August 2006 Archives

Sarah Silverman: cover girlSarah Silverman is no Snakes on a Plane, but the slapdash movie bearing her name suffers from the same problem: overexposure.

It’s a decidedly modest, hipster form, but it’s overexposure all the same, and deadly. Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic would play much better if you’d never heard of the comedienne, or had only watched her walk off with The Aristocrats.

But that’s not really possible, is it?

This Could Be It

Michael Keaton in 'Game 6'Much like the Boston Red Sox, the movie Game 6 hauls so much baggage that triumph seems nearly impossible. It’s akin to being down three games to none to the Yankees in a best-of-seven series. Lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong odds. But somehow ... .

The article begins innocuously enough:

“Hollywood’s depiction of the U.S. military is often laughably inaccurate to many Americans who wear their country’s uniform.”

True enough. But then, in reference to Michael Bay’s Transformers:

“The Army has never fought giant robots, but if we did, this is probably how we’d do it.”

(This is the first and, I promise, last reference to Transformers on Culture Snob.)

While it’s worth debating the aims and functions of criticism, there’s a larger issue that’s rarely discussed: ethics in entertainment journalism. Critics have a credibility problem, and I think it’s the primary source of their diminished stature these days.

Unlikely Hope

Donnie DarkoSo we’ve dealt with opening shots and isolated shots, and now the House Next Door asks a different but related question:

“What single movie image or moment do you think of more often than any other?”

The key phrase is “think of more often than any other.” This exercise isn’t about favorite, or canonical, moments or shots; it’s about after-the-fact individual response. (Please: Go and add your own.)

My answer comes from my iPod.

Costner and Corn: the Netflix Rolling Roadshow near Dyersville, IowaThe Netflix Rolling Roadshow is doubtlessly a brilliant piece of marketing, but the core concept celebrates the sense of place that movies can conjure or capture.

The DVD-rental company is sponsoring free screenings of famous movies at the places that inspired them or the sites where they were filmed. Hence, Escape from Alcatraz on Alcatraz, The Shining at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, and Jaws on Martha’s Vineyard.

But none of this summer’s selections can match the inspiration behind the showing of Field of Dreams this past Friday at Left and Center Field of Dreams.

Week-End Link Dump

A single shot from 'Fantasia': part of Reverse Shot's 'Take One' projectWe rarely take a Faulkner sentence and examine it in isolation. We generally don’t inspect a song’s introduction, or chorus, or bridge, without even dealing with the context of the whole. We don’t study the corner of a painting, pretending that there’s nothing beyond it.

Maybe we should.

Matt Zoller Seitz beat me to the punch in citing what appears to be a trend in online movie writing:

“[I]n recent years — particularly in the last six months, for some reason — there’s been an exponential growth in Internet-based writing that dares to talk about what movies are actually made of: shots and cuts.”

Willfully Difficult

George asks: 'Who are you, and what am I doing later in the movie?'The film’s subject makes it bluntly political, yet Syriana nearly demands multiple viewings to even understand its plot, let alone its meanings. It is intended to illuminate that the business of oil is a dirty one, yet even people who pay close attention to the movie will come away from it more confused than enlightened.

Who's crazier?It is, of course, bad form to kick a man when he’s down, but here goes.

First it was merely M. Night Shyamalan’s boastfulness that grated, such as when he told Time:

“Except for Pixar [qualifier], I have made the four [qualifier] most successful original [qualifier] movies in a row [qualifier] of all time.”

Some have have tried to dispute this claim, but I believe Shyamalan has crafted enough conditions that his statement is factually correct. (We must ignore George Lucas, but I’m guessing that M. Night would disqualify the final three Star Wars movies because they’re sequels — hence, not “original” in his sense of the word.)

This is the Michael Bay Defense: My movies might suck, but they make a lot of money!

What do you miss when you're looking for something?What’s unfortunate about Michael Haneke’s Caché is that the writer/director has created a movie that requires such intensive decoding at its terminals that it’s easy to overlook the rest of the movie — to, in fact, miss its entire point. By spending so much time and effort on the beginning and the ending, we neglect essential questions: What is the film trying to say? Is this an effective way to communicate that message?

Sleater-KinneyThis is how closely I’ve been paying attention to the world: Sleater-Kinney, one of my favorite bands, announced in June that it was going on “indefinite hiatus,” and I finally figure it out in August.At Slate, Marisa Meltzer laments:

“It’s a shame that we won’t hear what Sleater-Kinney in their 40s or 50s would sound like.”

I’m far less disappointed than I would have expected; I’m actually glad the group called it quits now, with two members in their early 30s and drummer Janet Weiss turning 40 last year. Looking back at the band’s output, Call the Doctor screams out — literally and figuratively — that it’s the best thing they ever did, followed by a series of records that had the audacity to be merely very good.

From the opening shot of 'Calendar'In Calendar, writer/director Atom Egoyan offers a film version of musical minimalism, with its emphasis on long shots, repetition, and minor variation, and with just a handful of camera setups. Nothing is superfluous.

Calendar stands as Egoyan’s masterpiece, a lean, elegant, rigorously composed snapshot of a relationship allowed to deteriorate.

Mel Gibson’s second apology is, for the most part, a model for celebrity contrition. It does not obfuscate. It does not fail to admit the sin. It does not blame booze. Best of all, it does not implicitly fault those who were wronged (“I apologize to all those who [are so fucking stupid that they] might have been offended ... ”). Instead, he owns up:

“There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law-enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge.”

Mel does strike a wrong note, however, in this carefully crafted sequence, which is one of the more clever non sequiturs I’ve ever read:

“[P]lease know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”

Notice how the last sentence seems intended as evidence for the previous two. But it does not follow. One of the basic concepts of Christianity is that all people are sinners, and although hatred goes against Mel’s faith, that does not mean he is not an anti-Semite.

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