Thursday, December 20, 2007

F#@%!NG UPDATE: Jim Dooley gig

Oh my this is depressing. Mostly cause here I was getting my hopes up...

In my cover letter, I explicitly stated that I need at least 40 thousand dollars a year to take a salaried position. In the case of Stiletto, the salary is nearly that plus since there's so much travel, most of my food & entertainment expenses are covered so it certainly would work out that way.

Apparently to most people in the film industry, $24,000 dollars a year is enough to buy 100% of my time 12+ hours per day 7 days a week. Oh, but Jim will pay for my lunch?

Look kids, here's a lesson for you - learn how to do math. If you learn how to do math, then when someone in Hollywood offers you 24K and no benefits of any kind to give up your entire life to work as a low-level technical assistant to a composer (even one whose work you like), you can say... Wait a tick, that's less than 6 dollars an hour in a state with a minimum wage of $8. Wait a tick, with overtime, the minimum you'd need to pay me is over $40K per year. AND lastly, wait a tick! I went to fucking graduate school at New York University and shouldn't be fucking making fucking 8 goddamn fucking dollars an hour anyway!!!


This get's really ridiculous... If I've learned anything about Hollywood so far, it's this:

Ya know how everytime you see a business man - they're always presented as evil guys who would kill their employees just so they could have something to walk on if there was a puddle in the street and a nickle on the other side?

The film industry presents such people like that because that is the reality of the entertainment business. If they only knew that all the people I know who work in other industries - the "evil" ones you always see in the movies... I've got friends who work for software giants, railroads like Union Pacific, gigantic book publishers like McGraw-Hill, enormous land development and construction contractors for example... and all those people make real wages, get benefits, bonuses and by and large get treated with respect by their employers. The truth of the matter is, it's just the entertainment industry that harbors those types of tycoons... and they're not guys wearing fancy suits... they're patchouli douchebags wearing sandals and sunglasses.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

10 Reasons You Should Watch "Pushing Daisies"

I don't know where to begin with this particular recommendation, but I absolutely need to encourage everyone who may be reading this to watch the new ABC drama-comedy-fairytale, "Pushing Daisies".

In no particular order, here are at least 10 very good reasons to watch:

1: The music is fantastic! Composed by veteran (of mostly video games like the SOCOM series) Jim Dooley, Pushing Daisies sports a melodic, romantic-fantasy musical language that blends cinematic elements with the mixed-pop musical timing. Not only that, in a rare twist for the continuing trend of poorer quality music and production values being scrapped for the bottom-line benefits that pre-recorded "tracks" bring to most modern television programming, Dooley's weekly scores are recorded by a full orchestra.
2: Executive Producer & Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Contributing immensely to Pushing Daisies' feeling more like a series of 45 minute films than a television series, the director of Men in Black (I & II), the Addam's Family Values and the grossly under-rated live action version of The Tick starring Patrick Warburton brings this magical universe to life. Often compared stylistically to Tim Burton, one would be remiss to ignore Sonnenfeld's clearly established style as both a director and producer and though, yes, it's similar to Burton in that it often revolves around macabre fantasy, Sonnenfeld uses much brighter colors, themes and opts for comedy over tragedy in a way that Burton's aesthetic has just never been able to handle. If you're watching carefully, you (as my dad astutely did) will see much more of Sonnenfeld's Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events in this show than you will even Big Fish.
3: Michael's Wylie and Weaver round out the visual aesthetic as Production Designer and Cinematographer respectively. Vivid colors and excellent, motion-picture-style cinematography result in Pushing Daisies being one of the most attractive shows ever broadcast on network television.
4: THE WRITING! Of course I've spent the first three reasons talking about technical issues and the beauty of this series is really in it's heartbreaking romantic streak. The show, for those who don't already know is about a pie-maker named Ned, gifted with the ability to bring the dead back to life - but only for a minute. Any longer than a minute and someone else (in relative proximity and of more-or-less "equal" value) has to die. Unfortunately, even after a minute, Ned's touch will permanently "re-dead" any one or anything he's brought back... And thus the rub.

You see, Ned has brought the love of his life from the age of 9, Charlotte Charles aka "Chuck", back to life. Though the couple (played by Lee Pace and Anna Friel) have phenomenal on-screen chemistry and clearly love each other, they cannot touch lest Chuck dies for good. Add to this the supporting characters Emerson Cod - Private Detective and partner of Ned's who solves murders by having Ned re-animate the dead and asking them who their killers were, Chuck's two aunts (or are they both aunts?) - synchronized swimming duo "The Darling Mermaid Darlings", and Olive Snook - waitress for Ned's pie shop, "The Pie-hole" and not-so-secretly in love with Ned herself, and you have a story ripe for all kinds of twists, turns and surprises.

And I haven't even mentioned guest characters played by Paul Reubens, Mike White, or Molly Shannon yet...

Pushing Daisies has almost unlimited potential as a story because the characters are so well defined and so interesting, yet it enjoys the possibility of a weekly format like any detective show and a romantic entanglement impossible to extricate it's characters from and impossible to consummate. It's heartbreaking and lovely all at the same time. I dare you to watch Ned & Chuck hold their own hands pretending they were holding each other's and not feel something.
5: The casting. Lee Pace and Anna Friel work together perfectly - but it's the stellar supporting cast that really makes the show what it is. Starting with the wry and very-funny Chi McBride as Emerson and moving directly on to Wicked's Kristin Chenoweth as Olive. Chenoweth isn't the only Broadway singer to make an appearance though, Ellen Greene (who you may remember from Little Shop of Horrors) as Chuck's aunt Vivian and Raul Esparza as travelling salesman Alfredo Aldarisio who is not-so-secretly in love with Olive also have excellent musical chops. Though we haven't seen Esparza break out into song yet, it's only a matter of time. Beyond that, with guest stars like Paul Reubens as an olfactory scientist who lives in the sewer and Molly Shannon as a ruthlessly aggressive small business owner, how can you possibly go wrong?
6: It has a very strong likelihood of making you cry out of a mixture of love, happiness and tragedy. I view this as a very good thing - especially for TV which is ordinarily filled with trash.
7: If you care about such things, it's already been nominated for several Golden Globes and it's getting great reviews by people (not unlike myself) who spend a lot of time watching and analyzing the celluloid artform. Basically, what I'm saying is that in case you don't believe I know what I'm talking about what with my masters degree in film scoring and my extensive study of aesthetics and all, I'm not the only one.
8: Jim Dale narrates. If you don't know who Jim Dale is, listen to the Harry Potter series' audiobooks - he's a fabulously proper older English gentleman and you simply can't find a better narrator for a fantasy of this type.
9: There's no excuse not to watch it - if you miss its regular Wednesday night showing, is the best of any of the networks at providing a free online viewing option. If you have high-speed internet (and let's be honest, who doesn't anymore?) then you're good to go and can watch the show at any time.
10: And this one I just found out about (well after I started writing this promotional diatribe), I *might* get to replace a friend of mine as Jim Dooley's assistant and actually WORK on the music for the show! My brain has exploded...

Seriously. Go watch it, you'll be glad you did! And wish me luck ;)

Friday, December 7, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Golden Compass

I have not read Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series. In fact, until today - after I saw The Golden Compass - I knew literally nothing what-so-ever about the stories or their characters.

I had however, heard and read a bunch of nonsense recently from Christian groups wanting to boycott the film because of the book's supposedly anti-Christian properties. Every time this happens, I find myself often chuckling at the absurd catch 22 that the religious find themselves in. In order to boycott an artwork because they believe the ideas expressed in that artwork will lead people to evil, hell, Satan, etc., they must themselves avoid any firsthand experience of the art. Of course, when you avoid experiencing the artwork your boycotts are fueled only by rumor - and everybody with half a brain realizes this. Such is certainly the case with The Golden Compass and fortunately, the splashes being made by religious groups will serve only to bring the film a larger audience.

Before I get to the film itself, I also would like to mention that on the other side of the religious boycotts are plenty of fans, atheists and other groups crying "censorship!" This is a ridiculous and depressingly common inaccuracy which reduces the debate to a very stupid level. Censorship requires authority and the legitimized use of force - government book burning for example. A religious group calling for private citizens to boycott a film or any artwork in order to express their views is a fabulous way of expressing disagreement. In a free society, people must be free to make the films they want, free to see them, free to not see them, and yes; free to convince others not to see them as well. To everyone contributing to the hooplah surrounding this thing: Relax.

Now. About the film:

The basic structure of The Golden Compass follows a kind of underlying mythology found throughout the world. There's the youthful hero Lyra Belacqua, a tomboyish orphaned girl of 11 years old who knows little of her past or her future, but gets unwittingly swept into a larger universe. She must grow up of course, but the transformation isn't without its adventure. Lyra has a beloved and very mysterious adventurer uncle named Lord Asriel, an armored polar bear friend and protector named Iorek Byrnison, and most important of all in her world, people's souls reside in animal form outside their bodies and Lyra's is a shape-shifting little mink named Pan. There are the motherly figures, the wise-old men who act as guides - including Lyra's headmaster and a pilot/cowboy played by Sam Elliott known as Lee Scoresby - and the grand struggles not only between good and evil, freedom and control, thought and dogma, but the internal battles of a girl growing up. In a strange way, Lyra's story is more that of the ritualistic rights of passage boys undergo in their transformation to become men than the story of a girl becoming a woman (please see Joseph Campbell for that reference prior to calling me sexist).

Finally, like The Force in another ubiquitous mythology, all things in this universe are connected by a magical ether simply referred to as "Dust". And it is Dust that sparks all of the controversy...

Lord Asriel's research into the properties of Dust ruffles the feathers of The Magisterium, which as I understand it in the book is synonymous with religion and the church, but in the film is more of an authoritarian government... Not that there is much of a difference between the two... Ultimately, it is Asriel's blasphemy that sends the Magisterium into action.

One of the representatives of the Magisterium is Marisa Coulter (though we don't know that right away), who seems nice enough at first and asks Lyra to join her for an exciting adventure to the North. Lyra is excited to get away from her formal education and her orphan home - excited at the prospect of doing anything like her uncle Asriel. Just before Lyra and Ms. Coulter embark on their journey the headmaster of Lyra's school gives her a compass-like device called an Alethiometer. The golden compass will show the user "the truth" in any situation. A dozen exist, but all but the one Lyra now possesses have been confiscated by the Magisterium. The metaphor is certainly not lost here: The government (and religion) must be in control of the truth to maintain their dominance of the universe.

Another way the Magisterium is attempting to maintain control is through the creation of a sort of metaphysical surgery which separates the soul-animals of children from the children themselves - thus rendering them easily manageable and highly obedient. Many of Lyra's friends have been abducted by agents known as "Gobblers" and among her many adventures; she must rescue them as well.

As for the technical merits of the film in question, The Golden Compass has a few minor flaws from an effects perspective... In one sequence, there's a particularly obnoxious (to me) computer generated lens-flare that simply should have been left out. The acting is generally superb, as one might expect from a cast including Sirs Ian McKellen & Christopher Lee (briefly), Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and my personal favorite - Sam Elliott. As typecast as the man is, there will simply never be a better mustachioed cowboy in film. The film clocks in just shy of two hours, and to be honest, I could have used an extra 20 minutes or so to bolster the affect of the conclusion. Having since read the Wikipedia entries on the plot of the original novel, I certainly think the end of the first act as written by Pullman would have been a much better end to the film, but I won't go into that here.

Going in as ignorant of the source material as I was, I expected a complete film - however, The Golden Compass is merely the opening chapter to a much larger saga involving the battle between authority and free will played out on a marvelously fantastical scale. I am a bit reluctant to give a specific rating for this film as I have really only seen the first act, but if all goes well, I hope to see the rest of this story unfold. This film (and the series overall) deals with a much more serious and substantial set of intellectual issues than many of its counterparts. The underlying message of the film is fabulously pro-thought and pro-freedom, and personally, I am basking in the glorious irony that a film that takes on the issue of free-thought vs. authoritarian state/religious control - even in the watered-down, commercialized form presented here - has its metaphors played out literally in the asinine, manufactured controversy it has caused.

Looking forward to the next installment!

The Golden Compass:

THE MUSIC REVIEW: Alexandre Desplat has composed a score for The Golden Compass which may skirt the boundaries a bit too close to fantasy-genre cliches, but for me sets an excellent tone and shows a lot of nuance and compositional skill. I recently complained somewhat about Alan Silvestri's score to Beowulf which seemed to me to be holding back a lot for a film and subject matter which was excitingly over-the-top. Desplat's work for this film is in a lot of ways what I wish Silvestri had done. The orchestral scale and intensity of scoring really fit the scope of The Golden Compass and did so in such a way which reflected both the childish and adult characteristics at play on screen. That is not to say that it is entirely without some problems. For example, the opening sequence seemed to me to be a bit derivative of Howard Shore's lighthearted "Shire" cues in the Lord of the Rings - and if not that then perhaps Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood". Those comparisons might be a bit extreme, but the opening certainly played up this extremely innocent, childish and folksy quality which really didn't exist in the context of the film at large - although what music was there, was well written. I would have liked to have heard more leitmotif development up front and the establishment of an alternate-dimension time and place - more magic. Beyond that, the cliche that bugged me might very well be a pet peeve that only applies to me, but in the first sequence of Lyra and Ms. Coulter leaving the port in her sky-ship, Desplat touches on an alternating 5th, minor 6th interval in the horns over a sustained major chord - ultimately an inversion of an augmented triad with an added major 7th which I (and you all) have heard in virtually every fantasy film score ever written. This may seem like nitpicking, but it would be quite obvious to you if I pointed it out and as far as I'm concerned could have been more creatively avoided. With all that in mind however, speaking as a composer, all of my beefs with the score smack of heavy-handed director involvement - though I would have to check out more of Desplat's scores to be sure. All in all, the score to The Golden Compass was handled very well and I look forward to hearing more from Alexandre Desplat in the future.