Saturday, February 25, 2006


I'm probably going to writer hell for this (what would that be, I wonder? Nonstop screenings of Joe Eszterhas movies?), but I didn't love MATCH POINT.

Not bad, just meh. But the Woody Allen of THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, ZELIG, and of course MANHATTAN and ANNIE HALL is (or was) certainly capable of more than meh.

And he owes us more after inflicting CELEBRITY on us.

SPOILERS and blather follow.

The questions MATCH POINT raises are interesting: what would (or wouldn't) we do to protect what we've worked hard to achieve? What is really important in life, comfort or passion? Does love stop being love when it becomes inconvenient?

Unfortunately, these questions are voiced through dialogue that struck me as merely pedestrian. Joyless, missing that Allen wit. Characters speak exactly what's on their minds, with no hint of subtext. Worse, too many lines clunk awkwardly when they fall from the lips of the very pretty Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson.

I loved most of the character portraits, everyone layered and real and flawed, and Allen definitely knows how to make a loathsome guy still somehow sympathetic (Exhibit A, Sean Penn's jerk of a jazz guitarist in SWEET AND LOWDOWN), but Rhys Meyers' amoral social climber Chris is a sullen cipher, who tells us too much of who he is and shows us too little.

I kept expecting the way in which he plays tennis -- as the title indicates, the game's both a key plot element to the story and its central metaphor -- to reflect some of his ambition, ruthlessness, or manipulative nature.

One moment that does work is Chris' callous pretense of being on a cancelled vacation to avoid his hysterical mistress Nola. Why not give us more of those actions, and cut back on the "I have a very comfortable life with my wife that would be ruined if I left her for my pregnant girlfriend" spoken obviousness?

And why did we, after seeing the movie almost entirely through Chris' eyes, have to take a left turn and spend scenes with the not-suspicious-enough detectives? Why the clumsy ghostly confrontation--OOPS! It's a DREAM! And not even his dream, or the dream of anyone we've spent any time with.

Some of that just feels lazy. I like the sneaky reappearance of the neighbor's wedding ring, but what about Nola's coworker? She knows Nola's seeing someone ("Is it him?" she asks when Chris calls Nola to set her up for the murder), and appears to know about her situation. Wouldn't the police talk to her?

Maybe it's not fair to lay procedural mistakes at Allen's doorstep, since the movie isn't really about murder, but the movie begs it by shifting abruptly into crime drama territory and its important tiny details.

At the end of the day, I liked this movie better when it was CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. Or, for that matter, A PLACE IN THE SUN.

For this rehash, truly original movies like HUSTLE & FLOW and JUNEBUG -- which crackle with dialogue that's both realistic and lyrical, and which leave so much deliciously unsaid -- got shut out of a nom?

The Academy sure does love them some Woody. I did too, once.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Stuck? Clean Out the Catbox

Kitty gets a fresh place to crap and you may just find your scene.

Lemme 'splain. Ever have an exchange like this?

RANDOM PERSON: So, you're a writer.

ME: What? Did the scotch and social awkwardness give me away?

(Pause while Random Person tries to figure out if I'm kidding. I am not.)

RANDOM PERSON: Where do you get your ideas?

ME: Uh, in the shower?

The question asked is about content not context, of course, and we all have different sources for the muse inside our crazy crazy brains.

But I'm fascinated at how often ideas hit when I'm working out, drying my hair, or washing dishes.

I problem-solve tactically at the computer, at the foxhole level, stitching up story holes, tweaking dialogue, and whatnot.

But for big inspiration? Ideas for entire new scripts or knotty, large-scale challenges like how to rebuild a weak protagonist? More often than not those hit when I'm nowhere near that tyrant blank page. Say, folding laundry.

There must be something about how the noisy mind shuts down for these rote physical tasks that lets the remaining synapses churn away, burning background cycles. For me at least. And anything like going for a jog that helps mitigate Writer's Ass and gives a creative boost is an angel puppy in my book.

How about you? When or how do you get your ideas?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Meet Me at Arcadian Noodle

A little Friday silliness: some lunatic anagrammed all the stations on London's tube map.

Half of them sound like Edward Gorey place names. New Queasy! Stoutening Honks!

I've been to the half-price theater ticket booth in Queerer Elastics many a time.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Whoop That Trick

The US chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project is calling upon consumers to boycott Grand Theft Auto.

GTA, the whores claim, is morally questionable.

Yes, players can beat and kill virtual hookers in the game (but not rape anyone, as wrongly noted by SWOP).

You also can do the same to virtual cops, gangsters, ice cream salesmen, little old ladies, and innocent passersby.

We're waiting for the Frozen Dessert Servers Coalition to release a statement expressing concern about the game's cost to the morality and socialization of children, for whom the game was not created nor to whom it legally can be sold, any more than, say, RESERVOIR DOGS.

In the meantime, cheer with me: Down with G-T-A! Have you saved a ho today?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day, Pass the Gin

Ken Levine's got a nice post on the true nature of love. Hint: it doesn't involve mass produced, low grade chocolate or ugly-ass heart-shaped jewelry.

Speaking from the distaff side, mostly we don't want the stupid Valentine's Day stuff. It's just as much a fabricated, consumerist trap for us as for you, except we have to wear uncomfortable undies.

What we want is to be in the room when you watch the Mets (read, Cubs).

When I think of aspirational screen couples, Nick and Nora Charles are right up there at the top of the list. Sassy, sweet, wholly unrealistic and marvelous. While The Boyfriend and I are short on glamour and have solved hardly any murders, both of us can make a killer martini. That's a start.

Here's another reprint from my movie column from Oxygen's (alas, now-defunct) Girls on Film site, about Dashiell Hammett's classic twosome.


Chill those cocktail glasses! Here come Myrna Loy and William Powell, the immortal Nick and Nora Charles of the THIN MAN series. This sophisticated pair has survived plenty, including a disastrous Broadway musical and the rather overextended run of their own franchise. The last of the 6 THIN MAN movies came out 13 years after the first -- oof -- and the quality of the writing deteriorated sharply once the writers ran out of Dashiell Hammett source material. And -- I'm going out on an un-PC limb here -- the movies aren't nearly as much fun when tippling Nick dries out. Plus Nick Jr. comes along, yawn (fun fact: a pre-BLUE VELVET Dean Stockwell plays li'l Nicky).

Here are the first, and best, two of the flicks featuring filmdom's favorite flatfoot couple.

The whodunit of THE THIN MAN (1934), by today's mind-warping, THE USUAL SUSPECTS-type standards, is almost comically tidy in the way that it trots out all the, well, usual suspects. Wynant (Edward Ellis) is a successful, paranoid, divorced inventor. In the first half-hour we meet everyone who might wish Wynant ill, from the shifty bookkeeper to his greedy mistress to his even greedier ex-wife. Wynant then promptly vanishes, and his daughter Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan) goes to family friend Nick Charles for help.

We see Nick taking the first of many, many drinks in the film, teaching some bartenders how to make a proper martini. Nora enters, towed by the terrier Asta, and soon catches up with him, to the tune of 6 martinis. Yow. Nora wants Nick to take the Wynant case: he protests he married her, and her money, to get out of the detecting game.

There's such an easy chemistry between Loy and Powell that you wonder if the occasional mugging or physical comedy was ad-libbed and kept in the final cut. They deliver breezy dialogue with impeccable timing: Nick mistily muses, "We're all like that on my father's side." Nora: "And how is your father's side?" Nick: "Much better, thank you. How's yours?" Loy is beautiful and elegant, and Powell manages somehow to be kind of sexy even though he's got no chin to speak of. Nick is supposed to have a tough-guy background, but, as played by Powell, the toughest Nick ever had it was getting cut from the Exeter lacrosse team.

The absent Wynant is accused of killing his mistress. More murders get pinned on him as the police search high and low, while Nick and Nora piece together the facts. The end of the film is fairly absurd, as they throw a fancy dinner party for all the suspects. Nick pins a case on everyone until the real murderer cracks. Hard to imagine Simone and Sipowicz flipping a suspect this way, but hey, in 1934, it seemed to work.

1936's AFTER THE THIN MAN brings us to Nick and Nora's chichi digs in San Francisco, on New Year's Eve. Rather than getting to hang out with the quite un-respectable souses who've invaded for a "surprise" bash, our heroes have to go to the Most Boring Party Ever. Hosted by Nora's battle-axe aunt, who looks like Ed Wynn in drag, the party is an excuse to get Nick to inquire discreetly after cousin Selma's (Elissa Landis) straying nogoodnik husband.

The husband might as well have a red bulls-eye painted on his chest, so many people want him dead for so many reasons. And die he does. Was it the trampy singer? Her gangster boyfriend? Cesar Romero? There's a fatally important mustache, many cocktails, and Jimmy Stewart. The movie ends with another improbable gathering of the clans, Nick addressing the peanut gallery until the truth comes out.

Sure, there's murders up the wazoo, but the world of these movies, even when dealing with the rougher element, seems so... civilized. Even ex-cons and thugs wear coat and tie, and rise when introduced to a lady. And detecting looks like much more fun when you have an alluring husband/wife and a highball in hand.

The rest of THIN MAN line:

Another Thin Man (1939)
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
The Thin Man Goes Home (1944)
Song of the Thin Man (1947)

So why not pick up a couple and make up a batch of martinis, recipe from Philip Collins' book The Art of the Cocktail:

1/2 - 1 oz. dry vermouth
2 oz. dry gin
Shake well with ice and strain into martini glass. Add olive.

Serve with quips and raised eyebrow. Drink 6 in a row, darlings, and you'll get what you deserve. Cheers!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I Wish I Knew How to Alt-F4 You

Some enterprising soul has created BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN skins for The Sims 2 .

Green-diamond Ennis and Jack to happiness at last! And no, that's not a euphemism.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Plane Jane

Just back from a quick trip to Vancouver. One row in front of me on the plane sat a braying drunk girl and her slightly less drunk guy best friend? Boyfriend? Booty call buddy?

Unclear, because she made much about getting married to someone else in March, and yet all but had her hands down 17B's pants one and and a half screwdrivers into the flight. The other half ended up spilled on the floor in a fit of honking and snorting that I think was laughter.

Both came on board plowed and the subsequent vodka didn't help matters any. I can tell the guy was less lit than she was because he kept shushing her as she cursed a loud and voluble blue streak. Kids were just three seats away.

If it was Mardi Gras and there were beads to be had, girlfriend's tank top would've been up around her Tweetybird neck tattoo. Just that classy.

But I didn't mind the shenanigans, because I had John August and Jordan Mechner's nifty pilot OPS, in all its permutations, to read.

If you haven't read them, John's files are a goldmine, showing not just what another beat sheet format looks like, but also outlines, and how a script can evolve through development hell-- erm, process.

The episodes are all good, of course, but I prefer the Iraq story. Just seems tighter, more suspenseful, with higher stakes that impact more on the human level.

One minor quibble from the peanut gallery was that I wanted the refrigerator unit breaking to come out of character or situation, and not be arbitrary. Maybe Vanowen was rushing away from the checkpoint, annoyed at McGinty's fine, hit a bump, and it cracked. Or the truck was something McGinty procured, and to save money he ended up with a lemon.

If the generosity of sharing these materials wasn't enough, John also wrote up the illuminating tale of the life and (living?) death of the show.

A pity it stalled out -- would've been a surefire TiVo Season Pass.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stick a Fork In It

(the screenplay format was messing up the sidebar, so I removed it)


The new feature script I began in January to finish by the end of February is done, with three and a half weeks to spare.

Last time I posted an update was about two and half weeks ago, when I had a complete outline. Sort of a long time between updates, but for a secular humanist I have an ornery superstitious streak and didn't want to post how things were going.

They went well. I averaged about five pages an hour.

Better still, those hours passed in that delightful, timeless flow state we get when we're creating, if we're lucky. About as good as it gets, isn't it?

A few methods I use, for those interested in craft details (if you're not, go look at something cute):

1) Fairly detailed character bios
2) Beat sheet outline format
3) Stopping for the day when things were going well, and before beginning a scene I felt confident about

Between #1 and #2, at no time was I stuck on a scene or at a loss for what the characters would say. In fact, they often surprised me. One turned out to be a Dodgers fan, the bitch. Who knew?

#3 is a trick attributed to Hemingway. It's a great feeling, being excited about getting back to the story rather than worrying that there's no gas in the tank.

A note about #2. I've always believed in outlining, but for features have had trouble finding a format that works for me. Standard outline form reminds me too much of school term papers. Writing the story in full prose feels too heavyweight. Index cards have never rung my bell, because my handwriting is terrible and I think (and type) much faster than I can print.

I've found TV scripts easier to write (I finished one of those in January as well), mostly because I wrote the pages from a beat sheet format.

On a typical beat sheet, you work out the entire plot scene by scene, building toward the act outs. Some writers describe the scene in prose, some in just a few words. Mine tend to be brief stream-of-consciousness fragments.

Here are a few examples from my CSI spec:

Yes, she was hanged (petechiae). Ligature marks confirm. OJ. Toxicology shows Vicodin, and that she likely had an addiction. Hair smells of cigarette smoke. “Uh, you two want a private moment?” Secrets.


Police there. Hank covered in blood. Confessing. Has gun still. People watching outside. Kids. Helen pulls them back. CSIs note this.


Catherine and Sara walk through the house, imagining the shooting. Celia dead in the yard, three gunshots.

FLASHBACK of shooting


Daniel arrives. Distraught. Fought with Trish the last time he saw her.
Features don't have act outs exactly (or do, depending on what school of thought you may subscribe to), but do have internal structures to build around.

And it's a fluid format. One scene may expand to several, or get rearranged, or vanish altogether if the story requires. But the bones are there.

Just a few lines. A high-level view of where the scene takes place, what needs to happen in it, tonal notes, maybe a snippet of dialogue. But from such bits does a final script grow.

As for my new script, it gets to bake a week or two before facing the rewrite knives. Not for nothing are we told -- again by Hemingway -- that the first draft of anything is crap.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Now Playing on a Computer Near You

A couple of interesting tidbits in Business Week about James Cameron and Ron Howard conceiving MMOGs to go along with upcoming TV and film projects.

My first thought is that these guys, admirable filmmakers both, have no fucking clue what they're getting into.

The rampaging success of World of Warcraft (and EQ before it) has lit up dollar signs in a lot of eyes, but a painful reality check awaits those unfamiliar with MMOG development.

These games are hard to build. Much harder than making a movie or a TV show, and they take a lot longer.

Imagine making a movie where the script is never finished, the actors count in the thousands, don't know their lines, or ever hit their marks. Many badmouth you publicly and some even actively try to sabotage your production. Oh, and you're trying to invent the camera and projection equipment as you go.

Going with a middleware company might sound good on paper, but integration with a platform rather than homegrowing your own has its own, significant problems, and there has not yet been a AAA title built on such a middleware package.

The elements that make a movie compelling by and large don't work in a virtual world: a single authored narrative, a small set of characters or even just a single main character, and, duh, an ending.

Virtual worlds, Diablo-like hybrids like Guild Wars aside, comprise not a single story handed down from on high but multiple mini-stories (quests), which are largely window dressing for the more compelling, dynamic, and utterly uncontrollable player narratives. Everyone's a hero. And the stories don't end.

If I had to guess, these games will be less like MMOGs as we know them and more like Halo or Diablo, smaller-scale spaces with limited ways to interact with and impact the world. Which might be fine. Who wants to be a crafter in Terminator Online?

But why the warning bells, you ask? Building and marketing a fictional world based on a popular media property's got to be a no-fail, multimillion-player bet, right?

Star Wars Galaxies, anyone?

Matrix Online?


Actually, a MMOG based on FERRIS might be kinda fun...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Did I miss something, or did Bush last night compare himself and the morass in Iraq to Lincoln and the end to slavery, the Greatest Generation and WWII, and -- holy weeping angel puppies -- Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement?

What a knob.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure all of those people could pronounce "nuclear" correctly.

But my favorite bit comes from FOH (Friend of Hell) Dr. Gori, who quotes the Prez:

"A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids..." [emphasis and incredulous eye-rolling mine]

Well, damn. There goes the mermaid vote.