Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This Week in TRF

Here's a highlight reel of what was covered in class this week in TRF:

My law class:



More videos to follow...



My research class -- specifically my group's research topic:

http://www.vh1.com/video/play.jhtml?vid=162112

A preview of our next project in Multicam:



And what I get to watch in Dramatic Writing (sans Kids in the Hall):



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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

YORRRRRR!

I'm really enjoying my Tuesdays this semester. I have my law class at 11 am and then I'm done for the day. Except for the Tuesday screenings at Thompson's office. They have been a bit of a mixed bag, which is kind of the point. The first screening (which I wasn't able to stay for much of) featured Walter Cronkite and Don Hewitt. Last week we watched the first and only episode of the 1986 version of the Jay Leno Show. That was horrendous. As far as we know Thompson has the only surviving copy -- even IMDB disavows any knowledge that it exists. Really, it is that dreadful.

Today we continued with the dreadful theme with a screening of Yor: The Hunter from the Future...


This movie almost defies description. The good news is there is a fan riff track available. Here's a preview:



The guy above is pretty chatty, but we were making our own comments throughout as well. Such as when the blind leader of the resistance movement from the future is introduced and shots are filmed from that character's point of view. Let me repeat: They filmed shots from the BLIND person's POINT OF VIEW. Then they showed him groping for the buttons on a control console later. At least they maintained continuity?

The best part was the theme song, which can be heard here.

I don't think this movie is helping in the cinePHAIL project, but it is giving me confidence that whatever screenplay I write this semester will probably be better than this. And this script was produced!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Cinephail

If a "cinephile" is a person with a strong interest in film, I might best be described as a "cinephail". This weekend I TiVoed The Karate Kid and got around to watching it this afternoon. I actually enjoyed it. Of course, that last sentence implies that I have never seen the movie before -- probably because I haven't.

I further compounded this (now) apparent pop culture faux pas by mentioning this little tidbit on Facebook. In the comments that followed, I tried to excuse myself saying that the film is on my "I really should get around to it" list, along with:

Casablanca
Citizen Kane
Godfather I and II

This just seemed to cause more people to facepalm.

So what other movies would you recommend as required? I used to be a film buff...I just need some buffing.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Informant[.]

I guess it was inevitable that my being in a program called Television-Radio-Film would eventually force me into partaking the three media listed. TV I have covered and radio I do regularly enough but I have fallen out of the film habit. The prof for my writing class starts every session with the question "seen any movies lately?" and everyone is expected to answer. How dare he, right? He also wants us to venture outside of our comfort zone every once in a while, but I'm not quite up to that point yet. I've got The Karate Kid on my TiVo and we're watching Deliverance in class next week, so I'm going to stay in my zone for the time being. This week's movie: The Informant!

Spoilers likely, so proceed with caution...

As you can see in the title of this post, I wasn't exactly wowed or whatever reaction the exclamation point was supposed to draw out of me. The story is about Mark Whitacre, a VP for agriculture supergiant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). The company is involved in a price fixing scheme involving corn and Whitacre decides to work for the FBI to bring down some of the higher-ups. At first he professes to be doing it for the good of the company and his soul, but eventually it is revealed that he is trying to oust his superiors so he can become CEO. Whitacre is a pathological liar and we soon learn that not only was he trying to perpetrate this bizarre usurpation but he had embezzled millions of dollars while under the FBI umbrella.

The story, which is based on true events, is interesting in an "I can't believe that this guy really did that" sort of way but it isn't a very cinematic story. The events are all based around verbal lies and FBI surveillance of business, neither of which really action based. Also, financial chicanery and price fixing are not the sexiest crimes -- particularly for those of us who only have a vague understanding of the concepts involved. The film reached a point where you finally understand that Whitacre is a schnook but then the movie goes on for another half hour. The story stops building and his inevitable comeuppance doesn't provide much of a payoff (particularly since Whitacre is now a COO for some other company after a brief hiatus in prison).

The film was directed by Steven Soderbergh, an auteur I just can't get behind. His choices tend to distract me more than engage me and this film is no exception. The camerawork was steady, as opposed to Traffic and The Limey (both of which made me seasick) which was refreshing. However, he chose to give the film a 60's motif despite the fact that the events took place between 1992 and 1995. I think he was going for homage to double agents, but it was giving me an Austin Powers vibe. My other major issue involved casting choices. Matt Damon was alright as Whitacre, but I'm not sure what he brought to the role that was distinct. Not good, not bad, just nothing special. The supporting cast was where I found more distraction. Joel McHale played an FBI agent working with Whitacre, Patton Oswald played an attorney, and Paul F. Tompkins played an attorney. I'm not sure what the deal was with all the stand-up comedians, particularly since they were all playing against type. My theory is that it is a commentary about framing reality with how you tell a story, but the analogy falls flat since the reality framed by this story is not particularly engaging.

This film strikes me as a product of timing -- riding the coattails of populist rage against the giants of corporate America (one of the previews was for Capitalism, Michael Moore's new film). However it is a whistleblower (sort of) who is trying to slay Goliath, not the lay person. The timing seems off and the story doesn't get much beyond the conversation point of "oh, really? You don't say?"

Have you seen The Informant!? What did you think?

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Glee

The Fall Season has finally arrived. Hooray! There are quite a few programs I am looking forward to, both new and returning, and I would like to share my instant opinions after the first episodes debut.

First up: Glee!

Alright, so this is technically the second episode that aired tonight. I thought Fox did a brilliant job of creating buzz for this program by airing the pilot after part one of the American Idol finale. There have also been preview videos available on iTunes. Normally I don't go out of my way to check out promo stuff on iTunes, but I recently got a new computer that doesn't grind to a halt when playing videos so I decided to check them out. I think this may have been a mistake.

The video I saw was the "Gold Digger" rehearsal sequence. I like how the show worked the song into the story -- juxtaposing it after the house tour sequence and using it as a foil to "Le Freak". However, I found the sound quality in the sequence incredibly distracting. Part of the problem is that the audio does not match the environment, which makes it quite apparent that the cast is lip synching. I think this is where the single-camera format is actually hurting the show -- if the music sequences were shot in multicam, then the audio quality would match and create the feeling of a live performance. However, switching formats could greatly alter the overall aesthetic of the show, so I'm not sure if this is a viable solution.

There are other audio issues that can be more easily addressed. The audio for the "Say a Little Prayer" sequence did not match up at all. The acoustics were wrong and it sounded like more than three people were singing. There is no reason for such a mismatch and I worry that this will be a recurring issue on the show. Case in point: "Take a Bow". There are a number of noticeable breaths in this version of the song -- breaths that the character Rachel is not demonstrating. Again, the audio makes it sound like someone just hit "play" on a CD and told the cast to lip synch as best they can. It is not as bad as Viva Laughlin, but I am still concerned.

In terms of story, I thought this was a good second pilot for the show. Characters are still being developed and conflicts are starting to get a little fleshed out. I'm still not 100% sold that there is enough meat for a long-running series, but there is certainly potential. My hope is that the show will avoid the trap of ending each episode with a relevant pop song ("Don't Stop Believin'" and "Take a Bow") to wrap up everything in a bow. It smacks of Dawson's Creek and other late 90's teen drama and it seems somewhat cliche at this point.

What I do hope sticks around is the "mailman in the windshield" metaphor. It would be great if that just pops up in episode nine and the audience is expected to remember what that means.

Overall, I'm giving this episode a solid B and will keep this on the TiVo for now.

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