Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Everybody Loves Raymond

And Everybody Loves Product Placement

Hugo Weaving in Andrew Kotatko's "Everything Goes" (2004)
A rumination on two new films that make me think back to two forerunners of their themes...

Everybody loves Raymond. Raymond Carver, that is. And his short stories. Robert Altman is the most high-profile director to adapt Carver's short stories into film, with his Short Cuts (1993), based on nine Carver stories, an instant Criterion classic, and Ray Lawrence later adapted Carver's "So Much Water So Close to Home" into the feature-length Jindabyne (2006). But it's Carver's shortest short stories that continue to fascinate filmmakers, especially the (in my hardback edition) 7-page story "Why Don't You Dance?". (I don't know what it is with feature-length adaptations of certain authors shortest works - the first Haruki Murakami film adaptions were for Tony Takitani (2004), an excellent film by Jun Ichikawa based on a 17-page short story in Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman anthology, and Robert Logevall's piss-poor mumblecore adaptation All God's Children Can Dance (2008), which was based on the 22-page short story from Murakami's collection of stories inspired by the 1995 Kobe earthquake, after the quake.)

"Why Don't You Dance?" tells the story of a man, newly separated from his wife, who starts drinking early in the day and decides to get rid of everything in his house by scattering it all over his lawn and holding a huge yard sale; a young couple stop by and stay a while, drinking with the man and dancing to records he plops on the record player. The woman senses the estranged man's desperation, but later trivializes the encounter as an amusing anecdote she tells her friends and aquaintances.

Not exactly an epic narrative, but surprisingly it's now been filmed twice. With the Will Ferrell and Rebecca Hall starring- turn Everything Must Go due to hit theaters this week, I thought back to an earlier, 18-minute short film version of the Carver short story that I recalled seeing years ago at the Maryland Film Festival: Aussie director Andrew Kotatko's Everything Goes (2004).

Kotako worked for years as music director on various Australian films, which might explain how he got access to such a stellar cast for his first short film, one that truly clued me in (more so than The Matrix) to the acting chops of the superb Hugo Weaving, not to mention Abbie Cornish (of Somersault, Candy, and Bright Star fame).

Though Kotatko changes a few details, most of Everything Goes' dialogue is lifted word-for-word from Carver's short story (OK, full disclosure: I haven't actually finished the short story yet; I have a bookmark inserted at page 5). It's everything a short film should be: well-acted, thought-provoking, and leaving one wanting to ruminate further about what has just been experienced. I just wish it was available on DVD (maybe Sundance or IFC will air it some day on their shorts programs?).

In Kotanko's short film, Weaving plays "Ray," Nikki Bennett plays his wife, and the young couple is portrayed by Abbie Cornish (as "Brianie") and Sullivan Stapleton (as "Jack"). In Dan Rush's new feature film, the narrative is fleshed out with Will Ferrell as the estranged husband (now named "Nick Halsey"), Laura Dern as an old girlfriend, Christopher Wallace Wood as a neighborhood kid helping "move" Ferrell's yard sale items, and Rebecca Hall (from Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town, and the Red Riding trilogy) plays a next door neighbor.

Everyone Loves Product Placement
Logorama vs. Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock's NASCAR-inspired birthday suit

On Sunday, Amy and I (and apparently no one else - other than two Landmark Theater ushers) caught the new Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) documentary, Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. As the title implies, it's a doc about branding, advertising and product placement that is financed and made possible by brands, advertising and product placement. Actually, it's yet another doc about Morgan Spurlock (and not his greatest, I must admit), but hey, I like the Morgan Spurlock brand. The guy has charisma and great ideas and while this is mainly a one-off raspberry at the shameless corporate shilling that has infected major motion picture making, I loved that the entire film was financed by sponsorship and product placement - Spurlock always frames his films with an intriguing hook, and this one's no different. It's basically a "meta-concept" movie in which the-making-of-the-movie is the movie, but full of delightful moments, from Spurlock's hilarious Mane 'n' Tail commercial to OK Go's "greatest theme song" to "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

Pom Wonderful landed the coveted "Brand X presents" honors!

It's a joke, for sure, but a good joke! And Amy and I, wearers of Merrell shoes, love that Merrell was hip enough to jump on board as "The Greatest shoe ever sold!" (Interviewee Ralph Nader even scores a pair of Merrell kicks by film's end, courtesy of Spurlock!) Now Amy wants to seek out the Sheetz (another brand highlighted in the film) gas station in Dundalk! And I'm gonna start drinking POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranite Juice after learning from the film that drinking just 8 ounces a day purportedly has Viagra-like attributes in boosting men's boners - guess that puts the "Wonderful" in their product (or in baseball parlance, this might be called "juicing the ball"). (Hmmm, on second thought, it may lead to embarrassment if I drink it for breakfast before coming in to work...I've save it as a late night snack to go along with my deep-chill Lazy Cakes!)

Afterwards, Amy said "That doc reminds me of that other film we saw with all the logos popping up." She was, of course, referring to the 2010 Oscar winner for Best Animated Short: Logorama.

I had blogged about Logorama right before last year's Academy Awards show and, while loving it, incorrectly predicted that it couldn't possibly win because of possible litigation over its use of various brand logos. What do I know? (As in thoroughbred racing handicapping, so in Oscar predicting...) Anyway, here's that original post...

Dir. Nicolas Schmerkin (English, 17 min.)

Hi-larious and seditiously snarky, I'd give it top props in any other year that didn't include a Wallace and Gromit short and The Lady and the Reaper because, despite the brilliance of the concept and the high-tech artistry of the execution, it still is pretty South Park-sophomoric in its F-bomb-laced dialogue/narrative. Michelin Men police chase armed killer clown Ronald McDonald in a brand name version of Los Angeles comprised entirely of some 2,5000 (unlicensed) corporate logos and mascots - including iconoclastic shout outs to Borders, Bob's Big Boy, the Utz potato chip girl, a flamin' hot Esso gal...

...the mustachioed Pringles guys (both Original Flav and Sweet and Sour Flav!), a way-gay Mr. Clean, and even Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Andre the Giant "Obey" sticker!

Andre the Giant has a logo posse!

According to web site Flux, the four-years-in-the-making short was created by a group of directors within H5, a French graphic studio renowned for its music CD front covers (Superdiscount, Air, Demon) and artistic direction (Dior, Cartier, YSL). Members François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain directed many music videos (Massive Attack, Goldfrapp, Röyksopp), and, in fact Logorama initially started out in 2002 as an idea for a tribute music video for George Harrison!

"By George, I approve!"

Logorama is the H5 trio's first short film, and premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Kodak Short Film Discovery Prize at the 48th Critics' Week. The short even features a voice cameo by filmmaker David Fincher as the Pringles man.

According to co-director Herve de Crecy, the story had to take place in America's West Coast City of the Angels. "The perfect grid of the city, represented by the Burberry pattern logo, and the permanent earthquake threat matched with the concept we had in mind from the beginning: the opposition between order and disorder."

"People don’t realize they’re facing another reality behind the smiling icons they see everyday," adds co-director Francois Alaux. "You can drill for oil but have a green and yellow flower logo, [making people] feel like they’re in a field full of flowers. That’s no more and no less the kind of trick that we used in Logorama – this time not to tell a happy and smiling story."

And speaking of the perception vs. reality dichotomy, an earthquake-ravaged Los Angeles isn't the only thing connected to Logorama that split up; following Logorama's UK premiere, the H5 trio announced they were splitting. Houplain will keep the H5 moniker, while Alaux and de Crecy will work as a duo under Little Minx.

My only regret was noting the omission of Mr. Boh - I thought of him when I saw the Utz Girl (that's the power of advertising, guess I was thinking of that Smythe Jeweler's ad across from Penn Station that has Mr. Boh proposing to the Utz Girl!)...

...but I guess Mr. Boh was too regional to show up on the Transatlantic radar of French filmmakers.

This is easily the wildest and most imaginative short on offer, but with its potty-mouthed soundtrack, Tarantino-esque violence, and a plethora of unlicensed corporate logos, there's no way it'll win - it would need to win 100 Oscars just to pay off the legal team!

Watch the official Logorama trailer

Watch the full Logorama (from Garage TV).

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