Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Is It Time to Start Taking iPhone Movies Seriously? Sean Baker’s shot his new film “Tangerine,” a free-wheeling film about two trans sex workers as they walk the streets of West Hollywood, on an iPhone. Though on the surface it seems gimmicky, it injects the film with a gritty inspiration that’s essential. In honor of “Tangerine’s” UK premiere, Little White Lies’ Jessica Holland writes about whether it’s time to start taking “iPhone movies” seriously.
Making a fictional feature film using the camera on a mobile phone is a crazy thing to do. You can’t refocus or adjust the exposure in the middle of a shot. Nothing is quite sharp, but nothing recedes softly into the background either. You’re always the same distance from your subject. You can put the phone on a stabiliser to stop the inevitable shaking, use an app to lock the frame rate and manually adjust the color temperature, reformat the image for widescreen with an adapter, pump up the saturation in post, and you’d still get better looking footage with the video function on an entry level DSLR. So what was Sean Baker thinking when he decided to shoot “Tangerine,” an 88-minute movie about a trans sex worker on the war path, on an iPhone 5s? The film, which takes place in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, premiered at Sundance back in January, and critics weren’t told that it was shot on a smart phone until the credits rolled. Since then, press interviews with Baker have been dominated by a handful of recurring questions: How did you do it? Why? And what does this mean for the future of movies? He kept repeating variations on the same answers. There were budgetary constraints; he’s made four previous features but none of them were commercial hits. Shooting on a phone allowed him to capture the grime and neon glow of Hollywood without attracting crowds, and it put his performers at ease. The film’s two stars, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, whom Baker met through an LGBT community centre, had no previous acting experience, and it’s true that their performances are fantastic, full of warring charisma and vulnerability. Baker has also spoken about the way that the cameras allowed his crew to shoot easily in cars, circle and track the actors on a bicycle, or chase them as they careened down Santa Monica Boulevard. There’s certainly an intoxicating energy that’s captured in the film (thanks also to a trap soundtrack featuring the relatively unknown New Jersey teenager DJ Lightup) but all of the above would still be possible if Baker had kept his crew minimal and shot quickly on a small, cheap video camera – like a Blackmagic Micro, which fits in one hand, is only a hundred bucks more expensive than a brand new iPhone, and isn’t primarily designed for texting, snapchatting and hailing an Uber.
2. Charlie Kaufman Explains Why There Aren’t More Charlie Kaufman Movies. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa” will be in limited release by the end of the year and open wide early next year. “Anomalisa” marks Kaufman’s second directorial effort and written work since 2008’s “Synecdoche, New York.” Uproxx’s Mike Ryan sits down with Charlie Kaufman to discuss the sad reasons why there aren’t more of his movies.
Q: The animation is very difficult to describe. At times, it looks real. At times, it looks otherworldly.
A: It was a very painstaking process for the production — and, you know, being constantly chased by money people and animators leaving and having to replace them and things falling apart, having to be put back together. The thing that Duke and I wanted to do was create something that felt subtle and nuanced and naturalistic andnotlike kids animation. So, that required a certain kind of level of craftsmanship on the part of the designers and the part of the animators. That was sort of unusual, and that adds to the realistic quality, but also the surreal and otherworldly thing, as you said.
A: There’s a scene where a couple is arguing in the hallway, but all they are saying back and forth to each other is “Fuck you” over and over. This is the hardest I’ve laughed all year.
A: That’s in the play. He’s passing in the hallway and I don’t remember exactly how we did it. We did it with the microphones. It’s kind of interesting, actually, we had him walking down the hallway, but we’d have the people coming close, then drifting off into the distance.WhyI did it, I don’t remember. I thought it was funny.
3. Why “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Can’t Win a Vulture Bracket. For the past few weeks, Vulture has been running a “High School Showdown” column that pits high school TV shows in a bracket-style competition to choose the best in the genre of the last 30 years. A different writer has been tackling each match-up, making hard choices among the most popular and the most beloved. Yesterday, Ken Tucker chose “Friday Night Lights” over series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which makes it the second time in three years that it has lost a Vulture bracket. Today, TV editor Matt Zoller Seitz explains why “Buffy” can’t win a Vulture bracket.
The high-school tropes on ” Buffy” are ultimately a means to an end. Where every other show in the High-School-TV Showdown deals with the emotional and physical facts of being an adolescent, and how they affect the adults who are involved in teenagers’ lives, “Buffy” treats adolescence mainly in terms of metaphor, to present stories of characters discovering themselves and trying to harness their maturity (their power) without becoming jaded or succumbing to evil. Many of the high-school characters seem at once too mature and too immature to be in high school, while many of the adults seem as petty or shortsighted as the most stereotypical teenager. They all inhabit a sort of developmental twilight, rather like the characters on “Community,” which is set on a college campus but might not necessarily be a series you’d sum up as “a college show.” The “Buffy” characters slide along a spectrum of sophistication, not just from week to week but episode to episode, depending on what issues the writers want to illuminate. There are many plots that are “about” high school on the most basic level (Xander falling in with a group of popular boys who turn out to be a literal pack of wolves; graduation day being re-imagined as literally the end of the world), but these associations are presented in a way that’s at once sincere and winking, with enough imaginative wiggle room that you can apply them to situations in grownup life. Which brings us back to the brackets. There’s a reason why “Buffy” was instinctively included in the Vulture Drama Derby even though it is not obviously a drama in the way that, say, “Mad Men” or “The Wire” are (mostly melancholy in temperament, despite many humorous bits); it has the formal expansiveness and prankish ambition that we associate with a lot great TV dramas, and is more radical than a lot of them, particularly in the way it shifts from kidding to serious and back again within the space of a few lines of dialogue. But when you hear the title of the show, do you think, “‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ what a great drama”? Probably not. Likewise, you might nod if somebody called it a great horror series (which it certainly is, though not entirely) or a great comedy (which is certainly is, a lot of the time) or a great romance (which it often was). But it’s not mainly any of those things. It might be more of a “high-school show” than a drama, a comedy, or a horror series, but not by much. This is part of the reason, I suspect, it was never nominated for a single Emmy. It’s not just the bias against science fiction and fantasy (which receded thanks to the success of “Lost” and “Game of Thrones”).
4. TV Club 10: The Ten Most Representative Episodes of “Mr. Show.” The A.V. Club’s TV Club 10 column focuses on gathering ten episodes of a classic or contemporary series that best exemplify the show itself. They aren’t necessarily the best episodes, but the most representative. In honor of the new Netflix series “W/ Bob and David,” Erik Adams details a brief primer on Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ cult sketch show “Mr. Show” before listing the ten episodes you must see before watching.
There were many things that “Mr. Show With Bob And David” was not. Influenced by the interlocking format of “SCTV” and the free-flowing running order of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the show broke from two decades of sketch comedy tradition on American TV. Though it featured musical numbers and a requisite top-of-the-show greeting from co-creators and co-stars Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, “Mr. Show” was not a variety show. Names like Famous Mortimer, fictional companies like Globo-Chem, and faces like telegenic ne’er-do-well Ronnie Dobbs make repeat appearances throughout “Mr. Show’s” four seasons, but it was not a generator of recurring characters. “A couple of times is okay if you can find a reason for it, or a different take on the character, but just to trot it out there to say the same lines so you can sell T-shirts and posters, or maybe make a mid-budgeted super-shitty movie is reprehensible, if not lazy,” Cross says in the episode guide and show history “Mr. Show: What Happened?!” All of which is to say: More than anything, “Mr. Show” was not “Saturday Night Live.” This was especially cathartic for Odenkirk, who spent several unhappy seasons in the “SNL” writers’ room. Despite joining the staff at the same time as likeminded contemporaries Conan O’Brien, Greg Daniels, and Robert Smigel, Odenkirk failed to find his footing with the show. (Ironically, a concept he’d hatched for a Second City revue wound up being an “SNL” signature: Chris Farley’s van-down-by-the-river-dwelling motivational speaker, Matt Foley.) “To me, what was fun about comedy and should have been exciting about ‘Saturday Night Live’ was the whole generational thing thing, you know, a crazy bunch of people sittin’ around making each other laugh with casual chaos and a kind of democracy of chaos,” he’d later say in the “SNL” oral history “Live From New York.” Odenkirk would find what he thought comedy should be with the help of David Cross, who came to Los Angeles after leading his own democracy of chaos, Cross Comedy, in Boston. Both worked on the short-lived Fox version of “The Ben Stiller Show,” though their creative partnership wouldn’t click until after they’d moved on from “Stiller’s” direct-parody stylings. What became “Mr. Show” was honed on L.A. stages like the Diamond Club and the Upfront Theatre, and its cast and writing staff were drawn from the pools of talent gathering in these so-called “alternative comedy” spaces. Offering, in Odenkirk’s words, “the warmth that neither David or I have,” John Ennis was a fellow Boston expatriate and Cross Comedy alumnus. Jill Talley and Tom Kenny had performed in Chicago and Boston, respectively, but their paths to “Mr. Show” (and to the couple’s marriage) ran through the other sketch series Fox put up in the fall of 1992, “The Edge.” Jay Johnston and Paul F. Tompkins were drafted based on their own two-man act, The Skates; Brian Posehn had co-starred in one of Odenkirk and Cross’ proto-“Mr. Show” live shows, “The 3 Goofballz.” Bill Odenkirk had the family connection, but he’d also been feeding his brother jokes on a professional basis since Bob was on “SNL” and Bill was a grad student studying inorganic chemistry.
5. Every “Mr. Show” Sketch Ranked. For those who are “Mr. Show” obsessives, many probably have a rough list of best or favorite sketches in the series already locked and loaded in their heads. But a full ranking of every sketch would be especially difficult even for the hardcore “Mr. Show” fans. Well, for Vulture, Larry Fitzmaurice takes on the task and ranks every sketch in the series, which is sure to cause arguments to ripple across the Internet.
“Commercials of the Future” (Season 1, Episode 2). It’s getting harder to shock people these days — but luckily, two ad pitchmen have the solution to staying ahead of the curve, and that solution involves a lot of cursing. Aside from the introduction of Globo-Chem as a gag faceless corporation and the stupid brilliance of Globo-Chem mascot Pit Pat (“Take it from me — I love you!”), “Commercials of the Future” aggressively wields profanity like a blunt object and lands every attempted blow.
“Lie Detector” (Season 3, Episode 3). A great example of “Mr. Show” taking a simple idea — what if you gave someone a lie detector test and all they did was tell the truth? — and pushing it to its most illogical extreme, with a punchline that’s equal parts hilariously corny and genuinely genius. I cannot tell a lie: This is, without a doubt, one of the most essential “Mr. Show” sketches.
Tweet of the Day:
I feel bad for Shia LaBeouf. He stole ONE comic book and now he has to pretend to be an eccentric performance artist forever??
— Nick Hune-Brown (@nickhunebrown) November 12, 2015