Monday, July 7, 2014

Here's a learned analysis of why Michael Bay movies are bad, but pretty



No matter how many buildings, spacecrafts, and sentient robots Michael Bay explodes before our eyes, the director can't seem to get any respect. His movies are widely panned by critics, and his bombastic filmmaking style is routinely mocked by respectable, erudite writers on the internet. Nevertheless, his films continue to clean up at the box office, so someone must be enjoying them. With the latest installment in his Every Frame A Painting series, Tony Zhou looks into why.

Michael Bay - What Is Bayham? thoroughly breaks down the director's visual style, with close looks at Bay's use of off-screen space, his signature twirling camera movements, and how some of his style can be traced back to West Side Story. Featuring comparisons to the likes of Hot Fuzz, Jurassic Park, and The Lego Movie along the way, it's a detailed, well-edited examination of what makes a Michael Bay movie tick.
Bay's movies will probably continue to make gobs of money, but this video may at least help his detractors articulate their distaste with a greater degree of specificity.


Michael Bay - What is Bayhem? from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

NBC's attempt to find new voices in comedy immediately faces legal trouble



Earlier this month, NBC announced that it would be accepting submissions for new comedy series through a website called The NBC Comedy Playground, giving thousands of aspiring filmmakers with a camera in one hand and a fistful of dreams in the other the chance to see their visions come to life on the small screen. Now they are being sued for it. Comedy Playground, a comedy workshop in Los Angeles, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Central District Court of California accusing NBCUniversal of unfair competition as well as federal and state trademark infringement. The group's complaint—which is available to read on The Wrap—alleges that the similarity between the names will leave their potential customers hopelessly confused. They claim that they've already received multiple communications from people under the mistaken impression that their comedy workshop is involved with NBC, clogging their inbox to the point where only lots of money in damages can set things right.

NBCUniversal has yet to comment on the lawsuit, presumably because they're hard at work coming up with a new name for their website that doesn't fly in the face of trademark law—something like Laughs Across America, The NBC Comedy Playground (In No Way Affiliated With Comedy Playground), or The Second City.

Monday, March 10, 2014

AMC passes on sci-fi pilot Line Of Sight

Unable to squeeze anything else between the show about zombies stalking the ravaged earth and the show about the show about zombies stalking the ravaged earth, AMC has passed on the sci-fi pilot Line Of Sight. The series, a co-production between Fox TV Studios and AMC Studios, was to star The Walking Dead's David Morrissey as “Lewis Bernt, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator who survives a mysterious plane crash, bringing him on a quest to discover the accident's cause." Fox TV Studios plans to shop the show around elsewhere, so Morrissey may yet play a man "whose entire sense of self, his own life and the world as he knows it, completely unravels in a whirlwind of obsession and paranoia” on another network.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Lego Movie



Before making The Lego Movie, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller made 21 Jump Street, an adaptation of a police procedural about two cops who go undercover as high school students to stop teenage crime.  To follow that up with an animated family film sounds like quite a jump, but the two movies have something in common: both take what sound like cheap attempts to cash in on pieces of pop culture detritus and turn them into warm, funny, genuinely involving comedies.  The Lego Movie exists to sell Lego sets, and it succeeds.  The temptation for many filmmakers would be to stop there, but Lord and Miller have gone further to make an hour-and-a-half long toy commercial that's actually worth watching.

The appeal of The Lego Movie begins with its visuals.  The film uses computer-generated animation to bring the blocky, jointless denizens of its world to life, but there's a charming jerkiness to the way they move that more closely recalls stop-motion animation of the kind found in The Nightmare Before Christmas than, say, the smoothness of Disney's Frozen.  There isn't one part of the movie that's dull to look at, and several that reinvent the look of cinematic cliches.  At one point, a large object crashes into an ocean, something most people have seen in one form or another in action movies beyond count.  But when the object hits the water in this movie, the be-dotted surface of the sea, made entirely out of blue sheets of Lego, bursts outward in a choppy, angular wave that's playful and surprising.  Even if the rest of the movie were a bore, the visual creativity alone would make it worth seeing.

Luckily, the meat of The Lego Movie is engaging and funny.  Our hero is Emmet (Chris Pratt), a cheerful construction worker having trouble establishing his own identity.  One day after work he has a chance encounter with alternative outsider Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and soon finds himself in the center of a movement to stop the nefarious President Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world.  The plot moves very, very quickly, blasting from one standby Lego setting (the wild west, medieval fantasy world, outer space) to another with the breathless intensity of a six-year-old boy raised on Hollywood action movies making the story up as he goes.  The movie throws jokes and pratfalls at the audience almost faster than it can react to them.  Pratt, who plays the irrepressibly happy Andy on Parks and Recreation, is a great fit for the lead role.  He never seems less than delighted to be saying his lines and makes sure the energy level doesn't dip below its manic, frenzied high.

The Lego Movie also takes great advantage of the many licensing agreements The LEGO Group has made over the years.  Batman (Will Arnett) has a role as Wyldstyle's grouchy boyfriend.  Gandalf and Dumbledore compete for the title of most learned wizard in the room, and The Simpsons' Milhouse shows up as a member of the resistance high command.  Sure, they're all in Lego form, but it's rare to have so many pop cultural figures gathered in one place.  The giddy inclusivity brings to mind South Park's "Imaginationland" episodes, but The Lego Movie doesn't depend on this novelty to support itself.  It's always rushing to the next joke, the next visual, the next twist in the story.

The final twist in the story is particularly loopy, and adds a meta-textual layer too inspired to spoil here.  All this movie needed to do was sell toys.  It will do that- kids who see it are going to be asking their parents for Lego sets for Christmases uncounted to come- but Miller and Lord have worked hard to make it entertaining for the rest of us, too.

A-

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Now Scrubs is getting turned into a Broadway musical



Getting turned into a musical isn't just for movies anymore. Scrubs, which ran for a combined nine seasons across NBC and ABC, is set to follow in the footsteps of Back to the Future and American Psycho and be turned into a Broadway show. Creator Bill Lawrence announced plans to turn the the medical comedy into a musical via Twitter back in 2012, but he revealed more details last week in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

The as-yet-unnamed musical is still very early in development. It will follow the plot of the television show's pilot episode combined with that of the first season episode My Old Lady, which finds the young doctors at the center of the story unable to keep their patients from dying. An outline of the Broadway show has been sent to composers, who are writing songs that may or may not be used in the finished product.

Zach Braff, the star of the original show, will shortly make his Broadway debut in a musical version of Woody Allen's 1994 comedy Bullets Over Broadway. As far as the Scrubs musical goes, Lawrence said that he expects Braff to be "involved creatively" but intends to cast the show with seasoned Broadway performers. It remains to be seen whether the Scrubs musical will successfully make the transition from screen to stage, like the stage versions of The Producers or Hairspray, or become an embarrassingly flop all agree is best forgotten, like pretty much every other time producers try something like this.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

And here's Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams stabbing a wedding cake with a sword

 

Of all the actors on HBO's Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, seem to go viral the most often. Last year, after her TV family was brutally killed at history's least enjoyable wedding, Williams posted her gobsmacked reaction on Vine to the delight to fans the internet over. If this picture of her about to run a wedding cake through with a sword is any indication, she still hasn't gotten over it.

The cake itself was made by UK bakery Choccywoccydoodah, which specializes in elaborate wedding cakes. Founder Christine Taylor explained how she and her team went about creating a confectionery tribute to one of television's most upsetting moments:
"We decided to create a slaughtered cake, rather than a red cake. The daggers, swords and arrows were all created from chocolate. We also included a cracked shield of the two families in the episode; House of Stark and House of Frey to symbolize the fact they are now at war."
The fourth season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 4.


Monday, February 10, 2014

PBS documentarian Ken Burns is now available in app form




Since debuting his film The Civil War for PBS in 1990, the Ken Burns style of documentary filmmaking has become familiar to many viewers, even if they don't know that's what it's called. Burns has been panning over archival photographs, enlisting celebrities to recite famous quotes of the day, and playing tinkly piano music under historical narration for over 25 films and counting. His work is dense and absorbing, but traditional to almost a fault. Not many people would describe his many mini-series as cutting edge.

Burns is working to change that. Yesterday he launched his very own iPad app. Simply called "Ken Burns," the app breaks down his 136 hours worth of documentary footage into short clips, groups them chronologically, and lets viewers sift through the entirety of American history year by year in a way that allows them to see how different parts of Burns' films "speak to" each other. Click on the year 1933, for example, and you can select a clip about FDR's fireside chats from Burns' film Empire of the Air, check out a bit about the effect of the Depression on professional baseball from his film Baseball, and so on.

Burns is currently working on new documentaries about the Vietnam War, the Gettysburg Address, and the Roosevelt family. Clips from his new films will be added to the app as they get made. If Burns keeps producing films at the rate he's going, the app should achieve total dominion over American history in short order. The app can be downloaded for free here, although it costs $9.00 to unlock all of the content. Watch a trailer for the app below.