Thursday, January 31, 2013

More discussion of ZERO DARK THIRTY as Oscar campaigning reaches climax.

Entirety of Tom Shone's recent THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS blog post:
"While I found the depiction of torture to be upsetting–it seemed to me that Bigelow and Mark Boal presented it in a way that leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether or not it was worthwhile or reprehensible..." — Mike Fleming, Deadline Hollywood
Notice the baseline assumption behind Flemings comment: the torture worked. Whether it was worthwhile or reprehensible is for us to decide. This is why Boal has done such damage. Because millions now believe that torture produces good information. The baselines of public debate have, for many people, been permanently altered. 
Entirety of Jeffrey Wells' recent HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE blog post--titled "It Can't Happen Here...Or Can It?":
It's absurd, I realize, to speculate or fantasize about the absolute finest film of 2012 actually winning the Best Picture Oscar...ridiculous! The best films don't win the Oscar, dummy -- the most popular ones do. And yet Zero Dark Thirty is turning into a highly popular film with $75 million tallied + 9/11 families expressing their support + Leon Panetta giving it a thumbs-up + Martin Sheen going "homina-homina-homina...I've changed my mind!" + the Stalinist haters having been marginalized by common sense and routed by public scorn. Tables turnin', cut down to size, how ya like me now?
My take: I'm going with Tom Shones.  The Mike Fleming quote is inadvertently spot-on regarding ZERO DARK THIRTY's explicit desire to put torture/rendition into an apolitical vacuum.
I wonder if Mr. Boal/Ms. Bigelow were influenced not only by their CIA sources but also Sony exec Amy Pascal in proceeding with this "for us to decide" approach--to make it "acceptable" for a mainstream audience.
[Remembering the sexual politics of Sony's remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, where Rooney Mara was on top of Daniel Craig until Craig flipped Mara over to assert the dominant male/female sex position--a marked difference from the original Swedish film version.]
And, though I read Wells' blog, it's rather silly/unbecoming of him to persist in the claim that people unswayed by ZERO DARK THIRTY's filmmaking/screenwriting are merely "Stalinist haters."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When stand-up comedy becomes Theatre of Casual Cruelty.

There's a story behind the not-that-funny stand-up comedy video I've posted here.

Two decades ago this summer, I worked on a film called JIMMY HOLLYWOOD as a stand-in for Joe Pesci.  Carlos Kotkin, in his pre-comedy days, was a production assistant on the film; part of his duties involved being an assistant to the female lead, Victoria Abril.

I remember Carlos as being deadpan and with a bit of a sardonic edge.  He worked hard and made it through the film shoot (which, from my point of view, was uberstressful).

On one hand, I'm glad that Carlos has a show business career (in addition to doing stand-up, he has a book titled PLEASE GOD LET IT BE HERPES, for which the following is a promotional video:, but it seems like he's content with doing lowest-common-denominator comedy where you make people laugh in a lazy, uncreative way by merely feeding the audience's prejudices about homeless street people and dating disasters (whiff of misogyny here) back to them.

But he's making a living--even if it's derived from figurative urination on misfortune, dysfunction and poverty for audiences his age and younger.

And I'm hoping to never be part of his audience and/or be a subject of one of his routines.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh offers employment advice.

Excerpted from a long NEW YORK magazine interview with soon-to-retire-from-moviemaking director/producer Steven Soderbergh (his film SIDE EFFECTS opens February 8th).

This quote (highlighted by me) was preceded by the interviewer's query as to how Soderbergh was able to get a variety of films (in different genres) greenlighted by the studio system.

On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you.  The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”

Link to the full interview:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

JJ Abrams adds STAR WARS to his resume.

Commenter "jchrisfg" from the HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE site has this observation to make re the Disney announcement of STAR WARS franchise caretaker earlier today:
 Abrams is in the circumstances a safe, generic and conservative move for the franchise. However flawed Lucas' prequel trilogy is, it has seeds of great movies in them, and some fantastic mythical images and visions that unfortunately don't work in narrative forms as-is.

Abrams' film will probably have better beats for general audiences, but apart from some character names, it will have nothing to do with the original franchise and I'm afraid it will just be a generic, forgettable science-fiction film of the 2010's.
Adding my opinion to the above: Abrams is 1 for 1 for film franchise revitalization.  The last two MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films were good, but STAR TREK basically flipped  a bird in the direction of Gene Roddenberry's gravesite--proving to be the kind of generic, forgettable film the HE commenter referred to above.
A further heresy: Abrams' SUPER 8--paying homage to Steven Spielberg and, arguably, Joe Dante, is superior to the STAR TREK reboot .  Awaiting brickbats for this  decidedly non-fanboy opinion.

Monday, January 21, 2013

THE NEW YORKER's Emily Nussbaum on the artistic implosion of HOMELAND.

Excerpted from Emily Nussbaum's "On Television" article TRIGGER-HAPPY in the January 21, 2013 issue of THE NEW YORKER (much of the article is about the FX series JUSTIFIED):
"As I watched "Justified"'s narrative expand and contract, it was hard not to think of Showtime's espionage thriller "Homeland," which just ended a disastrous second season.  The show's original twelve episodes were a mini-masterpiece, a propulsive scenario paired with a reasonably thoughtful exploration of U.S. policy on torture and drones.  The second season began well, but it imploded into schlock--the creators had fallen in love with the chemistry between their stars [Claire Danes as CIA agent Carrie and Damian Lewis as U.S. soldier-turned-terrorist-turned-double-agent Brody].  When a bomb went off in the finale, it killed every corrupt or shady character, a convenient metaphor for the show's problems: it had been purged of complexity, a side effect of success.  The surviving ensemble--Carrie and Brody, Brody's family, Mike, Saul, and Quinn--were now cursed with, at worst, the flaws of the antihero: brilliant but unstable, willing to break rules in the name of justice.  That's not an original story, let alone an interesting way to examine foreign policy."

Feedback for opinionating on Jessica Chastain on ZERO DARK THIRTY.

Yesterday, I reposted comments I posted to the HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE site about ZERO DARK THIRTY and Jessica Chastain's lead performance as Maya.  Chastain's been a good actress elsewhere, but not in ZDT, where her performance has been overrated.

HE commenter Thunder Redux wrote:
TVMCCA is right on the money regarding Chastain. I think she was grossly miscast in this film. No idea how she got a best actress nom for this performance.

Commenter bobbyperu took strong exception:

Congratulations to TVM and Thunder for the Seriously Out of My Fucking Head But Let Me Just Be Contrarian award of the day. You guys are total fucking douches -- Chastain, as everyone knows by now (at least those with taste, frame of reference and knowledge of technique/sense of actresses currently working in America), is about the only versatile American thirty-something actress working right now. Without cataloging her dozen, diametrically opposed performances in the last year (different voices, bodies and masquerades, all of them) suffice to say that you two are clueless dicks.
But good to know that virtually no one agrees with you, based in her tally of awards this season from both press and industry.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

ZERO DARK THIRTY is a low point in Kathryn Bigelow's career.

Reposting a comment I just left on the HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE site:
Have finally seen ZDT. Another film glorifying whatever-it-takes vigilantism--and it's stretching far too much to attach moral complexity to the job-fatigue burnout exhibited by Clarke and Chastain's characters. Earlier Bigelow films like BLUE STEEL and K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER surpass ZDT in character depth and examining the limits of bordering-on-fascist absolutism.
And Jennifer Ehle blows Jessica Chastain off the screen in ZDT. The limits of Chastain's talent and overhype have been decisively exposed.

Adding to the above: ZDT built up a lot of manufactured controversy from comments about whether torture brought about the eventual discovery and execution of bin Laden (the old Dick Cheney "torture works" argument) instead of the "why are we sinking to this level of depravity" moral inquiry sparked by the Abu Ghraib naked detainee photos. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Victor Infante explains how the artistic selection process can sometimes be arbitrary and subjective in a good way.

From Victor Infante's eulogy blog entry for the late Jack McCarthy, a poet whose undeniable talent and grace Victor and I can both agree on.  The selected passage is interesting for its insight into how unconventional poets can sometimes be blessed with academia approval.  NEC refers to New England College, where Jack sometimes taught.

It was after his first reading at NEC -- to a packed house, I might add -- that I had one of my favorite conversations about Jack and his work, with poet and NEC professor Carol Frost. Carol is always an outspoken sort, and when we encountered him in the hall afterward, she was clearly wrestling with Jack's poetry.

I confided that Jack does a lot of things in his writing that normally drive me crazy, but when he does them, they all work. That's what makes him such an amazing artist. This answer seemed to satisfy Carol, but it also crystallized a lot for me, too. A lot of people treat poetry like it's a math problem, an equation to be solved. Jack put the lie to that in poem after poem. The "rules," such as they are, are there to help the writer coax nuance, meaning and emotion out of the poem. They're not an end unto themselves. And Jack could use any of the tools in the poet's toolbox with skill and precision -- his smaller lyrics, the ones that rarely made it to slams, are gorgeous -- but he always knew he didn't have to use any artifice if he didn't need to. Jack could just craft a story, and it would inevitably be a poem, would always be something a bit more than a jumble of sentences and sentiment. Because Jack was a real artist, and any arbitrary rules only applied when he found them convenient.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Oprah, Lance and coming OWN attractions.

Watched the first part of the Lance Armstrong summit meeting with Oprah Winfrey, and my heart hasn't softened as a result; he's still a jerk, but one who now carefully weighs words and parses some of them in the best Bill Clinton how-do-you-define-what-the-word-"is"-is fashion.

I don't intend to endure Part Two--where Lance goes into up-to-a-point detail about how his behavior impacted on family, Livestrong and what seemed to be infinite endorsement deals.

Now, let's proceed to the OWN program commercials.

Oprah's still trying to find the right mixture of high-minded and lowbrow: I saw ads for a Dallas policewomen show (intended to evoke Fox's COPS), an IYANLA promo which features her verbally taking down past-his-prime hip-hop star DMX, a commercial for a LEAN ON ME-esque reality series with a more--youthful-and-telegenic-than-Joe Clark protagonist and--finally--a special on S&M/bondage being packaged as suitably middle-of-the-road for America thanks to the mainstream success of the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY novels.

Not to mention a plug for a future Oprah exclusive with Drew Barrymore on the latter's new child--with the promo having Oprah ask Drew about past bisexuality in a clear context of "wild behavior you later have to explain to your kids."

Considering the alleged more-than-friends relationship between Oprah and Gayle King, this sort of inquiry dives into the deep end of the moral hypocrisy swimming pool.

RIP Jack McCarthy, storytelling poet extraordinaire.

I was blessed with seeing and hearing two fine storytelling poets in my lifetime--the late Jack Shafer and the just-departed-today Jack McCarthy.

Jack was a legend in the slam poetry community, or to be more accurate, to anyone (poet and nonpoet alike) who experienced him onstage-and-off.

He was kind and gracious to me in late 2006 when I came to Seattle (he and his wife Carol lived in Washington in recent years) to do a couple of featured readings.  I was also glad to go with him to one of his features in the area, plus a Seattle Slam reading.

My all-time favorite Jack McCarthy poem is "The Walk of Life"; here's the link:

Here's video of Jack's poem "An Evening of Television":

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jodie Foster's Golden Globes De Mille award speech means whatever you want it to mean.

I miss the unpretentious child/young adult actress Jodie Foster, great in just about everything from Scorsese films to TV guest shots to the now-forgotten musical TOM SAWYER to the also-forgotten CARNY (I still have to catch up with her performance in Adrian Lyne's FOXES).  I also miss the Jodie Foster who directed the not-as-well-known-as-it-should-be-now LITTLE MAN TATE.  I really miss the Jodie Foster who could win an Oscar for an anti-rape film like THE ACCUSED--and then turned into the high-minded Jodie Foster who made overreaching twaddle like NELL (chick a pea) and THE BRAVE ONE (apparently intended as a tasteful film on the chilling subject of vigilantism).  I supremely miss the Jodie Foster who, as a filmmaker, couldn't get a film about controversial Nazi-propagandist director/actress Leni Riefenstahl made--but at least tried.

The Jodie Foster who appeared at the Golden Globes to collect a career-achievement De Mille Award had some moments of genuine humanity (talking about her mother and praising her filmbiz colleagues)--mixed with blasts of fury at--as I parsed it--aging in Hollywood, the increasing triviality of celebrity culture and barely-concealed anger at years of being unable to cease gossip about her sexuality and keep her private life entirely private.

And perhaps the low point of Ms. Foster's speech occurred when she trotted out the now-easy-target-cliche Honey Boo Boo reference and hatefully mocked noncloseted celebrities for living "reality show" lives.

But a lot of people (both at the ceremony and watching it at home) seem to have mentally compartmentalized the Jodie Foster remarks--sifting the good from the less-edifying and absorbing the presence of one of the few women in the business with Genuine Power (although Lena Dunham, who came off quite likable in her two acceptance speeches--could have a Foster-esque career, in terms of current and possible future achievements as writer/director/producer/actress).

RIP singer/songwriter Sammy Johns.

Sammy Johns' mid-70s hit "Chevy Van" is probably (along with Alan O'Day's "Undercover Angel") the quintessential display of the era's male adolescent sexual fantasies on the AM-radio Top 40 format.

Here's the Sammy Johns Wikipedia biography:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Post-mortem remarks on PROMISED LAND--and its rejection by critics and audiences.

It's definitely sad when talented people (Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Dave Eggers, Gus Van Sant) collaborate on a well-intended message film meant to connect with mainstream audiences (a la the Jane Fonda 70s/early 80s canon including COMING HOME, THE CHINA SYNDROME and 9 TO 5) and failing at that goal.

So, let's dissect some of PROMISED LAND's flaws point-by-point (plot spoilers included):
1. If PROMISED LAND was meant mostly to be an indictment of 21st-century corporate hucksterism (getting people to pay for the privilege of having their land "fracked" for natural gas), then a different director than Van Sant was needed--someone who could provide a synthesis of Alexander Mackendrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, WHISKEY GALORE) and Preston Sturges satire/parody but with empathy.  At its weakest, PROMISED LAND seems like Elia Kazan/Budd Schulberg's A FACE IN THE CROWD on Valium.
2. The documentary GASLAND at least had the potent "money shot" of water coming out of a tap; the water (with gas included) was then set on fire.  PROMISED LAND instead gives us John Krasinski's crusading environmentalist (who has a Secret revealed in the third act) doing a show-and-tell-with-props exhibition for Rosemarie DeWitt's elementary school class.  Not as effective.
3.  Going back to point #1, the film, by going with the "what is your price"/"why can't you just take the money" approaches, is somewhat low on drama/conflict/tension.  If, perhaps, the Matt Damon corporate character had developed a sort of friendship-laced-with-regret towards Krasinski (provided no third act Secret existed), audience involvement might have increased; imagine if Krasinski had taken Damon to actual farmers/homeowners and demonstrated the negative effects of fracking--then you have a movie that shows, rather than merely relying on show-and-tell.  And then Damon (plus Frances McDormand's spiky-but-somehow-likable Company Person) is told by higher-ups to destroy Krasinski's reputation and neutralize his potential threat to corporate profits...major drama which would have made for the Damon-tells-truth-about-employers-at-town-vote finale much more resonant than how it plays out in the actual film.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Re Laura Dern and Mike White's HBO series ENLIGHTENED.

Television critics these days often focus attention on a few designated-hip series and consign the rest to a sort-of-no-serious-review-zone (i.e. the forceful denial of BOARDWALK EMPIRE's continued existence in Time Warner mag ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY).

ENLIGHTENED begins its second season (paired with Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow's GIRLS) this coming Sunday on HBO.  It's about subjects such as the search for spiritual grace, workplace relations, corporate politics, profiteering, parent/child relations, lingering post-divorce attraction and sailing one's raft across the rivers of disappointment, loneliness and alienation towards something which may be better on the other side.

Buy the Season One DVD/Blu-ray box onsale January 8th; watch as much as possible so you'll be sort-of-ready for Sunday's Season Two premiere.

It's one of the best shows you aren't watching on television.  Trust me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Another occurrence of poetry burnout.

Posted this past Friday on Facebook:
My recent local experiences with poetry have been mixed, with the low point of having a manuscript rejected by Moon Tide Press. Therefore, I'm accepting not being good enough and not willing to pay for workshops, private study and MFA programs--plus not being capable of getting along well with difficult people. And I'm tired of inviting taunts and abuse. So, no more poetry readings for me in 2013. I don't think I'm a bad poet, so I'll keep reading other people's work and occasionally posting poems of my own. But the current poetry environment is too rarified and mean for me to want to take part in and accept its mores/standards. Goodbye. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

One reason you won't see me at poetry readings in 2013.

Previously posted to Facebook:
The final-to-date poetry reading I attended last month contained the unnecessary spectacle of a host complaining that a poet (included in host's publication) didn't have "meaning" re the poem she read as compared to another reader's poem. I didn't sign on for crap like this when I attended my first reading 15 years ago this April at Midnight Special. Can't take it anymore.