As Woody Allen said, the heart wants what it wants. So, why are you here?
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Hall and Oates - She's Gone
There was a period in time in music videos where bands didn't know that they were significantly hurting their image by making one if they weren't really gonna try that hard. This is the pinnacle of that awfulness:
Last month, the Oscars were watched by 32 million people, an all-time low. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, but here are the two main ones:
1. One of the major reasons the writer’s strike ended when it did was that everyone wanted the Oscars to still take place. What better way to welcome entertainment-starved viewers back than a big, flashy telecast? 2. Even considering cable, there was nothing else on. The Oscars was the most-watched broadcast that night, but Fox snagged the second spot with a "Simpsons" re-run. NBC was just running "Law & Order" re-runs all night. Everyone gave up on the night, surrendering to the Oscars outright.
Journalists of all shades have given all sorts of theories for the struggles of the show, from the low-brow (“It’s so boooooring!”) to the over-thought (“We already saw Jon Stewart host once, so there’s no curiosity factor for Middle America”), without ever really giving thought to the accusations. Consider: the Oscars have always been this boring, and the highest rated Oscars of all time was Billy Crystal’s sixth time hosting. He won an Emmy for the performance.
No, allow me to explain, once and for all why the Oscars are sliding so dramatically these last few years: it’s the movies that are nominated. They don’t interest the viewers.
Ha! You almost clicked away there, didn’t you? That’s not a very interesting point. The idea that the films nominated are not in line with what America in general is watching is not particularly new. The solution is not that the wrong movies are being nominated, after all what popular movies would you nominate? Spiderman 3? Pirates of the Caribbean 3? Shrek 3? I thought not.
The problem is that the wrong movies are being made. Hollywood isn’t making the sort of movies that interest most viewers.
Ha! You almost clicked away again, didn’t you? That’s still not an interesting point. But this one is:
It’s the fault of independent movies. Independent movies are ruining everything.
Didn’t expect that one, did you?
Has anyone been a bigger proponent of independent movies than me? Yes, lots and lots of people have. But you know that I adore independent film, I adore showing a disregard for convention, I dig low budgets and good acting and bizarre camera angles and narratives all out of order and weird, unsatisfying endings. Love it. But it’s ruing everything.
Keep in mind that when I talk about “independent movies,” I’m not talking about, y’know, independent movies. I’m not talking about the sales rep from Columbus who writes a script on his laptop in his spare time after he sold the Miata and shoots it on a borrowed 16mm camera with his friends and a girl they hired from the local modeling agency downtown. I’m not talking about independent movies made by people independent of the film industry. I’m talking about “indie movies,” movies with $25 million budgets made by Warner Bros and Fox starring George Clooney and Rachel McAdams. I’m talking about the new wave of filmmaking. I’m talking about all my favorite movies from the last four years. I think we’ve opened Pandora’s box, and I don’t think we’re getting it shut again.
Look at the five films nominated for Best Picture this year, keeping in mind the studios that released them: No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Juno, Michael Clayton, and Atonement. Every single one of those movies was released by an “independent” studio, like Focus Features, Warner Independent, or Fox Searchlight. Indie cred and studio money. All (except Juno) had low box offices, yet between DVD sales and rentals and cable sales, all of them will end up making the studios a ton of money when it’s all over, without even having to be a success. It’s a good world to live in.
Now, let’s look at ten years ago, we had Best Picture nominees like Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love, huge movies that cleaned up in the box office. What changed?
The most popular movies in 1998 had to be popular in order to make money, they had to be popular in order to be successful. So there was a different process to making them – if a big-name director wanted to make a film, the film they made had to be palatable to the public. The film had to be meet certain criteria – it had to make sense, it had to have a strong ending, it usually had to have likeable characters. It had to be a movie that the average adult would want to see.
This is painting Hollywood with a broad brush, I will admit – David Lynch has never made a movie anyone close to average would want to see, and there is a long history of hundreds of directors forging their own path. So I’m not saying that filmmakers getting to make whatever the hell they want is all new. I’m saying it’s easier.
Given the option, good filmmakers will always chose the more unique, the more creative way to do things. That’s how they got to where they are. And if someone’s going to give them eighteen million dollars with very few questions asked, it becomes a lot easier to tune out the studio exec going “maybe the guy and the girl should get back together at the end.” When art beats commerce, filmmakers will denounce commerce for all they’re worth.
Once a film gets over a certain price to produce, things start changing. Tony Gilroy, who wrote and direct Michael Clayton, noted “Once a film costs a certain amount of money, the bad guys have to wear black hats.” George Clooney slashed his asking price in order to preserve the $20 million dollar budget, which gave Girloy final cut, a privilege he wouldn’t have had if the studio had invested more money in the picture.
I love this about movies, because suddenly we have dozens of creative, original movies that never would have seen the light of day otherwise. There Will Be Blood would never have gotten the backing it did. Same with Garden State, or Lost In Translation. Little Miss Sunshine and Juno were both Best Picture nominees, would they even have gotten made?
But just a decade ago, we had Forrest Gump, Good Will Hunting, Silence of the Lambs, and Schindler’s List, big movies that weren’t just popcorn – they were good, and they were popular. Everybody watched them and everybody loved them .
We don’t have movies like that anymore. The best movies we have now are small and divisive, and nobody goes to see them. The most popular movies we have are loud and obnoxious, and everyone walks out saying how disappointed they were. There’s no common ground in movies anymore – no one watches or likes the same things, we all just find our own taste. If we ever find something in common to talk about, it’s almost a miracle.
And that’s why, as long as indie movies control Hollywood, no one is going to watch the Oscars. No one went to see the movies in the first place, so why should anyone care?
In other news, Easter is finally, finally over, and my life can go back to normal, though I'm finding that difficult. When you key your body up to do a certain amount of work every day, dialing that back down to a normal schedule can be difficult.
I'm planning on posting later tonight about the explosion of independent film. Yell at me if I don't.
My dad, AVI, came down for a coupla days, so he and my brother and I all took a trip out to Austin for a day. It was not necessarily a full-on success; we mostly just wandered looking for interesting shops, and never found any. Even after purchasing a gigantic map of the city, we never found our way around until we finally dropped AVI off at the airport, our only success.
In between a somewhat unnecessarily roundabout 5-hour drive to Austin and seeing every UT-Austin campus from every approachable angle, we stayed at a Rodeway Inn that was... memorable. Keep in mind that my dad chose this hotel online.
Here's the night check-in window. They ran our credit card through, even though we'd already paid:
The first room they gave us had pizza boxes everywhere, beds messed up, and wet towels on the floor. I didn't take any pictures, but I did take a couple of the second, better room that we got, which you can see here, with everything you could ask for. Half a coat of fresh paint...
And freshly made beds!
It was midnight, so we gave up and turned in, sleeping fitfully in our clothes on top of the covers (Chris slept in the car). After an early rise - we didn't want to spend more time in those beds than absolutely necessary - we started a drive into downtown Austin. About three or four miles on our way, it suddenly occurred to me that our hotel was supposed to be much closer to downtown than we currently were.
We had stayed at the wrong Rodeway Inn. The night clerk had neglected to mention that we didn't have a reservation when we checked in, so we'd paid two motels for the privilege of having one uncomfortable room we were too scared to shower in.
Next time, we're bringing someone who knows the city. And our own bedding.
I touched on “quarterlife,” NBC’s new aimless-twentysomethings drama a couple of days ago, but I think the series is important enough that it deserves more than passing attention – unlike the Farrelly brothers first and hopefully last segue into television, “Unhitched,” one of the worst comedy pilots I have ever witnessed (do you know who their idea of a celebrity cameo is? I kid you not, Ryan Gomes).
“Quarterlife” is not important because it is good, because it is not good. It is not bad, certainly – it’s intriguing in its uniqueness, intriguing in its indie-movie casting, intriguing for its distinctive path to broadcast television, intriguing in its utter disdain for typical television dialogue. It’s similar to "My So-Called Life,” both in the sense that it rotates around characters self-absorbed and petulant, and in the fact that it is unquestionably doomed to fail. The monumentally talented Ed Zwick was involved in both, proving himself to be one of the most stubbornly creative people in television, which doesn’t bode well for him because TV doesn’t like creative people, it likes successful people, and “quarterlife” is no one’s gravy train.
I’ve been too hard on the show in the first two paragraphs, let me back off. I enjoyed the show’s low-budget pilot, mostly because it is quite clearly the little-show-that-could, about to be the little show that didn’t. It will enjoy no ratings bonanza, will never break into the national consciousness, will disappear without leaving a trace, and it knows it. It is a show that swings for the fences, tries new things, and after it fails it will be referred to as “ahead of its time” and “too good for television.” Both of these things are wrong – “quarterlife” is exactly of its time, and is not too good for television, but merely completely wrong for it. It is a show about twenty-somethings who still think they are meant to change the world, and it structures its show as if that is in fact what it plans to do itself. The only question is if the show or its characters will realize first that they are all just tilting at windmills.
A little history, quickly. “Quarterlife” was originally designed and produced as an internet-only show, not the first of its kind by any stretch, but the most successful. The show is about a female blogger (a luminous Bitsie Tulloch, formerly of internet fad “lonelygirl15,” and far too talented to remain a web-only actress a moment longer), who leaves astonishingly well-formulated stream-of-consciousness video posts on her website, mostly about the romantic and emotional ups-and-downs of her mixed bag of indie hipster friends. They are, as follows: steady, down-to-earth earthy roommate (Michelle Lombardo), who is foolishly dating a cocky and undeserving jockish fellow (David Walton) instead of his artistic, pining best friend (Mike Faoila), while their brittle, troubled actress friend (Maite Schwartz) bounces from tryst to tryst, and their unnecessary extra friend (Kevin Christy) provides weak comic relief and occasional plot points. Follow?
You’ll note I didn’t toss out any story details in that last paragraph, because there are none to tell. The characters spend their days fighting with each other, pining for each other, telling each other intimate secrets that they’d never told anyone before, then spreading said intimate secrets across the internet like true friends do. And, scene. After moderate internet success (internet-only shows are such a new medium that they reap almost no financial remuneration, so it’s still very hard to gauge accurately what “success” is), the show has made its way off the smallest screen and onto the small screen.
I think there’s a sense that a blogger like myself ridiculing “quarterlife,” a show that seeks to add credibility and artistic merit to blogging is itself an act of treason against one’s own people. Eating one’s own offspring, as it were. But blogging is justifiably knocked, for it is a medium that has no standards. It is self-publishing, self-referencing, and generally self-indulgent. Never in the history of human discourse have we ever created a method of communication so completely without checks and balances. Even the most heinous and vicious of communication in the past had some recourse – a wrong-headed speaker can be heckled, an uncareful writer sells no books, an unqualified director is given no opportunities by an studio. Certainly things break through, one way or another, but not at the rate that blogging does, a medium so forgiving that one doesn’t even need a name.
The blogger in “quarterlife” is a step above: a girl of literary acumen, possessed with a keen ear for phrases and a heartbreakingly quiet way of saying them. For some reason when Tulloch is sitting quietly and musing over her life, little bon mots like “a sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us never got our transcripts because they don't seem to be aware of it” seem to somehow carry a ring of truth to them, much more so because Tulloch is so good at conveying irony rather than self-pity than because the writing is anything other than ninnyhammering nonsense.
I’m not opposed to emotionalism and self-awareness, but the characters in the show don’t seem to be aware of anyone other than themselves. They even seem only dimly aware of their friends as anything more than foils for themselves. And my problem with this is not that it isn’t accurate but merely that it isn’t interesting. I know full well what self-absorption looks and feels like, and I think there’s drama to be mined there, but there’s nothing cathartic about “quarterlife,” indeed catharsis would be antithetical to the show’s entire premise. Most pilots find characters taking steps outside themselves into new territory, at the end of the show the characters have taken a new job or moved back to their hometown, maybe they’ve broken up with their longtime girlfriend or they’ve started dating someone new. The pilot is supposed to launch a new beginning, a new adventure.
These characters don’t want a new adventure, they don’t want a new job or a new girlfriend or a new life. They want their lives to change themselves. They want the world to change for them.
So do I, in fact. I would be thrilled if life would adapt itself around me, sweeping in a pack of charismatic new friends, attractive prospective girlfriends, and employment opportunities with wealthy, generous, and possibly sinister businessmen. And it’s my prerogative if I want to sit around and wait for it, or seek it out myself, and too often I choose to sit around and wait for it. And I’m fine with that.
But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit around and watch someone else make the same decision.
While doing research for a film project, I discovered that 2008 is, among other things, The International Year of Languages, The International Year of Planet Earth (really!), The International Year of Sanitation, and the Year of the Frog. There’s probably someone somewhere whose job it is just to think these things up.
Trumping all of those is the fact that 2008 is The Year of the Potato, a piece of information so vital that it’s remarkable it slipped our attention. The reason that 2008 is the Year of the Potato and not the year of something actually interesting is that the United Nations, one of the hippest bodies ever created, wants to highlight “the potential contribution of the potato to defeating hunger,” as if the potato is about to organize a relief committee, like Herbert Hoover.
Now, I’m all in favor of defeating hunger, and I’m sure the potato has very good intentions and will be shortly putting out an instructional newsletter with pictures of the potato traveling to third world countries with Anderson Cooper and frowning at the horizon. I’m even more excited that I will soon be purchasing INSPI(POTATO), EMPOWE(POTATO), and DO THE (POTATO) THING shirts, and I’ll be sure to attend the approaching U2/potato world tour. I look forward to the potato changing our way of thinking. Ideally, I'm hoping Dan Quayle will be involved somehow.
To show my appreciation of the potato, here, on this site, I have added this, to increase all of our awareness of the potato.
We are all now aware of the potato. Hunger will be no more.
There'll be more news up tomorrow, but for right now, here's the big news: I have completed and sent off a commercial for broadcast in the Houston area. As you can imagine, this is a massive deal to me, and I'm pretty awed by it all so far. If I can find out roughly what times it's going to play, I plan on staying up all night, or watching every single daytime soap that's on, whatever I need to do to in order to see it live.
I keep promising to review everything I watch, and of course I never do, since I watch a lot of media and spend a lot less time blogging, and I write very slowly when I do blog. So let's do a bunch all at once. One sentence per:
The Wind In The Barley. Proves once and for all the Irish War of Rebellion was exactly the same as "Animal Farm." "quarterlife." Being an unemployed artistic-type incapable of getting your life together is very, very, very cool. Becoming Jane. Pride and Prejudice with a bummer ending, except knows that it's coming and it's like watching a very slow yet prettily-shot train wreck. Philadelphia. 15 years later, it's still outstandingly powerful... how did Denzel Washington not get an Oscar nod? "The Bronx Is Burning." Quietly addictive, it sneaks up on you - plus Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson is hilariously on target. The Darjeeling Limited - It has now reached a point in Wes Anderson fandom where his movies cannot just be funny, clever, and good, they have to be life-changing - which is a shame, because The Darjeeling Limited is funny, clever, and good. Once - Like indie music, indie films have become a style (much benefitted by adding name actors and directors) rather than an actual accurate description, except for Once, which is quietly poignant both in spite of and because of its inexperienced actors and technical quality. Across The Universe - Uneven yet loads of fun, it's a visual trip to watch and a joy to see Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson tear their way through it. The Science of Sleep - No one's better than Michel Gondry at this sort of thing, but working your way through the deliberate jerkiness of his storytelling style goes down sweeter when there's happiness and resolution at the other end, which wasn't the case here.
Well, that should cover me for now. Tune in later, as La Vie En Rose, Black Snake Moan, and Starship Troopers are all coming.
Peracchio is reporting a story from London about how, in order to avoid the painful injuries caused by texting and not looking where you're walking, the government is padding every lampost and street sign with a protective mattress to keep people from banging their heads on them. This means we're only three years away from our first successful I-walked-into-an- unpadded-lampost-and- sustained-devastating-injuries lawsuit, which, as you can imagine, is going to be quite a fun day for all of us.
This comes on the heels of the alarm system I've seen on Volvo commercials recently (the BLIS, nicknamed "The Bliss"), which informs you if you're shifting lanes with someone in your blind spot and then drives the car back into the correct lane. It also sounds an alarm if you get too close to the car in front of you. That's right, America, we've given you permission to text while driving. It's okay! The car will take care of everything! Go ahead and tell your friend that you'll see her at 6:30, though you might be a little late. You're okay. The car's got you covered.
We're also only six years away from all carpool lanes becoming padded text-while-driving lanes. Safety first.
This site is making the rounds, so you've probably seen it, but if you haven't here's the link. It's called "Stuff White People Like," and it is the single most painfully accurate jab at middle-class white culture that I have ever seen. This is a selection from "Being The Only White Person Around."
In most situations, white people are very comforted by seeing their own kind. However, when they are eating at a new ethnic restaurant or traveling to a foreign nation, nothing spoils their fun more than seeing another white person.
Many white people will look into the window of an ethnic restaurant to see if there are other white people in there. It is determined to be an acceptable restaurant if the white people in there are accompanied by ethnic friends. But if there is a table occupied entirely by white people, it is deemed unacceptable.
The arrival of the “other white people” to either restaurants or vacation spots instantly means that lines will grow, authenticity will be lost, and the euphoria of being a cultural pioneer will be over.
Being aware of this can be extremely valuable in your efforts to gain the trust of white friends and co-workers. If you bring a white person to an ethnic restaurant and another white person (or group of white people) shows up, you can lose all respect and trust that you have worked so hard to acquire. Do your best to find a table with a divider, or ask the waiter to put future white people out of sight.
Note: This does not apply to night clubs.
The site points out things that white people like which I have fallen prey to so wholeheartedly that I have expounded on them and sung their praises on this very website:
And that's just a small sampling. I would say out of 80 posts so far, there are about maybe two dozen where I didn't go "Oh, I've done that," and flinch, and exactly zero posts where I didn't think "no, I don't know anyone like that." Check out the site, it's updated every day, unlike, say, this site, so there's a new post up whenever you check back in.
You'd think they'd have learned their lesson by now.
The Washington Post reports that "Skywalkers in Korea Cross Han Solo," a headline that inspires so many one-liners that I actually have to put my head down on the desk to stop myself from writing them all.