September 21, 2006

Your Calls Will Be Answered in Sequence, Please Stay on the Line

This has wound up being a week of decompression for us (albeit not a very relaxing one), and we appreciate your tolerance for the staggered updates and radio silences. A couple of quick notes:
  • R.I.P. screenwriter Gérard Brach and cinematographer Sven Nykvist, co-conspirators of Roman Polanski and Ingmar Bergman, respectively, though Nykvist actually worked with Polanski, too, on The Tenant. (A movie scripted, conveniently enough, by Brach.) Both were so prolific it's almost impossible to imagine a world in which we'll no longer see their names on anything new.
  • Outlaw Vern's Get Rich or Die Tryin' diatribe is essential reading.
  • Speaking of brilliant criticism, our own Alex Jackson recently reviewed Eaten Alive.
  • "The Film Freak Central 2006 Annual" is now available at Amazon USA, Amazon Canada, Barnes & Noble, and still other online retailers.
Hard Candy (at last), Down in the Valley, some Bogart, and the last leg of TIFF capsules in the pipeline. Oh, and some TV on DVD, apropos of which: what are your early impressions of the new fall TV season? I missed/subconsciously-avoided "Studio 60", and the only thing that has me truly on pins and needles is the return of "The Office".

Update (09/26)
Walter catches up with The Science of Sleep and Jet Li's Fearless. Meanwhile, my TIFF coverage wraps up with a capsule review of Paul Verhoeven's Blackbook (Zwartboek); a quick plug, though, for the curiously spellbinding On the Trail of Igor Rizzi, which took the Citytv Award for Best Canadian First Feature: I'm not sure I could do it justice with a cap, but do see it when it comes out. You'll be glad you did.

23 comments:

joseba said...

r.i.p. sven!

Dave Gibson said...

Studio 60 is glib and slick in that “Walking Fast While Talking Fast” (WFWTF) style that has become an immediately recognizable Sorkin trademark (the network TV version of Mamet-Speak I suppose)—but without the inherent gravitas of “The West Wing”, I’m not sure how this thing is going to sustain itself. Only a television network would base a show on the premise that a television show is a fundamentally compelling environment. Decent cast however. Steven Weber has always been criminally underrated—and his sumbitch Network Executive was the best thing about the pilot Certainly decent enough to merit a couple of tries—and it’s refreshing to get at least one show that’s not about pornographic murder or sassy doctors/cops/lawyers with clever nicknames--If someone can explain to me why I’m supposed to think “House” is great—please let me know

Ian Pugh said...

But... but Dave, the sass. Interesting stuff on Studio 60 -- haven't seen it, but I sure am getting tired of watching the previews-before-the-previews in my local movie theater. From the way the preview made it sound, I thought that it might have acted as an unintentionally grim update/continuation of Network -- methinks that modern-day execs would have gotten rid of Howard Beale by replacing him with Matthew Perry. A much more terrifying conclusion.

Speaking of Eaten Alive/Robert Englund, anyone see Wes Craven's New Nightmare? I confess an inherent love for postmodern movies about movies (Scream and its ilk notwithstanding, which are really more about self-satisfied hip irony), but I don't think they come quite as angry as this one. You can really feel Craven's resentment over the Freddy Krueger pop culture franchise. Film is a force, he seems to say, and when you start condescending to it -- in the same way that his own "evil force" version of Freddy was diluted by the sequels -- then it starts fighting back. (To us in the "real" world, I guess that means subconsciously.) Interesting review of it over on Alex's site.

Rich said...

Hang on a minute, so the American version of The Office is actually good? I saw the very first episode - the one made from the same script as the first episode of the British version only with a few jokes translated into 'American' - and was pretty unimpressed.

Bill C said...

Rich, "The Office" really found its voice after that clunky trial run. In fact, the second season's finale was the best piece of network television I've seen in a long, long time.

Dave Gibson said...

I won't spoil it for y’all (well, not entirely) but there is indeed a bit at the top of the show aping the Peter Finch routine. It’s a nicely written bit of Sorkin idealism—unnecessarily capped with a self-conscious, meta-moment of Sorkin drawing back from his innate earnestness, which I suspect is at the root of the success of early “West Wing” and “Sports Night” (and let’s say “The American President” for chuckles) as though he was pre-answering the critics: “Yes! I know this is like “Network”. (A film which by the way, is much better remembered than seen)

The US Office is the best American sitcom on television. It managed to shake off the albatross of its acclaimed British papa and became a much different show in the process.

Alex Jackson said...

You can really feel Craven's resentment over the Freddy Krueger pop culture franchise. Film is a force, he seems to say, and when you start condescending to it -- in the same way that his own "evil force" version of Freddy was diluted by the sequels -- then it starts fighting back.

I think people tend to forget that the first Nightmare on Elm Street was pretty goofy. My theory about Craven is that he is a closet sadist and misogynist, but also a very nice, morally conscientious guy. He got into horror out of a very legitimate interest in cinema and mythology and out of an understanding that the horror genre was a low-budget and very market friendly way to deal with these interests; but in the process he penetrated very deep into himself and discovered that he has some really sick fuck in him. Much of the rest of his career has been spent trying to suppress and or rechannel it. The ceiling rape in Nightmare is both technically amazing and borne from a deeply disturbed sensibility and the post-modernism and strong female protagonist is a way to distance disassociate himself from it. I think the counter-post modern New Nightmare is kind of moralistic and a more direct way of coping with the kind of movies he has found himself making; same thing in a different format.

CoryM said...

Let me add to the love for the US Office. It's the only sitcom I watch regularly. What's funny is that friends who watch nothing but sitcoms can't stand it. Sometimes I feel like I live in my own private Bizarro World.

Chris said...

What's wrong with Aaron Sorkin all of a sudden? The man's dialogue flies, and if this is the closest thing we'll ever have to getting Sports Night back, then I say hurrah.

The Office, by the way, is certainly amazing, given that you can seperate it in your head from the British version (I gave it around a year) so you're not subconsciously comparing the two.

Rich said...

Stick to the Bizarro World, Cory. In the real world nobody watches Arrested Development and it gets cancelled after three seasons while Everybody Loves Raymond gets reruns. It bites.

Ian Pugh said...

Alex:

Actually just got back from a big screen viewing of the original Nightmare, part of a promo for the new two-disc set -- I'm inclined to agree there are moments of goofiness. (Where does Nancy's mom get all of that rum?) Granted, I haven't seen Last House on the Left, but frankly I've always seen the first Nightmare as a stark warning about the horrors of pedophilia. Not necessarily a defeatist view, as the ending might at first imply; merely that parents and kids need to keep vigilant against the deviousness of such criminals -- but be wary not to expand their power by regarding them as inhuman. That, I think, is where Craven's anger comes into play concerning New Nightmare, that the name of a maniacal, sadistic child molester was attached to an ironic joker in the sequels. It's something that really comes through in the scene with Englund in the "classic" makeup, where he uses his knife-glove to give high-fives to pre-pubescent children in Freddy masks.

The screening, by the way, was followed by a single-reel of "Freddy's Best Kills," i.e., all of Freddy's kills from Nightmares two through seven, edited down and taken out of context, including a few butchered excerpts from Freddy vs. Jason. It is an experience, actually, not unlike that of Jackass: Number Two, only without the smug, tantalizing challenge to deconstruct it (which is the real value of Jackass). There are a few fitfully creative scenes, some honestly worth a few laughs -- but when you get right down to it, it's just a slideshow of pain, and your ability to enjoy it depends on your personal levels of empathy and sadism.

Ian Pugh said...

Oh, and kudos to Caption Boy for the Foghorn Leghorn reference in All the King's Men. I know you've gotta give 'im a whuppin' every now and then, but try to spare the rod this time around, Bill.

Bill C said...

I dunno, Ian, that reference was so obscure I'm thinking of at least pulling one of Caption Boy's teeth or something.

So, "The Office". Kind of a messy opener, but I continue to be floored by the show's ability to make deft hairpin turns into pathos; I'm pretty sure the drunk-driving mugshot wasn't a joke, and it rang amazingly true. The over-the-top gay plot was salvaged, I thought, by Angela's similarly credible dinosaur attitudes (aside: has "faggy" ever been casually dropped in prime time like this?), and I like the bizarro "Office" that Jim now works in. I still wish Pam would crawl out of the TV and onto my lap, but that's neither here nor there.

James Allen said...

Re: Caption Boy

I fell on the floor when I saw the Leghorn reference. I don't think it's that obscure for the general readership of this page (at least those who post to this blog) who I'm sure speak more WB-ese than they'd care to admit. (And there's something, I say there's something ewwwwwwwww about people that don't like classic WB cartoons.)

Re: The Office

It took me awhile to warm up to The Office, because I was (like many others) disappointed in the pilot (especially if you were a fan of the UK version and were familiar with the script.) Over time, the US version of has definitely found it's own voice.

And by the way, I agree with the person who talked about House, which I liked a bit at first, but in which I lost interest in after one season.

Bill C said...

"House"'s title character went way too broad in the second season; he basically turned into a tiresomely cruel Groucho Marx. I thought the third season opener was pretty good (he was suddenly without cane and off the drugs, which made me realize that the mouse from last season was supposed to be Algernon), but it's been going back downhill since.

Ian Pugh said...

You know, James, the paramount tragedy of the Looney Tunes is how they continue to be marketed when you can't even see the old cartoons in syndication anymore. Sure, they're on DVD now, but that always struck me as a way for old-school fans to appreciate the shorts; I think newcomers (AKA young'n's) deserve some modicum of surprise while flipping through the channels so that they can decide for themselves. Unfortunately, kids' first exposure these days is certain to rely on t-shirts and ties. (I think the final straw is seeing Elmer Fudd, dressed in hip-hop regalia, warning me not to "playa' hate." Not even "pwaya' hate.") It's an ongoing disaster, one of the worst to happen to American animation since the mid-'60s trifecta: the death of Walt Disney, the television-derived rise of Hanna-Barbera, and WB's bizarre dependence on the desperately unfunny Speedy Gonzales.

We all have to go through a House phase at one point or another; we all wish that we could have a sassy answer for everything. It never really occurs to us that "the script is rigged" as Bill said in his Season One review, because we prefer to believe that House is a real guy and not just a product of the writers' room; someone to look up to in terms of sarcastic wit. But eventually you stop wishing yourself into his shoes and become a You Got Servedesque spectator; how many times can you say "oh snap!" to his antics?

James Allen said...

Re: Looney Tunes
Well put, Ian. It also doesn't help that when the characters are actually used in something, they are used badly (Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action fully illustrated that Bugs, et al are products, not characters).

And you're right in that entertainment is so overly categorized and segmented that there's not much to discover anymore. I'm looking at my TV guide to see what is shown on my local channels in the afternoon and there is absolutley no childrens programming, just umpteen talk show and shows with judges. And you are so right about the surprise factor; my parents never had to tell me, "watch these cartoons, they're good." Even Cartoon Network (who obviously wants to show more and more programming that they own outright) discontinued showing the old Bugs and Daffy cartoons alongside their new stuff, relegating them to their b-channel, Boomerang, which, as the name implies, is aimed at the TV Land type crowd, not kids (plus they show lots and lots of HB garbage). And of course, all this great "new stuff" that Cartoon Network offers does nothing but incessantly reference old cartoons. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it would be nice if they slipped the oldies in there once in awhile.

Re: House
I like Hugh Laurie and I like a good misanthrope as much as the next guy. But what really sped me to losing interest was the lame characters they put around him and the deadening formula they saddled him with: a)someone's sick, b)they try something that doesn't work, complete with tons of medical jargon that makes me feel like I'm watching Star Trek: the Next Generation (I'm surprised they never tried to cure someone with an inverse tachyon field) c) repeat b to kill time, d) they find something that works. Maybe I'll watch an episode soon to see how things have been changed up.

corym said...

Office lovers: Slate has a great article here. I think I'd really like to see how far that line of thought can be taken.

vonschiller said...

Re: House

There was one really excellent episode towards the end of the first season, "Three Stories" I believe, that got a lot of buzz and deserved all of it. Were that the pilot, I think the rest of the series would have been a major letdown. As it is, I tune in every week wondering whether or not they'll ever get back to that level (which, with each passing not-as-good-as-The X-Files episode, seems less and less likely). James, the formula you lay out is entirely still in tact, only bolstered by some ancillary plots that in the long run mean very little.

At this point, I'm just waiting for next week's premiere of Friday Night Lights, which can hopefully fill that House timeslot void.

Re: Studio 60

I really didn't like it at first. It seemed flat-out smug and full of itself. More "we're going to save television" than The West Wing was going to save the Left. The more I think about it, though, the more we need Network again, as its lessons have completely fallen by the wayside. Now, whether we let Aaron Sorkin handle that, or we just run Network every week until the lesson sinks in...

James Allen said...

The trouble with Studio 60 as I see it, is that it's not enough for Sorkin to just let these characters run around in this world, no, he has to have not one, but two personal mouthpieces in the show. And it's not like it's done with any degree of subtlety.

He got away with a lot of this same approach on The West Wing because the political machinations at least gave the procedings a bit of weight. Here, backstage at a pseudo-SNL show they talk and talk and talk like something's at stake, but for someone who thinks that SNL has been lame for some time (like myself) it all rings hollow. Who's supposed to give a shit if this TV show is cancelled?

dave said...

So far I liked Studio 60 quite a bit, but the ending of the second episode left me underwhelmed. The Gilbert&Sullivan parody was just terrible, and I wonder how Sorkin will handle the sketch content in the upcoming episodes (because he obviously can't write any).

Chris said...

Sorkin's politics always come out in his characters, but what sets him apart is that he gives equal weight (and wit) to the characters they're agruing with. See the scene between Sarah Paulson and Matthew Perry in the pilot, in which they argue about her appearance on The 700 Club. If you didn't *know* better, you wouldn't know which side that dialogue's writer necessarily falls on.

James Allen said...

On The West Wing Sorkin very adroitly showed, from time to time, that some of his protagonists (particularly Josh) were pompous jerks, but you always knew who the "right" side was.

As an aside, I always found it quite interesting that when he temporarily added the republican character (Ainsley Hayes), he had to temper it by making her look as if she just stepped out of a shoot for Cosmo.