Archive for the 'TV Set' Category

Hyper-Critical-Mass

There’s just too much is the main issue right now. With a finite number of time-units and cultural consumables, how can there be such a great disparity between the two? Forget, even, news-related items. Think how unprecedented, really, is an individual’s particular tastes and experience (which for the purposes of sanity and this singular blog we’ll relegate to artistic experience). My own group of friends’ tastes are too varied to even begin to describe (I know, because I just started writing it all and realized it was too complex for this entry) – from film to TV to music to literature to podcasts to theater to graphic design (now that’s broad) to comic books to photography, and on til morning goes the list. How to follow it all? How to keep up? How to respond even to just that barrage of ABSOLUTE MUSTS in all those mediums? It’s unending. It’s overwhelming. (TV and Literature is just the worst to me. Great mediums, both of which I love, but there is seriously so much volume of great that I don’t have any time for the good or the very good. Except that it’s almost a guarantee that something or other I watch because it’s someone’s favorite won’t be my cup of tea, meanwhile something others may write off as “pretty good” might be a revelation to me (Can you say “Community”?))

The following litany is from Friday. That is, this is what I consumed on during some spare time in the morning, during my drives to-and-from work, and sitting at work for twelve hours (parts of which also involved some more driving). Later in the day, thinking back on it, I felt overwhelmed when I tried to place it all. So often there is a giant list of things to get through that the order and rate they’re in is discarded. Starting to think that might be a mistake. That when ambition overtakes absorption the point may be muted. There are plenty of people, no doubt, for whom this list is small; who have no trouble multi-tasking. My roommate watches movies and shows while he works on art. I can’t do that. My attention has to be devoted, and I need more time to consider.

Lately I have issues recalling specific episodes of podcasts like “This American Life” or “The Tobolowsky Files.” Except my few favorites, my attention may have been too divided to retain enough of each story. That’s a problem, my problem, which is why this is essentially an attempt to retain something from each thing.

TV:

The Office“Threat Level Midnight” – A very playful episode. Look, The Office isn’t what it used to be, and I’m not quite as gaga over this one as many reviewers seem to be, but it was a really-good-to-near-great episode. I enjoyed all of the small moments with former series regulars.

MUSIC:

Mumford & Sons“Sigh No More” – What a great album this is! Folksy, banjo-laden music that moves and thumps. Here are songs that are about something; you can feel it deep in your bones.

From “The Cave” -

So make your siren’s call/ And sing all you want/ I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now/And I need to know how/ To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope/ And I won’t let you choke/ On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain/ And I will change my ways/ I’ll know my name as it’s called again

And now hear a song played with two fists clenched:

Phoenix“It’s Never Been Like That” ; “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” - Yeah, they’re a hipster band to some degree, they just did the soundtrack for Sofia Copolla’s new film “Somewhere,” and I honestly haven’t listened to them enough to be able to articulate their M.O. They’re similar to Vampire Weekend, except even better.

PODCASTS:

This American Life“What Is Money?” – Few shows tackle complex subject matter this consistently – with staggering insight. This episode looks at the general abstract-ness of money and the two shocking instances – one in Brazil, one here – where the solution to a national crisis sounds more like something out of one of the absurdo-circular subplots in “Catch-22.” It’s like arguing semantics with an inanimate object. But somehow, these ideas work (well, one of them we’ll wait & see).

Radiolab - “Cities” – So okay this would be the other show that aims just as high on a weekly basis. In this episode, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore what makes a city distinct. They start off comparing the rates at which patrons from different cities walk, then they speak with some experts who analyze that data (among other data) and have created a mathematical formula that is eerily accurate in predicting how many, for instance, people there are in that city; how many libraries, schools, theatres, et al. Then the discussion transitions to what the data can’t tell you – the soul or spirit of a city. Oh how many applications about truth and life can we draw from this? Oh how many types of many? The show ends with a moving portrait of a city torn apart and all-but abandoned (except that not in one final heartbreaking, beautiful way). Hearing it made me think of people who grow up in a place and decide to make their home there; have their entire extended family there. To stay, to remain. I’m not one of those people. I moved around to four different cities during my formative years. My parents now live somewhere else. So do I. Except now I’m somewhere and I can’t imagine leaving, although that too is less about the place than the people. You find a community and you want to make your life with them.

PLAY:

One of me, three of you. I like where this is going.

“Spring Awakening” - Ashley loves this musical, from which I’ve heard all of two songs (her idea it’s clear enough without saying, but nonetheless). Can’t recall either one. But a couple years ago, blissfully unaware of the musical (small miracles and all that), I bought the play during one of my online searches for all-things Jonathan Franzen (he did the translation of Patrick Wedekind’s more-than-100-year-old work). I read his introduction – which is not-at-all flattering of the musical – but never made my way past the first scene. I’m told the musical retains maybe 50% of the dialogue (it’s a relatively short read at about 80 pages), and it is unfortunately one-note. The play rails against any notion of parental, educational, and spiritual guidance, save for one mother whose idea is to let her 14-year old figure things out for himself. The writing is beautiful – Franzen’s translation is eloquent and sly and contains a number of passages that feel as much like literature as dialogue. Among other things, the play explores all manor of sexual experience (which might be more harrowing to see than read, except the idea of children committing these acts is undercut by having sexy 20-somethings inhabit the roles (because otherwise it might be oh um uh illegal?)) Still, the themes of repression-in-the-name-of-innocence (although it’s really ignorance), the fear of even the idea of the subjects, and the youthful speculation and confusion about school, life, and sex are all fully realized. My one wonder is how much stock the author placed in the logic of his pubescent subjects. They are true in that they make sense to us at that age. Are we to see them as free-thinkers who are stifled? Or as developing thinkers who are dissuaded from maturing at all. There are arguments to be made for both sides.

Act II, scene i:

MORTIZ: Before the exam, I prayed to God to give me tuberculosis and let me off the hook. And I got off it –although even now I can sense it hanging in the distance, with a glimmering around it that makes me scared to raise my eyes, day and night. — But now that I’m on the ladder I’ll keep climbing. My guarantee is the logical certainty that I can’t fall without breaking my neck.

Act II, scene iii:

HANSY: *Moritura me salutat! — Girl, girl, why do you press your knees together? — Why even now? — – Are you mindful of inscrutable eternity?? — One twitch, and I’ll set you free! – One feminine gesture, one sign of lust, of sympathy, girl! — I’ll frame you in gold and hang you above my bed — Don’t you see that it’s your chasteness alone that gives birth to my debaucheries? — Woe, woe unto those who are inhuman.

*Moritura me salutat = “Those doomed to death salute me.”

Why My Roommate is Awesome

This will be very quick, because I’ve got a few hours of editing to get in before heading out to play Ultimate Frisbee (it’s soooo LA).

This is what I’m talking about right here. Observe below. “Shark Attack II: 2-Shark Attack” kicked off a string of jokes my friends and I were making last Saturday after Movie Night. We were just spit-balling about bad straight-to-DVD (“direct-to-market” for the douchey) movies… which are most of them. Then Adam decided to make this little gem. That he doesn’t make a million dollars a year doing this is the kind of crime that perfectly fits the tenor of Adam’s sad existence.

*(Seriously though, check out his work HERE. He’s insanely talented.)

There is nothing better than a group of friends who can all contribute to a conversation like this. There are four of us, and we don’t miss a beat. It’s the best ending to my week every week. We tend toward the absurd and have a particular penchant for creating ridiculous fake movie titles, franchises, scenarios, et al. Hell, that’s basically how “Trailer: The Movie” ever came about.

I won’t say we never sound totally pretentious, or that we only mock because we love. No. We don’t. We love movies as an art-form sure, but these jokes play more into our fascination with the way the movie industry moves and operates, especially on the outskirts. And shark attacks. Always fascinated by shark attacks. No way around them.

Anyway, we thought it was funny as hell.

Another Shark Attack... And Other Shark Attacks!!!

And… why not:

Only on CBS

Poster Adam created for the Live Show for the popular podcast, “Battleship Pretension

Let's Get Into it, Shall We?

Few Things Here and There

I’ve been reading and accumulating all sorts of things this week at work. Here are some things I’ve enjoyed*. Please note that they are on the lighter side. I’ve been following Health Care, Haiti, The Americanization of Mental Health, Hypotheses on China’s economic strength and growth over the next 10 years, and long-term sub-concussive head injuries in football players as well, but I think they have enough coverage. Mostly I’ve been reading fiction, but that’s it’s own thing. These things are all short.

*I saw the American Idol video of the 62 yr-old guy. Wasn’t that funny. Seemed a bit forced on the part of the show. That’s just me. But its out there too.

1. “ALICE IN MURDERLAND” POSTER:

There's no escaping it. It's RIGHT THERE.

This is the poster for the movie I was a PA for back in October or November, I forget which. I’d thought the title was “The Alice in Wonderland Murders,” but this is better. As much better as anything connected to this movie can be. What a ridiculous poster. What a ridiculous movie. Good tagline, though.

2. CINEMA 2009:

I love this video. I found myself swept up in it. It captures the excitement and beauty and pure visual thrill of going to the movies. Films really are a thing to behold. I like things that remind me of that.

3. WES ANDERSON ACCEPTANCE VIDEO:

The more I think about “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the more I like it. My quibbles were minor at the time, and it really was a great movie for all ages. Vibrant and fun and funny and exciting, I was really impressed by how well-crafted the world was and how immediate the action felt. It didn’t cop out, there were real, sometimes harsh consequences for Mr. Fox’s actions.

4. CONAN vs. LENO

The Man, The Myth, The Hair

I’ve been reading about this for the last week, nearly every day in the NY Times and CNN and IMDB. I’m very much on Conan’s side. I don’t despise Leno the way some seem to. He’s a very likable guy, he’s nice, and he can be funny (not that you’d know it from his new show). Yes, the biggest blame goes to NBC for allowing this sort of charade to happen. NBC’s executives should be ashamed of themselves for trying to squeeze out both hosts when their lineup simply isn’t working. But it is Leno’s fault, too. The graceful thing to do would have been to go out on top and not create a new show. He agreed that he’d hand over the show in 2009, that should have been it. Conan deserves time to build his show’s aesthetic and audience. He’s been doing his show in the least appealing possible circumstances, and finally he had enough (I really like his letter to the public, too). The right thing for Leno to do is to step aside. It’s time for him to go. Going back to 11:35pm– and worse, potentially going back to The Tonight Show itself– would smack of bad form and leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It’s up to Leno, though.

How Can You Be So Heartless?

In 1974, just as David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor at the Academy Awards, a naked man streaked across the stage. Niven responded humorously (and Britishly). Not since then has there been a more visible prick onstage at an Awards show than Kanye West was at this year’s VMAs.

If you didn’t know, Taylor Swift won an award for best female video, beating Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video (beloved my many, myself chief among them). During her acceptance speech, she was interrupted by Kanye West who then explained to the crowd that Beyonce made one of the best videos of all time. Roll tape:

Saying no more than that, Kanye is a really big asshole. But consider the details. Kanye wasn’t that particular award’s presenter. He got up out of his chair, walked onstage, took the mic out of the hands of the WINNER of the award, and then said something. It takes an even bigger asshole to do that. It takes an even bigger asshole still to take the mic away from the winner (after walking onstage during a speech for an award you did not present) and then tell the crowd that someone else deserved to win. It takes an even bigger asshole still to do so at the mother-fucking MTV Video Music Awards. On what planet, under the influence what kind of Government-grade, top secret hallucinogen must you be to believe so strongly in the everlasting importance of an MTV-designated award, not for the artistic or popular merit of any music, but of the video which dramatizes that music — and believe even more strongly that the winner of this year’s Best Female Video went to the wrong female (and, incidentally, which correct yet horribly unrecognized winner in this particular, specific category went on to win “Video of the Year” in what must have been an alarming and altogether mystifying turn of events) — that you take it upon yourself, Kanye, you piece of shit — who had no involvement with the (purported) should-be-winner’s video — to ruin the already fleeting, but nonetheless victorious moment of recognition from the actual winner –who, it turns out, did not appoint herself the winner, but was CHOSEN as the winner (by God knows who and not that it matters anyway)? In what state (of mind, of body, of soul) must you be in, to totally disregard all decency and basic human decorum, which a 1st grader can follow, in favor of your own pointless opinion about a ridiculous and

Got any raps with rhymes for "tactless"?

Got any Raps that Rhyme with "Tactless" ?

inconsequential award, that you absolutely must ignore the simple courtesy of letting someone say a (from what I saw) pleasant thank-you for an award they got through no fault of their own? Under no circumstances should this ever happen. But if happen it inevitably must, my humble feeling is that anyone sporting the hairdo (seen at the right) has always and forever waived the right to say word one on the matter.

There is talk of fining him. There is rumor of banning him from music-awards shows. This is well and this is good, but it misses the point. Kanye West, it would seem, needs a chaperone. Perhaps a schoolmarm who will rap his knuckles. Perhaps a parent who will spank his stupid ass when he acts up. This is the behavior of a child. This is the behavior of a pre-teen who thinks that his very existence insists that the world revolve around it and bend low to its every whim. He is a spoiled and stupid person; infantile in brain, inert in awareness of others around him. He cannot come out and play, because he does not know how to share. He cannot out-think the award-designators of MTV’s Video Music Awards (and what a sad fact this is). The way that it works young Kanye, and please take your finger out from your nostril and sit up straight, is that because Beyonce is getting the biggest award of the night, she needn’t win them all. It’s okay to let someone else be a winner, too, since the point may be less about winning and more about celebrating more than just one artist. (Hint: The names of the awards make this point for themselves). Your behavior is unacceptable. It is unthinkable and unconscionable. You have made a fool out of yourself. You are an ass, Kanye. Your behavior is reprehensible even to a Village Idiot. You are the Industry Idiot, and long will you reign. What a total fucking asshole you are. A fucking asshole, man.

(Beyonce, for her part, when accepting her award, made a brief speech and then had Taylor Swift come onstage to share in the moment. And let’s be real, when Beyonce has you out-classed, things are in sorry shape, indeed.)

Two Things Too Good to Not Share:

Thing 1: “Bored to Death”

I love HBO. Really do. Their shows are just better. You see a million commercials for new NBC dramas or TNT’s new show that’s more suited to 1998 (aka B.S. aka Before Sopranos). And even though I don’t at all get the craze over “True Blood,” I’m totally psyched about their new show coming Sept 20th – “Bored to Death.” Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis – show is about a writer who’s read too many detective novels and decides to become a private eye. It sounds a little like the recent (brief) Andy Richter series “Andy Barker, P.I.” except I think this one has the legs to make it. I like the look of it. (Side note: I’m very pleased by the number of solid film actors who are jumping over to TV for a few seasons to do great work. I think Alec Baldwin has really lead the charge (although Mary Louise Parker was there a few years before).)

Thing 2: “Legion” trailer

Check out this 5 minute movie trailer below and see if you can spot one actor who didn’t laugh his ass all the way to the bank! There is no way this movie is going to be any damn good, but I can’t wait to see it. We’ve come to the point that campy movies are just as well made as the good ones (check out Granny Foul Mouth, though. Hilarious!), but the dialogue is uproarious. Dennis Quaid as diner owner!? Paul Bettany as an Angel?! Movie studio, take my money now, give me some popcorn, and let the good times roll. Notice the name of the diner? Paradise Falls diner. Outstanding. God is pissed, but lucky for us, it only takes bullets to bring down the rest of heaven’s angels. I know there’s a movie where they dip the barrel of the gun in Holy Water and then blast away the demons. I get that, that’s because they’re evil. How does it work when they’re angels? (Ohp!!! Or maybe that’s a hidden commentary by the filmmaker!) Thing is, it looks completely blasphemous in concept, but my spider sense is telling me I betcha they bring it all around to be some sort of test by God or something. Either way, my friend Adam has it right: I’m going to see the shit out of that movie.

The “Stick Your Head in the Oven” Miniseries of All Time

“Generation Kill.” If you’ve seen “The Wire.” If you are interested in modern day warfare. If you love great television. Watch. This. Show. Holy shit.

Iceman, Ray, and their transport
Iceman, Ray, and their transport

I’m not going to review the entire series, (1) because I’m not done with it, (2) because this dude did it better already on his blog here, and (3) because I want to focus this entry to one aspect of the miniseries: hopelessness.

I can’t sleep. It’s almost 3am. I finished the 3rd episode over an hour ago, and it won’t let go. The decisions that are made by those in command. The effects those decisions have on the troops and the civilians and what we know now looking back. It is cavalier at best, recklessly absurdist at worst. The way blame gets shifted. The way the soldiers can’t speak up. The way poor decisions aren’t discussed. The way “following orders” means ignoring logic. The way all the soldiers just have to swallow it. The way all they can do is laugh sometimes. The way they all know what’s really going on and discuss it with each other but no one else is paying attention. The way honor isn’t valued like it says on the commercials. The way you feel empty because of the shit these guys have to face and hopeless because of the decisions that are made for them. The way in spite of all of these things, the show isn’t anti-solider in ANY sense and wisely doesn’t preach about either perspective on the war in Iraq itself (because right then, at that point, it’s irrelevant, they’re THERE, and they have a job to do). The way it is only anti-bullshit bureaucracy that gets in the way of these men doing a good job and often ends up screwing things up for them. The way it leaves a weight on your heart for these men. The way it makes you realize that they’re there and I’m here and this show is probably only a small fragment of what they go through, so what the hell do I know anyway? The way the show can be bleak and heart-wrenching and make you want to cry and scream and shoot someone and hug someone all at the same time. The way it shows that even in the midst of this unbearable heaviness, there may be glimmers of hope amongst the men, shards of it stashed inside all of the chaos. This is not something a lot of people will want to watch. It is unpleasant, yet somehow both entertaining and deeply engrossing. It will leave you with a heavy heart and an ache. You may feel hopeless for a while after you watch it. I do. And I probably should.

Funny Things

This weekend, I was on a midnight walkabout with some friends when one showed me a video from a show called “The Whitest Kids you Know,” one of those comedy sketch shows. I’d seen a few by them before but this one, called “Leg Peeing” (that’s right) was the funniest by far. The sketches are shot incredibly simply, but they’re totally hysterical. There’s a lot of sketch comedy shows these days. Pretty much everyone agrees that MadTV is an abomination. SNL is on the way back up, thanks in large part to their digital short films, even though they’re only occasionally funny otherwise. I know a lot of people like David Wain’s stuff, I find it uninspired. It’s a good time for comedy in general (too many recent great shows and movies to list them) and for sketch comedy too, and what I like about “The Whitest Kids You Know” is that it combines really strong scenarios with great dialogue (you know, that thing that’s missing from David Wain’s writing 80% of the time). Since I’m me, I had to look up the creators/stars of the show. Their website reinforces the well-established paradigm for comedic success: play with your friends. Trevor Moore (tall dude in all 3 videos), Sam Brown and Zach Cregger started it in NYC, they do live shows, the TV show (Season 3 is upcoming) and they’ve made a movie “Miss March” that looks only okay. Here’s a nice bit from Trevor’s bio:

At 19, Trevor signed a deal with a production company to write and produce The Trevor Moore Show (a weekly sketch comedy program) for some PAX-TV affiliates. Writing late night comedy for a family channel ended up being pretty tricky and after 11 months the show was cancelled due to offensive content.

Here are 3 examples of their awesomeness. Enjoy: 

Best of 2008

If you are like me, you make lists. Lists of lists even. If I want to know who are my favorite film directors of all time, I know I’ve made a list of them, which I can forever amend and edit. If I want to compile my top 20 books of all time, I am in luck that I have kept track of every book I’ve read since 2001, and have a star rating attached to each of them. I use a 4 star system, which does not function as a translatable percentage, though it would seem easy to apply. 3 stars does not mean 75%. Art is not judged like a pop quiz. I have been looking over my list of books read and CDs heard and DVDs watched, and I am thinking of them in terms of when they came throughout the year. I bought The Raconteurs’ sophomore album “Consolers of the Lonely,” because I liked their first CD okay, and hoped they’d grown (they had). That CD is listed first on my list of purchases for the year, but it wasn’t released until the end of March. And for me, it feels most like summer for all I listened to it. The three Tom Waits albums I bought have no frame of reference, though, because they feel like forever (same goes with The Decemberists. Once I listen to them enough, it’s like they’ve always been there. They are absorbed). I don’t recall if I had them when I saw him in concert, because I have so much of his stuff, the albums blend in to each other. This fall I got on a Jay-Z kick, so they feel like running and falling leaves and sweat and motion. But I’ve just been talking music. And I haven’t gotten to my awards yet.

 

The Collective Experience

The Collective Experience

For the finale of my podcast, my co-host and I have chosen to discuss not simply our favorite this-or-that’s of 2008. That would be too simple. Our podcast has been rigorously, ridiculously overly expansive, and in that name, we have decided to discuss our Top 10 Artistic Experiences… of ALL TIME. That is to say, if there were only 10 artistic moments you could have, if all else were to be locked away and discarded – no, forsaken -  what would you choose? What moments did you witness or have that really stick out? 

 

 

The Solitary Experience

The Solitary Experience

It is an impossible game to play at. How do you compare, say, a live concert with the reading of a book? Or going to a Broadway play that you thought was just okay to watching your favorite movie of all time alone in your room one night with your girlfriend? Can the two be reconciled? Yes, of course, the answers will be carefully selected, but I don’t yet know what big:small moment ratio I’ll have. How much does the subjective experience of a thing compare with its objective importance to you? When I saw “Tropic Thunder” the first time, I laughed more than at any other movie this year. I was with good friends, we were all in hysterics. Second viewing? Different city, early evening, second movie that day, and a lame-ass crowd. Most of the movie fell flat. The jokes took forever to get from the screen to me, they seemed completely un-spontaneous, and  instead the movie’s glaring pacing issues and Ben Stiller’s badness came shining through. But I still remember the first viewing fondly. I take the few things from the movie I really did like, and let the rest be fun had with friends. 

 

So…2008. Let’s give out some awards.

Best DVD Discovery – “The Public Enemy” from 1931, with one of my all-time favorite performances by James Cagney that makes you beam with angry pride. He is the origin and Godfather of all portrayals of gangsters, criminals, and low-lives. Below is my favorite scene, which is also the most iconic. Think of film noir. Think of “The Matrix.” Think of Daniel Day Lewis in “Gangs of New York” and think of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Best Album Bought – The Mountain Goats’ 2002 album “Tallahassee” because it is simple and dreadful and lovely and tells me the story of my life. 

Best Literary FindWuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. My senior year of college, I took a class on Jane Austen. This book is what I had hoped to find. It is deeper, wiser, more emotional, more stirring, more painful, and more gloriously written than anything Ms. Austen ever did or could hope to do (God rest her soul). Austen is the Salieri to Ms. Bronte’s Mozart.

Best Back-to-Back Experience – In the span of 10 days, I saw Colin Meloy’s solo concert – he of my beloved Decemberists – and my heart’s most recent favorite, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in concert – they of the breakout 2007 film, “Once” (Runner-up: I saw “Into the Wild” and “There Will Be Blood” in theaters on the same day, with loads of friends. Good day.)

Best Artistic Personal Milestone – This is not the milestone itself, but the means to that milestone. I purchased a Panasonic Digital Film camera (see it here), and have been writing and making movies since the summer. It was the catalyst to make me break out and get to work. So far – 6 minute film that I am going to reshoot, 33 minute film that I moderately like, and 3 more projects to get to in the next few months. We will see.

Frost/Nixon

 

TV vs Stage vs Film vs History

TV vs Stage vs Film vs History

The material that makes up this particular piece of art represents one of the most unique challenges for me to write about. “Frost/Nixon” the film has just opened, was directed by Ron Howard and stars Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. If these actors are not household names of cinema, it may make a little more sense to learn that they originated the material on stage, the medium it was created for by writer Peter Morgan. It started in London and transferred to New York on Broadway. That was where I first saw it, in the summer of 2007.

So now I have the rare perspective of having seen the same actors performing the same material as the same characters on both the stage and screen. Which is better, you might reasonably inquire? That is what I wondered and still wonder.

In the journal I kept on that trip to New York City, I wrote to myself that the play did not quite have the power I had expected it to and that Michael Sheen, whose acting I had loved onscreen in 2006’s “The Queen,” made the fatal error of over-gesturing. He cycled through them over and over, and the performance rang of inexperience and actor trickery (something I know a little about myself, I will admit). But it was the play’s writing that most offended me. It made abundant use of one of the most tiresome theatrical conventions, in which a minor character continually broke the fourth wall to give us plot updates, usually during scene changes. Dreadful lines like, “We were about to give Richard Nixon the trial he never had!” were delivered with all the subtlety of machine gun fire next to your ear. Ouch.

It was to my immense surprise, therefore, that both Sheen and the entire supporting cast were handled so much better in the film. Sam Rockwell plays the character, James Reston, and his asides are translated into interview style, direct-addresses to the camera. Also wise is the decision to allow more than just Reston a voice. Both camps are represented, which also provides slightly more balance than the play gives. In the play, you feel perpetually off-center, because it is narrated by someone you care little about, and about a man kept always at a distance. By giving Nixon’s people more of a voice, it inflates the scope of the film, and raises more questions about how we may perceive Nixon himself by the end. And Sheen seems so much more comfortable on camera than onstage. His gestures are more contained, he trusts stillness more, and the movement he does choose is grounded in purpose and intention, instead of fear from the total exposure that is live theatre (I do not know if he was nervous, it could easily have been that I saw the evening show after a matinee. The man could simply have been tired).

But for all that, Ron Howard manages to do what he always does and that is to say that he makes a Ron Howard movie. I cannot quite put my finger on the problem, except to say that his films have a way, in my opinion, of overlooking the acting and story that they are supposed to be capturing. There is something inherently bulky and bloated about the way his shots are arranged, especially now. My favorite film of his is, hands down, “Apollo 13,” because unlike most of his films, it feels authentic. But in movies like “Cinderella Man” and even a movie I mostly like, “A Beautiful Mind” there seems a lack of specificity to his movies and the way he captures performances.

And speaking of performances, Frank Langella. It’s a very good performance in the film. You can tell that Langella knows his character; is his character. It is everything that good acting should be. And yet. As solid as his big moments were in the film, they were dynamic on the stage. He has a monologue at the end, in which he is making his apology. Howard shoots it tight, he bludgeons us with closeup, closeup, closeup. It still works, it’s still effective, but on stage! Oh, on stage, Langella’s voice was barely a whisper, like he was afraid to say the words too loudly. The distance drew us in all the more. It was mesmerizing. It was crystal clear, I caught every single word, even from nearly the back of the theatre. The crowd was so completely silent. There was no music underscoring it. Just two men in chairs, one speaking, one listening. Ladies and Gentlemen… Theatre.

So how do you decide which is better, when more people are better in the film, but the lead actor is better on stage? Which is the better way to view a piece of dramatic art? IS there a better way, or maybe just a different way? Since you obviously can’t go back in time and see the play, you should do yourself a favor and see the film. For it’s flaws, it is inherently fascinating subject matter; very similar in fact, to Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk,” another true story, in which knowing the ending actually increases the effectiveness of the film. 

Ashamed to Admit but Impossible to Deny

While working late this afternoon, I watched what happened and enjoyed an entire episode of Bravo’s “Project Runway.”

Note: I am not gay.

I’ll be talking about it more on the podcast this week (click here for my site), but compared with most of the reality TV I’ve seen (admittedly, not much) this is more interesting and engaging than the lot. I even felt myself having opinions about the clothes they made. My only real qualm is that the silver-haired male co-host says “Thank You” after EVERY sentence he says. “Designers, you have three hours. Work hard… Thank you.” “I think it’s fabulous, but get the work done… Thank you.” There is a drinking game waiting to happen here, and I know they do marathons, so beware.

Why did I like this show? Why did I even watch it? What is a 25 yr old heterosexual single male doing with this show within five channels of anything he’s watching? (Deep sigh. Moments of reflection.) This is not important right now; that is to say, do not ask these questions – of this or any reality show – for there can be no acceptable answer. It is all tripe, to one degree or another. What I can say is that while I have no doubt the reality is even more interesting, the version they’ve edited seems mostly true. Added drama, for sure, but for once here is a show whose cast is at least as much to blame. It almost feels like they’re more in control that way, less editorial puppetry (all this after a mere ONE FULL EPISODE… for shame, Captain Analysis). Finally, here is a question I pose to us both (aside from, is this the gayest blog he’ll post? If not, how exactly does he plan to top this?): how many shows, reality or otherwise, focus on a creative process like this? On people with legitimate talent, using it each and every episode, all the while being a not-always-equal blend of absent-mindedly hilarious and gratingly annoying? I’ve been looking for another social science experiment, and so perhaps this will be it. I’ll report back after a few more episodes.

Will We Be Infected?


It Has Come to This

July 2014
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