Friday, May 8, 2009

30Rock: As Funny As Mainstream TV Gets

I’ve given it enough time (you know, that probationary status you afford a new TV show/band/artist/website before you make your mind up about their standing) and can confidently say, 30 Rock is the funniest show on mainstream television.

30 Rock requires a little bit of time to fully “get” the tone of the show. The rapid-fire editing and constant asides take some getting used to.

This truly is an ensemble cast, but Tracy Morgan always, always maximizes his screen time, bringing the odd charm he occasionally brought to SNL. Alec Baldwin is laugh out loud funny, often poking fun at his appealingly smarmy executive magnetism. Of course Tina Fey makes the whole thing move, constantly referencing herself, self-deprecating and witty.

I will leave you with this quote:

Tracy: "Werewolf bar mitzvah, spooky scary. Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves."

Manhunter: Mann's Little Seen Masterpiece

Michael Mann is one of the strongest contemporary directors. He originally made his name as the creator and director of Miami Vice. Miami Vice was an extremely innovative show, well ahead of its time and has actually aged much better than one would imagine. It was an oddity for a television show, oftentimes running from commercial to commercial without any spoken dialogue. Mann is a master at creating a mood through the usage of composition, color, sound design, and most effectively, with music. Everyone knows the famous In The Air Tonight sequence – extreme angles, silence, drums pounding, etc. Here it is – it is basically a two minute distillation of everything Mann is known for stylistically.

Mann utilizes the entire frame in a way that most modern directors do not. The frame is alive through dynamic composition, emphasizing contrast and asymmetric arrangements of space. Perhaps more than any other director currently working, Mann’s work must be viewed in the widescreen format. Every frame of Manhunter works as a fully functional, lively composition.

Additionally, the cinematography is hyper-realistic, adding a glossy glamour that retains a gritty realism, a dichotomy that really needs to be viewed to be fully appreciated.

Though the entire series revolves (to one degree or another) around Hannibal Lecter, Manhunter entirely belongs to William Peterson. His Will Graham is a tour-de-force, career defining performance. In Peterson’s hands, Graham is a palpably haunted character, a man who engaged in the deepest, most sinister regions of the human soul in order to try to think like a killer. The price of that journey has left him ghostly, scarred, a shell that is devoid of his previous identity.

In the end of the film Will Graham has to kill The Tooth Fairy, not only to defeat an evil man from performing another malicious deed, but also to kill the malevolence living inside of him, a horror Graham had to become (at least internally) like the ghastly Hannibal Lecter in order to catch him. The odd jump cuts that occur when Graham shoots the Tooth Fairy very obviously deviate from the tonal editing of the remainder of the film, and for good reason. The mirror/shattering of self motif works throughout the entire film, but it is the jump cuts at this precise moment that offer another visual “shattering”; by killing The Tooth Fairy/evil inside himself, Graham literally shatters that internal evil, and thereby regains his own identity, an identity in peril since his tracking of Lecter. This is reinforced immediately following the death of the Tooth Fairy, as the potential victim (who is blind, yet another visual metaphor) asks Graham “Who are you?’ – Graham, in thoughtful tone, responds “Will Graham, I’m Will Graham” as much to the victim as to himself.

From Wikipedia:

Because William Petersen's role was so emotionally exhausting, he did everything he could to rid himself of Will Graham after principal photography wrapped. Petersen shaved off his beard, cut his hair and dyed it blonde.

In retrospect, Manhunter is the strongest of the Lecter franchise films. The remake, Red Dragon featured an A List cast – Ed Norton as Graham, Anthony Hopkins as Lector, Ralph Fiennes as The Tooth Fairy, and the always great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite the advantages such a cast should offer, Red Dragon is merely a decent film directed by the ham fisted Brett Ratner, who sanitizes any significant instinctive impact on the viewer. In its place is Nine Inch Nails-video style serial killer shots, nudge nudge – wink wink glances from Lecter, and another wooden performance from the occasionally brilliant Ed Norton who merely phones it in.

Manhunter is a landmark film that supersedes the serial killer genre. Mann has other masterpieces (Heat, Last of the Mohicans), but it is Manhunter that should be the film he is most known for, yet remains his most little seen film. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Coming In A Mess, Going Out In Style

Sorry readers for the inconveniences of this page being messy for while. I am currently rebuilding the blog, and am troubleshooting as I go. Please be patient with me in the meantime.

This blog will continue to be updated with new posts, etc. as the reconstruction continues. Please keep checking back and reading the new posts - I'll keep writing them if you keep reading them.

PS - Thanks for the support as SPEAK A&D undergoes some growing pains - I do appreciate it!

Glasvegas Daytrotter Session Predictably Awesome

Over at the excellent Daytrotter there is a in studio, acoustic live session by Glasvegas. Stripped back versions of three great songs - Daddy's Gone, Geraldine, and Please Come Back Home. Beautiful.

Take a listen here.