Friday, July 17, 2015

Paul Kos

Part of my freelance work for PBS LearningMedia since last October has involved kicking the tires, so to speak, of its online videos to ensure that picture and sound are synced properly, the two-sentence descriptions of the videos don't contain any typos, and so on.

One video I enjoyed watching centers on conceptual artist Paul Kos, who talks about how an artist has to be "in shape" to be creative:

"An artist goes in and out of shape, and by that I mean very similar to being an athlete: When an athlete's in shape, every movement that they do comes intuitively. And in art when you're in shape, ideas are coming faster than you have time to make them. Being in shape is really being able to see accidents; accidents are much more interesting than that which we can contrive while sitting at a desk. But if you're not in shape you don't even see it happening. And when you are, there are accidents all around, probably, every day that are wonderful to take advantage of."

Later in the video we see Kos playing la pétanque with a few other men:

"I find [it] really interesting as a metaphor for art for the following reason: There's a little wooden ball, and that's the target. When you make a piece, if you're too conservative you're copying your older work—it's short, it's on this side of being avant-garde. If you go too far culture can't see it, perhaps it's too personal, and it's way out there—you miss it. But there's no excuse not to make one in three fairly good art pieces. The third one should be somewhere in between, and with the right finesse it'll be right on and you hit the target."

Monday, July 6, 2015

a loose definition of "library"

Every day I receive e-mails from websites such as Beyond and Glassdoor that contain job listings. Here are some of the recent listings I've been sent because I initially typed in the keyword "library":

Floor Supervisor, Shoe Carnival (Bloomingdale, IL)

Cocktailers, Food Runners & Dishwashers, Harry Caray's Restaurant Group (Lombard, IL)

Piano Teacher, Thumbtack.com (La Grange Park, IL)

photo credit: Andy Martinez
Blaster Explosives Handler—Deploy to Antarctica!, PAE Antarctica Contract (Chicago, IL)

Cabinet Sales, Resume Library (Chicago, IL)

Technical Scrum Master, Forbes Technical Consulting (Chicago, IL)

Aww, can't I be a technical scrum master in Antarctica? Everything in life is a trade-off.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Highways & Sundowns"

If Hollywood ever attempts a Love & Mercy-style biopic of Gordon Lightfoot's life and career, may I suggest Chris Pratt for the singer's younger years and Bryan Cranston for the later ones?


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

To be morally deep, or not to be?

In Last Action Hero, which debuted to disappointing box-office numbers 22 years ago this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger's teenage sidekick, Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien), points a gun at the movie-within-a-movie's bad guys in at least two scenes.


Because school shootings were rare in 1993, that wasn't as big a deal as it would've been just a few years later, even after the ultraviolent preteen villainy on display in RoboCop 2 (1990)—Danny was at least taking up arms against villainy—but as Anthony Linehan points out on his blog Movie Tie-In Toys, the hand accessory for Mattel's Danny Madigan action figure was a grappling hook, which "hasn't any basis in the movie itself!"

Hook Launchin' Danny was presumably created to placate parents who wouldn't have been thrilled with Heat Packin' Danny, but it was also a form of wishful thinking: audiences never got hooked on Last Action Hero, especially when compared to Jurassic Park, considered its main competition for the summer movie season before anyone had seen either movie. By the end of the year, Jurassic's $357 million gross in North American theaters had cast a T. Rex-sized shadow over Hero's $50 million gross.

(Even two decades removed from its overhyped debut, Last Action Hero doesn't work as an action movie, a fantasy, or a comedy, but it did have potential. Its best line, in my opinion, is spoken by Schwarzenegger's character when he meets the "real" Arnold at the premiere of "Jack Slater IV," their franchise's latest sequel: "You've brought me nothing but pain." Now, there's a starting point for a great meta-movie.)

Incidentally, in an essay on morality in fiction in the winter 2015 edition of Pleiades, Phong Nguyen, the literary journal's editor, states:

I ask my writing students, "What's the difference between Hamlet the Prince of Denmark and an action hero?" Like any good revenge story, the hero gets his man in the last act, at the cost of his own life. But in the meantime, rather than battling the king's goons (though he does accidentally kill poor Polonius), the Great Dane is waging an internal struggle with his conscience. What does it mean to kill a man? What does it mean to die? When the ghost of your dead father comes to you in the night and says, "avenge me," your mission should be obvious. No further thought is required. Vin Diesel or Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson would simply ride in on a motorcycle armed with two pistols or a medieval axe and stylishly polish off Claudius with a cinematic flourish. They may even be right to do so. But they are not afflicted with doubt, or thought, so what we've witnessed is actually mere moral catharsis, the opposite of moral depth.

True, but could moral depth ever produce as memorable a twist on Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" soliloquy as the one that's followed by a huge, Elsinore-demolishing explosion in Last Action Hero? Doubtful.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Frank and Nicky and Rudy and Hillary

In 2000 Mark Jacobson interviewed '70s heroin kingpin Frank Lucas for New York magazine. The resulting article became the basis of the Denzel Washington movie American Gangster, and on the eve of its release in the fall of 2007, Jacobson, once again writing for New York, moderated a conversation between Lucas and former rival Nicky Barnes. Here's an excerpt:

from left, Nicky Barnes (photo credit: Tyrone Dukes,
The New York Times/Redux) and Frank Lucas
(PR Newsfoto/BET Networks/Newscom)
MJ: Rudy Giuliani chased both you guys when he was D.A. What do you think about him running for president?

NB: Giuliani would make a good president because he's a principled guy.

FL: When Giuliani tells you something, he means it. But I don't think we're ready for an Italian president. I don't think we're ready for a black president. I don't think we're ready for a woman president, but I tell you right now: I think Hillary Clinton will win this thing hands down.

NB: Hillary will be the next president.

FL: No question about it.

The lesson: Stay in school. Don't do drugs. Don't deal drugs either, but the most successful dealers are usually the ones who don't mess with their own product, so when you look at it that way— SHUT UP, SOCRATIC METHOD, WHICH PEOPLE LEARN BY STAYING IN SCHOOL.

Look, just don't do drugs, okay, kids?


Friday, May 8, 2015

The curse of Superman can be transmitted by spider bite.

Roughly two years ago on the website What Culture, Simon Gallagher wrote about the latest Superman movie, Man of Steel, and noted that the "world engine" General Zod deploys in the Indian Ocean in the movie's third act is "basically a giant spider machine (incredibly Jon Peters wasn't involved)."

I hadn't thought about the world engine's resemblance to a spider as I was watching the movie, but it's absolutely a reminder that producer Jon Peters (Batman, Caddyshack) wanted Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) to include a battle between Superman and a giant arachnid in his screenplay for "Superman Lives," a mid-'90s reboot of the Superman film franchise that, pardon the expression, never got off the ground (but Peters didn't want Superman to fly in the movie anyway, so the cliché is apt), even with Tim Burton signed up to direct and Nicolas Cage set to star as Superman in Warner Bros.'s anticipated summer blockbuster for 1999. Instead, the studio released the Peters-produced Wild Wild West that summer, in which Will Smith and Kevin Kline battle a giant mechanical spider in the film's third act.



(When Clark first enters the old Kryptonian spaceship discovered in Canada and comes across a hovering robot assistant, I did recall a particular anecdote of Kevin Smith's about Peters, who, having seen the box-office results for the "special edition" of Star Wars that was released in January 1997, told him to give Lex Luthor a Chewbacca-like dog sidekick in his rewrite and, having also seen Smith's film Chasing Amy, create a robot character with a voice similar to costar Dwight Ewell's in that film, i.e., black and effeminate.)

Peters is credited as an executive producer on Man of Steel, which is also how he was credited on Superman Returns in 2006 despite not being heavily involved in that production, judging by what I've read. (An acquaintance of mine who worked on the previsualization effects for Superman Returns said Peters was at least present at that stage of production.) I imagine that when "Superman Lives" fell apart in '98, and again in 2002 and '03, Peters negotiated a contract with Warner Bros. that guaranteed him an EP credit on any future Superman movies the studio happened to distribute.

In his well-researched, highly entertaining book Superman Vs. Hollywood (Chicago Review Press, 2008), Jake Rossen mentions that director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) met with up-and-coming stars such as Josh Hartnett and Ashton Kutcher when he tried to launch a new Superman film in 2003 (after McG bailed out to direct Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, though he returned to the project once Ratner dropped out—neither director could solve the problem of the $200 million-and-climbing budget attached to J.J. Abrams's script). He also met with an actor who was part of a new film franchise centered on street racing:

Ratner moved on to Paul Walker, whose surfer looks didn't seem well suited to Superman. The actor was working with Richard Donner on Timeline, and he approached the director for advice. Donner told him to avoid doing it purely for financial reasons. Walker, who envisioned an eclectic career, refused the offer, even though the salary would've effectively set up his family for life. "I don't think I want to die as Superman," he told reporters.

Geez, even when you turn down the role of Superman, "the curse" can follow you. As Rossen mentions earlier in the book, Kirk Alyn, who played Superman in a 1948 film serial, "had failed to find work following his participation in the franchise"; George Reeves, who starred in Adventures of Superman on television from 1952 to '58, "had either shot himself or been murdered" the year after the series ended; and Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in four feature films between 1978 and '87, "would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, unable to breathe on his own," after a horse-riding accident in 1995.

Walker, on the other hand, died in a car accident in November 2013 while on a break from shooting Furious 7, the latest entry in a series that began in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, costarring Vin Diesel.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

truth and comedy

A recent New York magazine article centering on Brian Williams's six-month suspension from NBC News for "embellishing" the truth of a story he reported on during the Iraq war in 2003—CHECK THE TAPE, BRIAN! THAT'S WHAT YOUR NETWORK'S NEWS ARCHIVES ARE FOR!—contains one particularly eye-opening paragraph:

A few years ago, Williams told [NBCUniversal president and CEO Steve] Burke he wanted to take over the Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Burke dismissed the idea and instead offered Williams a weekly prime-time program called Rock Center. Williams hoped it might develop into a variety show. But Rock Center ended up more like a softer 60 Minutes, and it was canceled after two middling seasons. Undeterred, Williams pitched CBS CEO Les Moonves about succeeding David Letterman, according to a high-level source, but Moonves wasn't interested. (CBS declined to comment.)

Therefore, when Williams appeared as "himself" on a fourth-season episode of NBC's 30 Rock in November 2009 and auditioned to be a new cast member of the show-within-a-show, "TGS With Tracy Jordan," there was more truth and less embellishment in that piece of comedy than originally suspected. Below is a clip from the "Audition Day" episode, before Williams actually tries out on the "TGS" set:



It takes more than a dry wit to be a good actor and not just a good guest on late-night talk shows, so don't quit your day job just yet, Mr. Will— oh, right.

(While doing some spring cleaning and recycling old VHS tapes this week, I ran across a clip of Williams talking about his experience in New Orleans covering Hurricane Katrina. When the hurricane made landfall and reached the Superdome, where Williams was stationed, he compared the sound of its arrival to that of a New York subway train. But you know what? I bet it sounded more like a Chicago elevated train. Mark my words.)