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''On the Lot'': Four out of five directors succeed

On ”On the Lot,” five directors create shorts based on the theme of ”when two worlds collide,” and only Shalini fails by getting too preachy

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Brian Bowen Smith

On the Lot

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Mark Burnett, Steven Spielberg
Reality TV

”On the Lot”: Four out of five directors succeed

Five movies unreeled last night on On the Lot. In a twist at the beginning of the show, Adrianna revealed that two people were gonna get booted off next week. ”When she said that,” Will said, ”my heart was racing.” Meanwhile, my heart was leaping. One extra free Tuesday night this summer for me — I think I’ll host a BBQ. But by the end of the show, I had a funny problem. Four of the five movies last night were actually okay. Normally each week, I’m like, ”Boot him, and her, and him, and him, and let’s end this sucker four weeks early.” But most of last night’s offerings — based on the theme of ”when two worlds collide” — were unusually above average, at least by the show’s not-ready-for-prime-time standards. Two people gotta go? Since only Shalini deserves to walk, that means one extra person’s gonna get a little screwed next week. Gosh, I almost feel bad.

(I wonder if Fantastic Four‘s Ioan Gruffudd agrees.)

And I was miffed going in that the show was airing on Monday this week — nothing wrong with Mondays usually, except last night I would’ve rather watched The Bronx Is Burning on ESPN or Spielberg on Spielberg on TCM. (You know what? I wonder if On the Lot exec producer Steven Spielberg would’ve preferred it if all of us had watched Spielberg on Spielberg instead last night.) But in the end, this might’ve been the most bearable episode of On the Lot we’ve seen so far. I mean, the show still has a YouTube problem, in that you can find better mass-approved movies to watch after 15 seconds of Web surfing, but at this point, maybe it is what it is. At least it’s starting to get a little mysterious as to who will rise and fall in the next couple of weeks. Cutting it down to six filmmakers two weeks from now could go a long way toward making this thing a tad more watchable as it slouches toward its end.

Shira-Lee, the woman who seemed to be suggesting last night that she should get points just for agreeing to make a horror movie in the first place, got eliminated at the top of the hour. Which is interesting, because if Shalini takes off next week, as she should, and Hilary does too, as she might, then we’ll be down to all guys in the six-person finals. Garry Marshall, who positively loves women directors, would be crushed!

But Shalini’s really got to go. Her short, ”First Sight,” was a message movie that made me want to put a brick through a window. Two nasty young ladies are shopping for Jimmy Choos on what looks like a third-world street fair in the middle of the sitcom version of the Bed-Stuy block from Do the Right Thing. A homeless Bruce Dern type gives one of them a pair of circus X-ray sunglasses that allows her to see the hidden essence of things, i.e., that the infirm old guy is really dancing on the inside (who cares if he is?), that the sanitation guy is, uh, I don’t know what his secret deal was, and that our heroine’s really crying herself to sleep at nights, while her shallow friend simply isn’t wearing any makeup, metaphorically speaking, I suppose. The brutal part was the ending. A horribly cast do-gooder goofball on the street asked the newly converted leading lady if she could spare some change for hungry kids.

”Change, huh?” she says. ”I think I can do that.” Then, oh, this was bad, the lady hands her magic glasses to the screen and addresses the audience: ”Excuse me, I think you lost something.”

I am going to start a nonprofit first thing this morning. What was unique here is that the judges volleyed with each other for once. Carrie had a good line I hadn’t heard before: ”There’s a saying in Hollywood: If you want a message, leave it at the beep.” But Garry, that crazy kook, professed to like Shalini’s movie. ”I think women will tear up watching this,” he said. Garry reminds me of Will Smith’s Hitch — he so clearly understands every little tick-tocking of the fair sex. Carrie attacked Garry by calling the film unsubtle. ”Subtle?” Garry squawked. ”Subtle is what they play in Connecticut, where nobody goes.” I seriously wondered to myself if Garry was making a play on the word ”shuttle,” as in ”shuttlecock” — God, I am required to think about this show far too much. Covering On the Lot, sometimes I feel like a kid who just sits there after breakfast staring at the back of the cereal box till well past lunchtime.

Quickly, the night’s other films:

”Time Upon a Once,” by Zach, whose movie had a backward gimmick, hence the title. (Shouldn’t it have been called ”Time a Upon Once”?) The new people who pull up in the house across the street speak and move in reverse — so were they really moving out? Hard to say. The time-space physics of this one twisted my brain around, even though I think I was just supposed to roll with it, like in the Terminator series. Didn’t totally get it, but it was technically assured enough to constitute a highlight of Zach’s On the Lot reel. Demerits to him, though, for making backward man Reginald VelJohnson speak gibberish. I want one of these directors to give Sgt. Al Powell a meaty speaking part! And, incidentally, did anybody else recognize the music as the beautiful opening theme of Days of Heaven? Took me years to discover that Ennio Morricone, the movie’s composer, didn’t write it, and boy, was I pissed when I found out the piece is actually from Saint-Saëns’ ”Carnival of the Animals.” John Williams would never try to play a trick like that.

”The Legend of Donkey-Tail Willie,” by Hilary. Guest judge What’s-His-Name, the guy who directed The Animal, was right: The Chinese joke was funny. If Hilary gets voted off for this movie, which was leaps and bounds ahead of her crass previous shorts, it’ll probably be because you knew the donkeyboy-meets-donkeygirl payoff was coming.

”Spaghetti,” by Will with the eyebrows. A city dude in a polo shirt and loafers with a cell phone strapped, holster-like, to his waist wanders onto a spaghetti-western-style street and faces down a Lee Van Cleef character with a real gun strapped to his side. Not badly executed, liked the switch to letterbox, just wish the bad guy got to win, so that Will’s movie would’ve been a stirring indictment of the cell phone in modern times, and not just something merely cute.

”Worldly Possessions,” by Adam, a film about a couple who get a globe delivered to them by the Pentagon that allows them to rain boulders of gold down upon themselves from the sky. With a story line like that unfurling on Fox, why on earth would anybody wanna watch Spielberg on Spielberg last night instead? Main thing to know: Adam’s movie wasn’t shabby, and I don’t know if it’s gonna be him, Hilary, or Will out next week. These three hit singles, Zach’s hit a double, and only Shalini struck out.

So good luck this week, stuck out there on the edge of your seat and all. Next Tuesday offers up action movies by the other group of contestants. (Who decided who got to be in which group, anyway? Doesn’t seem that fair.) Are you excited for Kenny’s skateboard thriller? Hoping that Adrianna feeds Mateen more popcorn next week? Anybody watch The Bronx Is Burning? How was it? And speaking of The Animal, whatever happened to that lovely Colleen lady from Survivor?