Turn of the Spider-Man

In the entertainment world, it’s always interesting to wonder why people take on impossible projects.

Why did James Cameron want to go through pain-staking efforts, delays and budget upheavals to make Titanic?

Why did Fox greenlight a single-minded serial show like 24 when just about every other serial show in TV history failed miserably?

a huge gamble that paid off ... but all the gambles don't pay

a huge gamble that paid off ... but all the gambles don't pay

Why would George Lucas personally finance much of a space war movie with remarkably clunky dialogue that, when you get down to it, is not much more than a retelling of Bible stories?

Was it the chance to make their mark in history? To push themselves with the biggest professional projects of their careers? Or was it just so that once the project was a success, they could flip the bird to everyone from their LeBron-style mental notebook who told them they couldn’t do it?

James Cameron is a success story, not once but twice with the impossibility of the both Titanic and Avatar. After Star Wars, Lucas became Hollywood’s biggest director and is now called “shrewd” for retaining merchandising rights instead of “fool hardy” for breaking every rule in movie-making. Both earned bird-flipping rights. They took on impossible projects when thousands of journalists laughed at them, a normally adoring public turned on them faster than a Sit-and-Spin and friends and advisers begged them not to do it.

But for every Cameron, there’s a Kevin Costner with Waterworld and The Postman. Or a Magic Johnson and his late-night talk show. Or Axl Rose with Chinese Democracy. Instead of being dubbed “visionary” they’re “egotistical” for not listening to people that told them they couldn’t do it.

Julie Taymor is somewhere in between those spots now.

The director of the much-troubled walking punchline of a Broadway production Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark must have heard countless people tell her what a bad idea the play would be. That it couldn’t possibly make money, that the idea of a Spider-Man musical was laughable at best, that it could never live up to the hype it was getting. At least we hope that’s the advice she was getting. Any agent that told her, “$60 million Broadway musical adaptation of one of the most iconic comic books of the 20th century? Where can she sign?!?!?!” is long fired by now.

poor spidey, getting pulled into this mess

poor spidey, getting pulled into this mess

Her career, however, seems to place the blame for Turn Off the Dark right on her. She’s made artful films of excess, shot in the style of “I’m smarter than you, deal,” instead of welcoming the audience in to the movie experience by saying, “I may be smarter than you, but here’s how my mind works.” Titus is almost impossible to understand without a Mensa membership. Frida is a half-hour too long and fills that half-hour with Frida Kahlo’s most self-indulgent work and aspects of her life in a unintentional (at least I hope it was unintentional) nod to show how closely misunderstood the two artists are. Across the Universe is more boring than interesting and seems like a dare to Beatles fans rather than an homage to their work. “Ha! You Beatles fans think you’re Beatles fans?!?!?! Well, just try to sit through this!

Taymor is Hollywood’s dreamer — but not in a good way. She puts her dreams — her big, colorful, complicated dreams — on screen and tells you to interpret them even though you’ve never met her. At least with Inception, we knew why Cobb was having his crazy dreams. With Taymor, she’s arrogant enough to think we want to sit through her two hours of dream explanation when I tune out of my wife’s dream explanations after about 30 seconds. No thanks, Julie. Tell your dreams to your pets.

On Broadway, Taymor scored with another seemingly unadaptable production of The Lion King, one of the most successful musicals in history, a project in which Taymor not only directed, but wrote some of the music and designed the costumes. On one hand, such involvement might show her attention to detail and the fact that she wants to be involved in all aspects of the production. On the other hand, it gives the impression of a control freak who wants complete hands-on approval of anything and everything.

There’s plenty of blame to go around in Turn Off the Dark, which has the chance to go down as the biggest failure in Broadway history. It shouldn’t have been made in the first place, and is, at the very least, an ugly spot on the history of Spider-Man’s incredible legacy. Taymor deserves her fair share of it though. It’s just too bad U2’s good name got dragged into the mud with her.

Rant over! I’d imagine making it through that was as excruciating as making it through one of Taymor’s movies, but it needed to be done. This is the last post before Christmas, so let’s get to some quick links before coming back Monday:

the next time i hear "double dose" i might go insane

the next time i hear "double dose" i might go insane

Not a very big Christmas release schedule. Only True Grit would be enough to get me out of my house, but only because I wanna take my old man, a big fan of the first one. I’m already setting aside 15 minutes of my life after I take him to see it on why it was either 1. Stupid that they didn’t use the classic “Fill your hands, you son of a b!” line or 2. Why it wasn’t as good when Jeff Bridges said it. You may have noticed there is no 3. “I can’t believe Jeff Bridges said it just as well as John Wayne did it!” because it’s not even an option. Of all the Oscar contenders, King’s Speech is pretty far down my list of things to see. I’ve got to knock out Black Swan, The Fighter and True Grit before I consider King’s Speech. Little Fockers seems doomed. It was probably doomed in November when I had heard DeNiro say “double dose” approximately 43,854 times, but now that it’s the movie’s opening day and I’ve heard him say it at least 5,835,611 times, I wouldn’t even consider seeing it. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where Gulliver’s Travels would seem like a good idea to me.

I don’t trust my top music of 2010 list farther than I would be able to throw my stereo that I don’t even use anymore. But I do trust my friend Liz, and shockingly, her list of the top singles of the year looks somewhat similar to what I would consider a bunch of my favorites. I wish I had time to set up links or video embeds of these, but I don’t. I hear there’s some website called YouTube where you can find it though:

20.   LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change

19.  Band of Horses – Laredo

18.  Broken Bells – Ghost Inside

17.  The Heavy – How You Like Me Now

16.  Black Keys – Tighten Up (my #1 of the year)

15.  Hot Chip – One Life Stand

14.  Free Energy – Bang Pop

13.  New Pornographers –Moves

12.  Dr. Dog – Shadow People

11.  Jenny & Johnny – Scissor Runner

10.  Athlete – Superhuman Touch

9.  Dan Black – Symphonies

8.  Vampire Weekend – Cousins

7.  Fran Healy – Holiday

6.  Cee Lo Green – F— You

5.  Keane – Stop for a Minute

4.  Ben Folds and Nick Hornby – From Above

3.  Arcade Fire – Ready to Start

2.   Kanye West & Pusha T – Runaway

1.   Mark Ronson & the Business Intl – Bang Bang Bang

And her top 10 albums:

10. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (likely my #1)

9. Keane – Night Train EP

8.  Fran Healy – Wreckorder

7. John Legend & The Roots – Wake up!

6. Girl Talk – All Day

5. Ben Folds and Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

3. Kayne West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

2. Vampire Weekend – Contra

1. Mark Ronson  & the Business Intl – Record Collection

I’d like to see a little more Mumford and Sons, my favorite band of the year, and a little less Arcade Fire, but it looks like a good list to me. So I’m stealing it, calling her a PopRox collaborator, and just saying that’s the PopRox list of best music of 2010.

always good to have timothy olyphant back

always good to have timothy olyphant back

Justified just missed on my list of the top 10 shows of the year, it would have been in the top 20. I was just too bored by the middle of the season — when it was strictly procedural BS you can get on NCIS if you wanted to — to reward the show for its very, very good last three episodes and the season finale, which probably ranked as the best hour of TV I saw this year. Let’s just leave it as “Very happy to see it’s coming back in February” and hope it sticks more with the pot-farming thing than getting Cameron from Ferris Bueller to take up a whole episode on the run from the law.

If you’re a fan of Blue Bloods on CBS, good news! The network seems in agreement that the show has outgrown its Friday night spot and is getting a trial run on Wednesdays for while during the winter. It’s good news for the show, which has been, as far as I’m concerned, the biggest surprise of the new TV season even though it’s nothing more than a rehashing of every police drama I’ve ever seen, except that Tom Selleck is in it. But with every TV lineup change, if there’s a winner, there’s usually a loser. The loser here is the Jerry O’Connell-Jim Belushi lawyer show The Defenders, which is getting moved to Fridays. If there is any good news for The Defenders, it’s that CBS is the one network that takes Friday programming seriously. CBS has started to rid itself of supernatural-themed Friday night shows and is moving to more of a bread-and-butter cop/criminal/investigation procedural night. So maybe The Defenders has a chance to stick there for a couple years. But that’s the same argument fans of Fringe are using since Fox decided to move the show to Fridays starting in January, even though it’s generally considered the show’s death blow. At least Fox is having fun with it.


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