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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

At the Athena Post-Mortem

Soon you will be entering Backdrop-land.

The 2010 Fall Issue a.k.a Volume 4 Issue 1 drops tomorrow and it's a big one for good ol' B-drop. It represents the first time we've seriously rebranded. Yes, that's right, the ugly-ass karabine font is now but a distant memory, replaced with something a little sexier and a lot cleaner. Shiny logos aside, the content, itself, is very impressive.

But there is something that you mustn't forget tomorrow when you're flipping through 48 pages of glossy brilliance. The web site is relaunching too. I've seen the new web design and it is truly excellent. The Backdrop web site holds a soft-spot in my heart since I've been either working on it, for it or crying about it for the better part of two years.

For most of Spring 2009 and all of Fall 2009, I wrote weekly reviews of an Athena Cinema film. By the time I had finished (and we had moved onto a different web site), I had 17 reviews in the can. Now that the first iteration of the Backdrop web site doesn't exist, I thought what better (and most self-serving way) to honor it than a list of all the movies I saw at the Athena ranked from worst to first?

17. Two Lovers
What I said then:
Two Lovers is a weird movie filled with weird characters. “Weirdness” isn’t always a bad quality to have in a movie (just ask Charlie Kaufman) but Two Lovers is also something that no movie should be: pointless.

What I say now: This movie is still so bad in hindsight that I'm beginning to wonder if this was the true beginning of Joaquin Phoenix's little social experiment. It's almost as though this movie were set up to establish him as a "normal"romantic leading-man so that the contrast of him becoming a bearded rapper was all the more bizarre. Regardless, this is still a truly awful movie.

16. Stranded
What I said then:
I cannot say in good conscious that Stranded is a remarkably exciting or even entertaining film and it certainly isn’t a film for everyone. But Stranded could be counted as an artistic success, if only for capturing its subject’s true sorrow, anguish, regret and triumph all on film.

What I say now: I guess it still remains an "artistic success" but I think I was a little too easy on this movie. It is still one of the most boring experiences I've ever had at a cinema and at times it does resemble a Discovery Channel re-enactment of an event.

15. Taking Woodstock
What I said then:
Taking Woodstock is aimless. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a teen movie OR a concert movie. Some aimlessness can always be a good thing but this movie doesn’t necessarily know if it wants to be either.

What I say now: I still love Demetri Martin but my God, was that a weird casting choice. Actually, every decision in this movie made by the producers and Ang Lee was just weird. The tone, the script, the cast - it's just all so weird. It's a shame that Liev Schreiber tried so hard in this though and had nothing but a bad movie to show for it.

14. Lymelife
What I said then:
You know you’re in trouble when the best part of your movie is a Culkin brother…actually, two Culkin brothers at that.

What I say now: Lymelife does some things very, very well. Alec Baldwin puts on a hell of a show and there are two very real depictions of divorce and awkward teenage sex. But the vast majority of the movie just tries too hard and doesn't come nearly close enough to documenting an actual childhood.

13. Revolutionary Road
What I said then:
Revolutionary Road does all the things it should do, hits all the high notes it should hit and avoids all the mistakes it should avoid. But this perfunctory nature, in a way, makes it less of a movie.

What I say now: Sam Mendes is not allowed to make one of the most unique war movies ever (Jarhead) and then come back and make the most by-the-numbers suburban angst movie ever. Dude, if you wanted to do this so badly then you should have just made American Beauty 2: We Promise More Suvari Nipples.

12. The Great Buck Howard
What I said then:
The end result is very breezy and comfortable (this is a PG movie about a stage-magician after all) but not inherently satisfying. The Great Buck Howard may have been better served being called The Pretty Good Buck Howard.

What I say now: Meh. I can't conceive of anybody ever wanting to see this ever but it's not necessarily a bad movie.

11. I've Loved You So Long
What I said then:
I’ve Loved You So Long is an endearing, entertaining and satisfying film…that ultimately doesn’t stick the landing. There is a lot to love here and it has some really intriguing aspects to its story, but it is hard, in hindsight, to think fondly of this movie experience when the final scene cheapens the story’s most intriguing aspect.

What I say now: This is just the latest example that the French really have no balls. How can you establish such a controversial and thought-provoking plot and then toss it out in the third act?

10. Ben X
What I said then:
With all these rich layers adding to the plot and not confounding it, what else can you ask for from a movie experience? The ending will have its fair share of haters but at the end of the day I don’t think I could have enjoyed Ben X anymore unless MMG Films sent out employees to every screening to give audience members deep tissue massages.

What I say now: Wow. This is the movie that has fallen the farthest from grace for me in the past two years. I think it's because I neglected to realize just how awful the ending was. But due to the topical subjects (autism, social gaming, bullying), I think this would be the perfect American studio long as they change the ending.

9. The Cake Eaters
What I said then:
Still, if you are in the mood for something genuine and touching, take a chance on The Cake Eaters. Appreciate it for what it does well … and try to ignore what it does poorly

What I say now: I really want to buy 50 copies of this DVD and just pass it out to people who hate Kristin Stewart. I sat through two mediocre-to-awful Twilight flicks just to watch this delightful young actress. I don't understand where the hate comes from. Really.

8. Sunshine Cleaners
What I said then:
Unfortunately, Sunshine Cleaning never quite lives up to the cheerful macbre-ness of its subject matter. The aforementioned blood, guts and mortality are all there but that doesn’t mean the movie utilizes them well.

What I say now: I find it so strange that the folks behind Little Miss Sunshine included the word "sunshine" in their next movie title. It's like screaming "we can't do anything else" over and over again. This is another movie that rises up the list in hindsight. It's really a credit to Amy Adams and Emily Blunt that I remember anything about this film two years later.

7. Last Chance Harvey
What I said then:
The problem with most romantic comedies is that…well, they suck. But I am happy to report that Last Chance Harvey is one of the rare “rom-coms” that actually gets it right. There is nothing inherently creative or special about this movie, other than the fact that it is an interesting story told fairly and told well with charismatic actors to liven things up.

What I say now: It wouldn't be accurate to say I like this movie. But I can still think of five or six people off of the top of my head who probably would. It's undeniably well-done and I even sat through 90 minutes without wanting to punch Dustin Hoffman in the face.

6. Wendy and Lucy
What I said then:
But just understand that Kelly Reichardt is not tripping over herself to entertain you or communicate something to you. She just invites you to watch and listen…and then go on your merry way. I recommend you take that invitation.

What I say now: I really like this movie. It's probably the most stereotypically "indie" movie I've seen at the Athena to this day but somehow avoids all those annoying and pretentious indie movie hang-ups. Still, I can't imagine asking someone to pay to see this movie in good conscious. It's very slow-moving, very deliberate and maybe even a little literary. Reader, I hope you and this movie cross paths one day, I just can't beg you to do so.

5. Waltz with Bashir
What I said then:
It was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars but lost to Japan’s Departures. I haven’t seen any of the other nominees, but I really can’t imagine there were any better than this.

What I say now: Waltz with Bashir marks the beginning of the "great movies" I've seen at the Athena. There should be absolutely no reason for this movie to be entertaining: it's a foreign language, animated film about Middle Eastern conflict. But, my God, this thing just pops off the screen.

4. Milk
What I said then:
Milk may lose its footing at times during its two hours, but the story of Harvey Milk is told well enough and with enough of a satisfying emotional pay-off that it is ultimately worth the two hours you will spend watching it.

What I say now: This is actually my first review from the Athena and it remains the only film from the Athena that I've seen more than once. I wasn't a huge fan the first time but I just admire it exponentially more every time I watch it. Biopics aren't supposed to be this entertaining.

3. Let the Right One In
What I said then:
There is a certain tone in visual art forms that is difficult to achieve. This tone is equilibrium between the macabre and the touching. Let the Right One In is one of rare pieces that achieves this equilibrium. It strikes the perfect balance between warming hearts and chilling blood.

What I say now: I can't say I was scandalized that they remade this film but I was certainly confused. Let the Right One In represents the absolute best that a tired genre can hope to achieve. I urge anyone with a flicker of humanity left in their body to see this movie.

2. The Wrestler
What I said then:
Almost everything in The Wrestler is broken. An aging wrestler’s beaten and bloodied body is broken. New Jersey’s abandoned boardwalks and ancient art deco houses are broken. A dedicated mom and disenchanted stripper’s spirit is broken. Almost everything in The Wrestler is broken. But that doesn’t mean the film, itself is…

What I say now: This isn't film. This is moving poetry. I truly believe that this is the best representation of a "character study" that one can watch in modern film. And it avoids the one pratfall that so many other of the movies on this list couldn't: it sticks the ending perfectly.

1. Sin Nombre
What I said then: The only variable in whether you should drop your hard-earned dollars on this movie or not is “can you appreciate it on a visceral and emotional level.” If you truly enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire and City of God: go see it. If you didn’t enjoy those two movies: go see it anyway so you can say you aw Fukunaga’s first feature film when it came out and gain much street-cred with your hipster friends.

What I say now: Why this movie is not some sort of cult-classic is beyond me. I think The Wrestler may be the better film strictly-speaking, but Sin Nombre represents the most enjoyable, thought-provoking and stomach churning two hours I've ever spent at the Athena. Just an amazing, amazing movie. Please find.

Everybody adjust your Netflix accordingly and grab a copy of Backdrop tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I finally got around to seeing The Social Network this weekend and like any good film, it got me thinking (something that is increasingly rare for me once Fall Quarter hits week six).

Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher deserve a lot of credit for creating an entertaining and thought-provoking movie with a main character who is almost intolerably obnoxious. The Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in the world of The Social Network is just a bastard. I love Jesse Eisenberg so much that I think I could watch a movie of him kicking puppies to death and still come out appreciating his brilliance. But despite Eisenberg's charm and talent, movie-Zuckerberg is almost impossible to tolerate.

Then I realized why movie-Zuckerberg is so hard to take (this is where the aforementioned thinking comes in). You see, in addition to portraying Zuckerberg as an ultra-douche, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher also portray Zucker as 100%, undeniably correct about nearly everything.

At one point in the film, Zuckerberg's business partner and Facebook C.F.O Eduardo Saverin (played by soon-to-be Spiderman Andrew Garfield) realizes that "The Facebook" is finally popular enough to appeal to advertisers and begins the process of monetizing Facebook. Zuckerberg vehemently disagrees with this plan and it's not necessarily clear why until former Napster creator Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) verbalizes Zuckerberg's thinking for Saverin and the audience by extension. He says that Facebook is not yet at the height of it's "coolness." Currently, Facebook's worth is derived from how cool and trendy it is. Once it embraces a traditional route of monetizing a web site, it immediately becomes lame and it's cool currency spirals down to nothing. Parker says that the trick to turning Facebook into a billion-dollar venture as opposed to a million dollar venture is to simply wait for it to reach the apex of cool before opening it up to advertisers and application-makers.

As a former boy-band heartthrob explains this in the year 2010, it seems so obvious. On the internet, cool is currency. But as evidenced by Eduardo Saverin's horrified reaction, this wasn't such an easy call to make as few as five years ago. People have been struggling to make money off of the Internet since the first user logged in. And now that consumers are pushing traditional routes of media onto the Internet faster than the media can comprehend, figuring out just how to make money online is of the utmost importance. Thankfully, "Zuck" already figured it out for us.

Traditional routes of currency don't exist in internet media. Consumer A does not hand Media Producer X $0.95 in exchange for a Sunday issue anymore. Instead, Media Producer X must establish a different, useful quality before it becomes appealing to advertisers or subscribers.

Facebook generated tens of billions of dollars of off the notion of "cool." Of course, it's functionality is second-to-none. Facebook provides a useful tool for people's online lives. But "useful" isn't worth billions of dollars to advertisers..."cool" is.

This, of course, got me thinking about Kevin Smith's Smodcast.

You may have heard of Kevin Smith....mostly because I won't shut up about him. He's the portly gentlemen who wrote and directed Clerks back in the 90's and established himself as an independent filmmaker and nerd-icon Now, however, he is one of the most successful podcasters in the world. Go ahead and watch the video below so you know what I'm talking about.

Now, since you probably didn't watch that video I'll do my best to explain the high-points.

Back in 2008, Kevin Smith started a weekly podcast called "Smodcast" with his producer and close friend Scott Mosier. The initial stated goal was to merely catch up with each other once a week, talk about wildly inappropriate and unlikely scenarios and laugh. At some point, Smith opened the first 2 minutes of each show to an advertiser so he could cover the cost of mixing and hosting episodes, but the venture still wasn't profitable. The podcast's popularity began to climb, however, and after more than 80 produced-episodes, Smith and Mosier held a live Smodcast at a hockey tournament in Brantford, Ontario.

Now here is where the money comes in.

Smith still provided a weekly podcast for free on the internet but was able to draw in some cash from live performances across the country. Then, once the first tour was finished, Smith added even more wrinkles to his podcasting Empire. What was once only Smodcast became the "Smodcast podcasting network." The network consists of seven original themed podcasts, of which Smith appears in five and a new episode is released via Internet daily. In addition to the six new podcasts, Smith founded the world's first "podcasting theater." Smith bought a small blackbox-style theater in Los Angeles and turned it into the "Smodcastle." The Smodcastle seats around 50 people and hosts several podcasting shows a week with ticket prices ranging from $10 to $25.

So let's just say that the Smodcastle hosts three shows a week at an average ticket prices of $15. If every show sells out then the Smodcastle makes $2,250 a week. That becomes $9,000 a month. And that becomes $108,000 a year before (the very, very few) business expenses. And that is ignoring potential sources of income such as merchandising and additional advertising ventures.

Do you see what just happened?

What started off as free entertainment on the internet and continues to be free entertainment on the internet is somehow generating obscene amounts of money. Just like Zuckerberg's model of "cool before profits," Smodcast is using a similar model. In the aforementioned video that you may or may not have watched, Smith attributes the success of Smodcast to "trust." Since Smith and Mosier expressed absolutely no desire to make money off of Smodcast for almost two years, they gained the trust of their audience that they truly cared about providing quality entertainment before they cared about making profits. And now that the podcast is actually profitable, that initial trust and goodwill has carried over.

Of course, Smith had both an initial level of fame and fortune prior to his podcasting career that certainly helps in monetizing a podcast. But the content of each podcast is very much unrelated to his career as a filmmaker. Even the podcasts hosted by his relatively unknown friends draw large crowds at the Smodcastle. And six of the seven podcasts hosted by the Smodcast network have reached number 1 on iTunes podcast rankings.

It is possible for media organizations to make money through the internet. The only hang up is that it will take anything but the obvious means to do so.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Post About the Post #4

Dexter is fun! As are puns...

Also, some legitimate blog entries are coming soon. I have ideas - just no energy to write them.

Monday, October 4, 2010