Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Golda Meir Pwns U, N00b

Maybe what doomed the Atari E.T. game was not crappy design, greed, or corporate hubris, but the fact that the movie, as good as it was, wasn't a Best Picture nominee!

(Oh, wait.)

(Guess it was crappy design, greed, and corporate hubris after all.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Set Your TiVo for Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

What should I espy squirreled inside a block of house ads on the Sundance Channel (bless 'em, does that channel have anything but house ads?) but a promo for Season 2 of SLINGS AND ARROWS, the delicious Canadian series about the certifiables at a Shakespeare festival.

It's airing in February. Huzzah and hey-nonny-nonny!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hey, It Was a Busy Fall

Jumping on an idiotic bandwagon months after it leaves East Moron? Sign us up, says the city of Los Angeles, which this week filed suit against Take-Two Interactive over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

In other news, the city of Los Angeles today dispatched a flotilla of rubber dinghies to New Orleans to help "those poor souls stranded on their rooftops."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Okay, So You Miss a Sauced Paris Hilton Barfing into a Main Street Snowbank

Holy after-party, Batman, my assistant forgot to courier me my Sundance tickets!

Of course, I don't have Sundance tickets.

Or an assistant.

But I have TiVo and the internets!

Can't make it up to Park City this year? Technology to the rescue, baby.

The Sundance Channel is airing daily reports chock full of interviews, day-in-the-life video journals, and goofy man in the street interviews. Especially funny is host Whitney Cummings' attempts to scam her way into parties and swag. That girl's got mad griftin' skillz.

Blogging Sundance has several reporters in the field. Check out their film reviews and news on who's buying what, plus random articles and party reports.

For minimum content and maximum snark -- and pictures! -- visit Defamer, who's dispatched cranky, funny editor Mark Lisanti to the snowy slopes.

Best of all, with this stuff you can be part of the scene from the comfort of your own home, while wearing clothes no sane human being would wear in public, let alone to a major film festival. Or, would.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Some of the Stuff I Saw in Grad School Was No Better

Who needs film school? You only need a Flickr feed, some random zooms and cuts, and an arty soundtrack to create a buzzworthy visual tone poem! Look out, Sundance!

An interesting use of technology. Brings up Eisenstein- and Kuleshov-type questions about our brain's extraction of meaning and narrative from sequential images.

Is a film still pretentious if it's an algorithm that's directing?

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Certain shelves are groaning with statuettes, with more to come. Random thoughts and SPOILERS ahoy.

I can tell I liked BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN because it's stayed with me, the memory of it sort of deepening and melding over time.

DONNIE DARKO was another film that had this lingering effect, so maybe it's just a Jake jones.

I knew Heath Ledger had this in him from his tiny but shattering role in MONSTER'S BALL, and of course Jake has proven chops. But former lightweights Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams? Damn.

Michelle may seem to have the meatier role, with Anne hidden behind adding machines and big Texas hair for most of the movie, but just watch girlfriend go in the phone call scene where she tells Ennis of Jack's death. Subtle work from an unlikely quarter.

It takes no small amount of skill to craft a short story (and it is short) into a feature length screenplay as Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana did, even if Mr. McMurtry is grumpy about computers. Did hieroglyphic scribes bitch about the "dry embrace" of papyrus?

Much of the best dialogue was retained from Annie Proulx's story. "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it." Jack's spotlight "I wish I knew how to quit you" speech, lifted wholesale. Many interior thoughts appear onscreen as spoken lines.

The movie fleshes out Jack's story in particular, adding more about Lureen and her father. The latter scenes form an interesting counterpoint and foundation for when you later meet Jack's own father, and glimpse that stunted relationship.

The story says right out that Jack's ashes were never going back to Brokeback Mountain, but the movie doesn't need to. You just know.

I don't think the waitress subplot works. Ennis is damaged when she meets him, and the movie doesn't illustrate why she falls in love with this broken, closed-off man. For his part, she's a convenience, maybe even a bit of a beard. She's just a one-liner in the short story.

Amazing visuals throughout, from the gorgeous, wild "Wyoming" (see comments) countryside to its threadbare prairie towns.

While the reappearance of the shirts is a standout of the film -- a classic emotional gutpunch -- the story handles their backstory a bit better. Because it's prose, you can learn when you see the shirts that Ennis lost his back on the mountain.

In the film, Heath says as they leave, "I can't believe I forgot my shirt," which rankled me as an archetypal tell.

Why not show the shirt, forgotten at the campsite, as they pack? Or show Ennis rooting in his knapsack in the truck, not finding it?

Of course, Larry and Diana have been presented awards on TV and I haven't, so what do I know.

Love that Ennis re-hangs the shirts at the end, putting his outside Jack's, protective and enveloping.

Another great metaphor? The corraling of Ennis's spirit into smaller and smaller spaces, from mountainside to shabby house to small apartment to tiny trailer. Will this guy ever be happy again? Can he be?

I'm of two minds on the added scenes with Ennis' daughter. The sentimentalist in me appreciates the addition of a thread that shows that Ennis still can connect with another human being, and that offers some hope for him. But that hope is not present in the short story, and seems a little dishonest for his character.

Who thinks Ennis actually went to his daughter's wedding?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hell-Bent for Leather Update

At the beginning of this year, I set a goal for myself to finish a new feature script by the end of February. Of course, the NaNoWriMo folks are making me look like a slacker for compressing a writing timeline into a fortnight, the ambitious bastards.

Well, after a few hours at The Office this weekend, I now have a full outline of HBFL (that's the mindset, not the script's title) and will be ready to get into pages shortly.

I liked The Office, once I got past the minor absurdity of paying six bucks an hour for the privilege of sitting in someone's storefront. The place is nicely appointed, hushed as a library, with comfy Aeron chairs and Bose noise-canceling headphones. Those things are magic. I was sitting right next to a quietly burbling fountain and homeboy got canceled. Not a burble.

Gamer Love

If you and your sugarpie aren't in the same guild, your evenings may go a little something like this.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Give It Up for Johnny on the Synths

Scott the Reader recently replied to Fun Joel's scribosphere questionnaire with another, a suggestion to list a favorite line of dialogue that you've written.

Here's one of mine:

(Holding up index finger) "I can count on one finger the number of conversations I've had with them since I moved out. And it's not this finger."

Clever, I think. I think it's clever enough that I'm starting to wonder if I may not have written it, but that I picked it up somewhere, unwittingly internalized it, and spat it back out again as my own.

It should be noted that I'm paranoid.

But I fear this because it's happened once before, in rehearsal for one of my plays.

DIRECTOR: You know that's a line from SIXTEEN CANDLES.

ME: What? Where?

The director describes the scene. I remember it.

ME: Well, shit.

Writers, especially screenwriters who are by their very nature media hounds, are all about synthesizing their experience of the world, absorbing and combining bits and pieces of what they see and hear and learn and feeding that into what they create.

From KING KONG to SHREK to SCRUBS, which recently contained a throwaway DEADWOOD reference, conscious quotations and homages both verbal and visual are on the rise. Also, too, are the unconscious ones, as the creators of these texts (Warning! Warning! Literary criticism term off the port bow!) exhibit through their work more and more of the media and information saturation that's part of our modern lives.

Is this a problem? Maybe. I don't think any of us look forward to the day when a TV show or movie is nothing but lazy quotes of stuff that came before.

Pause for laughter.

Yeah, that's already happened, lots of times. So let's buck the trend.

Examining your work with a critical eye helps. So does making sure you're feeding your brain with books and music and art and nature and current events and travel in addition to what can be TiVo'd. But synthesized observation is part and parcel of what it means to be a creative person.

Of course, there's a point at which "synthesized observation" becomes "plagiarism." Anyone, um, recognize that finger line?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Failing Gracefully

"M.A.D." is a standout Season 1 episode of the universally excellent VERONICA MARS.

A girl wants to dump her abusive boyfriend. The dilemma she's in: the boyfriend roofied her at a party once, and has incriminating, raunchy video of her that he will post online if she leaves him. He's not interested when Veronica approaches him about playing nice, and gambits to retrieve the video go nowhere.

Finally, with no other choice, Veronica arms the girl with potent ammo of her own. The boyfriend's a homophobe. Veronica mocks up a website that looks like a love letter he's created to another guy. The girls threaten to release this to his friends and the Naval Academy, his dream school, if he publishes the video. This is the Mutually Assured Destruction of the ep's title.


It doesn't work.

The jerk releases the video and the girl is humiliated.

She does not retaliate with the website, being a better person than he (and arguably better than Veronica, who would've fired back with both barrels not to mention coming up with the idea in the first place).

Veronica, smart, capable Veronica, failed. And this makes her more interesting. More accessible, more human.

Of all the episodes of CSI and COLD CASE that I've seen (and that would be all of them), some of the ones that stick most in my memory are the ones where the bad guy gets away or someone screws up. Where, due to circumstance or error, our heroes just can't bring the case across the finish line.

It doesn't happen often, and shouldn't. These aren't the Keystone Kops, after all. But the occasional setback helps ground the show in some semblance of reality -- shit happens to us all -- offers rich character opportunities, and keeps the stakes interesting.

In a serialized drama, failure is almost a necessity. Speaking of diverging from reality, I nearly gave up on PRISON BREAK early on when things kept going so swimmingly for Michael.

But when things started going wrong, they got interesting. Losing his toes? Groovy. Stuck with psycho T-bag in on the plan? Fabulous.

This is true of more than TV, of course. Beyond the expected twists and reversals of a well-plotted story, movies who put failure at their center can really be something special.

A heist movie is a heist movie, right? But have the scheme go south and you get the spare, heartbreaking A SIMPLE PLAN.

There's a whole subgenre of compelling, inspiring sports movies where The Good Guy Loses, because winning the big game is not what those stories -- ROCKY, TIN CUP, MURDERBALL -- are really about.

Tom Cruise in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is a crashing bore because the cat. Can. Do. No. Wrong. How much more watchable is RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE FUGITIVE, or AIR FORCE ONE? Give me Harrison Ford getting beat up and left for dead, any day.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Tagged, I'm it! Fun Joel started this scribosphere meme and Shawna handed it along to me. Here goes:

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:

Drive-in double feature of BUGSY MALONE and THE BAD NEWS BEARS.

TWO (2) favorite lines from movies:

"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

"Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap?"

THREE (3) jobs you'd do if you could not work in the "biz":

(I'm including theater in biz, and excluding it here)
Computer programmer

Could I be any more of a girlgeek?

FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside the industry:

Concessionaire at art house movie theater (I guess this is a little industry-related)
Drama teacher (um, this too)
Sandwich maker
Campus recycling center serf (hard, stinky work. Left the next quarter to work the multimedia desk at the liberry)

THREE (3) book authors I like:

Michael Chabon
George R. R. Martin
Barbara Ehrenreich

TWO (2) movies you'd like to remake or properties you'd like to adapt:

SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! - Little known 1943 movie about WWII combat nurses in the Pacific, starring Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Veronica Lake in the performance of her career. Harrowing and gritty, and a welcome reminder that the Greatest Generation wasn't all guys.

"Doom Patrol" - Grant Morrison's run of this comic book is straight-up absurdy stuff. Superheroes in need of thorazine and a hug. Dark, funny, and probably completely unfilmable.

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:

Paul Weitz. I just watched IN GOOD COMPANY. This and ABOUT A BOY are about as poignant, funny, and authentic dramas as I've seen, featuring shaded, complex portraits of men trying to become more themselves.

THREE (3) people I'm tagging to answer this meme next:

Bill, Ras, and Shawn.


Finally saw it. I'm with Ken Levine on this one. Peter Jackson shows distressing signs of an incipient case of George Lucas Disease.

Both are great filmmakers and proven storytellers who need to have their hands slapped when reaching for the Bigger is Better cookie jar too often.

KING KONG sports better dialogue than Episodes Crap through Crud (note that it's hard to do worse than "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo, when all we had was our love.") but the movie is just as bloated and reliant on oddly ponderous action scenes that feel like levels in the videogame, not integral sequences that evolve the story.

Random thoughts and SPOILERS follow.

Why show just one uber-T. Rex when you can show three?

Why spend two minutes showing the ship neeeeeeearly crashing on the rocks when you can show ten?

Why invent a few kinds of horrible bugs when you can throw a dozen concept designs at the screen?

Uh, because it's boring and dilutes impact?

The Shelob scenes in THE RETURN OF THE KING were far scarier than KONG's bug pit. JURASSIC PARK's single T. rex and mere three raptors created much more memorable, iconic set pieces (Ack! They can open doors!). I saw KONG yesterday and already am forgetting what chase happened when.

The ancient town looked pretty cool, sort of like Osgiliath, post-orc renovation.

Did we need the dinosaur bungee cord scene?

Another successful motion capture performance by Andy Serkis. Most of the emotional resonance in the movie came from the saddest, biggest digitized monkey in the world.

Naomi Watts did a nice job considering that 80% of her screen time is looking in horror at something out of frame.

While I appreciate the nifty twist of having the bookish writer be the hero, I don't know of any playwrights who can rappel down mountains, stunt drive, or wrangle oversize bats. Well, maybe Lillian Hellman, but that's it.

Product placement is somehow cute and quaint when it's period. I hate that I think this.

Plot threads are left dangling like dinosaur bungee cords. What happens to the weaselly actor at the end? And what made him un-weasel back on the island and come back to help save everyone in the bug pit?

Why waste our time with scenes setting up the Little Jimmy subplot then give it no resolution?

And maybe I'm looking for too tidy or modern a wrap-up, but why doesn't Jack Black's Wellesian movie producer come to realize that he's the architect of all this havoc? Why not let him understand how much he's destroyed, and the price of his egotism?

Yes, I know "Beauty killed the beast" is a line from the 1933 original, but when Black intones it I wanted to scream, "It was you, you moron! Not to mention dozens of sailors, natives, and Depression-era extras. Get a good lawyer."

It's no small irony that Jackson appears in a cameo in one of the biplanes that sends the grand ape plummetting onto 34th Street.

Still, Ang Lee's pre-BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN project was THE HULK. I live in faith that PJ can keep his inner fanboy in check and let the story take the reins again.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hell-Bent for Leather

I'm back from vacation, quads newly jellied by climbing about 176 Maya pyramids, and still bleary enough that I misread a label at the store on Tuesday and bought a bag of baby arugula instead of baby spinach. Arugula, which is Italian for "yuppie chump weeds," is expensive and bitter to the point of being painful. The first wife of lettuces.

So. The January question is, existing obligations aside, what to tackle writing-wise as the new year kicks off?

The goal: a new feature script by the end of February.

I'm not starting cold. I have a premise, character sketches, rough outline, handful of punchy moments, and a title, but that's it. Two months from early prep to first draft, the version I fondly call the crap draft.

Anyone else want to play?

Ready, set, go!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Scribosphere Movie Night?

Fun Joel got me thinking. We all like movies, we all like talking about movies. Would folks be into getting together to see one sometime, say something that's bubbling to the top this awards season? We could decamp afterwards for a tasty beverage and witty debate. Or maybe just the beverage.


What do you think?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Golden Apples, Oranges, Kumquats

Today the WGA announced its nominees for the best screenplays of 2005, the usual mixed bag cinematic buffet that reminds me to get out of the damn house to see some movies and/or stop filling my Netflix queue with well-intentioned, earnest, thoughtfully paced foreign films that I will never watch.


  • CINDERELLA MAN, Screenplay by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, Story by Cliff Hollingsworth

  • CRASH, Screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, Story by Paul Haggis

  • THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, Written by Judd Apatow & Steve Carell

  • GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, Written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov

  • THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, Written by Noah Baumbach

    How nice to see a comedy in there! That Murrow guy was hilarious.


  • BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, Based on the Short Story by Annie Proulx

  • CAPOTE, Screenplay by Dan Futterman, Based on the Book by Gerald Clarke

  • THE CONSTANT GARDENER, Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, Based on the Novel by John le CarrĂ©

  • A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, Screenplay by Josh Olson, Based on the Graphic Novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke

  • SYRIANA, Written by Stephen Gaghan, Based on the Book "See No Evil" by Robert Baer

    Cowboy-on-cowboy action will not be denied, people.