Burn Notice is back!

In case you aren’t aware, Burn Notice is, along with The Daily Show and C-SPAN, pretty much the only reason worth signing up for basic cable. But better yet, you can watch it online for free!

The show is about blacklisted ex-spy Michael Weston and his liability-nightmare escapades in Miami. Cult film hero Bruce Campbell (Ash from the Evil Dead franchise and writer/director/star of the fantastically underwhelming The Man with the Screaming Brain) plays a washed-up, almost-alcoholic ex-FBI agent who helps Michael out on his low-budget covert ops. Great action, great comedy with a few splashes of almost-soap-opera drama, and perhaps the best use of freeze-frame/voiceover that syndicated television has ever seen. Season 2 just started, and the whole thing has been kicked up a notch. The show is really coming into its own, and it’s thrilling to watch as it gains popularity and starts getting a bigger budget (most of which they seem to be spending on explosives and car crashes, which is just fine by me).

For film geeks: the fall 2007 issue of Exposure, Fujifilm’s magazine, informs me that the show is shot in Super 16mm on Fuji Endura 500T, 250D and Vivid 160T, using Arriflex SR2 and SR3 Highspeed cameras outfitted with Cooke S4 lenses. The dailies are onlined to HDCAM by Ralph Parez at Cineworks, Miami. The director of photography is Roy Wagner, ASC. Also of note is that the show is shot entirely in Miami, rather than getting a few scenic “button” shots and a couple scenes per season on location, and then high-tailing it back to LA for all of the other photography, which is what shows like CSI do.

While I’m talking about it, let me mention that to my knowledge, all USA Network narrative TV series are shot in Super 16mm, although at least Monk (and probably Psych) use Kodak stock. CBS still relies on 35mm (or  maybe 4-perf Super 35) for their narrative shows, while NBC tends to use a mix (West Wing started out on 35mm and then switched to Super 16, while Scrubs is still full-aperture 35—the Law & Order franchise appears to have switched from 35 to Super 16 at the same time that they began to deliver in high-def). Most national TV commercials are shot on 35mm or some flavor of Super 35. In all, apart from live events, daily shows, reality TV and news, most television is still shot on film. This may be surprising to many people, but those of us “in the know” (we’re better than you—don’t fight it, just accept it) understand that film is still a superior acquisition medium when you’re shooting on a tight production schedule for a turnaround a few months down the road, especially when you’ve got countless hours of footage to manage. TV commercials, which don’t have to worry nearly as much about workflow or schedule, shoot film because it looks better than digital. :-P

A gift to the world from Mr. Sir Vincent Dr. Gagnepain, A.B.C.D.E.

You know who’s awesome? Vvinni. You know what he makes? Stuff like this:

Lamplight Breakfast on a Burning Kitten on Vimeo.

Did you know that he has a blog? Now you do.

Powerful Days

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”

3 April 1968
Memphis, Tennessee

In 500 Words: Christmas on Mars

Due to the abject grooviness of The Flaming Lips, Christmas on Mars is embedded below in its entirety, for your viewing pleasure:

Two men in pressurized suits decorate a Christmas tree in the harsh atmosphere of Mars. Moths flutter through a deteriorating space station. A man dressed as Santa dies a terrible death of his own infliction.

The Flaming Lips’ much-anticipated film debut is the first feature film I have found that fits the definitions put forth in my comments on the Cinema of Exultation: it incorporates low-fidelity visual effects, seemingly-unrehearsed dialogue, cheaply-constructed sets and costumes, occasional bursts of vivid color, and formal references to pop cultural phenomena. This is hardly surprising, judging from the group’s provenance. What is surprising is that the film is not only engaging and well-made, but also a fluent piece of cinema that I can best describe as Fellini plus Lynch plus Kubrick, divided by Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Bradley Beesley’s 16mm cinematography is worth noting for its delicious, high-contrast black-and-white, punctuated by seizures of impossible color.

Director (and Flaming Lips front man) Wayne Coyne’s striking imagery makes it clear that Christmas on Mars is to be taken seriously. At the same time, Coyne’s inexperience is self-evident, with results both negative and positive. For instance, it’s hard to shake the sensation that Christmas was made for stoners—the narrative is weak, and it can’t hold a candle to the trippy visuals and score. However, Coyne’s unfamiliarity with dialogue direction and his decision to cast non-actors in lead roles ultimately pays off with some of the most naturally awkward conversations I’ve ever seen on film. Conversations are surreal affairs, and “real” directors forget this. Coyne, either by design or because he wasn’t paying attention, committed to film some scenes that would impress Stanislavski himself. Of course the lack of directorial experience is a double-edged blade, and there are plenty of examples of performance that falls flat.

On the topic of performance, Steven Drozd’s acting is beautifully personal and reminds me of how Hamlet might behave if he were sent to live in a colony on Mars. Adam Goldberg’s brief appearance as Dr. Scott Zero is stunning.

Christmas on Mars is far from perfect. When you play in the realm of the art house, especially as cavalierly as Coyne does with Christmas, you have to be prepared to be dinged by critics. The ending is an anticlimax that can’t match the intensity and genius of the first thirty minutes. Christmas has an obsession with references to female genitalia that, although not entirely out of place, could have been greatly minimized. A lot of what should be subtle metaphor is instead trite and distasteful pseudo-intellectual navel-gazing. Christmas is at its best when at its most visceral. The gaping mouth of a dead Santa Claus requires no interpretation.

As a freshman effort, this film is nothing short of astounding. It holds value as a piece of Flaming Lips ephemera, but it could just as easily be a piece of cinematic history.

Dear Wayne,

Please make another one.

[rate 3.5]

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