded and killed her grandmother -- long before the climax, and the scene is completely thrown away. I'd rewrite this so that the grandmother's house is an actual house (the grandmother belongs to the fairy tale world) and not an apartment, and I'd show brief scenes of the grandmother in her house, getting the message from the hunter/father that Hanna is around and probably coming, reviewing the tapes from her daughter, cooking, cleaning, etc. But Hanna doesn't visit her house before the climax.

I'd also get rid of the climax in the playground. Marissa has sent three assassins after Hanna, and this could have been a smart choice: the three little pigs as bad guys going after the protagonist wolf, Hanna. Only ... the three little pigs is all about houses. They each have a house, and they run to each succeeding house until they find the one that will protect them. So the defeat of the evil three pigs has to involve a house, not an open air playground. There are two houses in this part of the movie: the grandmother's apartment and the gingerbread house the gnome/father's contact lives in. They should have put in a third one, maybe a CIA safe house, where Hanna traps the three pigs inside and kills them by blowing up the house. Or something, some inversion of the three pigs story.

In the process of this, her father gets killed, as he does in the film. In the film he distracts the pigs from her and she runs away and he kills the pigs and gets killed by Marissa. Bad choice. What should happen is that he distracts the pigs, she runs away, then he gets killed by the pigs. Hanna hears the gunshot that kills her father, but she doesn't go back in the film. In this one, the gunshot should be the turning point for her, the point where she makes the choice between being the killer/princess/demigod she was made to be, or the real person with a real family that the film keeps hinting she could be.

In my version, she stops, struggles with herself, and goes back to find her father. The pigs catch her there, and she traps them in the house and kills them, then makes some sort of burial/goodbye gesture to him. Then she returns to the gingerbread house where, in the film, the good gnome was tortured and killed for her sake. Marissa, in the guise of Hansel and Gretel's evil witch, should be waiting for her there. Hanna then traps Marissa in the oven; in this case, the only oven in the house is a waffle iron we see the gnome/contact using to make Hanna waffles. Maybe she burns Marissa with the waffle iron, or knocks her over the head with it. Then she makes some sort of settlement with the dead gnome/contact, and leaves without killing Marissa.

Next stop, grandmother's house. Of course, Marissa gets there before she does, and the grandmother is already dead. There, Hanna has a final confrontation with Marissa, kills her with an axe, as the big bad wolf must be killed, and finds her grandmother's body. Possibly, there's a final piece of the puzzle hidden in the grandmother's house, that Marissa tried to destroy by killing the grandmother, but Hanna finds it on the grandmother's body. She then "buries" the grandmother, symbolically.

I think when Hanna sneaks into her grandmother's house, she should hear the tail end of a phone conversation between Marissa and some agents who are holding the English family. In the film, these agents are the three pigs, but in my version there are other agents. Marissa tells them to get all the information they can out of the family and then dispose of them. After dealing with Marissa and the grandmother, Hanna has another struggle: her own personal issues have been dealt with, her demons killed, her questions answered, her family buried. Does she still have a responsibility?

And, of course, the answer is yes, because her quest here is to rejoin reality. So she races back to France to try to save the family, and does so, undramatically. My version of the film ends with them walking into a police station -- not a Hollywood police station, but a police station in a rural French town on a weekday, where nothing is going on and the police are doing whatever rural French police do to while away the time. Another lovely set piece.

And that's how Claire "C's" it.

January 16, 2011

Trailer Sunday

Thought it might be fun.

 

I loved the book, but this trailer is awful. Can we agree that if the trailer doesn't make you want to read the book, it shouldn't be?

This is part of the reason why the book is so good: there's a lot of fighting in it, and good fights are really hard to stage. (cf. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Also? Not just any teen-girl voice will do. It has to have bottom, gravitas. Okay?

 

It's an Aryancrombie & Fitch ad, with special effects. Why would I want to watch a bunch of puerile, blond models try to act emo?

Okay, yes, I'm going to watch the movie, but I'll wait until it hits video ... about five minutes after it hits theaters.

And this book isn't even particularly diverse, but Hollymood managed to smooth away even the diversity of different kinds of European coloring. Argh!

 

And, of course, this fan trailer for The Hunger Games is much better than the previous two professional trailers. Makes me want to read the books all over again, but I just read them too recently. Can't wait to see the trailer for the movie, though. Wonder if it'll be as good as this trailer.

November 17, 2009

Oh Yes!

November 16, 2009

The New "Life's Too Short" Rule of Consumption

It used to be that saying "Life's too short" about giving up on a book or a movie was a very serious accusation of suckitude. The lesser insult was "I have better things to do."

But now I'm about halfway through my expected life span as an American. I've noticed recently, with books, movies, and even TV, that I'll give up on things much more easily, with the thought that I don't have all the time in the world to read (or watch) crap, and I still haven't read Moby Dick (or seen The Bicycle Thief) or whatever, so I shouldn't waste my time on this. I think it's a function of mid-life crisis.

It's also a real consideration, though. I'm genuinely starting to feel how limited time is and how crappiness is a terrible thing to waste my mind on. But I'm still working on the idea that I should finish every book I start, and still working with the sensation of failure when I don't.

Right now I'm trying to get through William Gibson's Virtual Light, which I picked up because it mentions Thomassons in it. Every time I pick it up, I'm reminded that: a) I still haven't read Neuromancer, b) I'm not all that interested in Gibson or cyberpunk, but really should read at least that one seminal text before I kick the bucket, and c) I'm not really into this book, but feel I should finish it since it's not at all a bad book.

So I think the new rule should be: since I'm going to spend this time reading anyway, but I'm never going to get this reading time back, should I really be reading THIS? Or more precisely, at the end of my life, if I were granted the power to remember every book I had read, would I regret wasting my time on this?

I think the answers are no and yes. So I'm kicking this book to the curb and instituting this as a rule.

August 14, 2009

Four Years in the Life of John Hughes, Fascist

(I wasn't gonna write anything about John Hughes, but then my friend Joel Tan called for submissions on Facebook for a little Facebook anthology of John Hughes/80s memorials. I will post a link when it's ready.)

At first it seemed like John Hughes was just bad timing for me.

I was fourteen when "Sixteen Candles" came out and sixteen was too far away. I was a late bloomer and had never known what it was like to have a devastating crush on somebody in school. And let's not even talk about Long Duk Dong. I blocked him out and had to be reminded of his existence, frequently. I also suspected that the character I most resembled was Anthony Michael Hall's. Ugh.

When "The Breakfast Club" came out, I was in a brief fresh-faced phase, not popular, but at the height of my high school popularity, only an average student, the first cut from the team, and unable to identify with any of the stereotypes therein represented. A year later, I'd turn into The Basket Case, but by then the movie had ceased to matter, and the dandruff thing just grossed me out anyway. I never got dandruff until after college; it was a distant, adult thing.

When "Pretty in Pink" came out, as I said above, I had moved to a more Hughes-like public school and morphed into the Basket Case, and was watching Stephen Frears/Hanif Kureishi movies and reading Paul Celan. The previous year the movie would have spoken to me. The previous year I was buying skippy little sixties dresses with my best friend and strategizing how to sneak into clubs we never tried to sneak into. Now I was dropping out of school and trying to ignore how the furniture moved every time I looked away from it. Now the movie appeared to be exactly what it was: a cheap knockoff of an outsider life.

I laughed at "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" along with everyone else: it was funny. I never could articulate then -- nor can I explain even now -- the dread feeling in the pit of my stomach that movie gave me. I still feel it. It had a cold, existential edge to it, and the characters, aside from looking like adults, were so unpleasantly alien to me as to kill any enjoyment aside from that of purely cynical entertainment.

When "Some Kind of Wonderful" came out, I was -- miraculously -- in college, with a blonde bob, and my dream of being a drummer blossoming (it was to peak two years later when I actually bought a used drum kit for $60.) But ... I was in college. I couldn't even bring myself to express the wish of seeing the movie in front of my friends. I waited until I got home for winter vacation and went to see it at a second run theater by myself, a throwback to my Basket Case year. I did not allow myself to love it, even though the misfit finally got the misfit and this was perhaps the only John Hughes movie I could ever have loved; I was too grown up.

But, it turns out, it wasn't timing at all. I never fit the schedule; I never fit the mold. I was not pretty and graceful and cool like Molly Ringwald or Mary Stuart Masterson, and strangely, I never quite wanted to be. I was not exactly the white kid down the block, either; and the goofy and neglectful parents of this universe were nothing like my involved, overeducated, transnational pair. The characters I wished myself into were Maria from "West Side Story" and Alex from "Flashdance": parentless, urban, racially ambiguous girls who risked being shot for love, being fired for art. Self-sufficient girls who made up their own minds and were leagues away from the shallow problems of suburban high school popularity contests.

John Hughes movies were themselves the round hole I never fit into. They ruled my teenaged years like bullies, like Reagan, like the eighties. John Hughes fading out of the consciousness of my age group was a fact akin to the mainstreaming of alternative rock and Bill Clinton: the decline of a set of ideas that had poisoned the end of my childhood; the cultural accession of values more closely in alignment with my own; a huge weight off my chest.

I've been moved by the outpouring of emotion at the death of John Hughes, as I was by the fallout from Michael Jackson's death. But I was moved by the emotions of others, not by the deaths themselves. MJ meant nothing to me, but he was harmless. There was nothing in his message (such as it was) that hurt me. I can't say the same of John Hughes, whose shallow examinations of class distinctions in suburban high schools were a throwback to the geography of the fifties and sixties -- when different classes were still being schooled together.

Hughes never understood real power dynamics as they played out in American public schools. His blithe assurance that a drunken party could achieve social parity between two groups with vastly disparate levels of power was the teenaged version of the blithe assurances that if you laughed along with them, bullies would stop torturing you, or if we stopped talking about color, we'd see that racism was over, or if we squirted more ketchup on our tater tots, we'd get the nutritional equivalent of vegetables.

I was so glad to be shut of John Hughes, that I never thought about him from that day to this, except to murmur unconsciously insincere agreement when somebody nostalgized about one of his deathly movies. But now that he's dead, and I have to look squarely at his legacy, that's over for me. Time to let out the dead, grey feeling in my gut that his movies always birthed. Time to wash away the worst of the previous bad era.

Now, how do we wash away the Bush years?

April 05, 2009

Weekly Roundup: March 29 - April 4


My folks were in town for a while but left this week. And I've been having trouble getting to sleep, which is making me tired and bad-memoried.

I had to scramble to finish my Asian American women profiles for Hyphen blog this week, before Women's History Month was over. It was a good project, but a lot of work. I asked the readers for suggestions, and most of the suggestions were for artists and writers, which tells you what kind of readers we have, but wasn't terribly helpful. So I had to curate the profiles for age, ethnicity, and field of endeavor. That also meant I had to do some research to actually find a range of women to profile. But I'm glad of the result. You can see all the posts here.

By the way, I'm going to be asking Asian Americans to send in 200-word family histories for me to post on Hyphen Blog for May, which is API Heritage Month. Spread the word!

Also, currently working for Kaya Press and putting together book tours for Australian novelist Brian Castro and Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara. We've been watching Hara's films lately, and I have to say, although I would never have sat through one otherwise, I'm glad I was forced to: this guy's a genius. For writers out there, you HAVE to see A Dedicated Life (which you can get on Netflix). It's a documentary about a Japanese novelist, famous for one particular book, who used to be a member of the Japanese communist party and was excommunicated for kicking off his novel writing career by writing a book criticizing it. But that's not what the film is about. The film, an amazing 2.5 hours long, is about narrative and how people build their lives. That's all I can tell you, because it's the kind of film that does what only film can do ... so you can describe it. Watch the film and if your jaw isn't on the ground after the first half hour, and STILL on the ground two hours later, I'll buy you dinner.

I didn't really like his Goodbye CP, which I think was his first film, and which is basically about forcing the audience to watch endless footage of people with cerebral palsy moving through public space and being ignored by others. But definitely see The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, which is about a super-crazy protester in the 80's who tries to kill his former WWII commander for reasons best understood by watching the film.

Katherine Mieszkowski, probably my favorite writer at Salon, has an article about a couple in Berkeley who acquire most of their stuff by scavenging. It's really interesting and has some tips for down 'n' out East Bay Areans. The irony here is that this couple has written a book about scavenging, which you have to buy new, because presumably most people who buy it aren't going to toss it out.

My friend Jaime said last weekend, after the funeral of the four Oakland policemen, that he thinks a city can reach a point where its reputation is just broken, and there's no coming back. I've been watching The Wire on netflix these past few weeks, and Oakland feels like that right now: broken beyond repair. The anger that Oscar Grant's killing unleashed was one side of the violence coin -- and the police DO have a lot to answer for, over the years and right now. But these killings are the other side, an indication that when violence gets this out of control, no one is safe. The one thing everyone can agree on is that Mayor Dellums is an asshole. The feeling in Oakland right now is sadness just on the edge of despair; there's no real anger, just shock. And the violence continues.

I saw the William Kentridge show at SFMOMA last weekend and highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Don't wanna talk about it right now, though. Also saw the Nick Cave show at YBCA. Candylicious!

And I've started revisions on Draft 3 of da nobble. And started writing dates with other writers. If this works out, I might have a way of sticking to it. I have to get this sleep issue resolved, though, because I don't have much brain power this week.

Saw Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, on BART last weekend. At first I thought she was someone I knew down the way, so familiar did she seem. I stared a little, but tried not to bother. She was with a group of geek girls, which is cool.

Been watching the first season of 21 Jump Street on Y*O*U*T*U*B*E. Yeah, it's cheesy (the music is truly horrible), but the storytelling is actually pretty decent. I remember LOVING this show back in the day: it started the year I went off to college. I was still seventeen when I first went: still a teenager in a lot of ways. So I watched it off and on until Johnny Depp left. The gender and racial dynamics are so clear in this show, it makes me understand the 80's much better. Holly Robinson's character is the only woman on the force (there are no female extras in uniform). She's depicted as being just as capable as the men ... but she never has to fight anyone. Whenever there's a shooting or an accident that she's involved in, all the men get this look of concern on their faces and touch her shoulder and ask if she's alright. God, I remember that.

As far as the racial dynamic goes, the only black characters on the show so far are bad guys, except for Robinson and the captain. There's even one episode where a rich white kid gets hooked on smack and is forced by his black dealer, also a teenager, to rob stores to pay for his dope. The black dealer gets put away and the white junkie gets off scot free with no explanation. Everyone feels sorry for him. And yet, there's some sophistication in the way the individual characters interact racially. In the pilot, Johnny Depp's character is surprised that Holly Robinson's character owns an MG. She laughs at him and asks him if she should have a pimpmobile instead. No pretty-boy cop-show hero nowadays would ever be allowed to make racist assumptions like that.

Pireeni gave me Proust Was A Neuroscientist for my birthday (very belatedly) and I've started reading it.

Will do a sleep study next week.

That is all.

September 28, 2008

I Am So Sad About Paul Newman

Newmanwoodward

I did not know that he meant anything to me, but I guess he did. That kind of beauty, combined with intelligence and goodwill, can be a profound thing.

August 11, 2008

Scrappy Doo Syndrome

I think it's usually called "Cousin Oliver Syndrome," after the kid they tried to bring in to save The Brady Bunch. But I'm talking about a very slightly different syndrome here: not the cute kid they bring in to young-up the aging cast, but rather the subgroup of Cousin Olivers who intrude annoyingly into every plot by being stupid and aggressive, and putting themselves and everyone else into danger.

Like Scrappy Doo.

I just identified this one recently in the third installment of "The Mummy" movie franchise (with Brendan Fraser) in which they introduce a now-adult son, Alex, who looks about five years younger than his dad, and is bratty and aggressive without intelligence, charm, or any other sort of stature a fictional character requires to become sympathetic. Because he's now an adult, he gets to share all the ass-kicking with his parents, plus acquires all of the romance part. But he's an annoying Scrappy Doo who distracts and detracts from the characters we're really interested in and adds nothing.

Another recent Scrappy Doo is the Iskierka character in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, a fire-breathing young dragon utterly without charm who puts everyone in danger because of her thoughtless bloodthirstiness and greed. She was introduced at the end of the third book and has been a drag on the series ever since. (Naturally, she comes in at a point when Temeraire begins to lose the sweetness of innocence and is ready to assert himself as an equal partner in his relationship with Laurence. She's there to make sure we still have our young-dragon hit.)  Novik manages to balance her personality among a number of others, but there's no pleasure in reading about her for me.

This is the same problem with Dawn Summers in the Buffy series. No teenager is really that annoying. She was an adult's idea of a teenager in a show that was about the teenager's idea of a teenager: she was a whiny, stupid teenager incapable of learning lessons, and affecting everyone adversely with her years-long acting out, in a show in which all the other characters had started out as kickass, mature, responsible, knowledgeable, sophisticated, and witty teenagers. Dawn was a box of rocks who, despite being raised by an older sister who fought demons for a living, could never learn not to go wandering off by herself at night. I guess that's supposed to be humorous. You know: irony.

The thing is, the pleasure of young characters--children or teenagers--in a book, or film, or TV show for adult audiences, lies in watching them learn and grow and make choices. The milestones for youth are very clear to adults, and there's a great satisfaction in watching youthful characters pass these. But part of the satisfaction is in watching them pay for their mistakes, or exchange some of the innocence of youth for the sadder wisdom of experience.

Youthful characters who never grow or grow up are inserted into series and franchises as permanent cute vendors. Somehow they are expected to bring the youth-freshness ingredient to the bake-off over and over again because Hollywood seems to think that a character merely embodying the most obvious characteristics of youth (cuteness and whininess) will automatically charm us or call forth our tenderness. They also seem to think that a permanent state of youthful idiocy is funny. But Hollywood thinks a lot of things that aren't so. Hollywood never seems to learn that the youth-freshness ingredient is a combo of a cute face and a satisfying bildungs-arc.

(At least with Novik we can be sure that Iskierka will grow up. I hope it happens soon, though.)

What are your most hated Scrappy Doo characters? (Plus, check out this article on TV's most hated characters, and this one on seven signs your TV show has jumped it.)

Cross-posted on EnterBrainment.

July 29, 2008

Recent Figure-outey

Because of a recent post I did on my entertainment blog about the Bechdel test, I've been thinking about it lately. And the only big moobie I've seen this summer that passes that test is ... drumroll please ... the Sex and the City moobie. And I haven't even seen that movie.

Makes you think don't it?

July 03, 2008

My Entertainment Blog!

Hey all,

I know posting has been spotty 'round here lately. Partly because my outrage machine got broke when Obama won the nom. Now I'm keeping my mouth shut while I try to work up more than nominal (get it? nominal?) enthusiasm for his cause.

But it's also because I've been working hard to establish my new entertainment blog. It's called "EnterBrainment" and is my usual thinks-too-much maunderings, except this time, unrepentantly, about the trashiest trash trash.

I'm being paid, you see, to be a featured A & E blogger on a new blogging site called PNN, the personal news network. The innovation of this site is that you can lay out your blog to look like a newspaper, with different pages and sections. The result is halfway between a website and a newspaper, with columns and captioned photos, and headlines, and the works. You kind of have to see it to get it. The way the blogging software works is different from more "traditional" blogging software, and should appeal to people whose minds work in a more modular fashion. The software also rewards multitasking, unlike traditional blogging software, which pretty much restricts your blog posting to one track. Again, you have to see it to get what I mean.

What this all means for my blogging is that I'm getting an excuse to turn my formidable bitchiness on the lightest of pop subjects. It's pretty cool. It is, however, also taking time away from my other blogging.

So please go over and check out EnterBrainment (yes, I know, but I'm old enough to enjoy puns now) and slip me a link if you want. I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to have a blog roll or just a page of feeds. Feel free to make your entertainment blog known to me.

Yay!

February 12, 2008

BSG: Razor

Sigh.

I know I'm being heavily critical of things right now. I'm acting out. But still, BSG: Razor just wasn't that great, and my hope for season 4 is starting to fade.

I just watched it on DVD, and it made a lot of the mistakes I hated so much on season 3--the exact opposite of the things I loved in the first two seasons.

First of all, I loved the storytelling in the first two seasons which was basically a show OR tell tactic. Show the consequences of earlier decisions, or how a character behaves in a situation. This is fairly common in good filmmaking/tv drama. But less common is the tactic used if you need to give backstory without a flashback: have a character tell the story in a way that gives you maximum subtextual impact. A great example of this is how they tell the story of the Pegasus in season 2: the ship's XO gets drunk with Tigh and tells him about how Cain shot the original XO for insubordination ... then plays it off as a joke. The mechanics gossip with Pegasus mechanics, and then report the story of the civilian ships being stripped and civilian families shot to punish/prevent resistance.

This tactic is really effective because the characters aren't just as-you-know-bob-ing, but also reacting to the storytelling. The manner of the storytelling itself tells a story. And no scene showing what happened could possibly be as horrific as the varieties we've imagined in our heads.

What they did to fuck it up in season 3 was to go back and fill in scenes they'd already told us about or hinted at, by giving us unnecessary flashbacks. In season 2, when Kara has been captured by Cylons and is being fooled by them into thinking she's in a human hospital, the "doctor" tells her that he's seen how all the fingers on one of her hands were broken in the same place. That detail is all we need to know that Kara was abused as a child ... and our overactive imaginations can fill in the rest. That's really all we need. But in season 3 we get shown--in flashback--the scene where the finger-breaking happens. Her mother slams her hand in a door. Naturally the scene is high drama, but somehow not as bad as the things I had half-imagined. And we get showed it four or five times so we're desensitized to it anyway.

Razor did this as well, by taking us back to those two horrible scenes where the XO is shot and where civilians are shot, and showing it to us. And guess what? It's not that bad. I grew up on made-for-tv movies about the holocaust and 80s Vietnam flicks. These cheap-ass BSG scenes where we see a bad dramatization of a story we've already heard are nothing. Nothing. You'd have to go pretty damn bad to top the horror of the head-shaving scene in Playing For Time, or the basic training suicide scene or the teenage girl sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

BSG doesn't have the leeway to go truly horrific. It's achieved its darkness by expertly playing on our sick imaginations. The moment it stops giving our imagination enough rope, it stops being a good show.

What's also horrible about this is that Starbuck's entire wonderful, brave, destructive personality is reduced to that of an abuse victim. We could have been left a little breathing room to imagine that she is simply like that. But instead, she's nailed down to a stereotype. She's explained, and excused from any real responsibility for the shit she pulls, and in the process, also divested of much of her power.

They do this to Admiral Cain, too. She's evil and scary, but also really powerful and attractive, because she believes so completely that her brutality is right. And then in Razor her brutality is "explained" through a childhood trauma in which she is forced to choose between saving her own life and trying to save that of her little sister ... from Cylons, natch, during the first Cylon war. Also, her brutality towards Number Six is "explained" by making that Six her lover, and her nastiness come from her feelings of betrayal. Basically, all of Cain's agency is stripped away and we're left with a character that's just a pychological machine: input trauma and output monstrosity.

And finally they did their stupid morality play thing that they started doing in earnest in season 3. Here, we see a new character, Shaw, a young woman bullied and mentored by Cain into her daughter and protege. Like Starbuck. And like Starbuck, she was raised by a military mother who recently died. The terrific suggestion of an attraction between Starbuck and Cain that never got fulfilled in season 2 is drawn off here in the service of Shaw's story. Shaw basically stands by while Cain shoots her XO, laps up Cain's justification, and then commits an atrocity of her own. At the end of the episode SPOILER she sacrifices herself and gets a Cylon god to redeem her. Yak.

They were such insanely good storytellers the first two seasons, and it was exactly because they didn't use cheap narrative devices like all of the above.

god, I hope they remembered this for season 4. And yes, I still do hope there IS a season 4.

February 10, 2008

Why Juno Is Loathsome

I mentioned yesterday that I loathed the movie Juno and that was all I was gonna say about it. But now Lauren, who is normally smart as a whip, says she liked it, publicly defending it against the wannabe macho dismissal of a critic who thought No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were the best moobies of the year. I share her argh about the latter, but argh back at her about the former so much that I must write this blog post.

David Edelstein of New York Magazine, goes to bizarre extremes to attack Juno by criticizing both director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (whose name he snarks on) for having successfully “engineered every response” from the audience, as if that’s not what filmmaking is at its heart.

... I think it’s also important and darn fascinating to pay attention when a bona fide cultural phenomenon is prancing tweely across your radar. Juno is that dancer. Among the many wonderful things about this movie is the fact that it could not have been made at any other time in history. It is positively fresh on the subject of teen sexuality and reproductive choice and it manages to be hilariously funny and gut-wrenchingly poignant at the same time.

Yes, Juno's twee, and that's annoying, and no, twee is not the argument against that stupid flick that I want to push. All teen films are either twee or outright sentimental, so no big deal. Harold and Maude was twee, but I love it anyway.

But Lauren's argument that all films manipulate the audience doesn't hold water. It's true that all art is manipulation in the purest sense of the word. But the art that we treasure as great is that which manipulates the senses to mediate an experience in a particular way. That experience must overwhelm the audience sensually so that their senses (perhaps not all of them, but the ones engaged by that art form) are employed wholly in the service of the piece for its duration. The experience must also short-circuit the audience's sense of the normal and the ordinary, so as to present them with the spectacle of some element of mundane life in a manner that makes that element fresh.

So much for great, or even good, art. There are also films--art--that are successful without overwhelming the senses with new input, or making the familiar intelligible by rendering it strange. These films rather grab hold of our expectations, both sensory and narrative, ... and fulfill them. That simple.

Of course, that's not easy to do because experienced filmgoers have highly developed bullshit detectors and a hunger for novelty that almost--but never quite--overwhelms their demand for fulfilled expectations. So these not-so-good films succeed insofar as they are able to disguise with successful handwaving their ability to give you exactly what you've had before.

Juno is one of the latter sort of films. It belongs in a genre of film whose structure is derived from the gestation period of homo erectus. "Conception--pregnancy--birth" is the  "incentive moment--rising action--climax" of this subgenre, point for point. The purpose of this subgenre is to "celebrate" the "renewal" of "human" life and "hope" in the form of the "next generation" and to "reaffirm" our current family structure or to affirm and confirm (some kind of "firm") a new one. It is a genre that, intentionally or no, cannot accept the presence of abortion ... quite simply because abortion is a narrative party pooper: you can't end a story before the climax.

Subgenre All-Stars include: Nine Months, Parenthood, Father of the Bride II, The Seventh Sign, Fools Rush In, She's Having a Baby, The Snapper, The Object of My Affection, and and and. The only title I can think of belonging to the category of "classic" is Rosemary's Baby, a precursor to the curse of eighties and nineties pregnancy flicks, and a pre-deconstruction of them all. The rest are, at best, B movies. I didn't seed the list. I seriously couldn't think of a single top-ranked or top-critiqued movie in this genre, nor find one on a google search.

And for a very good reason: the genre is crapulous, status-quo-reifying, herd-placating "family fare." It's not about questioning anything, but rather making everyone feel great about the way things are.

In the new millenium this genre has taken on new life. The three 2007 avatars are Waitress, Knocked Up, and Juno. But wait, didn't everybody loooooooove all three films last year? I mean, looooooove them?

Well, of course. After all, Gen X is both in charge of movieland AND making babies now. So we've updated the genre to satisfy our own ideas of what family must be and placate our feelings of having sold out ... whatever our generation was supposed to stand for ... in favor of parenthood, condo purchases, and stay-at-home-somethings.

The major difference in new-millenium-Gen-X pregnancy movies is that they are all about confirming "alternative" families, which is, of course, all the to good, if you consider giving alternative families their own crapulous sub-genre "good." Juno and Waitress are ultimately both affirmations of single motherhood, when necessary, as it clearly is when the father leaves you because he's a child or you leave him because he's abusive. Both are, not coincidentally, written by women.

Knocked Up is a more traditional pregnancy flick. It's written, produced, directed, and from the point of view of men, which is why it posits that ugly losers with no jobs, income, responsibility, charm, or personality can walk into a complete family life with a beautiful, successful woman, just by going into a nightclub one night that the real world wouldn't let them in the door of. It posits the only family that straight guys would want, then "reaffirms" it with a "funny" birth scene involving your buddies and a beautiful, happy ending.

Juno manages to disguise its genrehood slightly by being about both the family for whom the baby is destined, and the birth mother. But, although the dialogue is snappy, nothing is questioned or subverted. We don't want to reify teenage motherhood; teenage mothers are supposed to be confused, so this one is confused. We want to support adoptive families, which we have more and more of as the "me, too!" generation puts off childbearing even longer than the Baby Boomers, so we make Juno not bother considering abortion seriously. We want to affirm single motherhood, so we get rid of the adoptive husband while turning him into a plot-point/red-herring.

Most importantly, we treat motherhood as a reward for virtuous women. Juno is not virtuous: she had sex when too young and undereducated; she had sex without considering herself in love; she had sex without thinking responsibly about it. Clearly she doesn't deserve a baby. Her weeping after the birth is the seep of remorse.

The Jennifer Garner character--played by an actress who, already popular, swept the hearts of America by marrying Ben Affleck and naming their adorable baby something both slightly unusual and not at all rock-star-weird--clearly possesses sufficient adulthood, responsibility, and virtue, and is rewarded with motherhood at the end.

One more point: Juno, as many critics have remarked, is given Gen X hipster dialogue. No kiddie today, not even Frances Bean Cobain, could possibly have all the Gen X indie cultural referents that Juno pretends to. That's the tip-off, folks, that you're being manipulated: your teenie hipster protag, cooler than school and wrestling with things way beyond her maturity level, still has the time to flatter your taste.

It's a flat, empty, manipulative, masturbatory, neck-chaining, nose-to-grindstoning, mainstream-behavior-mold of a piece of shit of a movie. And no, it's not a coincidence that it topped off a year of other such movies in the same year that the US Supreme Court upheld the first federal abortion ban since Roe v. Wade.

'Nuff said.

December 12, 2007

Multi Facial

Somebody finally posted it:


This is why I love Vin Diesel.

July 14, 2007

Transformers

Was absolutely brilliant. How genius was it of them to mirror the back-and-forth transformation of cars and trucks into robots with the back-and-forth transformation of the movie from a whorish product-placement vehicle to a snarky Gen-Y fanboy tantrum about privilege and parents?

Seriously, some people might call it a racist, sexist, asshole-scouring, cow-pie of a mess, with too many characters, excessive plot pointlesses, and a fragmented half-hour-long commercial for the privatized armed forces. Some people might wonder if even kids these days, with their WoW-trained eyes, could track the triple-speed action sequences, which would have obviated the necessity of repeating the same silly action moves ad nauseum if they had just been slowed down enough to fill up a scene.

But not me.

July 04, 2007

All I Have To Say

about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is that you have to get up pretty early in the morning to make Jessica Alba look that bad.

And also to fuck up pretty much every filmmaking choice you get. Every one. That takes talent.

May 27, 2007

Squeee! to the max

Just found out that my favorite fantasy series when I was a tyke is coming to the big American screen, and Ian McShane plays Merriman Lyon!

Of course, Dr. Who, who plays the Rider, would have been a better Merriman, and McShane would have been the perfect Walker, but whatever. Can't Wait!

May 17, 2007

"Life is" not "Beautiful"

After peripherally slamming the movie "Life is Beautiful" yesterday, I went looking for its tomatometer and found this review that perfectly expresses why I hated that movie.

The witnesses to the Holocaust--its living victims--inevitably grow fewer every year. The voices that would deny it ever took place remain strident. The newer generations hurry heedlessly into the future. In this climate, turning even a small corner of this century's central horror into feel-good popular entertainment is abhorrent. Sentimentality is a kind of fascism too, robbing us of judgment and moral acuity, and it needs to be resisted. Life Is Beautiful is a good place to start.

Strangely enough, this review is from Time magazine.

I was also glad to see that, although it got 78% fresh on the general tomatometer, the cream of the crop gave it 56%. Did I ever say that I love Rottentomatoes.com?

December 27, 2006

One Sentence Movie Review: Eragon

I still think Paolini is Asperger's, but I rather think the filmmakers are ADD.

March 22, 2006

Tonight's FiLm FeSt offerings


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Tonight at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival I'm gonna see American Fusion (with Esai Morales!) at 6:45 and Linda Linda Linda at 9 ish.

American Fusion is about ... well, here's the blurb:

Winner of the Audience Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival, AMERICAN FUSION delicately blends the sweetness of a middle-aged love story with the irreverent, envelope-pushing comedy of a Farrelly Brothers movie. In his first feature, director Frank Lin manages to challenge ethnic stereotypes and examine the burdens of cultural and familial expectations, all while grounding the film with a whole lot of heart.

Sylvia Chang (20:30:40, SFIAAFF ‘05) plays Yvonne, a divorcee in her forties who thinks she’s missed her chance at finding true happiness. Though she earns a paycheck as a writer, Yvonne’s real job is to keep watch over her crazy family, which includes her “twixster” hip-hopped son (co-writer Randall Park), a hot-headed brother (Collin Chou, THE MATRIX trilogy) who can’t get his wife pregnant, and a feisty, disapproving mother (scene-stealing Lang Yun) who’s about to undergo back surgery.

When a writing assignment brings Yvonne in close contact with Jose (NYPD BLUE’s Esai Morales), a handsome Mexican American dentist, Yvonne wonders how she can juggle her duty to her misfit family with the desire to let go and fall in love. Featuring a stellar cast that includes the last appearance by the late Pat Morita and cameos by James Hong, Eddie Shin and Fabio, AMERICAN FUSION is just like your family. Only funnier.

Okay, now Linda Linda Linda:

They say all-girl-rock-band movies are a specialist taste, but Nobuhiro Yamashita is here to prove them wrong. Yamashita (director of RAMBLERS and NO ONE’S ARK (SFIAAFF '03), both small classics of deadpan slacker comedy) starts from a plausible situation—a band in Shibazaki High School breaks up over “musical differences”—and gives it a wonderfully improbable twist. The band’s co-founder Kei decides to cobble together a scratch band of her own (she calls it “Paran Maum”) to compete in an inter-school music ompetition, and recruits Korean exchange student Son (the incomparable Bae Du-Na, from SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) as her new vocalist, unfazed by the fact that Son doesn’t yet speak Japanese, let alone sing it. They have just three days to master a set of songs by the Blue Hearts, Japan’s best-loved punk band of the 1980s (“Linda Linda” was their greatest hit) and everything that can go wrong does.

Armed with a score by ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and a guest appearance by The Ramones (really?), Yamashita crosses the molehills of high-school rivalries with the mountains of punk belligerence to produce a joyously entertaining movie. It’s also, by the way, the smartest response by far to the wave of enthusiasm for all things Korean that is currently gripping Japanese pop culture.

Okay, who's in? There might be tickets left, and if not, there are still rush tickets (but you have to get there early.) Strongly encourage everybody to get out there tonight and see some moobies! Tomorrow's closing night!

March 20, 2006

FILM FESTIVAL!




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Hey all, I'm a little late with this but it's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival time! Yee haw!

On Saturday I saw two films:

Sentenced Home, a documentary about Cambodian American refugees who had been convicted of felonies, had served their time, and as a result of a 1996 law, are now being deported. A very affecting story. Strongly recommend it. If you get the chance to see it in theaters, definitely jump on it!

Later, I saw Conventioneers, an outspokenly political feature film which threatened to be simplistic but actually failed to do so! Here's the blurb: "A red-state/blue-state romance dramatizing the shifting allegiances of fictional characters against the backdrop of the actual 2004 Republican National Convention. Audacious filmmaking and unpredictable, even unsettling, performances capture the excitement of an event that gripped New York City. 2006 Independent Spirit Award winner." It's true! The piece is filmed documentary-style (but not structured like a documentary) and incorporates a lot of real footage from the 2004 Repub convention. It doesn't apologize for being liberal, or attempt some sort of silly Hollywood-style "balance". And people get to be truly evil in this flick, which I always love.

It'll be playing again tonight (Monday) at the Kabuki in San Francisco at 9 PM. Highly recommended if you can make it. By the way, the only Asian American connection is the writer/director.

And check out the other offerings this week at the film festival. It's running in San Francisco through Thursday, and there will be further screenings in Berkeley and San Jose.

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