Saturday, November 29, 2008

Trailer Trash XXII: The Invisible Woman (1940)

"The Wildest Most Hilarious Mix-Up Ever Put On Film!"

Those are their words, not mine.

It's not too often in this column that I get to present an Oscar-nominated film. That's why this week is a little special, kids, because our movie WAS nominated for an Academy Award. No, it's not The Life of Emile Zola, or Ordinary People. And all of you fans of How Green Was My Valley (and I know you're out there) are sure to be let down. But, bear with me here. This movie may have been forgotten, but that doesn't make it any less acclaimed.

Without further adieu, I present the Oscar-nominated motion picture Invisible Woman, nominated in 1940 for its special effects.

Way back in 1940, people were really, really gullible when it came to special effects. You could dangle a salad bowl on a string and tell people it was a flying saucer. All it took to make a terrifying movie about a giant monster cat was the producer's pet tabby and a few plastic army men. If you slapped a bit of mud on a baby you'd have, well, a swampbaby. Yes indeed, it was a good time to work in Hollywood special effects.

Taking all of that into consideration, you can imagine how people were blown away by the Invisible Men movies started coming out. Step aside, Weta Workshop. Time to hang your heads in shame, Industrial Light and Magic. THESE are special effects:

Some special effects just don't stand the test of time, do they?

At 0:01 - I... I can't believe my eyes! Am I really seeing this? Is that a... leg?!??
At 0:07 - My ears, too. Even my ears have betrayed me!
At 0:10 - Who said that? I don't see anyone...
At 0:12 - The amazing, Oscar-nominated John Barrymore.
At 0:15 - Oh, that's nothing. I've got rid of plenty of women in my lifetime - I just wish they'd stick around at least for the extent of the date.
At 0:32 - How many "boy-friends" does she have??
At 0:44 - No hyperbole there, nosiree.
At 0:46 - And down he goes.
At 0:52 - Don't get excited, Cake Man.
At 1:10 - "... I made it to turn beautiful naked women invisible!"
At 1:15 - WTF???!?

Golly gee, is it just me or does the invisible woman looks HOT on that poster?

But, take a look down between her legs. No, that's not what I mean. I'm talking about two little people. She's kicking his ass, isn't she?

She IS kicking him in the ass. Hilarity! Hilarity, I say.

"Put your clothes on!"

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.

Rachel Getting Married - A Wonderful Union

Like Zombie did a few weeks ago, yesterday I treated myself to a morning at the cinema and saw Rachel Getting Married. Written by Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married is, as I'm sure you're well aware by now, about dysfunctional ex-junkie Kym, played wonderfully by Anne Hathaway, getting leave from rehab to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. and all that happens over that wedding weekend.

Normally, I'm a little skeptical of heavy family dramas. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of excellent movies of this variety. but there's a certain mood I have to find myself in in order to sit through the ups and downs of a family's crazy roller coaster ride of a relationship on film. however, one of the many things I found interesting about Rachel was that most of the turbulent events already happened - off-screen - well before the movie began. I'd be lying if I said that the family had ironed out all of its problems by the time the film started. On the other hand, though, this seemed, for lack of a better word, to be a very 'normal' family. What Kym has both gone through and put the family through has tested this family, even pulled it apart in some cases. Yet I believed everything that these people said and did. Though I have not personally encountered any of the major ordeals that these people did (drug abuse and rehab, death of a sibling - not a spoiler, as you figure this out pretty damn early on), I believed that the character acted as people in such situations would.

A few other things of note about the film (and script) are worth mentioning. For one, the audience learns a lot, and I mean A LOT about Rachel and the circumstances of her present situation in the first few minutes of the film. This is very much not a movie that, if you decide to wait for the DVD, you could put in and make a sandwich in the kitchen while it begins. There is a ton of information subtly yet noticeably dropped in the first two or three minutes of the picture that explains a great deal about Rachel's character. It's quite interesting, actually, as I'm not used to so much being given at the top of a film - it was sort of the dialogue equivalent of the scroll at the beginning of Star Wars, only it mattered more to the plot.

Also, Rachel Getting Married had some of the most fully realized characters I've seen on the screen recently, in spite of the fact that there were literally dozens of people on camera for much of the film. I felt as though I knew or at least knew of almost everybody who appeared on camera. From the pampered, prissy maid of honor to the groomsman who thinks he's cooler than he really is to the spiritual mother-in-law, everyone on film was a genuine, fleshed out person, not just a stereotype to fill a necessary role. Sure, the prissy maid of honor might sound like a stereotype in some cases, but in Rachel, I felt as though I knew this person, knew who she was and her general life story, and I knew that she belonged. The characters, even those who had few lines or little screen time, were real, and that, more than anything, is a testament to the writing.

Rachel Getting Married, while unsettlingly awkward at times, is a great watch. Jonathan Demme's direction does great honor to what must be, in my opinion, the driving force behind the strength of this picture - Jenny Lumet's script. I'll be looking for this script to give it a read, and possibly, to appear as one of the five nominees at the next Academy Awards.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Australia, Milk, Four Christmases, Transporter 3

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Opening this weekend...

AUSTRALIA, written by Stuart Beattie and Baz Luhrmann, dir. by Baz Luhrmann

Premise: Set in northern Australia before World War II, an English aristocrat who inherits a sprawling ranch reluctantly pacts with a stock-man in order to protect her new property from a takeover plot. As the pair drive 2,000 head of cattle over unforgiving landscape, they experience the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by Japanese forces firsthand.

Playing at: Loews Kips Bay, Clearview Chelsea

I've always really liked the energy and visual style of Baz Luhrman's Red Curtain trilogy (Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge) and even went so far as to catch the opera he directed on Broadway a few years back. I'm a little cautious, though, to see him trying something so... straight-forward looking. But I'm in. I trust him, even without John Leguizamo.

MILK, written by Dustin Lance Black, dir. by Gus Van Sant

Premise: The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.

Playing at: Loews Village VII, Clearview Chelsea, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

Great buzz, and I like Gus Van Sant. I'm in for this one, too.

FOUR CHRISTMASES, written by Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson, dir. by Seth Gordon

Premise: A couple struggle to visit all four of their divorced parents on Christmas Day.

Playing at: Everywhere.

Okay, I don't like Vince Vaughan. Don't think he's funny. Sorry, everyone. I tried, but he still just grates on me. No interest in this one, but it'll do well enough.

TRANSPORTER 3, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, dir. by Olivier Megaton

Premise: Jason Statham is back in the third outing of 'The Transporter'. This time he's hired by a criminal mastermind to go on a mission to deliver a 'package'. With Frank Martin now electronically rigged, he must complete his mission or die!

Playing at: All over.

Gotta love the use of quotation marks in that synopsis.

First movie was bad. Second was even worse. Third one seems to be a car commercial. No thanks.

The "plot" centers around a "device" that's been placed in "Jason Statham's" "car". It won't "allow" him to get more than "75 yards" from the "car" or he'll "die". Which means plenty of gratuitous shots of his new Audi. Drive Audi!

Note, the director's last name is almost Megatron. Damn, that guy just missed out.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Taking a cue from screenwriter and blogger Ken Levine, the League would like to share a few things we're thankful for:

Cake Man:
- Batman movies – especially BB and TDK
- Movie soundtracks (for sale/download)
- Netflix
- Weekend morning matinees at AMC/Loews
- Email query letters
- Screenwriting software
- A writers group that even helps me write letters to women (though, come to think of it, all those relationships have ended poorly)


- Family
- Screenwriters League
- Feedback
- Boston Bruins
- Matt Cassell's recent confidence
- Good health
- Friends
- My apartment
- Obama


- The writing gods have not forsaken me
- That I didn't have to choose between writing and boyfriend
- Friends and ridiculous email threads that cheer me up at work (Thank you, Onyx, for making me look up what teabagging means)
- Being warm, full, dry, clothed, and relatively happy

- The Delete Key
- Bad Blockbuster movies that make me feel better about my own work
- Writing something that makes me laugh, even if I cut it later.

King Suckerman:
- My friends and family.
- Brotherhood, The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, Flight of the Conchords, Californication, 30 Rock, Weeds and The First 48.
- Anything by Pelecanos, Connelly, Lehane, Ellroy, Simon and Price. Great entertainment, even greater motivation.
- My cat.
- This blog, for motivating me to keep writing.
- My job. It's a job, but it's a pretty cool one.
- The Replacements, Talking Heads, Rolling Stones, PIxies, Beatles, Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, Wilco and a ton more musical acts that make up the soundtrack to my writing.
- SILENT CITY. It feels nice to have 60 or so pages in my hands of something I've written. Might not be good, but it's mine.
- Anything by Chandler, Hammett, Thompson, MacDonald and Goodis. The classics of crime fiction.
- The Miami Dolphins finally winning a few games. Jeez.

- Antigravity Cats.
- You, dear readers. You! YOU! (But not you...)
- The League, not only for putting up with all of my delays in sending around screenplay pages, but encouraging me despite that.
- Sweet, sweet vinyl reissues of the Mission of Burma catalog.
- Having my 33 1/3 proposal just about finished...
- ... as well as the spec script I mentioned earlier.
- The New York Giants 10-1. Just keep stompin' them out. AM I RIGHT?

Would you like to share yours?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SuckerFlix #4: Anything Else and Cop

Last week, we took a mini-tour of my TiVo Season Passes, but now we return to movieland. And, not to disappoint, I did watch a crime film. But it gets second billing to Anything Else, a latter-day Woody Allen joint starring Jason Biggs and the lovely Christina Ricci.

I have to preface this review by saying I'm a big Woody Allen fan -- who isn't, I guess? His characters, their dialogue and his sense of humor have made for more great movies than duds, especially Annie Hall, Manhattan and a few others. A lot of people slag on Allen's later works, but I've found most of them to be pleasant and wonderful at best, with Sweet and Lowdown and now Anything Else as prime examples.

Anything Else tells the story of Jerry Falk (Biggs), a neurotic young comedy writer with bigger, more literary aspirations. Jerry befriends David Dobel, an older and less successful writer with an interesting and slightly screwy world view. Jerry, you see, is head over heels in love with Amanda Chase (Ricci), a smart, funny and sharp actress who is at times emotionally charged and intense, and other times detached and direct.

The plot, while interesting and involving Jerry's quest for bigger writing opportunities, is secondary to the dynamic between Jerry and Amanda. As up and down as their conversations and scenes go, you quickly fall in love with Amanda along with Jerry, and you find yourself understanding why Jerry cherishes her company. Ricci does a great job of making Amanda believable and real -- sure, she can sometimes be tough on Jerry, but she is equally vulnerable and caring. The film presents the very normal and funny story of two people falling in love and trying hard to stay that way.

I can't say I was much of a Biggs fan going in, having really only seen him in the first two American Pie films, but he holds his own fairly well, sharing scenes with the veteran Ricci among others. He's not outstanding, but he is competent and believable as a guy who's deeply in love and dedicated to his partner. Ricci is the standout in the film, though, charming the viewer with her sense of humor and realistic, human moods. You find yourself rooting for Jerry and understanding Amanda's frustrations, all the while not really feeling like you're in the midst of a romantic comedy, but regular life.

Allen himself serves as the bulk of comic relief in the movie, as Jerry's pseudo-mentor Dobel, and does a fine job of letting his two young stars handle the majority of the movie's major movements. Stockard Channing also has a nice turn as Amanda's nutty but emotionally in tune mother, with a touching musical interlude in the film's final act.

If there was anything I didn't like about the film, it was the ending, only because after spending a few hours with the couple and their connection, you don't really want to leave. A

Cop: A fairly mediocre adaptation of one of neo-noir crime writer James Ellroy's lesser works, Cop stars the overrated James Woods as Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins, a fearless and dedicated cop (get it?) chasing after a serial killer preying upon young women in 1980s Los Angeles. The movie chops up and moves around scenes and key plot points from the book, Blood on the Moon, not for the better. Instead of building toward a climax slowly, the movie starts hot and keeps going, allowing for very little time to get to know the characters, much less care for them. Lesley Anne Warren is also pretty unsettling as Woods love interest, but not in a positive way -- she just comes off as nervous and odd. A forgettable, passable and mostly predictable flick. C

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Writing Week part 47 - Bittersweet Rejection

Just before I left for South Africa, I received an email from one of the three companies that had requested my post-Apocalyptic spec based on my query letter – in total, I had sent queries to just 12 companies. (I took the frugal route and decided to test the strength of my query letter by sending it out to a handful of companies, which not only produced or managed the kind of material I had written, but readily accepted queries by email. I recommend this strategy to writers, as it saves money on postage and, in a time when many people are doubting the success of querying, can be just as effective if not more so than paper mailings.) The email I got, which was from the script reader/receptionist at this particular company, informed me that he really liked the script, as did the readers, and would be recommending it to the managers. I left the country on a high note with something to look forward to.

Unfortunately, when I returned Stateside, I had the anti-email from what I was hoping for. The generic rejection email I received let me know that though my writing was strong, the company is small and cannot take me on as a client. I was thanked for my submission and encouraged to re-submit a query for any new projects down the road. The disappointing nature of the email threw me into an instant funk. I felt as if my plans had been derailed, and the opportunity posed to me by my friend in Africa – being a nature videographer for his game reserve – began to look all the more appealing. I thanked the assistant for his time and getting back to me, asked what he would like to read in the future in case I had anything like that, and began to think about making more serious plans to return to Africa and write from there, to give myself a longer break from the East Coast/West Coast dilemma.

Onyx would say that what happened next was “the screenwriting gods telling me to stick with it.” I came into work last Friday after having really begun thinking about moving abroad for a while to two emails. The first email was a fourth request for my script based on my query, bringing my batting average to .333. The second email was a very generous and uncommon email from the assistant who had the displeasure of rejecting my script. He sent me over a full page of notes – most of which were quite positive – on my script and explained more about why I had not been picked up as a client (a focus the company is making on established writers). He was very supportive of my work and encouraged me to re-send the script if I did a re-write. I know that notes and such encouragement are not common in this industry, and was incredibly grateful to him for his time. And when he offered to read a logline for any other completed scripts I have – an opportunity I took him up on, which led to another script request – I knew that this guy was looking out for me. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to give his name or company here, but let’s just say that his honest and incredibly helpful dealings with me renewed that fire in me to write.

I thought I would take the rest of the year slowly, work on a new script but not really try to push anything else out into the industry just yet. I see now that I was wrong to think that way. Mind you, I never meant to give up on writing – far from it. But the high of Africa mixed with the then just bitter rejection I got stopped me in my tracks. Now, though, that rejection has become bittersweet, with an emphasis on sweet, and my first real industry notes have compelled me onward. If you have what it takes, you will make it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but stick with it. The screenwriting gods command it.

Screen Alert - The Wrestler

Screen Alert is a short, irregular segment highlighting noteworthy films that we saw during advanced screenings. Keep an eye out for these cinematic gems when they hit theaters.

A little while ago, Onyx, Zombie, and I had the great pleasure of attending an early screening of THE WRESTLER, starring Mickey Rourke, directed by Darren Aronofsky. I went into the picture a little skeptical; I'm not really a fan of WWE style wrestling, like, at all. I was more attracted to the film for its director, as I think REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a truly beautiful picture.

Damn am I glad we went to that screening. Other than a few sometimes difficult to watch, gruesome wrestling scenes, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I got so much more out of the story than I had anticipated. The writing, I thought, was as strong as anything else to emerge this year, and I will definitely be scouting the script in the next few months to come.

Mickey Rourke - whom I have been a mild fan of, at best - was a thoroughly engaging washed up pro wrestler. I felt quite deeply for him as he tried to get his life, his career, and his relationship with his daughter back on track. What's more, he was a very down-to-earth protagonist. Often, I find that a character who faces a potentially life threatening or career ending obstacle will face it head on, not so much because they're brave, but because they're arrogant and stupid. Rourke's character, on the other hand, deals with a dangerous health risk in a smart, level-headed way that only increased my support of him. On top of it all, Rourke's performance is, in my opinion, outstanding, worthy of an Oscar nod.

I was blown away by this little gem. You do not have to enjoy or even like wrestling to get behind THE WRESTLER. When it gets its wide release in January (limited release in December), I strongly urge you to go see it. This, unlike many gambles we've talked about, is a $12 sure bet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trailer Trash XXI: The Exterminator (1980)

"The Man They Pushed Too Far..."

There is one golden item that this movie does right, and that item is done so right I'm almost willing to forgive this movie for existing. I'm talking about the poster, folks. This movie's poster rules and rules hard. Welcome to awesome:

WHOA HOLY CRAP THAT IS SWEET! Did you notice the motorcycle helmet? The flamethrower?? But, hey, wait a second... Is that a sleeveless leather jacket? Why is he wearing tight leather pants? Oh, shit.

Oh, shit.

Is the biker from the Village People going on a rampage??

The more you look at the poster, the less and less sense it makes. I suppose they're going for a "dimly-lit warehouse" look or something similar for the background. But it really, really looks like this guy went to the photo studio at Sears. Perhaps he was waiting in line behind these guys:

Are they in post-apocalyptic New York City? The background looks more or less the same. Hmmm... maybe if I give it a title, add awesome copy text...

Booyah! Now THAT's a movie I'd like to see. (Rejected titles: "FAMILITARY: SUBURBAN WARFARE" and "FAMASOCHISTS".)

But, back to business. Don't let the misleading Village-Person-Cop-with-nothing-to-lose poster fool you - this movie is pretty dumb, but it does do one other thing well: explosions. Boy, there are a lot of explosions in this trailer.

Roll the footage, Frank:

At 0:03 - BOOM! (And a helicopter! Helicopters make everything awesome.)
At 0:05 - BOOM!
At 0:08 - BOOM!
At 0:09 - BOOM!
At 0:13 - Bang bang bang bang!
At 0:14 - Man on fire!
At 0:20 - BOOM!
At 0:21 - BOOM! (And another helicopter!)
At 0:24 - BOOM!
At 0:38 - Are they going through these weapons in a hospital?
At 0:42 - Fight choreography by Adam West and Burt Ward.
At 0:49 - Fire!
At 1:05 - The title for like the fifth time, in case you're just tuning in.
At 1:18 - Can someone turn on the lights, please?
At 1:26 - BOOM!
At 1:33 - BOOM! (Is that a volcano?)

If we were taking shots for each explosion in that trailer, we'd all be on the floor right now.

When The Exterminator was released on DVD a few years ago, the designers seem to have caught on to the problem with the backdrop in the original poster, and decided to fix it. The new DVD cover is more indicative of the contents of the film:

Explosions! Helicopters! A vast improvement over the original poster.

But, I refuse to be outdone. TWO can play that game...

Yeah, THAT's the ticket!


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.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Twilight, Bolt, Special, Lake City

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

Opening this weekend...

TWILIGHT, written by Melissa Rosenberg, dir. by Catherine Hardwicke

Premise: A teenage girl risks everything when she falls in love with a vampire.

Playing at: Everywhere.

The summary for the film reads just like a screenplay logline. It helps that it's based on a wildly popular YA novel (that's what I read - I'm not really "hip" with the "kiddos" these days) but the premise is one of those ones that you read and immediately see dollar signs.

BOLT, written by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams, dir. by Byron Howard and Chris Williams

Premise: The canine star of a fictional sci-fi/action show that believes his powers are real embarks on a cross country trek to save his co-star from a threat he believes is just as real.

Playing: All over.

This looks like Pixar... but it's not. I won't be tricked.

SPECIAL, written and directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore

Premise: A lonely metermaid has a psychotic reaction to his medication and becomes convinced he's a superhero. A very select group of people in life are truly gifted. Special is a movie about everyone else.

Playing at: Landmark Sunshine

I love seeing so many writing teams this week. The description above is a little misleading - the movie sounds like it's a bit of a downer. However, if the film is taking the superhero idea seriously, that makes me more interested. And I like Michael Rapaport.

LAKE CITY, written and directed by Hunter Hill and Perry Moore

Premise: In this searing Southern drama, a mother and son reunite under desperate circumstances years after a family tragedy drove them far apart.

Playing at: Quad Cinemas

From the Time Out New York review:
Most independent movies model themselves on a Sundance-approved template: the rural miserablist parable, the heal-thyselves family tragedy, the gritty crime flick. Hunter Hill and Perry Moore’s drama, however, shoots for the moon; the directors have seemingly crammed the festival’s annual lineup into 92 minutes. For those viewers who don’t have two weeks to spare in Park City, the mix-and-match sensibility might seem like a valuable time-saver. Anyone who wants a little quality with their quantity, however, will curse the fact that an hour and a half of their lives is gone for good.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And now for something completely different...

I feel a bit silly for getting so excited about this even after purchasing the complete Flying Circus box set, but Monty Python have launched an official YouTube channel.

Check it out here. The world's greatest comedy troupe is already offering a few classic sketches for viewing - here's to hoping they add more!

SuckerFlix #3: Brotherhood and other notable TV shows

I know, I know, I know. Where the hell have I been? I wish I had an interesting answer for that, but I don't, so best to move on and talk movies. Well, and television.

In my eyes, Brotherhood is arguably one of the best shows on television now. If you're a fan of The Wire, Homicide or anything in that vein, you'll find Brotherhood serves you well. Now in the early stages of its third season, Brotherhood -- set in the fictional Rhode Island town known as "The Hill" -- tells the tale of two brothers: thug-with-a-heart Michael Caffee and his younger sibling Tommy, who's a local representative and slowly inching closer and closer to corruption. The series poses interesting questions about morality, family and friendship, and the inherent responsibilities that come with each. Is a mobster bad if he does some nice things? Is a politician good even though he skims from the top?

I recently re-watched the show's second season in anticipation of the new episodes, so I'll focus on those. Reviewing an entire show is a bit trickier than a movie, as you have hours upon hours of viewing to disseminate and digest, but I'll give it a try.

Brotherhood builds upon a relatively predictable concept ("They're brothers! And they're not totally good people!!") by injecting a collection of conflicted and complicated characters -- from Tommy's adulterous but doting wife, to the prickly and conspiratorial matriarch Rose, Brotherhood has nary a boring person onscreen, and the episodes and scenes rarely scream of filler or space-fillers. As I watched episode upon episode, though, I found myself gravitating more toward gangster brother Michael, who while a murderer and all-around "bad" guy, was the most consistent and likable of the bunch.

The main plot threads that carry season two are fairly basic, but engrossing enough. Tommy continues his bid for more power in the state House, while dealing with a crumbling marriage and temptations outside of it. Michael is recovering from a brutal beating suffered at the close of season one and is dealing with the side effects, both medical and career-wise. As Tommy amps up his political clout for a reelection campaign, Michael plays his friends and the cops investigating his criminal organization against each other in an effort to not only weed out those responsible for his injuries, but also to eliminate resident crime boss Freddie Cork, who Michael suspects is in some way connected to the assault that has left him dealing with blackouts and random memory loss.

The two plot threads converge on multiple levels, as we learn toward the end of the season that Tommy could have helped his criminal brother avoid being viciously attacked and his dalliances with a fringe politico get him into trouble with his family.

Jason Isaacs and Jason Clarke, playing Michael and Tommy, respectively, give nuanced and powerful performances as the siblings. There are no clear-cut "good guys" or "bad guys" on the show, merely people dealing with complicated issues and equally complicated friends and family members. Special props should go to Annabeth Gish, for her strong portrayal of Tommy's wife Eileen, who while repenting for her own marital transgressions discovers an inner strength and motivation that went unseen during the first season. While at times painfully annoying in the way only mothers can be, Fiona C. Erickson does a fine job of portraying an aging mother losing her grasp on her children, friends and, inevitably, her own youth. Former teen star Ethan Embry is also surprising as Declan, a talented cop driven to alcoholism and self-destruction when his marriage also begins to fall apart -- among other things I'm hesitant to spoil in this space.

Brotherhood is the kind of show fans of seriously serialized and thoughtful television can sink their teeth into. Yes, you have to watch the previous episode to understand what's going on. Yes, there are more grays than black and whites. Yes, not everything is explained right away. But that's a good thing. Brotherhood carries the torch previously lifted by the classic shows I mention above, and it's only getting better. A

You can catch season three of Brotherhood on Showtime, Sunday nights at 8pm EST.

A few other shows you might want to consider, if you're looking to fill up your TiVo season pass list:

Dexter: I'm not totally sold on Dexter, I have to say. Everything seems to be there -- crime investigation, serial killers, Miami, mystery -- but the pieces don't really add up to a compelling whole. I'm still not sure why I'm supposed to like Dexter, who rarely even acts human during most scenes and then is suddenly a poster boy for psychosis in others. I mean, I get the big picture -- he's a serial killer that kills the really bad people. But, uh, still. Doesn't work for me. And, being a Miami native makes watching the show a bit painful, since it looks nothing like Miami and the scene dressing used to make interiors and restaurants seem "authentic" just comes off as cheesy and poorly researched. Ditto on Lt. La Guerta's "Cuban" accent. Plus, Dexter's sister, apparently a detective in the same police department Dex works at, is annoying and not very interesting. Same goes for grating characters like pudgy sergeant Angel, who has arguably the worst dialogue on the show. Still, I keep watching, thinking it'll go from mediocre to decent. Fingers crossed. C+

Californication: This is a fun show, on a number of levels. David Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a one-time lauded novelist who's hit the dumps since he moved to L.A. to embrace the big life: His longtime lover and child left him, he can't write and despite the constant presence of beautiful women everywhere, Hank can't seem to find happiness at the bottom of the bottle. Duchovny does a great job of playing the lovable asshole -- sleeping around, drinking himself into oblivion, but still longing for that one, true love he let slip through his fingers. Madeleine Martin is great as Hank's tween kid Becca, who serves as the show's voice of reason and comic relief. While at times I find Hank's antics to be a bit much and bordering on the unforgivable, his strong and very real dynamic with Karen makes for good viewing, and keeps me coming back. A-

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Baby Isn't Mine?

Most screenwriters will experience this at least once, and if the writing gods hate you it may happen frequently. It's when you find out that your prized script, your high concept masterpiece, your closely guarded return to originality, is in fact set be released as someone else's movie within a couple years. It's a pretty sucky feeling on a few different levels. For one, you're not as smart as you thought you were. When you were first telling those in your closest circle about your killer idea like a bunch of thieves going over the perfect heist, somebody else was banging out draft two of the same idea and stealing your gem. Secondly, the stock in your idea has just taken a big hit. You've just spent a year or more on your idea, confident that it will be a hot product when complete. Now it's tough to gauge just how valuable your high value project is. Thirdly, for whatever reason, someone else out there can get it done and you can not. They're either more connected, more talented, luckier, or sleeping with the person you can't sleep with. Maybe it's all of the above. Whatever the reason, things are falling in place in one of the toughest industries for them, not you.

Maybe I'm being too bitter. Maybe I still feel the sting from the other night when I discovered that a movie is being released in the near future that makes my "unique" idea less unique. I still think my concept is better, as I feel most writers do when they see their idea turn up elsewhere. I'm not too worried, I suppose. I'm young, and hopefully the other bastard writer is old and dying of cancer. Sorry, that was mean. But I am starting to feel better. This blogging stuff isn't so bad, kind of like a virtual punching bag. Too bad I'm only getting fatter as I sit here.

I haven't returned to my idea yet since finding out about the other movie. A part of me is ashamed of the confrontation, like a father approaching his teenage daughter after she got knocked up. But what are you gonna do? It happened, so I guess I just need to bang through my script, hopefully with the same enthusiasm that I had before. Maybe the rival idea will fail as a movie and my script will be poised to step in as the product the other movie should have been. Although, there is something about that situation that feels like sloppy seconds. Whatever, it's Hollywood and I'm an aspiring screenwriter. Sloppy seconds, tainted thirds, and funky fourths are all welcomed at this early stage.

I'm curious as to how other writers react when their idea shows up elsewhere. I'm not talking about a blatant rip off. I don't believe it's so much that as it is there just not really being many truly unique ideas left. I'm going to move forward telling myself that every script I write is already an embryo in several writers' heads. Some will mature at different rates, but that will largely depend on the writer. If my babies are never really my own, then complacency is never an option. It's time to whip these scripts into shape and start shattering the hearts of other writers who thought they had the big idea.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Writing Week part 46 - South Africa

I'm currently in South Africa, rejuvenating my batteries and trying to decide what next to write. It's all part of the process.

Deciding which of the many ideas I have I want to work on, and...

Clearing my mind to make way for clarity of writing.

While I'm a huge advocate of writing every day, at least while you're working on something (I take a few weeks off in between projects), I also strongly suggest that writers take time to focus on other things, see or appreciate the world, and broaden their horizons. It's a big world, and as writers, we try to tell stories that relate to many different aspects of it. Don't kick yourself too much if you take time off every now and then. It's much better to do that than to burn out. My philosophy: to make a story short, every experience you have, good and bad, strengthens you as a writer. Do what you need to do to be able to tell the stories you want to tell.

MSPaint Movie Review: Quantum of Solace


(Click to enlarge:)


If you're looking for text reviews, check here, here and here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trailer Trash XX: Fast & Furious (Vin Diesel, 2009)

"Vroom, vroom. Vroooooooooom!"

If you don't read the title closely, you'd probably think I were referring to the first brains-free entry in the Fast and the Furious series (lovingly called the "F&F series" by fans and your mom) titled The Fast and the Furious. But I'm not. While you can see that I'm CLEARLY not talking about the second or third films, 2 Fast 2 Furious or Tokyo Drift. If you look closely and note the lack of articles in the title of the series, you'd know I'm referring to the upcoming fourth installment of the series. See: Fast & Furious. Sequel, duh.

Didn't know there was a new Fast and the Furious movie coming out? If so: good, and I envy you. But if you (like me and apparently most of America) caught Quantum of Solace this weekend you were probably exposed to dangerous amounts of stupid when you saw this tacked on to the front of the movie. To help ease all of your suffering, we're gonna Trailer Trash a movie that hasn't even come out yet. That's right, kids. This movie sucks from the future.

Enough chit-chat. Prepare yourselves: this is what poo will look like in the year 2009:

At 0:14 - Ok, they let us know the truck is full of gasoline. How much you wanna bet it explodes by the end of this scene?
At 0:18 - Children, don't try this at home.
At 0:35 - What? Whaaaat?
At 0:45 - That's right, crank the sucker to 35.
At 0:56 - This looks dangerous.
At 1:12 - Whoa! WHOOOOA! I knew that thing would explode!
At 1:16 - "Can you look into the camera, Mr. Diesel - or can I call you Vin? Vinny? Ok, there we go. Thanks!"
At 1:18 - Cue video game music.
At 1:25 - Juuuust like it's 2001.
At 1:29 - Remember when Paul Walker was a promising young actor? Yeah, me neither.
At 1:35 - Oh, those crazy Duke boys.
At 1:45 - The guy in the middle hasn't seen the first few movies.
At 1:48 - Vin Diesel's laugh - can't tell if the character thought the joke wasn't funny, or the actor himself.
At 1:58 - New model, still stupid.
At 2:08 - I hope 2009 never comes.

I'm gonna skip over the big question regarding WHY there's even a fourth one of these movies (I'm blaming you, West Virginia) and focus on my next question: What is Vin Diesel doing back in the series? Hasn't his career passed that point? Shouldn't he at least know better by now?

Vin Diesel link of the day: Thirty Years of Adventure, A Celebration of Dungeons and Dragons, foreword by Vin Diesel.

"Heh, heh."

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.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Holiday Movie Previews

Screenwriting blogger extraordinaire Ken Levine has posted his always-hilarious seasonal movie preview. My favorite bits:
CADILLAC RECORDS -- Story of Chess Records, famous R&B and Blues label of the 50s. Beyonce as Etta James. Younger audiences won’t know who Etta James is. Older audiences won’t know who Beyonce is. Age groups in the middle will be watching QUANTUM OF SOLACE for the third time.

BEDTIME STORIES – Adam Sandler in a feel-good CGI effects-loaded holiday movie for the whole family! Filled with wonder and magic and that shit.

You can read Part I and Part II here.

For another opinion on some of these movies, FreeWilliamsburg's November movie preview is here.

Our weekly Trailer Trash will go up on Sunday this week. But it's a special 'un, kids! Stay tuned!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bruce Campbell Will Be In Your Movie (If you follow these simple rules...)

Evil Dead, Army of Darkness and Bubba Ho-Tep star Bruce Campbell shared his criteria for picking roles with Film School Rejects this week. Yes, Bruce Campbell will be in your movie, as long as it fits these criteria:
- The director must have experience: “I now have an official first-time director rule. That’s an official no.”
- The movie can’t have “Zombie” in the title: “That’s an instant no.”
- It also can’t have zombies in the movie: “Anything zombies is an immediate walk-away.”
- The script must be special: “It has to be something that makes me nervous when I read it.”

Read the full article here. Check it out.



(/slinks off out of Bruce Campbell's sight...)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Quantum of Solace, Slumdog Millionaire, A Christmas Tale, We Are Wizards

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

Opening this weekend...

QUANTUM OF SOLACE, written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis, dir. by Marc Forster

Premise: Seeking revenge for the death of his love, secret agent James Bond sets out to stop an environmentalist from taking control of a country's water supply.

Playing: Everywhere.

Casino Royale was my favorite Bond movie in a long, long, long time. I felt like it returned the series to the exercises in badassery they used to be. Hence, a little discouraged to see the lukewarm reviews. Don't let me down, Mr. Bond.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, written by Simon Beaufoy, dir. by Danny Boyle

Premise: The story of how impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik became a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?" -- an endeavor made without prize money in mind, rather, an effort to prove his love for his friend Latika, who is an ardent fan of the show.

Playing at: Angelika, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

Lots of great buzz about this. I've got a love-hate relationship with his movies (Love = Trainspotting, Sunshine, Shallow Grave, hell, even enjoyed A Life Less Ordinary... Hate = 28 Days Later, grrrrr) but I'm eager to check this one out.

A CHRISTMAS TALE, written by Emmanuel Bourdieu and Arnaud Desplechin, dir. by Arnaud Desplechin

Premise: The Vuillard's shared history of physical and mental illness, estrangement, self harm, and loss doesn't lead itself to the idea of a cheerful holiday season. But can a Christmastime reunion, a scheme concocted by three of the youngest family members, finally bring peace their clan?

Playing at: IFC Center, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

It's not even Christmas yet - why are so many holiday movies being advertised already? (Four Christmases, I'm looking at you.) Anyway, I really want to see this one. I just wish it were opening at a time when I was remotely in the holiday spirit.

WE ARE WIZARDS, written and directed by Josh Koury

Premise: The documentary profiles some of the power players in the underground Harry Potter creative community. I'm not talking sinister meetings in the woods about the Dark Arts. Instead, the film offers us a seven-year-old rock star and his teen pop idols, hilarious audio-commentary set to the movie and online creative writing sites waging war with corporate agents.

Playing at: Cinema Village 12th Street

I feel like I'm one of the few people left in the world who is still in the dark with the whole Harry Potter thing. I haven't read any of the books, and the only bit of the movies I've seen was the first one on mute, while listening to the hilarious Wizard People, Dear Readers commentary track by Brad Neely. All I know is the series is that it's about a school of wizard kids who play soccer on brooms or something.

I'll get around to 'em eventually, I know. But in the meantime this documentary looks interesting, and hey, it's got Brad Neely in it!

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Warner Bros. offers Dark Knight screenplay for download

Warner Bros. has offered up their script for their record-breaking Dark Knight for download on their website, ahead of this year's award season.

You can download the script here. (Thanks, Slashfilm.)

For the sake of fairness and at the risk of starting another comment war, here's an early script for Predator, courtesy of Movie-Page.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

JCVD - You Might be Surprised

I’m going to try not to be biased here, but I’ve seen Jean-Claude Van Damme spin kick about 2,372 people, and I’ve loved every gravity defying second. Some people would call him a “career terrible movie maker”, but I say it all depends on what you’re looking for in a movie, and in most cases involving Van Damme, an action movie. There are several of his films that I can’t defend, not even with a flamethrower, but when it comes to the knockout punch, the run and gun, and the spin kick, Van Damme has delivered and entertained us immensely. I didn’t mind that I walked away from Kickboxer not discussing great acting. I didn’t mind that I didn't walk away from Double Impact talking about how interesting the structure was. I didn’t mind that Universal Soldier: The Return (in theatres...seriously) didn’t leave me dwelling on its skillful blend of comedy and drama. After all, these are things that we’ve accepted as irrelevant with Van Damme movies, right? Well, actually, Van Damme fan or not, you might be surprised to find that JCVD was good, and it will leave you talking about more than action.

In JCVD, Van Damme plays himself. In 1994, himself = an international action star, and master of doing the splits. In 2008, himself = a faded star all but forgotten to Hollywood, a man almost defeated by the financial and emotional struggles of a custody battle with his ex-wife. Van Damme retreats to Belgium, his country of birth, where he finds that he’s still the hottest thing since their waffles. While trying to complete a simple money transfer at the local post office, he inadvertently walks into a heist and finds himself the center of attention for the robbers, the police, and the entire country.

JCVD is not an action movie. In fact you’ll get most of the action during the first five minutes when Van Damme fights his way across a movie set in a great single-shot sequence. The lack of action may be strange for most that are familiar with Van Damme’s work, but it was exciting to see the action give way in order to allow the cellar kept children of Van Damme movies, drama and comedy, to emerge into the light.

The true reward in the humor of the film is for those at least somewhat familiar with Van Damme movies. It’s hard for me to put myself in my girlfriend’s shoes (America’s Next Top Model, 30 Rock, Snuggling), but for me, the references to Van Damme’s signature moves and movies were great. But for the first time with Van Damme, doing the splits and kicking a cigarette out of a bad guy’s mouth wasn’t being viewed as great action moments. Instead it was all being made fun of, and Van Damme finds himself as a character whose splits aren’t worth a dime in Hollywood, but in his home country, and in a time when they mean almost nothing to him, they mean a great deal to the surrounding characters. Van Damme plays off of the image of the Hollywood star against his harsher reality, and though it leads to laughs, it also leads to the dramatic core of the movie.

Director Marbrouk El Mechri gives the story an interesting non-linear structure that works well, but the biggest and most dramatic jolt doesn’t come from a jump in time, but a break in the fourth wall. It’s a strange moment where the film becomes a sort of confessional for our protagonist, and damn you if you don’t acknowledge that Van Damme delivers. In this scene it’s tough to say how much was the real Van Damme versus the actor. I imagine people will have mixed reviews on this moment because it is jarring, but it also feels honest, and as the fourth wall re-erects itself, movie fans and movie makers alike should have a new appreciation for what Van Damme can offer. I’d like to say that I’ve been telling people since Double Impact that there’s more depth to Van Damme the actor. Although, this can’t truly be an “I told you so” moment because Van Damme does have the luxury of performing in his native language, and if he bursts back onto the Hollywood scene as a leading man I don’t think we’ll be seeing much French. Speaking of French, I don’t know any and relied heavily on the subtitles that made up most of the movie. The choice of white subtitles was horrible and made certain scenes very difficult to read. That was probably my biggest gripe with the movie, and not so big at all.

I’ve never clapped at a Van Damme movie until JCVD and I wasn’t alone. Most of the theatre applauded. It’s possible that we are all just a bunch of nuts that were caught up in the moment and overreacted, but it’s unlikely. There’s something there in JCVD for most to appreciate. Van Damme has managed to turn some heads back in his direction with this one. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he doesn’t spin kick us with a poor follow up.

The Writing Wire for 11/11: More Girl Talk, Roberto Bolaño, Star Trek and more...

Here we go, yo.

• The Book Publicity Blog on why marketing folk should join microblogging site Twitter.

Does D.L. Hughley's new CNN show suck? Romenesko links to a critic that says "hell yes."

• Cinematical reveals two weird facts: "The Karate Kid" film franchise is being revived, and Will Smith's kid is gonna be the star. "Karate Kid" without Pat Morita is blasphemy, I say.

The New York Times says booksellers and publishers are nervous about holiday season sales.

• Is getting an agent harder than finishing your first novel? Murderati thinks so.

Wired's Underwire blog on the two new Star Trek movie posters. See Chris Pine's Captain Kirk above.

• Californication is one of my favorite current shows. Film School Rejects recaps the latest episode.

• Ugh. The Boston Phoenix talks to Girl Talk.

TIME says Roberto Bolaño's 2666 could be the best novel of 2008.

• Pitchfork interviews Calexico.

What are you reading? Week 7: On the road to Nowhere

Last week, I gushed and gushed about James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, praising the neo-noir tale's slimy portrait of post-WWII Los Angeles and its denizens. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to move on to the next part of Ellroy's "L.A. Quartet," The Big Nowhere.

I'm not really sure how I feel about it yet. I'm about 170 pages in and I'm still waiting for that great moment where you have to keep reading and can't put the book down. I was talking to Zombie about this last week, thinking I'd reached that moment with the book. But then I hit a few slower, less interesting chapters and I found myself not as motivated to pick up the book. Still, I remain optimistic, and Ellroy is far from an "easy" writer. You have to really dedicate yourself to the material. He doesn't mince words or ramble on, so you know every word, character and scene counts. Did I mention it's not easy?

The Big Nowhere kicks off by slowly introducing us to its three protagonists: Sheriff's Deputy Danny Upshaw, a young up-and-comer with promise and a textbook approach to detective work; Mal Considine, a divorced cop trying to keep custody of his immigrant stepson and Buzz Meeks, a corrupt ex-cop who's on the dole for Howard Hughes and local mob boss Mickey Cohen. Set during the red scare of the early fifties, the novel finds the three characters inching closer together amid a backdrop of labor disputes, Communist witch hunts and a series of grisly murders.

At first, the three characters seem distant and unrelated, but as the novel progresses, all three become involved with the same problem: weeding out Communists from the UAES, an actors' organization on strike and costing Hollywood bags of money. I'm not sure how much that interests me, to be honest, but there's also the case of the potential serial killer, which is Upshaw's thread as the story begins. And sometimes, after reading a great book by a great author, you allow the author some modicum of faith when reading a later, more complex work. That's what's going on here. I imagine that after a few more chapters the story will kick in and I won't be able to put it down. Until then, I'll push through and wait for that moment.