For those who wondered what I have been up to in those vast stretches of time between posts here, this is one of the films that I made.
What exactly do your cats do all day long? What’s going on in their furry little heads? And what do they really think of you?
Meet Johnny and Jack, a couple of hipster housecats brimming with feline attitude and boundless egos. Get a cat’s eye view of the world as they defy their owner, battle their rivals, and soldier onward in the endless quest for wet food.
WINNER of the audience choice award for competition shorts at the 15th annual Dances With Films festival in Hollywood, CA.
WINNER of the audience award for comedy short at the 2012 Chicago REEL Shorts film festival.
Dedicated readers will recall my displeasure with the overly-cute “Be Kind, Rewind“. The central gimmick of that film was low-budget re-creations of big-budget Hollywood spectacle, which falls flat because using a big budget to simulate a small budget recreation of a blockbuster is dishonest – the cinematic equivalent of trust-fund hipsters slumming it in deliberately ill-fitting pants.
This project, on the other hand, is fascinating. Starting in 2009, Star Wars fans around the world began a shot-for-shot recreation of the movie, and the finished project is viewable here:
As experimental video projects go, this is incredibly fantastic, with extra kudos to editor Aaron Valdez (http://www.aaronvaldez.com) who must have sifted through unknowable piles of footage of wildly varying quality to craft this. Paper hats, action figures, feminist Darth Vaders, CGI, legos and tin foil all run together into a massive labor of love. The genuine ingenuity and occasional re-invention will suck you in and turn a thirty second curiosity-glance into five minutes of “how are they going to accomplish the next scene.”
David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a terrible bore.
At a running time of two hours and forty minutes, it lasts about as long as I lasted reading the book. My bookmark still sits squeezed in between pages 340 and 341, at the start of chapter 17, where I finally gave up slogging through the Pynchon-ian digressions as I waited for the story to move forward. Pulp fiction is supposed to be lurid; over-salted, fat-filled cheeseburger narratives that leave a grease stain as they roll down your gullet. The story has to keep moving, it’s the basic commandment of the genre. Stieg Larsson’s novel instead flails about like a nervous grad student, so terrified of leaving out a critical fact he goes out of his way to include everything he’s ever learned about a subject. It’s tiresome and badly written, which never stopped his airport rack predecessors Tom Clancy, John Grisham, James Patterson, and Dan Brown from achieving airborne omnipresence and the inevitable movie treatment as well.
The Swedes did it first. The 2009 version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (available on Netflix streaming) gets it right. The script especially was a thing of beauty, bursting with narrative energy; moving with bold and economic strokes that cranked out a satisfying, lurid yarn.
Fincher’s adaptation seems to have almost the same script (would love to see some internet kiddie split-screen the two movies and watch how the playback synchronizes), but he approaches the material with heavy hands and leaden feet. Fincher is a meticulous craftsman, but his approach is like Joel Robuchon recreating a meal at McDonalds, turning big, juicy bites of pulp into tiny morsels of Very Important Filmmaking. There’s a very expensive technical sheen on everything in sight, but the tastiest part of the whole endeavor is the amuse-bouche of the glossy black title sequence. The rest of the film rolls by in blurred succession of flavorless morsels that wears out its welcome long before anything delicious happens.
Look, Top Chef, we need to talk. I work in reality television, so I know how hard it is to produce an entertaining show. I also understand how grueling it is to stay fresh and creatively engaged in season 9 of a rigidly structured show. But you’ve gone off the rails this season, Top Chef, and you need to get back to the basics. I’ve been fast-forwarding past the tooth brushing in act 1 and all of the faux-deliberations in act 6 for years now, and I’m starting to fast-forward through anything that doesn’t involves shiny knives or a grumpy bald guy. In short, you’re in trouble.
The first sign of trouble this season: One of these things is not like the other. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Chicago. Miami. New York City. Las Vegas. Washington D.C. Texas.
Did you spot it? Let me give you a hint, it’s the one that’s NOT A CITY. It’s that massive 2nd tier state with a soon to be failing economy that leaps out at you. Did you think we wouldn’t notice that names like “Dallas” or “Houston” or “San Antonio” seem to be conspicuously missing?
Do you know why they’re missing? Because nobody associates any part of Texas with food. The state dish is admittedly delicious BBQ, but it’s best served behind a gas station on a plastic tray, with half a loaf of Wonder Bread as a chaser. The unofficial motto is “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Note carefully that it’s not “everything’s BETTER in Texas”, just bigger. When it comes to culture, Texas makes Donald Trump look classy. Nobody moves to Texas looking for any kind of cutting-edge cultural experience unless you’re in Austin, the city who’s mantra is “Please ignore the map because we’re really not a part of Texas.” On the national stage, Texas is mostly known for choking – whether it’s Tony Romo under pressure or George W. Bush eating a pretzel. This is the food culture you want to tap into?
OK, I get it. You’re looking to spread your wings and explore, but let’s be serious. Top Chef should be like the Super Bowl. All you have to do is rotate through the same three or four base cities (NY, LA, SF, and because they have Grant Achatz, Chicago) and call it a day. If you want to put Padma in chaps, then import a cowboy. If you want a change-up, try New Orleans. You can’t justify San Antonio as a point of culinary interest any more than you could justify Denver, Detroit, or Dallas.
Second: The two opening “audition” episodes might be the lowest point in series history. It’s clear that the 150 chefs you’ve featured to date have pretty much exhausted the talent pool of undiscovered A-list, TV friendly chefs. You don’t need to advertise that by exposing us to 100 more C-list chefs who don’t stand a chance of making the casting cut. Your job – your very raison d’etre as producers – is to find, recruit, and choose 15 interesting chefs and test their endurance for my amusement. Staging a repetitive, American Idol style auditioning cook-off is the antithesis of what makes your show interesting.
Beyond that, the judging panel methodology of American Idol does not work for you. On Idol, for better or worse, I can hear what is reasonably close to what the judges are hearing. It’s a little interesting because I’m working with the same information that they have. On Top Chef, I have nothing to work with. I can’t smell or taste the plates, I’m experiencing it vicariously through your judges. This is not a show that invites “play along at home”. This is a show about pressure, personality and imagination. Forcing Tom, Padma, and some random schmuck to play Simon, Paula, and some random schmuck is embarrassing and dramatically uninteresting.
Either a chef is good enough for Top Chef, or they’re not. If you want to show me some cocky young buck or tear-jerking sob story, then cast them. I know that if you’re focusing on some interesting story in those opening episodes that they’re just going to get cut. If they’re interesting and make it, you’ll save their story for when the bullets go live. If they’re interesting but don’t make it, you’re going to squeeze that out while you can. (And if they’re uninteresting, as many of them are, why are you showing me at all?)
Just do your job, Top Chef. Cast the best you can, put them under pressure in the kitchen somewhere and see who rises to the challenge.
Production values are slipping, too. The green screen for the interviews have hit a nadir at many points so far this season. For the uninitiated, those beautifully composed interview shots that comprise the bulk of the show are usually shot in a cramped room behind the set with the chef sitting in front of a green sheet like they’re posing for a portrait at Sears. Post-production magic swaps out the green screen and replaces it with a gorgeous wall ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest. There’s no smooth way to say this, but this is Hollywood 101 at this point, and Top Chef has done a technically poor job of it. The process is called “keying”, and if you look at the Heavy Girl With Disheveled Hair, you can see that all the detail has been keyed out of that lesbian rat’s nest on her head. That’s kind of forgivable because fine threads of hair are tough to key out, but pulling a bad key on Old Bald And Bitter Chef is inexcusable on a technical level.
And tell the people who shoot the food inserts to lay off the rack focus. Yes, the crew must be very excited by the new tilt-shift lens, but the same rack focus on 16 consecutive plates of food is tiresome. While you’re at it, smack the editor who cut those in, too. There must be something on a slider you could alternate with.
You know how I can tell this season is off? Tom Colicchio can’t be bothered to hide it. He’s never suffered bad chefs lightly, but making him send one contestant home in the middle of the first challenge was embarrassing – both to him, the show, and the chef. Watching the quinceanera episode, until the eating started he couldn’t be bothered to wipe that condescending look off his face. There were at least five shots of him in the episode last night where he was clearly thinking: ”Who thought this was a good idea? What the hell is this idiotic party I’m stuck at? Where the hell is the nearest decent restaurant? When can I go back to see my kids? Why the fuck am I here?”
That’s the only real saving grace so far this season – Tom’s expertise and intolerance of poor cooking gives Top Chef enough gravity to hold together when the show threatens to go Real Housewives. His judgments are the reason to keep watching, and when he looks like he’s checked out, the show is in deep trouble.
Look, Top Chef, it’s first-world problems to keep a successful and beloved show running. But learn from those who have failed before you, and accept your place in the world. Nobody wants to see a 100 yard dash determine who runs The Amazing Race. Stick to what you do best – finding interesting chefs, put them under extreme pressure, and let us watch them rise or fall.
Your mind is the scene of the crime. Too bad the crime is insufferable boredom.
The biggest deception of Inception is the perception that it’s an exception to the infection of abomination that is the summer movie-going season. If this glib conjugation is a cause for celebration, then you might find elation in the pretension
If, however, you find that paragraph a pointless simulation of masturbation, then congratulations, because your perceptions are most astute. Trying to find substance in Inception is as difficult as explaining one of your dreams to a complete stranger. It would take an exceptionally long time explain why your high school gym teacher running laps with your boss in your childhood living room is so emotionally perplexing. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, and you’ll only succeed in boring your companion to tears.
Leonardo DiCaprio recycles his pinched-face squint from Shutter Island as Cobb, the leader of a high-tech gang of thieves who can invade your dreams to steal your innermost thoughts. The jobs have been growing progressively more dangerous, as a nasty secret deep in Cobb’s unconscious threatens to overwhelm the dream worlds his crews must work in. His team are a bunch of blank-faced automatons of the model that populate dreams – the ethnic guy, the old guy, and the slicked back hair of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The flat, low-contrast cinematography is just as featureless, doing nothing to differentiate between dreams and reality while robbing both worlds of any sense of wonder.
Who's who in "Inception"? Abandon all Hope, ye who would differentiate here.
After a job goes horribly wrong, Cobb gets the ultimatum that no cinematic thief can refuse – one last job that will wipe the slate clean and let him leave the criminal life behind. His enigmatically wealthy sponsor wants Cobb to plant an idea in the mind of a business rival, however the dream-world rules mean that such a task is impossible.
To accomplish the impossible first requires a half-hour of exposition. Then Cobb recruits Ariadne (Ellen Page), a young architectural student who needs to wander around aimlessly, asking questions to clarify the first round of exposition. Once she seems to understand the rules of dream construction, the film tasks her with standing around wide-eyed to ask more questions because once the actual action begins, nothing that she learned is ever used again. Then most of the exposition is rendered moot because there’s an entirely different set of rules and dangers that they must navigate once the bullets start flying. All this so Cobb can return home to some children he can’t remember and a multi-billionaire can get a global monopoly in some industry that doesn’t seem to matter. [Read more →]
I shall title this review Das Weisse Band, with the subtitle “In which we shall discuss the glorious enlightenment that a director of cinema shall bequeath unto an audience, and the manner in which said audience shall receive that most holy golden gift, even if it shall be locked up tightly and largely withheld in any case.”
Das Weisse Band, or as it is grudgingly known in English The White Ribbon is the 2009 Palme D’Or winning film by Michael Haneke, an Austrian filmmaker who’s most notable leitmotif is hostility toward the audience. Whether or not you like his films will boil down to your position on that issue, and quite honestly, if you think that going to the movies should involve some glimmer of entertainment, then stop reading now. Michael Haneke despises you and your gluttonous, popcorn-guzzling ways. If you have a quarrelsome streak, and have a fondness for arguing with the inexplicable, then you’ve just found your Citizen Kane.
The White Ribbon is set in a small Austrian village on the eve of World War I. A storm is coming, and it appears to begin with a malicious prank. The town doctor thrown from his horse when it gallops into a wire strung across the path. The doctor is thrown off and shatters his collarbone, and the close-knit town can find no motive or suspects. Days later, an accident in the mill begins to reinforce the suspicions and paranoia. Gradually, the idyllic life becomes routinely shattered with inexplicable acts of violence and soon everyone in town – from the Baron and the pastor, to the doctor and the farm workers – are all caught in a growing cloud of darkness. [Read more →]