November 2007 Archives

fellinlove.jpgShort movies are at once the most ubiquitous and the most neglected films there are, garnering little critical appraisal as objects themselves even as they’re unavoidable in everyday life.

This lack of analysis is in large part a function of their mostly less-than-noble intentions. Commercials for television (reused in movie theaters and online) are 30- or 60-second movies pushing a specific product or company. Music videos are similar but longer, designed to sell CDs, downloads, other merchandise, and concert tickets. Movie trailers are condensed versions of what they’re hawking, yet they’re generally so formulaic (more than the films themselves, if that’s possible), incoherent, and artless that they rarely seem to merit further discussion.

Then there are those labors of love, short works made with the understanding that few people outside of film festivals will ever see them. They, too, are often commercial, selling the potential of their creators as suitable talents for paying projects.

shortfilmweek1small.jpgFrom December 2 through 8, Culture Snob and Ed Howard’s Only the Cinema are hosting the Short-Film Week blog-a-thon.

The blog-a-thon is technically over, but late submissions are welcome.

(The initial announcements are here and here. Pick up your logos here.)

Bookmark this entry and Only the Cinema to keep up on all the goings-on.

(List of contributions last updated at 11 a.m. on December 9, 2007.)

enchanted.jpgThings are awfully quiet around here.

Too quiet.

And that can only mean one thing: Culture Snob is busy preparing for the “Short-Film Week” blog-a-thon, which starts on Sunday, December 2, and runs for seven days.

Or it could mean that I’ve been incredibly lazy this week.

Anyway, Disney’s Enchanted tops this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, placing first or second in all four criteria. The movie’s star, Amy Adams, has parlayed her Oscar nomination (for Junebug) into nascent stardom, in a movie that both critics and audiences like. Enchanted, indeed.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

beowulf.jpgHonestly and truly, I bear no antipathy toward Robert Zemeckis, although I wouldn’t want to sit through many of his movies, and even those I like are problematic at best. (Hack off all but the middle 90 minutes of Contact and you’ve got a pretty good flick.) But I hoped fervently that something would prevent his Beowulf from leading the Box Office Power Rankings this week.

I win and I lose. The motion-captured, computer-animated epic tied for first place with American Gangster (nice legs, by the way) and No Country for Old Men (which was only showing in 148 theaters last weekend). So it technically wins, but it has to share its crown with something in its third weekend and something that hadn’t even opened wide yet.

So why do I root so hard against Zemeckis? While I understand the need for spectacle (from big stories to 3D) to salvage movies as an out-of-home experience, motion capture looks like a filmmaking dead end to me. Filmmakers such as Zemeckis are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create the amazingly lifelike effect of ... people.

Do we not recognize that there’s a cheaper way, involving the human beings who are already creating the performance anyway? Do we not recognize that hand-drawn animation and standard computer animation often feel more real than motion-captured folks? And although I’ll be the first person to bemoan the visual disconnect of live people interacting with computer-animated creatures, I’d prefer that to everything looking fake.

So screw you, Zemeckis, and your computer-animated, Crispin Hellion Glover-ed Grendel, too. And happy Thanksgiving.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Anybody wanting to participate in or promote the “Short-Film Week” blog-a-thon is welcome to grab and use the two logos created by event co-host Ed Howard of Only the Cinema.

Continue reading to view and/or download the graphics.

3burials.jpgThe only connection that I could quickly find between screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and novelist Paul Auster is that they had a public “conversation” earlier this year. (The promised subjects suggest at best a superficial relationship: “the art of filmmaking, writing, and — yes — Hollywood.” How pedestrian.)

This is curious to me, because Arriaga’s script for the Tommy Lee Jones-directed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is classic Auster.

And I don’t mean that it bears a resemblance to Auster. If you’ve ever experienced The Music of Chance (either the book or the faithful film adaptation), Moon Palace, Mr. Vertigo, or any number of the author’s other works, you could be forgiven for thinking that Auster was behind Three Burials, and perhaps was engaging in the ecologically sound but creatively deficient practice of recycling.

shortfilmweek1small.jpgWhen I read the initial announcement for “Short Film Day,” slated for December 4 at Ed Howard’s Only the Cinema, my heart sank.

I’d been mulling a short-film blog-a-thon for months, but was hesitant to set a date because of my experience with the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon; these things are a lot more work than I’d imagined.

So Ed beat me to it.

But then my barnacle/parasite/moocher antennae got all tingly, and I proposed that we co-host the blog-a-thon and expand it. He agreed.

Hence: Short-Film Week, running Sunday, December 2, through Saturday, December 8, 2007. During that week, write something, submit an old essay, or point us to your favorite writing on short films.

Commercials, music videos, movie trailers, and episodes of television programs are all fair game, as are proper short films — you know, the type that aren’t trying to sell something else.

E-mail Ed or me with questions or promises of contributions, or leave comments on our respective announcements.

Track all the exciting blogging action here and at Only the Cinema.

Since unveiling the Box Office Power Rankings in May, it’s become apparent that the Culture Snob system does what it was intended to do — expose crappy popular movies as the gold-plated turds they are and reward good movies that might not have as much marketing muscle behind them.

But it’s still largely a disheartening experience, because it actually highlights the problems of the marketplace rather than correcting them.

Take, for example, The Game Plan. It is now in its seventh week on our charts, by virtue of its almost shocking longevity with consumers. No other movie from its September 28-30 opening weekend remains in the box-office top 10. Eastern Promises spent two weeks in the top 10.

The Box Office Power Rankings spotlight two sad realities of the entertainment industry today: the short half-life of movies in the public consciousness, and that people prefer comfortable entertainments to anything even remotely challenging. (And Eastern Promises is only remotely challenging — Cronenberg’s most dramatically and tonally straightforward work.)

I’m not asking that Eastern Promises rake in $86 million in domestic box office instead of the $17 million it actually made. I just wish that more frequently, movies of its ilk did a little better for a little longer on charts more money-focused than Culture Snob’s.

Should we hold out hope for No Country for Old Men when it opens wide on November 21?

On to business: American Gangster and Bee Movie were first and second in this week’s rankings, just like last week.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

strikebanner2.gifI am admittedly writing mostly from ignorance, but I can’t see any way that the strike by the Writers Guild of America will succeed unequivocally.

Yes, the writers that generate talk-show monologues, awards-show banter, and television and movie scripts will likely get some concessions from Hollywood, and will end up in a better place financially. But it will be virtually impossible for them to get their fair share — what they deserve.

magnolia_stanley.jpgThis is what customer service is all about.

Seven hours after voting closed, we’ve published the Drunken Commentary Track for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia — and the movie’s three hours long.

In reality, the gestation period of this commentary track was seven years. The movie has been digested slowly, primarily with Magnolia and Meaning” and then through an eight-hour class I led.

Further exploration took place with the essays “Why Are There Frogs Falling from the Sky?” and “The Blossom: Jim Kurring.”

Magnolia continues to surprise me, and my feelings and thoughts on it are still evolving. It’s not done with me yet.

Ridley Scott’s American Gangster easily won this week’s Box Office Power Rankings title, as what was anticipated to be its most serious competition (Bee Movie) did worse with both audiences and critics.

Continue reading for last week’s full rankings and the methodology.

kurring1.jpgThe first images of Jim Kurring involve his morning routine, and it’s nothing remarkable: He eats, he showers, he reads the paper, he exercises.

But there are little hints about how we’re supposed to react to him. He laughs out loud — and not very convincingly — at something on the Today show. When he’s lifting weights, we see one of those inspirational posters encouraging “determination.” And he prays, on his knees at the foot of his bed, with a cross looking down upon him. When he finishes, he gets up and claps his hands together once, as if Team God had just broken from the huddle. We learn through voice-over that he participates in some dating service, or at the least runs a personal ad. He’s a cop, and he gives himself a pep talk in the squad car.

film-faith.jpgAt Strange Culture, RC is hosting the Film + Faith Blog-a-thon, running through November 9. (The announcement is here.)

I’m hoping for a diverse, engaging, thoughtful, and provocative batch of essays, because the spiritual component of movies is critical but often neglected. People gravitate toward films that make them feel good — an effect on the soul — even if they typically don’t examine the reasons. Sometimes we must decide how movies fit into our spiritual/moral world view, a topic that Will Gray explores in his lovely contribution.

I’ve resurrected (boooooooo!) old essays on morality and movies and the Exorcist prequels as offerings, and I plan to write at least one other thing. (This essay on Requiem probably fits, too. Hell, so does this thing I posted yesterday.) I wish the blog-a-thon were longer, because I have several other things I’d like to write about.

forgiveness1.jpgNear the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, spiritual-documentary filmmaker Martin Doblmeier conducted a survey on his Web site. He asked whether people supported constructing a “garden of forgiveness” at Ground Zero in New York City.

Thousands of votes later, the results were overwhelming: Roughly 95 percent of respondents said “no.”

Although he wrote and directed The Power of Forgiveness, Doblmeier offered this anecdote in a recent phone interview without judgment. His point was that forgiveness is something that spiritual people tend to embrace as an abstract concept, but putting it into practice is shockingly difficult. For many, he said, forgiveness is the equivalent of a spare tire, something you “keep ... in the back of the trunk and hope to God you never need it.”

DriveByTruckers.jpgOn “Puttin’ People on the Moon,” the Driver-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood sings a litany of tragedies personal and regional: “Mary Alice got cancer just like everybody here / Seems everyone I know is gettin’ cancer every year / And we can’t afford no insurance, I been 10 years unemployed / So she didn’t get no chemo so our lives was destroyed / And nothin’ ever changes, the cemetery gets more full / And now over there in Huntsville, even NASA’s shut down too.”

The song is typical Drive-By Truckers: bleak, detailed, populist, Southern, and with enough twangy muscle that you can play it loud and ignore the skill of its songwriting and the loving attention it pays to the downtrodden, heard in the indignant desperation of Hood’s damaged falsetto on the chorus.

And therein lies the tension of Drive-By Truckers: This is a band that writes great songs and then drowns them out with three blaring guitars.

(I’ve also annotated my ballot.)

shining.jpgThe results are in.

The top five:

  1. The Shining (1980)
  2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  3. Halloween (1978)
  4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  5. Psycho (1960)

Despite complaints in the comments, it’s a pretty damned respectable list.

What the hell are Dane Cook and Juliette Binoche doing in the same movie? She, like Virginia Madsen, is commonly luminous, while he is merely overexposed.

The movie they share, Dan in Real Life, tops this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, while the weekend’s other major release, Saw IV, rode wretched reviews to a fifth-place finish.

And if you couldn’t tell from the first paragraph, I have little else to say on this topic.

Continue reading for last week’s full rankings and the methodology.