November 2009

A State of Disarray: The Entertainment Industry

Disseminating culture and all of its trappings has become accelerated to the point where no sort of information is exempted from being leaked. Anything from music to film can hit the hard drive of an eager internet denizen after only the most cursory of searches.

Beginning almost a decade ago nascent file sharing servers like AudioGalaxy and Napster, which at the time were web based as opposed to functioning around a single piece of software, opened up the possibility for the world’s citizenry to share ideas and interests. Almost immediately, a slate of lawsuits necessitated augmentation of each site’s content.

New Concerns Over New Moon

Some really good concerns have been raised about the Twilight series. Most of them have at least some degree of validity—leads without personalities, a female character who doesn’t do anything but get rescued, stalking, and the general nationwide madness over a poorly-executed story (both in writing and in film) that suggests that something is simply not quite right, particularly in the minds of teen girls.

Is it still enjoyable? Sure. I love a good werewolf tale as much as the next person (the vampires in this series are pretty boring, however, as is the lead), and will concede that entertainment is just that—entertainment—and though it might not be the best influence on teens, it doesn’t have to be by definition. How many other crappy teen books and movies, after all, are out there that don’t provide anything but a sappy love story?

The Misunderstood: Soderbergh's Solaris

Polish author Stanislaw Lem's contemplative 1961 science fiction masterpiece Solaris has been adapted for the screen three times. The first was a 1968 TV movie by the USSR Central Television network. I highly doubt that many people outside the Iron Curtain ever glimpsed it, especially considering that Andrei Tarkovsky's long but excellent blockbuster adaptation from 1971 is often erroneously cited by critics as being the first page-to-screen version of the story. Lem didn't much care for either, nor did he approve of Steven Soderbergh's 2002 American attempt. The differences between Tarkovsky's and Soderbergh's takes are many, not the least of which is the gulf in critical and box office responses. Solyaris made Tarkovsky popular enough to greenlight an entire career's worth of bizarre art films while the George Clooney vehicle Solaris flopped about as hard as possible. Critics barely paid attention to it and movie-goers yawned in kind. In my opinion, this unique film deserves a major reassessment.

The Invention of Lying: Meh...

There’re easily as many positive aspects to The Invention of Lying as there are drawbacks. It might be the fault of a haughty plot conception, though. But without the clever back story, there wouldn’t really be a story at all. How interesting would another movie about a schlub be? Not very.

Written and directed by Ricky Gervias, of Extras and The Office fame, he also stars in the film as Mark Bellison, a film writer who inhabits a world where there’s no such thing as a lie. Having concocted the notion himself, Gervais attempts to become the hapless main character who’s set to become an international star by films end. Of course, there’s stuff in the middle and it’s supposed to be entertaining, but only half of the time.

Herschell Gordon Lewis: Alley Tramp (1966)

There’s exploitation and then there’s sexploitation. It’s certainly just another way to easily pigeonhole a film into some semi-specific genre, so it helps even as it sounds a bit daft. And in a rare instance of refraining from using washes of blood for no good reason, director extraordinaire, Herschell Gordon Lewis angles towards tits and ass. Alley Tramp has nothing to do with classy broads, well shot footage or a plot that’s anything other than shallow, but it’s an artifact. And a semi-entertaining one.

2012 and the Director Shortcut Principle

Director Roland Emmerich's 2012 recently hit theaters and it is getting roundly panned by every respectable critic in the anglophone world. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen any of Emmerich's films from the past fifteen years, thirteen if I wanted to be generous. His movies make money, so studios will continue to fund his increasingly dire projects, but no one should expect him to actually make anything even approaching quality cinema. In fact, there are a number of directors whose work should no longer even be up for serious critical consideration. For a film critic to analyze the likes 2012 on the same level as, say, the Cohen Brothers' most recent release A Quiet Man is a lot like a gourmet critic sitting down to test the latest bacon-wrapped monstrosity at a fast food restaurant against his discerning palate.

Hoop Skirt: Three Excellent Victorian Period Films

Among my many peculiar pop culture fascinations is a penchant for Victorian period aesthetics. I adore stately architecture, the Viennese waltz and, of course, lethally clever novels about desperately emotional people confined by a strict social code. Unfortunately, most movies that attempt to capture the feel of a good Victorian novel end up looking as frozen-in-state as a painting and sound absolutely rigid. So, when a truly good Victorian period film comes out, it instantly climbs to the top of my favorites list. Here are three of the best.

Peyton Place: A Nice Place for a Creep to Live

If you’ve never heard of Peyton Place have no fear. At this late date, fifty two years after the film’s initial release, the Lana Turner feature isn’t often mentioned in passing conversation. With that being understood, though, David Lynch used to film as a sort of theoretical basis for his Twin Peaks series that was eventually expanded into a theatrical presentation on the big screen.

Role Models: A Surprisingly Good Film

Generally, I’m not a fan of stupid boy humor—the brand I’ve slapped on movies featuring Jason Biggs (pretty much anybody out of those American Pie movies, really), Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, and the like. I guess I just like my comedians older (Louis CK), gay (Margaret Cho), or dead (George Carlin).

I just haven’t seen many films with these guys in them that I think are that funny. Truth be told, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell get on my nerves occasionally, too (I know people will be out for my blood when I admit that!).

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is Fun for the Whole Family

If you’re looking for a good family film that everyone is likely to enjoy—and not be scared by, fall asleep during, or simply whine through—look no further than Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Featuring the voices of up and coming funny people Bill Hader and Anna Faris, it’s a funny and charming film about the underdog who grows up to be the hero. And who doesn’t love a story like that?

(Spoilers ahead…) Based on the beloved children’s book written by Judi Barrett, the film is about a misfit child scientist who just doesn’t fit in, and grows up to create an amazing invention that turns water into food. When the machine is sucked up into the sky by accident, he is able to make it rain food—which is fantastic for his small town at first but later, of course, causes problems.

Adam Sandler as a Funny People

The greatest criticisms levied on Judd Apatow’s Funny People go something like: comics and comedic writers can’t always get serious while having it make sense. Or: Sandler can’t hack it unless a bevy of dick jokes is set to fly out of his mouth.

Both points should be taken seriously. But when moving around in the Judd Apatow universe alongside Seth Rogen and “the fatter version” of him, it would make sense to understand the fact that none of the folks, well the principals at least, that act in Funny People aren’t theater people. They’re comics. And as a comic, while acting is part and parcel with the job to a certain extent, making folks laugh supplants pretty much everything else in life.