Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Robert Downey Jr breathes life into a variety of different characters. When contrasted with more serious roles in Chaplin and the Soloist, his comedic role in Tropic Thunder perhaps best demonstrates his versatility and ability to garner critical praise. As his next conquest, he has recently been paired in the new Sherlock Holmes movie with Jude Law -- whom I have kept my eye out for ever since his chilling portrayal in the Road to Perdition. But, the casting was not the cause of my initial excitement for the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie. Not since 2001's Gosford Park have the masses been able to enjoy a good mystery on the big screen (please feel free to correct me and Dana Carvey's Master of Disguise does not count). Moreover to my personal stake, I consider myself to be a casual fan of mysteries. Yes, if given the options on the little screen of America's Best Dance Crew, Family Guy or the BBC's Sherlock Holmes of the 80's on PBS, I will probably turn to the sleuth of Baker Street. As with any story though, there is a twist; my heart sank when I heard the movie was directed by Guy Ritchie and saw this preview.
This is not to say that I have not enjoyed Guy Ritchie movies in the past. Snatch and Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels stimulate the senses. They keep you on your toes while cutting quickly to visually interesting shots, to graphic violence, or to dryly witful situations. These Guy Ritchie movies feel at times like a cinematic love child between Pulp Fiction and Ocean's Eleven. With comparisons such as this, you can assume they are enjoyable for what they are. Needless to say though, neither the flashy aesthetic nor the jarring pacing was likely what Sir Aurthur was trying to create with a cognitive, mysterious gumshoe in Victorian England. If the past Ritchie and the preview are any indication, it is probably safe to say the new Holmes will be a new take on an old friend.
This take potentially speaks to a larger trend. Without recent examples of mysteries coming to mind, the new Sherlock Holmes and like movies are missing the mystery, intrigue, and deliberate action of a rich tradition of movies from film noir to Hitchcock. So apparently Downey can bring to life a variety of characters but not a genre. Whether Rear Window or the Maltese Falcon, some of AFI's top 100 movies unravel a conundrum of illicit affairs in dark subtle shrouds of intrigue. Apparently though, these movies do not fit into the profit formula for the production studios of today.
Perhaps, I am being too harsh and these types movies have just been replaced by comparable choices. With that said, there may be a few general alternatives today in lieu of the classic whodunnit. Just as a mystery builds to an ah-ha moment, there are the recent twisters that try to build to the revelation at the end of the movie - see the Usual Suspects or every M. Knight Shyamalan movie. You also have the prime time CSI crime shows. However - maybe with the exception of the show Monk - today's examples all seem different to me. Their plots are driven much more by short scenes and flashy science visuals than by the dialogue or subtlety that you need to pay attention to in say, Vertigo.
There may be a few explanations for this trend. On the supply side, perhaps film makers of yesteryear had greater ties to the craft of the theater. On the stage action needs to rely on more plot points and dialogue as opposed to visuals, explosions and editing which are techniques that have have developed over the history of film making. Perhaps demonstrative of this tie to the theater, most of the action of the classic Rear Window appears to happen on a single set that could be transplanted onto a stage. A Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade who is an astute observer of words and simple actions would be more at home in this type of small set than an expansive one where he is dodging massive explosions.
On the demand side, our attention spans crave shorter burst and are less willingness to engage detail than earlier movie audiences. We are a generation of iPods shufflers, channel changers, and twitterati. Its hard to deny that our media exposure is gradually being consumed in shorter and shorter bursts. Thus, to keep with the pacing of our lives, movies need to appeal to our senses through quick changes. For examples of this look to the commercial success of the Oceans Eleven franchise, Get Shorty, and Kill Bill.
Lastly, there is a factor that would impact the consumer as well as the producer. In our society, greatness is not defined usually from repeating the old but creating something new. On the flip side consumers tend to search for newness. Thus, the makers want something fresh as much as the takers. The mysteries of old are familiar; they certainly do not satisfy that need. However, although that might be the case, I think I will sit this block buster out. Instead, I will seek out the familiar, taking in Holmes around the couch instead of in stadium seating.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Back in high school, when I had cross-country or track races most weeks, I would usually bring along a bottle or two of Gatorade. It was more or less the only hydration/energy option back then, and it had one serious drawback for me: I found the taste way too sugary, so I would bring one full bottle and one empty bottle and end up with two bottles of 50% watered down Gatorade.
More recently, we've seen a rise in competitor sports drinks as well as an increased scrutiny in the nutritional aspects (specifically, high calorie counts) of soft drinks. This led to a proliferation of low-calorie alternatives to all sorts of drinks, in addition to the traditional light beers and diet sodas.
As a result, every sports-drink manufacturer has brought out some sort of low-calorie alternative. Powerade Zero is the most aggressive of these, offering zero calories (and making me wonder how exactly they fit any nutritional value in there). Vitamin Water 10 also turns in a strong effort with, as the name would imply, 10 calories per serving (though the typical small bottle somehow contains 2.5 servings). Judging from the flavor, these seem to be new creations, either with new flavors or with an alternative sweetener substituting for sugar.
Gatorade, however, seems to have chosen a different tactic. Their low-calorie option is Gatorade G2, which has half the calories of regular gatorade and is identical - in color and flavor - to my 50% water/50% Gatorade concoction from high school. (I haven't tried all the flavors, but I've had the grape on many occasions and the orange at least a few times, and they both fit this pattern).
They really do seem to have taken the regular formula, cut it in half with water, and promoted it as a low-calorie alternative. This is either sheer genius or offensively condescending; either way, I salute Gatorade for not putting much effort into trying to fool us.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
New Media Upstart Company seeks Assistant who can figure out this gosh-darn Internet. TVFeeder is a hot young production company designed to distribute high quality shows virally. We are looking for an assistant who can tell us just what this Internet hooplah is all about. The assistant will deliver our emails to other computers and take us to the Worldwide Website. If all goes well, we will buy more Internet as the company expands. Can we use the phone at the same time? Let’s take America Online by storm! See you in the chatrooms!
Studio Exec seeks Intern to vicariously live as his son. Busy-high level executive at a major studio is looking for an intern to become his son, Todd. You will wear Todd’s clothing, listen to his music, and join his track team. On weekends we’ll go fishing, build model airplanes, and other hobbies that are not skiing accidents. We’ll also visit your grandma (read: Todd’s grandma) on the holidays. This is a great growth-opportunity for getting the family Toyota Camry, and a chance to learn the ins and outs of being my son. Interns already named Todd are a plus.
Top Production Company seeks slaves to build Top Production Company Pyramids. We are looking for unpaid slaves to construct Production Company Pyramids. Slaves must be willing to work against their will, as they drag enormous Production Company Granite Slabs up a steep stone slope. We need creative problem solvers! The pyramids must be grand enough to house the Production Company Pharaoh, but strong enough to protect against looters. They will also serve as a promotional tool for the new ABC series Modern Family.
FOX Diversity Group desperately seeks a black guy. As a team dedicated to ensuring ethnic and racial diversity in the workplace, the Fox Diversity Group is in desperate need of a black guy to chair the meetings and “keep it real.” The ideal applicant should have an MBA from a top-tier business school, 5+ years of industry experience, and a sassy jive-talking mouth that just won’t quit! Please fax resume and a photo of your favorite basketball jams to email@example.com
Network News Division hiring upgraded News-Reporting Android. News Division of a major television network has recently lost its News-Reporting Android and is now looking for a replacement. The Android should deliver news stories smoothly and efficiently, and speak with an odd inflection no normal person would use. It should also robotically chant sports scores with a serenely placid, human-like face. Job starts immediately. We cannot report the news without this android! Please hurry as Katie Couric has already been scrapped due to a critical hardware malfunction.
Documentary Filmmaker hiring assistant to have sex with. I believe in honesty: having sex with you is much more important than editing this documentary on the Khmer Rouge. Ideally, I would like to have sex with you in my apartment, specifically on the Murphy bed, and with time permitting, the backseat of my ‘98 Ford Windstar. Once again, faulty agricultural reform, and Pol Pot’s ruthless torture of Cambodians are ancillary compared to our imminent fornication. Assistant will literally work under an accomplished documentarian who, until your employment, spends lonely tear-soaked nights, wondering if he’ll ever again feel a woman’s embrace. Knowledge of Final Cut Pro a plus.
Hollywood Job Listings Company seeks a new Job Listings writer—aww fuck! God damn it! Who the…who? Please send resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cable network seeks Janitor to head scripted drama division. We’re looking to take our drama line-up in a new direction and are therefore hiring a confident, experienced janitor to lead our scripted drama division. The candidate should be handy with a mop and comfortable scrubbing neglected urinals. The “Drama Janitor” will supervise and schedule all scripted drama shows for the network, and negotiate advertising with investors. This is a high-pressure job with high rewards. Candidate must have at least 7 years of toilet cleaning.
CBS is looking for an Administrative Assistant to assist in Development Programming and Programming Development. The assistant will develop programming for our development programming team, which will then be passed on to programming development for further development. Assuming the developing programs meet our approval, the assistant will program a development program for primetime programming. You’ll be working in tandem with the Production Coordinator and Coordinating Producer.
A-List Talent Agent seeks Worthy Opponent to Battle in the Warrior’s Fire Ring. Well-reputed motion picture talent agent (Robin Williams, Sandra Bullock, Seth Rogen) requires a new foe to combat against in the dreaded Warrior’s Fire Ring. This is a great opportunity to become the next agency tribe chief and please the all-watching war god Golgar! Opponent must be willing to work shirtless and able to wield a bronze trident. Must have flexible schedule. Opponent’s heart may be devoured for Warrior Strength. College credit only.
FOX Diversity Group desperately seeks an Asian girl in a wheelchair Know any? email@example.com
PR Agency seeking a Temp to work the phones for like 5 minutes. It’ll be just like five minutes. Are you in the chair OK? I’ll be right back. This button puts them on hold and this is the call-forwarding, but you probably won’t even use it because I’ll be gone for like seriously five minutes. I just need to make myself a ham sandwich. Thanks so much, you’re a doll. Please email resumes to PRbetty212@hotmedia.net
NBC executive seeks ball washer. NBC studio exec needs a responsible, friendly, thick-skinned ball washer to wash his balls. Whether in a golf tournament, or just hitting the links, this busy executive needs his little white balls, waxed, tidy, and immaculate. Washer must be willing to thoroughly wipe his balls and not afraid to put a little elbow grease or some spit-shine should the occasion call for it. If you can cradle both balls in one hand--even better. Note: applicant must also be willing to scrub testicles.
Paramount Vantage seeks intern to put tape on shit. We have a lot of shit that needs taped and are hiring interns to put tape on said shit. Boxes, posters, broken windows--you name it--it needs tape. Job requirements include having two hands, basic motor-skills and a fun enthusiastic attitude for taping. Must have 4-year degree at Ivy League school. Interns will not be compensated for tape.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Individuals, movements, and institutions often define themselves against their adversaries. The Cold War allowed Capitalists to delight in their freedoms and Communists to lament the West’s frivolities. Barack Obama defined himself as pragmatic and multilateral to contrast with the idealism and unilateralism of the Bush years. Yale and Ohio State necessarily have to take on the mantle of superiority and good looks when contrasted with their respective archrivals. Lastly, Kate Gosslin’s hair juxtaposes itself with a mullet.
One of the political trends of 2009 has been the cult personality and devotees surrounding the Fox News host Glenn Beck. From promoting Tea Parties, to shameful use of the race card (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxLJVVhcDqE), to bating Birthers, Beck - as well as others on talk radio and Fox News - has struck a cord with a populist, disenchanted, and disempowered thread of conservative America. As we have seen over these months, many of the out-pourings from this group - although genuine - have at times shown a darker side of American public discourse.
After a summer when these personalities and words steered the conservative ideological narrative, many moderates and traditional conservatives are now standing up to this negative and potentially dangerous rhetoric. David Brooks powerfully argued in an op-ed a few weeks ago that the Republicans should not be swayed by the fake power of Beck and his cronies (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/opinion/02brooks.html). Bob Dole recently chided some of the adversarial rhetoric to health care reform on the right and advised for engagement on the issue – perhaps the most important domestic debate of our time (http://www.kansascity.com/340/story/1496048.html). Lindsey Graham also added to the chorus of individuals critiquing Beck and his brand cynicism. For Senator Graham, Beck is not the embodiment of the conservative movement (http://themoderatevoice.com/48584/lindsey-graham-blasts-glenn-beck/)
However, what is behind the cynicism that empowers Beck is a reactionary movement as well. This reaction is being pushed by bigger forces in the public’s discourse than what is driving the anti-Beckites. From deficit spending to a stimulus bill that has in the short term correlated with falling employment rates to fear over death panels, for many Government is moving at an alarming pace into new roles and a broader scope. Through these actions by a Democratic Congress and President, a group of Republicans have been fighting for the GOP to become defined as the “Party of No.” Pushing this brand, Pat Toomey, Senator DeMint and others see the party as a necessary restraint and opposing force to government in a time of potential excess. (NB: to further elaborate on this movement, I highly recommend this New Yorker article if you can get your hands on it - http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_boyer)
Given the policies of Obama, Pelosi and Reid and the spending of the Bush administration, Republicans defining themselves this way can create a very poignant and sticky message. My concern though is that this direction is one of negativity, fear, and, as we are seeing with the health care debate, disengagement. If you are the “Party of No,” the path of least resistance is to shake your fist at your opponent as opposed to shaking his hand. You are more inclined to political victories in other's defeats than minor gains through compromise that actually impact the public.
I certainly applaud the efforts of Brooks, Graham and others who have stood up to potentially powerful interests and ideas on their side of the aisle. But, those actions only move the ball so far against the tide of cynicism and fear within the right of center circles. To be more powerful than the “Party of No,” moderates and others on the right need to contrast themselves not only against Glenn Beck but also articulate an easily understood ideology that could be applied to a policy or a movement. Perhaps the challenge is to reform the idea of “No” to something more positive and engaging. To something that embraces protecting liberties but also recognizes that government has some role to play, such as with defense or protecting citizens from government bodies or, yes, maybe even health care.
Through this change in rhetoric and engagement, the Republican Party could redefine itself not as a party of “no, you shouldn’t” but to a party of “yes, we are” to take on the high expectations set by an adversary of “yes, we can” in 2012.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I was supposed to be working on something related to the importance of good television, pop culture, The Wire, and something or other. That's how I was supposed to come back to ATC after several independent projects forced me to take a long term hiatus. That was supposed to be my glorious return. Instead what brings me back today, faithful reader, is a beef and a nasty feeling of defeat I can't shake off. Yes, true believers, I make my-not-so-triumphant return by ranting on about the Dallas Cowboys, and I'm not particularly happy about this.
For those of you who have the unfortunate displeasure of knowing me personally, you know what I'm talking about. For those of you who don't, I have a confession to make: I am a Dallas Cowboys fan and have been since I can remember. It's not something that makes you popular outside of Texas. In fact, after college, I moved back to the safe confines of Austin, Texas to avoid persecution not unlike the tribe of Israel's mass exodus out of Egypt to find their own promised land . But back to the subject at hand, it becomes increasingly harder for me to stomach a Cowboys loss. It causes me great pain to watch my team lose, more so than having the nails torn out of my toes. For those of you who do not root for my team, I'm not asking you to feel sorry for me, nor do I expect you to. I really don't. Sure, you might equate my pain to that of the male, middle-class and white protagonist's in the Ben Folds Five song "Rockin' the Suburbs". Here's the thing, though. You all don't know what it's like. My pain is grander than yours. Sorry CL but being an almost dynasty doesn't compare to being a former one. Here's why.
Nothing is harder in sports than rooting for a team that was once great but can now no longer find the shadow of its former self. I feel particularly qualified to speak on this subject because I also grew up a Cubs fan. As someone who knows both kinds of defeat, having won a long time ago and falling from grace is much worse than being the perennial losers. The lovable losers do not know the sweet embrace of being in the promised land, whereas having once been champion, getting back there haunts every one of your dreams. Sure, the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, but hardly anyone ever remembers the Cubs as winning. In contrast, the Cowboys haven't won a Superbowl since the 1996 season, much less a playoff game since then. Think about that. I'm 24 now. The last Cowboys playoff victory came 13 years ago when I was a pre-teen.
Ask any true Yankees fan out there what the hardest thing about rooting for their team is and they'll tell you that it's not winning the World Series year after year. Everyone hates the Yankees, and no one knows this better than their fans. They know you hate them, but that doesn't bother them. What hurts a Yankees fan the most is losing. They expect to win year in and year out, and why shouldn't they? Theoretically they have the best overall talent, and the money to pay for that talent. Being a Cowboys fan is the same way. Everyone hates us, but that's okay because fuck those guys, they probably root for someone like the Chiefs. Rooting for a losing team is bad, but when your team is the team of Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, and the Triplets, then each loss is a god damn stomach punch. Hell, I hate the San Fransisco 49ers because of the 1990s rivalry with the Cowboys( see 1995 NFC Championship game), but I feel for them. Their pain is much like my own.
The Steve Bartman debacle is infamous in windy city sports, but if you ask any true Cubs fan out there, they'll tell you that in the back of their heads they knew something like that would end up happening. No doubt the North Siders had brought upon so much bad karma on themselves through the years (see, The Curse of the Billy Goat) that even so close to the World Series, the entire collective unconscious of the Wrigley faithful suspected that something bad was going to happen. Compare that to the 2006 NFC Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks, otherwise known as the Tony Romo botched field goal. If you follow sports, you know exactly what game I'm talking about. It's one of the most gutwrenching Cowboys games in recent memory, and one of the most painful nights in my adult life. After spending the remainder of the 90s in the Dark Ages (see, The Quincy Carter Era, The Vinny Testaverde Era), the Cowboys decided to hand the reigns over to a young gunslinger named Tony Romo after having benched their middle aged quarterback Drew Bledsoe (who had earlier in his career also lost a starting gig to a then unknown Tom "Ow My Knee" Brady). While we went on to lose that game against the hated rival NY Giants, it seemed like we had finally found our savior. With Romo at the helm we made the playoffs in what seemed to be a lost season, and our once lost glory seemed to have been restored. Alas, the rest is history as shown by Youtube below . I remember that night sitting in my car outside of my parents house crying and taking comfort in a bottle of bourbon. No fan of a historically losing fan knows that pain. They expected it all along.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Rationale behind some of the picks:
Spinal Tap "Stonehenge" - This song always terrifies me.
Nine Inch Nails "The Perfect Drug" - A dark song with a music video that looks like something out of a Edgar Allen Poe poem. A tribute is needed to also mark the end of this long running forefathers of synth in hard rock. Not to mention it is pretty darn catchy.
Tracy Jordan/Morgan "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" - Okay, so the song is not exactly about Halloween, but it's about werewolves and bar mitzvahs, two genuinely scary things. What could be scarier than being an awkward 13 year old boy becoming a man in front of all your family members. Spooky Scary! Boys becoming men, Men becoming wolves!
"Send in the Clowns" - To this day, I am terrified of clowns. ... Get that rubber nose away from me!
Ghetto Boys "My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me" - It's kind of sad how much of America--the pasty white population-- is only familiar with the Ghetto Boys because of Mike Judge's Office Space. No doubt every white crackah in your 'hood was rockin' out to 'Damn it Feels Good To Be a Gangsta' at some point or another. Houston's Ghetto Boys were more prolific than that. Take 1991's "My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me". The song is a narrative of paranoia, depression, and schizophrenia. All 3 Ghetto Boys talk about being pursued, causing them to be violent, uncertain, and above all, scared.
Dead Man's Bones "My Body's a Zombie for You" - It is spooky in the spirit of the times and also a fun ditty that is newly out this fall. Tip of the Hat to NPR's All Songs Considered to letting me know about the song.
"Monster Mash" as covered by the Misfits - A double whammy as far as band as song that are in the spirit of all hallow's eve.
Modest Mouse "Perfect Disguise" - A holiday that reveals in disguise needs at least one song that explicitly talks about it.
"You are the Blood" by Sufjan Stevens - Both epic and eerie, the perfect song to end us with.
There are few obvious ones in there which we are sure you enjoy as well.