Thursday, May 25, 2017

Infernal Affairs and The Departed [Spoilers]

WARNING: This post spoils both Infernal Affairs and the Departed.  You have been warned!
                The Departed’s premise looks on paper to be the craziest of ideas: a mole for a gang infiltrates the police force, while the police force also places a mole inside the gang.  However, in the hands of a master director, Martin Scorsese, and an all-star cast, Leonardo DeCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Sheen, the movie won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The excellent movie The Departed (2006) was, in turn, a remake of a Hong Kong movie, whose English Title is Infernal Affairs (2002).  This post will highlight the differences and similarities between the two movies, in terms of plot and overall message. 
                One of the biggest differences is at the very beginning: In the beginning of the Departed, a young Colin Sullivan (the future mole for a Boston Irish Mob gang) is taken under the wing of crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who gives him special attention.  On the other hand, in Infernal Affairs, young Lau Kin-Ming is part of an initiation ceremony where several gang members pledge to become the gang boss Hon Sam’s eyes and ears inside the police force.  In the Departed, he was paid special attention, but in Infernal Affairs, he was one of many.  Another early scene difference: in The Departed, Billy Costigan is recruited, following his graduation by the police academy, by Captain Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) to go undercover based on his family background in organized crime, and go to jail for a short time on a fake assault charge.  In Infernal Affairs, no such scene exists, instead, in a montage of scenes in the police academy, Chen Wing-yan, is at first impressed by Superintendant Wong Chi-shing, but then is “kicked out” and goes to a life of petty crime, which attracts the attention of crime boss Hon Sam, and his background is revealed later.  In The Departed, the scene fills in much of the exposition, while in Internal Affairs, the viewers have to fill in the details themselves. 
                In an early scene in both movies, the police find out about an illegal black market trade and both times, the mole inside the police tips them off, so that the crime boss gets away without a charge on his back.  Both times, this tips off the higher ups that there is a mole in the other’s organization.  One major change in Internal Affairs is that the entire gang is brought to the police station and both Hon and Wong allege that they know the other has a mole inside their organization and they will find them.  No such confrontational scene exists in The Departed.  Probably the scene, while tense, was considered too unbelievable to be put in the movie.  Another scene in Internal Affairs but not in The Departed occurs directly after the montage at the Academy: Lau enters and tries to buy audio equipment from Chen, who runs a “hi-fi” store (this sets up Chen’s knowledge with audio equipment).
                One of the biggest differences has to do with the supporting characters: In The Departed, Colin Sullivan (Damon) romances psychiatrist Madolyn Madden, who is assigned to be Billy Costigan's psychiatrist after his release from prison (DeCaprio).  Sullivan eventually moves in with Madolyn.  Madolyn has a confrontational relationship with Billy while his psychiatrist, but after she tells him she no longer wants to be his psychiatrist, she starts meeting Billy in secret, eventually having an affair with him late in the movie.  Later on, Madolyn reveals to Billy that she is pregnant.  In Infernal Affairs, Lau, the mole inside the police force, meets and moves in with his girlfriend Mary, a writer.  Chen, the mole in the gang, on the other hand, meets with a psychiatrist named Dr. Lee Sum-yee and flirts with her, but she has no connections to anyone else in the movie.  Chen also randomly meets ex-girlfriend May midway through the film with her daughter, and May lies about her daughter’s age because he doesn’t want Chen to know the daughter is his.  In both versions, both Madolyn in the Departed and Mary in Infernal Affairs find out their boyfriend is a mole from a recording sent by the mole inside the gang.  In Infernal Affairs, Mary leaves him after finding out.  However, in the Departed, Madolyn attends Billy’s funeral and refuses to speak with Colin.  The twist that Madolyn is romancing both moles in the Departed gives much more drama to both relationships.  However, the interactions in Infernal Affairs are much more realistic and believable, with no connections in their romantic lives.  While it didn’t change the plot very much, a supporting character not in Infernal Affairs is Staff Sergeant Dean Dignam, who is very confrontational and is quick to anger.  He hates Colin Sullivan, the mole in the police force and makes his feelings well-known throughout the movie.  He also gets into a fight with Billy, the mole in the gang, when during a meeting with him and Captain Queenan for information about the gang. 
                The final act of The Departed follows the actions of Infernal Affairs to the letter, from the police chief caught and thrown off a building, to another bust in which this time with the mole inside the police force pulling the strings to the crime boss will fail, to the mole in the gang being brought in, the mole in the gang finding out who the mole in the police force is, the former mole in the gang trying to arrest the mole in the police force, but the former mole is shot by another officer who used to be a mole in the police force.  The mole in the police force shoots the other officer so no one knows his true identity.  There is a funeral for the mole in the gang, giving him full honors. 
However, there are numerous subtle differences during the climax between the two movies, and a big one at the ending.  For example, in The Departed, Colin Sullivan, the mole inside the police force, finds out that the crime boss Frank Costello might be an informant to the FBI.  Costello escapes during the bust gone wrong and is confronted, alone, by Sullivan, and Costello admits he was an FBI informant (which could expose Sullivan’s role in the police force).  Costello aims his gun to shoot Sullivan but Sullivan volleys multiple shots at Costello.  In Infernal Affairs, no type of FBI connection is brought up.  Lau, the mole in the police force, also confronts Hon alone after the bust goes bad, but this time instead of confronting Hon about his secret connections, kills Hon, unarmed, to sever his connection with his old life completely.  At the very end, in The Departed, after getting away scot-free from his crimes, Colin Sullivan enters his apartment and is shot dead by Dignam, who had prepared to get away clean.  The last shot is of a rat crawling along the outside of Colin’s apartment.  However, Infernal Affairs ends at the funeral, where Lau gets away scot-free.  He salutes Chen and wishes he would have taken a different route in life.  The endings in the two movies emphasize different things: In The Departed, there was no way for Colin to miss his comeuppance.  Even though he killed all of the people who would have reported him, in the end, he was done in by another officer who hated him, Dignam.  The rat symbolized Sullivan’s life as a “rat” for the gang, not a true police officer by any measure.  In Infernal Affairs, Lau gets a personal victory, he is seen a respected police officer and gets away with crimes as a informer to the gang and a murderer, but at the expense of his innocence and his soul.  A reference is made to a level in Hell in Buddhism called Avici, where one endures suffering incessantly, without end.  In fact, the literal English translation is “The Unceasing Path,” which refers to Avici.  While Lau lived, he nevertheless was in his own private hell of Avici, dealing with the choices he made to keep his position as respected police officer.
Both movies excel with two aspects: the destruction of the soul of Colin and Lau, the mole inside the police force, and the eventual breakdown and moral clarity of Chen and Billy, the mole in the gang. Both the Departed and Infernal Affairs’ basic plot are the same, but the differences show how each film was tailored each countries’ audience, such as the Hong Kong ending where Lau lives but suffers through his own private hell, or the American ending where Sullivan gets his comeuppance for his actions as a rat no matter how hard he tries to tie up all the loose ends.  The Departed and Infernal Affairs are both excellent movies which depict the costs of living double lives, with different ways and different emphasis on telling their stories.  

Summer 2017 Schedule: Beyond Whose Line Summer!

Just like last year, blogs are back to once a month for the summer.  Also like last summer, there will be a series.  This series will be all the improvisational shows that hosts/cast members/creators have done beyond Whose Line is it Anyway?  The schedule is as follows:

June: Beyond Whose Line, Part 1: Drew Carey Productions
July: Beyond Whose Line, Part 2: Cast Member Productions
August: Beyond Whose Line, Part 3: Dan Patterson/Mark Levinson Productions

Stay tuned tonight for a special double length post highlighting the plot differences between The Departed and the original Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs!  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Arrival and Rumination on [Spoiler Spoiler]

             WARNING: This blog post spoils the 2016 movie Arrival.  You have been warned!

Actual title: Arrival and Rumination on Time Travel.
                What would you do if you knew the future, both good and bad?  Would you have a choice to change it, or are you set for that future regardless?  That is one of the questions posed by Arrival.  In Arrival, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, a master linguist who at the start is teaching at a university, is sent to communicate with aliens who have arrived in large round ships that float in the air.  As Louise begins to decode the language, she begins having visions or flashes of her future, mainly of her time with her daughter.  She also figures out that the aliens experience not linearly, but cylindrically, being able to see time both in the present and in the future.  Thus, her understanding of the language enables her to see her to eventually her life in front of her: she will marry Ian Donnelly (a physicist also asked to communicate with the aliens), they will have a daughter together, and then the daughter will die of an incurable disease at an early age.  Louise, knowing both the happiness and tragedy before her, still decides to have her daughter Hannah. 
                Judging by Arrival’s outlook, Louise may have chosen her future, despite the knowledge.  She knows will have her daughter, and her daughter will die.  As she says to Ian after they leave the aliens for the last time, “What would you do if you could see your entire life from start to finish?  Would you change things?”  To which Ian replies, “Maybe I’d say what I felt more often?  I-I don’t know.”  All the major events in Louise would still happen, but the thing that changed would be Louise’s knowledge of it.  Louise is going to live her life with her daughter, knowing she will eventually die.  She knows that Ian will leave her when she tells him she knows about her daughter’s fate.  And she does it anyway, experiencing the life she chose to live, despite the heartache to come. 
                Or does she?  It could be argued that Louise had experienced what TV Tropes calls a “Stable Time Loop.”  In a Stable Time Loop, when a character goes back in time, the past does not change, but rather the character caused the past to happen as it did, which in turn causes said character to decide to go back in time….  For an example of this, Louise calls the Chinese General Shang just as the Shang is about to fire on the alien ship.  Meanwhile, in a vision of the future, General Shang goes to Louise at her book release event and tells her the exact thing (his wife’s dying words) that she said that stopped him from attacking the ships during the attack.  Then back in the present Louise tells Shang that exact thing and it convinces him to stand down.  Now, here in lies the dilemma: Louise could not have known what to say to Shang without Shang telling her.  The only way Shang knew to tell Louise was that she already told him in the past.  Louise in her vision from the future acted in the present, which caused that exact future. 
                The scene with Louise and Shang informs the audience of Louise’s fate: not only will she not avoid her fate with her daughter, but she also caused it to happen, which in turn gives her vision in the present of the happiness and pain to come.  In this way, Louise doesn’t have a choice, she is doomed to her life, regardless of whether she wants to or not.  There is only the unending, circular loop of time.  After all, the aliens perceive time and even write cylindrically, looping around instead of in a straight line.   Arrival may make you think that Louise has a choice, but there is no escaping the Stable Time Loop, and thus no escaping her fate with her husband and her daughter.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrity Web Talk Shows

                Getting a talk show off the ground is no easy feat (look no further than the many celebrities who have tried and failed to start their own talk shows to follow the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Steve Harvey).  However, some celebrities have been able to create their own talk shows on the internet, usually with an interesting concept.   In addition, it’s a way for talk show hosts to continue with the format after their cable or network show ends.  Here are some celebrity talk shows made exclusively for the internet.
                Jerry Seinfeld created one of the most well-known sitcoms of the 1990s, Seinfeld.  In 2012, he created and starred in his own talk show creation, called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  In 2002 he made a DVD extra with him talking with Colin Quinn for the documentary Comedian.  Then he bought a VW Beetle and recorded himself driving it back with his friend Barry Marder.  Seinfeld was inspired by the experiences to create a show where Seinfeld introduces the guest to a vintage car and they both go to a coffee shop or a restaurant and have coffee, and along the way have free-flowing spontaneous conversations.  The show premiered on July 12, 2012, on the website Crackle with the first guest being Larry David (creator of Seinfeld), and the first car being a 1952 Volkswagen Beetle.  Each episode lasts anywhere between 12 to 20 minutes.  Seinfeld has nine seasons of the show, most seasons lasting about six episodes, and a total of 59 episodes have been released so far.  In January 2017, the announcement was made that Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee would be moving to Netflix after the ninth season ended on Crackle.  
                Zach Galifianakis was tapped to host Between Two Ferns on the Funny or Die website.  Between Two Ferns is a deliberate parody of the talk show concept, with the guest sitting on a bare stage between two potted ferns as if the show was on a public access network, with on-screen graphics containing errors on purpose.  Unlike the pleasant aspect of most celebrity talk shows, Zach conducts the interviews with an antagonistic attitude toward the celebrity with harsh or uncomfortable questions.  Galifianakis will also awkwardly interrupt the interview for sponsor plugs.  While there are conflicts reports of how much of the talk show is staged (Zach claims it isn’t), nevertheless the fun of the show is watching how the guests respond to the awkward and insulting Galifianakis.  The show premiered on Funny or Die on January 8, 2008, with guest Michael Cera.  There have been 21 episodes of Between the Ferns on Funny or Die, and one television special that was aired on May 6, 2012, on Comedy Central called Between Two Fern: A Fairytale of New York and featured Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, and Richard Branson. 
                Larry King, one of the most famous talk show hosts ever, signed off of his CNN talk show Larry King Live in 2010.  But not content to rest in retirement, Larry King returned to hosting talk shows with not one but two Web talk shows.  Larry King founded the company Ora TV in 2012 with funding from America Movil, which is a business venture of Carlos Slim, a Mexican billionaire.  Larry King made Larry King Now, which features King interviewing celebrities from all walks of life.  Larry King Now premiered on November 1, 2012, with Seth McFarlane as the first guest.  Larry King Now is also distributed on Hulu and RT America (formerly Russia Today).  Larry King Now already has more than 500 episodes since 2012.  Larry King also hosts a weekly, Thursday night show called Politicking with Larry King, focusing more on political guests and political topics.  Politicking with Larry King premiered on June 13, 2013, and featured Representative Aaron Schock, Democratic Strategist Peter Fenn, POLITICO Deputy Managing Editor Rachel Smolkin, and is also available on Hulu and RT America, and has over 290 episodes since 2013.  While the format of Larry King’s web talk shows is not that different from the format of his television series, nevertheless, at 83 years old, King still shows his passion for interview fascinating people.

                Web Talk Shows enable some unique content, like Jerry Seinfeld’s show or Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns.  It also enables talk show hosts to continue to do what they love, in the case of Larry King.  Check out these celebrity talk shows.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 15

Welcome to the fifteenth edition of Famous Director’s First Theatrical Releases.  Today we are looking at the varied talents of Terry Gilliam, Rob Reiner, and Ava DuVernay.  Let’s check out the first of many movies of these incredible directors.
                Terry Gilliam is known for his bizarre and surreal films, such as his “imagination” through “the ages of man” trilogy, Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and then his “Americana” trilogy, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  He is also well known for trying to make an adaptation of Don Quixote for many years, one version of which was famously canceled after a week of filming.  A member of the comedy team Monty Python, Gilliam had co-starred in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British sketch Television show starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin).  Gilliam had already directed two short films, Storytime, and Miracle of Flight.  Terry Gilliam first theatrical movie turns out to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed with Terry Jones.  The movie was thought up between the third and fourth seasons (or series, as they are called in the UK) of Flying Circus.  The Python’s second movie, this was the first to feature completely original material.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed on location in Scotland, primarily Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and Stalker Castle.  The movie (with what little plot there is) details King Arthur and his knight’s quest for the Holy Grail, encountering a series of hilarious obstacles.  All of the Python actors played multiple roles in the film, in addition to the main roles of Arthur (Chapman), his squire (Gilliam) and his knights.  The movie was produced for a budget of $400,000 and made $5 million at the time of release (April 3, 1975, in the UK).  Today, the Gilliam and Jones directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains one of the most well-known Monty Python productions.
                Rob Reiner’s well known directorial efforts include Stand by Me When Harry Met Sally…, The Princess Bride, and A Few Good Men.  He is also well known as the son Michael “Meathead” on the comedy sitcom All in the Family.  But Reiner’s first theatrical movie is the hard rock/heavy metal mockumentary called This is Spinal Tap, about the fictional band on tour.  Reiner starred in the movie as a fictional version of himself, Marty Di Bergi.  Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer David Kaff played Spinal Tap Band members David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls, and Viv Savage respectively.  Much of the dialogue between the three main performers and “Di Bergi” was improvised, so all of them were credited as writers for the movie.  This is Spinal Tap follows the band as they go on a disastrous tour, bogged down by low ticket sales, their newest album cover deemed sexist, an ordered prop which was supposed to 18 feet only being 18 inches.  Also included is the famous scene of Tufnel showing Di Bergi that the amps “Go to eleven.”  This is Spinal Tap has had a budget of $2 million and was released March 2, 1984.  While grossing only $4.7 million in the initial release, it became a cult hit, and many musicians credited the mockumentary for being not that different from real life on tour.  This is Spinal Tap remains one of the favorites in Reiner’s diverse lineup.
                Ava DuVernay was announced to be the director of A Wrinkle in Time, due to be released on March 9, 2018, her first big-budget movie ($103 million).  Other notable hits by DuVernay include Middle of Nowhere, Selma and the documentary 13th. Because DuVernay’s first movie is the documentary This is the Life, made in 2008 and her first fictional movie is I Will Follow, made in 2011, and since both could be considered her first film, both will be covered here.  This is the Life was made first intentionally because documentaries typically have a smaller budget than narrative films, and DuVernay could learn film-making though production of the film.  This is the Life follows the alternative hip hop movement in the 1990s at the influential Good Life CafĂ© in LA, a health food market which held open mic nights.  The movie premiered on February 9th, 2008 at the Pan-African Film Festival and in the US on March 10, 2009.  DuVernay’s first fictional film, I Will Follow, was shot in 15 days in Topanga Canyon, California.  I Will Follow is about Maye (Sali Richarson-Whitfield), a successful artist who takes a day off to deal with her Aunt’s death, and meets the twelve people in her life (her mother and ex, for example), who help her deal with her loss.  I Will Follow was released September 18, 2010, at the Urbanworld Film Festival and March 11, 2011, in the US.  The African American Film Critics Association awarded the movie Best Screenplay, also written by Ava DuVernay.  DuVernay’s work on both movies showcased her talents as a filmmaker and director.
                Gilliam, Reiner, and DuVernay each enjoyed success with their first movies.  Gilliam’s and Reiner’s first movies have only grown in popularity today, while DuVernay’s emerging talent is showcased in both her documentary and her fictional film.  Check out these first theatrical movies of these talented directors.