Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!



(Pumpkin courtesy of /film.)

Onyx, Cake Man - you can stop drooling now.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Splinter, My Name is Bruce

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters.

Opening this weekend...

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, written and directed by Kevin Smith




Premise: Lifelong platonic friends Zack and Miri look to solve their respective cash-flow problems by making an adult film together. As the cameras roll, however, the duo begin to sense that they may have more feelings for each other than they previously thought.

Playing: Everywhere.

Despite all of his faults, I have great admiration for Kevin Smith. Clerks, Mallrats and Dogma were part of my coming of age as a film fan - these were the movies I'd watch, rewatch, and quote with my friends across the middle school lunch table, in the same way Quentin Tarantino helped reshape the way my generation watched movies. Do these guys have the chops that Billy Wilder or Paul Schrader did? No. But, if you were to ask historians in 50 years who had the greatest influence on this generation of young writers, I'm willing to bet you anything it'd be these guys.

I'm extremely guilty of all of their crimes. My screenplays are filled with characters that love to chatter about anything and nothing at all - I'll write entire scenes that are based on non-plot-related dialogue. So many professors and guidebooks will tell you that's against the rules - too often you'll find that those writers haven't sold a script since 1981. (If you can't do, teach.) Well, it was filmmakers like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino that proved them wrong.

You can see the impact nowadays - Judd Apatow's work, Guy Richie's - even movies like In Bruges reek of those guys. If you're looking for a place where film was impacted in the early 90s, you gotta look at what Miramax was putting out in '93 and '94.

But, I'm not telling any of you guys anything you don't know. It's Kevin Smith. It might suck, but I'm in. I'll see all of his movies just like all of Woody Allen's. Case closed for now, but I'll be back to this in another post.

First Showing has a great, exclusive interview with Kevin Smith about the movie over here. So do Pajiba and the Miami Herald. And in the spirit of the film, Slashfilm has a great list of fictional porno flicks seen in movies. Check it out.


SPLINTER, written by Kai Barry and Ian Shorr, dir. by Toby Wilkins


Premise: Trapped in an isolated gas station by a voracious Splinter parasite that transforms its still living victims into deadly hosts, a young couple and an escaped convict must find a way to work together to survive this primal terror.

Playing: Village East

This movie looks like it could be campy fun, along the lines of what Slither was. I'm in no rush to get to the theater, but my interest is piqued.

TimeOutNY liked it... sorta. New York Magazine definitely did. Hollywood Reporter did not.

MY NAME IS BRUCE, written by Mark Verheiden, dir. by Bruce Campbell


Premise:
B Movie Legend Bruce Campbell is mistaken for his character Ash from the Evil Dead trilogy and forced to fight a real monster in a small town in Oregon.

Playing: Landmark Sunshine

I want to see this, but I'm also part of the wacky cult of Bruce. It's gotten terrible buzz so far, but if you've seen Army of Darkness as many times as I have you'll be adding it to your Netflix as well.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Hollywood versus The Recession


I work for a service organization in NYC that works with over 330 non-profit theatres throughout the City. This morning, we held a (arts and theatre) community-wide forum on the economy. The timing couldn't have been better, for not long after I got back to my desk, I came upon the following on imdb.com during my lunch break.

The movie business may not be as recession proof as some industry executives have suggested, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Wednesday), citing a recent study by Forrester Research. According to the study, consumers now have numerous cheaper alternatives to a night at the movies -- particularly the Internet. It found that most adults 25-34 are most willing to sacrifice moviegoing during a recession but they are least willing to give up Internet access. They are also bypassing Netflix and brick-and-mortar DVD rental stores and picking up DVDs instead at supermarket kiosks that are renting them for $1.00 a pop. The study, however, was dismissed by John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners, who told the Times": "It's not that the cinema business is completely immune to recessions, but the industry appears to be recession-resistant. If there are decent movies, people are going to come out."
I've been speaking with Zombie a lot about the economy and how it might affect our respective industries - his being print media, mine being theatre (outside of film, of course). We both agree that the economic downturn could spell BIG problems (and is in fact doing so in many cases). Onyx, ever the optimist, has held firm to the stance shared by John Fithian that people will still go see movies, even if they have to stretch their dollars elsewhere. While I was interested to read that even Netfilx seems to be losing subscribers - or at the very least, not attracting new ones right now - I, too, must agree that there has always been a place for film, despite or perhaps because of any troublesome times. Since the silent movies were first accompanied by live piano music, people have turned to the cinema as a welcome form of escape, at least for two hours at a time. (I'm not sure that commercials of luxury cars before the previews even start are such a good idea right now, but the films themselves certainly have a place in the economy, whatever state it might be in.)

The only question I have is about the internet. If it's true that some people are foregoing the live movie theater experience for downloadable content - and I'm sure it is - where does that leave production and distribution companies? Supposing audiences are opting for a night in with either a pirated movie or a downloadable one once it's released to DVD and the internet, with the drop in box office revenue, is it possible we'll see a drop in production financing or quality? Some companies have already cut their slate back by four, six, or more movies per year. Granted, this is an attempt to ensure the highest quality for those films they do produce. But just to speculate, what could happen if more and more audience members decide to stay home and skip the big screen experience (much to Onyx's displeasure)? Hopefully, nothing bad. If anything, perhaps the economy and any ensuing uncompelled audiences will force Hollywood (and every filmmaker, film industry, film anyone) to drive the quality of their films up. Audiences won't pay twelve dollars to see a mediocre movie during hard financial times. But they will still pay for something great.

Maybe this recession will usher in a new era, the era of unprecedented, unrivaled, and unfaltering superb quality cinema.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What are you reading? Week 6: Dancing with the Dahlia



Last week, we entered the world of Ross MacDonald and Lew Archer, and took a tentative step toward James Ellroy's visceral vision of 1940s Los Angeles. Specifically, the author's terrific neo-noir and fictionalized examination of the death of Elizabeth Short, otherwise known as the Black Dahlia.

In the book -- aptly titled The Black Dahlia, natch -- Ellroy introduces the readers to Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, two up-and-coming cops on the L.A. police force. When the two cops -- who also both boxed before they joined the force -- face off in the ring to help promote a voting proposition to increase funding for the department, a bond is formed. Soon, the two become partners for the department's elite "Warrants" division, and Bucky finds himself immersed in his partner's day-to-day life, which includes his ravishing live-in girlfriend, Kay Lake. The three become irrevocably linked, and a strange co-dependent bond is forged. Lee supports Kay, Kay is falling for Dwight and Dwight is torn by his loyalties to his partner and his growing lust for his partner's pseudo-wife.



The dynamic is blown to bits on January 15, when while on a routine investigation Bucky and Lee stumble upon Elizabeth Short's dead and gruesomely dismembered body. Soon, the scene becomes a flashpoint for media and cops, and the story of "The Black Dahlia" murder is the talk of the town. Why was this pretty New England girl so brutally murdered? And, more importantly, why are both Bucky and Lee inexorably driven to find her killer?

What follows is a slow and thoughtful dip into the seedier realms of the human psyche, echoed by Ellroy's perverse vision of Los Angeles right after the second World War. Initially, the Dahlia murder serves as a uniting force for the Bucky/Lee team, but it soon becomes a growing crack in their equally flawed trinity with Kay. Lee, haunted by memories of his younger sister -- who was killed in a similar fashion to the Dahlia -- becomes obsessed with the case. Fueled by uppers and a twisted desire to put his dead sister's ghost to rest, Lee abandons his home and eventually his city on a quest to solve the murder.

Bucky, meanwhile, is at first reticent and dismayed at his reassignment from Warrants to the Dahlia case. But upon meeting the mysterious and sexy Madeleine Sprague on a canvass of a few LA dive bars, Bucky finds himself in a passionate and disturbing romance with the Dahlia's clown face-scarred visage and her sad demise. Madeleine's uncanny resemblance to the deceased Ms. Short, along with her own slowly-revealed machinations send the young cop into a tailspin that will eventually ruin his career, romantic prospects and obliterate his self-respect.

The Black Dahlia is a tour de force and Ellroy at his finest. It's the kind of book that not only paints a believable picture of a time long past, but also makes you long to be a part of that world, no matter how dirge-like and frightening it may seem. Ellroy's characters jump to life, whether it's through their actions or their tight, believable dialogue and mannerisms. Ellroy's L.A. is a bloody, infected scratch of a town, littered with floozies, two-faces and sad, wretched people clinging to their very existence with a slurred and medicated desperation. You may not like any of the characters in the book, you may not like any of their actions and you may be scared and shocked by what you read, but you won't be able to put it down. This book cuts to the core of human nature, and it isn't a pretty picture.

The Black Dahlia is a tale of extreme, deadly obsession and sharply focused longings and desires, with a sinful metropolis as its dangerous and malignant backdrop.

I'd end my writing here, but there are a few more notes I want to touch on. Not nearly as exciting as the book itself, though.



As some of you might know, The Black Dahlia is the first part of what Ellroy later dubbed "The L.A. Quartet," which also includes The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz. Needless to say, I'll be picking up The Big Nowhere the next time I step into a bookstore (*cough*today*cough*), and proceeding from there.



Additionally, the novel was adapted by director Brian De Palma into a piss poor movie, starring doe-eyed Josh Hartnett and a stuffy Aaron Eckhart as Bucky and Lee, respectively. With the painfully numb and monotone Scarlett Johannsen dumbing down and neutering the Kay Lake role. The only highlight was Hillary Swank, who veered a little bit off her usual path of asexual tough girls by playing the vampy and over-sexed Madeleine. But Swank couldn't save the film, which ham-fistedly delivered the novel's more nuanced messaging and truncated the novel's thoughtful and effective ending to create something overwrought and lumbering at best, laughable at worst. I considered for a moment re-casting the film and making a blog post out of it, but in the end, it's best not to think of this adaptation at all, if one can help it.

One final note, this one a tad selfish -- I first went into reading Dahlia thinking it would offer little guidance in regards to my own work -- specifically Silent City -- thinking I'd mined the crime genre enough with Pelecanos' A Firing Offense and a few other books. But it really helped me determine a huge aspect of the book that had often bothered me -- why would Pete pursue Kathy's killer so diligently? What drives him? Needless to say, reading this book helped me figure that out for myself. An added bonus to an already great reading experience.

But, as usual, enough about me. What are you reading?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Writing Wire for 10/28


Come and get it.

• Someone watched all the Saw movies and lived to talk about it. The Onion AV Club has the story.

The New York Times punches holes in the painfully trite new cop movie, Pride and Glory by showcasing the worst genre cliches in the film. A sample:

The New York police story that sticks in the public consciousness usually includes some or all of these elements: THE CONFLICTED POLICE OFFICER, who is torn between enforcing the law and watching the backs of his relatives or buddies in homicide/narcotics/missing persons/the seven-six. By the way, he has “seen some things.” Not things like traffic on the Belt Parkway or a matinee performance of “Mamma Mia!” But things that he really, really doesn’t want to talk about. Just leave it alone. O.K.? Just leave it.

• Ken Levine reviews Diner.

• Guess what? Joss Whedon's Dollhouse almost did fall apart.

Stephen King talks to Salon about The Stand, 30 years later.

• If you care, Times Online has 10 Things You Didn't Know About Pink Floyd.

• Continuing their great series on writing novels, PoeWar asks "How good is your bad guy?"

The Corrections author Jonathan Franzen apparently hates everything.

• WTF? Led Zeppelin is getting back together? Apparently. And without Robert Plant!

• I Watch Stuff compares Star Trek promo shots, new and old. See above.

• Gawker ponders the question: Could Gus Van Sant's Milk suck?

• Film School Rejects thinks RocknRolla might be good.

SuckerFlix #3: The Squid and the Whale...and more



We're on a nice little streak here in SuckerFlix land, what with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead last week and the mini-trifecta I'll be talking about shortly.

I'll devote the bulk of this space to The Squid and the Whale, which was excellent in every way except timing -- which is on me. Don't watch this movie first thing in the morning. Well, not if you plan on interacting with other human beings at some point that day. I made the mistake of putting it on while I sipped my morning coffee and tweaked the SILENT CITY outline and ended up in a morose, pensive and almost cranky mood. A testament to the strength of the film.

Squid starts quietly enough. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney star as a couple stumbling toward a messy divorce, with two adolescent boys caught in the crossfire. The film does a great job of painting a picture of a fragmented family, where nothing is really black and white (despite the kids' repeated efforts in the story to make things so) and there are few villains but even fewer heroes. Linney is her usual, top-notch self, bringing a touching and very real vulnerability to her character without losing herself in bawling cliches or overwrought melodrama. Being a product of a divorced home myself, I found the film's portrayal of a once tight family's dissolution rang true. The movie never sinks into soap opera, nor does it dovetail toward a convenient resolution. These are real people in real life, and like real life, nothing is really all that tidy or neat. There are mostly grays as opposed to swaths of black and white.



I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Jeff Daniels' performance as the egocentric and detached father, who struggles with his fading reputation as Linney's character's profile rises in the literati circles both dwell in. My experience with Daniels is, sad to say, really limited to his comedic work and the mediocre Blood Work, so it was great to see him really nail a part and show his chops. It really presented him in a totally different light.

Anna Paquin is serviceable as Daniels' sexy student, but her scenes are by far the most predictable and least interesting. It's no surprise that the eldest son falls for her, or that (spoiler!) Daniels does too, so I really just found myself hoping she would become less central to the plot and the story would spend more time with Linney, who really steals the show without even trying. The most touching and funny scene can be found in the last quarter of the film, where a despondent Daniels admits to Linney he'd like to give their union another try, which leads Linney to burst out laughing. It's a scene that is almost clouded by its own simplicity. Linney makes the laughter seem so easy and natural that you forget you're watching a movie, instead you're in a friend's living room at an awkward moment.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the two boys, played ably by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline. Both really act above and beyond their ages, and bring a believable sense of quiet pain and confusion to their characters, which they each reveal and express differently. While Daniels and Linney carry the film, it's the kids that make it a joy to watch.

The Squid and the Whale is a conflicted, messy and real story of a family in disarray and a marriage at its end. Like the best kind of fiction, it reels you in and plops you into the world the writer and director have created, sometimes with jarring results. Just don't watch it in the morning. Trust me.

SuckerFlix Grade: A
Next Week: The Limey




Bonus feature! A few mini-reviews, since I managed to watch a ton of movies in the last week.



After Dark, My Sweet: Not nearly as gritty or compelling as the Jim Thompson novel it's based on, Sweet feels forced from the beginning. Jason Patric gives a stilted, confusing performance as a nomad ex-boxer duped into a child kidnapping scheme. Rachel Ward is functional as the boozy love interest, but the plot meanders and dawdles in a way the book never does. The bright lighting and art deco fashions and decorations don't help, either. A passable film overall, but inexcusable for its mismanaging of strong and compelling source material. C+



Glengarry Glenn Ross: I'm not going to waste much space here. Not because the movie doesn't deserve it -- it does, in spades. But what can I really say about a film classic? The cast, featuring Pacino, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey an Alec Baldwin is top-notch, and they deliver. If you haven't seen this movie, go out and rent it now. This review will be here when you get back. A+

In the meantime, I'll share Baldwin's riveting opening scene.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Writing Week part 43 - Getting Cold Feet


OK, the big day is approaching. The bridal party is flying in. The meals have been chosen. I think I decided which tux I'll wear (prom '03 and it still fits!). We even have a sweet deal with the caterers for some primo whiskey. The only thing is... I'm getting cold feet.

Or at least, that's how it feels. Onyx alluded to some script requests I recently got. It's no secret to the other Leaguers - or you readers - that Zombie and I have been sending out e-queries to various companies for about a month and a half now. Most of what I've read has suggested sending out upwards of 100 queries per project, with stats that: of 100, you'll get 10 responses and, of the 10, you'll have maybe 1 or 2 script requests. Well, I've sent out 12 email queries to various management companies to date, give or take a few, regarding my post-Apocalyptic spec. I've heard back from 3 companies, all of which asked for the script. I also received a request from a production company for my comic book style spec. OK, batting 25% - not too bad.

However, I've encountered an unexpected problem as a result of these requests - cold feet. Otherwise known as self doubt, I feel like I'm inches away from the altar, my beautiful bride smiling at me, and all I can think is that I've committed the worst of mistakes. I have this nagging sensation that the very script I spent so much time working on, re-working, and then querying is no longer ready to be seen by professionals' eyes. Months ago, when a former board member of my company's offered to read my best material, I sent him my post-Apocalyptic spec. Both Zombie and Onyx assured me that it was the best thing I'd written, the biggest weapon in my arsenal. I just can't help but doubt that.

Perhaps it's the very fact that someone outside the trusted circle of Leaguers, someone with an actual potential in for me is going to read the script that makes me so uncomfortable. Am I wrong to doubt the script's strength at this point? Is it natural to be doubtful at this point? Yesterday, I told Zombie that I feel as if there's one more note waiting out there for me, which will ease all my troubles, fit everything into place, and help me figure this damn thing out once and for all. I can't figure out what the note might be, and neither could Zombie or any other Leaguer. In fact, the note might not even exist. Maybe I'm just suffering from cold feet.

The Writing Wire for 10/27


All the news that's worth linking to:

• R.I.P. Tony Hillerman.

The Onion AV Club on the many kinds of vampires on television and in movies.

The Miami Herald's Between the Covers book blog asks: Should critics be required to read the entire book? Um, yeah...

The L.A. Times Jacket Copy blog on an unlikely bestseller. And it involves cats.

Rolling Stone has a sneak peek at Cobain Unseen, a new bio of the late singer.

• PoeWar explains how to build better conflict when writing a novel.

Advertising Age says what we've all been thinking: Twitter sucks and should die.

New York Magazine's Vulture blog discusses the trailer to Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino.

• io9 on sci-fi writers' posthumous works.

• And, in what is becoming a strange tradition here at TWW, we close out with some zombie news: PopMatters on the zombie phenomenon, and io9 posts pictures from Pittsburgh's Zombie Fest. Scary.

As good a reason to have children as any...

Daniel Day Lewis' performance wasn't nearly this adorable:



And now the famous coin flip scene from No Country for Old Men:



I don't know who the awesome director/father is, but I'd like to request their take on Brando's performance in Apocalypse Now.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Michel Gondry event at NYC's Strand Bookstore tomorrow


From The Strand's website:
October 27 07:00PM - 08:30PM

A how-to book from the director of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!" This paperback by Michel Gondry was inspired by his latest film, "Be Kind Rewind." The book discusses the ideas behind Gondry's "Cinema Club." Edited and art directed by Gondry himself, this book is as unique, funny and fanciful as his films.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Trailer Trash XVII: Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore, 1975)


"With his all-girl army of kung fu killers!"

Rudy Ray Moore, 1927-2008.

First Bernie Mac, then Paul Newman. Now Rudy Ray Moore; Hollywood's lost a few of its greatest actors this year. The mushmouthed star of Dolemite, Petey Wheatstraw, The Human Tornado and Big Money Hu$tla$: The Movie passed away this week, and I can't really think of a better time than now to touch on his amazing but too-small body of work. Let me say now that I have never uttered two more truthful statements than these: Rudy Ray Moore made awesome movies, and Rudy Ray Moore made movies awesome.

Moore began his career as a successful stand-up comedian, releasing LP after LP of crude, foul-mouthed and hilarious comedy albums. His sense of humor was so vile and unique I can't even begin to describe it. Instead, I'll show you the cover of his Christmas Album, This Ain't No White Christmas:


I think that picture pretty much says it all, right? Rudy Ray was a real class-act.

You need look no further than the very premise of his masterpiece, Dolemite, to know that the movie will kick your ass. Rudy Ray Moore stars as the titular (heh) character. Dolemite is a pimp (a REAL pimp!) who's been framed for smuggling guns and fur coats. He's released from prison to help the FBI catch the evil mobster who framed him. Y'see, this pimp is out for revenge. Also, all of his ho's are masters of karate.

Question: Awesome?
Answer: Hell yes.

Here's a sort of origin-story for Moore's Dolemite character:

Moore, who started his career as a stand-up comedian in the late 1960s, heard around that time a rhymed toast by a local homeless man about an urban hero named Dolemite, and decided to adopt the persona of Dolemite as an alter-ego in his act. He included the character on his 1970 debut album, Eat Out More Often, which reached the top 25 on the Billboard charts. He released several more comedy albums using this persona. In 1975, Moore decided to create a film about Dolemite, using many of his friends and fellow comedians as cast and crew.

I'll save any further beating around the bushes and get straight to business. A word of caution: This trailer isn't appropriate for the workplace, unless you work somewhere where it's okay to watch videos of topless women during business hours. (Or a place where you can say 'motherfucker' a lot.)



At 0:01 - Any movie that shoots its title at you already scores points in my book.
At 0:06 - If you've never met fellow Leaguer King Suckerman in person, this is pretty much how he talks in real life. Just like Dolemite. No joke.
At 0:16 - Yep, another wika-chaka-waka soundtrack, establishing the setting for this film firmly in the 1970s.
At 0:20 - Oddly that's Suckerman's game, as well.
At 0:28 -DAAAAANCE! DAAAANCE! (Does he have any idea how dangerous that is? He could accidentally shoot that guy.)
At 0:36 - *I'd* like an all-girl army that knows what to do.
At 0:47 - What... did he just say?
At 0:53 - I've heard that one before.
At 1:14 - If you weren't already convinced Dolemite was the baddest motherf***er on the planet, that scene just did it.
At 1:23 - Surprise!!!
At 1:56 - Rudy Ray Moore: Badass, Genius, Lover, Poet.
At 2:30 - You don't see Dame Judi Dench introducing herself in movie trailers, do you?

If a screenwriter wants to establish a character as a badass, it's customary for them to have that character "make someone dance" by shooting a gun around his or her feet. I know I love it whenever Charles Bronson or Lee Van Cleef do it in a movie, but I have to wonder: does anyone ever "make someone dance" in real life? Maybe cowboys, or gangsters. I'm guessing cops probably aren't allowed to make someone dance. (Unless, of course, they've got "nothing to lose.")

And back to that self-introduction at the end of the trailer. How cool was that? Imagine if all actors performed a little rap and then name-dropped themselves for their trailers? "It's Last of the Mohicans, starring me: Daniel Day Lewis! Along wit' a bad motherf***er calls himself Russell Means, and that fine fox of a lady Maddie Stowe. Daaaaamn. Comin' soon to a theater near yo' ass!"

(Funny note: As of October 2008, Wikipedia's Dolemite page incorrectly cites Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and real-life counterpart to Mr. Burns, as Dolemite's co-writer. The actual screenwriter, Jerry Jones, is now a playwright in the Los Angeles area.)


"Noooo shit, baby!"
"I can dig it!"


Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: These movies got made... so can yours! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Writing Wire for 10/24


Here's the haps for Friday, Oct. 24:

The Guardian asks which character has the worst name in fiction?

• Should mystery writers have rules? The Sun-Sentinel's Off The Page book blog says nay.

• PoeWar explains how to map out your novel's characters.

• Sarah Weinman on the David Foster Wallace memorial.

• Ken Levine shows what happens when a table reading goes nuts.

• Words I'd never thought I'd see together: outsourcing and copy editing. USA Today has the scoop.

• Could the Smiths be close to reuniting?

• Paul Westerberg talks to The Guardian about The Replacement's legacy.

• Zombie will like this: Topless Robot lists the top zombie movies of all time.

What are you reading? Week 5: Back on the crime fiction beat

Last week, we bid adieu to our friends Nick and Norah and took a tentative step back into crime fiction with the "comedic crime" of Carl Hiaasen. Specifically, his newspaper caper book, Basket Case.

I have to admit, while Basket Case was enjoyable, it lost a little steam toward the end. As I noted last time, the plot of the book appealed to me because the book was set in South Florida and also because the lead character was a journalist. Hiaasen did a great job of painting a newspaper scene, and I really learned a lot from reading the book in that regard. Unfortunately, while his scene-setting when it came to SoFla was decent, it didn't really make me feel like I was back home (I'm from FL, FYI), and a lot of the names used seemed fake and/or forced, which is exactly the opposite of what I'm trying to do with my book. Overall, the plot resolved itself too easily and neatly. I won't spoil the final plot twist, but it left me wanting. Additionally, the "unexpected" romance between protagonist Jack Tagger and his editor Emma came off as unnatural and predictable. Emma's initially painted as a nervous, antsy and neurotic shrew -- so why is the rebellious and cantankerous Jack suddenly drawn to her? Why does she kiss him randomly? It didn't feel right. Understandably, building a functional romantic dynamic is hard, especially when the characters start off as opposing forces. But there didn't seem to be enough time spent on the "Moonlighting"-style moments, where the two opposing characters are at each other's throats but still flirting somewhat. Overall, the book is what it set out to be: a breezy read for someone looking for something entertaining and slight between serious books.

Once I finished Basket Case, though, I was a little desperate. My to-read pile had dwindled to a stack of Ellroy books (more on that later) and Ross MacDonald's The Way Some People Die. The latter was given to me by a friend that works in publishing, but I'd read very little about MacDonald or any of his work. Well, I was pleasantly surprised.



I've gone on and on about my favorite contemporary crime authors -- Pelecanos, Lehane, Connelly, etc. But I've said little about my favorite old school, first generation crime writers. Obviously, Raymond Chandler is atop that list. For a long time after reading his entire output (gold stars next to Farewell, My Lovely, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye), I was left wondering if there was a true and proper heir to the colorful, stylized and just plain cool detective novels Chandler created, starring the archetypal gumshoe, Philip Marlowe. For a time, I thought Michael Connelly was the guy, but after a few Bosch books (great as they were), I realized that Connelly was more about a tight, forceful plot and less about the atmospheric and literary strengths that Chandler reveals in his work. Well, Ross MacDonald is it.

Like Chandler, MacDonald chronicles the adventures of a sharp, do-right PI. In MacDonald's case, the guy's name is Lew Archer. Like Marlowe, Archer is a strong believer in right and wrong and finds himself in sticky situations that involve subterfuge, mistaken identities and murder. In The Way Some People Die, Archer is for all intents and purposes a Marlowe clone. But that's fine. And based on what little I've read about the series, I know he eventually evolves into something else. But for someone who was craving more Chandler, MacDonald provides the perfect fix.

While Chandler's work is more about painting a scene and colorful language, MacDonald is also equally about plot. So -- in crude terms -- not only does it read like something cool and interesting is going on, but you also can follow the story and understand who the characters are, a flaw I found in most of Chandler's work, but one I was willing to overlook because the ride was so much fun.

The Way Some People Die starts simply enough -- an aging mother begs detective Lew Archer to find her lovely twentysomething daughter Galatea (otherwise known as Galley), who hasn't been in touch for over two months. What follows is a tale of drug-smuggling, prostitution, murder and multiple double-crosses. It reads like a great, old movie, with the requisite femme fatale, gangster villains and surprising turncoats. If you like mysteries, this is a keeper.

Additionally, like most of Chandler's work, The Way Some People Die is a relatively quick read, clocking in at a little over 270 pages (coincidentally, right around where I'd like SILENT CITY to land, when I finish it. I managed to talk my friend to toss a few more MacDonald books my way, so I wouldn't be surprised to see me writing about him a lot more in this here space. Well, unless I go on an Ellroy tear.



Which is highly likely.

I've had an interesting relationship with the works of James Ellroy. I've always been a fan. My Dark Places (nonfiction) and Ellroy's Lloyd Hopkins trilogy of detective novels are books I think of often and remember really enjoying when I read them. But for whatever reason, I could never bring myself to dive into his more lauded work, namely the "L.A. Quartet" of books, which consist of The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz. I tried reading Dahlia a few years back and stalled about 20 pages in. I'm a big believer that if you can't get past the first 20-30 pages of a book, if you're not driven to keep reading it, you're better off just putting it down for a while and moving on to something else. The spark might just not be there. Recently, having finished The Way Some People Die and without another MacDonald book, I picked up Dahlia again. Why Dahlia, specifically? Well, I needed the material to be redeemed in some way. The Brian De Palma-directed movie based on the book was horrible, and I needed to wash that taste out of my mouth. Additionally, Dahlia kicks off the previously mentioned Quartet, so it seemed like as good a place as any to dive into Ellroy.

Great decision. Ellroy is in top form with Dahlia, shrugging off the slight awkwardness and stiff pacing of his earlier novels to create a book that is true neo-noir. As most should know, the book is a fictionalized account of the real Black Dahlia murder. I'm barely 100 pages in, but I've already reached that point where you can't put the book down and all you want to do is curl up and read until you're done. And then, ideally, have another book at the ready. I'll have more concrete thoughts on the book in the next installment, I'm sure, but suffice to say, Dahlia is a pleasure to read. I almost want to kick myself for not plowing through it years ago. It also made me want to "fix" the movie, so expect a post later this week which features me re-casting the entire thing. If I find the time, of course.

Enough about me, though. What are you reading?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Syecdoche, New York, The Changeling, Let the Right One In, Pride and Glory

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters.

- STRANDED screenings followed by filmmaker Q&A at Film Forum.


- SLEEP DEALER screening with writer/director Q&A sponsored by the Moving Image Museum.

Opening this weekend...

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman



Premise:
A theater director struggles with his work and the women in his life as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play.

Playing at: Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Landmark Sunshine

Every now and then a movie comes along that I have to see immediately; this is one that won't make it through this weekend unseen. I've seen reviews ranging from "nonsense" to "incomprehensible" and despite all I've seen and read, I'm still not sure what to expect going in, but I'm real eager to dive into this one.

There's a great interview with Charlie Kaufman here.

You can watch the trailer here.


THE CHANGELING, written by J. Michael Straczynski, dir. by Clint Eastwood


Premise: A mother's prayer for her kidnapped son to return home is answered, though it doesn't take long for her to suspect the boy who comes back is not hers.

Playing: All over.

The Babylon 5/Spider-Man/The Real Ghostbusters J. Michael Straczynski scribe has been entertaining my generation for our entire lifespan, so I'll tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, Clint Eastwood? And a good cast? I'm in.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, dir. by Tomas Alfredson


Premise: Oskar, a bullied 12-year old, dreams of revenge. He falls in love with Eli, a peculiar girl. She can't stand the sun or food and to come into a room she needs to be invited. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back but when he realizes that Eli needs to drink other peoples blood to live he's faced with a choice. How much can love forgive? Let The Right One In is a story both violent and highly romantic, set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982.

Playing at:
Angelika

I've heard a lot of good buzz around this one - the premise alone had me sold, and I've really been jonesing for another good vampire flick. (Speaking of which - anyone watching True Blood? I've heard people both raving about it and ripping it apart.)

PRIDE AND GLORY, written by Gavin and Gregory O'Connor, dir. by Gavin O'Connor



Premise:
A saga centered on a multi-generational family of New York City Police officers. The family's moral codes are tested when Ray Tierney, investigates a case that reveals an incendiary police corruption scandal involving his own brother-in-law. For Ray, the truth is revelatory, a Pandora's Box that threatens to upend not only the Tierney legacy but the entire NYPD.

Playing: All over.

Good cast, but looks kinda boring. See you on Netflix in six months.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

The Writing Wire for 10/23


The latest happenings in the world of books and related topics:

The L.A. Times Jacket Copy book blog dredges up some more bad writing tips.

• Murderati has a great post discussing the realities of using real people and places in your novel, and just how it works. Worth a look.

The New York Times is reporting the death of famed literary agent Pat Kavanagh. They also review Eminem's new memoir.

The L.A. Times (again, via Largehearted Boy) on Mia Kirshner's new book.

The Onion AV Club on Michael Connelly's latest.

New York Magazine's VULTURE blog on the confusing publicity for Synecdoche, New York. Also, Javier Bardem is working again.

Independent Film Structure


On Monday, I went to another of the Screenwriters Meetups here in the Big Apple. As it had been with the last meeting Zombie and I attended, I had to read a script and come ready to critique it. The script, very much an indie flick, generated almost as much discussion on the structure of indie films as it did on itself. The overwhelming consensus among the other attendees of the Meetup, which I disagree with wholeheartedly, is that indie films do not need structure.

I was sitting there shaking my head as some of the other people – I won’t begin to speculate as to anyone’s experience (or lack thereof) with screenwriting – defended the script’s passive protagonist and lack of tension by saying that indie movies do not need traditional cinematic devices (such as a climax). The script essentially flat lined at the end of act one. It was supposed to be a romantic drama about two people struggling to get their lives together. Yet there was never any sense that the characters were really fighting for anything. If they got separated, they didn’t seem to mind. If they were homeless, they were just as happy as if they had a roof over their heads. The script, if anything, ebbed and flowed, but it did not build. The stakes were never raised. The characters never fought for anything, and at the final FADE OUT, they were no different than when we were first introduced to them.

I say all that about the script not to criticize it – there was a lot I liked about it – but to give you the necessary background for why I was so frustrated with other peoples’ notion that all of those flaws were OK, since this is an indie spec. I was amazed by how willing people were to love a script that didn’t build, simply because it would most likely play in art-house theaters if made. No producer, at least none I can think of, is going to buy a script with flat characters and story because it’s indie. Indie films, contrary to what people were saying, often do follow traditional structure, but are so well crafted that the act breaks are not immediately noticeable. The characters are so engaging you’re alternating between looking away from the screen because you don’t want to see them hurt and clinging to the edge of your seat, because you can’t wait to see what’s next.

It’s a dangerous trap to fall into to let yourself believe that independent movies are free to completely discard format and structure. While indie movies are more frequently about “normal people” than most blockbusters are, normal people do not go see movies about normal people not learning lessons or doing anything interesting. It’s not a form of escape. And producers are well aware of the fact that independent movies, which run on limited screens in limited cities, cost just as much if not more per ticket as do blockbusters playing on 3,000 screens across the country. Independent films might be much closer to home thematically than say, Max Payne or The Dark Knight, but they’re still movies. They still require structure.

Charlie Kaufman interviewed about writing, directing your script, and Synecdoche, New York


Scott Tobias recently posted a great interview with the ever-enlightening Charlie Kaufman over at the AVClub. I always love hearing this guy talk about his writing and the writing process, if only to hear something beyond the traditional character arc and three-act structure dialogue that most writers will get into when prodded about what makes them intriguing writers. That stuff is all important, but it's nice to hear things that weren't part of every screenwriting class or book that you've already managed to devour.

Kaufman talks about his writing, his new movie, and interesting (considering all of our recent discussion on here about giving up our babies) directing your screenplay for the first time. As a frustratingly slow writer, here's one of my favorite, most reassuring bits of the interview:

AVC: You don't seem like the sort of writer who has a set of note cards and knows what's going to happen in every scene, but your movies are very intricately constructed. How do you pull that off?

CK: I take a very long time to write them. By doing that, I can allow myself to be expansive. As ideas come in, I can include them and then go back and figure out how to introduce them. So it's an ongoing process of back and forth and back and forth until I have a script. In this case, that took two years. So by the end, I'm pretty clear on it. I don't need cards to know where things are, and I start to understand relationships not only between people, but between parts of the movie, in new ways, and that's exciting for me. It keeps me excited about the process, and it allows for a certain amount of complexity in the construction. You know, it's weird: If you set up something early on as a structure or a goal, then that's what you write toward, and there's no opportunity to allow other stuff in. So you end up saying, "I can't do this, because this movie goes here." That doesn't interest me, and it doesn't feel exciting to work that way. So I don't.

You can read the full interview here.

And if you've got some time on your hands, WIRED has a five-part, two plus hour audio interview with Charlie Kaufman up on their blog. (Parts three and four focus most on his writing and career.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Taking a stab at a SILENT CITY cover



So, while tinkering with PhotoShop yesterday, I decided to take a stab at working up a cover for SILENT CITY. Above is what I came up with. Thoughts? Am I being pretentious by even posting this?

Obviously, the images need to be a bit more hi-res and the smudging may work better as a dark red (Blood! Get it?), but overall I was pretty happy with the end result.

I also blacked out my name (which would be under the "A NOVEL" line) for obvious reasons.

Anyway, just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not My Baby!


There comes a time when all writers have a baby. Most will have upwards of a dozen, probably more. I’m not talking the kind you raise, send off to college, and get betrayed by with an impractical career choice in screenwriting. I’m talking about the kind of baby you polish, develop, and shop. It’s the flagship script of your writing fleet, the current piece that you feel best represents you as a writer, the script that can get you on the map if you haven’t been discovered. Like people are with their firstborn, writers are usually pretty protective of this script...or novel. (just for you King Suckerman) A few times in conversations with my peers I’ve been very surprised by just how protective we can be of these works and how firmly we may stand by what we believe to be the value of the script. We insist that we won’t give in to any high powered exec’s offer unless it’s the offer we believe in. I think about these conversations and wonder what we sound like to those established in the industry, or what we might sound like to anybody. Are we cocky or confident? Are we smart or just young?

When it comes to protecting a script, I remember a time within the last few years when some of my peers, myself included, were uber distrustful of contests, queries, any type of release form, and most outsider’s eyes. It became second nature to expect that the industry was just a field of predators waiting to feast on our darling projects. It was kind of suffocating now that I think back to it, feeling like I would never have another “baby” and that I wouldn’t find success until some yellow brick road within the industry presented itself and steered me away from the predators. I’m not really in a position to give many writers advice, but if you’re young or just starting out down this path, I hope I can save you some time with a few crunchy nuggets of insight. One of my favorite screenwriting sayings is that “a great script will get made.” There are variations, maybe it’s come to you as “if you have a great script, somebody will find it.” I always found this very comforting, but in reality it’s kind of bullshit, because your great script won’t go anywhere on its own unless it grows legs and a silver tongue. It’s up to you to put your baby out there, so if the script is ready and it’s protected, no sense in aging it on a shelf like it’s an Australian shiraz.

I’m sure there are still many dangers in the industry, but to my friends and I it’s no longer the sinister villain that only exists to steal young writers’ material. Scripts need to be pushed into the field of play. The League has a lot of fun sharing our work with each other in writing meetings, but it’s more fun to place in competitions and be contacted by management and production companies. Good luck Cake Man!

In terms of script protection I feel like The League has matured a great deal. We understand that scripts need to be protected, but that no script can be protected entirely. We also understand that we have to let those birds fly. But I personally feel the urge to question (or explore rather) our sense of what’s realistic when we say that we wouldn’t sell our baby for less than six figures or that we wouldn’t sell a script unless we could own the rights to the characters. I wonder if these sort of things can’t be perceived in a positive light until you manage to pull it off. Nobody is laughing now at what Sylvester Stallone did with Rocky when he refused to sell the script unless he got to play the lead, but is it possible that there was anybody out there praising Sly for his intelligence, his determination, or his confidence before he landed the role? I guess you can play it safe or play it bold. The League is fortunate enough to have a diverse group of writers who have different approaches. We’ll all have the benefit of observing first hand the successes and drawbacks in each others tactics when we eventually find ourselves negotiating the fate of our firstborn. I have a feeling that day will come sooner than later.

PS

Warner Bros wants to buy your baby for $25,000. Rumor has it that a big star is interested in the lead role, but nothing is confirmed. The only guarantee is that you’ll have 25 grand before tax, a screenplay sale under your belt, and some new Hollywood contacts. Would you sell your baby?

STRANDED screening at Film Forum - Writer/Director Arijon and Crash Survivor in Attendance

STRANDED, written and directed by Gonzalo Arijon



In 1972, a plane filled with cheerful, well-to-do young men, leaving Uruguay for a rugby game in Chile, crashed in a remote part of the Andes. STRANDED recreates the extraordinary experience of the 29 who initially survived the crash, followed by two months of cold, hunger and despair. Now, decades later, the men who found their way out of this frozen hell tell their story to documentarian (and childhood friend) Gonzalo Arijon in a film that eschews both sensationalism and sentimentality. These events were the subject of the 1973 worldwide best-seller, Alive, as well as a feature film, but STRANDED is the definitive, haunting version of this profoundly moving drama. Winner of the Grand Prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

There will be a Q&A with filmmaker Gonzalo Arijon and plane crash survivor Fito Strauch on October 22nd, 23rd, and 24th at the Film Forum, following the 6:40 PM shows.

SuckerFlix #2: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead



Well, that was an excellent movie.

Last time, I decided to plop in front of my television and watch my latest NetFlix delivery: Street Kings, starring our pal, Keanu Reeves. The movie was middling at best.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, on the other hand, is a great movie. The kind of movie I know I'll watch again just because I enjoyed it so much and to catch the nuances that pervade almost every aspect of the film: the dialogue, the camera angles, the acting (!) -- pretty much every aspect.

The movie tells the tale of two brothers, Hank (Ethan Hawke) and Andy (the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman). Andy's in deep shit at work for doctoring the numbers to feed a growing heroin addiction. Hank is painfully behind on his child-support payments to his daughter Danielle and his crabby ex (played with aplomb by The Wire and Gone, Baby Gone vet Amy Ryan). Then Andy hatches a plan to knock off their parents' suburban jewelry store. Sounds simple enough, right? The brothers fence the goods, the parents are protected by their insurance. But in the first few scenes, things go horribly wrong.



But Devil is more than a mere heist flick. It's less about the actual robbery and more about the players and those surrounding them. Two desperate men, hoping that a quick infusion of cash will fix not only their monetary problems, but absolve their faults -- addiction, infidelity and a fractured family.

Hoffman is his usual amazing self. Much like his character in The Savages, Hoffman brings a controlled and quiet desperation to Andy, who seems to have everything together on the surface, but is clearly about to burst from the stress. Hawke is admirable as Hank, the younger, bumbling brother who can't seem to stop his life from spiraling into disarray. The two play off each other well, and it's in those scenes where Hawke elevates his work, perhaps to meet the challenge of Hoffman.



I have to give some credit to Marisa Tomei here. She plays Andy's wife with an air of shaky desperation and sex appeal that the role demands. And while she doesn't have much screen time (or clothed time, come to think of it), she manages to make the best of her moments, especially toward the end of the film, as the plot careens toward its tragic climax. Thumbs up go to Albert Finney as well, who plays father to the troubled siblings. All in all, every actor is cast sharply, with very little of the celebrity disconnect that seems to litter a lot of movies these days. "Oh, Tom Cruise is in this!"

The script is tight and moves crisply, benefiting from it's non-linear structure. Had the story been presented chronologically, it may have ended up as a serviceable drama. Toward the end, it does settle into a more traditional format. But the finished version really generates more momentum with the choppy, out-of-order scene rollout. Even the slight overlapping bits of character interaction add to the overall feel of the film, one of lost control and frantic reactions.

Lumet's work is stellar. Beyond the structure, the camera angles, movement and lighting add a gritty, realistic feel to the work, but not in a ham-fisted, "this is important, so you must watch!" way. Everything seems real enough, and that's the point. The characters react in realistic ways to realistic problems. Once their reactions lead them down a dark path, they deal with those consequences in an equally real way. It's a heart-wrenching and frightening movie, but not in the ways you'd first think. This is a tale of two people at the end of their rope and the family and loved ones they drag down with them.

SuckerFlix Grade: A
Next Week: After Dark, My Sweet



Monday, October 20, 2008

The Writing Week part 42 - To Copyright or Register?


This week was another link in the recent chain of re-write and marketing/networking weeks. I tested the waters of the NYC Screenwriters meeting on Saturday, and was able to hand out some of our brand new business cards there. It's a pretty great workshop for anyone looking to get into screenwriting and learn some of the basics, as well as get to meet other people who are looking to crack that first script or finish one of the seven they have open. Any writers out there, especially first time screenwriters could do well to pop in to the next meeting (November 1st, I believe.)

One of the things brought up at the meeting was the debate between WGA Script Registration and obtaining a U.S. Copyright on your material. In the past, I've been told that the WGA or WGAE registration is enough to safeguard a writer, at least as much as should be legally necessary. However, I've recently heard arguments indicating the opposite - that a WGA/E registration might not stand up in court, and could fail to protect against even some of the more blatant idea thefts. (We all know that ideas floating around the industry are a dime a dozen, and my "unique" idea might be far from that. Hmm... that sounds like a familiar thought.) But is that true? Should a writer do BOTH the U.S. Copyright and a WGA/E script registration?

I recently brushed up my comic book style spec, in preparation for NYU's Screenplay Bank - an annual listing of loglines that get sent out to about 200 industry contacts the university has compiled. I'm happy to report I already has a request for my script based off the logline, though, so as not to jinx myself (knock on wood), I won't go into any details beyond that. I know that having a script read by someone actively seeking new projects is a big step, and at this point, one step at a time is all I plan to take. But I digress - the comic book spec is full of characters I want to own. I created them. I've developed them for many years. Like Athena did to Zeus, they've leaped form my head, and I want to own them.

Clearly, a WGA registration is not enough to ensure full rights to a character. So what does a writer do? Is it possible in this day and age to actually own the full rights to characters you've created, especially if they're not originally presented in a comic book? As I understand it, a U.S. Copyright will provide more character protection than a script registration does, but is it enough? I love screenwriting and plan to pursue it as long as I can. Sometimes, though, these and other legal considerations are obvious reminders of how much of a business what we're embarking upon is. The love of writing is one thing (and hopefully the most important thing), but the business side is very much a presence, too.

Free SLEEP DEALER screening in NYC - Writer/Director Alex Rivera in attendance

This film looks real cool - the writer won the Sloan screenwriting award for this script and had a great reception at Sundance this year. Hooray for new science fiction!

Sleep Dealer, dir. by Alex Rivera, written by Alex Rivera & David Riker



Set in a near-future, militarized world marked by closed borders, virtual labor and a global digital network that joins minds and experiences, three strangers risk their lives to connect with each other and break the barriers of technology.

The film is sponsored by the Museum of the Moving Image and will be shown at Pratt at 8 PM on October 24th. Writer/director Alex Rivera will be present for a post-film discussion.

It's free, everyone! RSVP by calling 718.777.6810.

Writing Excursion


If you're reading this, I'm sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico, taking a long-needed vacation. I have all of the day today while my compadre is at work to sneak in a miniature writing retreat. I've got an old draft to read over and an outline to iron some kinks out of... but as long as I'm not being hit too hard by Hurricane Omar, I'll be doing it on this beautiful beach while sipping some local rum. Nyah nyah nyah!


Back to the blogging game (and reality) tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mongol - Dynamite Foreign Film


The other day, I was on the train with my office's intern, on our way to an off-site job we had to do. In between stops, she asked me if I'm a big foreign film buff. I answered truthfully, "I don't seek them out any more than any other kind of film, and I have to be in a certain mood to watch them."

I feel like there's a certain preconception about cinephiles, which, as writers, we obviously are: people who are very interested in movies inherently love foreign films. Being an avid foreign film watcher requires a love of the cinema that the average movie-goer is not apt to have. I'm not sure how much I agree with these sentiments. Chances are, I've seen more international pictures than many of my friends outside our League have seen. Nonetheless, I am not one to run to the Angelika or Sunshine just because there's a new Bolivian film that's only running for a week. Zombie is a big fan of non-domestic movies, and is much more likely to make such a trek than I am.

I think the thing about foreign films with regard to general audiences is the "negative stigma" they come with: production quality can be lower, there are no recognizable faces, they're often much more dramatic and less action-packed, and you have to read them. This last part, the reading, is the biggest obstacle foreign films have to overcome. I'll admit it, I'm much more prone to put on an English language film at the end of a long day or week at the office, because I'm generally just too tired to read the screen for two hours. I want my entertainment to be as easily accessible and mindless as possible on a Friday night. I don't want to have to work for it.

Well, last night I worked for it and damn was I happy I did.

MONGOL, Kazakhstan's official submission to the Foreign Language Film category in last year's Academy Awards, is about the early life of Genghis Khan and his rise as one of Mongolia's greatest warriors. An epic on the scale of Braveheart and Gladiator - both of which I thought about while watching this movie - Mongol was produced by Kazakh, Russian, Chinese, and German companies, to name a few. It is the first part in the "Mongol Trilogy" by Sergei Bodrov and is the uber Foreign Film. I fully believe that most any mainstream American audience would enjoy Mongol. It has amazing battle scenes, a thoroughly engaging and deep story (indeed, its 2 hour, 5 minute run time flew by), and is one of the most beautiful and vibrantly colored films I have seen in a long time.

I fully recommend this film. If you haven't seen it, Netflix it, rent it, see if any art-houses are still playing it. Onyx recently generated a very healthy discussion on paying $12 for a two hour movie-going experience. I had not been very aware of Mongol when it was in theaters. I missed the marketing, or rather, it missed me. But I would have walked out of the theater quite pleased with my decision to spend a dozen bucks on this film. I might have gone in reluctantly, what for all the reading ahead of me, but I would have known I'd made a great gamble in seeing Mongol on the big screen.

Trailer Trash XVI: Invasion U.S.A. (Chuck Norris, 1985)


"America wasn't ready... but HE was!"

The mid 90s were a very special time for bad movie fan like myself. This was back before Blockbuster and Moviezone were the only option for VHS rentals - the days of the Ma & Pa video store. The crowded little places filled with shelves of sticker-covered video boxes, loosely categorized by genre. The types of places that carried more b-movies than you could every watch in a lifetime for 99 cents a rental. The types of places that wouldn't carry Citizen Kane, but WOULD have a copy of Full Metal Ninja and all of its sequels.

I filled my library with hundreds of trashy VHS tapes when these places started going out of business in the early 2000s. There are still a few great holdouts in New York City - but with the sad news that St. Marks' Kim's Video is closing its doors, I'm afraid that number is rapidly dwindling.

Anyhow, back in those yonder days of my youth, I remember browsing the action sections of these small stores and finding all sorts of treasures. There was always one thing to be certain, though: if an action movie wasn't directed by Godfrey Ho or star Seagal or Van Damme, Chuck Norris was bound to be in it. Chuck Norris was in about a billion terrible action movies in the 80s.

This was one of those movies. And it's really, really bad.



At 0:05 - Cannon Video: one of the most surefire signs that a movie is from the 80s and awful, just behind being titled "Police Academy" followed by a number.
At 0:14 - Review so far: Decent amount of necking, but not enough Norris.
At 0:22 - What a wholesome, pleasant little American town. It feels like a place where nothing bad could happen...
At 0:24 - OH SHIT OH DAMN THAT FAMILY GOT BAZOOKA'D
At 0:45 - You can tell that guy's evil by his accent.
At 0:51 - Walker!
At 0:56 - Is it just me, or does there seem to be an unnaturally high number of bazookas in this trailer? That's number three, there...
At 1:04 - And there's number four.
At 1:17 - "You can address it to Chuck Norris, PO Box 666, Hell."

I love how the trailer doesn't give any indication at all how Chuck Norris is tied into this movie. I mean, we see him kicking ass and taking names, but WHY does he kick ass? WHY does he take names? Is he some sort of government agent? Part of a special forces unit? A Texas ranger? Or is he just Chuck Norris?

Is it possible to write a protagonist whose only motivation and goal is to "kick every ass"? Discuss amongst yourselves. While you're doing that, check out the poster that'll soon be my next tattoo:


Wikipedia kindly points out something about the poster I never noticed: though Washington, D.C. and the Manhattan skyline appear in the background, no scenes in the movie take place in either city.

Awesome bonus: this movie is written by Chuck's brother, Aaron Norris. Most of his movie credits come as a stuntman, but he has a few other scripts to his name, including a few episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and story credit on Top Dog. And yes, that means he's the guy who turned to Chuck Norris and said, "Let's team you up with a dog. Awesome, right?"

"Didn't work, huh? NOW it will!"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What, Where, When this Weekend - W., What Just Happened, Good Dick, Sex Drive, Max Payne

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters.

- Barbet Schroeder screenings and Q&A at BAM.

W., written by Stanley Weiser, dir. by Oliver Stone


Premise: A chronicle on the life and presidency of George W. Bush.

Oliver Stone + George W. Bush biopic = Train wreck? Genius? I'm really intrigued by this one. The buzz seems positive enough so far.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED, written by Art Linson, dir. by Barry Levinson


Premise: Two weeks in the life of a fading Hollywood producer who's having a rough time trying to get his new picture made.

Playing at: All over.

Say, what just happened in the production still? (Heh, heh, hehhhhhh... sorry.) It's got DeNiro. It's by Barry Levinson. I'm in.

GOOD DICK, written and directed by Marianna Palka



Premise: A look at the relationship between a lonely introverted girl and a young video store clerk vying for her attention.

Playing at: Landmark Sunshine

Director/writer/star Palka will be present after the 6:30 and 9:00 shows on Friday and Saturday, and the 11:15 AM and 1:30 PM Sunday matinees.

FILTH AND WISDOM, written by Dan Cadan, dir. by Madonna


Premise: The story revolves around a Ukrainian immigrant named A.K. who finances his dreams of rock glory by moonlighting as a cross-dressing dominatrix and his two female flatmates: Holly, a ballet dancer who works as a stripper and pole-dancer at a local club and Juliette, a pharmacy assistant who dreams of going to Africa to help starving children.

Starring Eugene Hutz? Music by Gogol Bordello? I'm interested. Directed by Madonna? Not so much.

SEX DRIVE, written by John Morris and Sean Anders, dir. by Sean Anders



Premise: A high school senior drives cross-country with his best friends to hook up with a babe he met online.

Playing at: All over.

Apparently this may actually be sorta decent...? (See: here and here.) Who'd have ever thunk?

MAX PAYNE, written by Beau Thorne, dir. by John Moore



Premise: Coming together to solve a series of murders in New York City are a DEA agent whose family was slain as part of a conspiracy and an assassin out to avenge her sister's death. The duo will be hunted by the police, the mob, and a ruthless corporation.

Playing at:
All over.

A video game movie NOT by Uwe Boll? Let's hope this fares better. Onyx - you're seeing this, right?

What are you seeing this weekend?