How Are Directors Chosen (when it’s a job) ?

Putting aside the fact that most movies, especially independent productions, are conceived and directed by a director and that it would be generally a mistake to have that person step aside so someone else’s “vision” of their script can be accommodated, most of the discourse on the issue of directors has to do with hiring statistics and money – the director as coveted job.  Some of the conversation or the new norms just seem to be unsustainable and not merit based. Peter Farrelly has said, “If you think you are Kubrick the crew will make your life a living hell.” So on Dumb and Dumber he and his brother had to play dumb, so to speak, and ask the crew to cover their asses.  But then how does that advice work when you actually do have a vision and – Kubrick or not – want to at least strive to follow your own taste and figure out the directorial approach yourself?

Why are Directors Hired and what are the qualifications? When asked what a director does, I say if there is only one person on the crew doing everything, that is the director. What does the director direct? Most importantly, the audience. But in the current climate, who the hell knows how people get hired to direct.  I may praise or pick on a few names trying to connect the dots on this idea and what it might mean for devaluing the skill of creating images out of story.
Jennifer Kent the director of Babbadook is therefore qualified to direct anything.
Ari Aster directed Heredity, therefore he is qualified to direct anything.
Jodie Foster is a solid director, whether or not the content of The Beaver appeals to you. She has said she believes in ideally the best shot for each moment and having it be motivated, which a TV schedule rarely allows time for, making some shows about generic coverage or mere recording and documenting of the content.
Ava DuVernay was benighted by Oprah and others in the film industry to be the next big Diversity hire as a director after 20 years of imdb credits in promotions and marketing exclusively. Maybe she made a lot of positive connections promoting the work of other filmmakers. Her documentary about the Prison industrial complex and disproportionate black inmates made her even more friends because of the importance of the subject matter. But even though the casting of Selma is good what the audience might notice is her distracting habit of crossing the camera axis in otherwise straightforward dialogue scenes. That she then got a potentially complex project like A Wrinkle in Time is almost inexplicable if shot progression is a factor at all. With her pending project New Gods for DC, there might be even more need for fans and film pundits to explore in more detail just how certain directors work.
Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed two dark-themed films, her skateboarding vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and her sort of Escape from New York or Walking Dead without Zombies movie The Bad Batch and is supposed to do a new version of Cliffhanger. She talks about having a “boner” for a shot. She is a hands-on director, and whether someone likes the content or story being presented, the directing itself is thoughtful and full of personality. The way she reveals or conceals an element of a scene is deliberate and authentic.
Lord and Miller like the simple coverage approach and no storyboarding and are improvisational, therefore they were the wrong choice for a Star Wars movie.
The Russo Brothers came from the point and shoot, talking heads world and the hand held improv world of The Office where every episode looks the same no matter who directs, so it is inexplicable that they got to direct MCU movies. It is said that fight scenes for the Avengers movies are done by second unit directors like David Leitch who co-directed John Wick. What were the other factors and how much of the directing comes from the director(s)?

Jon Favreau was acting in a young man’s youtube short, an improvised western, and behind the scenes he confided, “You at least have a lot of freedom here. Marvel will give me storyboards they’ve come up with and say Just shoot this.” As important as story and character are, those can be SET by a writer or writing team before the director is brought in. I think if someone else, a storyboard artist or cinematographer is the de facto co-director it is bad in the long term for our perception of direction as a craft and the director as the primary creative on a movie. I think it is safe to give Favreau full credit for Chef which is a personal allegory from his other interest, cooking.
Frank Darabont did his best directing on Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. After doing an episode of The Shield, handheld, where you can’t tell who directed without reading the credits, he applied that slapdash approach to The Mist — but even within that he found places where expert directing does shine through. There was still some stillness and steadiness allowed. His Walking Dead episodes are solidly directed, as is his Cob City series that was short lived. People may consider him too specific and too perfectionist and willing to send overly honest (rude) e-mails. Still, he is qualified and should be directing more.
Jane Campion has made well storyboarded movies on topics that don’t excite me but I appreciate her confident use of the frame.
Steven Spielberg has compromised his brand as a director by being a producer credited on Michael bay Transformers movies and other films. The general public might make less distinction between producer and director, even if Spielberg lately as a rule will not even look at the cut until it is done. But Spielberg is the master of using screen grammar and applying it in the interpretation of a script. He also has the intuition to see what might be improved by new writers on a script, as with bringing in Josh Singer the Spotlight writer to improve the Liz Hannah script that came through Amy Pascal.

James Wan is getting into a similar boat, with many projects announced as being produced by him and nothing said about he director(s). It is like if someone is a talented dancer (the director) and there is an expectation that he or she must also be able to secure a stage and auditorium in which the dance can occur (the producer). Frankly a phone call from a Spielberg or Wan may be all the producing they have to do and then they can delegate the phone calls and hiring and make notes on the scripts.
As an exercise, if you can make it through the Fifth and Sixth Fast and Furious movies directed by Justin Lin, and you take some smelling salts to wake up and you can watch Furious 7 directed by James Wan you might feel in your unconscious at least a strong shift in how the frame is used. For me watching 6 and then 7 it was like night and day. I pushed myself to make it through 6 which felt very delegated and arbitrary. Furious 7 remained engaging and had a more strict adherence to film grammar. You might think Lin did a good job on Star Trek Beyond, but I think that movie was helped by a pretty solid script by Simon Pegg and we don’t know how much was delegated. Maybe the rear shot of the impulse drives before they took off was the equivalent of a smoking tail pipe shot in his car chase movies. But in terms of overall body of work Wan is the one whose name as director will instill confidence.
Tim Burton has admitted he would not know a good script if it hot him in the head. His movies are admired for the art direction and his direction. Ed Wood is a great script, as is Big Eyes, and maybe Beetlejuice. The main criticism of his movies will have to do with plotting and script.
Kevin Smith has said that you don’t need talent to be a director. He has said of his jobs on The Flash and Supergirl that those crews will make the show with or without a director and so he just brings doughnuts for them and people like having him around as a reassuring presence but the nuts and bolts of covering a talking heads dialogue scene are basic and action scenes are mostly predetermined by a team who already have a name for any “new” shot ideas he might come up with.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are set to be all-powerful overlords of Star Wars (maybe Knights of the Old Republic) while under the thumb of a woman who thinks of anything white or male-targeted as problematic. Are these two writers going to join the Director’s Guild? Or will they be looking at someone with proven visual punctuation skills to direct? In the current trend, it seems like writers can just be “team leaders” who delegate a lot of what we consider directing. If a Rian Johnson comes in to direct, it is possible that we would have to be less worried about his input than Kennedy’s input and that of her chosen Lucasfilm Story Group that may analyze plot the way Salon or theMarySue analyzes it, with identity politics as the primary concern. A Luke that responds to Rey aiming a lightsaber down at him with a force push he had demonstrated moments before would be logical and dramatically correct but not part of the old-man-wrong, young-woman-right nonsense that was being sold.

A movie that is mostly visual should travel better than one that relies on dialogue and and word awareness or word-play.  But a chatty script will survive a public table reading, the more it is like a radio drama.  This might also attract the sort of director who is content to do an establishing shot, over-shoulders for each character and close ups of each actor for the whole scene top to bottom – the equivalent of burger flipping.  But a visual and cinematic script will sound dry in a table reading and nobody wants to read a dense description of actions.  Images and the way they follow each other in a sequence will separate the directors from the pretenders.  It is also risky to be caught wanking with style and not having it tied to the advancement of the story.

I don’t know the solution, because either a trend or the popularity of an actor or a social movement might cause someone to be credited as a director.  I just personally cheer for those who really are creating what we see.  A Spielberg may be able to say he accepts ideas from everyone and that he finds the scene in the moment, but he also doesn’t have to prove himself now.  A new director coming up might want to be able to point to a storyboard and say, “Yeah, I’m happy to say I worked it out on paper so I wouldn’t waste anyone’s time and I was able to anticipate the equipment and the tools to achieve those shots.”  There can be a reason to hold a shot without cuts and without laying the image bare trying to be a languid “arty” indulgent director like Tarkovski.  I swear some directors have a contract for a certain running time so they will punk the audience by just letting the camera run or watching someone walk along through the desert (Gus Van Sant’s Gerry) or through the woods (Stalkyr).  Rarely is it forgivable (Lynch’s Eraserhead, where you expect to be punked and where it should be seen with an audience who gets long pauses and elevator doors that take absurdly long to close).

A mentor of mine used to say there is the film industry and then the film community.  I wouldn’t begrudge anyone to grab a camera and make some sort of movie.  It may build relationships even of one’s craft doesn’t grow in a measurable way.  But in the high profile discussion the dominates pop culture, I think it matters who is just a big personality or coasting on a third issue and those who are excited about the frame and what it can do, people who might legitimately be called movie geeks.  I want to see the artist’s hand on the brush, not someone else being talked through about how to move it. I admire the Rodriguez approach – capable of any crew position but knowing the whimsical or dramatic impact of each frame or move or cut.  And regardless of what walk of society someone comes from, if they have a grasp of that then they have a handle on movie direction.

People who come from theater too often conflate the cinematographer with the director.  They may think the director is the storyteller and that the choice of frame is something else.  They might see Ana Lily’s The Bad Batch and angrily trash it for the content but concede “The cinematography was good…”  even though the images were clearly planned by the director.

Someone like Altman would say, “I don’t like to direct.  I don’t show you what to look at.  I will stay loose and let you choose what to look at like a play.”  And that kind of thought is the enemy of cinema, as far as I’m concerned. You can let someone like that cast a movie or find a script but then let a DIRECTOR direct.  Pauline Kael controversially propped up Altman’s loose approach because it was at a time when movies were too glossy and slick. Actors prop up that approach because if they get to improvise they feel more engaged and less utility players being functional and it is the principle of conversation where if you only ask the other person what they think or to talk about themselves and you say nothing about yourself they will come away thinking you are interesting and brilliant. And it you just pontificate – even if you are right and saying something useful – they may just think you are full of hot air and a know-it-all (like, er, someone who does a blog like this – cough).

 

Joker, Knives, Chappelle: All is Connected

I may start a new tradition of just recording a youtube rant and pasting it into these blogs because I’m not sure people want to read.  But since I have a moment and a few marbles rolling around in my head, I’ll dash off some current and easily dated remarks about the State of Cinema and its relation to the State of Society.  Even though nobody asked for that.

Joker looks interesting.  Maybe a spiritual cousin of Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, given De Nero’s involvement.  That alone might allow it to overcome the brand “Joker” and the fact that it is not related to Batman’s nemesis, or Michael Ironside in Top Gun, or Mathew Modine’s Private Joker from Full Metal Jacket.  Some critics and general idiots are sounding the alarm that the story of an alienated, sad character losing his mind might radicalize what they call incels.  There is also a movie called Cuck opening the same day that is more explicitly about someone drawn into the alt-right. But it is unfortunate that “the discourse” is a bi-product of movie promotion, in the same way that rancid poop is a bi-product of eating tasty food.  Incel is applied to a) gun toting loners who commit massacres, b) people critical of Disney Star Wars, and c) anyone less than enthused about virtue signalling (as opposed to virtue having).  It means “involuntarily celibate,” a condition with which many married people might be familiar. It is not okay to dismiss an annoying opinion by calling the speaker a British cigarette or a pansy, unless that person is closeted or passing for straight which apparently nullifies all protection or empathy.  If someone is truly the personification of an incel, vulnerable and on their way to some sort of suicidal or self-negating gesture, how “woke” it must feel to bash them.

The Toronto International Film Festival had Joker, as well as Knives Out Rian Johnson’s new take on Agatha Christie parlor mysteries. The latter is getting more of a break from critics, owing to its reportedly ham-fisted politics. By all means, bash Trump sensibility. Please don’t let him have a second term. But those of us in the cheap seats, the huddled masses, hope rich folks in a mansion don’t get to represent all white folks and our assumed privileged. Though it is okay if they represent millionaire Rian Johnson who has had no problem “punching down” from his twitter pulpit at customers of The Last Jedi who didn’t quite accept rude Luke Skywalker, space breathing Leia, or a scene for scene strategy of dumbing down of male characters to falsely prop up under developed female characters.  All of which causes us to believe we are not seeing an account of what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away but instead seeing what Rian typed and what met with approval of the “Lucasfilm story group” chalk full of SJWs hired by Kathleen Kennedy instead of dramaturgical experts who can point out how easy it would be – at script stage – to get rid of Canto Bight the casino planet and just have Rose and Finn meet DJ in the rebel brig… so Rian won’t have to cut the third Jedi lesson of Luke from the real estate of a two and a half hour movie.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dramaturgy

RottenTomatoes listed under “popular” titles “David Chappelle” as opposed to the actual title that was generating popularity at the moment, David Chappelle: Sticks and Stones.  When someone clicked on his name they would be taken to a page made to represent two of his older Netflix specials, Collection 1 and Equanimity and the Bird Revelation.  This misrepresents “Dave Chappelle” as a series with two episodes boasting 67% and 92% fresh ratings.  That way they were not bolstering Sticks and Stones for which their site showed a low critic score.  Even then, when that most recent show had a zero splat it was from only 5 critics. At the moment it has an average of 31% from 16 critics.  Still a splat. But it maintains its original 99% positive responses from 36, 418 audience members verified as having seen the show. So it is denied the simplicity of a fresh tomato symbol due to a portion of the 16 critics, but the much greater number of opinions – perhaps not fearing a job loss with a publication – were willing to recommend it.

Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones was a refreshing Netflix special that agitated those who wish to control all discourse. There are those who count themselves as allies of the downtrodden or the victims themselves who can be expected to act out controlling impulses as a result of having had control withheld or taken away at some earlier point. There is a long documented dynamic of the oppressed becoming oppressor, but this seems to have been quietly swept under the carpet lest it slow down the rush of progress.  Even the PoundMeToo movement is touched on, a very daring target.  But when you think of it how much good really came from that hashtag?  Cosby was snagged not by that movement but by an unlawfully recorded and uploaded cell video of Hannibal Burress telling it like it is about someone who doesn’t curse in his act or wear droopy drawers but has a number of rape allegations kept under wraps. Burress, Gawker, and Gloria Allred pretty much took down Cosby.  Harvey Weinstein was  reigned in by Ronan Farrow, a worthwhile journalist with only one terrible blind spot – mommy.  Maybe Kevin Spacey got snagged because MeToo encouraged the Star Trek Discovery actor to tell his story, and that ball got rolling.   But for every justified take-down there were a number of people who caught flack for lesser infractions that were the true result of the wide net cast by PoundMeToo.

Both Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss drew long dormant stories – each from a different Production Assistant who now identifies as a “writer.” Their infractions: rudeness and vulgarity or flirtations on set.  Having not witnessed any of that in context, one can only imagine a movie star in the eighties goofing around and not realizing their attentions are especially unwelcome. Matt Damon made a reasonable remark when asked about the movement and made distinctions between rape and lesser tiers of trespass; the result was the removal of his scenes from Ocean’s Eight. The worst casualty (excluding some that resulted in suicide) was Senator Al Franken whose scandals were swept up in the #BelieveHer blanket policy of many Democrats despite his initial complainant being a woman he knew from USO shows who was a frequent Fox News guest and a known Republican.  In one of Al’s books, maybe Lies and the Lying Liars to Tell Them or The Truth with Jokes, he refers to George W. Bush constantly trotting out reference to 9/11 terror attacks as his “little black dress” to deflect criticism by painting himself and America as a victim and creating a solemn new context.  It seems cold-hearted to call any and all victim story a “little black dress” but that is often – in practice – the purpose it serves.  To speak to a therapist about a trauma is one thing, but to micro manage the language and music (ie: Baby it’s Cold Outside) of others crosses a line.

I am reminded of the time as a kid I visited relatives who rented a movie I wanted to see, The Verdict, and a friend of my uncle piped up that a Jack Warden character swears a lot, which resulted in the volume being muted whenever Warden appeared on screen.  My solution was to excuse myself and go for a nap.  A year alter I would rent the movie myself and see it as the profane screenwriter David Mamet intended. I don’t remember if there was a grandstand on my part or a huge argument.  But the absurdity of that – one person in the room who is offended by something determining for all that nobody can hear the dialogue – flies in the face of “one man’s food is another man’s poison” which I have always taken to mean everybody doesn’t have to like something for me to appreciate it.  Outrage culture and cancel culture follow the same principle as that friend of the family who could not bear to hear Mamet’s profanity.  (But apparently was not offended as a Catholic that the movie is critical of the church covering up malpractice case in a hospital it runs.) I can’t imagine following The Verdict without knowing what Paul Newman’s sidekick has to say.

If we consider the source of keyboard warrior campaigns, it can’t be ignored that many people who are gung ho about “burning down” what exists or “smashing” the so-called Patriarchy are facing middle age as I am and taking stock of how many goals have been achieved and how many have not.  Not to mention some unrequited romances that have begun to pile up.  So part of out “first world problems” mentality includes fat shaming, body shaming, slut shaming called out by people who don’t have anything against age shaming people who date younger or more fit people than themselves. It all has to do with artificially inflating the perceived stock value of whatever attributes you have.

If I am directing a movie, what I bring is a strong sense of how to use the frame for each beat of a scene and an instinct for transitions.  I like the storyboard approach.  Currently there is a trend toward people pushing an idea that “there is no such thing as film grammar or film language.” The idea being that “new voices” can step into the role of director more easily if direction is merely the generic recording of what Hitchcock referred to as pictures of people talking: five angles of the whole scene top to bottom that the editor and producer can shape later, establishing wide shot, over shoulder of each character, and close up of each.  In that case, arguably, it won’t matter if the director has any talent. If the material is visual, then there might be a more obvious difference between someone who applies the psychology of the frame and the cut versus someone who is just in attendance while someone presses record.

Writers have a voice, directors don’t.  A director in the power position might impose changes on a writer based on personal taste or may choose not to shoot everything as written, but especially in TV where the discourse dominates – where producers and writers are in charge and the director is generally a guest working with the in-house cinematographer(s).  That said, when I look at an episode of The Deuce and see Michelle McLaren or Ernest Dickerson’s name as directors it puts me at ease that we are in good hands and worthy people are directing our attention. If I hear that a director got a job merely as a diversity hire or I think that person is careless about the axis and maybe connections and personal charisma got that person a directing job I might feel depressed as I am not a schmoosing type or bouncing off the walls with personality.  I have to quietly go about making my little movies and all but ignoring the industry the way it seems to be slanted at the moment. You do have to be able to engage and interest at least one other person, maybe a few, and risk the investment of time and maybe money on what you want to see and how you see it.

Society will connect the dots between what you create and what can be inferred from it about the issues of the day, but that can paralyze the process of writing and also directing or any output.  We can only be so careful.  The unconscious and instinct are not interested in taking a poll on Twitter. And consensus is no substitute for authorship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things to Do

What I call finding confidence, facing fear of rejection and risking my ego someone else today might call “straight white male entitlement.”  Each person has one degree or another of the still, quiet voice in the back of the mind urging on a nugget of an idea or something larger, a poem, a script, a joke, a short film, a longer story.  Ignoring it until it goes away or becomes just a thought or a memory of a vague dream just might be acceptable for some people.  If it won’t go away or you feel it nagging and wanting to live outside of your head, as custodian of that impulse or plan or whimsy it will be a challenge to wade through the noise and clutter of today’s outrage culture and the more amusing distractions of each day to keep an eye on that goal and keep on attempting the messy version of it or the interim version as it becomes more and more what you mean. It is the transition between the euphoric spark of an idea, which is perfect, and the execution of it which involves one or more stages of imperfection.

Right now I have some boring goals that might allow me to better get a handle on the work I have to do, even the work I have enjoyed and that is a part of me.  I have to 1. Lose weight, so that I can 2. reduce the medication I take, so that I can 3. better focus and hold a thought and think several stages down the line to complete creative works that had years before been my compulsion.  That’s a disclosure nobody needs to know, but maybe one with which others have to grapple.  I have to tie a lot of ideas together.  I have a considerable in-box of projects that have to be wound up and resolved into something entertaining to others.  But I also have to push past a sense of drifting and excessive relaxation.  It is deceptive.  And when I do drag my middle-aged butt to the gym early enough to avoid the crowd and get the right stationary bike that functions properly and then get into the pool while I can claim a lain for myself and feel like I have kick started my day in a responsible way maybe I’ll avoid foods that bog me down and make me sleepy and kill half my productive hours.

A blog or a comment on social media takes less energy, so it can be a lot of superficial remarks and half-baked thoughts that add up to nothing but make me feel as if I have done my duty as a citizen of the internet in correcting someone else’s information about whatever controversy or director or movie or politician.  And then I will still be left looking at that in-box of partially complete and existentially vital work to be done.

 

 

Who or What is It For ?

The question could be asked about this blog. or any blog.  Is it so that I can have more information coming out of my head than is going into it?  When the year began with my first few posts here on WordPress, I had a lot to unload for posterity.  You never know when you will keel over – and what a shame it would be to have not imparted anecdotes about having wallowed in your own short films and volunteering and bad judgement.

Instead, the question is about cinema in general.  What if it were possible to demonstrate in court that exposure to an interrupted narrative (a prematurely cancelled TV series) caused real psychological damage to the viewer and this opened up the possibility of class action suits against networks who failed to commit to a complete run or studios who fail to make the appropriate number of sequels to complete a story? What if creatives were legally bound to honor their core audience, and prevented from simply exploiting a known brand for the appeasement of investors only to alienate the built-in audience it was expected to attract?  What if studios had the sense of self-preservation to have each of its employees – especially writers or directors and actors – accept not only a non-disclosure agreement but also an injunction against abusive engagement with the public. especially those who claim to be fans and who are potentially the paying public?

Is this movie or content intended to appease the movie buffs or the statistic buffs?  Is it for people who enjoy movies or comics or any given art-form or is it for busybodies who just want to torpedo intellectual property that is associated with a “bro” audience or a politically uncommitted audience as a volley of preemptive attack in the culture war?

People are calling the latest female Terminator the LBGT-1000.  No matter what Tiki or Kevin Feige calls Natalie Portman’s character (they prefer simply Mighty Thor) the audience will call her Female Thor.  Will people complain that her costume (which according to the mythology of the comic book materializes without choice or design from the wearer) has a suggestion of breasts built into it?  Will they whine that there is anything gender specific about it?  Of course some will.  Not fans, but those who rarely pay to see a movie, let alone a pre-determined blockbuster muscling onto 4,000 screens. Filmmakers can alienate the most loyal fanbase once their own loyalty has been betrayed.  If there is pre-emptive shade thrown on anyone indifferent or outright rejecting a pending project, only a brave segment of the ex-patriot fandom will risk being falsely branded misogynist, racist, or homophobic by simply agreeing with Brie Larsen’s comment about A Wrinkle in Time, “It wasn’t made for you.”

In fairness, the argument has been made over and over – especially in the past ten years – that most movie fare has been male power fantasies aimed at the young, usually white, male heterosexual.  My response to this is to carefully keep my collection of physical media – mostly DVDs – in good condition, because re-watching them just might be the sole entertainment resource for me going forward. I can keep up with Stranger Things on Netflix as long as that platform exists, but even that has a fair helping of memberry content. I just have to tune out the busybodies on the internet, like Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) complaining that David Harbour’s character Jim Hopper was a “toxic male” and women should not date a guy like that.  There is a great deal of humor and pathos in his character, as well as surprise.  Wood’s remark is typical of the out-of-touch and gun-jumping know-it-all volunteer den mother activist who feels compelled to put fictional characters and storytelling into a box that is either pretending to be a role model or twisting its collective mustache in service of the patriarchy. This disregards that the actor himself Harbour has been firmly anti-Trump and progressive in his appearances at award shows.

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a3e7/87c5162a1afca08227bdf27662b29fead8a8.pdf

The Philosophy of Composition by Poe is mentioned by Signourney Weaver’s character in the Walter Hill movie The Assignment.  She explains that it makes a case that art should exist independent of politics and for the sake of aesthetic or style itself.  Such an essay might be very relevant in today’s climate.  People will behave like lemmings and make their judgments.  Am I to be excited about a new agent 007 being a black woman, or do I accept that as a detail and reserve judgement until I have borrowed the DVD from the public library?  There is so much content bombarding us now, partly as a function of the digital revolution, that it is hard to keep up.  We can’t all be excited about the same things. If I like a director for his or her direction (as opposed to de facto co-direction of a cinematographer or a studio boss who throws out storyboards and says “just shoot this”), I will most likely rush out and see the lastest work of this person right away in the cinema and happily pay to do so.  Spielberg, Tarantino, and Zemeckis are among the few in that category now. Often Scorsese.

I did not pay to see Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call or Captain Marvel, but I did enjoy Wonder Woman and Alita: Battle Angel.  Frankly, The Assignment was quite good and unusual with Michelle Rodriguez as a hit man. Judge away as you may.  More than ever, I think we have shrug off ignorant leaps people make.  Some will be upset that The Assignment has a actress pay a male who then is involuntarily put through sex reassignment for killing the doctor’s brother.  By representation standards, the male scenes would have to be played by a male and the post transition played by a performer who is trans first and foremost and likely not a marquee value name.  Whereas, I have no problem picking up a DVD with Michelle Rodriguez holding a gun on the cover.  Ghostbusters was played up as a mission to portray women as scientists.  For that I say look no further than 1982’s Poltergeist where Beatrice Straight was a credible scientist with a couple of laughs and Zelda Rubenstien supplied the more otherworldly approach. Some activists grumbled that Gal Godot was too fit and pretty to play Wonder Woman, which begs the question of whether they have ever seen the comic book or the Lynda Carter series.  Wonder Woman should look like Wonder Woman.

Keyboard warriors are not the audience to appease.  Filmmakers definitely should be working on material they actually like and understand, and by extension they will be simpatico with its fanbase.  Otherwise an IP is just looked at as a delivery device for false messaging and something to subvert and kill off – taking what your presumed adversary seems to enjoy and adding an ingredient which will irritate and cause an allergic reaction.  Maybe they are okay with fans being more choosy and waiting for home video or a few weeks after an opening so any box office goes to the exhibitor and not to the studio. That might be a good way to support theater owners and not reward studios for their tone deafness.

 

On a lighter note, I am enthused about Jason Reitman redeeming Ghostbusters and the original iteration continuity with his 2020 installment.  That I will see right away.  I am posting this days before Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I will also see opening weekend.  I admit that even as a life-long (with a gap between 1999 and 2005) Star Wars fan, I am undecided about when I will see The Rise of Skywalker.  I still enjoy movies, but I think more than ever we have to seek out the shows that maybe don’t get so many screens and might actually introduce fresh voices and aesthetics from the independent end of the spectrum.  Not enough people under 25 have seen the kinds of character driven indie movies from which pretty much all of the Avengers cast came from.  It is time to till the soil and plant new seeds and not live entirely off of what South Park calls memberries.

 

scene-with-beatrice-straight-poltergeist-1982-BP6YPX.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Shaft (2019) Is Better Than SJW Critics

If you want to see de-aging FX of Samuel L. Jackson, skip the over-rated and cloying Captain Marvel and just go see Shaft currently in theatres. The opening scenes set up the premise in 1989.

Just finished catching a matinee of the new Shaft film, which is either the second if you don’t recognize any movie before the year 2000 or it is number Five if you count the original Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score, and Shaft In Africa.  Richard Roundtree plays the same character in all of them, as well as a TV series indicated on imdb which few have heard about.  This time around, one throw-away line of dialogue corrects a bad call from the 2000 film in which Roundtree’s John Shaft was the uncle of Samuel L. Jackson’s iteration. There is a reference to him being a better father once he stopped, “pretending to be my uncle.”  I think they were being too logical when they did the 2000 reboot, factoring in Jackson’s age.  Now they place Jackson at age Sixty and presumably Roundtree is still a sharp-witted man of his Eighties.  The repository of all knowledge, rottentomatoes, has 89 critics giving it a green rotten splotch of 34% and yet it has a vetted, verified audience rating (3, 146 people who provided proof they have seen the movie) at 94%.  So who do you trust more?  89 critics who saw it for free and are focused on identity politics and whether Shaft adheres to the behaviour code and attitude of…. Twitter, Salon, and The MarySue or anyone who believes if you are not draped in a rainbow flag you are a Nazi? Or do you believe the three thousand, one hundred and forty-six people who rated and maybe commented for free? By now you know what kind of thing is your cup of tea, in any case.

Boxofficemojo today has it only ranking in #7 of the weekend’s movies with $9, 703, 744 domestic. So it has recouped at least what Netflix paid for it already.  Netflix will start showing it June 28, so it will have a short window to make whatever it can theatrically.  It was worth seeing with an audience, but partly for the reassurance that others are laughing at the same frank talk that some critics refer to as “dinosaur.”  The movie itself can feel like an episode and a procedural in that you get what you expect from a sequel. But the refreshing part is its willingness to embrace the point of view of the street wise elder Shafts and have fun with that somewhat at the expense of the more modern-thinking son.  The millennial does have his moments of dignity and the chance to kick ass, without the elders are not the butt of the joke.  They can humorously point out the absurdities and contradictions of modern sensibility.

Below, if you have the time, is an example of a sometimes entertaining pundit of fandom on the internet relishing the audience reception of this new Shaft and the fact that it is not politically correct which demonstrates perhaps that there is a demand for Hollywood to ditch its fake progressiveness and be more down to earth.

 

 

 

 

Trailers, Trolls and Avengers

Media studies courses might be in short supply, especially now as high schools lose budgets and colleges trip over themselves to appease the fringes. For that reason, there might be some value to the youtubers who make some sort of living keeping up with the algorithm of that site by constantly posting rants or live-streams rattling off opinions on trending topics of the moment in pop culture.  Some of them like Midnight’s Edge manage a reserved, sane-sounding analysis of what is being sold and the context behind it while exposing what might alarm some of the potential audience being played.

Some of what follows is insinuated by reports but these are the dots likely to connect:

In March, Alita: Battle Angel was off to a good start before being muscled out of premium priced venues by Disney’s Captain Marvel which reportedly did not actually fill those additional screenings but managed to prevent people who showed up expecting to find Alita (by director Robert Rodriguez and writer-producer James Cameron) on the marquee from seeing what they came for and knowing that most average people would settle for whatever else was available.  Since the Fox sale to Disney had not been settled yet, Disney had an incentive to keep the Fox stock lower by repressing what might have been a larger hit.  It is theorized that they also didn’t want anything else to steal the thunder of Captain Marvel as the supposedly only female led action movie.  Alita was the more entertaining option, but the absurdity of propaganda against it included a few loud voices who claimed the character (whose body is a robot) is objectified and sexual-ized, even though she initially is revived with the body intended for the mentor figure’s paralyzed daughter who did not live to utilize it. Well, if you want to secure bookings for Avengers: Endgame coming soon and stay in Disney’s good graces, you had best bump Alita for the more PC Captain Marvel. And fans – if you root for the success of Alita and you have no interest in the Brie Larson starred Captain Marvel then you must be trolls living in your mother’s basement and you must hate women. And hands are clamped over the ears if you reply with a list of names you like, Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, Ripley, Sarah Connor (returning with Linda Hamilton this year) Jamie Lee Curtis (returning last year as updated Laurie Strode)…. and on and on.

Back in 1977, the adaptation of a novel The Other Side of Midnight was a Fox movie that exhibitors wanted to book. They were eventually fined for block-booking because they told some theater owners they could only book The Other Side of Midnight if they would book the movie they had no interest in – a movie that only managed to get about 40 venues by its debut May 25, 1977 – a flick that was then simply titled Star Wars.

So the cycle goes on.  The studios and their marketing budgets have the megaphone of talk show hosts who don’t want to anger them, movies stars that are welcome guests everyone wants to appease, millionaires talking from a high place.  And yet they are worried about youtube pundits and random people in the comments sections and Facebook groups that have no power and no money other than what they spend watching movies, preferably as mindlessly as possible and without question.

I’ll be curious enough to question how a section of the death star which exploded in Return of the Jedi (1983) ended up on Endor (as opposed to the forest Moon of Endor) after it exploded so spectacularly.  But then there is the possibility (that I’ve seen nobody raise) that it might be a section that was missing in the first place from that movie’s variation which was under construction.  And so I will leave it at that until I am proven wrong in December. I’ll have measured enthusiasm for a new Star Wars and I was okay with Episode VIII The Last Jedi although I merely accepted it and liked some of it while still gradually understanding why so many once built-in audience members have left the fanbase.  Brand appropriation should be taken more seriously.  As should, frankly, communication between creatives and outlines for narratives than span a few films. The Lucasfilm story group that consulted on the new trilogy was revealed to not have quite the dramaturgical dream team expected or people well versed in Star Wars lore but people with identity politics as the first priority concern.   So instead of having a message emerge organically from well designed characters in a story well told, there is ham-fisted focus on what is least interesting and ultimately filmmakers trolling the audience on twitter.  And related novelists also stirring the pot.  So they can turn a license to print money into a gamble by splitting the core audience – the most passionate – in half.

Word is (at this moment) that Daniel Craig and the James Bond character will be retired from features after the next movie, but that the number 007 will continue as if that much of the brand is enough, and that a lady spy will have been introduced.  So the posters presumably will have 007 in big letters and maybe the title of the movie to fish people in, but maybe underplay the fact that James Bond is not in it.  Good luck with that.

Back to spending money and who spends it. Star Wars merch and Star Trek merch have something in common:  It is mostly consumed by older fans from their mid-thirties into their early fifties.  That may earn a few slings and arrows, now that the terms nerd and geek are now benign and have been replaced by such hostile terms as incel. But the difference is that Lucasfilm/Disney may still have a piece of Hasbro so they can still crank out unsold Rose Tico action figures but Star Trek has to have its merchandising licensed by outside companies.  Those toy companies and model kit companies have sales data a this point that tells them designs based on the Original Series and Next Generation will sell and anything from the Bad Robot era will not.  They reject deigns from Star Trek: Discovery and derivations presented for the pending Jean-Luc Picard series.  That has held up production on the latter.    Bad Robot took on Star Wars and Star Trek for the possible additional profit that derives from merchandising and their changes that allow them to have a piece of that are the reason the market and toy companies have no interest.

That is one example, a canary in the coal mine, that might make it worth taking seriously the tastes, preferences and concerns of old school fans that Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm has stated publicly she owes nothing to.  In a time where it is easy to get free market research from reading the concerns of those they call trolls, maybe there would be value in taking advantage of that instead of being blindly top-down in their decisions.

From what I have heard, the directors of Avengers: Endgame have listened to fans or are in synch with fans and have told their story accordingly.  I will see it ASAP.

Hopefully Bad Robot will relent in their concerns for merch, and it would be great if the two split halves of Viacom came to a settlement to allow Star Trek to exist in its own sort of embassy and not have to be caught in the middle and torn apart so that canon can be restored.

Personally, In can only absorb so much of the animus that gets thrown around over these kinds of things on-line.  Free wifi and free content on youtube can also be costly to the mind.  There is a lot of anger over these issues, as dispassionately as they are presented here.  It is not enough for people to have a dream job on a Tiffany IP, but they have to make sure they can get a chunk of merch or push a social agenda without earning it in the narrative.  Kennedy may not get around to allowing a Kenobi movie (old white guy in the desert) or a Knights of the Old Republic movie (too many old white guys want it) but expects to eventually bring back the characters introduced in VII, VIII and IX.  Well, it’s fine for Rey, Poe and Finn and BB8 to ride the coat tails of the Original Trilogy cast, but there will NOT be the nostalgia for them in a world where the is so much more content and so less attention span than in 1977-1983.

 

 

 

 

Stuff Buried on the Internet

Some people have a strategy or an expert on getting new titles listed on imdb. I know someone who started a festival and once it got a letter from a deputy mayor making it seem official enough imdb accepted it and so the festival could be shown as the programmer who screened her films and a few others she appeared to be connected to. So suddenly there were at least ten more recent credits on her page, as pointed out to me by a friend who liked to rub my nose in bad news. I don’t know the ethics of that, but it worked.  Some might be given an official production code number, some get listed as union productions possibly. Worth looking into.  Otherwise you will have a short list of directorial credits like mine at the time of this writing.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1077135/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I thought I may as well dedicate a blog entry to assembling a few key links to shorts that are still on-line somewhere and might be languishing without enough eyes on them, even if that may be for the best.  Some are done just for fun, others might not be up to any standard that would help me raise funding for something bigger.  But I think they are still amusing.  I guess I just don’t like to let anything die.

https://vimeo.com/user2402483

Stranded on the Sturgeon Stretch (Early Nineties)

 

Break-In

 

Big Babies (2004)