Monday, April 30, 2007

i am three thousand percent sure!

I suppose I can understand people being baffled by my love for America's Next Top Model, Dirty Dancing, or even Philip Seymour Hoffman. Even some of my closest friends still raise an eyebrow when I wax nostalgic about the sense of security that comes from being engaged in conversation with Professor M. But nothing gets criticized more than my awed respect for The Maury Povich Show. Almost every weekday, if I'm free at noon or 2pm, I turn on Maury.

Types of Maury episodes typically break down into the following categories: paternity testing, unruly teen girls, lie-detector tests, abusive husbands, makeovers, obese toddlers, and sensational events caught on tape. The first three categories form a sort of Venn diagram, and air more frequently than the others. Rarely, there will be an exceptional episode about people with debilitating deformities or strange phobias, but these are few and far between.

A lot of people think of Maury as base entertainment cashing in on the problems of society's trodden-upon -- perhaps going to so far as to liken it to a modern day race-unspecific minstrel show. I can't entirely disprove this, but I'd like to argue that most forms of mainstream entertainment which are popular with the same demographics as Maury's audience are the same way. A lot can be asked about the ethics of a show which parades the sorrows and tribulations of its guests for profit, but the women who bring their fatherless children and cheating husbands onto the show are deeply yearning for answers.

On a basic level, Maury is providing services to people which are too expensive for almost everyone in the population. A trip to NYC to answer the questions that have been plaguing them is very desirable to a lot of people (as evidenced by the show's continued success), at the cost of being exposed on television in moments of vulnerability.

I watch the Maury show for a couple of reasons: it entertains me, and it makes me feel better by giving me the perspective to understand that other people have worse problems than I do. I also tend to think that Maury highlights how chronic some of society's problems are, like infidelity, unprotected sex and the resulting unplanned pregnancies, deadbeat dads, abusive husbands, rebellious teens, obesity, &c.

As a result of the reach Maury has over so many Americans, however, I believe that he has a social responsibility. On a small scale, he helps the individuals on his show, but does nothing to address the problems his show gives light to. This is my one concern, and I am baffled as to why Maury doesn't stress the use of condoms or other forms of birth control on his show. I have never once heard him mention that people wouldn't be going through such trauma if they just took better care of themselves. And I don't know how much a trip to prison and a tongue-lashing by D West is going to help a teenage prostitute in the long run. So though I enjoy The Maury Povich show, I do think it is past time for his audience to recognize the trends they watch on TV every day.

trailer rundown

So, I decided it's time to get back into one of my favorite high school pastimes. Spending hours looking at movie trailers online. Here's a few that look worth mentioning:

The TV Set (Now Playing)
Well, I'm interested in the theme of this film - I like the self-reflexive look at the film and TV industry, but I'm not sure if the mood is going to strike the right balance between Punch-Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees. Anyway, I expect good things from Justine Bateman, David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, and Judy Greer, so I may actually see this in theaters instead of netflixing it...

The Ex (May 11)
Since the disastrous experiment in feeling bad, The Last Kiss, hopefully Zach Braff has realized how important it is that he keep himself involved in projects that are in some way comedic. This movie doesn't look like it will be a comedy to remember for years or anything, but I think the three leads have proven themselves before, and I am always jonesing for more Jason Bateman.

Severance (May 18)
So the first half of the trailer looked like the film would be too slow and low-budget to pull off "dark" without being interesting enough. Once I realized that it's a dark comedy and a slasher movie, I got more excited. I've never really been into the slasher genre, but this seems like it won't be taking that aspect of the film as seriously as it will treat the characters and the social commentary. Plus, Laura Harris from "Dead Like Me"!

Paprika (June 1)
Yoooooooowza... I am woefully unfamiliar with Japanese filmmaking, but this looks like it might be the thing that gets me to sit and watch anime with an eagerness I've never felt before. I mean, I know nothing about the story from the trailer, but visually, it looks like it could be one of the best movies I've ever seen.

Across the Universe (September 28)
MFers took the idea for a Beatles movie musical that I had when I was in the shower in high school and did it so much better than I ever could. Dammit. Seriously though, this looks stunning. Hopefully I can get the image of Evan Rachel Wood and Marilyn Manson doin' it out of my head enough to enjoy this...

The Savages (TBD)
Yesssss! More Philip Seymour Hoffman to turn me on... this movie looks great. What Little Miss Sunshine would be if there were no minors or opportunities to laugh out loud. I'm being serious, I really think this will be moving and funny, and I am really looking forward to the interaction between PSH and Laura Linney. With both of them signed on, I don't really know if I have to say anything else.

This was fun...I'll have to look through more trailers later!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

in a family way

For many years, I have prided myself on my ability to look down on people who favor gross-out or other types of base, broad comedy. That's not to say that if getting a screenwriting career meant selling out and writing Date Movie 12: Now That's What I Call Date Movie: Furious Havana Drift, I wouldn't do it, but I could never bring myself to watch more than a few minutes of the American Pie / Van Wilder sort of movies that gross so many millions. One exception to this rule is Grandma's Boy, which I saw as a free screener called "Nana's Boy" a few months before its release. Though I don't smoke pot, play video games, or have a particular obsession with huge fake boobs, there was good acting and plenty of witticism to string those themes together and create a laugh riot.

When The 40 Year Old Virgin came out, I didn't expect much. I knew Steve Carell to be funny from The Daily Show, but what sold me was that if Catherine Keener had been willing to sign on to what looked like a boring 'not-quite-teen sex romp,' there had to be something more substantial to it. What a pleasant surprise it was to see a smart collection of funny characters, perfectly crafted for their situations, with a revamped Hollywood storyline that ended up being just the right amount of endearing. I wouldn't say that everything in the movie was perfect, but I must applaud writer-director-producer Judd Apatow for appealing to popular kids, nerds, adults, men, women, comedy fans, and romance fans with this film. In hindsight, I'm sure I shouldn't have expected anything less from someone involved with both "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared."

Apatow's next project as a director (he's still writing and producing, but has kept his directorial talents from other projects such as - wait for the shock of a lifetime - Fun With Dick and Jane) is Knocked Up, which will bring along Virgin's Seth Rogen and pair him against the glorious Katherine Heigl. [Sidebar: Kirsten Dunst needs to realize that just because she has kittenteeth like Katherine Heigl doesn't mean they make her beautiful. Heigl also has the benefit of not looking like a hobo's mummified corpse.] The similarity in marketing between the two films is an interesting tie-in, hopefully getting Virgin's audience to come back. Look at how the first movie's poster is stylistically similar to the second, and how they convey that the characters are different, but both of them will surprise us with how unlike their appearances they are. Now, look at me, judging books by their covers and coming to the conclusion that these characters wouldn't want us to!

I'm interested in the parallels that the filmmakers and the stuido are trying to draw between the two films, because I would very much like for Knocked Up to have the same charm and charisma that the first did. I have faith in the main actors and in Apatow, but I wonder if the appeal of the subject matter will fail to attract the right type of audience. It doesn't seem that most teenage boys are going to want to spend their tips earned from hard nights delivering pizza and drinking Steel Reserve to want to see what happens when you get drunk and careless with a foxy lady. Certainly, there will be a larger female audience - perhaps because of Izzie Stevens, and perhaps because the thought of pregnancy/childbirth humor wouldn't disgust them. It follows, then, that enough boyfriends can be convinced to buy a ticket due to the Virgin-related advertising, so hopefully things will work out for this movie.

I like to see a quasi-realistic situation (whoops I'm a young professional who got drunk, got pregnant, and is trying to work it out) presented in a way that's not depressing like a Lifetime Original Movie, but not maudlin and predictable, either. So, I'm looking forward to Knocked Up, but I don't want to get my hopes up too high. The best case scenario seems to be that it is funny and sweet, and also presents a more positive take on real life to young audiences, where people do get pregnant, and people do turn unexpected pregnancies into positive situations. The worst case scenario is that is is funny but completely ridicules the situation that Heigl's character gets into. Apatow did produce Anchorman, one of my least favorite movies, but as he was not a part of the creative team, I'm not worried that this new film will leave the same sour taste in my mouth. Unless the studio wants it to so that more young men will see it.


Secondary blog: So, ever since I woke up yesterday morning, I've lost my voice. I was feeling unwell a few days ago, but right now I feel totally healthy. Except for the fact that I just can't make sound come out of my mouth! I've allowed myself to have some fun with it, assuming it goes away soon, and have been acting as though life is one big game of charades. My friends have been pretty good about interpreting my miming, and putting up with my furious scribbles on a notepad. I don't know, it's just an interesting experience. For some reason, I'm integrating what little ASL I know into my communication, even though none of my friends can interpret it. The last time I lost my voice was junior year of high school, when I was singing all the time, out of my range, for my school's production of The Wiz, and it just gives such an unusual filter to the minutiae of daily life. For one thing, I'm trying to listen more actively to what people say because I'm not thinking about what anecdote I want to tell everyone at the dinner table. My thoughts have become more introspective and reactionary, because if I really want to say something, I have to think about it more during the process of writing it down or conveying it some other way than if I were to just blurt it out. Perhaps because I have to pick and choose what to tell people, I am being more insightful? I don't know, I just wonder what things would be like if nobody used small talk. Also, one of my friends noticed that there is a little bit more of a patronizing tone that can occur when someone is responding to my hand motions and silent mouthing of words. I don't think this is a bad thing or unusual, it's just how people normally talk to children or other nonverbal beings. Anyway, just a random musing. If my voice isn't back by tomorrow morning, I am going to go to the doctor, because I think after two days of curious silence, it'll just get frustrating.

Friday, April 27, 2007

boob tube

Being a student at a pretty rowdy party school, I go out fairly often, and though Thursday is generally a very busy night, I didn't feel like putting in the effort yesterday. However, I wasn't abandoning a big party on the penultimate weekend before finals because I was planning on studying or something (pshaw) was primarily because I had a date with my television. A few yards away from my dorm, girls were wrestling in jello with little people who'd been hired for the occasion (I shit you not - disgusting), while I curled up in bed with primetime.

Some may scoff at the third parent of America's children, but I think television's value is ineffable. So without even attempting to explain why I carve so much time out of my schedule to watch tune in, here's a brief overview of my must-see TV shows. One small disclaimer - there are quite a few quality TV shows on cable, but I just don't have that at college. Some, like Showtime's Dexter, I find a way to watch "on demand" when visiting my parents' house, but for the most part, my cable TV viewing is on hiatus until I move out of the dorms.

Mondays at 9pm on NBC
My appreciation for this show could be described as sinusoidal. I started watching it because it had gotten so much hype, and at first I was unimpressed. The first few episodes, however, got me telling people about how it was at least much better than most of the crap that gets picked up for networks nowadays, and isn't that really the best endorsement a fledgling series can get? As the season went on, I got more and more hooked. Some of the characters, like Hiro and Claire and Matt, are pretty interesting. Hiro, of course, is the most original, but those three capture my attention far more than the others. Peter's powers are, frankly, bitchin', but as a character he's kind of boring. Then there's someone like Niki/Jessica whose storyline has taken too long to be explained, and as such I lost interest in figuring her out or paying much attention after a few episodes. In terms of the storyline, though, Heroes wins at creating suspense and adrenaline for a series which, at first, stole too much from X-Men to be that exciting. At times there are a few too many things going on and an episode will thin out too much, but there is almost always a great cliffhanger at the end of each one, and it keeps me tuning in every week! The mid-season hiatus isn't something I'm pleased about when it comes to a show's first season, however, and I admit I've been a little forgetful by the time these last couple of episodes have aired, but I look forward to the new developments of season two.

America's Next Top Model
Wednesdays at 8pm on The CW
When ANTM came out, I never would have expected to want to see it once, let alone weekly, year after year. I started watching about halfway through Cycle 2, then forgot about it for a couple of years. But Yoanna's great face, and Shandi's boyfriend drama were better than a lot of scripted TV (yeah, I get that "reality" TV is as scripted as anything else, but I plan to devote a whole post to that eventually...). When I got to college, I finally had less homework and more free time, eventually found a group of Top Model Enthusiasts, and I am more than glad to have reentered their ranks. You see...the "skinny bitches show," as my dad calls it, is completely addictive. Though I generally couldn't care less about the modeling industry, somehow this show sucks me in. I can't really explain it. I went to all girls' school for nine years, so you'd think I'd have had my fill of girl-drama, but these hungry women make me nostalgic, I guess. And when the judges critique their posing or walking, I just eat it up. "Oh yeah," I'll say, "she needs to be a lot more fierce. She's hiding her neck, and has dead eyes." Perhaps it's because I'm waaaay too short to ever entertain the possibility of modeling, but I get such a feral kick out of criticizing these poor girls. I think if I were a fashion photographer and a model was being too timid on set, I'd pull out a conch and yell, "Sucks to your ass-mar!" Perhaps most importantly, though, I really don't like Tyra Banks. I am far too tired of the girls squealing every time they see her, I hate how "helpful" she is all the time, and 75% of the time she makes herself look like shit even though she's gorgeous. I love this show in spite of Tyra. That's a pretty big deal.

Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC
Last summer I rented season 1 of this show, in the wake of The Lost Experience, which made me feel as if I'd missed out. Having been in some sort of bubble, I really didn't know what to expect at all. But I specifically remember being completely surprised by the tense mood that the pilot put me in. It was pretty damn cool. I ate up the entire season on DVD, and spent way too many hours during my boring summer office job scouring the internet for LOST theories, explanations, and recaps. Season 2 came out on DVD right before the premiere of season 3, and it was a very tense race to the finish line for me, but thank god I made it. Season 2 was really spectacular, and though the current season has not exceeded it in suspense, I don't think it's gone that far downhill. The only characters I actually care about are Hurley, Jin, Sun, and Sawyer, but dammit I want to know the WHY of the island! This is where the show's creators really did it right. They had a good formula with flashbacks, and a good concept, but in the first few episodes they set up a system whereby they can always keep the audience waiting for answers. And I will keep watching until it gets explained. For the record, the episodes since the mid-season hiatus this year have been far superior to the first few of the season (barring the excellent premiere).

The Office
Thursdays at 8:30pm on NBC
For far too long, I was determined to dislike this show. Mostly, the advertising just never drew me in, and I have too many traces of Anglophilia holding over from my days as a teenage Janeite to want to buy into the Americanization of what I'd heard to be superb British comedy. So, I set some time aside within one of my favorite pastimes - watching whole seasons of TV shows on DVD in one or two sittings - to watch the entire UK version, followed by the first two seasons of the US show, which were available on DVD at the time. By the end of the Christmas special of the UK version, tears of joy in my eyes, my resolve to hate the US version was firmly in place. What Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Martin Freeman, Lucy Davis, and Mackenzie Crook did was magical. And I can still watch the show on DVD over and over again and be entertained. Then I watched season one of the US version, and was disgusted. Frankly, I still feel like the first season is entirely not worth watching for fans of the original. I've come to realize this is because the humor and energy of the writers and actors was being stifled by their unreasonable attempt to poorly imitate the dry genius of their predecessors. Seasons 2 and 3, however, have completely won my respect and admiration. I feel that the actors have finally been given an opportunity to breathe life into their quirky characters, and I am very glad that Steve Carell is not in a show that I at first thought was below him. There is only one thing about this new iteration of the WernhamDunder-HoggMifflin universe that irks me, which is that the pacing of the original is incompatible with the US version's desire to stay on as long as is financially possible. Let's face it - Tim and Dawn only worked as a couple because we had to wait until the last possible moment for them to get together. The Jim and Pam relationship has already gotten stagnant and recycled too many times, and I just hope the show doesn't go too far, too fast.

Grey's Anatomy
Thursdays at 9pm on ABC
This was another show that I didn't watch during its time slot until having rented the first two seasons on DVD. To be honest, I don't have too much to say about this show's substance. I think Shonda Rimes & co. do a fantastic job of unrealistically witty banter that women love, and I'm okay with buying into it. I got obsessed with this show as soon as I started watching it, and it's nice to have a show which has made me cry (heart-wrenching medical emergencies), laugh (oh, that droll Cristina Yang!), and think (ew, I hope I'm not too much like Meredith). Plus, there's a ton of hot hot hotties on it. I suppose on a slightly deeper level, I appreciate the show's treatment of multiracial coupling and families - not making a big deal or very special episode out of a Jewish Korean-American dating an African-American, or portraying a Hispanic woman as being the more powerful, wealthy, and intelligent in her marriage with a white man. I attribute this to the impressive diversity among the writing team, and as an aspiring screenwriter myself, it's nice to see a minority female doing so well in this field. I know the blind casting on this show is unrealistic, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief for a show like this. Also, Sara Ramirez, Katherine Heigl, and Kate Walsh are just goooorgeous. I'd watch them sitting around making quilts for an hour... I mean, come on!

30 Rock
Thursdays at 9pm on NBC
I only just started watching the episodes of this show which were on the network's website, so I can't really say anything comprehensive, except that the absurdist comedy works so perfectly to balance the outlandishness of the Tracy Jordan and Jack Donaghy characters with the awkward realism of Liz Lemon. I am very much looking forward to watching the whole 1st season on DVD, as I've had to relegate my viewership to catching up online as a result of my previously existing appointment with Grey's. Also, it's nice to have a Tracy Morgan fix that isn't watching Brian Fellow clips on the internet. For the record, Tina Fey is also my idol. She's funnier than I could hope to be, and she champions hotness for bespectacled brunettes everywhere!
ETA: Since the season finale, NBC has put the entire series of 30 Rock online. I totally watched the whole thing when I was procrastinating, and I recommend it as a way to put off doing anything useful!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

i carried a watermelon

In 1987, two very important things happened, for which the year will be earmarked in the pages of history. In July, I was born. But a few short months earlier, another bundle of creative energy, joy, and inspiration was brought into this world. Yes, I am referring to none other than cinematic tour de force, Dirty Dancing. Some people seem to like this movie in a tounge-in-cheek, "get me drunk and I'll sit and laugh at it with my gal pals" sort of way, but to them I turn a wry smile and think with fondness about what they're missing out on.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, Dirty Dancing will be rereleased into theaters in honor of its 20th anniversary. Though I can't know for sure yet, I'm worried that end of semester business will prevent me from seeing one of my all-time favorite films on the big screen at last. Enough with the pessimism, though... Let's just bask in the cool knowledge that enough people understand the importance of this picture to bring it back for audiences old and new.

I can't remember how old I was when I first watched what must certainly be Vestron Pictures' magnum opus, but I remember finding out that there were "controversial themes" in the storyline which I had been too young to pick up on. I have some vague memories of watching my mother iron while nobody put baby in the corner on TNT, but I just cannot pinpoint the moment at which I could declare that I was truly a fan. Sometime in early high school, I think it was TBS that hosted a 12-hour marathon of Dirty Dancing. That's right - the same movie six times in a row. Now who would actually sit through something like that? Well, me, of course!

I cannot claim that this picture is a guilty pleasure of mine because I have loved it since before I knew what a guilty pleasure was. I can't tell if it falls into the category of cheezy dance movie that I love or cheezy romance that I love, but I figure it must be enough of both that it cycles out of the cheezy category altogether. I understand that the dancing is not that great, the actors are not really super-hot, and the performances are...alright. But somehow this neither diminishes my enjoyment of the movie nor forces me to love it in a so-bad-it's-good sort of way. I think that the mediocrity of some aspects of the film is perfectly balanced by the highlights of the characters involved and the lowlights of the situations they're placed in. Kellerman's is a completely boring place for the rich and complacent, and the location it was filmed in lacks even the natural beauty of a resort like Mohonk which must have inspired it. Finding a little bit of inspiration or romance in an otherwise unremarkable locale is tried and true, and this is where Dirty Dancing hits the spot.

Because to me, it's not about dance or love or even rebellion, really. It's about a teenage girl on the precipice of adulthood - too smart for her family, too naiive for independence, and too insecure in general. She wants to be free to learn about herself and change the world, but the reality is that she's too scared to let go of her support system.

"Me? I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all - I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you." Baby says this to Johnny and I don't really think it's because she knows they're soulmates or anything. I'm sure there was a time in my preteen years when I believed that, but I've come to view her attachment to Johnny as a transference of security from her father to her lover. I'm not judging her motivations or saying they're too Electra-complex to be valid, but it just seems a likely explanation for how alone she feels when he is gone.

Baby represents intelligent, inexperienced, white-collar teenage girls everywhere, and I think her character marks an interesting change in American society. Her character grew up a child of the optimistic, economically-booming 1950s - the era of the teenager. By the time she had come into her own and was ready to attend Mount Holyoke, she must have absorbed enough of early second-wave feminism to believe that there was a cause in the world with her name on it. Poverty, hunger, and war are too big too start out with, so Johnny acts as a good stepping-stone for her. But the movie didn't come out in the '60s; it was released over two decades after it's set. I believe that the implications of a young woman looking to balance her sense and sensibility (notably not a new topic, Austen-ites) would have been quite resonant in a time when women's roles in the workforce were in a period of difficult adjustment.

I identify with Frances "Baby" Houseman, perhaps because I recognize so many of her flaws. She wants so badly to do something meaningful, even if she's fooling herself into thinking her actions are more important than they are. The good-hearted father coming to terms with his daughter's blossoming sexuality, the first love, the search for excitement - these are all old tropes. But Baby gets something that almost none of us get. She gets those "celluloid moments" that I mentioned in an earlier post. She gets lifted up by a strapping young man in a lake with summer rain falling on her face. She gets to wear a flouncy pink dress and dance with a group of street-wise hotel employees who all know the steps. This is something that many of us envy, and I don't think there's anything about that to feel guilty for.


P.S. I refuse to respond to any comments regarding the sequel, as I am barely willing to acknowledge its existence. However, if anyone's seen the musical based on the movie, I'd love to hear what you thought about it!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the final countdown

I just came from registering for next semester's classes. Look at me, all grown up and a senior in college! I will be taking "Film and Literature," which is looking like an overview of most of what I've been studying these past few years, but I'm sure will be a good class to take concurrently while I write my thesis because a) it's exactly the subject I'll be writing about, and b) it's taught by my advisor and thesis reader! Wrapping up my last course requirement for my lit major I've signed up for "Women and Comedy," which is taught by my current (amazing) Jane Austen prof, and focuses on 18th and 19th Century lit.

The honor of fun elective will go to "L.A. Stories," a Pomona class which could be very helpful to me in the future. L.A. is a great setting and a better character, and we may indeed learn some history about my beautiful home as well. According to an email from the professor, "How is Los Angeles made and remade in the products of its culture? An exploration of that question in the overlapping fictive forms of noir, social realism, postmodern fantasy, and neo-noir. Writers to be considered include Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler, Christopher Isherwood, Chester Himes, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Joan Didion, Karen Tei Yamashita, Luis Valdez, and James Ellroy. Some attention, as well, to the more theoretical work of Theodor Adorno, Mike Davis, Norman Klein, and D.J. Waldie, as well as to the relationship between L.A. and our own Inland Empire. Films, roughly, from The Big Sleep to The Big Lebowski." If we don't watch Chinatown I'm going to have a fit.

Somehow I, a former dedicated athlete, managed to get this far in college without having completed her final P.E. requirement. To compensate, I'm taking two next semester. I'll be taking ballet again, which will be good for my state of mind, and I'm paying $50 to spend one weekend kicking some guy in the nuts and learning how to defend myself against attackers. Too cool.

Also, I'd just like to thank those of you who have read my blog so far. In the future I don't intend to continue with this many posts a day, but I'm just trying to bulk it up while it's getting started. If you like what you read here, I encourage you to sign up for blogspot so that there can be some discussion about what's posted, suggestions for what should be discussed, and communication among interested people about the cultural zeitgeist!


P.S. Zeitgeist. What a word, huh? It's one of those terms that I hate myself for using, but I can't get enough of. Like...Schadenfreude, mise-en-sc
ène, and even "deus ex machina." What are your favorite guilty pleasure words/phrases? I'd like my snobcabulary to expand as much as possible, please.
P.P.S. Yes, I just conflated two normal words to make a weird one that would never fit into its own description. I rock. If this is how I am after three hours of sleep, I'm doing alright!

the love song of p. seymour hoffman

As Professor M taught me, a man doesn't have to be drop-dead gorgeous in order to win my love. From the first day sitting in his class, I felt my heart being swept away on the wings of his words forever. Something about his halted swagger, smooth velvety voice, and impeccable fashion sense just work together to create this frenetic sexual energy that radiates through the room as soon as he walks in... In Hollywood there are very few who have this same presence onscreen. One such man is the lovely Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Okay, so I've only seen twelve of his 47 IMDb acting credits, but I just wanted to say a few sweet words. The first time I was aware of PSH's virility and verve was in his role as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. "The only true currency in this world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool." Teenage Kat in high school with her headphones on and her awkwardness and her dirty sneakers pretty much went nuts for that line. I later realized he wasn't a one-hit wonder when I saw him ironically-sans-pornstache in Boogie Nights. Paul Thomas Anderson brought us the ultimate trifecta of sexy-ugly with PSH, John C. Reilly, and Mark Wahlberg, and while the last two were running around shirtless and doing chicks, PSH's Scotty was making me sweat. Maybe it's the short shorts and the ill-fitting tank tops stretched over his expanse of stomach, maybe it's his awkwardly colored and poorly styled hair, but he brings so much anguish to his unrequited love for Dirk Diggler that whenever his character takes center stage, the dramatic irony reaches uncomfortable levels and I can't help but squirm in my seat watching everything go wrong.

What I loved about seeing many of Boogie Nights' actors return to working together in Magnolia was that they were still playing characters as insecure as their previous roles, but with completely different strengths and dynamics. As hospice nurse Phil Parma, he conveys a sensitivity and tranquility that Scotty would have been incredibly jealous of. At first I assumed the character was gay, but upon repeated viewings I realize this is not necessarily true. Though Parma lacks the raw sexiness of PSH, he is a completely believable young man who has simply settled into his place in life, but still manages to be surprised by what can make him feel. (Wow, just thinking of these PTA films is making me write an ode to John C. Reilly in my head. Maybe later...)

I wasn't sure what to expect out of Capote, movie-wise, but I am still impressed by PSH's range two years later. Apologetic yes-man Brandt in The Big Lebowski, greasy deviant priest Veasey (what a great name) in Cold Mountain, and now unlikable leading man. You know you've made it as a star when... Sure, at first the Truman voice was disconcerting, but the pacing and atmosphere of the picture allowed me to look past it after a while. As far as how the film made me feel about the true events and real people that inspired it, I won't attribute that to Mr. Hoffman. But the fact that he could bring gravitas to a character that most viewers are familiar with, all the while taking that squeaky voice completely seriously, just makes my heart swell.

Oh, what a man!



Monday, April 23, 2007

zombies, man...freak me out

You know that feeling you get when you're waiting in line to go on a huge rollercoaster, and you've been standing there for hours, and you can't tell if you have to pee or if you're just scared? I get pretty wimpy about stuff like that, and by the time I get to the front of the line all I want to do is walk right across the rollercoaster car and wait at the bottom for my friends. Then when it's about to start, I seriously feel like sitting there is the worst mistake I've ever made. But I put up with it because of those glorious moments when the ride has stopped, my stomach is sore from hitting the lap bar, and I can't stop grinning.

This is exactly how I felt about 28 Days Later... and I am completely welcoming the feeling in anticipation of installment the second, 28 Weeks Later... On the one hand, zombie movies are almost always worth it. However, will there be too many changes from the 2002 original that it will reduce the charm? (Yes, I just said a zombie movie has charm. Stick with me, folks.) From the trailer and cast of the new film, the entertainment value looks promising. But all it takes is a brief recollection of how excited I was to see The Matrix Reloaded to give me pause.

For me, much of the appeal of Days was what Danny Boyle did on his budget. The unknown cast was a crucial key to the realism of the zombie threat, and by primarily shooting on digital, there was a grittiness that 1) served his cost limits and b) really upped the sexiness of the whole thing. I have no doubt that the sequel will maintain the tradition of portraying The Infected as fast, active, and vicious. It was this departure from the sluggish braaaaaaaaaaains-mongering of Romero's zombies that probably captured a lot of audiences who weren't typically into the genre before (like me). Don't get me wrong, I love Romero-style zombies, but I don't think it's valid to lump the films together. The interaction between Night of the Living Dead's Ben and Barbra was serving a very different social purpose in 1968 than that between Day's Jim and Selena.

So what purpose will Weeks serve? Though not in the director's chair this time, Boyle will be an E.P., which gives me hope that we will see his artistic traces on the new movie, with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo at the helm. From the trailer, it looks as though it was shot on film, which, coupled with the other changes I've noticed (with my ever-keen eye), doesn't look like it will distract fans of the original. Mostly because of other elements which deviate from the low-budget appeal of Days. American audiences may not know where they recognize Robert Carlyle or Rose Byrne from, but LOST castaway Harold Perrineau could be distracting to some Wednesday night ABC-addicts (I want to yell out, "Waaaaaalt!" just once in the theater...just once!). Also, is it just me, or did anyone else notice that The Infected look really different in the trailer for the sequel? Less pasty/bloody, more dirty/gunky. I know, I'm a wordsmith. Anyway, watch the trailer (available in YouTube form at the bottom of this post) and you'll see what I mean. I'm assuming this will have something to do with a mutation of the virus considering that, according to the rules set up in Days, all those with Rage should be dead by the time the sequel comes around.

The Spanish-British collaboration possibly portraying the Americans as more of a threat than The Infected, however, is what worries me the most. Now, I'm not so much of a jingoist that I'll turn my nose up at any picture that doesn't portray America glowingly, but in the wake of the nonsense surrounding 300, I just think it's possible that some mischief will be made about the USA swooping in to help people, only to become mindless killing machines (could they be lowering themselves to the level of those they are fighting? this is a completely new idea!), and this will interfere with my enjoyment of an energetic zombie romp! Ask anybody who's taken a film class with me, and they'll tell you that I am a champion of entertainment in cinema. I get that there have always been sociopolitical implications of zombie films, ever since 1932's voodooploitation White Zombie, but I think that imperialism and colonialism are just not present in the minds of the majority of people who are going to shell out a cool Hamilton to have the crap scared out of them. By zombies!

If anybody knows more about the production of 28 Weeks Later..., I'd love to hear it! Anything I wrote here came from IMDb, Wikipedia, and stuff I remember from the paper I wrote about zombies last semester. In particular, how do you feel about the presence of social concerns in modern horror movies?


P.S. Yes, I get that The Infected are not actually zombies. They are not dead, not from Haiti, and have nothing to do with black magic. And they are after blood, not brains. But no one can try to convince me these aren't zombie movies...

digital digital get down

Why am I a film studies major? Well, I suppose any college student questions why they chose their course of study, but with this one I can't quite explain it away by saying that I'm going to make a ton of money in I-Banking after I graduate. I came to a college with a gov/econ focus because I was intending to go into foreign service. One year and a dropped intro to economics class later, and I found myself declaring as a literature major.

Oh, the life of a lit major is as glamorous as you'd imagine, I promise. I think I read more when I was in elementary school. Oh well, I'd rather write essays than take exams any day. Also, it's a nice thing to have on my diploma as someone who takes great pleasure from the smell of old pages in stacks and stacks of library books.

So then as a sophomore I met Professor M. Oooh, Professor M. What a man... I was taking his journalism class in order to explore some career options, and I just became totally smitten. I signed up for his screenwriting class the next semester just so I could be close to him, but instead I found myself on a new career path with a second major.

I'm not the biggest fan of film majors, usually. Sometimes class discussions about Baudrillard and postmodernism feel like one big circle jerk of affected quasi-intellectualism, but then I find myself telling uninterested friends about the simulacrum or mise-en-scène, and I have to check myself (before I wreck myself). But I do so love cinema. And I like having the excuse as to why I watch so many movies and TV shows that it's research for my intended career as a screenwriter.


In my Intro to Video Production class we've been talking a lot about the implications of the transition from film to digital. At first I didn't think the change was very meaningful past economics, but I've come to change my mind. As far as visual quality - sure, that's a given. But now with the cost-effective practice of filming digitally and editing to give "the film look," that's not even the most important part of the discussion. Ownership and distribution are obviously a big deal in the equation, too. With cheap cameras and YouTube, anyone can be a celebrity, and any material can be seen worldwide. I maintain that this is both a good thing and a bad thing, and refuse to come down strongly on either side.

But it was something I heard Quentin Tarantino say in a radio interview the other day that really struck me. "When you talk about the magic of cinema," he said (don't worry, I'm totally paraphrasing), you're referring to the illusion of movement. A film strip is just a row of static images which, when applied to the proper equipment and amount of light, trick us into believing that we are watching a moving image. With digital video, we are denied this magic. Not to say that beautiful, meaningful things can't be created digitally, but there is a lot to be said for celluloid moments like when Kate Hudson wipes away a tear from her right cheekbone with her left hand in Almost Famous, smiles, and asks, "What kind of beer?" Totally magical.


cheap champagne, scrap paper, and mini-dv's

Well hello, readers.

I've never created a public blog before, but as I was walking around campus this morning it struck me as something useful to do. For the past couple of months I have been blundering about trying to use a video camera for the first time. It is an unfortunate consequence of being a film studies major at a school with very little to offer in the way of film studies that halfway through my junior year of college I am forced to face my inadequacies as a director, d.p., key grip, foley artist, and boom operator. To be frank, I am pretty much incapable of creating anything substantial when I am behind the camera - yet.

But for the past few years I have gotten mired in the depths of film theory, and I figured that has to be good for something. So check in, if you will, to hear what I have to say about cinema. None of it is professional, I assure you, but this will be a way for me to discuss movies I see without feeling completely foolish. Please recommend films for me to see, as I am always looking to procrastinate.