We live in an era of disposable pop culture. All around us we see vapid reality series, uninspired (and uninspiring) music, movies that are little more than retreads of other bad ideas, and starlets who are famous merely for being famous. Of course, this stuff is not necessarily bad in and of itself – in fact, mindless pop culture can make for some great “guilty pleasure” moments.
The truth is, when any form of entertainment achieves excellence, we notice. Television programs like Mad Men and Friday Night Lights, music by artists such as Mumford & Sons and Zac Brown Band, and films like Lincoln and Les Miserables attract attention because they raise the bar in their genre.
The idea of excellence as something for which to strive goes back to the Bible. Jewish and Christian believers alike are aware of the admonishments in Scripture to give our all. In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon advises:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
And the Apostle Paul encourages the believers in Colosse:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Walt Disney himself felt the pull to achieve excellence, in part because his name was on every product the Studio created. He once said, “Anything that has a Disney name to it is something we feel responsible for.” He instilled the value of excellence in his staff as well – he once hailed his staff as “the ones who insist on doing something better and better.” A sign on a construction wall from my last trip to Walt Disney World expresses this value.
Over the course of the next couple of pages, we’re going to take a look at how this value of excellence shows up throughout Disney culture.
Leave aside the fact that the second episode in the relaunch of the Starship Enterprise should have been called Star Trek: Into Derpness. Try to get past the fact that Bones McCoy kind of looks like Dan Rather and speaks in Rather’s bonehead country-fried metaphors, or that Uhura keeps whining at Spock for not being a caring enough lover (what’d she expect when she started dating a Vulcan), or that the filmmakers don’t even pretend to come up with a valid reason to show curvy blonde actress Alice Eve (who plays a new character) in her underwear, or that a fratboy actor as lightweight as Chris Pine would have had a hard time nabbing a role as a private first class in a 1940s war movie.
Let’s get to the issue none of the liberal writers will touch: What does this movie tell us about Hollywood and the War on Terror? First, that la-la land thinks the war is over. And second, the filmmakers now feel the coast is clear to resume their normal anti-American propaganda.
The far-left stance of the movie is fairly overt. Things gets rolling with a terrorist attack in London launched by a mysterious rogue officer (Benedict Cumberbatch, whose acting is so superior to everyone else’s that it’s like watching John Gielgud do a guest shot on Friends). Wedged amongst the reams of techno-gobbledygook in the script, here are four ways the movie is infecting young minds with left-liberal rubbish. (Mild spoilers follow, but I’ll keep it vague.)
1) The Voice of Reason and Morality Warns that It’s “By Definition” Immoral to Kill a Known Terrorist on a Foreign Battlefield Instead of Bringing Him to Trial.
On a mission to hunt down the murderous Harrison (Cumberbatch), Spock (Zachary Quinto) tells the hotheaded Kirk (Chris Pine) that assassinating the terrorist — whose lethal acts Kirk and others have eyewitnessed — would be obviously wrong. Director J.J. Abrams and his team of hack screenwriters (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof) are striking a stance on the demise of Osama Bin Laden so extreme that no one to the right of Michael Moore would dare utter it. But because the message is concealed in a noisy blockbuster, the filmmakers are hoping they can get away with it.
Check out Walter’s previous articles in this ongoing series Thursday mornings exploring video games, cultural villains, and American values at PJ Lifestyle. From May 2: “Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness” and last week: What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature. And also see Walter’s A Reason For Faith series, reprinted last week here. In these four articles Walter begins to formalize his task of synthesizing the Judeo-Christian tradition with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Tea Party activism. - DMS
In one of the most vivid dreams I can recall, I witnessed the landing of a plainly alien spaceship. It came lucidly, dancing on the edge of wakefulness, informed by enough of my rousing consciousness that it felt particularly real. I remember the feeling that my feet were glued to the ground, that I couldn’t move if I wanted to, not on account of some external force, but due to an overwhelming sense of awe and anticipation. The one thought dominating my mind: everything is about to change.
Though it was only a dream, I retain the memory as vividly as though it were of an actual experience and believe I will respond similarly if ever confronted by a true interplanetary delegation. Something about that kind of moment, when the veil lifts upon an existential mystery, produces an irresistible thrill. Perhaps that tops the list of reasons why our popular culture remains ever fascinated by the prospect of extraterrestrial life.
Aliens have become such a prolific device in our entertainment that we sometimes take them for granted. Like a modern deus ex machina, aliens can be relied upon to suspend disbelief in an otherwise inconceivable scenario. (How does Superman fly? Simple, he’s an alien!) Extraterrestrials rank alongside Nazis, zombies, and generic terrorists as the most common villains found in video games. Unlike those others, however, aliens may also be allies. Nothing inherent to extraterrestrial life demands it be villainous. Beings from other worlds often act as mirrors for examining the human condition, when not merely lurking among shadow and neon strobe.
It’s probably no coincidence that the advent of ufology, which is an actual word in the dictionary meaning the study of unidentified flying objects, coincides with the initial proliferation of aviation and the early years of the space age. We began to look up into the sky right about the time we realized there was nothing left to find over the horizon. In times past, when the known world was still defined by the flickering edge of torchlight, we imagined unspeakable monsters much closer to home. Spirits, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, fairies, vampires, all were the alien invaders and abductors of their time. As we have come to dismiss them as infeasible and childish, our imagination turns to the stars, where the realm of possibility remains seemingly infinite.
Certainly, we can see how aliens have stepped in to fill the role of menacing ghoul. Ridley Scott’s original Alien was essentially a horror film, a science fiction creature feature. While the execution was masterful, the formula proved well-established and has been revisited ever since.
We don’t see a whole lot of genuine faith in the movies or on TV these days. Instead, characters who exhibit religious faith on fictional films and programs are more likely to show up as fodder for mocking or as social deviants in disguise. Obviously, we can easily forget that the concept of faith played a much greater role in Hollywood’s earlier days, even in the films made by the Disney Studios.
Walt Disney held a deep, private faith in Jesus Christ, though he was not an outwardly religious man. His parents raised him in the theology of the Congregational Church, and he firmly believed in the power of prayer and Bible study. Rarely, if ever, did Disney attend church, but he made sure his daughters were involved in Sunday School programs, even allowing them to choose the denomination that suited them best in their teen years. Walt also said:
I ask of myself, “Live a good Christian life.” Towards this objective I bend every effort in shaping my personal, domestic, and professional activities and growth.
I believe firmly in the efficacy of religion, in its powerful influence on a person’s whole life. It helps immeasurably to meet the storm and stress of life and keep you attuned to the Divine inspiration. Without inspiration, we would perish.
Clearly, Disney understood the importance of faith as part of the American cultural fabric. Another quote of his underscores this fact:
I have watched constantly that in our movie work the highest moral and spiritual standards are upheld, whether it deals with fable or with stories of living action.
We can see these moral and spiritual standards at work in Disney’s classic films. In fact, the concept of faith plays a role in many of the great films of the Disney canon. Today, I’m going to look at five examples of the value of faith in Disney’s classic films: I’m taking a look at two of the big themes that emerge, and then we’ll delve into three characters who exhibit faith in different ways. These movies are not necessarily religious in nature, nor do I claim that they are theologically accurate in any sort of way. With that said, let’s dive in…
The critics are chattering about Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated The Great Gatsby. They fall into two camps: those who watched the movie for itself, and those who closely compared it to the book. Even though I appreciate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal work, I’ll be going to the theater as a member of the first camp. Adaptations are rarely successful when the goal is a strict translation of the book to the screen. Even if a movie’s based on a book, I try to judge it as a movie in its own right, as if the book had never existed. Just to prove how unimportant The Great Gatsby’s faithfulness to the book is, here are four examples of absolutely amazing, beautiful, gripping, classic movies (and a TV show) that took an existing story and threw expectations out the window to make something completely original.
5. The Adaptation Most People Don’t Know Is an Adaptation: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen brothers’ rollicking adventure comedy through the Depression-era South, is a loose retelling of Homer’s Odyssey? If you didn’t, pick up the DVD and rewatch it (well, you should rewatch it anyway even if you did already know because it’s that good) and see if you can recognize the sirens, the cyclops, and the hydra.
Baz Luhrmann’s splashy, extravagant, highly watchable 3-D remake of The Great Gatsby is certainly a vast improvement on the lackluster 1974 Robert Redford movie, but those hoping for a classic adaptation worthy of the Great American Novel are going to be disappointed. Here are five ways Luhrmann’s Gatsby could have been great.
5. A Better Lead Actor.
Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t an accomplished performer and his screen magnetism was largely linked to his boyish appeal. Now that’s gone, and nothing more interesting has come along to take its place. DiCaprio can’t convincingly play anguish, nor can he seem physically threatening (a scene in which he nearly comes to blows with Joel Edgerton, who plays his romantic rival Tom Buchanan, is almost laughable; Edgerton could flatten DiCaprio without even trying).
A better choice would have been Johnny Depp, who, like Gatsby, came from nowhere (Kentucky in the case of the actor, North Dakota in the case of the screen character) or Christian Bale, who has already showcased his ability to play the charming playboy in the Batman movies. It would have been a natural fit: Batman is basically Gatsby with a cape.
Last week’s article: Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness”
Zombies are all the rage these days. AMC’s The Walking Dead reigns as the top-watched drama on basic cable. Films like Warm Bodies, Zombieland, and I Am Legend stand out among recent entries in an enduring horror subgenre. None other than Brad Pitt will headline this year’s World War Z, which looks to amp up its action well beyond the shuffling flesh-eaters of yesteryear.
That’s to say nothing of video games, where the undead continue to suck cash from willing gamers anxious to live out an apocalyptic fantasy. Whether its Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, or downloadable add-ons to Call of Duty, zombie hoards batter down the doors of our collective consciousness. What exactly makes them so popular?
Like the Nazis we considered last week, zombies provide guilt free slaughter. No one feels bad about shooting something that’s already dead. Plus, because zombies were once living human beings, they provide a cathartic release for that deeply suppressed homicidal impulse none of us want to admit to harboring.
Zombies are amoral. They have no agenda, no emotional motivation, no plan. They simply menace. So putting them down presents no moral dilemma. What would be murder were they living becomes a wholly defensible act of survival. The very nature of a zombie marks it for destruction. Since it has no feelings and endures no torment, the acceptable methods for disposing of a zombie are bound only by the imagination of the killer. So zombies enable creative guilt-free violence on a scale limited only by their numbers.
Zombies also serve an adaptive narrative purpose in storytelling. While they more often than not simply lurk around the corner as boogeymen, the nature of a zombie can be tweaked to represent certain themes. In George Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, the film which birthed the modern undead flesh-eater, zombies were implied to be the fulfillment of biblical revelation. Writing for The Washington Post, commentator Christopher Moreman expounds:
The zombie apocalypse is often equated with the wrath of God and biblical end times. Though the origins of zombie outbreaks usually remain indeterminate in the genre, most zombie narratives indicate that we brought this upon ourselves. Whether corporations, the government, or the military are to blame, the average person also bears fault for participating in a corrupt system, just as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were collectively responsible for God’s wrath.
Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead took the theme a step further, assigning a decisively anti-capitalist overtone to the narrative. The undead converged upon a shopping mall, retracing the routines of their former lives.
There’s nothing that makes Hollywood more nervous than portraying Islamist terror. As far back as 1994, James Cameron’s True Lies was denounced as racially insensitive for imagining a chillingly plausible Islamist terror threat involving nuclear weapons. Cameron, anticipating accusations of unfairly linking terrorism with Islam and Arabs, took care to try for “balance” by placing an Arab-American character on the good guys’ side (the actor who played him, Grant Heslov, this year won an Oscar as one of the producers of Argo). Yet the advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) slammed the film anyway. The hysterical 1998 movie The Siege imagined that, in an overreaction to a terrorist attack, Brooklyn would be placed under martial law and all young Muslim men would be interned in Yankee Stadium. Ridiculous.
Since 2001, of course, Hollywood has almost completely avoided showing any Muslim involved in terror, changing the bad guys in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears from Palestinians to neo-Nazis. The 2005 Jodie Foster movie Flightplan, about an abduction on an airplane, used a hint that Arabs might be responsible as a red herring. The actual villain: an all-American air marshal played by Peter Sarsgaard. Several Middle East themed movies like Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies essentially saw a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Islamists, saying both sides were up to comparably nasty stuff in the War on Terror.
Shepard Fairey, the creator of the famous Obama “Hope” poster, made news recently with another piece of bizarre visual propaganda, this time denouncing America’s habit of clinging to guns and religion.
He produced the poster last month in support of the failing anti-gun legislation, and most recently had it printed on hundreds of protest signs in anticipation of a massive anti-gun rally in Washington. From sympathetic Buzzfeed.com: “Artist Shepard Fairey will paper downtown D.C. Thursday with copies of a new work aimed at reigniting the push for gun control.” Reality check: the advertised Occupy The NRA rally attracted only about 60 participants.
That the anti-NRA poster looks Orwellian is not a coincidence. Fairey probably believes he has a spiritual channel directly to George Orwell: after all, he had designed book covers for Penguin’s Animal Farm and 1984, in addition to a series of nightmarish posters collectively titled Nineteeneightyfouria. His Orwellian connection, however, is very unflattering. Lacking the depth and, apparently, the slightest understanding of Orwell’s actual message, Fairey rather channels some mind-numb Party functionary out of George Orwell’s novel as he manufactures establishment propaganda that facilitates the takeover of the individual by the all-powerful state.
The gallery page gives this blurb about Nineteeneightyfouria, likely written from the artist’s own words:
Shepard’s artwork both scrutinizes and distorts the narrative of the modern American Dream. Commenting on underpinnings of what Shepard terms the ‘capitalist machine’, it aims to critique those who support blind nationalism and war. Fairey addresses monolithic institutional authority, the role of counter culture, and independent individuals who question the cultural paradigm.
Does the new Michael Bay movie Pain & Gain glorify evil? Its protagonist Daniel Lugo (played by Mark Wahlberg) is currently on Death Row in Florida, and the film is mostly seen through his eyes, with his thoughts frequently popping up in narration. Relatives of the victims of his crime spree — an outlandish 1994 kidnapping plot that led to attempted murder and finally murder — understandably don’t find the movie very funny. A Miami Herald story said the families thought the film would make the killers look “sympathetic” or “play down the brutality” of the murders.
Neither is the case. Daniel Lugo was a personal trainer who grew jealous of the business success of a client (played by Tony Shalhoub) who owned a deli by the Miami airport but hinted that true wealth came from shadier dealings. With hardly a second thought, Daniel decides that the American Dream means getting rich no matter who gets in his way, so he enlists a couple of gym-rat pals (Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) to put on superhero costumes, kidnap the deli owner, and torture him until he signs over his house and property. Along the way the three bodybuilders suffer such misadventures as impotence, getting a toe shot off by police, and the malfunction of a Home Depot chainsaw they are using to try to cut the head and fingertips off a corpse.
The movie treats this nutty plan as an escapade, but with black comic irony. These killers are by no means lovable. And the viciousness of their actions isn’t sugar-coated at all. Despite the kinetic, ultra-modern style of the movie, its underlying stance on good and evil would not have angered the defunct film censor the Hays Office. Rule number one for crime movies was always: Crime must not pay. Rule number two: The criminal may be the most prominent character, but he can’t be the hero.
Both these rules were regularly broken in counterculture hits like Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But whereas the deaths of the bandits in those films fill us with sympathy, nothing of the kind is happening in Pain & Gain.
The stirring new movie 42 tells the story of how, in 1947 America, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) broke the unwritten rule about hiring black players and called up Negro League superstar Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to join his team. Robinson would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award and later the Most Valuable Player honors on the way to a Hall of Fame career.
What are the conservative lessons about Jackie Robinson’s life to be learned from 42?
1) Merit is colorblind.
Rickey (a lifelong Republican) tells Robinson he is hiring him for one reason: Robinson (who then played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League) was a baseball phenom and Rickey wants to win the World Series. This is Moneyball before Moneyball: Finding untapped talent others are ignoring. Rickey had in mind not only Robinson but Roy Campanella, the black catcher who would soon follow Robinson into the big leagues, as players who could help him win the Series and make money in the process. Rickey says there’s no black or white in sports, just green. Manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) tells the team, “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays.
For years now, Disney has taken great care of its classic films. The company pulls beloved videos in and out of the “Disney Vault,” both as a clever marketing strategy and as a way to share the best of the best (along with the occasional Eisner-era cheapquel) with new generations of enthusiasts. The advent of new technology — from DVD to Blu-Ray to whatever a Platinum Edition is — means that the classics will remain in fans’ collections for years to come.
That is, except for one film. Believe it or not, one Disney classic has not seen the light of day since 1986. The company has kept it under wraps for over a quarter century in spite of two Oscars and a revolutionary blend of live action and animation — not to mention the fact that the film inspired a popular attraction that appears in three Disney theme parks. To this day, collectors scramble for bootleg copies — my brother owns two DVDs along with a VHS copy with Japanese subtitles — and at the shareholders’ meeting every year, someone inevitably asks CEO Bob Iger when the movie will finally make its way out of the Disney Vault.
The film? Song of the South. For years critics have derided the picture as an example of the racism of the first half of the 20th century, while fans of the Uncle Remus tales have long pleaded for Disney to rerelease this beloved classic.
The great Leonard Maltin has gone on record advocating Song of the South‘s release as recently as December 2012, in an article which:
…discusses the Walt Disney Treasures series. On these DVDs, Maltin himself introduces the cartoons which might now be considered “politically incorrect,” explaining how times have since changed. The article mentions possibly using this same approach for Song of the South:
“I very much hope that the folks at Disney will release ‘Song of the South’ sometime soon,” Maltin said, “and use this same approach — to be responsible in explaining the times it depicts and the attitudes of the period in which it was made.”
“Roger Ebert dies at 70 after battle with cancer,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times, the paper where he made his home for three decades:
For a film with a daring director, a talented cast, a captivating plot or, ideally, all three, there could be no better advocate than Roger Ebert, who passionately celebrated and promoted excellence in film while deflating the awful, the derivative, or the merely mediocre with an observant eye, a sharp wit and a depth of knowledge that delighted his millions of readers and viewers.
“No good film is too long,” he once wrote, a sentiment he felt strongly enough about to have engraved on pens. “No bad movie is short enough.”
Ebert, 70, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, and who was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic, died Thursday in Chicago. He had been in poor health over the past decade, battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland.
He lost part of his lower jaw in 2006, and with it the ability to speak or eat, a calamity that would have driven other men from the public eye. But Ebert refused to hide, instead forging what became a new chapter in his career, an extraordinary chronicle of his devastating illness that won him a new generation of admirers. “No point in denying it,” he wrote, analyzing his medical struggles with characteristic courage, candor and wit, a view that was never tinged with bitterness or self-pity.
Always technically savvy — he was an early investor in Google — Ebert let the Internet be his voice. His rogerebert.com had millions of fans, and he received a special achievement award as the 2010 “Person of the Year” from the Webby Awards, which noted that “his online journal has raised the bar for the level of poignancy, thoughtfulness and critique one can achieve on the Web.” His Twitter feeds had 827,000 followers.
Unfortunately, Twitter revealed the intense far left biases and raging misanthropy inside Ebert, which did much to tarnish the family-friendly middlebrow tone of his previous movie criticism. Ebert’s embrace of the unfiltered medium erased much of the good will he developed through his years of co-hosting his weekly TV series At the Movies with Gene Siskel, his fellow Chicago-based critic, who himself had passed away in 1999.
Ironically, both men warned of the dangers of political correctness in the early 1990s:
GENE SISKEL: You have to summon up the courage to say what you honestly feel. And it’s not easy. There’s a whole new world called political correctness that’s going on, and that is death to a critic to participate in that.
EBERT: Political correctness is the fascism of the ‘90s. It’s kind of this rigid feeling that you have to keep your ideas and your ways of looking at things within very narrow boundaries, or you’ll offend someone. Certainly one of the purposes of journalism is to challenge just that kind of thinking. And certainly one of the purposes of criticism is to break boundaries; it’s also one of the purposes of art. So that if a young journalist, 18, 19, 20, 21, an undergraduate tries to write politically correctly, what they’re really doing is ventriloquism.
I suspect that will be the Ebert that will be remembered by posterity, ironically, before he allowed his opinions to be consumed by what he correctly dubbed “the fascism of the 1990s” — and beyond.
(Clicking on the Drudge Report, where I first saw news of Ebert’s death, I also hope the horrific photo of Ebert after his cancer, with much of his jaw removed will somehow be removed from circulation. But alas, our less-than-middlebrow culture won’t allow that to happen unfortunately.)
Update: At the Breitbart.com Conversation, John Sexton quotes this beautiful passage from Ebert, recorded for the commentary on the DVD of Dark City (the thinking man’s Matrix) before PC consumed Ebert’s journalism:
More: Before Ebert’s middlebrow movie critic phase, and final days as an archliberal polemicist, he was a screenwriter for Russ Meyers’ late ’60s and early ’70s sexploitation movies, including Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Ebert wrote the camp classic line, “This is my happening and it freaks me out!”, which would be spoofed by Mike Myers in the first Austin Powers movie — which Ebert himself mentioned in his review.
Kathy Shaidle has that phase of Ebert’s career covered, in a post with quotes and videos. Plus a great catch, finding a remarkably unthoughtful gaffe by the Chicago Sun-Times in Ebert’s obit.
This week, the rehabilitation of the most extreme of the New Left groups — the Weather Underground — entered a new stage.
Yesterday, the New York Post revealed that convicted felon Kathy Boudin — who was released from jail a decade ago after serving 22 years for her role as getaway driver in a deadly 1981 Brinks truck robbery — was given the position of adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work.
At the same time, Boudin was also(!) given a position held concurrently at New York University, where she was appointed Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence. She recently gave a lecture for that program on “the politics of parole and re-entry,” something which she obviously knows about.
There are, of course, many other candidates who could have been given both positions, and none of them were part of a leftist terrorist group whose action resulted in the death of the first African-American police officer in that area, and two other police officers. Two of the three had families; children grew up without their fathers.
When she was pulled over, Boudin shouted to the officers whose guns were drawn: “Put the gun back.” They put their revolvers in their holsters.
At that point — as the officers went to inspect the back of the van she was driving — her cohorts came out with weapons blazing, killing the two policemen and one other who had joined in pursuit.
Boudin was never repentant.
As David Horowitz points out today at NRO:
[Boudin is a] murderess who betted the cold-blooded massacre of three law-enforcement officers, including the first African-American on the Nyack police force; a woman whose actions left nine children fatherless and who has shown no genuine remorse for that.
I’ve asked movie and music industry insiders to explain their respective businesses to me, and never end up any smarter than I start out.
How can Lyle Lovett’s album sales amount to $0.00?
How can Return of the Jedi still be in the red?
Or take Ed Driscoll’s post last week called “Hollywood’s Special Effects Industry is in Crisis”:
As Life of Pi won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, the venerable facility that created those effects – Rhythm & Hues – declared bankruptcy, and they’re hardly the first to close their doors due to financial problems. Debra Kaufman pulls from her 25 years of experience covering the industry to take a close look at how the creators of some of cinema’s indelible images are falling prey to dysfunctional business models.
As you’ve likely guessed, the bloated, ever-evolving technology required to bring those Jurassic Park raptors to virtual life is so costly, it burdens production companies with insurmountable debt.
We often read about how many weeks or months — or even years — it takes to create glossy special effects that last only seconds on screen.
Is that really a sound business model or a smart, efficient way to make anything?
I hear Buddhism is big in Hollywood, but surely they’re not basing their creative process on the making of sand mandalas – are they?
It wasn’t always like this…
There was a time when Opening Day of the baseball season was one of the most anticipated annual events in America. For most Americans, the significance of the day transcended sport, marking the welcome change of season, and the arrival of warm weather and an alteration in the landscape from burnt umber to a glorious green. The day also rekindled hope in the breasts of baseball fans everywhere. Everyone had a favorite team whether you lived in a city with a pro franchise or not, and before any wins or losses were tallied, the dream of post-season glory was alive in every beating heart.
For those born after 1970, it is difficult to describe the hold that baseball had on the national consciousness. Today, despite record-setting attendance at ballparks, gigantic television contracts, and four 24-hour sports networks, Major League Baseball has fallen from its perch as the most dominant game in America, replaced by football in the hearts and minds of sports fans.
There are a plethora of reasons why this is so. Overexposure is a big one. When baseball was king, there were only one or two nationally televised games a week. Even if you were lucky enough to live in a city with a pro franchise, roughly half the games would be televised. I have fond memories of taking a transistor radio to bed, hiding under the covers to listen to Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Elson call a West Coast game, or sitting on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon with the game on the radio and the family gathered around.
Today, every single game is televised, with the all-sports cable networks broadcasting replays and highlights all day long. Something special went out of the game when baseball became so ubiquitous. It lost some of its mystique, its perception as a special event.
I wrote this back in 2005, while the White Sox were making their magical run to a World Series crown:
While there are many that bemoan the fall of baseball from its preeminent position as the number one sport in America, you cannot escape the fact that the game has fallen victim to what is the essence of America itself: an unalterable and inexorable fact of life in this country that things do not remain the same, that society and culture are in a constant state of motion.
America has changed. Baseball hasn’t.
Baseball couldn’t change. The game itself is draped in tradition, in memory. There is no other game seen through the prism of remembrance quite like baseball. Sitting on the back porch in 1950s and ’60s suburbia listening to the hissing, static filled play-by-play on radio while the fireflies blinked to announce their presence and the sweet smell of Jasmine filled the nostrils with the scent of summer, of family, of a shared passion. Or perhaps in the city you sat on the front stoop with every other house on the block blaring out the call of the game, a broadcast legend conducting a city wide symphony of sound, mothers with babies, fathers with sons, and the young, the old, laughing, talking, arguing, loving. A neighborhood, a community united around a passion so intense that enmities were temporarily forgotten as “the boys” or “the bums” performed extraordinary feats of effortless athleticism with both the workmanlike attitude of the blue collar hero and the pizazz of a circus performer.
Yes, that America existed at one time. And while memory may skew some of the details and gloss over much of the unseemly realities from those times, there is no doubt that baseball for much of the country occupied a privileged position in the hearts and minds of the people. In a time before the total saturation of sports, before ubiquitous replays, before free agency made players into hobos, before steroids turned the players into Frankenstein monsters, before rape trials and murder trials and divorces and scandal after scandal there was the pitcher, the batter, and the lovely dance of strategy and possibility. To bunt or not to bunt. To swing away or hit and run. To pitch out, or put the rotation” play on, or simply to play “straight up.” This was actually part of the national conversation when baseball was king.
Week 8 of my second 13 week season: low carb diet and more exercise, tracking my weight, blood glucose, and body fat. You can follow me at my 13 Weeks Facebook page for daily updates, and you can join Fitocracy (free!) and follow my daily exercise, and maybe even start tracking your own.
A few days ago, PJ Lifestyle ran an excerpt from Leonard Mosely’s book Disney’s World, in which Walt Disney, in a letter to his partner Ub Iwerks, expressed his frustration with the his first sound cartoon, the now-iconic Steamboat Willie.
He’s pretty depressed. he doesn’t like Hollywood, he doesn’t like being away from home, and he’s losing confidence in the still-unfinished film. You can see why, when he was having trouble selling the idea, and animation is a frustrating process anyway. This was in the days of the most primitive hand-drawn animation, where every frame of the film had to be hand drawn on clear acetate, with tiny changes from frame to frame. Twenty-four times for each second of film. In this 7 minute 23 second film, that’s something like 10,600 frames. He was tired, and he was bored, and he had trouble seeing any progress.
Why did this strike me, he asked rhetorically? Well, it reminds me of my ongoing glucose/bodyfat/weight project. Here I am, eight weeks into my second season, 147 days since I first started tracking this, and it’s a little frustrating and hard. I’ve been less diligent about the exercise, and I do find myself missing things I used to eat. Like chocolate. And pasta. And bread. And while I have lost some weight, it’s slow and the day to day variations make it hard to see. It’s like Disney must have felt — another 24 frames, another day’s work, and what did he have? Another lousy second of film. That no one wanted to distribute. He was past the initial excitement and into the slog.
Right now, this project feels much the same. I’m actually losing weight, and I can see changes — more muscle coming back to my arms, and to put it bluntly, my boobs are smaller. I’ve lost six inches around my waist, and I can feel that every time I put on a pair of pants that were in the back of the closet because I hadn’t been able to wear them. But at the same time, the progress is a little slow and hard to see, and it’s a little hard to explain why it should matter to anyone — especially me.
But then I got thinking, and a little Excel-fu got me this. Here’s my actual weight, charted over the last sixty days, with a trend line. This is very much like the other charts I’ve been posting.
Trend line is down. This is good. It’s not down very fast, and the added muscle certainly explains that — but also notice that individuual weights vary pretty wildly around that trend line. So here’s another chart.
By Zeus, it’s been awhile since there’s been a decent shoot-em-up at the movies. But G.I. Joe: Retaliation will slake your need for gadgets, guns and explosions, and it’s even got some cool villains and funny jokes.
This one finds the super-secret team of elite military masters from all over the world up against the Zeus project by which the equally ferocious team of nasties known as Cobra hopes to rain down death and destruction on the earth. The Joes may have courage, comradeship and extremely large machine guns on their side but Cobra Commander and his crew have something that can top all that: They control the President (Jonathan Pryce) of the United States, who is actually a plant named Zartan. And what is Zartan up to? Only calling a world summit of the eight nuclear-armed powers and tricking them into doing his bidding.
When an action spectacular is willing to go all the way and have characters say things like, “The world will cower in the face of Zeus,” you know you’re in the frenzied land of pure junky comic-book energy, and on that level Retaliation works just fine. In the opening minutes alone, there are three big ker-blammo fight scenes involving the close-knit core members of the Joe team: There’s the wily old sergeant Roadblock (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson), the amiable but slightly dense captain Duke (Channing Tatum), the rookie Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and the slinky Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki).
I’ll be traveling over Easter and don’t think I’ll have time to blog, so I’ll leave a few mini-reviews to unroll day by day for your holiday viewing pleasure — or not.
— Oh, man, I so wanted to like this. Liam Neeson killing evil Muslims to get his kidnapped wife back? It worked once, why not again? Plus the critics hated it while the public ate it up, so I was all ready to side with the public. But, really, no. The characters are terribly written, the action is poorly choreographed. Poor Neeson looks like he needs to be rescued more than his family. There’s one scene where he’s in a Mexican standoff — evil Muslims have him and his wife at gunpoint; he’s holding a gun on them — and, so help me, he pauses to make a phone call! I was hoping he was calling his agent: “Get me out of here!” No such luck. A few days after I saw this, I was on the elliptical and Taken 1 came on TV. I was struck again by its taut structure, its expert suspense. Take my advice: watch the first one twice and forget 2.
Why Do Only French Actresses Have the Ability to be Mind-Shatteringly Beautiful While Still Looking Like Real People?
Basically, this monster French hit is a Magic Negro movie: you know, a warm/wise/passionate person of color brings warmth/wisdom/passion into the lives of stuffy old white folk. But it’s elevated above its shudder-inducing genre by a vastly charming script and two performances of such brilliance they would have elevated the phone book. Francois Cluzet is so unbelievably good as a quadriplegic millionaire, he brings the guy completely to life from the first scene using nothing but the expressions on his face. Omar Sy is delightful as the street tough who gets hired to help him out. And Audrey Fleurot — why is it only French actresses have the ability to be mind-shatteringly beautiful while still looking like real people? No wonder French guys never want to do any work! Anyway, it’s definitely worth watching all the way and the scene at the opera is classic. I like opera, and it still had me in stitches. Based on a true story. A real pleasure.