Winding woods

Taking a mini-vacation and so started with a slow wander through a wooded ravine near home.

BoJack-sh!t (a review)

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Unless this is a satire about satires, I don’t get the new Netflix Original Series BoJack Horseman.

Ostensibly, the zany life of a washed up sitcom star from the 90s, who also happens to be a horse, who is trying to find meaning in a life of idle emptiness, the show is instead an endless string of really bad puns and lame jokes about anthropomorphic animals and Hollywood, punctuated with long speeches to highlight the irony of a scene or episode.

I am surprised the character giving the speech doesn’t hold up a sign reading “Ironic part” or “Satirical condemnation of status quo” just in case the audience was too stoned to realize that’s what the speech was about.

Episode 3 starts with an establishing shot of a bar called The Pelican. We then cut to BoJack sitting at the bar which is being tended by a…wait for it…pelican. Or in Episode 2, BoJack has a run-in with a Navy Seal who is a…here it comes…actual seal. Oh, and at the apex of humour, whenever BoJack’s girlfriend/agent puts him on hold, he listens to music from Cats…oh, did I mention his girlfriend/agent is a cat? Them’s the animal jokes, my friends.

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There are attempts at social commentary, of course. In Episode 3, BoJack’s memoir ghost writer tries to make him feel better about a friend by claiming she was a victim of her circumstances and the pressures of society. But silly BoJack…he misunderstands this to mean that no one is responsible for their actions and that the fault universally lies with society, so he can act like a jerk and it’s not his fault. Silly BoJack.

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The voice talent is, well, talented. Alison Brie (Madmen, Community), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy), Paul F. Thompkins (No You Shut Up!) and Will Arnett (everything else)…these people can act.

Show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg is a mystery to me. An actor and writer, all I can really find out about him is he a member of a sketch comedy group called Olde English.

And the more I read about him, the more I wonder if my original comment wasn’t dead on…this may just be an amazing meta joke perpetrated by a very funny man. Or it’s just not very good.

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Because I only lose 25 minutes of my life at a go, I will continue to watch to see if it gets better…dear God, let it get better…or let me in on the divine joke of this comedy.

Talk about ALS – no bucket, no ice (video)

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around my problem with these ice bucket videos in support of ALS. Something didn’t sit right with me, and yet I felt like a complete jerk crapping on all these lovely people making loving efforts to make a difference.

And then, suddenly, it struck me. Almost none of the video efforts I have seen have included any information about ALS beyond how to spell it. They’ve done a magnificent job of raising money, but I seriously doubt that many people watching these videos have a clue as to what ALS is.

Thus, in support of their efforts and to spread not just awareness but also knowledge, I have produced a short, very homemade video (click below) with terrible production values (as in none).

I hope it helps.

 

Lessons from bad movies – The Canyons

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I believe that you can learn something from every experience you have, and because I am trying to learn more about screenwriting and films, this means watching bad movies. Thus, I was intrigued when I saw Netflix was showing a film called The Canyons.

Written by Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) and starring Lindsay Lohan and porn-star-going-legit James Deen, The Canyons shows the decay of Hollywood through the eyes of a struggling young actor who is still in love with his former girlfriend who is now the adornment of an unbalanced but oh-so-controlled producer on a trust fund. Paranoid from birth, the producer eventually learns of rekindled flames between the two and slowly his self-control ebbs. To tell you more would be to spoil the (complete lack of) surprise in this film.

Although the story was straightforward and highly predictable, I have to admit to being confused by one very big thing: I don’t know who the protagonist is. Through whose eyes is the audience supposed to see this story?

Lindsay Lohan’s Tara (the girlfriend) shares almost equal screen time with James Deen’s Christian (producer) and Nolan Gerard Funk’s Ryan (actor), and the story’s perspective seems to shift on a whim. If I go purely by a scale of which character left me feeling least icky in their behaviour, I would have to say Ryan was the protagonist. But he feels more like an unwitting pawn in this film.

Interestingly, however, if I was forced onto a limb, I would actually say Christian was the protagonist despite his antagonist schtick. As a character, he is reminiscent of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman…possibly his baby brother…although there is no comparison between Christian Bale’s performance and James Deen’s.

Speaking of which, the wooden performances of the actors don’t help my quest for a protagonist. (At her best, Lohan’s glamour-gone-gory Tara was reminiscent of Ann-Margret’s characters in Carnal Knowledge and Tommy at their most strung out.) Without distinct emotive clues and any sense of subtext, I really have no clue what any of the characters hopes to accomplish…there simply aren’t any goals, again with the possible exception of Ryan.

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To continue piling on, I would be intrigued to find out what kind of movie director Paul Schrader thought he was making.

On the one hand, with rampant over-use of black & white images of derelict movie houses, it seemed Schrader was going for art-house film, using the photographic decay as a metaphor for the social decay of Hollywood (this is the man who wrote Taxi Driver and directed American Gigolo).

At the same time, his rampant insertion of lengthy scenes of graphic sex gave the film a B-movie, soft-core porn feel. Here, Schrader may have been going for a moral decadence metaphor, but if so, I think he failed terribly. Instead, we were left with a humping morass of buttocks and breasts that a 13-year-old boy couldn’t be bothered to whack off to.

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But the one scene that truly grabbed my attention was a lunch conversation between Tara and Christian’s assistant Gina, played by Amanda Brooks. What caught my attention, however, was not the scintillating or captivating dialogue (there wasn’t any) or the repressed subtextual exchanges (they were incapable) but rather the fact that even the camera was unable to pay attention to the scene.

On either close up, the camera angle perpetually slid to the left or the right, and sometimes back again. Not panned to capture a background element. Slid, as if someone had forgotten to tighten the flange that holds the camera to the tripod. The camera literally nodded off.

So then, if this movie was so bad, how could I learn a lesson?

The lesson of The Canyons is that if you can get an actor of sufficient name recognition who is trying to prove something (e.g., I’m not washed up) interested in your script, you can get anything made.

 

Postscript:

As I looked up some background facts on this movie, I learned that The Canyons was the first film to be largely funded via crowd-sourcing. Given the performance of subsequent crowd-sourced films like Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here (poor) and Kristen Bell’s Veronica Mars (modest), I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t some merit in studios having some influence on whether and how a film gets made.

Taking aim

Sunset on Mauna Kea

I aimed for the mountain top, but found only sky.

I aimed for the clouds, but found only air.

I aimed for the moon, but found only coldness.

I aimed for the stars, but found only emptiness.

Head bowed in sadness, I finally looked around,

To find a universe of wonder lying at my feet.

Stargazing on Mauna Kea