Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer Lovin'

It's summer movie season, which means HUUUGE blockbusters of CG-epic proportions. So far, we have seen Thor. And when I saw Thor, I thought, "Hey, this summer could BE something." Because Thor is magnificent fun. Well crafted, nicely cast, a great-looking movie with a genuinely likable star at its core. Like the first Iron Man, the writers and director put their enthusiasm for the material and the fun of summer movies right out there. If they have fun, chances are that you will, too. And Thor delivers. There are approximately four billion other superhero movies coming out this summer. One prequel/sequel (X-Men) and the fourth movie in a franchise -- Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Its full name is Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides, because Disney bought the rights to Tim Powers' terrific novel. Which happens if you decide to make a pirate movie about the fountain of youth and would rather not be sued. I didn't have to see Pirates 4 to know that Tim Powers' book is far, far better than the film would be. But that's kind of a no-brainer. It's tough for ANY movie to be as good as a Tim Powers novel. However, I was kinda hoping that after the reception received by the last two Pirates movies that this one, due to its lofty parentage, would be fun. You know; like the first Pirates movie.

Incidentally, I will admit to a secret thrill at seeing Tim Powers' name on a big screen and a movie poster. But I would get a bigger thrill if it was for, say, Last Call, Declare or The Anubis Gates. No prequel/sequelness or Captain Jack nonsense attached.

I still haven't seen Pirates 4, but this guy has. And based on his review, well... just read it and come back.

Are we all here again? Good.

Pirates made a ton of money this weekend (I haven't looked. It's just an easy assumption to make, because if you call something a blockbuster, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy). What this says to Disney is, "PIRATES FUCKING FIVE." Because according to the box office (they used to call them receipts. So cute!), the moviegoing audience gave Pirates a big thumbs up. Now, it doesn't matter if the entire audience came out projectile vomiting because they hated it so much. What matters is, THEY PAID TO GET IN. And as we all know, getting someone to pay for something is the best thing to which we as a culture can aspire.

According to the reviews, Pirates 4 should be a huge failure. Because the reviews said it wasn't very good. Some of the reviews said it was less than not very good. But only this guy's review called you a cunt if you liked the movie. Because anyone writing for a publication -- anyone who lists "film reviewer" on his unemployment form, I mean, tax return -- will not call the audience cunts. They just won't. Nor will they call out a studio for being cynical. They MAY have some harsh words for directors (although when they hate a film, they'll mostly blame the writers), and maybe they hate a performance, but there's a LINE, see, an invisible but well known Maginot line for how far you can go in your criticism when you are a part of the machine.

Dude who actually writes an honest review of a film that encompasses the larger, more cynical, hateful world of entertainment? He isn't working for Entertainment Weekly. He's a guy who paid to go see a movie. Disney didn't invite him to the set, or the premiere. He didn't get to have his picture taken with Johnny Depp. He doesn't work at Ain't It Cool News.

He's just a guy. An audience member. And although Disney gladly accepted his money, he has a voice and Goddam it, he's going to use it. If scores on Rotten Tomatoes really counted, if people like this guy wrote reviews on their phones as they were sitting through the credits, IF IT MATTERED, then eventually, over time, MAYBE, movies would get better. At the very least, studios that foist crap onto an audience that willingly swallows it might, for a second, BLINK. But if an audience keeps turning out for bad movies, like they will no doubt turn out for the execrably reviewed Hangover 2: Electric Boogaloo, then why shouldn't a studio keep making them? A studio -- a corporation -- has one main goal: To Make Money.

If you are a part of the machine, one of its cogs, that big bit at the center that everyone thinks is so crucial, or a rusty part that works really hard but doesn't get any of the credit, you do not share your opinion of "If you liked this movie, you are a cunt." There are truths that are known in this business, but unless you want to just pack up and leave, you don't acknowledge them. And even film reviewers and TV journalists are a part of this machine. So when people wonder why entertainment isn't as good as they think it should be, all they have to do is point-blank ask someone in the business what their real opinion is of something and their tepid, avoidy answer will tell you everything you need to know.

It's going to take the audience to stop fostering this belief that just because you call something a blockbuster, that makes it so. And sure, it'll happen one person at a time, but guys, you have the Internet. You have social networking. If there's nothing to dissuade the general masses from seeing lousy movies (and again, I haven't seen Pirates so I'm only going by this guy's review, because HELLO, look at what I said above about being avoidy), there IS something to be said for seeing the bad movie, and then being LOUD about it.

It isn't going to come from the industry itself. It's going to come from the audience. So when you see something you don't like, speak up. And while you're at it, stop watching reality shows too, okay?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat

I watched the Kentucky Derby last week. Don't worry, this isn't a post about horse racing. You can keep reading. It's a post about how the coverage made me want to rip hats off heads and shove them down throats.

When I started watching racing, all we had on TV were the Triple Crown races. You turned on a network, and they showed you the horses, had analysts talk about them, then they went into the gate and ran. It was an adorable time, where TeeVee graphics were fuzzy colored squares, they didn't know from fonts, and any post-race analysis included only the race footage you just watched. There were no other angles. There wasn't a blimp. And there wasn't a computer graphic that made the race look like a video game.

This has happened in other sports, too, as you all well know. But only horse racing seems to have no idea what to do with it.

There were not, however, dim, fancy women whose only job is to speak into a microphone. And when I say "only job," if you can find me something else that Maria Menounous is supposed to do, by all means tell me. I don't know who this bint is, or where she's from, but I suspect she comes at me from some type of entertainment TeeVee show. It's one thing to have one of these dim birds pop out of her tree for a minute or two while she gives local color or shows us a fancy hat but I AM NOT KIDDING YOU, she was onscreen the majority of the time. Whenever the camera went back to, I don't know, A HORSE or Gary Stevens it was actually jarring. Your brain goes, "Oh, right, there's a sport happening here." As one of these idiots said, "The other part of the event is the horses." Oh really? The OTHER part? You know what was for you? The Royal Wedding. Now fuck off.

I need to have a conversation with whoever "produced" this coverage. Aside from the offense of it all, there's a practical side: Who is your audience? To whom are you trying to appeal? Either it's a show on fashionable hats hosted by the Real Housewives, or it's a fucking sports event. You tried to have it both ways and you completely failed. So thanks, producer of NBC Sports, for setting horse racing -- and women -- back. Can't wait to see how you handle the Preakness, especially since there are no hats.

But the horrendous Derby coverage wasn't the only iffy gender thing this week. Networks announced their fall/midseason pickups. I haven't read everything so I'm not enraged/delighted that certain shows didn't get picked up, but of the pilots I read that DID get picked up, they were among the best written. So that's actually a positive for the fall season.

Mostly, people online are going, "Where's 17th Precinct? What happened to Locke & Key? Wasn't Wonder Woman a lock? JJ Abrams only got TWO shows picked up? WTF?" But over at Deadline, they had a curious take on the fall lineup.

Intrepid reporter Nellie Andreeva broke down the pilot pickups by gender testing. In other words, which shows tested best with which sex. Because as we all no doubt are aware, women won't watch boy shows and boys won't watch female shows. No men watch Glee, for example. Singing! GAH! And no women will watch cop shows. Like Southland, I guess. Because of guns and language and scary scary stuff.

While everyone is attempting to analyze what the fall schedules mean (maybe even get a hint towards what development will be when it opens up in a month or so), it's this kind of stereotyping that leads directly to failures. This is why testing is so wrong-headed. The notion that 17th Precinct would be primarily male-oriented is just the dumbest thing I've heard since America's Next Top Model bleated about fascinators on the Derby telecast. Once again, everybody proves how little they understand the mind of the genre lover. Rather than designing shows aimed towards one age group or one gender, isn't it a better idea to just be SMART about what works for you? CBS has figured this out, and as a result they have an entire week of cross-promotion they can do. Networks look at what works, and then they try to expand that niche and the only way to do THAT is to put shows on that can be launched smartly behind or ahead of hits, and for God's sake, use cross-promotion. If you have one cop show night and four soap/reality nights, your cop shows are gonna take a hit because it's tough to promote during shows that are so different.

That doesn't mean that men are watching one and women the other. It just doesn't, no matter how much people want to put Americans into their little box (aside to politicians: The next asshat who says "working families" gets spam in their inbox). But people are just so grimly determined to continue this nonsense because testing takes individuals and turns them into percentages and ratios, and then businessfolk who wouldn't know a creative endeavor if it threw paint on their Maseratis use these numbers to crank out the kind of TeeVee you DO want to watch, because THAT'S WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY.

I would rather see reporters/online personality analysts talking about the programming as it relates to each network than once again boxing up women and soaps and men and cop shows. Programming is that puzzle that nobody seems to want to discuss, and since I find it rather fascinating, I have NO idea why. But based on the network pickups, they've all done enough to make it easier on themselves when they finalize the schedules. So that'll be interesting to take a look at when the schedules are announced next week.

There was another rather wrong-headed article the other day, this one in the LA Times. The headline is DOOM!!!!! "A dramatic decline for network dramas." OH NOES! Oh wait. It's about how few of last year's new shows are coming back this year and of course, once again, serialization is blamed. Because it's NO FUN when you can't arbitrarily single out that one crucial element for blame/praise. This is why Matthew McConaughey was supposed to be the next big thing. Or Julia Ormond. Remember? Rather than acknowledging that the sum of a film or TV show's parts is responsible for its success, or realize that the film/show came out at the exact right time and addressed a particular mood or direction the country was going in, they have to go, "It's clearly Bradley Cooper."

Okay, yes, it IS Bradley Cooper, but that's beside the point.

Here's one thing you can't do with a serialized drama -- run it for a few weeks, take it off for a few months, bring it back, preempt it, then hem and haw about its fate. As far as the rules of TeeVee go, that's a pretty fundamental one. This is one big reason why serialized dramas work better on cable than they do on network. They run straight through for 13 episodes, then they come out on DVD. Viewers know that they are going to get AT LEAST a full season, so they will sign on. But how many people go, "I won't bother watching that. They'll just cancel it." But there's also a difference between a drama so serialized that the only thing that's close-ended is the season finale, and a show that's a good balance of both serialization and close-ended episodes. A BIG difference. And the problem becomes that the networks swing too hard the other way, and say "We literally do not want anything that bleeds over from this episode to the next, except for the characters." But see, THAT bores people, just as shows that are too serialized don't get new viewers. There is a balance, and shows have been very successful doing this in the past. It's not impossible and believe me, all TeeVee writers who've pitched pilots go in with that balance.

But fuck it, because women watch Glee and men watch Southland.

Give me a break.