Frenzy On Blog Archive for August, 2010

Television Goldmine

I’ve written about this subject several times over the past few years, but now it seems like it’s gaining steam more and more: television is a much more interesting landscape than film these days. That is not to say that I think all TV shows are better than all movies, but that I think television is an inherently more fascinating medium for character-based narratives. In a film, we get maybe three hours to see a character develop and grow and change; in television, we could have upwards of a hundred hours. Great film actors like Daniel Day-Lewis are able craft a persona and give us an idea of the depth of a character in something like There Will Be Blood, but how do I compare that greatness to, say, Jon Hamm’s creation of Don Draper on Mad Men.  It’s almost impossible to compare the two, but when all is said and done, I will probably feel like I know Don Draper and his motivations better than Daniel Plainview.

I was realizing just that point when I was watching Mad Men this past Sunday.  I’ve gotten to know Don Draper so well at this point that I feel like I can guess what he may or may not to do in any given situation.  That might make it sound really boring, like it would take the fun and excitement out of it, but instead it made me feel comfortable with the fact that I’ve spent almost four seasons getting to know this person (upwards of 40 hours) and now I know his tics.  And that’s a testament to the acting of Jon Hamm, that he’s able to convey the feelings that I know Don is having, but without having to state it as such.  Every furrow of the brow, every hesitation of an inhalation of cigarette, every faux-tender kiss on a woman’s mouth…we know what Don is feeling as he lies to the world.

It’s not just on Mad Men either.  All across the television landscape, there are shows and characters that are just starting to scratch the surface of what can be done with the medium.  No longer do we have stand-alone episodes of every show where we follow one character as they solve a mystery.  No, now we have mysteries and narratives that last for the entire length of a show’s run and characters that fall believably in and out of love.

Look, I will always love movies with all my heart – it’s my primary passion.  But even I can’t deny that television is kicking some serious ass right now.  It’s starting to feel more and more like film is the equivalent of a short story while TV shows are novels.  That’s not a knock on films at all, as some of the best stories are short ones.  But, I’ve got it on pretty good authority that Boardwalk Empire is going to kick all of our asses when it debuts on HBO in a couple weeks.  And, you know, it’s gotta say something when even Scorsese is noticing what television can offer these days.

4 Comments »

Welcome to Frenzy on the Blog

Now that the site has been officially re-launched, my wonderful editor David Poland has given me this space to play around in. It will be an informal affair here, talking mostly about movies and sometimes about television and music. I hope that you will all hang out for a little bit, long enough to speak up and become a part of the discussion.

For me, my favorite thing about devouring every movie I can find is that I know I can discuss it with someone after and argue passionately about why the other person is silly for not understanding. It’s funny, we’re all stubborn when it comes to our opinions and we very rarely admit defeat to our opponent’s face. But sometimes, a point will sink in a day later or a week later and I’ll realize that I was wrong and it’ll subtly shift my opinion. Because the truth of the matter is that anyone who says they’ve never been wrong about a movie on the initial viewing or who have the same opinions about every film they see three seconds or three years later is lying to you. Unless they’re Pauline Kael.

The point is that arguing comes with the territory and it’s part of the fun. I can’t wait to argue with you over the next several years.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

I’m making my preliminary list for my annual “Top Ten Films to See This Fall” column and it’s going to be awfully hard to whittle it down to ten.  It’s also going to be hard to figure out which movies are actually going to be released this year.  Films like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life and Peter Weir’s The Way Back are currently scheduled to be released sometime this year, but they are both without a firm date.  In the case of the Malick film, it’s unclear whether the film is even finished yet and it’s been on the last few of my “Top Ten Films to See” lists.  But even if one takes those two out of the running, we’re talking about filmmakers like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, James L. Brooks, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Anton Corbijn, Oliver Stone, Ben Affleck, Julian Schnabel, Robert Rodriguez, Clint Eastwood, Danny Boyle, Julie Taymor, The Coen Brothers, Mike Leigh, and many others I’m forgetting.  All of them releasing films this fall.  And that’s not counting films like Jackass 3-D, Due Date, the new Harry Potter flick, and Love and Other Drugs, which I’m looking forward to seeing as well.  Here’s hoping this is a fine fall, because we all know it’s been a miserable summer.

1 Comment »

How the Mighty Have Fallen…

Two times in the past week, I’ve gone to the movie theater and seen the preview for Devil.  Both times,  I thought the trailer was well-cut, moody, and effective.  And both times, the audience started giggling as soon as they saw M. Night Shyamalan’s name on the screen.  By no means am I a fan of the man’s recent output – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the films he’s made since Signs have all been somewhat embarrassing travesties – but I don’t root for anyone’s failure.  I think Shyamalan is clearly a talented individual who has made at least one excellent film (Unbreakable) and one very good one (The Sixth Sense), but I don’t think anything has really changed in him.  I don’t think he’s a different kind of storyteller now, I just think he hasn’t evolved as a filmmaker.  Some chalk it up to an out-sized ego – and certainly there’s proof of that – but I’m not going to play amateur psychologist and assume that’s the case.  I think he is very comfortable making films the way he makes them and doesn’t see that much of a need to listen to outside opinions.

Having said all that, Universal should be more aware of what has happened to the M. Night Shyamalan over the last few years.  I don’t think it’s right that people are laughing at Shyamalan’s producer credit on Devil, but I also don’t think it’s smart for the marketing folks to prominently display the name of a man who has tarnished his brand in the eyes of most moviegoers.  One could point to the $130 million that The Last Airbender grossed, but that film had a built-in audience and still couldn’t make its budget back.

Devil is a smaller film that needs word of mouth and positive buzz.  It seems to be set almost entirely in an elevator with an outlandish premise, but the trailer is cut so well that it intrigued me and I don’t know why the studio would risk putting Shyamalan’s name in lights.  Let’s all hope the film is good and that it is step one in Shyamalan getting back into our good graces.  Step two is letting someone else write his scripts.

1 Comment »

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I’m curious to see Casey Affleck’s documentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s “rap” career, I’m Still Here.  It seems more obvious every day that Phoenix’s “retirement” from acting to focus on rapping was a complete put-on.  I think it hit home from me when I saw that Phoenix is listed as a producer on the film.  I find it hard to believe that someone who does the crazy things that purportedly happen in the documentary would allow the film to be released.  More than that, Affleck is Phoenix’s brother-in-law and I’m fairly sure that no family member would exploit someone’s downward spiral unless they were in on some kind of joke.

But the sad part for me is that this seems like such a waste of time for two incredibly talented actors.  Casey Affleck finally acted again after a three year layoff and gave us another masterful performance in The Killer Inside Me; the last performance Phoenix gave was the devastating, heartbreaking, and altogether fantastic portrayal of Leonard in Two Lovers.  I understand that these two buddies wanted to just hang out and make a documentary where Phoenix plays an elaborate prank on unsuspecting audiences.  It seems like a fun idea and all that, but it’s also a waste of talent.  These two guys are two of the finest actors we have and no matter how good I’m Still Here turns out, I can’t imagine I won’t be disappointed that these two didn’t spend that time giving us a few more great performances.

I think the issue is that Phoenix and Affleck are the kind of actors, like Daniel Day-Lewis, who don’t “enjoy” acting.  They see it as a job because they are so committed to what they do, actually believing in the craft of creating a performance.  So, the two of them just didn’t feel like doing all that hard work yet wanted to produce something because they are artists, after all.  And I’m Still Here is the result of that.  I understand where they’re coming from, but I hope and pray that they get back in front of the camera ASAP.

Three amigos

“Straight A’s!”

Dazed and Confused is a perfect film, one that I watched upwards of fifty times during my adolescence and I could talk about it for hours.  Sometimes I do, like last night when a friend and I discussed the film in such minute detail that it would probably scare the average Dazed and Confused fan.

But during the conversation, I explained a theory about the film that I conjured up somewhere around the 45th viewing.  There is a scene in the film where Slater and Pink go to Pickford’s house to smoke some pot.  As Slater and Pink walk into the house, they run into Pickford’s mother who asked what grades they got and Slater immediately says, “Straight A’s!” which seems pretty laughable since Slater is portrayed as a pothead idiot.  Except, what if he’s telling the truth?  My theory is that Slater is, in fact, a genius.

Genius?

Bear with me, I know that sounds ridiculous.  But remember the scene where Slater says, “Catch ya later,” and Don makes fun of him?  Well, Slater says in that same scene, “Wait til I get to college, I can’t wait til I get to college.”  And my first thought when I hear that is, “Slater’s going to college?”  Is Slater lying?  Is he lying about getting straight A’s?  Is it possible that he’s just playing up the stoner aspect of his personality?  He talks about George Washington being in a cult and that the cult was into aliens, but does he mean what he’s saying or is he just trying to have a laugh at the expense of the stoners who are listening to him?

Look, it’s a far-fetched theory and these are the kinds of things that come up when you re-watch a movie all throughout your childhood.  But, just think about Slater’s potential MENSA status the next time you watch the movie and I think you might start to see the movie in a slightly different way.

Damon Was Robbed

I was surfing through the channels earlier and I saw that Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! was on, so I decided to watch a few minutes.  I wound up watching about an hour of the movie because I got so wrapped up in Matt Damon’s lead performance.  I’ve long felt that Damon was one of the best young actors we have, but he just keeps getting better.  What he does in The Informant! has such a high degree of difficulty.  The tone of the performance is so perfectly calculated and one wrong note could throw the whole thing off.

But the point is that Damon was nominated for an Oscar last year…for Invictus.  I mean, Damon is fine in that movie and does a convincing South African accent, but I don’t understand how 1) that was only his second acting nomination and the first since Good Will Hunting and 2) that he was shut out for The Informant!.  It is astounding to me that Damon’s work in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Rounders, The Departed, and The Good Shepherd all went unrecognized by the Academy.

One of our best

This year, though, I just don’t see how Colin Firth (A Single Man) and Morgan Freeman (Invictus) got nominated ahead of Damon’s masterful performance.  Damon is objectively better than those two and he’s better than George Clooney in Up in the Air (although I don’t begrudge that nomination).  It almost seems to me that either there is a conspiracy against nominating Matt Damon in the acting categories or the majority of the Academy is stupid (the more likely explanation).

Damon should have three films coming out before the end of the year: True Grit, Hereafter, and The Adjustment Bureau.  That’s three chances for the Academy to screw up.

1 Comment »

“Did that go the way you thought it was gonna go? Nope.”

The Other Guys is way better than I thought it would be.  It’s not that I haven’t admired and enjoyed the films that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have made together, it’s that I have lost my faith in Ferrell as a consistent comedic presence.  For every Step Brothers (one of the more underrated comedies in recent years), there’s a handful of films like Land of the Lost, Semi-Pro, and Blades of Glory.  And as much as I enjoy the show Eastbound & Down, I didn’t find Ferrell’s slimy car salesman particularly funny or original.  Basically, I was starting to tire of the standard Will Ferrell shtick.

So color me surprised that The Other Guys turned out to be a fairly interesting send-up of cop flicks.  Ferrell is at his best here because he’s not as loud; he’s often been at his funniest when he’s subtle and quiet.  Here, it’s Mark Wahlberg that plays the more temperamental role and it’s much funnier to see Wahlberg lose it.  Of course, because Ferrell is reserved for much of the film, when he does blow up, it’s delightful.

Unlikely heroes

A rehashing of the plot is completely unnecessary because it’s all just a vehicle for Ferrell and Wahlberg to play off each other and they have great chemistry that nearly rivals what Ferrell shares with John C. Reilly or Paul Rudd.  I thought this film succeeded where Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz failed because Adam McKay doesn’t seem to have the same reverence for action films that Wright clearly did.  So, rather than lovingly mocking the outlandishness of these types of films as Wright did, this is a film that knows the plot should come secondary.

The one part of the film that really threw me off, however, was the end credit animated sequence that explains what a Ponzi scheme is and how it works.  It goes to some pretty heavy places, which is not how I wanted to leave a film that I just had a good time with.  It seems pretentious and heavy-handed, which is not what I expect to find when I sign up for a Will Ferrell comedy.

However, I fully enjoyed my time with The Other Guys.  It’s not high art and it’s not the funniest film ever, but it’s a good time and should offer everyone at least a few chuckles.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho

“But okay, I promise you now that if I ever retire again, I’m going to ensure that I can’t walk it back. I’ll post a series of the most disgusting, offensive, outrageous statements you can ever imagine. That way it will be impossible for me to ever be employed again. No one is going to take my calls. No one is going to want to be seen with me. Oh, it will be scorched earth. I will have torched everything. I’m going to flame out in the most legendary fashion.”
~ Steven Soderbergh