Friday, June 29, 2007


From Kirk Honeycutt's review of "Transformers" in The Hollywood Reporter:
Two robotic races -- the evil Decepticons and the heroic Autobots -- hide out on Earth as cars, trucks, 18-wheeler tractors, Hummers, jets or even a boom box before grinding and expanding into their robotic essence. These are CGI-errific moments, courtesy of Industrial Light + Magic, that will have fanboys leaping from their seats.

Read the full review here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Prescott Pharmaceuticals

I can't stop watching this bit from "The Colbert Report."

Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, sponsored by Prescott Pharmaceuticals.

Yes, Stephen is giggly-- even more giggly than normal-- but I marvel at the tight writing of this segment.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A New Peak

From Variety's review of "Transformers", reviewed by Jay Weissberg:
Michael Bay's actioner hits a new peak for CGI work, showcasing spectacular chases and animated transformation sequences seamlessly blended into live-action surroundings. There's no longer any question whether special effects can be made more realistic.

Read Variety's full review of "Transformers" here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Teaser to "Wall•E"

My wife's new movie now has a teaser. And you should check it out.

It's called "Wall•E," directed by Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo"), and it will be in theaters in the summer of 2008. This teaser will also be shown in theaters attached to "Ratatouille," which comes out June 29.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The "Shouldabeen" Lois Lane

Few superhero movies contain as much charisma and character as Richard Donner's superb "Superman" (1978). The film shines brightly as the gold standard of superhero films. Looking back on it through the lens of history, it appears even more impressive. Nearly every aspect of the film's production was executed with success; the gravitas of the opening Krypton sequences (and subsequent tragedy), the sweet nostalgia for midwest Americana in its second act, and the movie-within-a-movie aspect of its third act, which takes place in the big city of Metropolis.

One aspect of the film that sometimes gets overlooked is its wholly original and satisfying characterization of Lois Lane. Margot Kidder's Lois is a strange bird; quirky and weird, fascinated with the morbid (her first scenes show her giddily finishing up a big story for The Daily Planet on the East Side murder spree) and an inability to spell ("How do you spell 'massacre'?"). Not to be overlooked, she brings a great deal of humor to the role; her scenes with Christopher Reeve as Clark/Superman are snappy and hilarous, reminiscent of the best screwball comedies.
Much like Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday," or Claudette Colbert in "It Happened One Night," Kidder's Lois Lane is strange, yet cute. She's strong, yet vulnerable. In a word, she's complex. And much of this is to be owed to director Donner and the consummate actress, Kidder. She went on to reprise her role in the nearly-as-brilliant "Superman II" and two more ridiculous sequels.

Flash forward a few decades, as a new Superman film was being developed by director Tim Burton... ahem, J.J. Abrams... I mean, Joseph McGinty... gosh, I meant Brett Ratner... oh, no wait, it was Bryan Singer. Yep, Bryan Singer ended up with the job. "Superman Returns" was Singer's attempt to continue the story where it left off in "Superman II." This was not exactly a reboot (a la "Batman Begins"), this was a fresh continuation of the world and events from the first two Superman films.

Casting Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman was a good start, at least on paper. He has many similarities to Christopher Reeve; they were both relative unknowns when they were cast, each have deep, captivating voices, and have physiques appropriate for The Man of Steel. Routh, however, did not have a fraction of Reeve's charisma. But I digress.

On paper, the casting of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, with a cast rounded out by Frank Langella, Parker Posey and Eva Marie Saint, seemed inspired. However, the filmmakers made an enormous error with the casting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.

If the film was designed as a standalone or as a complete reboot, perhaps this casting could have worked. Bosworth has proved herself in the past, doing a fine job in otherwise mediocre, forgettable films ("Blue Crush," "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton"). But with "Superman Returns," a film that is ostensibly a continuation of "Superman II," including numerous references and homages to the two original films, Bosworth was a disastrous, seemingly studio-driven choice, one obviously fueled by Bosworth's popularity.

(Lest you think I'm picking on Bosworth, let me clearly state that the miscasting of Bosworth was simply one error in a giant sea of errors when it comes to the creation of the dreadful film "Superman Begins." The filmmakers could have used a time machine to get 1978-version Margot Kidder to perform in this film, and it still would have been awful.)

Most obviously, Bosworth's sheepish and muted screen presence does not match the character-- the rugged, tough, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from Metropolis. The film clearly states that five years have passed since the events of "Superman II," yet Lois has the physical and emotional appearance of a second-year university student (Bosworth was 23 when she made the film). There was no depth, no gravitas, no honesty to this characterization. When Kidder's Lois entered the frame, the viewer could feel the electricity and excitement; she commanded the frame with her amazing screen presence. When Bosworth's Lois entered the frame, the viewer is left wondering why this girl with the bad wig is loitering around the offices of The Daily Planet.

Although it's clear that a better choice for Lois Lane would not have even remotely saved the film, it's fun to fantasize about alternative choices. Who would have been a better choice for Lois Lane?
Anyone who watches NBC's "The Office" knows Rashida Jones, who joined the magnificent cast when Jim Halpert leaves the office and works at another branch of Dunder Mifflin, and meets Karen (Jones). Boy, she would have made a fantastic Lois Lane.

Physically, Jones and Kidder have a lot in common. She's an exquisite actress, bringing a genuinely unique characterization to television with her role in "The Office," a role that requires a great deal of charisma and weight. I may be imagining it, but I think Jones even has a bit of a squeak in her voice, just as Kidder has ("You've got me? Who's got you?!"). She also is the perfect age to play the continuation of Kidder's Lois (Margot Kidder was 30 when she originally played Lois, Jones was 30 in 2006), and as indicated by her performance on "The Office," she clearly has the acting chops to portray Lois as an experienced, well-travelled, award-winning Daily Planet reporter.

But most importanly, Rashida Jones has a twinkle in her eye, just as Kidder. I could easily see her pulling off the quirky weirdness that Kidder brought to the role.

She would have been perfect for Lois Lane.

Or Maura Tierney.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Spot-On "Knocked Up" Review

I saw "Knocked Up" this weekend, the second feature film from writer-director Judd Apatow. No sophomore slump here, "Knocked Up" is a great film. It confirms that Apatow, even with only "Knocked" and "The 40-Year Old Virgin" as his only two features, is one of America's most important filmmakers.

Stephanie Zacharek writes a spot-on review for

...Apatow uses an unplanned pregnancy -- a jarring event that's also, perhaps paradoxically, one of the most natural things in the world -- as a device to explore parenthood and the nature of long-term partnership. "Knocked Up" isn't at all precious about either: At first, Alison isn't even so sure she likes Ben. And when she invites him to dinner to break the news (they haven't seen each other since the awful morning after that fateful night), he reacts just like the immature stoner bonehead she believes he is. "I assumed you were wearing a patch -- or a dental dam," he sputters, cruelly suggesting that after all, it's the woman's responsibility to take care of such things. He doesn't even have to know the right words for them.

But Ben is at heart a sweet guy, and he and Alison tentatively move toward common ground, making the kind of connection that could turn into love. They also fight, in ways that bring out the worst in each of them: Alison is impatient, demanding and judgmental; Ben is a little boy who's reluctant to grow up. The male-female arguments in "Knocked Up" are sometimes so vicious, so indicative of suppressed toxicity, that they're painful to watch. At one point Debbie advises Alison on how to gain the upper hand with a partner: "You criticize them a lot until they get so down on themselves they're forced to change." Her pert, cheerful certainty on this matter is what makes the line so funny, and also so horrifying. Pete has his own way of dealing with marital pressures. He's keeping a relatively benign secret from Debbie, and when she discovers it, she lashes out at him -- and the ensuing confrontation makes you feel horrible for both of them. Apatow has no compunction about going for uncomfortable laughs, as well as breezy ones.

This is a romantic comedy that's unafraid to face human suffering dead on. And yet, in the end, it's all the more joyous for that. "Knocked Up" is a beautifully shaped piece of work: There are no slack patches, no gratuitous feel-good moments -- if you walk out of "Knocked Up" feeling good, that means you've earned it.

Hopefully I'll be writing more about "Knocked Up" in the future; about the bright future of R-Rated comedies, about the contradiction of a sweet film that contains a lot of harsh language, about the surprising morality in what appears to be a stoner movie, comparisons between Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith.... ooh, this is fertile ground.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Is that an O'Doul's?

'Cold drink,' eh? That looks like a beer to me. Wait a second... shouldn't recovering alcoholics not drink alcohol?

Oh, wait. The Bush family has never actually admitted that George W. Bush is a recovering alcoholic. They've been delightfully cryptic about his past.

I'm sure this DWI of the President's doesn't come up very often in the White House. Or Dick Cheney's two (count 'em, two) drunk driving arrests.

If you're interested in George W. Bush's past, you should watch these two PBS/Frontline documentaries: The Choice: 2004, and the brilliant and sometimes frightening The Jesus Factor.

Get Better Known

Great "Better Know A District"? Or, the greatest "Better Know A District"?

From "The Colbert Report," June 7, 2007, Stephen interviews Representative Adam Smith, from Washington's 9th District.

I love how Smith was unsure of the goals of UNICEF but was pretty certain of the goals of NAMBLA.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Unfortunate Humanity

Megan Fox, one of the actors from "Transformers," on acting in the film:
"You know, you sit and you think, 'This isn't realistic and people are going to hate this and I feel like a f--king douchebag and I can't do it,'" laughs Fox. "But then you think nobody's even going to give a s--t. There's going to be so much happening around this that they have to tie you into the story somehow, because there are a lot of people who would just watch a movie that was nothing but robots fight[ing]. Sure, but the majority of people… I heard Shia say they want to see some sort of human interaction, human involvement, so those things have to, I think unfortunately they have to be thrown in there. And we're trying to steer away from -- we know the fans and they don't want any sappy bulls--t. We're trying to stay away from that and keep it as realistic as possible and as much about the Autobots and Decepticons as we can."


Just... wow.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Have a Coke and a Smile!

From the Marketplace story from June 5, 2007:
SAM EATON: Sugar is an incredibly water-intensive crop. For one liter of Coke, it takes 250 liters of water to produce that sugar that goes into that Coke.

KAI RYSSDAL: Wait, say that one more time: 250 liters of water — that's plus or minus 50, 60 gallons — to make a liter of Coca-Cola.

Dayum. Think about that next time you crack open an ice cold Coke!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"Ratatouille" and Moving the Camera

updated: article now includes a YouTube clip, clearly marking "Shot A" and "Shot B." -tv
I'm a real stickler for camera movement. I want the movement of the camera to feel logical, and be motivated by the context of the shot. I strongly believe that executing ridiculous, over-the-top, flashy camera moves without motivation is one way to quickly turn off an audience.

This is why I call Brad Bird a genius with the camera.

I had the distinct honor of seeing "Ratatouille" last weekend, and the delightful film is another example of Brad Bird's genius with action choreography. Just as he did for the animated films "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles," Bird once again treats us to a beautiful animated world whose camera movement is wholly organic and never flashy.

This is just a preview of a much larger article, soon to appear on FXRant; I wanted to write that larger article first, but after seeing "Ratatouille," I became so excited about this topic that I had to just get some ideas out on digital paper, so bear with me.

I despise unmotivated, out-of-context camera moves; camera moves that are, in and of themselves, all flash and no substance. The camera moves of "Spider-Man" and its two sequels, Stephen Sommers' "Van Helsing," and just about any Dreamworks animated film all fail a basic rule of camera movement: never let your camera move be more flamboyant than your content. If you're using the camera for flash, then you're using the immense power of the camera move as a creative crutch, and not as a way of truly illustrating the action. (That was much harder to summarize than you can possibly imagine. Like I said, a larger article is forthcoming... sit tight.)

Bird's "Ratatouille" follows the adventures of Remy, a Parisian rat who wants to be a gourmet chef. The very nature of Remy gives the camera an opportunity to follow him through places that only a mouse could go.
There are some elaborate sequences in "Ratatouille" which are exhilarating and exciting, partially due to the exquisite and precise use of camera movement and editing. Watch this nine minute nine minute sequence from the film and come back.
Notice how the camera moves seem effortless. They're not specifically flashy-- but, logically, they're defying the laws of physics. The action moves seamlessly from one area to the next, and the edits are absolutely precise and, most importantly, invisible. One of the most important tenants of classic Hollywood narrative filmmaking is the necessity for editing and camera movement to be as invisible as possible; they need to be seamless and wholly appropriate for the type of film you're making. These action-filled scenes from "Ratatouille" (with a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino) illustrate this concept perfectly.

Watch the scene again, starting at 2:20, where Remy climbs out of the kitchen sink. Notice how the aggregate of all of those shots gives us a very clear indication of the geography of the scene, the relative scale of our hero with his world, and the danger involved. The audience is completely rooting for our hero; although it is a chaotic scene, the action is very clear and the audience is right along with Remy, instead of fighting to keep up. When necessary to set up important spatial relationships, Bird makes sure to not break the 180 degree line of action. When chaos and action are not dependent on spatial relationships, he ignores it with abandon.

Then, watch this clever little bit of filmmaking, starting at 3:02 of the Quicktime movie. Or just view this YouTube video below:

We'll call this Shot A. Remy enters the right side of the frame, revealing Linguini (the human) on the left side of frame. Wishing not to get caught, Remy hides behind a jar...
...the camera dollies to the right, and as Remy darts forward, the camera actually follows him forward.
After only a few steps, we cut to Shot B (below), with Remy appearing from behind the jars, moving right to left, entering frame. The camera is dollying right to left as we cut into the shot.
What just happened there? Why, in Shot A, did we actually follow Remy for a beat before cutting to Shot B? If this is an animated feature, why would that action be initiated, only to cut out of it? Doesn't that seem like a wasted effort? Here's why that little extra camera move exists: it perceptually helps bridge the gap between the shots, because our eyes and minds are led forward beyond the cut. Shot A initiates the action (the movement forward) and Shot B continues that action (Remy entering frame, while dollying right to left).

Bird, editor Darren Holmes, and director of photography (layout) Robert Anderson 'covered' the scene like a live-action film, expertly creating blends between shots that soften the transition from one shot to the next, even when it means creating a seemingly needless camera move (at the tail of Shot A). This is obviously a complicated process, and one that needs to be carefully constructed in the layout and previsualization process.

The more complicated and frenetic your camera moves are, the more you need to pay attention to the movement of the camera and the hookups between shots. Otherwise, you risk losing your audience and alienating them at a time you should be exhilarating them. That's why audiences are mesmerized and entranced by complicated action films like "The Incredibles," "Terminator 2," and are regularly turned off by action films by Michael Bay and Stephen Sommers.

Look forward to a much larger article on camera movement, especially within the context of films like the "Spider-Man" series, Michael Bay, "Children of Men," "The Incredibles," "Van Helsing," and "Terminator 2."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Always Awesome: Definition

What is "Always Awesome"?

Wow, what a dumb question. Can you read? Well, I guess I should spell it out for you.

"Always Awesome" is a label I'm giving to artists who are consistently pumping out quality entertainment. You'll see actors, actressess, directors, screenwriters and other folks who create creative content show up in the "Always Awesome" series. And, usually, these will be folks who are not already getting praise lavished upon them with awards and multimillion dollar salaries. These are hard working artists whose work is dependably well executed, no matter what the project.

In many cases, the person being labeled "Always Awesome" rises above even the most mediocre project.

Click here ["Always Awesome"] to see all the current listings. And there will be more to come. And if you have any suggestions for this series, please email me.