Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ghosts with Shit Jobs

Memo to self: Before Fantasia, switch Facebook to "selected tweets", not just so I can swear without my mother seeing it, but so that the inevitable review of a movie about the Japanese porn industry isn't thrown in front of my grandmother's face.

I suppose that, much as with Sleepless Night, this was sort of Fantasia practice, as I saw it in a college lecture hall, complete with flip-up desks on the seats. The screen wasn't close to what you find in Concordia's Theatre Hall, but the seats were much more comfortable!

Also practicing some Horrible Photography. After showing a couple of trailers for other crowdsourced/DIY movies (Iron Sky & Manborg), we had about a half hour panel discussion:

Pre-show discussion for GWSJ, Randall Munroe, Andrew Plotkin, and Jim Munroe

Left to right, that's xkcd cartoonist Randall Munroe, interactive fiction guru Andrew Plotkin, and GwSJ director Jim Munroe (no relation). Little known fact: You can't be called a guru with a conservative haircut. It's just not allowed.

Jim Munroe said he wasn't going to just talk about Kickstarter, but, well... They wound up talking a lot about Kickstarter. It's something you can't avoid right now, really, but there's not a lot to say about it right now, at least until there's enough data to really determine some trends. There is plenty of indication that it's at least possible to make what could otherwise be hobbyist productions profitable, although it does sometimes mean being rather less polished.

Post-show Q&A, Anthony Cortese, Sean Lerner, and Jim Munroe

After the film, Jim Munroe was joined by producer Anthony Cortese (l) and actor/producer Sean Lerner. They talked a lot more about the mechanics of making the movie here, and one thing that I might be interested in learning more about is how the writer-director dynamic was somewhat inverted here. Auteur theory has become so pervasive that one almost assumes that the director is the person who "owns" the movie, and the person given the WGA credit was one of many hands, but it seemed to work much differently here, with Munroe having sole credit on the screenplay but being one of four credited directors, each of whom handled a thread (it wasn't clear who handled the framing scenes and the last act when the threads crossed). The suggestion was that the directors' work was parceled out on the basis of availability, without a lot of talk about how each director was matched with their segment.

Munroe mentioned liking subtle effects, and that is one of the things that the movie did really well - although I wouldn't describe them so much as "subtle" compared to "effectively integrated". It was mentioned that most of the effects work was compositing shots together so that all the babies in the "Babymakers" segment were the same kid, which a lot of people didn't notice, and it's a clear paradox - does it quite seem like money well-spent to not show the seams if people don't get the joke? Sure, the money using different babies probably wouldn't have made a giant spider possible, but...

In any event, it was an interesting talk, and I dig the way they are promoting it: You can watch the first 20 minutes at the film's website, and Munroe is selling it on DVD, BD, or USB Bracelet at his No Media Kings site. I'm amused by the USB bracelet, just because I figured USB sticks and SD cards would be the next sort of mass media (this was when my Windows Mobile phone was chunky enough to have a full-sized SD card slot), because I am old and fixated on physical media.

But, hey, you'll wish you had that bracelet when they repossess the cloud!

Ghosts with Shit Jobs

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2012 in MIT Building 10, Room 250 (summer movie series, 1080p)

The "ghosts" of this movie's title are not supernatural; "gwai lo" in Cantonese is both the word for ghost and slang for white/foreign people, and since this movie posits a future where the Western economies have collapsed... Well, the rest of the title then explains itself. It does so in fairly amusing fashion, too, poking fun at the modern world and documentary conventions.

Presented as a special episode of Chinese television show Window on the World, the presentation follows a group of people living on the fringes of Toronto. In "Babymakers", we meet Karen (Kelly Spilchak) and Gary (Jason Wrubell), a married couple who assemble and test disturbingly realistic toys even though Karen would much rather be designing killer robots. Brothers Anton (Jonah Hundert) and Toph (Taylor Katz) are "Silk Gatherers", the grown children of refugee European acrobats who collect the valuable webs left behind by the giant mutant spiders that ran amok years ago. There's a "Digital Janitor", Oscar (Sean Lerner), who pixilates copyrighted material in a virtual reality copy of the city, while Serina (Rachel MacMillan) is "Human Spam", making a living by dropping product names into conversation.

Even before the recent found-footage boom, the sci-fi mockumentary would pop up on a fairly regular basis; they're a fun way to play around with ideas without the audience feeling disappointed when the movie doesn't have a whole lot of people shooting laser pistols at each other (it helps keep laser pistol-related expenses down, too). Writer (and "Silk Gatherers" director) Jim Munroe has more than a few fun ideas here, and for the most part he and the other directors do a fine job of putting oddball characters, observational humor, and spoofs of the documentary medium itself. It's not the most cutting satire one will ever see, but it is chuckle-worthy even at its lowest ebb.

Full review at EFC.

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