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“The Crew” Season Two Opens and Hilarity Ensues October 27, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Original at Ronebreak.

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The web has been fertile ground for shows more quirky and less genre-specific than what makes it onto television. The Crew, written and directed by young filmmaker Brett Register, is a perfect example of that kind of show.

Best understood as a blend between The Office and Star Trek, The Crew is a comedic romp about the lives of several crew members on a spaceship traveling through space. The idea for the show came from Register, a Star Trek fan, who wondered as a child why viewers never got to see the people who kept the ship running.

“As a kid, you want to be on the ship,” Register said. The ship on Star Trek is supposed to self-sufficient, like a city, but you never see all of its residents. “I thought ‘is it really a city?”…

Full post, with embedded video, at Ronebreak.

FILM: Big Movies: Bad, Bland, or Misunderstood? July 24, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Original over at Splice!

Avatar_largeUPDATE (12/11): As we approach the Oscars, Avatar‘s chances at a nomination are looking up. Critics aren’t hating on the movie; some are loving it!

If you haven’t heard of Avatar, James Cameron’s upcoming monster of a movie—not monster movie—then you will soon enough.

Avatar is a sci-fi picture starring Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver, produced by 20th Century Fox. It will have lots of special effects and be in 3-D. It is also, most importantly, expensive. Apparently the movie cost $240 million to make. (I’m not sure if that counts marketing and distribution; if it doesn’t, tack on at least another $100 million. UPDATE: The full cost including marketing is now being estimated, according to the New York Times, at a whopping $500 million!). I’m going to ignore the money specifics, because frankly in Hollywood that gets dicey (Universal paid more to distribute Brüno that the movie cost to make, making box office numbers a little less than relevant).

Big budget movies have a rocky history. Some big gambles pay off while others do not. Today, however, it seems the big budget original movie is falling out of favor. Sure, X-Men, Transformers and Harry Potter are enormously expensive, but those are based on books, franchises and prior box office success, guaranteeing an audience, however small. Avatar is straight out of the blue, out of the mind of James Cameron, making its production budget all the more confusing. Also, many of the most successful movies of the last 10 years cost little to begin with—Borat, The Hangover, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Blair Witch Project, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Slumdog Millionaire, among many others—and thrive in theaters based on word of mouth. It’s hard to harness word of mouth and turn that into dollars; just ask the producers of Snakes on a Plane. Not that 20th Century Fox isn’t trying: they’ve begun the publicity blitz now, six months before its release, showing clips from San Diego to Amsterdam.

So when Hollywood blows a few hundred million on a new project, my first instinct is to call them idiots. But then I quickly pull back. Special effects cost money after all, and proven actors and directors do as well. Let’s face it: money guarantees a certain level of competence. For a risk-averse industry, paying up makes some sense.

So I refine my position. What really upsets me are big budgets for bland projects. In recent memory the most notorious example is Evan Almighty, a sequel of sorts to Bruce Almighty (but not really, since it lacked Jim Carrey). Costing over $200 million, Evan didn’t come close to that in theatres, a complete bomb. Why overspend for mediocrity?

No, the best big budget films strive for new heights: new technical feats, novel storylines, brave performances. My favorite example in history is Jacques Tati’s Play Time, a sequel to his earlier films Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle which, when it was released in 1967, was the most expensive movie ever produced in France. Tati literally built a city to film in (only to have it thoughtlessly razed after production for a highway) and spent himself into financial ruin to make it. When it was released in theatres, critics and audiences hated it and Tati was finished. But today, Play Time stands among the most brilliant films in history. It follows Tati’s character, Mr. Hulot, around a modern Paris, as he interacts with its characters and architecture. There is almost no dialogue and virtually no close-ups. The buildings and abstract human interactions tell the story. Its ambition is gripping.

When I read about the migraine-inducing price tag on James Cameron’s new project, I think of Play Time. Will Cameron show me a world I’ve never seen before—or, just as well, our current world in a way I could never imagine? He must know that, with that enormous ticker price burned in the minds of viewers, this is the standard against which he will be held.

Avatar does not even need to be pleasurable. Certainly many of the most important films in history were not pleasing to critics and audiences at the time of their release. It would be fine if I misunderstand it; maybe in a few years I will get it. But for something that costs $2 million a minute, at the very least, it better be interesting.

FILM: Star Trek and Millennial Aesthetics May 9, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Star Trek glistens with Millenialism

Star Trek glistens with Millennialism

UPDATE: BoxOfficeMojo and other sources now reporting that Star Trek took in $72.5 million domestically and $35.5 million abroad, less than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still a good starting point. Next week will be key.

So last week I pop-conjectured that Star Trek might not do as well as Wolverine, since Wolverine, as the tale of blue collar worker screwed over by the government waging a massive revenge trip, fit in much better with the recession mood and would be able to bring in more (unemployed) men. It was a sloppy thesis, admittedly, because it turns out, Star Trek may be on track to outperform Wolverine and that the latter might die fast in the box office while Star Trek lingers longer in theatres. Who knows, right?

Wolverine, much darker than Star Trek, reflects a different aspect of socioeconomic moment.

Wolverine, much darker than Star Trek, reflects a different aspect of our socioeconomic moment.

Star Trek was similarly as timely as Wolverine, perhaps more so. The movie is one of those few major Hollywood films this year perfectly tuned to the aesthetics of Millennials — the throngs of hopeful, ambitious, idealistic yet practice-oriented young people who voted for Barack Obama, and, even if they didn’t, still believe optimism mixed with dedicated work brings the best results. The movie,it has been much-remarked, is glowing. It looks hopeful. The cast, true to the original Star Trek is multi-cultural and multiracial and interracial romance (inter-species!) romance is lauded without comment. The view of a galaxy mostly in harmony, respecting cultural differences — even essentialisms — without condoning violence among them is also very now. But also not new. All these things connect Millennial aesthetics with Boomer aesthetics. 

Yet there are deviations as well. I was surprised but the excessive use of close-ups on the human face, a device as much as result of television aesthetics as Millennial ones — think, your average YouTube vlog, Facebook/MySpace photos: the framing face is very important to my generation. There was the use of handheld camera in these moments, a quiet nod to DIY aesthetics without being as disruptive as in JJ Abrams’ previous Cloverfield. Indeed, Abrams seems desperate to be relevant, and mostly he succeeds in both films. 

The casting of pretty boy Chris Pine — distractingly pretty, I thought — and nerdy-hot Zachary Quinto was also canny. Both are bookish and geeky — see: Pine in Just My Luck — while still knowing how to kick ass and look sexy as hell — see: Quinto in Heroes. It’s the kind of complex yet harmonious identity, challenging as it to stereotype (Barack Obama!), that also feels very much like the kind of men we need now, not Bushy cowboys like Logan or fey hippies, but some kind of happy medium.

There’s more I’m missing — any thoughts? Like any theory, it’s messy. But I do think we’re in one of the moments when art and artistic styles start to shift, or, at least, new forms start to arise, so I’m trying to keep my mind open to the possibilities.