Saturday, October 22, 2011

Movie Review: The Ides of March

I remember when I first started getting interested in politics. I was a junior in high school, and Barack Obama and John McCain were running for president. For the first time ever, I actually felt invested in the idea that someone might become president and change things for the better. Then I waited a few years and realized that nothing changes.

"The Ides of March," the fourth film directed by George Clooney, is the perfect film for all of us cynics out there. Some might be turned off by the film's dark tone, but it is the touch of realism that Hollywood fairy tales about politics so desperately needed.

At the beginning, the optimist will feel like Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the young and ambitious junior campaign manager for presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney). Meyers is highly admired and sought after for his skills. It may be less because it is talented and more because he is clueless.

Morris, an obvious allusion to our current president, runs on a campaign of hope and change. His speaking ability and intelligence seem too good to be true. No candidate is good without a loyal team behind them.

Things are going well for the Morris campaign as they make their way through the Ohio primary. Morris looks like the candidate to beat, and Meyers get more and more acclaim from his peers. But after Stephen is approached by the rival candidate's campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) things go down hill. This, topped with the discovery of a shocking scandal, throws the whole campaign into chaos.

"The Ides of March" made me think back to a quote from one of cinema's shadiest politicians, Harvey Dent, in which he claims, "you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." The dehumanizing process of politics has been touched upon in movies time and time again, but in "The Ides of March," there is no white knight, only a bunch that are stuck in the gray areas of life. As a viewer, you grow to like every character, and then you grow to hate them. By the end, none of them even look like good guys or bad guys anymore. This is a tale of the most twisted morality possible.

While Morris is the film's central character, his physical presence is sparse throughout. He is like this film's Gatsby, as our view on him is shaped more by the perceptions of others than by his actual presence. And when we do see him, Clooney plays him more as a blank slate who can easily be swayed in either direction. His views are called idealistic for a reason. By the time a campaign ends and an election starts, a candidate is no longer a reflection of their views but rather of everything they need to win.

Despite the importance of the candidate, Gosling ends up stealing the show as the naive Stephen Meyers. Gosling has been getting better by the movie, and this role should earn him his second Oscar nomination. He has developed a talent for playing characters with a kind and almost innocent outer shell, but with very dangerous tendencies. Here, the danger he holds is in in the naivety of his actions, including his fling with an intern (Evan Rachel Wood). By the end, when he his own voice has been reduced by the endless political commentary running through his headphones, he has officially become a victim of politics. That final expression is stoic yet screaming in inescapable pain.

Watching "The Ides of March," I was reminded of the recent, equally pessimistic films such as "Michael Clayton" and "The Ghost Writer." Something that "The Ides of March" has is the ability to make the trivial thrilling. A scene in which Morris's senior campaign manager (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) steps into a car is so thrilling even though the camera remains stationary. We know something bad is going to happen, but we are denied seeing what exactly it will be. Clooney can make a situation go on for longer than it should, and make us want to keep watching it. Much of the movie is like a ticking time bomb that takes its time to go off, just to mess with its victims.

Clooney shows improvement as a director and unlike many actor-directors, he is not just directing for good performances and writing, but rather for the movie as a whole. He really cares about the consequences of where a camera is placed. The lighting emphasizes shadows. One of the most memorable shots in the movie is of Gosling, in silhouette, standing in front of a giant American flag. Behind this flag, a symbol of freedom, what keeps this country free and democratic is a shadowy, corrupt underworld of lies and false intentions.

In trying to make the small things meaningful, the writing turns dull, political jargon into a fast-paced function of the thriller itself. In "The Ides of March," ideas and meetings are more action-packed than shootouts and car chases.

Republicans may swoon over the movie's treatment of the Democratic Party, while Democrats will balk. But the great part about this movie is that it is an allegory not on political beliefs but rather on political corruption. At face value, this is a movie about the disappointments of Barack Obama. Deeper down, Morris is a politician who is more like John Edwards; on the outside, he is a friend of the people but truthfully, he is just fending for himself.

The movie takes its title from the day in which Julius Caesar, who's power was increasing, was assassinated at the heads of the members of the Roman Senate. This accurately describe the heated relationship between Morris and Meyers, as well as the morally hazy intentions of every character in the movie. Nowadays, few people ask the right questions about our political system. "The Ides of March" is provocative enough to do just that.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Black Swan Controversy: Why Unpaid Internships Need To Stay

Anyone who has ever been in film school or just listened to an interview with a successful filmmaker knows that making it in the movie industry isn't easy. Everyone starts off at the bottom and only those who work harder than everyone else will make it to the top.

Nowadays, a common start for many in the entertainment industry is to be an unpaid intern. Taking this position has both positive and negative connotations for ambitious twenty-somethings and college students. This issue hasn't appeared in the news very much, until the recent "Black Swan" controversy. Two unpaid interns who worked for the film filed a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures, claiming the studio had them do work that could have been done by paid employees. They said that they weren't given the educational experience that labor rules require in order to exempt employers from paying interns. Basically, they believe they were doing tasks anyone could have done and that Fox Searchlight did nothing to give them real on set experience.

Fox Searchlight fired back, claiming that the lawsuit is 'meritless.' They say the interns were hired by a different production company and that Fox Searchlight has "a proud history of supporting and fostering productive internships." While this sounds more like the work of really vague PR as opposed to a truthful studio executive, this is not the point of this article. I am not looking to play a game of he said she said here, I would just like to discuss, and even defend, the larger issue at hand: how ethical the practice of hiring unpaid interns may or may not be.

From the start, hiring someone to do hours of work that someone should be making a good living off of seems wrong. It probably is. Believe it or not, getting into the film industry is more difficult than getting into most other professions. Being an intern is about getting your foot in the door in an industry where that door tends to close fast. Some production companies simply can't afford to pay their interns a real salary, and those who are interning are volunteering their time.

But what about multi-billion dollar companies like 20th Century Fox and NBC? Surely they can afford to pay for the extra help. Banks, financial companies, and accounting firms pay their interns. Those of you going into entertainment who worry about how much you are going to make from the get-go should be slapped with a giant paddle that reads "starving artist."

I am sure that everyone looking for a job in entertainment has dreams of winning Oscars and making millions doing what they love. However, unlike the financial world, which is about turning money into more money, this business is about turning art into money. This is harder than it looks; no matter what marketers tell you, no simple formula can guarantee the success of your movie. Out of the box thinking and persistence are only parts of it; the rest of what makes your success is entirely up to you.

This is all coming from someone who is currently trying to break through, and is just about below the bottom of the totem pole. This summer, I had my first unpaid internship in the entertainment industry, so I approach this issue from a very personal angle. There are many great things that happened while I was there, and many of them I am not legally allowed to disclose. But I can say this: it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, in the best and worst ways possible.

Yes, there was a lot of what many would call "bitch work" involved. I indeed had to carry eight coffees by myself through Midtown Manhattan. You'd be surprised how many ways a door can be opened without the use of one's hands.

When doing errands like that, it's best to think of them from the larger rather than smaller perspective. Anything you can do for those working above you will make their lives easier and allow them to do better work for those in charge. The tiniest, most mundane tasks ultimately have a chain reaction effect. On most days though, something would be done that directly related to the movies being produced.

Those companies who take on unpaid interns should educate them in some form, and make their time worthwhile. I do not know whether or not Fox Searchlight actually fulfilled these requirements, but I do know this: as an intern, you must educate yourself. This is easy to accomplish: all you have to do is look around. As a filmmaker, you are a born observer, so just listen to those phone calls being made, and those secret industry terms being thrown around.

The real lesson to be taken out of the fallacy of this whole ordeal is that it breaks a cardinal rule of joining this industry: don't be picky. It's not about which opportunity is going to pay you the most, its about which one is going to take you the most places.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Movie Review: 50/50

The famous cliché goes: "Laughter is the best medicine." Humor has always been a way to cope with the inexplicable things that life throws our way. So in their first film together, director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser did the right thing and madetheir cancer dramedy one about living rather than one about dying.

In "50/50," Adam's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life comes to a standstill after finding out he has a rare form of neural cancer. The needy and slightly neurotic Adam is the kind of person who avoids risk; he's too afraid to even get his driver's license. His fear of death paralyzes him, and his dependence on the people closest to him escalates. His go-to person is his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), who is not opposed to using Adam's cancer as a pickup line. There are also the three women in his life: his overbearing mother (Angelica Huston); his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), who stays with Adam only because she feels obligated; and his young therapist (Anna Kendrick), who probably needs to sort out her own life before she can help others.

"50/50" isn't exactly a cancer comedy, or even a comedy about cancer. Rather, it is a comedy about how people deal with something so dire in their lives. It makes no attempts at a cheery tone and doesn't settle for artificial characters or a soundtrack consisting of Top 40 hits. It is also a romantic comedy of sorts with its storyline of a successfultwentysomething vying for an unlikely love interest; he even has a goofy sidekick and a burdensome mother. But what distinguishes "50/50" from the norm is that these characters feel drawn from real life and not from the typical Hollywood playbook. They function as actual, affecting parts of Adam's life rather than caricatures put in simply for laughs.

The reason that "50/50" feels so personal is because, through the film, Will Reiser has documented his real-life battle against cancer. Diagnosed six years ago, he has been in remission since then. Reiser bases his humor off of everyday awkward situations and pop culture references such as: "You smell like the cast of ‘The View.'" The jokes and observations laced in his script could only come from someone who came out of a situation this bad. The film doesn't downplay the reality of such a grave situation, and the underlying current of fear and unpredictability feel all too real.

Because Reiser is writing about himself, he rightfully doesn't pull a sympathy card with Adam. He is, like the other characters in the film, selfish and small-minded at times. Reiser's unabashed honesty toward his own actions is reflected in Adam's character and contributes to the sincerity of the movie.

As Adam, whose success as a radio producer comes to a halt following his cancer diagnosis, Gordon-Levitt does a pitch-perfect job of delivering some great deadpan humor and acting both self-assured and scared out of his mind. The scene in which he shaves his head, the film's poster image, shows him bravely taking this act as a joke. In a later scene, he breaks down. The emotional outburst is more frightening than anything you'd see in a modern horror movie, perhaps because it feels absolutely right at that point in the movie.

In the supporting cast, Rogen shows how much he has matured as an actor. As the habitually loyal Kyle, who cares deeply despite his cynical outlook on life, he is the kind of friend we all wish we could have. Kendrick is another example of a cast member who is getting better and better by the film; no longer just the girl who had that really annoying crying scene in "Up in the Air." Her character gives off an innocently funny vibe and radiates a warm presence.

Writing and acting tend to drive this kind of comedy, with the director usually taking the backseat. However, Jonathan Levine makes his presence known, and adds something to "50/50" that few other comedy directors ever could. While someone like Judd Apatow might keep the camera totally still during a long conversation between a group of friends, Levine moves the camera around. The blurred vision of many shots makes these parts of the movie seem more like meditative talks as opposed to witty banter between friends. Reiser writes it like a comedy while Levine directs it like a drama.

In an interview with, Reiser remarked that when he found out that he had cancer, he and real-life good friend Rogen dealt with it through humor. He said it might have just stemmed from the immaturity of his age at the time. But making the absolute best out of a bad situation is a strength that few have. So in that sense, "50/50" does what movies have the rare power to do: turn mortality into something both life-changing and life-affirming. If you didn't think an F-bomb laden R-rated comedy could pack an emotional effect, then you just haven't seen "50/50" yet.

Check this review out here at The Daily Orange. It is also available in print form...because newspapers still exist.

Monday, October 3, 2011

And Five Years Later the Lord Said, "Let There Be More Arrested Development"

Ever since "Arrested Development," arguably the best sitcom ever put on television, was cancelled in 2006, speculation has been rampant on what will happen to The Bluths next. Creator Mitchell Hurwitz and cast members have hinted at a movie. However, the more they hyped it, the less likely it seemed to happen, and the more fans have been let down.

For the past five years, every time Jason Bateman has been asked about the movie and a soundbite such as "it's happening" comes out of his mouth, bloggers and journalists alike have been quick to jump on it as evidence that the movie is on its way. But today, cast and crew released some news that actually seems a bit more tangible: ten new episodes of "Arrested Development" will air sometime next year. The movie will pick up where the last new episode left off. This news excited me so much that I accidentally spilled coffee all over my $6300 suit.

Each episode will supposedly focus on each character individually, and where they are in their lives since the show ended. I, for one, think this is a perfect idea, as the movie could now be about basically anything imaginable. It will also allow both the new episodes and the movie to take place in the present. What I hope is that the show keeps its mockumentary style, and that Ron Howard stays on as narrator.

All us loyal fans can do is hope this bit of news is true. If it is not, then the cast and crew of "Arrested Development" will be solidified as the smartest internet trolls of all time.

For any of you who aren't a loyal fan of "Arrested Development" (and if you aren't then for your own sake, start watching immediately), you may wonder why we haven't moved on at this point. Well, it's for good reason. Every episode of the show packed in so much wit and humor that repeated viewings are the only way to give this show any justice. However, three seasons of the Bluths simply isn't enough. There can never be enough instances of Gob dancing like an idiot to "The Final Countdown," Buster forgetting he has a hook for a hand, or Tobias taking the idea of a Freudian slip to the next level. What I'm trying to say is that no amount of "Arrested" puns could some up my excitement for the prospect of new episodes. But that won't stop me. As the way-too-literal doctor from the show would say: everything is going to be "all right." And by that I mean, he's lost the use of his left hand.

See, Obama actually has gotten something accomplished while in office!