To New Graduates, Especially the Artists

[Warning: Bad Words, but hey, we’re talking to artists, aren’t we?]

Most graduation speeches are optimistic, painfully so, because graduation is terrifying. You are moving into another stage of your life. The next, precarious stage. That one that doesn’t end until you have kids. And a house. And life insurance. And cable. The order is up to you. I’d go with cable though. You’re going to need a distraction.

Continue reading

Advertisements

“Girls” vs. “One Girl”: Moviefone, Tokenism, “The Avengers,” and the “Fake Geek Girl”

Yesterday around noon, something happened that happens every single day. A woman said something disparaging about other women* in order to ingratiate herself to men*. Or perhaps to convince herself that she is not as worthless as her lesser female* counterparts. Either way she saw fit to explain to us, her fellow penis enviers, how to talk about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. The original title of the article was “Girls’ Guide to ‘The Avengers’.” It’s now been changed to “One Girl’s Guide To ‘The Avengers’: What You Need to Know If You Know Nothing,” but it’s still really, really marginalizing and offensive.

Continue reading

Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Gamer

“The time has come” the Lemon said, “to talk of many things. Of men and games and high concept. Of Logan L and pings. And why Gerard Butler’s smoking hot. And what the future brings.”

Gamer is pretty high concept for an action movie. Not exactly Virtuosity high concept but we can’t all be virtual serial killer films can we?

Gamer tells the story of ex-soldier death row inmate John Tillman, alias Kable, who is forced to act as a living avatar in a Halo type death match. Controlled by a teenage gamer, Kable has to last 30 fights to earn his freedom. But rivals, society, and a very creepy Michael C. Hall stand in his way.

Let me first off say that Gamer has a dream cast. Butler plays the gruff Tillman and his controller is none other than Percy Jackson himself, Logan Lerman. Kyra Sedgwick takes a surprising turn as a talk show host who sides with the anti-cyberpunk revolutionaries (led by Ludacris) against Michael C. Hall’s creepy mind control technology.

Gamer‘s strongest element is its premise, a cyberpunk nightmare where Second Life and Halo avatars are flesh and blood people with special software in their brains that allows them to be controlled by their player. Tillman participates hoping to escape his death sentence, but his wife Angie rents out her body to a disgustingly voyeuristic gamer to earn enough money to get her daughter back. (One of the most upsetting parts of the film is the way that Angie’s player uses her with a lurid fascination and terrifying lack of empathy.)

Michael C. Hall has somehow found a character that’s scarier than Dexter Morgan in this system’s terrifying architect. As the creator of said mind control technology, Hall outfits all his guards with the software as well. With his Texas drawl and vocabulary borrowed from the most obnoxious multiplayer mockers, he is having much too much fun using people as playthings. (Did I neglect to mention that he can control everyone who has the software no matter where they are?) This all culminates in a creepy dance/fight sequence that has to be seen to be believed.

The social critique is powerful, and it’s a sobering prediction of where gamer culture could take us when the technology inevitably becomes more sophisticated. The privileged manboy voices of gaming can be heard in both Hall and Lerman’s dialogue, standing in sharp contrast with working class Butler and his family, pointing out the sad truth that gaming (and movies) are for the leisure class. With its class conscious approach, Gamer was part of the vanguard of vaguely Marxist sci-fi films like the more recent In Time. 

The sad thing is that the film never quite sizzles as wonderfully as the premise and the dance sequence suggests. The pacing’s always a bit off and it feels like an 80 meter dash with a trip at the end of the course. It also doesn’t help that no character’s through-line is very well maintained. They final boss is defeated and well, that’s the end.

How to Fake Having Seen It: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” right dude? Say no more. Creeeeeepy.

Line That Sums the Film Up: 

Kable: What are you, twelve?
Simon: I’m seventeen, thank you.
Kable: This is unbelievable! Why am I not dead yet?
Simon: Because I am a bad-ass motherf*cker.

Verdict: See it if you’re a fan of the cast. Otherwise Skip It and read some cyberpunk fiction. (I heartily recommend Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels.)

Bonus Round: In the future Cable is spelled with a K. Also there is pistachio butter. PISTACHIO BUTTER. (Yes I know it exists now but PISTACHIO BUTTER.)

“I am the son of a glove maker.” or How I Nearly Punched a Stranger Over a Stupid Period Film

I have very few deal breakers in my life. Racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, all the usual ones. Also, anti-Stratfordians. Seriously. F*ck those guys.

Damn those ruffians.

If you’re a frequent reader, you know it’s not often that I drop the f bomb in a column. This is why I need you to fully understand how serious I am about hating anti-Stratfordians.

What is an anti-Strafordian, you say? Well, when a snooty, elitist academic and a conspiracy theorist love each other very much and really need tenure — You know what? Just watch this trailer for Anonymous.

The anti-Stratfordians believe that William Shakespeare, the son of a Catholic glove maker, wasn’t educated or rich enough to write what are pretty much the greatest works in the English canon. Continue reading

The Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Wanted

A Note About Spoilers and Outsider’s Guides: I have tried to avoid them at all costs but honestly, this movie is three years old. If you think finding out what weapons they use is going to ruin it for you, you’ve missed the point. If you’re jumping on now, feel free to check out the first Outsider’s Guide to understand the mission here.

So he wanted to see Wanted and you were all “You just want to see Angelina Jolie roll around on top of a car.” Boy were you wrong.

Wanted was advertised by focusing on the gifted and gorgeous Ms. Jolie, who can still can out action star pretty much everyone, but the film’s real focus is the journey of James McAvoy’s Wesley, an office drone even more impotent that Edward Norton’s Narrator from Fight Club. Dressed in ill-fitting shirts and chugging anti-anxiety medication, Wesley feels pretty worthless until a mysterious woman comes up to him in a grocery store and the next thing he knows, everyone is shooting. After being told that he’s important by Morgan Freeman (DON’T YOU WISH MORGAN FREEMAN THOUGHT YOU WERE IMPORTANT?), he is asked to join the secret Fraternity of Assassins. There are lots of plot twists and turns, many of which are genuinely surprising, so I will not discuss them here. Suffice it to say, this is not a rewarmed Fight Club remake, or a Harry Potter-style very special boy finds out he’s very special story. Sure it’s got lots of those obligatory training sequences and Jolie writhing in slow motion, but when Wesley flips a car in order to kill a mobster who’s listening to “Time to Say Goodbye,” flying over the man in slow motion, saying “I’m sorry” as he fires, or when rat bombs (as in bombs attached to rats) are a major plot device, how can you not crack a smile?

It’s McAvoy who really shines here, playing a neurotic American to the nines, avoiding the usual Brit monotone that comes with the change in dialect in favor of a willowy, wavering tremor that is both endearing and appropriately grating. (We have to want Wesley to change in order to buy into the bildungsroman, Wesley’s journey to find out who he is, to come into himself.) There’s eye candy for everyone here, and twists and turns for all. This is one movie that won’t break your relationship.

How To Fake Having Seen It: “Gorgeous fights, but so f*cking nihilist. And genuinely complex. How’re we supposed to feel about fate at the end?”

Line That Sums The Film Up: “Six weeks ago I was ordinary and pathetic. Just like you.”

Verdict: See It

Bonus Round: Ever want to hear Morgan Freeman drop the f bomb? Your wish is director Timur Bekmambetov’s command.

The Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Die Hard

Hey Lemoners, time to introduce you to a new feature I’m going to call “The Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies.” This is to fill a genuine need that I didn’t realize was actually an issue for a long time. We all knew that comedy and action films are a pretty conventionally male arena. Most action stars are men, and when women take the lead they are often fetishized for their “Super Girl” status. (Think Buffy, Ripley, etc.) The truth is, it’s hard to get into action movies when you’re not a member of their target demographic, but if you don’t watch them, you’re missing out on a whole chunk of pop culture. Not knowing that chunk of culture makes you an outsider, like a person who doesn’t know sports feels left out in an environment where success is indicated by being told you’re a “slam dunk” or that you landed that “Hail Mary Pass.” But guess what? Unlike sports, which can be an acquired taste, there are so many different action movies, and I promise there’s one out there for you. So let go, and get ready to find out why everyone keeps saying “Yippee-ki-yay mother–” That’s right. It’s Die Hard. Continue reading

Cowboys & Aliens First Thoughts

We interrupt our regularly scheduled moving and television coverage because a dear friend was kind enough to invite me to a pre-screening of Cowboys & Aliens at the nonprofit, ultra-classy American Cinematheque in Santa Monica, followed by a Q & A with director Jon Favreau. What a great way to start playing in LA!

Per Favreau’s request, I’m going to avoid talking about the film’s many twists, turns, and alien designs, but he also requested a spreading of the word, a contributing to the cloud, as it were.

I’m sure they’ll be a lot of comments about the gorgeous sound design and score, the myriad invocations of classic Westerns. (In many ways it’s The Searchers with aliens and a Man With No Name for good measure. This is not at all a bad thing. In fact, if you haven’t seen the films Favreau and his team are referencing, you may have your brain broken by the distinctly different pacing and composition of the filmmaking and storytelling, especially in comparison with more standard tentpole features like the pre-Avengers movies or Avatar.

Something I do want to point out is that in many ways Cowboys & Aliens is a story about who is allowed to have catharsis, who’s allowed to kill the monster. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’re a regular reader of the blog, go to the cineplex and bring your dialectic mind. Keep asking yourself “Who’s the monster here?” I feel a paper coming on, don’t you? Also, ummmm EXPLOSIONS + ANTHROPOMORPHIC LENS + = WINNING. (Lowbrow fangirl enough?)

Continue reading

How to Prevent Piracy (or What the MPAA Can Learn from Commodore Norrington)

I love Hulu. LOVE Hulu. I love the interactive ads and the recommendations. I even tolerate the freezes and the delays after broadcast. Which is why I facepalm in response to the current piracy laws in the United States and the way that they are enforced. The most public and political pirate sites like Ninjavideo were shut down just over a year ago now, and the entertainment industry still hasn’t learned its lesson: you have to win the PR war before you can beat the pirates.

You Think You’re John Wayne, But You Look Like Prince John

Do you remember those high stakes ads that used to run at the front of feature films that compared downloading films to stealing a car?

It’s understandable that companies are frustrated. The MarkMonitor report has pointed out that the top three pirate websites (rapidshare, megavideo,and megaupload) get more than 21 million views per year, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. As one of the founders of Ninjavideo, Phara said in the circulated Ninjavideo Manifesto, every pirate will be replaced by another. For the younger generations, pirating is a way of life, talked about with the casual tenor that older people reserve for jaywalking. This is the generation that grew up with the hyperbolic ad above. They will not be guilted and they see through scare tactics like lawsuits against individual users. So the next choice was to change the way young people thought about intellectual property.

You can’t share something that’s not yours. But how do you explain to a teenager that they don’t own that Justin Bieber CD that they bought? Or rather that they own the physical disc, but not the data on it? Or they do own the data on it, and can load it into their iTunes, move it from that CD to iPhone, iPad, iPod, iwhatever format you want just not a file sharing website pleasegodplease?  Continue reading

Excerpt from “Suckers”

An excerpt from my weird little vampire comedy, “Suckers,” about Doug, a vampire who finds out that fangs give you a speech impediment and geek is forever.

Highgate Cemetery in London was used as a location for several Hammer horror films. It is an important historical landmark in its own right as one of the largest and most important Victorian cemeteries.

EXT. HIGHGATE CEMETERY, LONDON, THE DAZIEL TOMB, NEAR SWAIN’S LANE – NIGHT

A Victorian-era cemetery: Gothic architecture, climbing ivy on the trees and stone. Pagan gargoyles lust after stone angels in the dark. The moon is out and the fog lies low.

A Londoner, teenage, in heavy eyeliner, SARAH HUTCHINSON, slight, dressed all in black is walking through the fog, a bag slung over her shoulder. Her artificially black hair falls in her face a little as she passes by a particularly large and foreboding tomb.

A DARK FIGURE whizzes by. Sarah freezes. The only motion is the swirling of the fog. She breathes shallowly and adjusts her bag on her shoulder.

Another BLUR OF MOVEMENT on the other side of her, she whips around with a gasp.

SARAH

Hello?

A POV from behind the graves. Sarah’s eyes are wide and glassy, like a cornered animal.

SARAH

Hellooo?

Sarah’s eyes settle on the viewer’s angle. The POV shot tilts upward, shooting into the air at a vertigo inducing pace.

Sarah looks at the top of a tree. The fog swirls just above it, but there is nothing there but leaves and low-lying cloud.

Sarah alone on the road, a silhouette in the moonlight. She is still scanning the area by the tree line off to the side.

SARAH

This isn’t funny, Sean–

Suddenly, the dark figure POUNCES on her from above, bringing her to the ground. She lets out a muffled cry, but is immediately silenced. Continue reading

Subversion in the Mainstream and James Bond in a Dress

Ready to have your life changed? James Bond just became a feminist.

Today is International Women’s Day. In fact, it’s the 100th International Women’s Day. 100 years ago, women’s rights leaders joined together in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark to campaign for their rights in a concentrated effort, demanding the right to work, to vote, to be educated and trained, to hold public (and private) office, and to end discrimination and victimization in the public and private spheres. (You can learn more about International Women’s Day and historical feminist activism here.) What does this have to do with Daniel Craig in drag?

Well, director Sam Taylor-Wood and writer Jane Goldman have given us a short film where the bravest, most daring, most dashing person in the world has found one mission he doesn’t want to take on: being a woman. I could pontificate on the power of seeing one of the manliest British actors in relatively convincing drag or the subversive nature of Dame Judi Dench’s authoritative narration, so different from the voiceovers that we usually hear from female actors. I could rant about the frustrating fact that despite a woman’s first Oscar win for Best Director was for an action film, this two-minute short is the first Bond film directed by a woman, despite the success of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli.

Maybe that’s an unfair complaint. Kathryn Bigelow only won the Oscar a year ago, and the successes of the short’s writer Jane Goldman (StardustKick-Ass, and Kick-Ass 2) are heartening for women who want to make action movies or other “masculine” genres. The success of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Diablo Cody’s Juno are helping women carve a place in the world of comedy.  (Although I’m sure Fey’s new book is going to point out how far we need to go on that front too.)

Women aren’t making Bond films, but Bond films have changed to reflect this new world M references in the PSA. There are lots of interesting feminist moments in Casino Royale, but the littlest one, and possibly my favorite, is around 7:30 in this clip. Bond is kissing Vesper and then she starts saying “No. Stop. Stop it.” In a Sean Connery Bond film this moment would be when he kisses her harder, and then she reveals that she likes it, that no means yes. In Casino Royale, Bond stops. Immediately. And he doesn’t get resentful or scary, or share a sad look with the camera. He’s always looking at her, and he doesn’t resist her paying her share. This Bond is a different kind of Neanderthal, not a perfect feminist partner, but certainly not the paragon of male chauvinism we see in the Ian Fleming novels and 60s and 70s films.

Contrast the dynamic between Vesper and Craig’s Bond and Honey (Ursula Andress) and Sean Connery’s Bond:

“Are you looking for shells?”

“No. Just looking.”

And see the tables turn in Vesper and Bond’s first meeting, where she calls him on his character’s chauvinist legacy:

It is Craig’s portrayal of Bond that makes the PSA so powerful. Continue reading