John Cusack, what have you become?

Did anyone hear about John Cusack’s latest film? The thriller supposedly inspired by the real events surrounding a notorious Alaskan serial killer, even though there are really no similarities between the stories, co-starring Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter? No? First you’ve heard of it?

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I’m not surprised, because not only did this mediocre film go straight to DVD, it’s also completely formulaic – a thriller to the T. Although it’s got all the right pieces of the puzzle – big-name actors, a provocative premise, and all the twists you would expect from a thriller – when you put the puzzle together it produces a completely bland film that offers the viewer nothing new.

This is a great example of an easy trap to fall into for screenwriters. While you need to of course pay attention to the genre in which you are writing, it is possible to adhere too closely to accepted norms. In order for a film to have a real impact, it needs to go outside of the box in some way. Unfortunately, The Factory simply doesn’t do that.

Even worse, John Cusack’s performance is painfully underwhelming and shallow. Now, I love the classic Say Anything John Cusack as much as the next girl, but he’s really gone downhill now that he’s no longer that earnest and playfully endearing teenage underachiever. Somehow he doesn’t seem able to play the more mature roles now demanded of him, especially the protective father figure of The Factory. Many would argue that 2012, quickly followed by Hot Tub Time Machine, marked the beginning of the end for Cusack, but personally I rather enjoyed HTTM and didn’t find 2012 as atrocious as some. So I still had hope, until now.

What do you think about John Cusack’s career trajectory? Have you seen or heard of The Factory before now? Let me know what you thought of it!

‘The Factory’ Is Just Another Thriller Off the Assembly Line
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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With well-known actors and a provocative premise, it’s surprising to see a film like The Factory go straight to DVD (sans bonus features or scene selection options). It hits all the high notes: abduction, abuse, murder, and even fatherly heroics. But this film’s failure to make an impact is perhaps due to too strict an adherence to the thriller formula. In the end, The Factoryleaves you with nothing new, only a sense that you’ve somehow seen it before.

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Dan Harmon on the Miserable State of TV

In the wake of his forced separation from his brainchild, Community, and the show’s subsequent showrunners making an underwhelming debut, it’s especially interesting to hear Dan Harmon’s rather bleak take on the state of television.

Positioning viewers as passive consumers of garbage and writers as powerless pawns of corporations, Harmon’s most fascinating commentary is on the level of censorship involved in the TV production process. Claiming that TV writers are patently “not allowed to say whatever they’re thinking” is a bold statement, especially coming from someone who seems to have been so successful in getting his vision onto the screen.

But Harmon’s comments point to a valid question, and one that has often been on my mind as someone aspiring to enter the entertainment industry: What control do writers, directors, and even showrunners really have? Is it possible to ever really see your work come to life in the way you envisioned it? What do you think?

((Apologies for the rather cynical post; I suppose I’m not in the cheeriest of places lately. –MQ))

Dan Harmon Rants About the ‘Garbage’ That Is TV
Jesse David Fox @ Vulture

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When asked why 30 Rock was able to stay on the air as a poorly rated yet very smart show, Harmon goes off, espousing a very “everything is bullshit” message. He calls all TV, regardless of quality, “a bunch of goddamn baby food made out of corn syrup.”

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‘Sleep Tight’ Put Me to Sleep

The new movie from Jaume Balagueró, the director of REC and REC 2, was a bit of a disappointment. Sleep Tight moves incredibly slowly, building the suspense in an admittedly effective way, but the pacing of the film in general kept it from really grabbing my attention. Any momentum that is gradually gathered throughout the film fizzles out after the sort of pseudo-climax 2/3 of the way in, and it goes back to a slow, drawn-out resolution that only grips you again in the final moments.

130202-sleeptightThe first 10-15 minutes are especially yawn-worthy, simply depicting the mundane tasks of apartment building manager César’s (Louis Tosar) life and routine. Some may say that this is an artistic choice, made in order to get the viewer into the mindset of our anti-protagonist, but for me the fact that it was so boring led to the exact opposite effect: I had almost no investment in César because he seemed so gorram boring. Really, the entire first half of the film almost put me to sleep.

The worst thing about this kind of approach to exposition used in Sleep Tight is the fact that it violates the contract with the audience. All screenwriters should be aware that the first ten minutes (or pages) of a movie are the most important–this is where you grab your viewer’s attention and give them the information they need to make the decision to invest the next 90 or so minutes of their life on this film. By the end of those ten minutes, then, the viewer should know the genre, who they are rooting for (the protagonist), the main conflict, and what the main character’s motivations are. Now, some element of mystery can still be maintained, but without these key elements, your audience is likely to get bored, preventing them from getting invested in the characters and the story.

And therein lies Sleep Tight‘s primary failing: César’s motivation is not only difficult to decipher in those first scenes, but even when it is explicitly stated by the end of the film, it convoluted and unrelatable. As I have discussed before, if you’re making your protagonist a “bad guy,” his motivation is the most essential part of his character, as the audience needs to be able to relate to it and even share in justifying his actions because of it.

Check out this review of Sleep Tight that discusses both its successes and its failings. What did you think of this new movie from Balagueró?

‘Sleep Tight’s Slow-Moving Suspense is a Snooze
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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From the director of REC comes a slow burning suspenseful story of mental illness and clandestine abuse that leaves you with a skeevy feeling.

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