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March 26, 2008 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-03-26

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 5A

Filling in
the blanks

was in one of the offices
of the Walgreen Drama
Center and picked up a
newsletter
- its head-
line caught
my eye. The
article was
about the
concept of
"objectives"
in acting. ABIGAIL B.
In theater, COLODNER
objectives
are a specific
way to think about a script.
Also called "intentions," they're
what a character aims, line by
line, to get out of the person
they're speaking to. An acting
teacher I know asks her stu-
dents to find infinitive verbs
for their lines: to unsettle, to
entice, to distract. This method
assumes that words are rarely
careless, unconscious or ran-
dom, and that people usually
say things for a reason, in what-
ever guise that reason comes.
Linguistics, studying every-
day speech, calls those words
that have objectives behind
them "speech acts," pointing
out that when we speak, we
are not only stringing together
expressive words; we are using
them to do something.
A friend of mine pointed
out the indirectness of a bit of
Drama Center lingo - "try-
ing to" can be used in place of
"wanting to." It nicely sidesteps
the direct question, "Do you
want to go grab some food?"
with "Are you trying to grab
some food?" It puts the onus
on the person being addressed
to assess what's actually being
asked, obscuring the objectives
of the speaker in two equally
likely possibilities: They want
you to get lunch with them or
they're concerned about your
potentially frustrated attempts
to find food. The listener
assumes the risk of choosing an
interpretation.
The article compared an
actor to a pitcher in baseball,
noting that a stadium full of
fans will scrutinize the pitch-
er's stance and movements in
between pitches, collecting a
wealth of information that the
pitcher, focused on winning
the game, might be casually
unaware he's communicating.
For the pitcher's part, he
might resent the TV commenta-
tors for putting such emphasis
on what are, to him, inadvertent
movements. Just as easily, he
might not consider his viewers
voyeurs at all and might craft a
suspenseful show.
Electronic actions have that
same ambiguity: We watch
the actions of others and have
them watch us without directly
acknowledging that we've given
them permission in each case,
person by person.
I disabled my Facebook
account in November once I
realized I was trying to under-
handedly negotiate relation-
ships that actually mattered to
me - a rather painful realiza-
tion. You can't watch people you
care about perform in front of
a crowd without hoping they
might have thrown in a wink

or a joke just for you. Facebook,
being a public forum with
nominal avenues for private
communication, feels similar to
me. After I added a song lyric to
my profile and someone called
me out on the implications that
lyric had as a communication
from me to them, I realized
that I wasn't justified in feeling
miffed by their false assump-
tion. I had indeed imagined the
lyric evoking something for a
Facebook.com friend - just not
that one. I was complicit in the
(sometimes inconsequential,
sometimes not) confusion over
intentions.
The lack of social normalcy
on Facebook, and even to a
degree in email, lends itself
to assumptions. There are
many blanks to fill in - tone,
facial expression, spontaneous
response - and those missing
variables can be taken seri-
ously or lightly. Unfortunately,
in electronic communication,
the weight those blanks are
given is subject to the needs of
the listener (or viewer), not the
speaker.
I got tired of feeding some of
the tendencies I dislike most in
myself. They were brought to
light for me and for others this
past weekend in an impressive
(and free) technology/om-
munication-themed show put
on by School of Music, Theatre
and Dance, and School of Art
and Design students in the
Duderstadt Center Video Stu-
dio. During one of the short,
student-choreographed modern
dance pieces, candid shots from
Facebook albums played on a
backdrop in a morbidly fasci-
Identifying the
hidden
meanings of
everyday actions
naing slideshow. In another,
the dancers got entangled in a
rope of dirty laundry.
At one point, several dancers
lined up at the front edge of the
stage and scrutinized their fin-
gers, eye sockets and hard-to-
reach spots on their shoulders
using the fourth wall (where
the audience is) as a mirror.
They took the scrutiny we so
easily have over other people's
posted information and pictures
as we skim from the privacy of
our own computers and turned
it on themselves. The double
edge to the Facebook sword
was made uncomfortably plain
- Facebook and things like it
are just as much a way to send
ambiguously heartfelt messages
to yourself about who you are
as they are to obsess over other
people's messages.
Intentions and objectives
get lost and, sometimes worse,
found as well.
Colodner actually disabled
her Facebook account due to an
uncontrollable Jetman habit. E-
mail her at abigabor@mich.ed

(Insert politically correct joke here.)

Conventionally charming

Perry's latest feature
provides wholesome,
disposable family fun
By BLAKE GOBLE
Daily Arts Writer
Tyler Perry is without a doubt the hardest-
working man in showbiz. He seems to have
directed every episode of his sitcom, "House
of Payne," released a new
commercially successful film
every six months for the past
few years and built a strong
cult following around his Tler Perrys
ever-burgeoning empire. But Meet the
the question remains: Is his
body of work any good?ew rows
we haven't reviewed At Showcase
Perry's movies, plays or and Quality16
shows, because they're never Lionsgate
screened for critics. The
assumption is they must be
bad - and the thing is, they
all kind of are. Sophomoric, melodramatic and
sometimes just tacky, Perry's writing certainly
isn't award-worthy. That's why this next claim
comes asa surprise.
"Meet the Browns" is a pretty decent movie.
Funny
but
flawed
By JOHN DAAVETTILA
DailyArts Writer
Finally, the wait is over - there's a new half-
decent scripted program on TV. It's just too bad
the acting is terrible.
Parker Posey ("Superman Returns") plays
Sarah Tompkins, a New
Yorker and children's book
editor in Fox's new com-
edy, "The Return of Jezebel
James." After discoveringshe The Retum
has Asherman Syndrome of Jezebel
and can't conceive a child, Jaes
Tompkins, a consummate
professional, is determined to Fridays at
have a baby somehow. So she 8 p.m.
contacts her estranged sis- Fox
ter, Coco (Lauren Ambrose,
"Six Feet Under"), to carry
her child. Problem solved. The catch: though
they're related, these sisters are polar oppo-
sites. While Sarah is neurotic and successful,
Coco is a free spirit who's broke.
The main flaw of the show is the acting, par-
ticularly Posey's. Her style is a combination of
weird, strained facial expressions and rapid
line deliverance (that seems to be the signature
of all the actors). This only intensifies as the
episode goes on, and what starts out as quirky
soon becomes irritating and ends up so bad it
seems intentional. Combine Posey's actingwith
her character's over-the-top sunny disposition,
and her scenes get old pretty fast.
The other actors don't have Posey's strange
character issues, but they all overact at times.
When givingblood, Ambrose doesn't give a very
realistic or convincing performance despite her

Admittedly, the film is all old-hat. Single-
parent struggles against familial bonding
mark all of Perry's films. "Diary of a Mad Black
Woman," "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Dad-
dy's Little Girls" all did this. But maybe that's
a good thing. There's a sincerity to "Meet the
Browns" that's untouchable.
The tragically underrated Angela Bassett
("Akeelah and the Bee") is a single mother
named Brenda living in the slums of Chicago.
Trying to raise three kids after losing a job
and not getting any child support from the
kids' father, Brenda's got it rough. But with the
arrival of a letter and some tickets to Georgia,
Brenda meets the family she never knew she
had and learns some things along the way. Add
some kooky relatives, a great Atlantic Records
soundtrack and the gospel-instilled kindness of
the South, and you've got yourself a movie.
OR, so it does sound familiar. Lifetime Net-
work, anyone? But in all fairness, this film has
heartand soul, plain and simple. By taking some
good old-fashioned themes and placing thein
in a contemporary drama, "Meet the Browns"
feels like a throwback. Bad things do happen in
this film (ason gets shot, for Pete's sake), but not
without purpose.
Without being incredibly preachy, "Meet
the Browns" is all about family values. Yeah,
it almost makes you shudder in this day and
age, but watch this film and try not to feel a

little guilty. Brenda's flat broke, but a new fam-
ily she's never heard of takes her in, takes care
of her and gives her a sense of completion and
understanding that she thought impossible.
The kindness of strangers, the importance
of sticking it out with your family and the will-
ingness to trust other people are all key themes
here. Perry should be acknowledged for trying
to promote positive ideas amid familial crisis
and screwball comedy. This film proves that his
skills are improving as a director. He's not the
spastic wanderer of yore.
Angela Bassett also deserves recognition
for her strong work here. The Academy Award
nominee ("What's Love Got to Do With It")
shows the maternal instincts of an unsure but
ultimately strong mother, which we really don't
see enough in film. She rejects her ex-beau's
advances to maintain her integrity. She makes
sure her non gets to play basketball, but not
without ensuring he gets an education. At the
same time, she's not afraid to indulge her femi-
ninity and fall in love with a truly decent man.
Sure, pistol-packing granny and stock Perry'
character Madea (played by Perry himself)
makes a cameo for no reason. Characterization
is flawed when you have catchphrase-spew-
ing uncles. We've seen these kinds of dramas
before. But Tyler Perry's "Meet the Browns"
isn't half bad. It's actually quite pleasingly
wholesome.

ARTS IN BRIEF
Television
VHi reality show awards parents for
living vicariously through their children
"I Know My Kid's a Star"
Thursdays at 10 p.m.
VH1
"I Know My Kid's a Star," VHl's new reality show, pits parent-
child teams against each other for a chance at $50,000, which the
kid will doubtlessly need to use for future therapy.
The competitors include dancers, singers and musicians, all of
whom are pretty uncomfortable to watch. The parents also com-
pete in contests that expose their knowledge of the entertainment
industry, and at the end of the episode host Danny Bonaduce sends
one team home.
With overbearing parents trying to live through their children in
a pathetically vicarious way, this show isn't so much a competition
as an hour-long look at a kid's atrophying self-esteem. Social Ser-
vices should be watching this show.
"Star" contains a few funny elements, like the crazy mother/Ste-
ven-Tyler-doppelganger and the out-of-tune recital of an 8-year-old
wearing a pink wig, but it doesn't matter how funny the show is,
because for every amusing moment "Star" provides, there are five
moments of borderline child abuse. VH1 should use the show as a
parenting boot camp for these wackos.
JOHN DAAVETTILA

I apologize for not feeding your cats, but I was late for my "Ring 3" audition."

long resum6. But as soon as Posey is onscreen,
the only noticeable thing is her domineering
personality, which waffles between amusing
and irritating.
The poor acting is a shame, because many
of the show's jokes are surprisingly funny. Any
Despite some
questionable acting,
Fox's new comedy is
worth a look
preconceived notions that "Jezebel" as just
another mindless addition to the Fox line-up
are thrown away by the clever, quick repartee.
But even though the dialogue is typically at
least a little charming, it's almost always about
the characters' own interests. Arguments pop
up because each character wants things done
their way, and while there have been success-

ful shows about selfish people, it seems like'not
having a single selfless character is a mistake.
There are too many television shows center-
ing on New York City women to count ("Cash-
mere Mafia," "Lipstick Jungle," "The Real
Housewives of New York City"), but "Jezebel"
could be the best replacement for "Sex and the
City" so far. It doesn't try tobe a carbon copy of
the popular HBO show, but it makes the con-
cept of successful urban women its own. Most
importantly, unlike "Cashmere Mafia" and
"Lipstick Jungle," "Jezebel" is funny.
But the producers don't seem to think the
audience can figure out that the show is funny
on their own. The show's laugh track hearkens
back to "Leave It To Beaver," and not in a good
way. Often, it mirrors the jokes, but sometimes
it's overdone, giving smaller jokes a response
they don't deserve. If the show was filmed in
front of a live studio audience, it would be less
contrived and the humor more appreciated.
Regardlessoftheless-than-satisfyingacting,
"The Return of Jezebel James" is a light-heart-
ed comedy with good chemistry and dialogue
and a welcome change from the slew of crappy
reality TV.

4

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