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.

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On Writing

(There are some bad words here. Apologies for the language. *curtsies*)

There are times when writing is like trying to catch lightning bugs. It’s fun until it’s frustrating but it’s still a warm, beautiful night.

There are times when writing is like trying to catch a fish with your hands. There’s so much flowing through your fingers that all you can do is grasp and hope you got what you needed.

There are times when writing is like trying to dredge a pond. You find sludge and sludge and nothing and nothing and then suddenly you find treasure. Or a dead body. Whatever it is it’s fantastically interesting and it consumes you for days on end.

And there are times when writing is like trying to take a shit when you’re really, really constipated. It hurts and it’s not very dignified and your face is all scrunchy but you need to get this out NOW. NOW because it’s convenient and there’s a deadline and you should have thought to eat some prunes but you didn’t and now you need to shit before this meeting or you will have to shit during the whole meeting and you will lose your job because you’re focusing on your sphincter and not the task at hand.

And so you’ve forced this stuff out of your ass (because yes, you’re creatively constipated. That is what it is.) and you take a look at it.

And is it good?

You just shat it out. Why would it be?

This is why deadlines can be a pain in the butt. Literally. Err…figuratively. This is why setting several little deadlines for yourself can be much more useful than one big whomping spectre of a deadline that always looms in the distance and then pops up when you least expected it. (Despite you knowing exactly when it is.) That way you get into the habit of creating rather than the panic of “need to get this done.” Or just find a way to love yourself and your own work enough that you always want to sit down to write. Easier said than done, I know.

And remember, every single word you write adds to that stack of experience that makes you better in the long run. One of the speakers at my school, an acclaimed TV writer, said that he had an interview with a showrunner when he had just graduated film school. The showrunner asked him how high his pile was. The writer blinked. What? “Your pile. If all your finished work was in a pile, how tall would it be?” The writer shrugged, placed his hand perpendicular to his knee. “Come back when it’s above your waist.” the showrunner said. “We’ll talk.”

Feel free to substitute “creating art” for “writing.” Being a director, I tend to think of creating art as collaboration, so that has its own challenges and many, many joys, chief among them being that you can look to someone else to blame / inspire. They often overlap after all.

(Cross posted at the Lillian Lemoning Tumblr.)

“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.

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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

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?)

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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

Why You Should Care About Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark

 

I must first off agree that it is unfair to review a show without seeing it. This is not a review. This is an attempt to make sense of what is really a very sad situation.

In light of the terrifying and tragic recent accident in which one of the actors who plays Spider-man fell into the pit, comments about the quality of the writing (most reviewers say laughable, lacking the humor and wit that is Spidey’s trademark), music and lyrics (judging by the preview performance: lazy and unintelligible in terms of both content and aural comprehension), and costumes (you’ve seen them right?) are immaterial. It’s not even a question of pleasing an audience any more. It’s about protecting actors and examining how we got to this point.

It’s easy to rag on Julie Taymor. She’s one of those directors who has a very distinctive visual style, best summed up by this clip from that compilation of amazing music videos, Across the Universe (To be fair this is supposed to be an acid trip) :

Taymor has brought her touch to obscure Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus and now Tempest), to the aforementioned Beatles, to beloved Disney animated films (The Lion King), to opera (her stunning Magic Flute is up at the Met right now) and now to the wisecracking photographer who’s often described as the “populist superhero.” Her vision is often beautiful and always interesting, if no longer entirely unexpected. But that can be a good thing. You recognize a Taymor production the way you would recognize a Fellini film. The look is distinct, and the same themes re-emerge and become more complex.

Let it be known that I enjoy and respect Julie Taymor, but I say this as both a theatergoer and a comics fan: Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is the worst thing to happen to two industries that are already in jeopardy. It reflects its audience, and that’s what makes it vital that we examine what this show means for theatergoers, comics fans, and Americans in general. Continue reading