Saturday, October 30, 2010

For Colored Girls

A good movie either needs the big screen, the big budget, or big stars to be worthy of an audience as large as Tyler Perry's. Tyler Perry's “For Colored Girls” is one of those movies that follows interconnecting stories of people going through struggles. The domestically abused, the sexually assaulted, accidentally impregnated, the baron, and hopelessly devoted. Think “Valentines Day” with more raping.

The movie is not unlike that of a, or, well, six lifetime films in that it's about women who don't need men. Or have been scorned by men. Or had their children killed by men due to PTSD. Okay, maybe that last one hasn't happened on lifetime yet, but I'm sure Army Wives has it cooking for a season finale.

Tyler Perry does not direct this film well. For example in this film there's a scene where a recently impregnated 16 year old girl walks down the world’s most clichéd back alley in the history of cinema. There's some skeevy looking folks playing dominoes, some other folks drinking booze, an angry dog barking, and yes, one crazy woman mumbling to herself. Bingo! I got Bingo!

This movie doesn't need the big screen. Perry does not take advantage of his stage, and there are no scenes, or shots, or effects that wouldn't be just as powerful on my TV screen at home. The movie is directed on a level similar to that of middling West Wing episodes. The camera doesn't do anything particularly interesting, things happening in the background look staged, and scenes that are supposed to be powerful or subtle drew laughs or lewd comments from the crowd, which, by the way, was the most entertaining part of the film. It knows how to elicit a reaction from its intended audience, though often at the expense, or in spite of, the story telling.

The writing has it's good moments, and the audience laughed in interesting places, and the barbs from Janet Jackson to her boyfriend with a fabulous secret are delightful in their sophomoric nature. As an adaptation, though, the bits Perry has written and the parts lifted directly from the play arrive at perpendicular angles to one another. Some are good. Anything that comes out of Loretta Devine's mouth is gold. But these little poetic monologues grow in occurrence toward the second part of the film, and I grew tired of the folks to talking in radio head style lyric every four minutes.

The acting is good, Whoopi Goldberg gives the best pissed off I can remember, Phylicia Rashad is able to captivate an audience without doing a whole heck of a lot, and Thandie Newton does her best Rosie Perez impression.

Now, this movie is called for colored girls, but all issues of race and color are literally left to the last 20 minutes of the film, where the words colored, black, and nigger find their way into the monologues. Nothing in the film features issues specific to the African American community, and if these characters had been white, pink, or purple, nothing would have changed but the color correction. So this sudden inclusion proved baffling.

Maybe it's because I'm not colored, or a woman, but this movie is not worth the price of admission. I'm certain issues of haphazardly handled domestic violence, laugh inducing rape, oddly implied incestual abuse, awkward directing, a drawn out ending and clichéd lets all hug as we ponder our lives without men scene, transcends all colors and genders but one. Green. Save yours. “For Colored Girls” would make a wonderful first season of a cable (or TBS) drama, but as a movie in a theater? It is not worth The Price of Admission.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Minutemen

“The Minutemen” plays things down the middle, content to observe. When watching a bias documentary, such as Fahrenheit 9/11, or An Inconvenient Truth, we expect to be shocked every few minutes. Well did you know this? And then this! Oh yes, here's this shocking fact too! And sadly the exhilaration of a pissed off point of view, is missing from this film.

In it's place is an overwhelming feeling of dedication. The film-makers to the documentary, the minutemen to their post, the illegal immigrants to coming here to work and survive. All of them out in an unbearable desert because they feel they need to be there.

This is a passion project and it shows. Anyone willing to traipse out into the desert day in and day over the course of four years has passion or a screw loose. Possibly both. These subjects, The Minutemen, are American Citizens who took to the Mexican border to monitor and report on any illegals crossing the border, are out in that desert. Morning, noon, night.

Technically the film is a little shaky, there's no narrative or thesis to the film, and instead it seems the crew took cameras into the desert, followed around the minutemen, then assembled the most exciting footage they had. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when watching the film, my mind wandered on some occasions, I was not compelled. I was informed.

That said, the movie does what it says it will do: It shows us what the minutemen do (watch, mostly), and on occasion surprises you with a development like a subject having a heart attack, two minutemen being investigated for robbery, or a stereotypically redneck Minutemom making a point that makes it hard to actively hate her despite the fact she was just harassing all the migrant workers outside of home depot with a video camera. And this almost works. It almost works because all the people in the film are intensely compelling.

They're an eclectic bunch. the kind of folk who could be on Jerry Springer if they didn't mean so well. They sit and wait and radio in, and well, it's actually pretty boring. No wonder so many of them have pets. From lil dog, to Minutemom, to Max Kennedy, the boston born guru of the minutemen who deserves his own twitter account more than anyone else on the planet, you enjoy the time they're on screen.

Since the film avoids making the minutemen out to look like crazed rednecks, it's important they're all presented as human characters, and they are. Too often we assume these people in the south going on about the evils of immigration are minus teeth and jobs and just want an excuse to go out with their gun and a bad attitude. And maybe that's partly the case, but there really is more to the issue than that, and everyone has a fairly reasonable excuse for playing cowboy.

Good documentaries make you ask questions, make you want to learn more, make you want to go on wikipedia and lose 45 minutes reading about the content. In a perfect world this documentary will get the film-makers a TV show on PBS, their next project more funding and a bigger staff, allowing them to assemble at least a touch more sleek production.

Interview with The Minutemen Filmmakers

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cool it!

Folks my age have grown up with lots of noise. Impending doom, the economy, school violence, violent video games, global warming. My generation grew up thinking this was the way to go about things, screaming at the top of your lungs like some crazed sports fan. The loudest baby gets the bottle.

Thankfully the documentary “Cool It” is here and ready to pacify us with a message of “Calm the heck down, folks, the world isn’t ending”. The rationale response to global warming is one we've needed for awhile.

The film follows controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, who, despite his jaw line, isn’t as entertaining as he thinks he is, as he informs us that the current world environmental plan is to spend 250 billion dollars to lower the temperature of the earth about .01 degrees. He says this is a colossal waste of money. And it is. He argues that the same amount of money can be spent adapting to the changing climate, used to research sustainable, clean, energy, and education.

It’s weird because for a movie with a theme of cooling it, and being rationale, a great deal of this film is spent harping on Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”, which came out something like four years ago, as well as 20 boring minutes spent telling us about Bjorn's trials and tribulations among the scientific community, because he's controversial!

It seems like Bjorn, who is the focal point of this film, had about forty five minutes worth of material directed at the craziness of the Gore documentary, another twenty or so on how wronged he's been by mainstream environmentalists, and that's really it.

The film detours into bits about sustainable energy, new nuclear technology and wave power, how education can cure famine in Africa, and interviews with school children I don't care about.

The movie is at it's best when it's soothing us with facts from real scientists at real institutions with real facts, statistics, and dollar figures. The polar icecaps aren't melting. The water level isn't going to rise. Hurricane Katrina wasn't a global warming created disaster.

I just feel like the movie could have been better as a PBS TV show, to watch casually while doing homework, Bjorn could certainly host his own show, and all of these subjects he covers are worthy of eyeballs. Just not in this way.

I know it’s not getting a wide release, and I didn’t pay to see it, and you probably won’t either due to the lack of computer generated explosions, but if you have a person’s attention for an hour and a half, you better make sure they want to be there the entire time, and I didn’t. Take the message, leave the documentary. Buy the book.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The offensive Joke

"Walked into a door" brand concealer by Loreal.
We know why, but we won't tell.
You better not either.

The difference between an offensive joke and an off color joke is pretty wide. The offensive joke is the sort of thing that causes boycotts and media coverage and David Letterman to eat shit on national television.
But think of the beauty in the cheap shot. The cheap shot is the thing a person thinks but doesn't say. The thing that is probably best left unsaid, but needs to be heard. Why? Ask Jon Stewart, ask Stephan Colbert, ask every late night talk show host. Ask Seth McFarlene.

Obviously these people have an audience and a big one, so does this all mean society is bigots and fans of the lowest common denominator? I doubt it.

The best kind of joke, to me, is the kind that starts in the belly with a "oh my god I can't believe..." gasp. From there it should transform the face into a contorted half smile of astonishment, before you start wondering which friends you can tell without offending.
Also there tends to be a discrepancies with jokes that are offensive. Obviously comparing the leader of the free world to Hitler, a man who killed millions, is much less offensive then a joke about a rape or abuse or abused animals. The more visceral action, the most visceral image, the more real the joke.

I don't know where I was going with this. Just felt like saying it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Technology Fidelity: A preamble

This is the first of several articles explaining why I think technology is rarely represented correctly in places other than the internet. This article focuses on the news.

About a year ago I wrote a research paper about watching the nightly news, which I promptly got a C- on. The reason? I decided to do the paper on the misrepresentation of video games and technology in the media.

While my professor deemed this a totally unimportant topic, I venture that the 500 million people who use facebook would disagree, as would anyone under the age of 30. But alas, I got a C-.

So, after watching the news for a couple of days, a story about video game sales to minors was featured. It also featured out of date and incorrect information. The story made it appear as though restricting the sales of violent video games to minors was a new thing, which it isn't, this particular practice began occurring during the mid 90's with the release of ECW Anarchy Rulz*. The piece displayed games that are an upwards of 12 years old and even ones that weren't sold anymore. There are plenty of modern violent video games to show, so why not show those?

If I was doing a story on current media sexism and showed you a documentary about ads from the 1980's, wouldn't you be confused and less likely to take the information presented to you seriously? Unless of course you're an interested viewer who trusts the news to bring you up to date accurate information.

It just shows that the media is sometimes out of touch. So out of touch, in fact, that this particular story featured the far right organization “The Parents Television Council”. This organization often cites (false) studies by the Family Research Council, run by Ken Blackwell. The FRC often times comes out with studies like “80 percent of video gamers addicted to games!” and so on.

The story also somehow manages to make the assumption that children are allowed to go to R-rated movies and buy CDs with curse words on them without being carded. In the end it was a special kind of news story, that manages to outrage and annoy the tech savy, all the while having enough misinformation and sloppiness to scare the masses.

The problem was that this story didn't give us the details. It didn't tell us about how the PTC are a buncha crazies who specialize in boycotting for attention, it didn't tell us about how many developers say games aren't for children, or how the majority of people who buy games are adults. To an uninformed viewer, they'd take it to be true. They'd believe everything that was said, and think how dastardly the video game industry must be to sell these terrible games to minors. And worse, they'd think GTA: VICE CITY, is the hit new video game of 2010. The worst part of this entire story, is that it played it as if there was a conflict between society and the video game corporations, when in fact, the video game industry has self policed itself into restricting the sale of violent games to minors via the ESRB, since 1999. It's Similar to the MPAA, but more open in it's rating process.

Let's play a game. How many times have you watched the news and stumbled upon a story about facebook, or myspace, or some other thing you may be interested in because you're a youth, only to scream at the TV for getting the facts wrong, missing the pieces that were important in order to fit a sound-byte or get people to come back after the break.

In regards to another story on Internet technology, specifically one about Facebook privacy. This particular media darling comes from the fact that certain websites will be able to access your Facebook, see what kinds of music, movies, and Television shows you're into, and then recommend ads tailor made to your tastes. So if, for example, notices you like Steely Dan and Dire Straits on your Facebook profile, it will probably try and recommend you some Neil Young.

The issue is that this kind of information transfers to the website passively. Essentially allowing a website to access information you make freely available to the public, and use it to make your web going experience easier and personalized.

But instead, the news reports it along the lines of “Popular Social Networking website Facebook is giving YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION to the Internet, is your privacy at risk!?”. This is one of those stories that gets teased throughout the show, the story that makes you come back from the commercials, so of course they have to deliver on their big scary message. This happens routinely with stories about the big, scary, Internet. Always about privacy, or how your kids could be under attack by predators, or viruses, or bullies pretending to be interested suitors.

What about the fact I don't need to wait 45 minutes on the phone to hear movie times anymore? That doesn't get enough credit.

The best part of this story was how the reporter fellow had to have a younger person use the computer for him, because he had no idea. Literally, it was some young guy teaching the reporter what to do to turn off the privacy settings. It's like teaching your grandmother how to upload a photo. Why would this be on the news? Doesn't this subject deserve a little more respect than the equivalent of tabloid headline? But the reality is far less entertaining than hysteria, this is why so many people like football.

Surely this is going to be a thing of the past, eventually news producers will retire and newer younger people will take over and been brought up with the internet and violent games and be able to separate fact from fiction and craziness.

So of course they'll work in cable.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'd watch

So, The Price of Admission is the topic of this blog. As it stands right now it's about 50 minutes until I head up to the studio and start trying to prove whatever is in my noggin is viable enough to influence a person's choice or some other totally pretentious thing.

So I know you're all like, okay, why would I watch this show that's on television when this wonderful thing called the Internet is just like TV but with more boobs. Well, I'll tell you why:

First of all, discussion. This show is going to be a great forum. Mark my words. We'll talk and argue and disagree and have a level of discourse rarely found on television. We're not going to yell at each other too much.

We have interviews with celebrities and creative minds interviewed by creative minds. People asking real questions and zany questions. People who are excited about this.

The first show is about the social network, which I liked, and the second one is about Secretariat, which I did not like. It'll be interesting to see which show yields the more interesting results.

It's easier to be more entertaining when being negative, that is for sure. This is why all the news on TV is yelling and screaming and shoe throwing or something.

The thing I'd want in my TV is to make the positive entertaining. There has to be a way to transfer the joy a person gets out of watching a silly video of a baby laughing on you tube to a more substantive form.

We'll see.

I'd watch.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Social Network Review Goodness

I'll be doing this review on Air Wednesday.

The intial reaction to a facebook movie is to cringe. However, when you throw in the details, like being written by West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin, directed by Fight Club's David Fincher, and based on a controversial book about the rise of facebook, things get a whole lot more interesting.

“The Social Network” is “The Godfather” for generation Y. Like any tragedy, The Social Network follows the creation of an empire: How outcast Mark Zuckerberg, played wonderfully by Jesse Eisenberg and his cohort Eduardo played by Andrew Garfield, revolutionized the Internet through spite, genius, and some intellectual property theft. Oh, and instead of a dirt nap in the middle of the dessert, everyone files lawsuits in the end.

The tricky part about movies where friends fall out in spetacular fashion is making it believable. The relationship always felt like a time bomb. This scene here shows how even before the stress of a multi billion dollar empire, their relationship leaves a bit to be desired.

The story is exciting and intricate, an accomplishment for a film aimed at an audience that's that's condescended too often. There are layers upon layers, and every drama or conflict in the film seems to come from the notion that someone has been left out or wants to fit in, which what facebook is all about.

This works. This Works wonderfully. The film holds your attention for it's entire two hour running time without a single explosion. Like any good tragedy, the entertainment in the film is not in the conclusion, but the journey. Every scene works on multiple levels. Every joke gets a chuckle, and even the extra stuff about clubs and rowing crue is still entertaining. Do yourself a favor, and see this film.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Again

So Jamie Bell's Marni was a geek in school and picked on by the head cheer leader Joanna, played by tight tummy Odette Yustman. Some years later Marni blossoms and returns home to find that *gasp* her brother is engaged to the tight tummy that made high school a living hell. The concept sounds cool, but in actuality it's pretty lame. There isn't a thought or joke in this movie that hasn't been done better in other places.

It's seems the producers started to watch the movies they ripped off, but were distracted by twitter or something. The big climax of the film involves a fight between Kristen Bell and Tight Tummy in the dining room of a rehearsal dinner. You would think food fight. You desire food fight. Instead they throw plates. Real, heavy, inflict real bodily harm plates.

This wasn't funny, this wasn't intense, it was awkward and weird and you could tell the actors weren't trying to hit each other.

“You Again” is a lego movie. A lego movie takes pieces from all the other movies in it's genre, assembles them together into something desperately trying to resemble an original creation. The movie's concept is pretty original. but once you go beyond the logline, everything is something we've seen before. And will probably see again. Hopefully done better.

It's nothing new. It became a game to list three other movies with cliches “You Again” attempted. There isn't a thought or joke in this movie that hasn't been done.

Another failed cliché comes in the form of a comedy dance off. As the plot called for a set piece, the principal actors agreed to take a dance lesson. Jealousy and music kicks in and everyone takes turns doing ridiculous dance move after ridiculous dance move until the characters we're supposed to sympathize with take it one notch to high and embarrass themselves.

And that's what the movie is. It's a series of scenes in which one character embarrasses themselves. Keeping in mind the movie takes place in the course of 48 hours, the following happened:

Kristen Bell falls in a bunch of mud, gets her hair stuck in gum, gets her contacts carried away by ants (I know), and gets covered in the aforementioned unfunny soup.

Jamie Lee Curtis accidentally breaks a sink and gets soaked in water after dropping an expensive earing down the drain, rips a dress, gets a speeding ticket drag racing, manages to wear the same dress to the rehearsal dinner as Sigourney weaver's character, and oh yes, takes a tumble into a pool in an awkward cat fight. And the dance thing where she tumbles from a trampoline thing.

Unfunny. Awkward. Flat. Things you think would work, only sorta work. This has all been seen before. And movies far more touching and funny have been, and will be, made again. This movie is the kind of movie that exists to be played on TBS two years from now when people are bored in a hospital waiting for an unloved relative to die and the Internet is no where to be found.

A note on the Joanna character. She is played as a legitimate psychopath, at one point dressing in her wedding dress to eat cheesewhiz, and spreading what I hope is beefaroni across the bottom of it. These are not charming things to put in a movie PG movie. They are creepy.

Also, this movie is added to my ever growing list of films to inaccurately depict technology. A film is only as good as it's most minor detail. A character gets “Fall Out 4!” for his Playstation Portable. If that's not offensive enough, it comes in a box that would barely hold a thumb drive. To someone with even a minor knowledge of video games, this annoying and distracting.

There'a really bizarre sequence at the end involving a collapsing tree house and serious injury. It's as if the writer of the film ran out of ideas and started watching coming of age children's films instead of old John Hughes flicks.

PS I know the review is repetitive. Sadly the movie has rubbed on me (lack of) creatively.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Horses are animals. Sure they're pretty and shiny and furry and run fast and helped out a whole bunch before the automobile was invented, but I've never bought into all the hysteria surrounding our favorite glue manufacturing animal. As a result, movies like The Horse Whisperer, Flicka, Flicka 2, Black Beauty, Hildago, Seabiscuit, and Racing Stripes have all lacked a certain Pizazz for me.

Every single one of these movies, at one point or another, have done that shot from a low angle. You know the one, with slow motion, A golden sunset highlighting the animal, the movie pretty much screaming at you to notice how royal and majestic these noble animals are.

Well, at least Secretariat goes the full monty and declares the horse might as well be Jesus. Literally there's talk of how this horse saved them, saved everyone (sniffle). Example: movie starts with some epic battle music, booming bass, and I'm half expecting Scotland to come running at the screen declaring freedom. Suddenly, Diane Lane starts quoting the bible for some bizarre reason, so bizzare in fact that I was too distracted by the confusion in the first 15 seconds of the film that I couldn't even pay attention to the words.

The story starts out decently enough, Diane Lane plays Penny, who grew up on a farm but has since moved away for 1970's style upper middle class nuclear family bliss, her husband is a lawyer, her daughters politically active, but darn if something isn't missing.

Something interesting happens eventually as Penny's mother dies and gets the plot going. After returning home to the farm and firing a less than reputable horse trainer, Penny can't help but get involved in the family business of horse racing and raising, despite her being just a house wive. Irking her brother who, naturally wants to sell the farm, and husband who doesn't understand all this crazy horse stuff, thus making him my favorite character in the movie. But Penny carries on, following her dream. Or neglecting her family. I report, you decide.

Then we're off to races (ha ha) in the horse movie cliché-o-meter, with the beautiful, majestic, gooey birth of a young stallion. I've seen this kind of scene in about every movie that takes place on a farm, and I still don't understand the appeal. I never will.

Eventually Diane Lane recruits Lucien Laurin ,and some personality to the proceedings, as an easily annoyed but unorthodox trainer who's trying to retire. He's zany, he's easily annoyed, and eccentric. What with those different colored hats and funky shorts all. Look at him being all different, ho ho.

From there the plot marches on pretty standardly. The advertisements make a point of telling us this is an IMPOSSIBLE TRUE STORY (Which is an oxymoron), so it's not like there's any real drama to be had here. We knew the horse was going to win and be the greatest ever, Penny would be called a house wife three or four times, the husband will come around to her way of thinking AFTER she's had great success and is no longer a laughing stock, eventually Penny starts quoting the bible in voice over again, then bumpers of what happened to all the characters of the film before the credits roll, which were also really, really weird, and then I get to go home. I realize I was not in any way shape or form in the mind of the producers of this film, and anything I really wanted to know about the horse racing rigamarole could have been done reading wikipedia on the John.

If you're going to make a movie based on a true event, your movie has to be the journey, not the conclusion. For example no one watches Zodiac to figure out who the killer is at the end. So the script really has to pop, and the movie has to excite, and entertain, and this movie doesn't. Sure it's beautifully shot, and the horse races are exciting, but exciting in the same way re-watching the fight Rocky IV is exciting. The Social Network, which is also a dramatized biopic, entertained by overlaying subtext of belonging and being socially outcasted, to give us some insight into why everything happened the way it did.

Here, in this film, it seems like everyone was just content to tell us how it happened. There's a little bit about being your own woman, and it seemed like the stuff with Penny's war protesting daughters could make for an interesting subtext about sticking up for what you believe in, but all this stuff is just granulated sugar sprinkled on top of the cake, not actual ingredients or even frosting.

The movie would have been far more interesting (Or entertaining, even) if Penny was doing all of this racing and such to get out of a life of domesticated hell, that's at least something. And even though the “You're just a housewife!” count came in at about five (or 2.5 per hour), even this isn't a common theme. She never has to fight for respect, she never has anything happen to her because she's just a wife and mother. But instead it's just..there.

Then to bring the movie to an delightfully offensive halt is the magical negro. I am the first person to tell people who cite racism in films to shove it, it's just a movie, but this was bad. The black horse trainer in the film is just awful. He has no depth, and really just seems to carry the horse around, and be around to say things like hell, and damn, and “oooh boy yousa gonna win this har race! Yess youuarr Yes sirree”. This character is the most offensive thing to happen to African Americans since Jar Jar Binks. Of course Jar Jar binks at least had family and motivation outside of just existing.

The best thing I can say about this film is that it commits the impossibly true story of Secretariat to film in a way that is not asinine. I didn't hate the movie, I was just bored. Just as I was bored with all those other horse movies, just like I was with adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen. Which, like Secretariat Strived to commit a story to celluloid as faithfully as possible, versus do anything interesting or unique or outside the box with the source material. Well, actually, in Watchmen they changed the ending.

Wouldn't that have been something here.

In Defense of: Family Guy

The Last Time I checked, the first Amendment means sometimes you get offended”

- Danny Trip “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”

It's 9:00pm (EST) on a Sunday night and you want to laugh. In fact you want a couple of different laughs. You want to laugh at the absurd, like a man fighting a chicken for 3 – 4 minutes. You want to laugh at the obscure, like a reference to “ Avoid The Noid”. Then you want to laugh at the absolutely astounding, like how Chester Cheeto gets high on lines of cheetos and listens to Rush, exclaiming Neil Pert is like, the best drummer ever, dude (And is!). You can only get this level of absolute insanity from one TV show, and that's Family Guy. However, Family Guy has come under attack from watch dog groups and even from its peers in animation. All because it just wants to be the show with the funny sight gags.

Family Guy debuted in 1999 after the Super Bowl. That was the best time slot it would ever get. Featuring a family from Quahog Rhode Island, comparisons with The Simpsons were almost natural. After a season and a half of hilarious shows that lacked in ratings, it was canceled. Only to be brought back for a third season, then promptly canceled again. Trying to avoid comparisons with The Simpsons, Family Guy was moved around the schedule, eventually settling in the Thursday night slot. A great place for a new show to be, up against the first season of “Survivor” and the ratings juggernaut “Friends”. Family Guy floundered and was canceled (again). Then a funny thing happened. Cartoon Network (owned by Fox) started airing reruns of the show. It became a staple for late night television watchers everywhere. Cartoon Network got some of the highest ratings it ever received. Due in part to these ratings, the show was released on DVD, to the tune of 2.2 million box sets sold in the first year1. Merchandise sold like hot cakes. Then something happened that rarely ever happens. The show got a second (third) chance, returning to the airwaves in 2005 with new episodes. A full two years after it was canceled for the second time. This time it took. Smartly, they placed the show with the other animation on the network, claiming their new line of shows “Animation Domination”. Recently, Seth Mcfarlane, the creator of the series, was awarded a 100 million dollar contract, making him the highest paid Writer / Producer working for TV. And with any popular television series, or anything popular in general, there are going to be criticisms. Family Guy has come under fire for being vulgar and obscene, for pushing the envelope so hard it's more like paper pieces now, and for not being very funny.

the two things that make them scared gutless are the FCC and every psycho-religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention of a boycott.

- Wes “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Never under estimate the lengths a bored, rich, white, Republican will go to for exposure. They'll take down whoever they can, whenever they can, and then they'll stand up on their soap box and claim that evil has been thwarted, even if nothing has changed. The Parent's Television Council graciously took it upon themselves to tell us what is best for, well, us. Thank you PTC, our society hates making our own decisions anyway right? The PTC has launched campaigns against the WWF, lying about the content of the programs so big name advertisers like the Coca Cola Company wouldn't advertise with them anymore. During the Golden Globes in 2003, Bono said “Fuck”. The PTC launched a campaign to get NBC fined a whole bunch of money. Of the 234 complaints lodged with the FCC 217 came from PTC members1. The PTC then went after Family Guy. L. Brent Bozell III. (His real name, honest) wrote on the PTC web alert website that: “Creator Seth MacFarlane has aggressively sought to push the content envelope. Worse, Fox has permitted him to do so. Although Family Guy airs during the family hour, when children are likely to be watching, recent episodes have included animated nudity, vulgar references to genitalia, and references to pornography and masturbation.”

Of course the majority of those accusations are true. Family Guy makes it's name on animated nudity, vulgar references to genitalia, and yes, references to porn and masturbation. In fact that's what it's known for. It doesn't “Push the Envelope” it tears it open with a cavalcade of obscene jokes. It airs at 9pm EST, and could hypothetically be watched by children. Shows do routinely feature racist jokes, scatological humor, and many things that perhaps young eyes shouldn't see. A particularly engrossing sequence sees the entire family drink a bottle of ipecac in a contest to see who can throw up the least. What follows is a sequence that is funny as it is disgusting.

So, does the PTC have a point? Sort of. No one is going to argue that Family Guy is family friendly entertainment, and any family that believes it is has bigger problems then what their kids are watching. The PTC however, isn't campaigning to have the show moved to a different time slot, which would be an acceptable argument. It wants it off the air entirely. “If you want to make sure Family Guy is gone for good, contact Fox today.”1 And since it can't get it's way, it, instead tried to hurt FOX in the wallet, managing to get “Whataburger” to pull advertising from local Fox affiliates2. Family Guy is a show for adults. And if the PTC is attempting to tell adults what's good and bad for them, frankly, most adults already have a mother, it's called their wife. Oh, and my mother let me watch WWF at the ripe Ole age of ten. And I turned out Mostly fine fine.

After fighting the evils of conservatism, one would assume Family Guy would have a pass. Free to do what it does best. Make people laugh. That's all the show wants to do, make people laugh. It'll take a laugh wherever it can get it. If that means making people cringe at a musical number about a prom night dumpster baby, then so be it.

So imagine catching flak from one your contemplatives. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, That's my Bush, and Team America: World Police, apparently had a problem with Family Guy's style of humor. “In the DVD commentary, Trey Parker and Matt Stone state for the record their opinions on Family Guy. They say that although they respect it for its fans and making people laugh, and having some smart humor, they ultimately hate the show itself and have no respect for its writing, especially for its overuse of gag-humor”1. The show South Park over the course of the past 6 or 7 years, has established itself as a work of satire. Priding itself on being able to produce an entire episode in about a week, it allows for cutting edge satire and unprecedented access to current events. Trey and Matt obviously take pride in the fact that their show is no longer seen as the show with the 8 year old kids with potty mouths.

Again, the folk at South Park aren't particularly wrong in their accusations that Family Guy relies on “Gag” humor. It does. It relies on flash backs, and references to things from the past, from history, from pop culture. A typical family guy joke involves someone, Peter, Brian, Stewie, being in a not so fun situation, then saying “This is worse than that time I...” then a cut away to some sort of hilarious gag. Sometimes these are obscure references, other times something to do with a famous movie or old TV show. Star Wars is a primary target, as are 80's cartoons. Family Guy has refined this technique, honing it to a fine, crisp, point.

So then, is Family Guy stupid gag humor? Is it dumb throw away joke after dumb throw away joke? Not in the least. Just because a joke is quick, or a gag, doesn't mean it's not smart. There seems to be a concept that good comedy is subtle, or refined, like Arrested Development or Frasier. I disagree. I'd take a pie in the face any day, thank you, there are days where people want to be enlightened and then there are days when I want to laugh at the blind girl from Little House on the Prairie walking into a ladder. The South Park people say that when they make jokes, they are inherit to the plot, they come from the characters and the situations around them. Funny is funny. It doesn't matter where it comes from. Somewhere along the line, likely the same time the South Park creators spoke up and every college student yearning to belong jumped on their teet, it became a crime to enjoy just silly comedy, specifically Family Guy. Can't someone who thoroughly enjoys “The West Wing” thoroughly enjoy a show such as Family Guy? When did gag humor, or dumb humor, become a cardinal sin of writing? Trey Parker and Matt Stone should say that to Steve Martin, or Bill Murray, who relied on Gags in their earlier comedies, and they were heralded at classics and innovators. Yet here is Family Guy, perfecting the art, and suddenly the guys at the show with the talking Christmas Poop are above it?

So, what is it? Isn't Family Guy just a TV show? Or should we believe what we're told? That Family Guy is an offensive, sexually perverse show, no morals and no scruples. It reveals in the moral decay our country is experiencing, as we do such dangerous things in our society like Decriminalize marijuana and realize that some people are a touch too uptight. How can a show like this exist on television? Even worse, how can this show be the second highest rated Fox Show, and the highest rated TV show on ? A show that has no problem poking fun at the homeless, the rich, the poor, the famous and the infamous, the Blacks, the Whites, the Mexicans and everything in between. A show with no barriers or walls in the way of what's okay and what's not. A show that will take a pot shot at 9/11 as much as it would Hitler. Wait a second? A show breaking down barriers? Saying that you should be able to find the humor in everything? Where have I heard this one before?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network is The Godfather for generation Y. Like The Godfather, or any tragedy, The Social Network follows the creation of an empire and destruction of a friendship. But instead of bootlegged wine and going to the mattresses, this empire was amassed on the endless desire to belong. And instead of a dirt nap in the middle of the dessert, everyone files lawsuits. One must wonder the worse fate.

Set against the the cut throat nature of exclusive college fraternities, The social network is the story of how outcast Mark Zuckerberg and his cohort Eduardo created an Internet revolution, partly out of spite, partly out of genuis, and partly by committing theft of intellectual property. Facebook is about belonging, college is about belonging, and the movie is about belonging, too; how most people would sacrifice their only friend for the chance to be the bad ass kid in class.

The tricky part about making a movie where the two best friends are doomed to fail (and sue eachother) is making the inevitable rift that develops between them believable. Director David Fincher side steps this potential cliché by having the two leads mostly tolerate each other the entire way, and not really be all that close. Sure, they're friends, but the jury may be out on whether or not they really like each other all that much.

And this works. It works really well. The movie is attempting to convey that while the social experience may move online, open ourselves up to new people and different situations, the fact remains that the outcasts are going to be the outcasts. A person who doesn't have a lot friends doesn't discover facebook and suddenly have a dazzling social life. Facebook is a reflection of your real life social status, not the indicator of it.

The story is incredibly exciting and intricate, and that's an accomplishment in and of itself, especially for an audience that's used to be condescended to. There are layers of being outcasted, shoved aside, and every drama or conflict in the film seems to come from the notion that someone has been left out. Someone has been excluded, ignored, not had their friend request accepted.

I mean it's all here. At one point one character does something a little sneaky that takes down the facebook site for a little while, and this is all because he felt left out, shut out, and he didn't like the way things were going. He took his ball and went home. The same thing that happened in those gradeschool backyard football games when the fat kid got tackled too hard. The film is a wonderful reflection of this dynamic. That's not to say the movie is perfect.

Too often Fincher would get a little fancy and make one character blurry until they come back with a witty, below the belt barb, and I know this is to create drama and all of that, but it happened so often it could have been a drinking game.

Also, Fincher used CGI for breath in the cold and snow flakes. After a summer of watching computers shoot each other with lasers, to see obvious CGI snow takes you out of the film, and considering how much attention this film requires, these little peeves grow into full fledged annoyances.

It’s as if Fincher was worried the audience's attention span was going to wain, and he needed something, anything, to distract us from all this pesky talking, kids like them fancy computer graphics right?

On the subject of computers, thank God someone took Internet technology seriously. Movies rarely pay attention to technological fidelity. Characters dial only four numbers on a phone. Play an Xbox by only hitting the shoulder buttons. The entirety of “Swordfish”. There was a real and mounting fear in me that The Social Network was going to botch the Internet in spectacular fashion. Amazingly, the content wasn't dumbed down! The film took a noble gamble in believing the audience's needs for authenticity in the technology presented.

The reason the technology was represented in an accurate and exciting way was the writing. Most assuredly an Aaron Sorkin script, chatty dialog and all, it’s easy to forget he wrote it. I mean that in the best way possible.

Sorkin’s prior work included characters having a pesky habit of being maybe a bit to clever for their own good. A bit too “aren't we witty?”. The Social Network's characters talk as normal people would. The first scene in the movie seemed like Aaron Sorkin was just stretching his creative legs, but served the purpose of establishing the theme of Zuckerbergs habit of unintentional Douchebaggary. There is a scene you'll also notice with Sean Parker, Zuckerbeg, Eduardo and a minor character, Christie that was too cute for my liking.

Jesse Eisenberg becomes Mark Zuckerberg, the socially awkward outcast who you won't like very much, but are totally invested in. The brooding, introverted performance would generate oscar buzz in a perfect world.

The other performances were good; Andrew Garfield's Eduardo Saverin has the trickiest job playing straight man to all of the chaos, and doesn’t bore us while serving as Zuckerberg’s exposition machine.

Armie Hammer plays two twins, and makes us empathize with characters who would typically be bad guys in any other film. Justin Timberlake is loud and annoying and whiny, and represents all the things Zuckerberg really wants, and does a good job of being a manipulative jerk you love to hate. Rashida Jones brings cadence and confidence to a small roll.

The best movies are ones that kind of let you into a world you may not know a ton about, and teach you something while entertaining the socks off the audience. In this movie I learned how Facebook started. I learned about the exclusivity and cut throat nature of Harvard clubs, and heck, I even learned a bit about how to row Crue. It entertains, it educates, and it even has Bill Gates.

Yeah! Bill Gates!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A sourced Report on Media Bias.

Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.
Benjamin Haydon

We've all heard of media bias. Essentially, media bias is the thought that a piece of media, be it a TV show, magazine, movie, or most recently, news network, has it's own personal, sometimes hidden agenda. In some cases this is admitted and accepted. Republican Weekly is a publication for Republicans by Republicans. We tend to get into trouble when it comes to media that either hide their beliefs: Movies such as “In the Valley of Ella” or TV shows like “The West Wing” tend to get flack for an obvious bias towards one political party or agenda. Even some bloggers have been known to show bias.

Fox News is pretty much the hot bed for this sort of thing right now, with The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert poking fun at it's rogues gallery of commentators'. Glenn Beck is a drunken idiot, Bill O'Rielly is full of hot air, Fox and Friends might as well be monkeys throwing poo at the TV screen for 2 hours a day. So, that said, what's the deal with Media Bias on Cable Televison?

First and foremost, Media Bias can exist in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Before the dawn of political punditry, media bias was a hidden thing. Articles purported to be about a subject would instead show one side of a story particularly harshly, or worse, leave out important facts, propaganda is a form of this. This was a much more insidious version of media bias than we're aware of today, particularly because the question of agenda was rarely brought up, and motives were rarely questioned.

Then with the dawn of 24 for profit cable news coverage, the question of bias became a much larger issue. One important thing to consider is that that accusations of bias against CNN and FOXNEWS are typically limited to political parties and elections. When it comes to other news; Crime, current events, and entertainment, there's little complaint of distorted facts. Bias is typically limited to a question of red state vs. blue state.

In a study done by Harvard University of CNN coverage during the most recent political election, the numbers were quite intriguing. In fact “CNN programming studied tended to cast a negative light on Republican candidates—by a margin of three-to-one. Four-in-ten stories (41%) were clearly negative while just 14% were positive and 46% were neutral.” (Harvard).

Currently, the big dog in media bias is the Fox News Channel's bias toward staunch conservatism. It's obvious it's there. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and the Fox & Friends crew all share conservative thoughts and beliefs. And it works! Ratings for the Fox News Channel are through the roof. More people watch Fox News at 3am then they watch CNN at 8pm. (MEDIAITE).

So, why be bias? Why push a political agenda? Is it to appeal to viewers of a particular party, to score favorable guests and high profile former politicians? Or are there more sinister motives at work? From the perspective of Fox News, it's important to know that a large corporation that encompasses dozens upon dozens of companies and thousands of products, NEWSCORP, owns the station. It's often speculated that Fox News hammers home it's right wing agenda specifically for the purpose of helping Republicans, who are notoriously pro big business. Yet they maintain their trademarked tagline of “Fair and Balanced”.

This for-profit model of political bias is referred to as the “Herman and Chomsky Propaganda Model”. The model goes on to state that if you have a lot of journalists/producers/commentators who share common political beliefs you can pay them less. Also people with similar beliefs typically have a better, more efficient working environment. Promoting this half in the closet bias has many benefits. Besides lobbying capacity and the ability to land interviews with party players who view the network as a home base of sorts, people enjoy watching television they disagree with or find irritating. Thirty percent of Fox New's audience is democrats (Economist) a higher number than MSNBC and CNN combined. On the hit show 20/20, John Stossel commented on this kind of news bias; “Where I work at ABC, people say ‘conservative’ the way people say ‘child molester.”

The good news is that about 70 percent of television viewers recognize that pretty much any story can, and often is bias (MRC). One of the growing sources for news coverage among young people is “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. The openly liberal Jon Stewart would be the first to tell you he doesn't and shouldn't influence anyone. However, according to CNN.COM, more people watched The Daily Show than Hannity and Combs, Nightline, Meet the Press, and averages a higher rating for it's half hour show then most programs on CNN do at all (CNN). Jon Stewart's show has become something America's bullshit detector for the news coverage of a given day. The show will routinely calling shenanigans on a variety of Fox News stories and douchebaggary. recently going as far as to break a story about Sean Hannity's show doctoring footage of two separate days together to create the appearance of a much more successful tea party protest, leading to retractions and apologies from Hannity's people. In addition, The Daily Show will often times start media wars with the likes of Jim Cramer or Neil Scarborough, who willingly get involved because nothing boosts ratings like a controversy (See: Boy, Balloon).

In addition, A recent Indiana University Study concluded a half hour episode of “The Daily Show” covers as much content as a half hour of CNN or Fox News (IU). Another study by concluded that the viewers and fans of The Daily Show were the most intelligent of the group (it's worth noting that Bill O'Reilly came in third, and Jim Lehr came in second.). So obviously the best and brightest are turning into these programs

Fox News and The Daily Show in one way or another admit their bias. Fox News saying they do have an agenda toward conservative values, but their bias is limited to just it's opinion programming (O'Reilly, Hannity, Beck, the popular stuff) and Jon Stewart going as far as to admit he's a cheap shot artist. But that's not the problem. Too often a young person will watch The Daily Show's critique of a subject and take it at face value. This leads to a distorted picture of reality.

The Daily Show will often times hide behind it's role as a satiric television show. They will create edits of news footage to take things out of context in the interest of their own business; comedy. Another example was they in fact made up a story that Dick Cheney removed his personal home from Google Earth, which he did not do. While most people either don't notice or care, Fox News is pretty decent at calling Stewart on his own deceptions. "To be fair Jon, you're a satirist, you have the license to distort. But everyone should know what you're doing and why," Quotes Bill O'Reilly. So what do we do? It's all convoluted with motives and for profits. Fox News admits their bias, and The Daily Show has no right hiding behind it's comedy moniker when it lands guests like sitting Vice President Joe Biden and the inventor of the Internet himself, Al Gore in a single year. So, everyone's spinning half the time, and when they're not, they're just outright lying. Heck, even the two biggest “Independent” fact checking organizations, “Truth in Media” and “New Hounds” openly admit their own bias.

So what do we do? Do we just live on the fact that if something is outstandingly wrong or bias, it'll likely be called out by another bias media source? Is reform in news needed? Mandates that it becomes non profit? There are many possible solutions, and they're all quite far off.

Thankfully there are some truly independent BS detectors out there. Bill Mahr isn't a particularly insightful fellow, but his common sense approach to politics and democracy is leading to a truly fresh breath of air in the midst of all the hot kind. Dennis Miller, while surely a right leaning figure, is able to, and often does, point out both sides of the story, playing devils advocate in a realistic way, as opposed to other commentators who will completely misjudge what the other side of any argument is trying to say. In addition Internet forums on non political sites such as Penny Arcade and provide real dialog between the informed and the not so. Surely opinions and facts are wrong, but at least people are talking instead of yelling at one another.

The key to cracking misinformation is to get news from a variety of sources and always maintain the fact that all media can and often is bias, in the back of your head. Google News doesn't discriminate between left and right, pulling in news from all sources from the Drudge Report to The Spokane Patriot. If a story seems too perfect or outlandish, it probably is.

Ultimately, Media Bias is as old as the media itself. Whenever a human element is introduced into anything, judging, leading, politics, there are obviously biases and views that are pushed to the forefront. Whether it be Fox New's Conservatism, CNN's liberalism, The Daily Show's pot shots, or anything else, there's bound to be bias. The key, if you ask me, is to always keep the skepticism up. The best thing anyone can do for their most deeply regarded beliefs is to figure out what's wrong with them. Anyone who isn't willing to admit their own faults or their party's faults, is surely just as bad as the blow hards on Fox News.