Film & TV: October 2005 Archives

How many screenings are there?

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I've been trying to keep track of upcoming screenings by juggling various e-mails, website listings, and flyers, but finally gave up and spent half an hour putting together an excel spreadsheet to track the damn things.

What I REALLY want is a computer program that would let me select the movies I want to see and the dates I'll be in town, and then provide me with an optimized screening schedule. In the meantime, I'll have to select from my staggering range of free screenings by hand. Poor me.

To give you a sense of what's available, here's a snapshot of my spreadsheet for the first week in November. Movies highlighted in yellow are ones that I want to see at some point (although not necessarily on these particular dates):

That's nearly 25 screenings in 7 days, and there will almost certainly be a few added to that over the next week.

Screenings a-go-go

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I've been so busy going to screenings I've fallen behind in writing about them. A brief summary:

Wednesday, 19 October: Me And You And Everybody We Know.

Thursday, 20 October: The Constant Gardener, followed by a panel discussion with Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, director Fernando Meirelles, and producer Simon Channing Williams. According to Meirelles, much of the film was shot using a lightweight, handheld 16mm camera, meaning they could shoot on location in Kenya without attracting much attention. In many of the outdoor scenes, the crowds are not played by extras; the cast just went out and shot.

The other highlight of the Q&A came when the moderator asked the actors to name their favorite scenes in the film. Weisz cited a moment when Ralph Fiennes receives some bad news, and Meirelles holds on his face for something like a minute. As Weisz said (and I agree), Fiennes does some remarkable, wordless acting in that minute. Fiennes seemed genuinely touched by the praise from a fellow actor.

Friday, 21st October: Elizabethtown, followed by a panel discussion. The panel was billed as featuring Cameron Crowe and Kirsten Dunst. When the moderator announced that they were going to be joined by Orlando Bloom, a woman two rows in front of me--who must have been at least in her thirties--let out a gasp of girlish excitement that might have come from a 13-year-old girl.

Audience members are usually very professional at these sorts of events, but this time, there was a mildly embarrassing exchange:

PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER: This question is for Orlando Bloom. You've worked with a lot of great, experienced directors. Would you consider working with a first-time director?
[Muttering and shifting from the audience, who know where this is going. Orlando knows, too, and while he tries to figure out how to answer politely, Kirsten Dunst jumps in and buys him time by talking about some of the directors she's worked with. Finally, Orlando gives a polite answer about how exciting it is to work with good directors of any degree experience.]
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, I'm not going to pitch you tonight--
[APPLAUSE from the audience. Pushy Audience Member fails to take the hint.]
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER:--but is it true you're a very good surfer?
ORLANDO (GOOD NATUREDLY): I'm a keen surfer. I'm not sure I'm a very good one.
[Moderator quickly moves on to next audience question.]

Brokeback Mountain

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We went to a screening of Brokeback Mountain on Sunday, followed by a Q&A with Ang Lee.

Here's a brief summary of the Q&A, with the caveat that it is repeated from memory, and all quotes are rough paraphrases...

The moderator started off by asking Lee if he minded that the film seems to be commonly described as a "gay western," since that's not entirely accurate. Lee didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed pleased that the film has been widely discussed, and he quoted an entry from a David Letterman Top 10 list of Things To Call A Gay Western: "The Magnificent Seven Inches."

The moderator mentioned that he had done a similar Q&A with Jake Gyllenhaal, who said that Lee had spent a huge amount of time working with the actors before shooting, but that once the shooting started, nothing. "It was like you've been having great sex, and then you get married, and the sex suddenly stops." Lee thought that was pretty funny. He said that he is "a control freak" during production, and he has too much to focus on in order to pay much attention to the cast at that point in the process. He does like to have a rehearsal process, although "Unlike in rehearsing for theater, you don't actually want to bring out the best performances during rehearsal; you want to leave something for filming, so that the performances will be fresh." To that end, Lee likes doing exercises with the actors, and discussing their characters with them, but tries not to over-rehearse the actual scenes.

A question from the audience asked why so many of Lee's films deal with repressed emotions. "When I made Pride & Prejudice, a lot of people wanted to know how this foreign guy expected to make a film about English culture. Well, for a Chinese director, repressed English people aren't much of a stretch."

In response to another audience question, Lee said he had no idea how well this film about gay cowboys would play in small town America. "The meeting with the marketing people was a bit of a reversal. They were very excited about the film and wanted to show it everywhere. I was nervous and asked if we could maybe just release it in the blue states."

I'm not sure the primarily British audience at the screening knew what a "blue state" was, but it was an interesting session.

Last April, John Rogers wrote a post about TV comedy writing jargon over at his always-excellent Kung Fu Monkey. He mentioned a technique called "the Red Dress Cut," which occurs "when you cut directly from a character declaring there's no way he's going to do something, to him doing it, for comedic effect... This name comes from the way it was always described to me: a burly guy saying 'There's no way I'm going to get into a red dress and pretend to be your wife'. SMASH CUT to ... you get the idea."

I mentioned to him that I had always heard this technique called "the Gilligan cut," after the TV show that used it with great frequency. John agreed that that was a more common term, and updated his glossary accordingly.

Of course, neither of us was under the illusion that the writers of Gilligan's Island invented this technique. I'm fairly certain I've seen it used by Abbot & Costello as well as the Three Stooges. If you had asked me, I would have speculated that it was invented very soon after sound came to cinema. It's hard to imagine it working on stage (where it's rather difficult to smash cut) or in silent film (where the interposition of title cards would ruin the rhythm of the joke.)

This evening, however, I made a discovery that is going to revolutionize the burgeoning field of Gilligan Cut Historical Studies. I present to you a quote from The Pickwick Papers, first published in 1836:

"I should like to see him," said Mr. Pickwick.

"See Serjeant Snubbin, my dear Sir!" rejoined Perker, in utter amazement. "Pooh, pooh, my dear Sir, impossible. See Serjeant Snubbin! Bless you, my dear Sir, such a thing was never heard of, without a consultation fee being previously paid, and a consultation fixed. It couldn't be done, my dear Sir, it couldn't be done."

Mr. Pickwick, however, had made up his mind not only that it could be done, but that it should be done; and the consequence was, that within ten minutes after he had received the assurance that the thing was impossible, he was conducted by his solicitor into the outer office of the great Serjeant Snubbin himself.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Unless somebody can find evidence of prior art-- perhaps through close examination of The Tale of Genji-- I will conclude that the Gilligan Cut was invented by Mr. Charles Dickens, nearly a century before the talkies came into existence.

Snakes On A Plane: The Other T-Shirt

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The only thing better than a t-shirt celebrating Snakes on a Plane is a t-shirt that allows you to be the actual plane in question.

Singing Snakes on a Plane

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As part of Yankee Fog's ongoing commitment to bringing you the latest Snakes on a Plane news, we wish to direct your attention to Snakes on a Plane: the T-Shirt and Snakes on a Plane:the Song.

Unfortunately, the audio quality on the song is rather low, perhaps because the snakes have infiltrated the recording studio itself. Still, muddied though it may be, the singer's tragic dilemma shines through:

You're a cold, cheatin' woman, and there's nothin' to gain.
Do I let you break my heart, or stick with snakes on a plane?

Backstage at the Emmies, 2005

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My friends Rob Kutner and Sheryl Zohn have written up their experiences backstage (and onstage) at the Emmies. Here it is, reprinted with their permission. If you enjoy it, you might also want to read Rob's Emmy writeup from 2004.

Dear Friends and Family,

With the recent events in New Orleans hanging heavily on everyone's minds, we thought we'd distract you for at least a few moments with something utterly frivolous: our account of the 2005 Emmy Awards. Yes "our," because this year, Rob has enlisted some help from his trusty cub reporter/Emmy "+1," Sheryl.

We begin our story at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where the "Daily Show" housed its entire staff. Of course, not everyone at the hotel was a fan of the show. At check- in, Rob's co-worker Jason Reich overheard the following conversation concerning one Mr. Jon Stewart:

Clerk #1: "Hey, did you see the guy from 'Half-Baked' is staying here? But he's grayed a little."

Clerk #2: "Yeah, he has his own show on Comedy Central now."

Clerk #1: "Oh, I only watch Comedy Central for 'Mind of Mencia'."

Fortunately, several members of the Academy were more familiar with Stewart's work (and that of his 13 writers), and so Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in a limousine on our way to the Shrine Auditorium for the 57th Annual Emmy Awards. As in past years, the city was clogged with limos, stretch hummers, and even a stretch Mini-Cooper (Is that just a Cooper?). But not everyone believed in motorized transportation: From our car window, we saw Zach Braff ("Scrubs") passing by on foot and waving at all of us suckers stuck in traffic, as well as David Letterman sitting at a bus stop, in his best Emmy formal shorts and T-shirt.

More trailers...

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The same contest that produced the heartwarming trailer for The Shining also resulted in this brilliant trailer for West Side Story and this well-done-if-not-as-funny trailer for Titanic.