Friday, April 28, 2006

Ridiculous Release Schedule

This weekend marks the US release of two amazing films, Clean and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I'd highly reccomend checking them out, and while I'm glad they're getting released, I do have a major issue with the release, namely the fact that these films are not new films. I saw Clean back in June, and the film was actually finished back in May 2004.

It's absolutely ridiculous that the film's coming out now, if the film had come out in May, or even just sometime before the foreign DVDs were available, I would have been right there at the theater. But, you can't expect me to hold off on buying the film when it's unclear if it will ever even be released in America. It's just not acceptable to wait two years to release a film. Same thing with Lady Vengeance, the film was out in Korea in July, and was on DVD in Korea in December, I'd love a simultaneous release, but if that's not doable at least get me the film within a month or two of the original country's release. Chanwook Park may not be a mainstream director here, but he's got a lot of passionate fans, and they're the sort of people who are going to seek out the bootleg rather than wait for a theatrical release.

Changing gears, today I read that Sofia Coppola is pregnant, and the father is Thomas Mars, of the band Phoenix. The genetic combination there gives the kid quite the advantage. I've only seen it a couple of places, so I'm not sure if it's true, but if it is, good luck to them.

So, on my search for information about that, I came across a new trailer for Sofia's Marie Antoinette. The film looks great, most period pieces are pointless because the characters don't feel emotionally real. The most successful period piece was Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and this film seems to capture that film's feel of real characters in a past setting. The modern score is part of that, and I was excited to read that she does use rock songs in the actual film, but it's also the way the characters behave, the choice to cast Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman and just the way the characters behave, there's a sense that they're just playing dress up, aware of the ridiculousness of their world. I read a negative review that said it was just people sitting around the palace, basically slackers in the past, and that made me even more excited to see the film.

The end of the trailer reveals that the French release date is May 24, shortly after it plays at Cannes. Now, I was mad that it played Cannes and wouldn't be released here until October, but when I found out that virtually every European country is getting the film before we do, I was really angry. The film is finished, and stupid Oscar season politics will keep us from getting to see the film. It's hard to deal with art cinema when films just sit on a shelf for six months before getting released here, if it's done, let's get it out in the world.

I guess I'm just bothered by the fact that smaller films can slip through the distribution cracks. Art School Confidential and A Scanner Darkly were both supposed to be out last year, and are finally trickling into theaters this summer. The worst situation is with foreign films that aren't Asian because it's tougher to find DVDs, which means you've got to wait the ridiculous amount of time until the American release happens. Studios wonder why people don't go to the theaters, maybe it's the fact that they're actively making it difficult for you to see anything other than the big blockbusters.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gilmore Girls: 'Super Cool Party People' (6x20)

Been this week's episode and last week's, a major change hit the Gilmore Girls universe, and that's the news that show auteurs Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino are leaving at the end of this season. Being someone who views TV and film from an auteur-centric perspective, it's difficult for me to separate Gilmore Girls from its creators, it's their universe, and they're as integral to the show as Lauren Graham. So, it's difficult to consider it the same show without them. It might still be good, but it's not the story they set out to tell.

However, the Palladinos themselves had a perspective that's not quite in tune with most of the TV world. It's now generally accepted that shows don't just run until their cancelled, particularly in serial dramas, the show eventually reaches an end point, when the story is over and there's no more to tell. Frequently this can make a series much stronger, witness the emotionally potent final year of Six Feet Under versus the good, but meandering fourth season. It's always good to build your show towards something, and even that ultimate destination is a ways off, the fact that it's there at all changes the storytelling.

So, the fact that the Palladinos wanted the show to run indefinitely is a bit odd. I'm always torn when I hear that a show I love is ending, on the one hand I would love to be getting new Six Feet Under episodes this summer, but I also recognize that if the show was to go on, we would never have had its greatest moments. So, the prospect of Gilmore Girls running indefinitely gets a mixed response from me. It's true that peoples' live go on forever, so in theory these characters could, but characters are also designed with arcs in mind. The TV series should capture the most interesting period of their lives, and without an ending, the story doesn't really have meaning.

But, clearly they perceive the series differently, and there's always been a conflict between the idea of the show as a wacky comedy about a small town and the idea of it as a character based family drama. This is all moot at this point, because the Palladinos are leaving the show. I'd rather have seen them do one more great year than try to press for two and then abandon it, but it's their choice, and I'm sure it was much more painful for them to let go than it will be for me as a viewer.

As for the episode itself, this week we finally got Luke's reasoning for not introducing April to Lorelai, and I think it makes a lot of sense. Basically, Luke is self conscious about his lack of likability, and as he's making his first breakthroughs with April, he does not want Lorelai to come in and forge a stronger relationship with her. So, Luke clearly fears Lorelai developing a Rory-like relationship with April.

Does this imply that Luke is jealous of Lorelai's relationship with Rory? I would say yes, it wasn't until Rory was off at college that he could finally make a move on Lorelai, and throughout their relationship, there's the clear feeling that he's second to Rory. I think he can respect that, but it also means that Lorelai has something with Rory that he could never have. So, when his daughter appears, he imagines he's got the chance to forge his own private relationship with her. I think that's logical, and it reinforces the fact that the major issue between him and Lorelai wasn't the actual issue, it was the lack of communication about the issue.

When the April storyline first started up, I thought it was contrived and ridiculous, but as it's progressed, it's done a great job of mixing up the character dynamics. Both in terms of personality and physical appearance, Anna is very similar to Lorelai, and in the final scene of the episode, Lorelai confronts a more extreme version of herself, a single mother who's deeply protective of her daughter and unwilling to put her at any emotional risk. Now, I think it's a bit contrived that Anna would put such an emphasis on the distinction between being engaged and being married, which is clearly designed to play on the insecurities that Lorelai expressed last week.

Still, Anna's basic reasoning makes sense, and is the kind of thing that Lorelai had talked about back in the early days. She tried to keep Lorelai from becoming attached to anyone she was dating, fearing the inevitable break of that emotional bond. Luke is now caught in the middle, and it seems like we're building to a choice between Lorelai and his daughter.

Backtracking a bit, I did really like Lorelai running the party. This gives us a sense of what she was like back when Rory was younger, and also shows us Lorelai and Luke as a family for the first time. The fact that Lorelai could so easily form a bond with April makes it tougher when Anna refuses her the chance to do so.

Over with Rory, we've got more issues with Logan. I think Rory's storyline is rather uninteresting now because Rory is always better when she's being tempted to be bad. The most interesting moment for the character was when she decided to sleep with Dean back in season four, and then later on when she rejects him for Logan. The end of that season was all about her pushing the limits and doing the wrong thing. Now that she's got things together, she's basically lecturing Logan on his problems and that's not too interesting.

Rory always has a moral superiority, a belief that on some level she's better than everyone else. This isn't particularly interesting for a viewer, the scene where she got the job at the newspaper and went back to school in about five minutes was boring because she succeeded through being annoying. However, when she's doing bad things, Rory finds her basic belief that she's a "good girl" challenged. If she's having an affair with a married man, it's not a bad thing because she actually loves Dean. It's like she's exempt from the consequences of her actions, and this has led to a lot of casual cruelty, to Dean in season two and season five, as well as to Jess in season six.

So, until Rory is doing bad stuff again, her stories aren't going to be that interesting. Her relationship with Logan is about Logan pushing Rory out of her personal limits, not Rory lecturing Logan for doing bad stuff.

I'm sort of ambivalent on things moving forward, because in some respects we've got two episodes of the series left, and there's clearly not going to be any sort of resolution. The show will go on, but is it really the same show? I'll hope for the best, but in a lot of ways, these two episodes are the series finale.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Sopranos: 'Luxury Lounge' (6x07)

This episode puts most of the major plot threads on hold for a little bit, to deal with Artie Bucco's issues. I was missing Artie in the first chunk of this season, but I don't know if I needed to get this much of him to make up for it. This was certainly a good episode, but it was also clearly the weakest episode of the season so far.

The most relevant stuff to the overall story arc were the two meetings between Tony and Phil. Phil is not taking the Vito revelation well, and we're clearly building up to a confrontation between Phil and Tony over the issue, and it doesn't look like Tony's going to have the support of his crew, even Christopher who's been generally loyal in the past gives him no support here.

But that seems to be the big issue next week, this week chronicles Artie's issues. Artie is the one character on the show who has remained out of the mob world. He's forever on the periphery, an observer. And seeing these guys get whatever they want without working hard for it has worn on him. He expresses this in the scene at the Bing, where Artie talks about how Tony could have sex with the stripper, while he can only look. Constantly seeing a world where people can do whatever they want without any consequences has made it difficult for him to live an honest life, and that's dropped him into this constantly self pitying state. On the boat he talks about he's lost faith in the American dream, the idea that if you work hard enough, you'll get what you want. On this show we've frequently seen people who worked hard get mixed up with mob and wind up destroyed. The credit card scam at Artie's recalls the stuff with David Scatino's sporting goods store back in year two.

Artie's frustration leads to a series of violent acts. His increasingly diminishing business makes him angry at Benny, who is able to cheat on his wife with Martina, something Artie couldn't do. When he assaults Benny, it's both because he's jealous of him and because Benny makes a mockery of all his work. Not only does Benny takes his women, he also takes the money that Artie worked hard for. This leads to a feeling that everything he does is pointless.

Tony didn't have too much to do in the episode, but the scene with Artie gives a lot of insight into where he is now. Tony is by far the smartest one on the show, and he recognizes that Artie is in much the same place that he was back at the beginning of the series, frustrated with growing older, unable to control his violent outbursts, and constantly blaming his problems on other people. So, he does something genuinely nice and refers Artie to Dr. Melfi.

Ultimately, Artie seems to find refuge in returning to what he was genuinely passionate about in the first place, cooking. At the end of the episode he's got some peace, but will cooking rabbit for his customers lead to success? It's unclear, but Tony's words clearly meant something to Artie.

The other major storyline of the episode was both hilarious and frustrating. Christopher is a character who's been something of an enigma this season, and here he starts to fall apart. Clearly he's still got major issues from Adrianna's death, frequently bringing it up as an excuse for any bad behavior. He's back on drugs here, and more importantly, again does something stupid and thinks of short term goals rather than long term priorities. His attempts to intimidate Ben Kingsley are likely what ruin the film project. He's unable to deal with a world where he's not at the top of the food chain. So, seeing Kingsley get given thousands of dollars worth of merchandise is painful for someone who loves to get stuff without working for it. Kingsley's celebrity status is something he can't get, and unlike most of the people he deals with, Kingsley isn't going to be intimidated.

The show always does great celebrity cameos, Jon Favreau's appearance back in season two was a large part of why 'D-Girl' was my favorite episode of the whole series. This doesn't reach that level, but Kingsley is fantastic. Considering he appearance in "BloodRayne," it's not unrealistic to expect him to sign on to this film, but apparently the tactics that work in Jersey don't work out in Hollywood. This leads to the hilariously bizarre scene where Christopher mugs Lauren Bacall. This is the sort of high profile job that Christopher should know is stupid to do, but he lets his jealousy overwhelm his logic.

Things with Christopher are building towards something, he's very resentful about the Adrianna thing, and we've got the continuing development of this plot with the Arabs. It's great that we've got an Orthodox Jew helping out people who are potentially Arab terrorists, and that was a nice throwback reference to early season one.

This episode had some good stuff, but at this point the really interesting thing is the continuing development of Tony's morality, and we don't get much of that. I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens with Vito next week, and hopefully we'll get some followup on Meadow and Finn as well.