Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Trailer Trash 2

I meant to publish these like two years ago:

Taken 2

An unusually tasteful trailer for an action sequel, even for a series as well-regarded as Taken.  What's really surprising is that for a movie that didn't warrant a sequel in any way, it seems like the plot isn't as wildly contrived as it could have been.  In fact, it seems to take into account that the actions taken in the first movie will actually have consequences in the real world.  Alright, so it's not Dark Knight Rises, but it so easily could have been, "oh no, now his WIFE got kidnapped!"  I'm intrigued.


I've gushed before about Steven Spielberg's incredible visual talent... and I've whined about his ham-fisted attempts at representing human drama. If you've seen War Horse, you probably know what I mean. This looks like Spielberg in a similar mode--lots of schmaltz, not a lot in the way of difficult truths--portraying America's greatest president as a homely, saintly savior. War Horse-Face, if you will.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Oscar Recap

This is incredibly late, but I'd like to share a short article I wrote on the 2014 Academy Awards, originally published March 4 on
Usually, when the Oscar for Best Director goes to someone who didn't direct the Best Picture winner, I feel like the Academy members are just hedging their bets between something genuinely, excitingly good, and some other thing: draped in prestige, adorned with the gaudy earmarks of "excellence." I say, if a movie is beautifully shot, give it Best Cinematography; if it's well acted, give one of the actors the prize. And if we believe that a movie is truly great, then, as the film's primary author, the director should be rewarded for that achievement.  Right?
On Sunday evening, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the award for Best Director went to Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron, and that's exactly as it should have been. 12 Years a Slave is a powerful and provocative film, and maybe an important one; as another online commenter stated, this may be the first time a film about slavery has been created, at this scale, primarily by black artists (source material, screenplay, direction, performances, etc.). Every individual element of the film was absolutely on point and award-worthy, but the overall effect of the film, brought to life as it was by a huge, staggeringly talented cast of actors, was even more than the sum of these individual parts. This was a film that inevitably needed to happen.
Gravity, on the other hand, could be said to be lacking in certain respects; much of the screenplay seemed perfunctory. The acting--from two movie stars tethered eternally to their public personas--was, at times, flat and unconvincing. And yet, these arguably weaker elements function just well enough to support the realization of an inarguably epic and unique motion picture experience. Simultaneously minimalist in setting, plot, and characters, and at the same time delivering some of the biggest, loudest, and most terrifyingly intense CG thrills of any movie in years, nothing like Gravity would exist if not for the vision and determination of the artist at the film's helm. (Which of course, doesn't mean that Gravity didn't deserve its plethora of other Oscars, especially Emmanuel Lubezki's for Best Cinematography!)
I actually thought it was pretty cool that Sandra Bullock was nominated for Best Actress this year; she's not generally my favorite, and I honestly found her a bit grating during certain scenes of Gravity. But the thing you have to consider is that homegirl was being filmed for half hour stretches at a time, without cuts, delivering reams and reams of dialogue, all while hanging upside down in a rig, probably. If you consider the mental and physical strain of maintaining that performance, you really start to appreciate what she and the other filmmakers were able to accomplish. It's much easier to imagine the perfect movie, or snipe about how an existing movie could have been better, than it is to actually create something that obliterates the conventional movie mold, imperfect though it may be in its final form.
In many ways, it's insane to hold up two movies and decide that one is definitively better. But if we've all agreed to try, we owe it to the films we judge to take them for what they are, and appreciate their unique successes. Film is an art form, but it's also a technology. It can speak inspiring human truths, or delight in pure visual splendor. 12 Years a Slave is a technically perfect movie that just happens to be a brutal, cathartic exploration of the living evil that was invited as midwife to the birth of our nation; Gravity is a movie of wondrous artistic vision realized by technicians and computer effects wizards. I'd like to thank the Academy for honoring both.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

ART/WORK Part 6: Zorn in the USA

A lot of my artwork is inspired by the terrible jokes that constantly swirl around inside my head.  Or maybe the artwork and the jokes are the same thing.  

There is an exhibition of art right now at the Legion of Honor, where I sometimes work; it's called Anders Zorn, Sweden's Master Painter.  One of the main marketing images for the exhibition is a self portrait of Zorn himself, looking very serious and large, wearing an ostentatious red suit, and smoking a huge cigar.  

The image was used in advertisements, often on a cream backdrop, with the title of the exhibition in navy lettering underneath the image.  I had an idea for a joke, but I didn't have the necessary tools to create the piece of art to bring the joke to life.  My wife, however, has access to photoshop through her job, so I gave her a call, and we played a literal game of telephone in order to come up with this:

The blue is wrong, the backdrop too expansive, but the actual work of putting the head on the body is impeccable: joke successfully made.  The image was actually shared on the Legion of Honor's Instagram account!  (I also came up with the ad campaign slogans "Zorn in the USA!" and "A star is Zorn," but those didn't get any traction.)

I also made a small, joke-ish reference on the group report I sent out for Friday, December 13:

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a joke or art.

“Every artist is a cannibal…”

….every poet is a thief…”

I'm a little late to the party on this, but I was inspired by a blogpost I read to contribute my own take on the subject:

I’m not sure if you’ve been following the Prodigal Sam controversy. Prodigal Sam is a campus minister down in South Carolina, and has over 100,000 followers on Twitter by posting some pretty hilarious Tweets. As it turns out, some of them are riffs on other comedians stuff. Was he stealing? Was he borrowing?
Who cares, you ask? Especially considering Tweets aren’t exactly “Intellectual Property” like, say, a comedy special or a written book?
Silly people, SOMEONE ALWAYS cares about stupid crap. In this case,  comedians like Patton Oswalt  and Salon Magazine have gotten all fussy about it and piled on the poor guy. There is even a blog about it.  The tone of self righteousness and pseudo-intellectual drivel reminds me of the South Park episode where everyone craps out of their mouths.
Pssst, hey Patton and Salon, maybe you should listen to Picasso when he said, “Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal.”
You need an example? How about this example from the comic book world?
Zorro=Rich Noble who wears a disguise, rides a horse and fights injustice.
Batman=Rich play boy who wears a disguise, ride the Batmobile and fights injustice.
Patton Oswalt, Salon, and other self righteous types, give it a rest. Prodigal Sam just gave you tons of free publicity. Enjoy it. Stop your moaning. Stop piling on an obscure campus minister who just wants to make people laugh. He doesn’t make money off his Tweets.  He doesn’t really seek out fame, like you do. He isn’t seeking a movie deal, like you do. He didn’t steal your (cough) intellectual property.
So, seriously, enough already.
So, it seems as if Prodigal Sam is going to hang it up for awhile. Congrats, cyber bullies, you won. Hope you’re proud of your childish absurdity.

Monday, November 4, 2013

ART/WORK Part 5: Post-Halloween Edition

I try not to get overly sentimental when an exhibition leaves the museum where I work; hence these pictures I drew on my whiteboard work calendar to mark the closing dates of Girl with a Pearl Earring...

...and Impressionists on the Water.

And here's an extra special group report for Dia De Los Muertos:

It may seem counterintuitive, but this is how I work an office job for three years without completely losing my mind.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


A little over two weeks ago, Warner Brothers announced the actor who would be playing Batman in the sequel to last year's Man of Steel.  The announcement elicited quite a response from the internet.  Unfortunately, I can't speak to the full scope of the reaction; I tried to google it, and now my curser is a permanent spinning rainbow ball on my desktop.

As ridiculous as the online reaction was--especially, as so many pointed out, in the face the increasing likelihood of US military intervention in Syria following that nation's human rights violations--I actually kind of get it: as iconic and universally popular as Batman is, if you take a step back and really think about it objectively, the concept behind the character is ridiculous.  And so you have to be very careful when you cast Batman; you need someone who can embody an asinine concept and make it compelling.  While Ben Affleck has been experiencing something of a personal renaissance lately, the reaction to his casting speaks to the public's (correct) view of him as kind of a doofy actor, and their fear that the inherent ridiculousness of Batman would overwhelm his performance.  While my reaction to the casting wasn't nearly as visceral as most, I definitely think that fear is justified.

I think a big part of the reaction was due to the shock of the announcement; not because Ben Affleck is so objectively horrible, but because an Academy Award-winning writer-director at the height of his powers is a bizarre and unprecedented choice to play a superhero in a summer blockbuster.  And yet as odd a choice as it seems to be, you can understand why the studio would want a huge name attached to their movie.  What makes less sense is why Ben Affleck would choose to hang his newly revarnished star on this particular franchise.

I feel like the younger readers of this blog might not recall just how big a joke Ben Affleck had made of himself by the mid-2000s; this is a man who started near the top and imploded his own career with a string of ever-crappier chick flicks and action movies, until finally attempting a straight-up "comedy" at the very end of this cycle with the universally reviled Surviving Christmas.  Less and less people liked his movies; nobody liked his acting; and thanks to his odd, aggressively publicized relationship with Jennifer Lopez, people started to actively hate him as a person.

Plenty of celebrities have started their careers out strongly, only to fade into the fog of obscurity, but far fewer have fallen from such promise, or to such infamy, as Ben Affleck did.  And I can't think of anyone who went through what he did, and was then able to reinvent himself so thoroughly, and with such success.  It's hard to even think of an imaginary scenario with another's analogous career that could really put into perspective just how miraculous his rise back to the top was...  Maybe if Anna Nicole Smith had survived, gotten sober, gotten into shape, and acted her way to an Oscar, it would be a comparable story.

My point is this: Ben Affleck tried being a superhero in Daredevil, toward the end of the inadvertent kamikaze phase of his career; while it somehow garnered* a spinoff, it was critically and publicly despised.  A few years before that, he tried his hand at reviving a cinematic icon in The Sum of All Fears; while it performed modestly well, it wasn't enough to revive the Jack Ryan franchise.**  After going through all that he has, why would he choose to take a step back to fight these same battles yet again?  And why this movie, the sequel to a critically panned reboot with minimal fan respect?  Furthermore, Ben Affleck seems to be using the career of George Clooney as a guide to his own classy reinvention, right down to the obscenely manicured stubble; does he not remember Clooney's biggest late-90s blunder??

In the end, I just cannot get upset about this.  Less than a year ago, the concluding chapter of an instantly classic Batman film trilogy was released, directed by one of the most exciting, visionary filmmakers working today, and starring one of the best actors of his generation: no amount of misguided future iterations can take that away.  Did we really think it was going to be Christopher Nolans and Christian Bales from here on out?  If anything, the announcement of Ben Affleck's casting should remind us all of the minor miracle that the Dark Knight trilogy happened in the first place, in our lifetime, and make everybody who cares even remotely about Batman fall to their knees and give thanks to the all-powerful Bat-Being in the Sky.

*Pun intended.

**They're trying again (of course), this very year, with Chris Pine in the role of Jack Ryan, because of course they are.