Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
The NSA plans to reopen the public vetting process for cybersecurity standards; "12 Years a Slave" and the dangers of early Oscar predictions; Disney's new app allows moviegoers to interact with movies while watching them (sigh); our computers are atrophying our brains; "Endless Love" author Scott Spencer on how his novel become a really bad movie (twice); the final moments of Winnie the Pooh; students demonstrate against random drug testing.
Writer-director-producer David Simon (creator of "The Wire," "Generation Kill," "Treme") has a piece at Salon headlined: "Media's sex obsession is dangerous, destructive," in which he eviscerates Roger Simon (no relation) for his Politico column, "Gen. David Petraeus is dumb, she's dumber." And The Week offers a round-up of trashy "journalistic" misbehavior, " The David Petraeus affair: Why the media's coverage is sexist." I don't know. "Sexist" seems like an understatement. Puerile, snotty, crass, raunchy, snide, scary, onanistic, stupid, instructive, pointless -- it's all those things, too. At the very least.
Rarely does a TV show arrive with lower expectations than the annual Emmy Awards telecast. It's a given that the thing will suck. Even so, this year's -- the 64th -- managed to come up short and disappoint. And it wasn't one of those "so bad it's good" campy things you can enjoy making fun of, either. It was more like one of those "so bad it's lousy" things that leave you incredulous and drained of the will to live.
August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.
A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.
by Edward Copeland
"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."
To best appreciate Aaron Sorkin's writing, you should probably know as little as possible about whatever it is he's writing about. Imagine that pithy, rather snarky statement delivered at a rapid clip from the mouth of one of Sorkin's characters. It's a generalization, an oversimplification, but it contains a kernel of truth. I'm gonna be rough on Sorkin's HBO show "The Newsroom" because, dang it, I think it can get better. (According to one character, getting better-ness is in our nation's DNA.)
The press has not been kind to the first couple episodes of "The Newsroom," in part because it displays so little affinity for how news is reported, written and presented. Anybody who's worked in a newsroom would have to cringe at the idea that these characters are being portrayed as professional newsgatherers, even if they are on cable TV, the lowest rung of the journalistic ladder -- just slightly below Murdoch tabloids which, at least, have reporters who gather news illegally rather than just making it up as they go along like they do on cable.
Having some familiarity with how "Saturday Night Live" is put together, I found Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" unwatchable, bypassing so many promising reality-based opportunities for comedy and drama while manufacturing absolutely bogus, nonsensical, unbelievable and impossible ones. Doesn't the guy do research? "The Newsroom" feels like it was written in Sorkin's spare time, perhaps between projects he actually cared about.
Don't get me started on his lack of technological savvy. When someone in a Sorkin script says something as common as "blog" or "Twitter" they sound like they're speaking Estonian. Because they may as well be. Even "The Social Network" was weak on showing how technology made Facebook into a popular and compelling user experience. As Bobby Finger at BlackBook wrote, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) calls the rebooted show they're doing "NewsNight 2.0" because "in this parallel-universe-alternate-history-2010, people still speak like it's 2006. They also use email like it's 2001..." (More about that in a moment.)
On Netflix and Amazon Instant.
Considering that we normally think of documentaries as some sort of academic discourse at the fringes of popular cinema, this relatively new genre of Celebrity-driven docs is something peculiar. That we now watch documentaries starring Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, and Bill Maher is something inevitable, I suppose. We already have that tradition of following on-screen directors as characters in their features, including Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen. But, the point here is that we watch some documentaries because of their host celebrities, more than the topic, even though the topics seem to be extensions of those same celebrities.
I suspect few people outside of his fan base will watch this movie: in Larry Charles' documentary "Religulous," (2008) popular Television talk show host Bill Maher is a playful microphone-toting cynic, roaming the landscapes of Christianity, with a few references to Judaism, Islam, and Scientology. The film is very strong and vastly entertaining in finding absurdities in absurd places, but fizzles when it attempts any serious commentary.
Rush Limbaugh's so-called "slutgate" brouhaha reminds me of a scene in Kenneth Lonergan's great film "Margaret." After a heated classroom argument about 9/11, a student says: "I think this whole class should apologize to Angie because all she did was express her opinion about what her relatives in Syria think about the fact that we bombed the shit out of a practically medieval culture... and everybody started screaming at her like she was defending the Ku Klux Klan!" Whereupon, one of the teachers says that jumping down someone's throat when you disagree with them is "censorship." Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) goes ballistic: "This class is not the government!"
Lisa's point is significant -- and it's one of the movie's many sharp insights into how Americans argue. We have a hard time separating our personal feelings from the legal system, a conflict that's goes to the core of Lisa's moral dilemma. (And for some reason we think it's a rational defense to say that someone else did something just as bad but didn't get punished for it as much.) The classroom of teenagers, reacting spontaneously and having a free discussion (even if it became raucous and uncivil) was not an attempt to prevent, modify or control the expression of Angie's ideas, but an attempt (by some, at least) to refute them. And while censorship isn't limited to government, church, commercial or social repression, the phrase "freedom of speech" (as outlined in the First Amendment) applies to government restrictions on what "the people" can say.
"Now, getting over 200,000 people to come to a liberal rally is a great achievement, and gave me hope. And what I really loved about it was that it was twice the size of the Glenn Beck crowd on the Mall in August. Although it weighed the same." -- Bill Maher, "Real Time," 11/06/10
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was all about tone. As Stewart said in his speech, "I can't control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions." And that boiled down to this: "We can have animus and not be enemies." Stewart and Colbert are masters of tone, and I have often argued that Bill Maher is not only tone deaf in his delivery (some find it funny; I find it sanctimonious and condescending), but too often plays fast and loose with facts and logic. And yet, he provided an important perspective about false equivalencies in his remarks about the rally on "Real Time" this week, which he summarized like this:
With all due respect to my friends Jon and Stephen, it seems to me that if you truly wanted to come down on the side of restoring sanity and reason, you'd side with the sane and the reasonable, and not try to pretend that the insanity is equally distributed in both parties.
Keith Olbermann is right, when he says he's not the equivalent of Glenn Beck. One reports facts, the other one is very close to playing with his poop.
@jeeemerson god. Pretty soon we won't be able to tell a knock knock joke, for fear of hurting a doors feelings. STFU
That's an offended tweeter's response to my previous post, "The "gay" Dilemma: If it's a joke, what does it mean?" -- except that it's not really a response, exactly, since it doesn't address anything I actually, you know, said.¹ It's a tweet. Still, it expresses a fairly common attitude among those who are easily offended that others take offense to things they are not offended by: Why are people hurting my feelings by getting their feelings hurt over what I say or what I like? So, to those whose feelings have been bruised in this way, I want to say: Don't stop whining. Don't stop making it all about you. Keep on complaining that your sensibilities are being hurt because you feel that other people should not express opinions other than your own. How dare other people claim that things you honestly feel are funny are not only not funny to them, but maybe even painful or insulting!?! What if that's not even what you meant at all? Just remember, when your feelings are hurt by somebody who says you've hurt their feelings, it's all their fault for being so sensitive to what words mean and being so rude as to tell you. Blame them. You shouldn't have to accept responsibility for what you do or say or laugh at. That's just not fair!
But seriously, folks...
Several of yesterday's commenters mentioned comedic treatments of the anti-gay epithets "fag" and "faggot" on "South Park" ("The F Word") and Louis CK's series, "Louie," which is where the clip above comes from. A group of comedians are discussing the implications of using the word "faggot" in Louis's stage act. Louis asks Rick, the only gay comic at the table, if he thinks he shouldn't use the word. Rick says, "I think you should use whatever word you want... but are you interested to know what it might mean to gay men?"²
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party
Because this is a blog about critical thinking, and everyone in the world needs to see and appreciate this "Daily Show" clip, "The Parent Company Trap."
Everybody should also read Nicholas Kristof's column, "Taking bin Laden's Side":
In short, the proposed community center is not just an issue on which Sarah Palin and Osama bin Laden agree. It is also one in which opponents of the center are playing into the hands of Al Qaeda.
These opponents seem to be afflicted by two fundamental misconceptions.
The first is that a huge mosque would rise on hallowed land at ground zero. In fact, the building would be something like a YMCA, and two blocks away and apparently out of view from ground zero. This is a dense neighborhood packed with shops, bars, liquor stores -- not to mention the New York Dolls Gentlemen's Club and the Pussycat Lounge (which says that it arranges lap dances in a private room, presumably to celebrate the sanctity of the neighborhood).
I AM SO PROUD that eight of the Far-Flung Correspondents will be attending Ebertfest 2010, and so sincerely moved that they're providing their own tickets! A shout-out to Ali Arikan, Seoungyong Cho, Weal Khairy, Michael Mirasol, Omar Moore, Omer Mozzafar, Gerardo Valero, and Grace Wang. Only Robert Tan, who has been under the weather, will be missing. They're all bloggers, and will be on a panel Friday morning about the Global Web of Filmlovers.
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Crisis
There's a war going on in America, people, and the stakes are nothing less than Glenn Beck's internal organs. It's all about the connections. Is Glenn Beck, who has not denied raping and killing a young girl in 1990, the only one "crazy" enough to see it?!?! Or to mention Hitler? No. No, he is not, because last night on "The Daily Show" Jon Stewart (in the most inspired television comedy monologue since the Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, gave us Johnny LaRue on the Christmas Eve edition of "Street Beef") traced the connections between Glenn Beck's appendicitis and his previous hemorrhoid surgery! Conspiracy or coincidence? You decide. He's teaching the controversy, fair and balanced. Only Stewart is courageous enough to actually take us inside Beck himself, to follow thoughts as they wend their way through the contours of his brain, down his alimentary canal, into his intestines, and finally out his mouth.
"Take a look, very quickly, if you will, at what your appendix is connected to. I mean... it's all there! Your appendix is connected to your large intestine, which is connected to your small intestine, which is something that Karl Marx... had! That doesn't seem suspicious? Because what is the small intestine connected to, people? Oh, I don't know -- the stomach?!?! Which is where acorns would go if you ate them? Acorns -- where have we heard that name before? And after the intestines sucked the nutrients from the acorn it would go to the colon which goes to the rectum which goes to the anus which is the site of the hemorrhoids that nearly killed Glenn Beck! It's aallll connections!"
Freeze-frame of The Big Board (featuring Van Jones, Che, ACORN and Purity of Essence) after the jump:
Apparently unconnected items appeared within two days of each other in the Los Angeles Times, and together confirmed my fear that American movie-going is entering into a Dark Age. The first was in a blog by Patrick Goldstein, who said: "Film critics are in the same boat as evening news anchors -- their core audience is people 50 and over, and getting older by the day. You could hire Jessica Alba to read the evening news -- or review 'G.I. Joe' for that matter -- and younger audiences still wouldn't care." The other was in a report by John Horn that despite "The Hurt Locker's" impressive box office success, "younger moviegoers are not flocking to the film, which could limit its ticket sales."
The obvious implication is, younger moviegoers don't care about reviews and have missed the news that "The Hurt Locker" is the best American film of the summer. There is a more disturbing implication: word of mouth is not helping the film in that younger demographic. It has been Hollywood gospel for decades that advertising and marketing can help a film to open strongly, but moviegoers talking with each other are crucial to its continuing success. That has been Summit Entertainment's game plan for "The Hurt Locker," which opened in a few theaters and has steadily increased its cities, becoming a real success without ever "winning" a weekend or benefiting from an overkill marketing campaign.
"Remember during the campaign when John McCain attacked Obama for acting like a celebrity and we all laughed at the grumpy old shellshocked fool? Well, it turns out he was right. [...] It's getting to where you can't turn on your TV without seeing Obama."
What grumpy old shellshocked fool said that? It was comedian Bill Maher, whose approach to political satire is to talk about televised presidential photo ops as if they were interfering with, or substituting for, policy-making. I mean, the guy admits he thinks what he sees on TV is "news," and then he watches PR puff pieces about presidential puppies and romantic nights out on Broadway and thinks it's Obama who lacks substance? Turn off the boob tube, Bill, and read a newspaper or a web site -- or a blog. If you wanted to learn something about politics (and "topical humor") from TV, you should be watching Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, not Leno. But I warn you, it's going to make you feel as tired and ancient as your schtick. You may as well be telling jokes about airline food and Geritol. (Anybody remember Geritol? That's my point.)
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) posted this YouTube clip of himself asking a stupid question at a congressional hearing. How stupid? Well, just watch. And consider that Barton finds the Energy Secretary's accurate scientific response bewildering. (Listen to Barton's follow-up: How does he think oil "got to Alaska"?) The accompanying intro reads: "When Rep. Joe Barton asked the Nobel Prize winning Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, where oil comes from - he got a puzzling answer." Barton surpasses Ted Stevens and his Internet "tubes" on this one. Jon Stewart, it's all yours...
Oh, and Rep. Barton, please read this short Scientific American article. It's only four paragraphs, but I warn you that, if you're really interested in learning the answer to your question, it may take more than six seconds of your time: "Why is oil usually found in deserts and arctic areas?":
Ah, reality. So malleable. I've seen a few documentaries and reality shows in my day, and I always enjoy watching how the filmmakers set about shaping "characters" and narratives from carefully chosen bits and pieces of footage, dialog and narration.
Take Susan Boyle, one of the hottest celebrities in the Western World since her appearance on BBC ITV's "Britain's Got Talent" last Saturday -- a performance that has now been seen by untold millions on YouTube. (One clip alone -- several are posted -- registers nearly 14 million views as I write this; a similar one of Paul Potts, the opera-singing mobile phone salesman from 2007, shows nearly 44 million views.)
If you haven't seen it yet, watch this version, which shows how Boyle's audition was set up for the television audience. (Is this show broadcast live, or edited later? How many cameras do they have in that auditorium? Watch how the reaction shots are inserted.) After making a joke about the one thing that's been missing from Glasgow is "talent," the hosts introduce the rather frumpy looking Boyle with comical music and a shot of her taking a big bite out of a sandwich. "Next up is a contestant who says she has what it takes to put Glasgow on the map," they say. The offscreen audience laughs. She's from West Lothian, 47 years old, unemployed but looking, never married ("Never been kissed," she says, "Shame -- but that's not an advert!").
Dirt! The Movie" for practical and personally rewarding solutions
"W." is the third in what could turn out to be Oliver Stone's five-part trilogy of movies containing pronounceable capital letters in the titles (after "JFK" and "U-Turn"), if you don't count "Natural Born Killers" and "World Trade Center," sometimes known as "NBK" and "WTC," respectively, in which case it may already be the fifth film in a proposed diptych about the tetralogy of power.
I haven't seen the movie yet, but the timing seems inopportune. Few public figures have faded into irrelevance more quickly in recent months than George W. Bush, whose popularity and name-recognition numbers are now running slightly behind Sanjaya, and I'm not sure I remember who that was.
Before I get to the movie part of this post, I want to toast Paul Krugman. He is one of the few public figures I've ever considered a personal hero. (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are, too, and I'm not joking.)
In the bleakest hours of the new millennium -- through 9/11, Iraq, soul-shattering scandals, national elections, and impending financial disasters -- Krugman stood as a beacon of hope and, if you'll pardon the expression, moral clarity in what Nick Lowe (and Elvis Costello) memorably called "the darkness of insanity."
Hired in 1999 as the New York Times economic columnist, Krugman wound up doing what so many journalists, even at his own paper, were failing to do. He reported. Not just what people said, but how what they said compared to independently verifiable reality. Week after week, column after column, Krugman was virtually alone (alongside Knight-Ridder, NPR and "The Daily Show") in pointing out, and explaining the significance of, relevant facts that so many didn't care to notice, even when they were right there in plain sight -- and in the public record, if anyone bothered to pay attention.
He wasn't just a good reporter but a fine critic.
One of the things film critics do for a living is to pay close attention to how people behave, and how that behavior is presented through visual media. This applies not only to actors playing characters, but to people who play themselves, in fictional or nonfictional settings, on and off the screen. It should come as no surprise to learn that some of our best movie critics have backgrounds in psychology.
When Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sex with that woman," it now seems impossible to believe that he fooled anyone at that particular moment. But if any movie critic misread Clinton's voice and body language, that critic should have been impeached. As opaque as the clumsy verbal gymnastics of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin may often be, behind the contortions it's hard to avoid seeing the painful truth, which is simply that they don't know what their own words mean, and even when they know what they've been told to say they don't know how to communicate it. As actors, they're thoroughly unconvincing: You can see the wheels turning inside their heads -- only the gears aren't even engaged. There's a lot of whirring and spinning, but nothing happens. That can be excruciating to watch, but it's also the stuff of modern comedy. Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and the whole Judd Apatow crew come to mind.
Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, argues that film critics like Roger Ebert, sophisticated in their knowledge of media presentation and human behavior, make more insightful political pundits than the usual beltway-bubble spin-docs employed by television, radio, print and online outlets. In a piece called "From film critic to political pundit," Goldstein writes:
To me, film critics, like TV and theater critics, are especially well equipped to analyze today's politics, which is why Frank Rich made such a seamless transition from theater to media and political commentator. In fact, in some ways film critics are probably better equipped to assess the political theater of today's presidential campaigns, since our campaigns are -- as has surely been obvious for some time -- far more about theater and image creation than politics.
I had just begun working on a piece about how comedy is the the only adequate response to the modern world, and the most profound approach to exploring and understanding the modern human psyche... when this happened. The folly and tragedy of human existence, and the indifferent and inhospitable relationship of the universe to human needs and desires, can be plumbed only by the sharpest and most penetrating comedy, without which tragedy loses its meaning and its deepest pain. And sometimes it just happens without comedy writers needing to make anything up. Or is it the other way around? Miss Congeniality. Elle Woods. Tracy Flick. Could this be an example of life imitating comedy?
Maureen Dowd in The New York Times takes a lighter comedic view:
So imagine my delight, my absolute astonishment, when the hokey chick flick came out on the trail, a Cinderella story so preposterous it's hard to believe it's not premiering on Lifetime. Instead of going home and watching "Miss Congeniality" with Sandra Bullock, I get to stay here and watch "Miss Congeniality" with Sarah Palin. [...]
This chick flick, naturally, features a wild stroke of fate, when the two-year governor of an oversized igloo becomes commander in chief after the president-elect chokes on a pretzel on day one.
The movie ends with the former beauty queen shaking out her pinned-up hair, taking off her glasses, slipping on ruby red peep-toe platform heels that reveal a pink French-style pedicure, and facing down Vladimir Putin in an island in the Bering Strait. Putting away her breast pump, she points her rifle and informs him frostily that she has some expertise in Russia because it's close to Alaska. "Back off, Commie dude," she says. "I'm a much better shot than Cheney."
[UPDATE: Now comes news from the McCain-Palin campaign that there's an unmarried, pregnant 17-year-old daughter in the pro-family Palin household. You can't make this stuff up. Reuters reports that the minor is "about five months pregnant and is going to keep the child and marry the father, according to aides of Republican presidential candidate John McCain." Damn right she will. It's written into the GOP platform!]
Quite often, the behavior of public figures displays a cosmic humor beyond anything a comedy writer could actually have gotten away with. In this case, the joke would seem too crass and cynical if it weren't for real. Now its crassness and cynicism give the humor real bite. A week ago if some film or television writer had proposed this preposterous scenario (old politician chooses Alaskan creationist former small-town mayor and beauty contest winner as running mate), it would have just seemed mean and a little desperate. Now? Well, see "Ham Sandwich McCain's Actual Choice for Veep." It no longer seems so far-fetched.
Now you have to wonder: Why didn't he choose someone more qualified? Like Harriet Miers?
When it comes to experience, Dan Quayle was the natural choice -- but his Y chromosome made him ineligible in the all-important tokenism category. (Brownie could bring his hurricane ineptitude to the table, but he's still sporting a scrotum so that won't play.) The main attribute McCain's running mate needed was that she be able to play up her sisterhood with Senator Hillary Clinton, the veteran politician so long beloved and revered by the Republican Party. That and she had to have spunk. The convention is in Minneapolis, and she's gonna make it after all.
Once comedy of this magnitude has occurred, and satire has been rendered superfluous, the really brilliant comedians have only to recognize the situation for what it is. I'm tremendously grateful, then, that Jon Stewart, with his unerring eye for future casting opportunities, and Samantha Bee, with her sharp-as-a-tack "lady brain," found exactly the right words to summarize the genius behind this unprecedented decision.
(Transcript below, after the jump.)
See how Roger Ebert did at predicting the winners
View image In 3-D, you'd swear Muriel was nibbling your proboscis. By the way, that's not her real phone number.
Although you probably think they are a reference to the 1963 Alain Resnais film,¹ or Bette Davis's bald uncle, The Muriel Awards are in fact named after Paul Clark's guinea pig. The one named Muriel.
The 2007 Muriel Awards are chosen by an elite body of web-based life forms who are united in their love of movies. Among them is Dennis Cozzalio, whom I have been meaning to congratulate on his handsomely redesigned blog, the renowned and beloved Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. (Admire the new logo! Steal his Oscar predictions! Compare them to Roger Ebert's! Compare them to Ali Arikan's and his drawing of Daniel Plainview!)
Meanwhile, over at Silly Hats Only, Paul is handing out the Muriels to the deserving... Muriel recipients. (We're not supposed to say "winners," are we?) Acting as his own Price-Waterhouse and Jon Stewart combined, he began handing them out February 13 and will continue until February 29, at which point his presentation will actually be longer than the Academy Awards. (I think that's a Bruce Vilanch joke that Whoopi didn't use. Or maybe she did.)
Among the categories announced so far are 50th Anniversary Award for Best Film, 1957 ("The Seventh Seal"), 25th Anniversary Award for Best Film, 1982 ("Blade Runner"), 10th Anniversary Award for Best Film, 1997 ("Boogie Nights") -- and the Less-Than-First Anniversary Muriels for Best of 2007 go to...
From the Associated Press
by Maureen O'Donnell