Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the Lot: Lights, camera, action

It's time for another edition of WHO WANTS TO BE A HACK MOVIE DIRECTOR?, err, ON THE LOT. Sorry, no liveblogging this week as I was busy seeing I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY. Dennis Dugan's sensibility isn't all that different from these contestants, so it's not like I had to defer my consumption of soulless cinema at that time on Tuesday night. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure if I'd have much to say about the show this week. You can only say that the films stink but have some polish so many ways.

Business first: we bid adieu to Shalini and Hilary. And there go the last of the ladies...

Is it me or do the accommodations for the filmmakers look like budget housing, especially in comparison to the fancy digs Mark Burnett put his ROCK STAR strivers in?

Tonight's theme is action. Before taking a look at these I have the feeling that we'll get more technically proficient but artistically empty shorts. The judges will gripe about storytelling, but here's the thing: with the amount of time they're given, how much story can you really deliver?

Sure enough, Sam's KEY WITNESS is more like a scene from a movie than self-contained piece. It's as slick and nutritious as olestra-laden snack foods whose consumption may result in, umm, unexpected passage.

Jason's SWEET, an action-comedy about a husband who rushes at the last minute to get anniversary flowers for his wife, does what perhaps no other short has done on the show's entire run. It succeeds as a standalone piece and might actually be something people would watch. I've been pretty critical of his past work, but tonight he strikes the right tone, develops the situation and character (as much as can be done in the alloted time), and draws laughs. Jason made a smart choice in telling a story that he and plenty others can identify with. His other shorts have been well received on the ON THE LOT message boards. Now I think he might have a shot at winning this silly competition.

I haven't been paying attention to who's sponsoring the show--God bless DVRs and the time-shifting viewing they permit--but Andrew's ZERO2SIXTY confirms that Ford is one of the major companies involved with it. Previous episodes had shorts that functioned like car commercials and featured prominent shots of the product, but this film is a Ford ad through and through. I wonder if someone gets assigned the pseudo-advertisement short each week. It didn't do Andrew any favors. You don't feel the speed in the car chase.

Kenny really wanted to do a stunt in his skateboard movie THE LOSERS, but the supervisor wouldn't let him. Like what he does or not, Kenny knows who he is. (The same goes for Jason.) His adrenalized, off the wall style earns him points for creativity. He didn't do a very good job of communicating where his skating racers are in relation to one another and the finish line, but again, I'm beginning to see what got him to this point. Garry Marshall, who must work all week on one-liners for his evaluations, quoted Camus in response to Kenny's short. That's the sort of weirdness that makes ON THE LOT tolerable.

Mateen's CATCH takes forever to set up a foot chase and then ends on a reversal that we've seen a few hundred times. Yawn.

A montage of the stunts and some behind-the-scenes work help pad out a show that's already mostly padding. Carrie picks Andrew's as her favorite while Garry and guest judge Antoine Fuqua pick Jason's. Next week the six remaining directors will present comedies with a hint of romance. (You mean romantic comedies?) I'm betting that Sam and Mateen are out, but tune in next week to find out.

1 comment:

  1. Good call on Jason's short. It's revealing how elusive the balance between plot, style, and character is revealed to be in these almost-uniformly dreadful short films. I know it's not fair to compare these youngsters to the likes of Alexander Payne, but look what he did with his few minutes of Paris, j'taime. Or any of a half dozen other folks who made decent short subjects out of their segments, without the flopsweat desperation we see every goldarn week on this show. Why can't somebody just try something simple? Are the stakes so high that you've got to throw a tommy gun at it every time?