This week, we’re talking about Ghost in the Shell, Tom Cruise, singing cowboys, the X-Men, Steven Soderbergh, and Indiana Jones. We’ve focused some Wednesday Collectives lately about specific interests, so we’re playing some catch-up – we’ll have even more articles in tomorrow’s Thursday’s Child.
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
There is No Ghost in the Shell
The thing about science-fiction is that the world catches up to it in short order. We may not have the spaceships of early 90s Star Trek, for instance, but we’ve certainly surpassed their clunky data devices and equaled their communication abilities. Star Wars movies made 15 years ago present us with dated, impractical visions of technology (oddly enough, the 30-year old films still feel more futuristic).
In the 80s, cyberpunk sprang to the fore of science-fiction. If nothing else, it was a reaction to Reaganism and the growing power of the corporation. Yet the subgenre’s originator, William Gibson, left his own genre a decade ago, saying that reality had caught up, and it was a far more insidious one than he could have imagined.
So it’s impressive that an anime film made 20 years ago looks like a grim vision of the future and asks us questions we’re still at the beginning stages of contemplating. Above is a staggeringly complete video essay on the questions about the soul, human consciousness, and the increasingly cybernetic nature of our lives that Ghost in the Shell raises.
The Fall of Tom Cruise
I can’t understand people’s reasoning behind hating Tom Cruise. He stood on a couch at Oprah’s behest and he has a crazy religion. You know, unlike all those perfectly reasonable religions the rest of us have.
I know people who hate Tom Cruise but will geek out over Mel Gibson being in The Expendables, or who will gladly sit down for a Roman Polanski or Woody Allen movie. I know people who hate Tom Cruise who get upset when I turn off a Michael Jackson song.
Yes, he’s kind of crazy and his personality caused Katie Holmes to leave, but to lump him as somehow worse than that bunch and less deserving of our viewership based purely on personality is mind-boggling to me. He started out dirt poor. There are countless examples of his going out of his way and taking big financial risks to help directors and stars just getting their start. Directors come away saying he’s a workaholic on-set. Cast and crew come away saying he’s generous with his time, and pitches in with menial on-set tasks that other actors won’t. When he sues tabloids, he’s always given the entire proceeds to charity. Why don’t those things hold value?
Amy Nicholson answers a few of these questions for me in painting a picture of Cruise’s infamous Oprah appearance. Nobody could have known how badly timed it was – YouTube was a week old, Perez Hilton and Huffington Post just a month. It was a perfect storm of the Internet’s as-yet-untested viral tabloid ability and a breakdown in PR.
Her article also reminds us of Cruise’s early years, spent turning down tens of millions of dollars in action franchises so that he could instead play second fiddle roles to actors like Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman, and work with directors like Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone.
I hope there comes a time when we’re able to remember Cruise as one of our most iconic movie actors, and not for an Oprah interview that – by the way – her attending audience that day was cheering. Well, until they got home and checked their e-mail, that is.
“Hollywood’s First Black Singing Cowboy”
I’m not one to run obituaries. If someone dies, I don’t need a recap – I’d rather celebrate their life by discussing one of their films, or by sharing how their work affected me personally.
That said, history is riddled with important figures who we leave forgotten. Herb Jeffries is one of those figures. Before Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef took apart the Western there were straight-laced cowboys played by Gregory Peck and John Wayne. But before they saddled up, cowboys merrily sang their hearts out. In an age of crooning, white cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Jeffries was the premier black one. He provided a counter during an age when African-American heroes were simply not seen on-screen.
Interviewing Lauren Shuler Donner
Lauren Shuler Donner is one of Hollywood’s most successful producers, famed for being the woman responsible for getting X-Men onto the screen and, by extension, making the comic book movie genre viable.
I like this interview because it’s short, to the point, and all about Shuler Donner’s development process. Many producers toe the studio line and keep everyone on-schedule. There’s nothing wrong with that, but she’s known as a very hands-on producer. Her strength is her adaptability – she’s one of the few executives who regularly talks about viewing a project from the perspectives and needs of writers, directors, and actors. She gives some good advice about how to produce to the strengths of each of these jobs.
Steven Soderbergh is Terrible at Retirement
Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking because it was becoming nearly impossible to fund his style of modestly-budgeted narrative-heavy filmmaking. Nevermind that 15 of his 18 theatrically released films were profitable – even domestic underperformers like The Girlfriend Experience and Che made money for their studios because Soderbergh abandoned blanket overseas distributorship in favor of nuanced, sometimes individually-designed releasing contracts in foreign countries.
The thing about Soderbergh is that he can’t keep still. He’s recut two classic movies while developing and directing TV series The Knick with Clive Owen for Cinemax. He’s directed off-Broadway while starting an import business for Bolivian liquor…I know, it sounds like I’m just making up new David Mamet plots now, but Soderbergh’s a weird cat. I said a long time ago that if TV was smart, they would capitalize on the studio system’s failure by investing to keep Soderbergh employed behind the small-screen. It looks like they’re doing exactly that.
Fortune, Glory, and Evil Indiana Jones
I feel a bit dirty linking to a website like Ain’t It Cool News, but I really did enjoy this personal essay about Quint’s watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a kid. I like folding personal experiences into these kinds of essays – artistic analysis is nothing without being honest about how our own personal biases fit into them – and it makes me think of Temple of Doom in a light I hadn’t considered before now.
SHORT FILM OF THE WEEK
dir. Mark Osborne
Vanessa ran a short film a few weeks ago and I liked the idea. We’re going to try closing each week’s Wednesday Collective with a short film of the week. I’ll start with one of my favorites – a stop-motion animation from Mark Osborne called “More.” It was nominated for an Oscar and won best short at Sundance way back in 1999, when I was just a 16-year old twinkle in a college admission department’s eye. Ah, those were the days. The awful, awful days. “More” remains one of the most moving and effective short films I’ve seen.