Friday, July 25, 2008

Dark Knight vs. Wall-E

Last weekend, the wife and I saw two movies: Dark Knight and Wall-E. After watching Dark Knight at midnight, we couldn't get to sleep until 5AM. It was deeply disturbing, even to the most jaded of observers. Even David Denby, New Yorker film critic, couldn't seem to get past the "darkness" to enjoy the movie. He did, however, gush over Wall-E, which I can understand, but in my humble opinion, Denby's a putz. The guy should've waited for the made-for-TV version of Dark Knight, or change to reviewing films for Boy's Life.

I'm not saying Dark Knight is the best movie of all time, but Heath Ledger's performance is, well, heroic. It's what happens when you inhabit a character, and not just play it. It truly raises the bar for other actors, which might prove to be a dangerous temptation, but for the glory of greatness.

I liken Mr. Ledger's performance to a shaman term called "grokking," where you mimic the energy of something down to its imagined biological level. Imagine, if you will, the energy of a rock, then change it to a bird's. But don't just visualize the energy, become the energy and display it in all its stillness, as in the rock. Then become the bird, down to the lightness of its bones, the wind stimulating the individual hairs on its feathers, the sounds all around and their distinctness so that everything, from a car's horn to a distant cawing of a crow, give you a picture that denotes image and distance.

Mr. Ledger's performance will probably send the likes of Robert Downey, Jr. to the insane asylum, as he, like Mr. Denby pointed out about Mr. Ledger's performance, also is one to stare into the abyss.

Sean Penn. Will he even watch the movie? Doubtful, as I doubt he watches anything any living actor does. Oh, but there lies the difference, doesn't it?

And what about Christian Bale? Isn't he one of those actors, ala American Psycho and The Machinist, who would also inhabit the character at its most extreme level?

My point is, from this moment on, for any actor worth his salt, this is now the After Heath era. I predict that every movie made will feature some actor's attempt to access the DNA of a character, much like how Brando and Dean redefined the solo performance several decades ago.

Last Sunday, the wife and I had lunch with Chin Han and then went to a couple of theaters in search of something to lighten the mood. We stopped by Landmark at Westside Pavilion but they were sold out on everything worth watching, so we all headed over to Century City. We bought tickets for Wall-E and he got tickets for something else.

But before going in, he was curious about why I thought Mr. Ledger's performance stood out. After seeing it at both the New York and Chicago premieres, he still wondered why the Joker was so interesting to watch. And I can't blame him. For all the darkness of the character, he overshadowed pretty much everything else playing last weekend, both in the movie and everywhere else.

Not even Wall-E could clear away the clouds.

I'll Admit It...

I have a sick sense of humor.

Monday, July 21, 2008

When in Rome

Happened to see the photo below in a news story on the Web. Apparently, in Naples, Italy, a couple of teenage girls (ages 13 and 15) got swept up by the waves while playing in the water and drowned. For a couple of hours, their bodies were laid on the beach and covered with towels after a failed rescue attempt.

See the people around the bodies? Yeah, they're laying out on the beach as usual, many just strolling casually by within a few feet of the bodies. Why? Apparently, the girls were "Gypsies."

The wife and I were in Naples a couple of months ago; and while we did think the city was indeed seedy, we didn't think the Italians could be so indifferent to an immigrant. But it was on the way to the Rome airport in a tour bus where the tour director pointed out a Gypsy girl on the street, flagging down cars on the street to wash their windows.

The tour director mentioned that the Italians were having problems with these "undocumented immigrants," and many were blaming them for the increase in petty street crime and worsening the bad economy by deterring tourism. I guess she was saying that these immigrants were responsible for all the bad folks ripping off your cameras and pocketbooks.

Yeah, I'd say that the petty crime is my main reason for not wanting to go back to Italy very often. But a couple of bodies rotting on the beach while people walk indifferently by? Highly doubt it now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dark Knight at Arclight

I'm gonna catch Dark Knight at the Arclight in Hollywood tonight, 12:15am showing. We're all pretty excited to catch Chin Han's big moment on the big screen. Really, it's an opportunity of a lifetime for him, both as an experience and as a career move. I couldn't be more happy for him, and even found this interview with him just before the premiere.

He left me a voicemail just after he got back from Singapore, before heading to New York. I've always tried to imagine what it was like for him to visit Singapore and listen to folks who just don't realize how big something is like a blockbuster Hollywood film. You can star in 10 films in Asia, but it won't compare to just one principal role in a Hollywood blockbuster, either in fame or money.

I have another friend currently in Singapore who left L.A. to be in a TV series there. I realized, after a while, that all he really wanted was to be famous, albeit locally and on a much more microscopic level.

I don't mean to dis Singapore, but it is a very small pond. I came from the small pond of Seattle and, believe me, there is a difference.

The other friend in Singapore will be coming back to the States soon to promote a film he did with David Carradine. He called me last week to tell me about it.

It's a very small movie, but I'm very happy for him as well. But when it comes to the price of fame, I think Chin Han got the deal of the century.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stock Photography Article

Slate has an article today on one of my least favorite subjects, stock photography. The story features a girl whose stock photo images were licensed 636 separate times——in one year! She's known everywhere as, well, the Everywhere Girl. She's so ubiquitous, she blogged about it.

I haven't read her entire site yet but it sounds like she has a fairly good attitude about it. She did mention the lack of royalties from the images, although at the time of the shoot, she thought she was making out pretty good for the amount of work.

I actually have a series of stock images going around right now with me and several others in hospital scrubs. I was the token Asian doctor in the group, although I can't figure out why since Asian doctors are the norm, not the exception. So far, I've seen about three different hospitals use the images. Each time, I'd take my cell phone camera and snap a photo. I think I even saw one online and did a screen capture on my Mac.

The other day, someone sent a picture of me in a BBQ scene for a Wells Fargo poster. You know, there are very few pictures of myself I'm ever proud of. And I'm not being modest either. But something tells me that in about 10 years when I'm older and fatter I'll be bragging about how I looked in those pictures.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Star Trek

I'm glad I'm not a full-fledged actor anymore. Otherwise, I might get all up in arms about something I recently came across at work.

I'm privy to certain legal documents and one of those shows the credits order for the movie Star Trek, coming out next year. I already know who is playing Sulu, the Asian character made famous by George Takei. What gets me is that the guy playing the young Sulu is now getting first billing in the credits.

Why? Well, if you talk to an entertainment lawyer, you know there's two things that industry folks fight for most: money and credit, but not necessarily in that order. In fact, you might give up money for credit if it means further money and credit down the road.

In some cases, you have enough money already, so credit is really what you're fighting for in your career, as may be the case with John Cho, who's listed way above Winona Ryder in the credit list.

Why? It's a default first billing because it's an ensemble cast, which is actually listed in alphabetical order. But, hell, does anyone else know this besides a proofreader and maybe the studio lawyers? Probably not. But I bet Mr. Cho's agents and lawyers know this, and are breaking out the champagne as we speak.

As for me, well, as you can tell, I'm about as green as the woman who Captain Kirk slept with in the original series. Green with envy, of course. Ah, 'tis the painful part of my job.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Computer Played What Word?

At work, to keep my mind sharp, I sometimes play word games such as Scrabulous, that illicit knockoff of the board game Scrabble.

Apparently, Electronic Arts has the rights to the online version of Scrabble, which is owned by Hasbro. As for Scrabulous, it seems a couple of rogue programmers in India came up with it and successfully promoted it to millions of Facebook users.

The other day, the Scrabulous computer played a word, much to my amazement.

Yeah, that's right. It seems the computer not only knows my ethnicity, it also knows how to insult me at the same time. What I don't get is that proper nouns aren't playable, but derogatory words, such as the "n" word (yes, I looked it up in the computer's dictionary and it's playable), are allowed.

Unfortunately, I looked up "dothead" and it's not in the Scrabulous dictionary. Go figure.

Improv as Social Experiment

Back in college, I changed my major several times before settling on broadcast journalism. Before that, I was double majoring in English and math, in hopes I would someday be a teacher... or something like that.

Then, in the middle of my junior year, I switched to journalism on the advice of my counselor, who also happened to be the head of the English dept. Obviously, I had wasted much time in classes I would no longer need in order to graduate. It turns out, however, that when I graduated, I was only a handful of credits shy of a second major in psychology, a subject I thoroughly enjoyed.

My second favorite class, after Abnormal Psychology, was Social Psychology. Much of our class credit was gained from participating in various experiments, and had I known then that this would someday become useful as a student of improv, I would have saved all of my class notes.

The videos above are from Improv Everywhere. At first, I thought they were merely a bunch of improv artists conducting public performances. But the more I watched, the more I realized these were also social experiments.

I'm sure you're aware of very simple experiments such as standing with your face toward the back of the elevator. Or doing anything unorthodox in a place where behavior is fairly fixed. I used to get off on doing such things when I lived in Seattle. But here in L.A., everyone's behavior is a little erratic, and so I've become pretty boring since I moved here.

Little did I know that improv was a way of acting out my love of social psychology. I especially liked the Central Station video. The public musical, while great for improv practice, wouldn't get you extra credit in a psych class.