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Posts tagged ‘cinema’

REFERENCE REVIEW: LANGUAGE OF AMERICAN POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT

Notes on The Language of American Popular Entertainment: A Glossary of Argot, Slang, and Terminology

by Don B. Wilmeth (1981)

If you’re like me and looking for jargon related to popular theatre and Broadway then you are also running into the wrong book. However, despite what this glossary doesn’t include it can be an excellent and thorough reference source for anybody writing or researching 19th and early 20th century American carnival, circus, magic and minstrel shows. Wilmeth’s glossary is not in a sophisticated package. It’s pretty much alphabetical listings of 3200 entries, no cross indexing. I love exploring reference books like this but then always find myself in a mobius when it comes to everyday use, if I knew what word I was looking for I wouldn’t need a glossary. Some categorization might have been a more practical format. Online you can find similar glossaries but entries are fewer, less researched and mostly the sites are weakly designed with limited search tools. Someday all books like this will get e-booked and send us right to what we’re looking for. Until then this is best effort out there in its subject matter. And frankly the subject matter is a fascinating historical record. Again the book is heavy on words related to carnival or circus but it also provides terms from magic, minstrel shows, vaudeville, burlesque, tent shows and Toby shows, medicine shows and pitchmen, early cinema and optical entertainment, fairs, puppetry, pantomime, and wild west shows.

Media Log: 02.19.2012 – PARADISE LOST 3, THE GREY

West Memphis 3, Paradise Lost 3

(cinema) Paradise Lost 3, Purgatory (d. Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011) It’s been 16 years and two sequels since I saw the first Paradise Lost documentary at the Film Forum in New York City. I’m glad the wrongfully accused are set free but I still feel the truth rots a in dark, incarcerated place. I remember that the first documentary, a compelling story of wrong compounded by wrong, was also a frustratingly unthorough piece of journalism. The synopsis is that in 1993 three eight year old boys were murdered and thrown in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenage boys, to be nicknamed the West Memphis 3, were convicted of the murders under highly questionable investigatory and judicial procedures. The first film fell well short for me in providing a sufficient account of the prosecution’s so called case. A year after seeing the first PL the friend I went to see it with called me up and said, “I heard those documentary guys made it all up to make the teenagers look good. When you hear the whole story they are totally guilty.” Really? What’s your source? None, really. Is there a whole story?  I have always been convinced that the teenagers were railroaded. But after years of sequels, cult-like public outrage, websites, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp I still have no idea what happened back in 1993. If the WM3 were not murdering cub scouts that night in 1993, where were they? None of these films have ever discussed an alibi. If a documentary is presenting itself as the balanced account of its subject matter and one side of the argument is being left out, there must be a reason. I can’t speculate the reason because facts in this case have always been overshadowed by emotions, self-righteousness on behalf of the WM3 supporters, stubborn obfuscation by law enforcement, and repeated attempts by the filmmakers to offer alternative accusations that frankly are as shoddy and irresponsible as the lousy case against the teenagers. There is another feature documentary ,West Of Memphis, in circulation as well as many tv magazine pieces which may provide more information. I’d like to know if there is more to know about what happened the night those young boys were murdered, and I’d like to know more about what the police actually had on the WM3. In Purgatory the defense has gone to all the trouble of pulling together world renown criminal profilers and DNA experts. Yet the new documentary doesn’t reveal one thing we didn’t already know. These films succeeded in calling attention to injustice perpetrated on the accused and the fact that the real killer will never be brought to justice. The Arkansas court system created an outcome in which the case will never be reopened. The whole story is fascinating and sad, but these movies aren’t very good either. ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Grey(d. Joe Carnahan, 2012) An airplane transporting ruffian oil workers

The Grey. Your enemy or your conscience?

crashes in barren Alaska. The men must try to survive arctic conditions, interpersonal conflicts, and attacks by an aggressive pack of wolves. The wolves are of course metaphor for the organizational behavior of a pack of men on the brink as well as the haunting pasts that brought each man to this frozen Purgatory. The challenge includes lots of tense survival action and man-chewing wolves, but what keeps the film interesting are the metaphysical elements, both in the blurry camerawork and the cryptic storytelling. Is this situation real or are we in the self-exiled imagination of the central character? Not brilliant but  an experience, however harrowing. ๏ ๏ ๏ out of ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… (theatre) West Side Story (RISE theater company at Stadium Performing Arts Center, Woonsocket, RI) I go to a lot of community theater and you might think I am fortunate to live in a place where there are many local companies. One has to approach community theatre with prejudice of lowered expectations. Some of the worst crap in the world gets to Broadway with multi-million dollar underwriting. Under what circumstances can one expect no-budget theatre to be any better? Surprisingly often the risk does pay off in community. I see performers all the time who have dedicated their lives to craft and not to making it big. But “big” took on new meaning for me in seeing this production of WSS when the curtain went up on a cast of teenagers who were mostly all overweight. I’m not kidding. I don’t know anything about casting a play in suburban area where your company may also be completing with a lot of other companies, but surely someone had to realize the absurdity. WSS is as much a dancing show as it is musical as no one wants to see roly-poly people rolling around on the stage floor. I will say that the lead vocals were excellent. But the show itself seemed out of the director’s grasp. The pacing was awkward, the actors were bad, and the choreography was an embarrassment waiting for wincing audience. Whoever you are RISE, you need to set your ambitions lower for now and find material that is appropriate for your acting pool.

Media Log: 01.08.2012, incl CHRONICLE and SMASH

CHRONICLE: CAN ANDREW CRUSH HIS PROBLEMS?

(cinema) Chronicle, d. Josh Trank, 2012. There’s a quote attributed to Will Rogers, a very practical guy: When you find yourself stuck in a hole, stop digging. I offer this aphorism for consideration to the lead character Andrew in Chronicle and to the filmmakers behind Chronicle as well. Andrew, a shy teenager, finds himself part of a trio of boys who discover a strange crystal artifact in an underground cavern. The crystal, for some reason, gives the boys telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds and even figure out how to fly above the clouds. The external benefits of Andrew’s new physical power include making new friends, becoming popular at school and even attracting the interest of girls. But ultimately Andrew’s damaged ego and personal problems at home are more powerful than his abilities his father is an abusive drunk and his mother has a terminal illness. As Andrew’s telekinetic powers strengthen, his emotional self-control weakens. Instead of being a hero, he becomes a menace of violence and destruction. The “chronicle” part of this is that the whole movie is shot in so called “found footage” style. I call it faux-verite. Andrew carries a video camera and his recording of everything that happens is our viewpoint into his rise and fall. There are a lot of movies using faux-verite but experimenting with the form, Chronicle ventures into original territory. I like the special effects work of the suspended objects and flying teenagers. I also like the story in the first two thirds a lot. Is all this really happening to Andrew or are we a voyeur into his fantasy life? Is this an origin story of Andrew as a comic book style hero, or super villain?  There are probably a hundred interesting places Chronicle could have taken us but it doesn’t go to any of them. Instead the story runs out of gas creatively and begins to get boring, even at under 85 minutes. In the desperate feeling last act, Andrew goes on an I-can-destroy-you-all-if-I-chose power binge. The filmmakers have no idea what to do with their own character. So they drag Andrew into a hole of explosions, nihilism, and waste. Unfortunately, Andrew lacks the ability to think of any better solution than to just keep making things worse. In the same manner Chronicle goes from good, to boring, to bad, to worse. I should mention that I saw a strong homoerotic subtext here as Andrew’s fantasy-come-to life seems to be finding a phallic object in a cave and using its secret power to convince attractive, popular boys to runaway with him- just something I was thinking about as I watched this movie go to pieces.  ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Harvey Girls, d. George Sidney, 1946. Not everybody knows who Johnny Mercer was but everybody knows a Johnny Mercer song: “MOON RIVER”, “JEEPERS CREEPERS”, or “YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY.” Mercer wrote lyrics for and recorded hundreds of songs in the Great American Songbook including “ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE”  for the movie musical The Harvey Girls (music: Harry Warren). That song is used in a grand Hollywood production number at the beginning. What happens after that are some less fantastic numbers and a thin story. Judy Garland plays a 19th Century mail order bride from Ohio whose train stops in an old Western American town. Garland takes a job as a Harvey Girl. That’s an ebullient, hard working server in a friendly whistle stop restaurant called Harvey’s. It’s a respectable opportunity for a young, unmarried woman, especially compared to the girls who “entertain” men more provocatively across the street at the local casino and dance hall. A cultural conflict is set up here between the two kinds of girls in town, a conflict repeated in the battle of affections over the same man by both Garland and the leader of the showgirls. There is a longer discussion to be had about how these microcosmic conflicts attempt to play out familiar value themes in musicals: work versus leisure and chastity versus sexual promiscuity. But the case is well summarized at the end when all of the town drunks and gamblers come over to Harvey’s to learn how to waltz. As the town parson says, “For the first time the men in this town chose having a good time over having a wild time.” This movie is a good but not wild time and there are some great, less recognizable Mercer/Warren tunes as well as an amazing tap dance specialty number by Ray Bolger.๏ ๏ ๏outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ … (television) Smash. This show premiered on television after a great deal of marketing and other ballyhoo. It’s premise is to follow the evolution of a fictional Broadway musical and the lives of its creators and performers. So far I don’t quite give it a “smash.” The pilot was more of a “ring” or a “bang” to me. The characters started out kind of flat but they promise to be much more interesting than the nitwit cartoon characters on Glee (Hate it!). I’m impressed with the quality of Smash’s original music by Marc Shaiman, composer/lyricist for musicals like Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. I wonder if they’re going to be able to maintain the quality of that music over the course of a television series. One of the principle character conflicts is going to be the two young singers fighting for the lead role. I thought Megan Hilti, the blonde, was amazing and that Katherine McPhee, the brunette, was just really good. However my unbinding straw poll revealed that there are people who feel completely opposite, that McPhee clobbered Hilti. What did you think? I think Smash could turn out to be a lot of fun to watch. WATCH IT… In my continuing power screening of old Golden Girls episodes I just finished the 3rd season. LARCENY AND OLD LACE (S3, Ep.21) Sophia is dating a retired gangster and finds a wad of money she thinks he robbed from a bank just to impress her. One of the big problems I have with GG is that they enlist a lot of great Hollywood and Broadway actors as guest stars and then never give them anything funny to do, perhaps to contain them in upstaging the regulars. However, this episode features Mickey Rooney as the old crook and he’s in great form. WATCH IT. BTW, Mickey Rooney was older than any of the GG actresses. They’re all dead except for Betty White and Rooney’s still alive. ROSE’S BIG ADVENTURE (S3, Ep.22) Rose has to convince her newly retired boyfriend to do something with his life. Also, the girls hire an old Sicilian architect to remodel their garage. This isn’t a bad episode but neither story line is particularly believable or funny. SKIP IT. MIXED BLESSINGS (S3, Ep. 23) Dorothy forbids her son to marry a woman twice his age. Meanwhile the bride’s family is forbidding the marriage because they are black. It’s a weird pattern to me that the adult children are always flying into Miami to spring shocking news to their Golden Girl mother at the front door. Ever hear of a telephone? And what’s with all the parental forbidding? It’s okay though, the white people come out looking really tolerant in this one. SKIP IT.  MR. TERRIFIC (S3, Ep. 24) Now Rose is dating a television kiddie show super hero named Mr. Terrific. What happened to the good for nothing she was seeing two episodes ago? Through sitcomy circumstance Dorothy gets Mr. Terrific fired from his gig and has to fill in for him on the air. I wanted that situation of comedy to be funnier. Also, I’ve always disliked the character actor Bob Dishy who plays Mr. Terrific. He never fails to irritate. SKIP IT.  MOTHER’S DAY (S3, EP.25) Each GG recalls a memorable Mother’s Day story. Again, the show goes to the lengths of getting the great comedian Alice Ghostley as a guest star and she’s barely in it. But the writing in this episode is pretty touching. WATCH IT.

Media Log: 01.25.2012

Owen "Woody" Wilson with Marion Cotillard

(cinema) Midnight in Paris, d. Woody Allen, 2011. A few years Woody Allen got to old to play himself. Being a septuagenarian and casting himself as the male romantic lead against the likes of Marion Cotillard would seem as unseemly as, well, as Woody Allen’s real life romantic life perhaps. Anyway, the guy playing the Woody Allen character in Midnight in Paris is Owen Wilson and his Allen-esque comic delivery is an adequate replacement. Although, I prefer my neurotic nebbishes a bit more Jewy. With all the attention drawn to this movie, including Academy Award nominations for best picture, director and screenplay, one might draw the conclusion that Woody Allen has returned to making great films. I don’t know about that. The character in the movie is a writer who travels back in time to Paris in the 1920s, meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and other artistic heroes of the era. What he learns is that everybody thinks the era before their’s was better. I didn’t find this revelation all that profound. Nor did I think the comedy was consistently side-splitting. There are many intended to be funny scenes that come off completely flat. Midnight in Paris, like Woody Allen himself is likeable but too awkward to love. ๏ ๏ …(television) Alcatraz. Last week I reviewed the new J.J. Abrams vehicle and determined that I would watch one more episode to see if it was going to go with its mysterious premise or go with its boring cop-show gimmick. This week’s episode got no closer to investigating where all these prisoners went for 50 years and I got bored. Alcatraz is closed for me. Skip it…. Golden Girls, AND MAMA MAKES THREE, S3-Ep.20. Sofia is lonely and Dorothy is sorry when her mother starts attending all of Dorothy’s dates with a new beau. Sofia’s obliviousness to the imposition she becomes is inconsistent with her character as is Dorothy’s inability to tell her mother to get lost. But the episode is, overall, really funny. Watch it.

I Handicap The Oscars

You didn’t ask for it, so here are my guesses for Oscar winners based on today’s nominations:

Sup. Actr – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Sup. Actrss – Octavia Spencer (Help)

Actr – Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailr)

Actrss – Viola Davis (Help)

Adapt Screnply – Moneyball

Orig Screnply – Artist

Directr – Hazanavicius (Artist)

Picture – Descendants

Media Log 01.23.12

(cinema) The Innkeepers, d. Ti West, 2011. “Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.” That’s a funny line from this horror movie that is playful in its script without ever degrading to farce and stupidity. It is the lobby level of Innkeepers where the movie works, at least for the first three quarters. Two slacker clerks in a New England hotel kill time on their long shifts by trying to record proof the old place in haunted. Besides the funny banter between the clerks there is the role of the horror movie “last girl” presented here as quirky, nerdy, and on time with her slap stick. You don’t see girl characters like this in any kind of movie except for maybe one with Drew Barrymore. Kelly McGillis also makes a strong appearance as a psychic guest in the hotel who warns the clerks against waking up spirits. Yep, Kelly McGillis was the sex object in Witness and Top Gun back in the 80s who never did anything again except come out of the closet. I don’t know if I can say McGillis is slumming now in indy horror. The cast is the best part of The Innkeepers. The worst part is the proposed ghost story. That fourth quarter is fairly suspenseful, scary and bloody but the back story on why the place is haunted never comes together. ๏ ๏ ½

Media Log: 01.20.2012

(cinema) We Need to Talk About Kevin, d. Lynne Ramsay, 2011. The IMDB entry for this movie says: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions. I lived in Colorado at the time of the Columbine High School murders and I’ve thought a lot about what life must be like for a parent whose kid has does something so awful. It’s an intriguing script idea but it doesn’t happen to be what Kevin is actually about. The high school mass murders here are a sort of foregone conclusion to the story of a mother who is emotionally terrorized by her son, beginning when he is an infant. This is a unique piece in that the story is told in non-linear flashbacks and the cinematography is experimental. Yet the story to me plays closer in genre to horror than to a psychological drama you might see at the arthouse. I can recommend this movie if it’s only on the multiplex at the mall level. Otherwise we’re looking at something that it is on the edge of camp. Witness the

Ezra Miller as Kevin

scene where the mother tries to explain reproduction to her little boy via the Mama Bear and Papa Bear and the boy interrupts, “Is this about fuckin’?” If it isn’t highbrow horror Kevin is just Mommy Dearest with the abuse roles switched around. Did you want the gays to love your movie like that? ๏๏๏… Afterschool, d. Antonio Campos, 2008. The actor who plays the

Miller in Afterschool

sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was in this earlier movie where he also plays a disturbed kid but with a bit more subtlety. Ezra Miller is great actor in addition to have grown up to be pretty hot. Anyway, in Afterschool, Miller is a nobody kid at a prep school who accidentally videotapes two popular girls die overdosing on tainted cocaine. As the school goes into damage control trying to shake out all the drugs, Miller starts to act erratically believing he is under surveillance. Surveillance, public image and acts of watching are huge themes in movie. Apparently a lot of people don’t care for the slow pace of the story and static camera scenes. I could write a book on why every shot matters. I think it’s brilliant.๏๏๏๏๏

Addendum: If you want to a see an excellent movie about the psychology behind school shootings I recommend Zero Day, from 2003. Both Afterschool and Zero Day stream on Netflix.