Thursday, December 26, 2013

Commonplace Book: Speculation

"Who can she be?" was the universal question. Though all by the query acknowledged their ignorance, yet it is singular that, at the same time, every one was prepared with a response to it. Such are the sources of accurate information!

Benjamin Disraeli, Vivian Grey

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Noir Book Trailer

A collection of five film noir-influenced short novels by Australian writer Ron Elliott. Seems interesting. Book marketing has gotten pretty slick.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Looking at Trailers

The trailers for Joss Whedon's adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing are luminous and delightful:

I complain sometimes that more big-name directors should shoot small, quick, low-budget projects as a way of keeping their creativity flowing freely - thinking, of course, of the estimable Steven Soderbergh, who does just that. Here, Whedon has made a movie with friends, at his own house, during a two-week break between the principal filming of The Avengers and its post-production; and the results are being acclaimed in virtually every review that I've read:

The last paragraph of David Edelstein's review brought a smile:

I’m sure that academics will have ­objections, although Whedon has stood up to far worse than the Shakespeare (or Earl of Oxford) mob. He has been to Comic-Con. I’d be pressed to imagine a more sure-footed Much Ado. When Shakespeare’s done right, you can’t ­imagine him ever being done wrong. The clarity is blinding.

As I mentioned in my last post with respect to The Spectacular Now, if I am going to grouse about certain tendencies (or the lack of them) in contemporary culture, then it is absolutely incumbent upon me to cheer when I spot examples of the heartening.

I will go to see any movie about business or Wall Street, so naturally, I was interested to take a peek at the trailer for Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street:

Now, that is surely crisp, but I am honestly not sure if I should expect to learn anything from this movie that I did not know before, or have any experience that I have not had before. In other words, it really doesn't look as fresh as Margin Call.

And don't we see just a little too much of Leonardo Di Caprio? Like Matt Damon, he seems to be in everything. (Although, as far as Leo living the high life, I'd rather watch this movie than The Great Gatsby.)

Amusingly, one shot in the trailer, from a deck above a swimming pool, is virtually identical to a shot in the Spring Breakers trailer. The two movies very likely have some spiritual affinities.

Looking at Trailers...

...which I do a lot of at the IMDB and YouTube, it is impossible not to develop some anticipations (and also to reject altogether the likelihood of ever watching certain films!).

I complain so often that today's young stars are all from the same cookie-cutter - physically perfect as regards body, face, teeth, hair, everything, sometimes smacking of having had various plastic surgeries and the services of a personal trainer before even reaching their majority. It is hard to expect other than bland performances from such bland products (I think "products" is the right word).
So it would be remiss of me not to celebrate when I come across a trailer for a movie whose leads seem utterly fresh and individual even in the two-and-a-half minute format. I give you Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now (which got great reviews at Sundance).

Woodley, 21, has been in television since she was 8 years old, and got outstanding notices for her feature debut in The Descendants. Teller, a very youthful-looking 26, made his feature debut in Rabbit Hole in 2010, and seems to have a lot of work about to be released (I'm not surprised). The pair received a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for their work together here, and the trailer gives good evidence why. I'm really looking forward to this.

Another trailer that just went live is for Joe "Mumblecore" Swanberg's first feature with a mainstream-y cast - Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston in Drinking Buddies:

This got very good festival reviews, too, at South by Southwest. Olivia Wilde made a good impression on me in The Words with Bradley Cooper and Dennis Quaid, which I recently watched. Kendrick, of course, was Oscar-nominated for Up in the Air. And although I haven't seen Jake Johnson in anything, I've heard good things about his work in Safety Not Guaranteed and the Zooey Deschanel TV series New Girl. So I'm liking the cast. My one reservation concerns Ron Livingston. Now, don't get me wrong - I love Ron Livingston. I'll watch him in anything, both because he's a good actor and because he's exceedingly easy on the eyes. However, hasn't he been playing variations on what I see in this trailer for about 20 years now?

The answer to that question is, yes, since The Low Life in 1995 and, more prominently, Swingers in 1996. Our Ron turned 46 a couple of weeks ago. And although he looks perfectly smashing for 46, still, I've got to say, it's just too old to still be playing romantically uncommitted characters with any kind of realistic edge.

Rom-com actors in general are too old for their parts these days. It's why Julia Roberts and Matthew McConaughey abandoned the genre (just in the nick of time). Paging Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, both 44: You've gotten too old for this stuff, as well. Grow up! (And really, why does anyone in the audience WANT to watch 40-somethings dither about in love scenarios as if they shouldn't have 20-plus years experience with them? It's a weird phenomenon.)

Speaking of which, do you buy Jennifer Aniston, also 44, as a working stripper? If not, then skip the upcoming We're the Millers (and for a whole lot of other reasons, too).

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, interesting fact about Ron Livingston: He's a Yalie who was at the university as the same time (the late 1980s) as Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti (the son of former Yale President and later Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, whom I knew slightly when I was an undergrad). The three were and are great friends. Livingston majored in Theater Studies and English, Giamatti in English, Norton in History (but he took a lot of theater courses). Giamatti is the only one of the three to go on to obtain a master's degree at the Yale School of Drama. (Angela Bassett, who was in my graduating class of 1980, did the same double.)

After graduating from Yale, Livingston got his professional start in Chicago theater, acting at the Goodman Theatre among other venues.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


[Cross-posted from The Blackboard, where this served as a "TV Noir of the Week."]

I well remember when the first edition of Tim Brooks’s and Earle Marsh’s The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows appeared in 1979, opening up new vistas for those of us interested in television history. But of course, not all shows were in prime time, and not all were on networks; until Alex McNeil’s Total Television came out in 1985, I had no idea just how many syndicated and odd time-slot series there were, right from the beginning. In 1990, Lee Goldberg’s researches into unsold television pilots first manifested as a volume from the predictable publisher for such material, McFarland (and has continued to appear in various permutations since). But as far as I can make out, even Goldberg has never heard of the unsold 1958 pilot, Counterspy, which had it landed would likely have been another series on the syndication market. It doesn’t have the feel of a network property.

It’s there at the IMDB, though, and now it’s up on YouTube. The Counterspy pilot was the latest (and I believe last) manifestation of a property that had, in the familiar manner of the era, already bounced between radio and feature films. Counterspy (aka David Harding, Counterspy), created by Phillips H. Lord (1902-1975), began its life on the radio early during America’s participation in World War II, in May 1942, and continued airing until 1957, although it is not clear to me if there were any new original episodes past 1953. Plenty of detail about the show and its creator can be found here:

Counterspy came to the movies in 1950 with two low-budget features starring Howard St. John, David Harding, Counterspy and Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard; the second is reputed to be better than the first.

Arriving on television (although not for long), Counterspy followed the Dragnet semi-documentary template of familiarizing the audience with the procedures of a protective institution. The stories are said to be “based on actual facts taken from documented records of Intelligence Operations Unit C, your United States Counterspies!” – I think that’s just boilerplate language, I doubt there was any cooperation from a real agency. There is a classic text crawl at the show’s opening:

Today, as never before, the defense frontiers of this nation have been extended to the far reaches of the globe. To preserve American security, our institutions, and way of life, is the inflexible purpose of men your counterspy unit – and it is to these selfless heroes whose constant vigilance insures the independent existence of you, the people, that this series is dedicated. 

Our narrator-guide is Don Megowan, a big man who played a lot of small roles but did have an important featured part on the short-lived Cameron Mitchell syndicated series The Beachcomber. At first, though, we see more of his operative Keller, played by Brad Johnson (who was the male love interest in the syndicated Annie Oakley from 1954 to 1957). We are taken through the backstory behind the “tragic peacetime death of a Navy frogman” that is revealed in the shock opening, set on a beach in Brighton, England. A former British diver is recruited to take underwater photos of the hull of a Russian vessel that has been demonstrating unusual navigational abilities. But of course, if he is discovered in this mission, the U.K. and U.S. will officially deny knowing him.

Since the script works out rather cleverly, I think I should refrain from saying exactly how, in order not to decrease your viewing pleasure. The closing lines of the narration are nifty. I will note that I was amused to see writer Jack Anson Finke make good use of a problem that critic Danny Peary once flagged with respect, I think, to Thunderball – that underwater fight scenes are kind of a waste because the equipment worn by the combatants prevents you from telling who’s who. The underwater sequence in Counterspy was filmed, the credits tell us, at Silver Springs, Florida, and is totally Sea Hunt (also partially shot at Silver Springs).

Agent Keller gets to do some fast driving in a cool-looking roadster which I’d appreciate help identifying – sort of Jaguar XK-style? There is some second-unit or stock footage of British roads (including the predictable appearance of a double-decker bus) to preserve the illusion that we’re in the U.K. The interiors and the portside scenes were probably filmed in Southern California, so we’ve got the blending of film from three separate locations, not too badly done. The director of the half-hour was Ralph Murphy, who worked in low-budget features from 1931 to 1954, and then moved into television helming. Bernard Schubert was the hopeful producer.

Why the show wasn’t picked up, I’m not sure, but maybe the Cold War paranoia was ebbing a bit, post-McCarthy and all, so the timing wasn’t quite right.