Thursday, February 26, 2015
Watching ABC from 8:30 to 9:30 last night (February 25) offered a stark contrast in the execution of two sitcoms. Up first was "The Goldbergs," which attempted to one-up its '80s references by recreating "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and then there was "Modern Family," which decided to make an entire episode based around FaceTime and Messages. The former was excellent, the latter felt like an extended Apple commercial.
"The Goldbergs" is no stranger to doing '80s-based things. In fact, that's almost its raison d'être. After all, much like "The Wonder Years" before it, "The Goldbergs" takes place in a past decade and explores what growing up was like during it.
What really impresses me though about the way "The Goldbergs" goes about things is that they successfully get away with an "it was 1980-something" opening on a weekly basis rather than offering a specific year. They haphazardly jump around to just about every year in that decade as they lampoon/honor specific moments of popular culture from the time. We have seen "Back to the Future," "E.T.," "TRON," "The Goonies," "Transformers: The Movie," many videogames, and a whole lot more.
All of those things are unquestionably a part of my childhood, but from different moments in it. Unlike Adam Goldberg the character on the series, I wasn't the same age when I saw "TRON" on the big screen and when I first heard a New Kids on the Block song. As I say though, the time jumping doesn't make a bit of difference. I am about a year younger than creator Adam Goldberg, have always been an avid consumer of pop culture, and each of the references, no matter when they're from, speak to my childhood.
Last night, the series attempted to top itself, by going full on Ferris Bueller. The plot mimicked the movie, the clothes mimicked the movie, they had guest stars to mimic the movie, the list went on and on. Even better, it didn't simply accept Ferris' shenanigans, it pointed out some of the foolishness of the film – the car got stolen, Beverly (the mom, played brilliantly every week by Wendi McLendon-Covey) didn't buy the fake Ferris-in-bed contraption, kids complained at the museum about "stranger danger," and more. Each reference though felt just about perfect, including both Barry and Adam wanting to be Ferris (because who would ever choose to be Cameron… sorry Alan Ruck!).
I laughed far more during that half hour of television than I usually do watching TV. The more I watch "The Goldbergs," the more I want to see what moment of my childhood they're going to mock next and I can't wait to see them do it.
Then came "Modern Family," a show which I have followed devoutly through the years. I was excited to see last night's highly promoted episode about modern communication. It seemed like the perfect thing for the show to lampoon – my extended family is a large one and the flow of communication is constant and the various ways in which it occurs is ever-changing.
The episode took place entirely from Claire's desktop on her Mac laptop (they didn't specify regular, Pro, or Air) as she tried to work out what was happening with her family while she was out of town. We saw a whole lot of FaceTime and a whole lot of Messages. Apparently everyone in the family, be they Pritchett or Dunphy or Tucker, uses an Apple device. Sometimes it's an iPhone, sometimes it's an iPad, but it's always an Apple device, we know this because of the number of FaceTime calls.
"Modern Family" did eschew actually showing these devices, but it still became insanely distracting. It couldn't have been that difficult to mock-up some generic video call app window for Claire's computer and another for sending IMs and not doing so made the inclusion of Apple branding feel purposeful. Perhaps the goal was to situate the viewer in the real world, but instead it just made the entire thing feel like an extended commercial which was only punctuated by actual commercials.
The issue was unfortunate as I think the story they were trying to tell, and the manner in which they were trying to do it, was great. It cannot have been easy to film and then edit the show. In fact, I would bet it was far more difficult than a traditional episode. It was different and would have felt fresh, real, and honest had they just taken it one step away from the actual world.
There then is our tale of two shows -- "Modern Family" offered a clever idea which fell flat due to the execution, while just before it "The Goldbergs" upped their game by perfectly executing every moment. It doesn't always happen that way, but it did last night.
photo credit: ABC/Greg Gayne
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Today's "Lass is More" minisode delves into one of my most hated topics -- the use of a cellphone at the movie theater. If you ask me, we are far too wrapped up in our own lives, in what we have going on, and texting at the movies is perhaps the best example of this.
Whipping your phone out while at the theater does bother those around you. It does hurt the moviegoing experience for others. The needs of the many are greater than the needs of the few (or the one).
I do my best to remain calm in the minisode (embedded below), but I'm not going to lie to you, it bothers me tremendously and it should bother you as well. It is okay to put the phone away for two hours, and if it's not, odds are you shouldn't be at the movies in the first place.
You can subscribe to "Lass is More" on iTunes, and don't forget to leave feedback – we're reachable at email@example.com.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
The designation "expert" matters in this world, whether we choose to admit it or not.
I may be a day late on this, but I've been pondering the Academy Awards ceremony and beyond just thinking "Birdman" was a great choice, I find myself (along with a myriad of others) dismayed at the article in The New York Times which suggests that maybe "American Sniper" should have won because that's what audiences voted for with their wallets. What sort of hogwash is that?
Before I go further, I have to tell you—in case you're unaware—I'm an unabashed lover of big Hollywood movies. Perhaps much to the chagrin of my grad school professors many a year ago, I am anything but elitist.
Back to the issue at hand – the best movie isn't necessarily the movie which made the most money. Is that really the criteria by which we rank films? No. And I'll tell you why – it's idiotic as criteria, completely idiotic.
Just at a base level, people pay to see a movie before they know if they like it, so ticket sales can't be a measure. Sure, they've heard from folks and so a movie having "legs" does so based upon word of mouth which presumably means that people like it, but a big opening is, in no small part, based on people's presumptions of what they will like (and that doesn't even get into the marketing aspect of opening a movie).
I do however love the notion of people paying on the way out of a movie theater rather than on the way in. How cool would that be? You see the usher at the door and explain that movie "X" was worth only $5 (terrible dialogue, poor projection, bad sound mixing), and then the next week hand over $12 because movie "Y" was brilliant start to finish.
Jumped the track again there, didn't I?
Yeah, well, so I think so did "American Sniper." (SPOILERS!!) It may start off well, but "Sniper" has no real discussion about the pros or cons of the war, and worse there is no dealing whatsoever with what Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) seemed to be facing in terms of PTSD. We see him going downhill through a number of years; his wife repeatedly tells him there are issues in his behavior; he makes it back to the States but doesn't go see his wife and kids; and then, magically, he explains to one doctor on one occasion that the problem is only that he couldn't save more folks. That isn't what we see on the rooftop in the climactic action sequence, nor is it in any way the outgrowth of the other issues.
True or not (I am not qualified to argue that), it feels like a cop out, like a movie which has no desire to actually have to deal with the results of the dramatic tension it has built for the past two hours. It is a disappointing ending in a movie which I otherwise thought was pretty good.
Fine though, forget "Sniper."
Here is the simple truth of it all – awards, for the most part, are not a popularity contest decided by the masses. Sure, there are awards ceremonies built entirely around the populace voting, but by and large that isn't how it's done.
Now, we circle back to the beginning, for whatever reason we as a society have decided that experts are useless. Folks feel like they know more about vaccines than doctors who have studied for years. Scientists who have studied it by and large agree about climate change. Many folks who haven't studied it disagree. Evolution? Why accept the views of those who have spent decades trying to figure out whether or not it has happened. A state lawmaker in Idaho asked a doctor on Monday if women could swallow a small camera to do a remote GYN exam on women, and this guy is one of the folks deciding women's medical issues (you don't really believe the backpedaling that it was a rhetorical question, do you?).
Experts aren't always right, but they're experts for a reason. "The masses feel differently" isn't a valid rebuttal.
I don't think this year's ceremony was brilliant, but I do believe that many of the films were. And, more importantly than that, while I may question what I hear from experts, while I may do research on my own, I give added weight to expert testimony, whatever the field of study. Education and years of experience matter.
We are not all experts on every subject, nor should we be, but we should have respect for those who are an expert in a given field. It could be that if you know more about something than someone else your opinion should count for more.
photo credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Warner Bros.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Last week, I was at DisneyWorld.
Why? Because my kids have a week off in February and they love the place. Why else? Because I love the place.
There is, it seems to me, a sort of wide-eyed naiveté ascribed to folks who love that place in Orlando, and one which I think is incorrect. If you like theme and/or amusement parks, nobody does it better than Disney and nowhere that I have been is as good as DisneyWorld.
You may be able to find parks with bigger thrills or flashy new rides (not that Disney isn't constantly offering something new), but there is an attention to detail and seeming desire to impress across the board about Disney that other parks fail to match. If you only go to DisneyWorld, you may be impressed by it, but it's only when you go elsewhere that you can truly recognize the stark contrasts.
Twice in the past 18 months or so I have been to Hershey Park. I stayed at the nicer of their accommodations, and was truly wowed by the place, but the park itself is rather lackluster. Some of the tracks of the rollercoasters are great, but they lack the theming of a Disney ride. Travel on a rollercoaster at Hershey and you may love the flips, loops, ups and downs, and the rest, but you're going to be staring out at the terribly bland park the entire time while you're on the ride.
No, don't think that's irrelevant, it's entirely the point. The best rides tell a story, they make you believe while you're on the ride. Heck, the make you believe before you're on the ride. Go to Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom at DisneyWorld and while you're waiting on line before you board the coaster, you travel through a museum all about the Yeti, one which mixes Yeti myth with true facts about animals in the area around Everest. It is brilliant and sets the stage for what's to come. More rides than not at Disney take such an approach, while at other parks it tends to be just a back-and-forth queue.
I don't really want to single out other places and their issues too much, but give me one more. Take a look at the names of some of the coasters at Hershey: Comet, Fahrenheit, Sidewinder, SooperDooperLooper, and Skyrush to name a few. Sure, there's a Cocoa Cruiser, but that's where the chocolate references end. They are just coasters, popped down in the park because there's space and a desire to add. Or that's how it feels anyway. It wouldn't take a lot to have renamed them to fit the Hershey mold or to gussy up the way they look either, but it's not a priority there. The ride is enough for them, but it shouldn't be (and many of the rides are exceptionally similar to things you can find elsewhere).
Imagine if, today, Disney just tossed down a coaster (any ride really) and didn't bother to do more than have the track/cars exist. It's unfathomable, and when the Imagineers are really doing their thing, you end up with brilliant interactive queues that allow kids (and adults) to play while they wait for their turn on the ride itself.
It isn't just on the ride and on the line for the ride, either. It is an attention to detail throughout the park. Go by the new Dumbo ride in the Magic Kingdom and there are fake peanut shells cemented into the walkway. Animal Kingdom has fake animal prints all over the place. Even the hotels on property offer up such amusements.
Without a doubt, some of the rides and areas fall short on this – perhaps most notably the Aerosmith Rock 'n' Roller Coaster line and the one for the Barnstormer. But those are the exception not the rule.
Then there are the people – surly employees are the extreme exception at Disney. In fact, everyone seems to go out of their way to make your experience better. The individuals working rides know how to actually manage the queue and the load and unload process. The same cannot be said of other parks, and the difference is a large one – when the employees know what they're doing, they can get people on and off faster, greatly reducing wait times. The people working at a restaurant or elsewhere at Disney also seem to actually care about how you're doing and offering up the best experience possible.
The thing is, that this is what happens even when there isn't money at stake.
At Disney Hollywood Studios there is a Jedi Training show, where kids can sign up to be trained to use a lightsaber on a stage by the Star Tours ride. After a brief walkthrough of some moves, the kids get to "battle" Darth Vader. It is a show held multiple times every day and one which costs nothing for the participants over park admission.
Cynics out there may suggest that the reason Disney does everything so well (even the things they do for free) is to indoctrinate you, to brand you. After all, they are convincing you to buy their product whether it's on TV, in a park, at the movies, in a store, or any one of who know how many other places.
When you go to Hershey or Six Flags or Universal, aren't they all selling you on it the entire way? And, would you really want to go if they stopped caring about you the moment you ponied up the price of admission?
Going to a theme (or amusement) park is all about the experience. It is entirely about what happens after you pay to get in. DisneyWorld does that experience better than anyone else. They do it with MagicBands and monorails and restaurants where the surly are made to sing "I'm a Little Teapot."
They want you to have fun, to enjoy yourself, and to leave looking forward to your next trip and I do, every time.
Friday, February 13, 2015
The third episode of "Lass is More" is now live, and what's more, I think that content-wise it's our best yet. It is certainly our longest episode, but I don't think that my old 11th grade English teacher's adage about 10 lbs. of BS smells worse than one applies here.
The talk is with Jonas Elrod of "In Deep Shift with Jonas Elrod," an OWN series which features Elrod talking to folks who have experienced massive life changes following a crisis. Every week, Elrod talks to someone else and we get to see their story unfold.
One of the central tenets of Elrod's world view is that we are all on a spiritual journey, whether we know it or not. It's an interesting claim, but clearly one that Elrod has considered deeply. We talk about it in the interview and I try to hit a deeper understanding of where Elrod is coming from and just how he sees things. Whether you're a believer or not, Elrod makes an interesting case.
Listen below, subscribe on iTunes, and don't forget to leave feedback – we're reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
I had the oddest of experiences this week – for the first time ever, I walked into a room for an interview at a movie junket and didn't introduce myself as being from HitFix. Instead, I was from IGN (as a freelancer).
It got me thinking about how I got to this point. I can't say that it was ever my goal to sit down with filmmakers and actors about their projects – it all came about as a natural growth of the job I was already doing and I was insanely scared when it all began. I did my last junket interview for HitFix almost exactly two years after I did my first, and over the course of the 24 months the experience changed completely.
I don't mean to say that I don't still get butterflies. In fact, before I attend any junket I think of Willie Beamen, Jamie Foxx's character from "Any Given Sunday." Beamen, as you may recall had a little, uncontrollable, ritual – in a terrible case of nerves he vomited before his games. I am not that bad, but I have a definite lack of ease before I go into any room.
The important thing, as I see it, is to still go. I don't believe that fear is the mind-killer, except in excess. As I tell my daughter, being afraid is okay, it's normal to be afraid, what you can't let fear do is stop you from pressing forward when you should keep moving. That is why, as a bundle of nerves, I stepped into the room for that first interview.
What was the worst case scenario there? I didn't know any of the people at these junkets, they didn't know me, and if I did a horrible job and my footage was unusable I simply wouldn't do anymore.
The results were by no means brilliant, but they were good enough to get me to the next junket. The result there was good enough to get me to the next and the next and the next.
In the end, two years saw me do 130 interviews for HitFix. Some were better and some were worse, but there isn't a single one that I haven't looked back on and seen some way I could improve, some way that I could have done it better, followed up differently, or phrased something in just a slightly different fashion so as to elicit something more from whomever was in the chair opposite me.
I can't imagine a time when I'll ever walk into a room and not be afraid. I told that to someone recently, and they said that was good, that if I ever stopped being scared I should find something else to do. I certainly don't want to find something else to do, I love this.
Actually, truth be told, I have a list. I have a list of interviews that I want back, ones that didn't go as well as I wanted. I want to sit down with each and every one of those people again, not to rehash the old movie or interview (nothing ever went badly enough that they would be remembered by anyone but me), but just because I want another shot at them.
I have another list as well, one of people I'd like to get five minutes (or more) with. I imagine that anyone who does these interviews has just such a list – there are people I see on screen (big or small) who just mesmerize me and I'd like the opportunity to talk with them to try to figure out about that special something.
Twice in those 130 interviews for HitFix, I sat down with Jamie Foxx, but never in a one-on-one. Both times, there were other people on Foxx's side whom I was interviewing as well. Because of that I didn't feel right telling him about my Willie Beamen moments. Eventually though, there will come another movie and another junket and maybe I'll get the chance.
photo credit: Sony Pictures
Friday, February 06, 2015
Jay Black is a comedian, but he's not just a comedian. He's also a writer and an actor. Tonight, ION is going to premiere a new movie which he co-wrote and also stars alongside Scott Wolf and Courtney Ford.
We spoke to Black for "Lass Is More" and got his view not just on the movie, comedy, and you avoid making the tale of a search for a new husband for your current wife creepy. Black also tells us what he likes about yoga (the pants) and hates (more or less everything else).
Listen, enjoy, and tell all your friends about it. Not just because you want to, but because I want you to.
Here's the iTunes link and you can click the stream below to check out without ever leaving this page.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Now, I say it's "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," but it isn't. It's actually " The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her," " The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him," and " The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them."
Yup, it's three films, and until you see them all, I'm not sure you can understand just how great the whole thing is. This is the same tale, told from the woman's point of view, the man's point of view, and a joint point of view. Maybe something like "Rashomon" if it were three separate movies.
The movie(s) star Jessica Chastain as Eleanor Rigby and James McAvoy as Conor Ludlow, the her and the him in question. A married couple, they are struggling with the loss of their child which has created a rift in their marriage. On the face of it then, it sounds like a perhaps interesting (maybe not entirely new) story.
Watching "Them" first, I was impressed by the acting, intrigued by the tale, and liked the back and forth nature of how it unfolded. It was, I thought, a good movie, but perhaps not brilliant.
Next, I embarked on "Him," and while the earlier things that impressed me remained, I became intrigued by both the new scenes and the ones which played out in slightly different fashion. "Him," in short, added a new dimension to the tale and I began to consider the whole thing as great.
Finally, I watched "Her," and was blown away. The performances and story remain strong, there is still new material to be seen, and scenes which play out in a different fashion than either of the other two movies. That was when the notion of it being genius truly hit me.
After I finished watching all three movies (on different days), I instantly wanted to go back and watch the first and second ones again.* Not only that, but I also wanted to watch them all at the same time, to see if there was anything new to be gleaned that way. Each time I saw the story, and from each angle I saw it, I was more invested and more curious about what I may have missed from an earlier viewing.
* I say "first" and "second" movies not because that is the prescribed way to watch them, but rather because that is the way I watched them. The new Blu-ray release is a two-disc affair with "Them" existing on the main disc and "Him" and "Her" offered as bonus features on a second disc. Although, to refer to them as bonus features and not an essential part of the movie is ludicrous.Any movie that I can watch in a slightly different form three times and instantly want to watch three more has something special about it. The question becomes what is it here?
Above, I compared the movie to "Rashomon," due to the multiple viewpoints being displayed, but I'm not sure that the analogy really works. There are differences in the way scenes play out (the description of the child being a notable one I can offer which will not spoil any portion of the film), but I don't think that Benson is offering those differences up as a meditation on the truth. For me, they're all true. It may have happened differently each time, but they're still all true. Which, fine, is a logical impossibility, but watch all three and tell me if you feel differently.
Then, there's the fact that each time I watched one and noted the differences in the way a scene is included or excluded or uses alternate dialogue, I contemplated how the movie would have hit me differently if I had watched that version first. I wanted to have the ability to go back and see it all with fresh eyes, not because I feel as though I watched the wrong version first, just because it would be a fascinating exercise.
That is, I think, where people might disagree with me. The story here touched me, as did the performances, and that's why I could go and keep watching it and marvel at the exercise. I imagine that if the story doesn't hit you in the same way, you won't want to watch it again (and again and again and again and…) and in the end it will feel like some sort of film school assignment.
To me, that really is the genius of filmmaking in general – slight tweaks tell a different a story; including or excluding a scene causes the audience to react in a completely different fashion; substituting one description of a face for another changes the way you see a relationship. Good moviemaking is knowing what tweaks to make so as to elicit the desired response from the people in the theater.
"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" then, lays bare some of the mechanics of moviemaking, but does so without marginalizing the tale. Is it an exercise in form and function? Absolutely, but it's one that makes the audience work their mind and which never goes for a cheap shot when there's something meaningful it could say instead.
It is genius, and I love it.
The Blu-ray is available as of tomorrow, February 3rd.
photo credit: The Weinstein Company/Atsushi Nishijima
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
You may have noticed that on more than one occasion I have used a Minion gif here on the blog. Let me tell you why that is – my son is obsessed with them, pure and simple.
Backstory: a few months before my son's third birthday, he and his mother attended the Halloween parade at his older sister's school. There, two of the staff members were dressed as Minions. He didn't know what they were; he didn't know that they were from a movie; and he had certainly never heard of "Despicable Me."
A trip to DisneyWorld the next January necessitated a day at Universal so that he could meet the Minions. Upon finding out he was too small for the ride, he stood at the exit for it, where the Minions came out every 15 minutes or so (when a ride ended) so that he could meet each and every one possible. And he did. He spent 90 minutes there seeing them all and in their various combinations. He was named an honorary Minion by the folks working there.
Now, more than a year after that experience, he remains absolutely floored by these characters. He has Minion sheets. He has Minions on his walls. He has Minion clothes. He has Minion dolls. He has "Minion Monopoly." He begs to borrow any iDevice so that he can play "Minion Rush" (kind of like a themed "Temple Run"). He has seen "Despicable Me" more times than I can count.
I tell you all of this because this weekend, during the Super Bowl, there will be a commercial for the movie, not that you have to wait that long to see the TV spot. As has become standard (although not always the norm) it has been made available in advance and I'm embedding it right below this paragraph. Naturally, my son has seen it. More than once.
I also tell you this because I have now seen Minions in their various forms more times than I can count and I have fallen in love with them too. They in fact remind me of my son and I think they're brilliant.
Minions are, essentially, four-year-olds. They have a lack of impulse control, think the dumbest things are hilarious, and their laughter & mood is utterly infectious (they will make you think the dumbest things are hilarious). Did you watch the above embed and see the whole pants thing? Yeah, it's like a four-year-old.
To this point, they have worked brilliantly as side characters in the "Despicable Me" series, and it will be interesting to see if they can succeed as the lead in their own movie. It reminds me of Jay & Silent Bob going from being ancillary characters in "Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," and "Dogma" to leads in "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back."
But, that last bit is neither here nor there (although, now that I think of it, perhaps a piece comparing and contrasting the Minions and Jay & Silent Bob is a worthwhile notion). Watch the new Super Bowl spot above as well as the trailer for "Minions" below, and tell me if I'm wrong about how these weird yellow little creatures think and act.
"Minions" hits theaters this summer and you know that I'm going to be there… with my son.
photo credit: Universal Pictures
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
It struck me last night (and every other time I've watched the past few years), that I haven't written about "Top Gear" lately. It is something that has perplexed me – the not writing about it, not the series itself (although I do have questions there).
Keep in mind that at one point I argued that the series was the best show on television. Sure, I'm an anglophile, but the combination of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond is something wondrous, and when you combine that with great looking cars, stupid challenges, and general ridiculousness you have a recipe for brilliance.
So, if I still love "Top Gear," and I do, why haven't I had much to say on it?
I have come to the conclusion that my writing significantly more about it would, essentially, just be rehashing that which I've already written. The series hasn't changed all that much in the past few years, so what else is there to say?
In fact, the answer is just that – the series hasn't changed all that much in the past few years. Last night's challenge actually overtly echoed one of the greatest challenges the show has ever done, a race through a major city by multiple means of transportation to determine which is the best.
The first time out, something like seven years ago, the guys did this race in London and last night it was St. Petersburg. They even used the same basic types of transportation: mass transit, car, boat, and bicycle. It was still fun and funny last night, but it certainly had the sense that it had all been done before.
As I said above, it was an overt echo. They talked about the London race in describing why they wanted to do the St. Petersburg one. They weren't trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, they were just going back to what had worked before.
The truth is that I enjoyed watching the episode immensely and laughed multiple times during it. I don't for a single second believe that Clarkson had no idea how to drive the hovercraft, but watching him get it wrong was great.
I also liked Hammond driving the new Lamborghini in a different segment, and that piece, too, offered callbacks to old episodes. They actually inserted a montage of Hammond driving other Lamborghinis on earlier episodes. It worked. I remembered virtually all of those occurrences. Reliving them was great.
But, that's why I don't talk about "Top Gear" that much anymore. It is still there. I still watch. I still think they're not as dumb as they act. I still greatly anticipate the show and think it's one of the best hour to 90 minutes you can spend each week. I also think it's probably worth talking about more than I do, yet as the show itself is rehashing old stories, I would find myself rehashing old posts to write about it more.
So, there you have it. I highly recommend "Top Gear." I love it and hope that one day I will have the opportunity to sit down and talk cars, TV, and life with the three men. Writing about it weekly, however, I don't see happening in the near future.
Photo Credit: © BBC Worldwide 2014