Wednesday, December 31, 2008

DVD Junkie #3: My Name is Earl

As we here at the Screenwriter's League recover from the holidays and get geared up for the year ahead, I'd like to take a moment to talk about a largely unrecognized show that I've just recently come to appreciate.

My Name is Earl doesn't get a lot of recognition. As far as Thursday night NBC comedy shows go, it's kind of like the plain Jane in the popular clique. Placed inconspicuously right before one of the most powerful one-two punches on TV (30 Rock and the Office), My Name is Earl lacks many of the earmarks its prettier neighbors - few SNL or Daily Show alumni, hardly any cameos from anyone above the C-list, and it lacks that postmodern uber-self-referential shtick that is thiiiis close to being overdone.

Earl is a unique combination - taking the tried and true single-camera sitcom format and mixing it with skilled, creative casting, and rock-solid writing. Add in the ever-entertaining white trash setting and a dash of eastern philosophy, and you've got a recipe for an amazing, though inconspicuous show.

Luckily "grew an awesome mustache" wasn't something he had to apologize for.
Because this is America.

The show follows Earl Hickey - a low-rent con artist and Joe Sixpack type. After winning $100,000 in the lotto and then promptly getting hit by a car, he writes a list of every bad thing he's ever done. With the help of his simple-minded brother, his psycho ex-wife, and a motel maid, Earl is trying to improve his karma by righting the wrongs he's done to people over the years.

What this translates to is a virtual golden goose as far as story concepts go - watching Earl in sequence helps, but this is one of the few good shows you can honestly watch in just about any order. True, as with any formula you have a few dud episodes here and there, but even when the story fails, it’s still damn funny. Each episode is its own self-contained gem, complete with a moral at the end and an impressive number of laughs.

The main reason for this is the impressive mix between the writing and the cast. The writing is witty, and extremely tight. In fact, if you need a quick primer in simple structure, watch a couple of episodes - you can set your watch by them, from inciting incident to conclusion. But the way the characters are written makes this predictable structure sing.

And the cast, headed up by the smugly charming Jason Lee, is full of unsung character actors who have honestly found a niche. Now, if you were an adolescent in the 90's, you will definitely remember Jason Lee from his roles in Kevin Smith's movies, most memorably as "Brodie" in the horrible, utterly classic Mallrats - a movie that by all accounts he stole. Even though I never really watched My Name is Earl before recently, I was happy just to see that Jason Lee was working steadily - so many of those talented actors that got their start with the Jersey Trilogy either faded into obscurity or - in the case of someone who shall remain nameless (but whose name rhymes with Ken Maffleck) - pissed away their talent for a hot latin ass and a Mark Stephen Johnson turd.

Beyond Jason Lee, the cast is fantastic. Ethan Suplee (which IMDB just reminded me was also in Mallrats as William the "I want to see the sailboat" guy), is both believable and hilarious as Earl's stupid but quite lovable brother, and the shining star of the supporting cast is Jamie Turner, as Joy - Earl's loud and slightly unhinged ex-wife. She won an Emmy for the role in 2007, and she's simply fantastic. What makes her so good is that her performance is overblown, but grounded enough to still be believable. And that also is where the creativity of the casting shines through - even minor one-off roles have been cast with a precision that's remarkable. This is what gives the world of My Name is Earl such a vast richness and relatability, even though there aren't giant season-long arcs - the characters are crystal clear without being two-dimensional. You "get" it immediately, and so there's no need for explanation, all you have to do is sit back and watch.

So even though it doesn’t have the fancy bells and whistles of some of the other Thursday comedies out there, Earl is definitely worth a watch. It’s a rewarding experience without the commitment of the more prominent shows. It’s kind of like a fuck buddy. Yeah, I’ll stand by that. My Name is Earl is like the perfect fuck buddy – entertaining without being too much of a tax on your time or energy, and is even more fun than a daytime hooker. Happy New Year.

The fourth season of My Name is Earl just ended on NBC, and the first three seasons are available on Amazon for $108.99

DVD Junkie is a weekly review of TV Series on DVD. Kosmic only wrote this post sorta intoxicated and can finally cross “didn’t make fun of Ben Affleck on the internet” off her list.

Year-end List Round-up

In these last minutes of 2008, there's a good chance you're probably already starting to miss the year that was. Need a bit of help remembering what happened in the entertainment world over the last 12 months? Here are a few year-end lists to help you out...

TIME Magazine picks their top viral videos of 2008.

Yahoo's Jonathan Crow selects the ten most ridiculous movie moments of 2008. has the eight most misguided sci-fi predictions of what 2008 would be like.

/Film picks their top five movie quotes of 2008 (with audio!)

FirstShowing lists "the 19 best movies that you didn't see in 2008".

Cinematical's gone all-out with their year-end lists, picking the hottest and lamest things in movies in 2008, the best cinematic mayhem of the year, the best ensemble casts, overlooked indie films, the year's best on-screen chemistry, the worst MPAA ratings and best movie trailers of the year.

Not to be outdone, Film School Rejects gives their picks for the biggest disappointments of 2008 (not to be confused with their ten worst movies of 2008), the coolest movie posters, their ten favorite foreign and horror films of the year, the fifteen DVDs you should have bought, a few great films that flew under a lot of people's radars, the ten best new fight scenes, and ten actresses who made the biggest mark in films this year.

The Onion selects the best television episodes, best DVDs and worst movies of 2008. (I'm still waiting for Cake Man to netflix Witless Protection...)

Defamer selects their best and worst movie posters of 2008 and their 2008 video hall of shame.

FreeWilliamsburg picked their top 30 albums of 2008. (Girl Talk at #7? Whaaaat?)

Stereogum had their favorite musicians pick their favorite things of the year.

MTV's Kurt Loder gives his picks for the best movie of the year.

Thoughts on any of the lists? Are there any I'm missing! Comment away.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More free FYC screenplays - Milk, Burn After Reading, Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino, Benjamin Button, The Visitor, Kung Fu Panda, and more!

Again, all of these are thanks to the amazing SimplyScripts.

Burn After Reading - by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- by Eric Roth

Frozen River - by Courtney Hunt

Gran Torino - by Nick Schenk

Kung Fu Panda - by Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger

Last Chance Harvey - by Joel Hopkins

Milk - by Dustin Lance Black

The Reader - by David Hare

Revolutionary Road - by Justine Haythe

RocknRolla - by Guy Richie

Sex and the City - by Michael Patrick King

The Visitor - by Tom McCarthy

Check out SimplyScripts or our own posts here , here and here for more free screenplay downloads, including Dark Knight, Rachel Getting Married, and Synecdoche, NY.

Holy $hit - Predator and Robocop Rap

Onyx, prepare your head for immediate explosion.

A band by the name of The Anomalies have taken the first badass Predator movie and have made a hip hop video out of it. Yeah, sounds weird, but you need to see it:

Think that's awesome? I love this one even more - The Robocop Rap:

Thanks to /film for posting these.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Writing Week part 52 - Next Project Underway

First, let me just wish everyone Happy Holidays. As the year winds down, I'm finding it more and more important to get a solid grasp on my next project, so as to be able to really make some headway into it in early 2009. When I met with my manager a few weeks ago, I pitched him four ideas I had, and we collectively settled on one as my next project. I've been working on it "in my head" (read: not actually writing) since then, and finally started putting those thoughts down in random order, usually in short bursts of a few cryptic sentences at a time.

The idea, which I won't give away, is a pretty big one. It's not what you would call conventional, per se. There's a lot going on and a major shift in focus and a real whammy of a twist at the end of Act One. For that reason especially, it's been a little tough figuring out where the act breaks should come into play. Now don't get me wrong, a lot of writers successfully work outside the confines of three-act structure. The sequence method - I don't know a whole lot about this approach, but in short, it involves breaking your script into eight sections, each of which is treated as a short three-act sequence, with two sections being in acts one and three and four in act two - seems to be gaining in popularity. But the truth of it is that I haven't tried sequencing yet, and three-act structure is both familiar to me and something that works. If I can make the script work in that context, I'm going to try that first.

Have you ever had an idea that you realize is pretty convoluted and difficult, yet at the same time, you can step back from it and see it as a really basic, simple idea? That's sort of where I am now. (I know I just said it was big and with a major twist, but if i can just figure out how to incorporate them, the rest ought to fall into place very quickly.) My approach has usually been to find my "tent pole scenes," the scenes that hold up the script. There are five of these: the inciting incident on page 10, the twist or push at the end of Act One, the midpoint of act two when the protagonist is either encouraged or beaten down, the end of Act Two that catapults us toward the end, and the final climax/resolution.

I've always found the writing to come easiest when I can nail down those five scenes. From that point on, the outlining and writing is sort of like taking a road trip. You know where you're starting and what landmarks you have to hit along the way. How you choose to go from A to B in between those five sites is up to you, and ultimately one route will prevail above all the others. (Unless, of course, you decide that those five sites do not make sense to go to, and you redraw the map completely.) My big goal for the next few days is to mark those five scenes down on my outline (map). If I can get the story to fit in there, I'll be good as gravy. Smooth driving ahead.

Do you use the Five Tent Pole Scene Approach?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Trailer Trash XXVI: Operation Kid Brother (1967)

"Neil Connery is too much!"

Can't afford an A-list actor for your B-grade film? Well, maybe they have a younger sibling? That's just as good, right? I mean, no less than sixteen Baldwins have built their career on that concept alone.

Sean Connery's little bro Neil plays Dr. Neil Connery (in a brilliant stroke of character naming) in this z-grade James Bond knockoff. Most of the cast is made up of actors from previous Bond movies, which lends a tiny shred of credibility to the whole shebang.

At 0:08 - "Neil Connery... is not as good as his brother." (Sorry, cheap shot.)
At 0:20 - "Neil Connery... beats the hell out of everybody!"
At 0:29 - "Daniela Bianchi... can do much better than Neil Connery!"
At 0:40 - If you're not paying attention, rewind right here and listen to the lyrics to this song. They're amazing.
At 0:45 - Hellloooo, nurse.
At 0:50 - Beauty is subjective, apparently.
At 0:55 - Hellloooo, evil nurse.
At 1:05 - Hellloooo, circus nurse.
At 1:37 - Is that some kind of clown boat?
At 1:42 - Ceiling guns = ally of ceiling cat?
At 1:47 - Syd Barret-vision: ON!

"Too much... for one mother!"

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, December 25, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend: The Spirit, Valkyrie, Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road, Secret of the Grain, Waltz with Bashir

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

Holiday edition!

Opening this weekend...

THE SPIRIT, written and directed by Frank Miller

Premise: A rookie cop returns from the dead to fight crime from the shadows of Central City. His main opposition is a former lab technician who has reinvented himself as The Octopus, an elusive criminal mastermind who knows the secrets behind his nemesis.

Playing: Everywhere.

Anyone remember when Frank Miller was a visionary comic book artist/writer? I miss that Frank Miller.

VALKYRIE, written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, dir. by Bryan Singer

Near the end of WWII, Claus von Stauffenberg leads to group of fellow German army colonels in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler; the event would later be called the July 20 Plot of 1944.

Playing: All over.

All I can think about when I see the trailer for this one is that I already know how it's going to end. I love historical films, but even more so if I don't know the ultimate outcome right off the bat. And, eh, I'm sure I'll be netflixing this one once it's out. Until then I'm counting on Onyx to see this one and give us his review.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, written by Eric Roth, dir. by David Fincher

Benjamin Button was born under unusual circumstances. As everyone around him grew older, he aged backwards, making the challenges of life such as creating friendships, finding a job and falling in love all the more difficult and heartbreaking.

Playing: All over.

Cake Man caught this movie a couple weeks ago - you can check out his review here.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, written by Justin Haythe, dir. by Sam Mendes

A young couple raising a family in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s look to break free from their frustratingly mediocre lives.

Playing: All over.

Those Titanic kids are back at it again... but, really, could there be a less-interesting logline than the one they're giving us?

THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN, written and directed by Abdel Kechiche

At the port of Sète Mr. Slimani, a tired sixty year old, drags himself towards a shipyard job which has become more and more difficult to cope with as the years go by. He is a divorced father who forces himself to stay close to his family despite the scissions and tensions which are easily sparked off and which financial difficulties make even more intense. He is going through a delicate period in his life and recently, everything seems to make him feel useless; a failure. He wants to escape from it all and set up his own restaurant. However it appears to be an unreachable dream given his meagre, irregular salary which is not anywhere near enough to supply what he needs to realise his ambition. But he can still dream and talk about it with his family in particular. A family which gradually recompacts around this project which comes to symbolise the means to a better life. Thanks to their ingeniousness and hard work this dream soon becomes a reality... Or almost...

Playing: IFC Center

Can't really say I've read or heard much about this one at all - Time Out New York's rave review is the first I remember. I'm intrigued - if it's still playing when I get back to NYC I'll give it a shot.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR, written and directed by Ari Folman

By meeting and interviewing old friends from around the world, Ari, a former member of the Israeli Army, retraces his spotty personal history to a life-changing incident that occurred during his country's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Playing at: Lincoln Plaza, Landmark Sunshine

I usually avoid putting documentaries up here (y'know, trying to focus on the writers and all) but this one is too interesting to be missed. I didn't manage to catch it when it was part of the NYFF, so I'm glad I'll get a second chance to see it now.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An In-Depth Analysis of the Film by a 16-Year-Old Version of Myself

Before I was an aspiring screenwriter/snarky blogger, I was once a legitimate film critic for a daily newspaper. Sure, I was a teenager, and sure, I reviewed movies like holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but that didn't make me any less legit or any less snarky.

Because I thought it might be fun (and because I'm also a bit lazy) I've pulled out a piece that I wrote for the paper when I was 16. It's been eight long, crazy years...

'Rudolph' movie flawed, yet still a classic favorite

Written by Zombie, Age 16
Originally Published in the Tribune Chronicle

Legend has it that somewhere in medieval Europe, two small children were chopped up with a butcher knife and ground into sausage.

(Seriously, this is a Christmas story. Keep reading.)

As the legend goes, St. Nicholas arrived and was able to bring the two little sausage patties back to life, as children.

I've got one question:

How come we don't see claymation holiday specials about THAT?

Just imagine it: The two little claymation kids could easily be put through a sausage grinder. (Or, more likely, one of those little mold things that squeezes your Play-Doh into noodles.) The opportunities for gratuitous cartoon gore are endless.

While our animated Christmas specials weren't ever as violent as any given episode of "Mr. Bill," they were still SERIOUSLY MESSED UP.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" made its debut on NBC on Dec. 6, 1964.

"Rudolph" is the pinnacle of all Holiday TV specials. I may even venture to argue that it is one of the greatest movies of all time.

Just as when anything is considered perfect, there is always room to point fingers and laugh at it, "Rudolph" leaves itself open for much ridicule, mainly because of the large, glaring errors and distinct lack of logic in his plot.

Next time you watch, try to explain these:

- Carefully listen to what everyone calls the misfit elf who wants to be a dentist. They begin calling him "Herbie." About halfway through the movie, his name changes suddenly to "Hermey." Which one is it?

- Why does Yukon constantly lick his pickaxe?

- What's wrong with the misfit girl doll? She seems OK by me.

- What kind of stupid elf would build a train with square wheels? Put jelly in a squirt gun? Name his jack-in-the-box "Charlie?"

- What makes King Moonracer think Santa will help the misfit toys? Didn't Santa just help run Rudolph out of Christmas Town for being a misfit himself?

- Santa doesn't seem very concerned for Rudolph when his parents are missing. He's only concerned with whether or not he'll be able to fly his sleigh to all the good children in the world. Is that selfish, or what?

- The abominable snowmonster is completely harmless once they remove his teeth. Wait a minute . . . isn't he still 10 times their size? I don't understand why he doesn't just step on the elves, and knock down Christmas Town.

- Why does Santa give the misfit toys out to children at the end? They've already pointed out to us that no one wants them. I mean, I'd be pretty disappointed if I unwrapped my toy elephant and saw that some dummy (probably the one who dreamed of being a dentist) had painted polka-dots on it.

- If I were one of the mean elves at the end of the movie, I'd hate to have Hermey/Herbie/Whatever working as my dentist. I can just imagine this following scene:

Dentist: Alright, now open your mouth a little bit wider... Good. I can see in back now. Hey, wait a second, didn't you used to make fun of me? Well, buddy, looks like it's time for a root canal!


Despite all the glitches that I pointed out in the movie, it teaches us a lesson that I find valuable to this day.

Each character learns to let themselves be individuals. So, whether you're a red-nosed reindeer, an elf who wants to be a dentist, a jack-in-the-box named Charlie, or a humor columnist who wears duct-tape pants, remember that very important message.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

7 Pounds out of 10

I had seen the preview for Seven Pounds several times before going to the actual movie, and what struck me about the trailer was that it didn’t spoon feed me the amount of character and story information that I’m accustomed to these days. I had mixed feelings about it. I distinctly remember being curious, but confused at the same time. Seven Pounds seemed like a movie that was going to make the viewer work to keep up with the story. That proved to be true, but its story makes viewers work just a little too hard, and the blend of curiosity and confusion lingers throughout. In the end you’ll be keeping your fingers crossed that it all adds up, and you’ll be disappointed that the film finds ways to dance away from its strongest element in the courtship of two wounded characters, for the sake of its elaborate conclusion.

Seven Pounds is directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) and stars Will Smith as Ben Thomas, an IRS agent who takes it upon himself to alter the lives of seven strangers for the better. Why he embarks on this mission is a secret that Muccino and writer Grant Nieporte guard half heartedly. They feed you pieces to that particular puzzle, but you’ll have it solved well before the full revelation. The clandestine treatment of Ben’s past seems unnecessary, and unfortunately, so did most of the strangers in the film.

Rosario Dawson plays Emily Posa, a printmaker who suffers from an ailing heart. She’s the most important of the seven strangers to Ben Thomas and the most important to us. Woody Harrelson plays Ezra, a blind pianist and second of the two most worthwhile strangers. I loved Dawson, and throughout the movie I wanted to yell at Ben Thomas for not falling in love with her as quickly as I did. In these depressing times their steady courtship is what people care about, but the movie keeps jumping away to secondary characters that are small parts of Ben’s mission. On paper they may seem big, but on the screen they come off as distractions. Ben rescues an old lady from an abusive hospital, helps a Hispanic mother flee an abusive relationship, and donates bone marrow to a young child, but these saintly moments don’t hold much weight. For us to care about all of seven strangers and draw any real reward from Ben’s deeds, we need to spend more time with those characters, and to do that the movie needed to be three hours long. I don’t think Will Smith had it in him for three hours of Ben Thomas. At times, two seemed like more than he could handle.

There’s no questioning Will Smith’s ability to deliver as an actor, but this was the first role of his that I’ve seen in which he seemed stiff and perhaps a bit uncomfortable. I think a part of the problem is that there really just isn’t much of an emotional range for Ben Thomas. He spends most of his time somewhere between depressed and very depressed. His moments with Emily present opportunities where his character can really evolve, but Ben takes small steps forward and stops in the realm of the bland. Granted the character has reason to be angry and depressed, but someone like Will Smith is so gifted with his knack for drama and comedy in the sense that the man can go anywhere as an actor, so it becomes frustrating to see him stuck with Ben Thomas in a sort of character bubble.

People will go see Seven Pounds because of Will Smith, but people should go see Seven Pounds because of Will Smith and Rosario Dawson. The film is at its best when they simultaneously occupy the screen in a story about two people that need each other. When you pull away, it’s a story about more than just two people, and it’s about a man’s mission. But there will come a point in the film when most viewers will abandon Ben’s mission in favor of his underlying love story with Emily. You will hope that in the end the pay off will be as good as Muccino probably thinks it is, but when you arrive at that pay off, it will be hard to escape a feeling of underachievement. You won’t be too upset about it, because in the end you’ve watched two characters who needed each other find one another. It doesn’t matter how good or bad times are, if done right, that element will always leave viewers happy.

Holiday cheer from the BFI archives...

I'm a sucker for Victorian-era film/photography. I was really delighted to see BFI reaching into their archive for the holidays... Oh, how far special effects have come since 1898!

Made in 1898, G.A. Smith's 'Santa Claus' is a film of considerable technical ambition and accomplishment for its period. It uses pioneering visual effects in its depiction of a visit from St. Nicholas.

A former magic lanternist and hypnotist, Smith was one of the first British film-makers to make extensive use of special effects to create fantastical scenes. It comes as little surprise that Smith corresponded with the French pioneer Georges Méliès at about this time, as the two men shared a common goal in terms of creating an authentic cinema of illusion. (Michael Brooke)

Courtesy of the British Film Institute.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Writing Week Part 51 – Got a Manager

At this time last year, my post-Apocalyptic spec was, at best, an emerging idea, a dim light in my head beginning to grow bright. By April, I had a draft of it that the League had seen and was pleased with, especially for a first draft. I took a few months away from it to gain the necessary space between writing a first draft and attacking the hell out of it with rewrites. By Summer, I was back at it, reworking scenes, cutting some while other Leaguers held a gun to my head and verbally abused me about the uselessness of said scenes. I went out of the League for the first time and received feedback from a former board member of the company I work at, a former board member who writes for television. After receiving his notes – the equivalent of a polite nod, pat on the back, and then suggestions on how to fix the damn thing – I was back at the drawing board. By mid October, I had a draft that I was pleased with, pleased enough to begin the query letter process for the first time.

If you search for query letters or query letter help on Google, you’re likely to get a lot of conflicting and often demoralizing information – I know I did. One of the most upsetting things, if you want to call it that, was frequent mention of the current ineffectiveness of query letters. According to most help guides for writing query letters, most blogs written by agents and agents’ assistants, and most tutorials and informative sites managed by producers, query letters do not work. The statistics I read led me to believe that if I sent out 100 letters, I would be lucky to hear back from 10 companies, 3 of which would request to read my material.

I sent out an even dozen letters, and I did them all via email. If querying is so useless these days – the main argument for that being that people don’t take the time to read them anymore (though what they do read was never mentioned – then I didn’t want to spend any money on them. OK, I did pay the $25 for a subscription toe, but that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a Hollywood Representation Directory and it comes with updated script sales. Can’t beat that. So, I went about choosing my companies from DoneDeal based on those that met two “very strict” criteria: they had websites and, either on that website or on their info page on DD, had an e-query address. Twelve emails sent. I heard back from four of them, all requesting my script. That was back in October.

Two weeks ago this Thursday, I was at a brunch meeting for work. I got a call from an unknown number. Long story short, I had a 20 minute conversation with manager [redacted] of [redacted] Entertainment. [Manager] had emailed me the night before when he was only half way through my script asking if he could represent me. Since I hadn’t checked my email and answered by 11:30 the next morning, he gave me a ring. He loved the script and had some very big ideas for it. We agreed that he would send me a representation agreement and that I’d allow him to send out a feeler to someone very big in the industry (I’ll leave that person unnamed now, but he’s a big-wig). Last Wednesday, I met with [Manager] and signed on the spot with him. He outlined the timeline for pushing my script and we collectively decided on my next project, something I’d been thinking about a lot but had not yet committed to writing now.

Literally overnight I went from being unrepresented to being signed and having a big name reading my material. This script and what I’ve don with it has come a long way in under a year. The moral of the story – remember, this blog is to share our experiences for the benefit of other aspiring writers – is that two things work: persistence (which most – and hopefully all – writers know they need) and query letters (which people might tell you are useless now). As Jeffrey Nachmanoff once told me, great scripts do not just sit around in peoples’ drawers. They get discovered. Sometimes, we have to help our scripts come into the spotlight, but the bottom line is that they can. Get your material out there. Work on those query letters; have people review them for you – hey Leaguers, how long did we spend agonizing over every single word? It can work. Believe me.

The Wire and Authenticity

It’s not everyday that puts something up that I feel should be shared on the site, but this has been a day of small surprises, the most exciting being my coworker bringing her puppy to the office. Thrilling, but you know what’s more exciting than puppies? Another two discs of The Wire arriving via Netflix today. I’ve recently started watching the HBO show with my girlfriend, and from what I had heard it’s supposed to be one of the best shows ever, yadda yadda yadda. I mostly agree, because it’s a pretty damn good show, but something still sickens me about how this country has such an intense interest in criminals of all colors, shapes, and sizes. But that’s a deeper conversation that demands more energy than I’m willing to put into this post. (Shhhh, I’m at work.) So instead I’ll just provide a link to an article in which CNN writer and West Baltimore native, John Blake, provides a brief critique of the show and examines its authenticity. All you Wire junkies should check it out.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Trailer Trash XXV: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

"He knows when you've been naughty!"

Ah, the holiday-themed slasher - a cornerstone of the horror genre. Back in the glory days of the video nasty era, you rent a VHS and see people stabbed on any holiday Hallmark sells cards for. A few of the more popular holidays for rampaging psychos are Halloween (of course), Valentine's Day, and the Fourth of July. Even April Fool's Day has its own knife-wielding maniac flick. No question about it, though - the most creative and interesting holiday horror films are all centered around Christmas.

Ho Ho Horror! Merry Death-mas! Santa Clause is coming... to kill you! See how easy it is? For most screenwriters, the tagline practically writes your holiday horror script for you.

Most of these films involve overly-stabby Santas, but a few branch out to elves, gremlins, and deadly dwarves. A few classics are Black Christmas (aka You'd Better Watch Out), Christmas Evil (completely unrelated to the movie New Year's Evil), Silent Night Bloody Night, Don't Open Til Christmas and To All A Good Night. More recent entries in the genre are Jack Frost, Santa's Slay and Santa Claws.

What makes this holiday such a viable one for the genre? That's a college thesis I'll let someone else write. BUT - considering one of the most beloved Christmas tales, Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, involves ghosts and all sorts of creepy stuff, it's certainly not a new trend.

That brings us to today's Trailer Trash spotlight: 1984's Silent Night, Deadly Night. By far the most prominent of holiday slashers, this one has spawned not only four sequels but an upcoming remake.

The plot of the first film is convoluted and nonsensical, but I'll boil it down for y'all: A little boy witnesses a robber dressed as Santa Claus kill his parents. Fifteen later that trauma leads him to dress as Santa Claus and go on a killing spree. It's more or less the same as Batman's origin story, but the results are oh so very different.

Y'know, you're probably getting sick of my chattering. Here's the trailer:

At 0:07 - I'm already scared by all of the very ominous-looking toys.
At 0:35 - No, Santa!
At 0:44 - Santa's strong!
At 0:52 - Don't kill Frosty!
At 0:56 - Splat!

For as silly as it is, the movie sorta works as a cheesy slasher flick. It's better than its sequels, for what that's worth, and has plenty of creepy moments. (Those shots of the creepy toys in the trailer? There has to be at least ten minutes of creepy toy footage in the film.) And that's Linnea Quiggley getting impaled on the deer's antlers, because it's barely an 80s horror film unless she's in it. I'll say this: if you're in the mood for a killer Santa movie, you could certainly do a lot worse than Silent Night, Deadly Night!

Happy holidays, y'all!

"He's Dreaming of a Red Christmas."

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, December 19, 2008

Keeping Fresh (some scattered thoughts)

Yesterday while watching a trailer for Frost/Nixon, I suddenly wondered whether this movie would have been made if we still lived in the Clinton era. Or if Bush had rocked our socks, and we didn't all secretly wish someone would interview him for 28 hours and get an answer.

A while back, Onyx gave me a list of criteria he thinks should be involved in judging a screenplay. Pretty much everything's on the list: story, (a lot falls under story, originality, conflict) structure, execution, dialogue, etc. However, I wanted to throw "current interest" in the list. Onyx, for good reasons, said that's up for debate. Obviously there will always be romantic comedies and action movies, but even those follow the trend of our time. An article in the New Yorker pointed out how the typical romantic comedies nowadays star the slacker dude who needs to learn responsibility and the hot go-getter girl who needs to loosen up, when a few decades ago the typical was the serious goal-oriented man's life is turned upside down when the bright sassy girl shows up. As for action movies, cars continue to blow up, but the depiction of the villains are now more PC and racially diverse.

On the other hand, being about a too-current event can hurt too. A while back a friend of mine was screening NYU's dramatic writing grad program's portfolio, when she came across a script that was about the victims of Katrina. She immediately rolled her eyes since it came off as a script fishing for sympathy with its subject. As it turns out, it was one of the best script in the pile, but my friend was obligated to read every script to the bitter end. If she was an agent that gave every script 15 page chance, this one might have not made it.

Cake Man recently posted about the possible slow demise of historical movies, and in the comments Onyx says that Westerns might need to reinvent itself to stay alive. There was some debates on that. Perhaps they need to do what romantic comedy does: keep updating. The story will always be the same: get the girl/guy, people can expect that comforting thought going in, but it certainly keeps itself up to date with the times.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fun with MSPaint: Yes Man

'Nuff said.

What, When, Where this Weekend - The Wrestler, Seven Pounds, Despereaux, Yes Man

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

- The director of SCOTT WALKER: A 30TH CENTURY MAN is present at IFC Center screenings of the film this weekend.

- Kelly Reichardt is at Film Forum for a Q&A again tonight. Seriously - go see this movie! My review is here.

Opening this weekend...

, written by Robert D. Siegel, dir. by Darren Aronofsky

With his battle scars and failing heart, retired professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) jumps back into the squared cirle, climbing his way up the independent-circuit ladder, with his eyes on a showdown with his longtime rival.

Playing: Lincoln Plaza, Landmark Sunshine

This movie is a big favorite over here at League headquarters. Great script, great direction - it's got Mickey Rourke being badass and Marisa Tomei being hot. What else could you ask for?

Check out Cake Man's full review.

SEVEN POUNDS, written by Grant Nieporte, dir. by Gabriele Muccino

A professional man (Smith) who is close to suicide for his role in an auto accident that claimed the lives of seven people finds a reason to live, and to atone, when he falls for a woman (Dawson) who wants to help him deal with his grief.

Playing: Everywhere.

The trailer has me intrigued. Couldn't really tell what the movie was about without a little research, but I like the concept. And it's the writer's first feature. I'll check it out.

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, written by Will McRobb, dir. by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen

Banished from his home for being more man than mouse, Despereaux is befriended by Princess Pea who teaches him the value of reading books (instead of eating them) as well as a fellow outcast, Roscuro the Rat, who is interested in hearing the stories Despereaux has learned. When Roscuro is shunned by the princess, however, he plots her kidnapping, putting Desperaux's human-sized bravery to the test.

Playing: All over.

It feels like it's gotten to the point in comics world that if your series doesn't star Wolverine, it must be about medieval mice. (See: Mouse Guard, Mice Templar)

It was only a matter of time before this trend hit movies, right? Looks cute, though.

YES MAN, written by Nicholas Stoller and Jarrad Paul, dir. by Peyton Reed

What happens when you agree with everyone and say "yes" to everything? Carl is about to find out when he chooses to become overly agreeable for an entire year.

Playing: Too many places.

They have been advertising this movie constantly since, like, September. I'm not kidding at all. Even if this movie were great, I couldn't forgive it for shoving itself down my throat for four months.

If I'm watching a football game, there are only three things that I should be seeing during commercial breaks: 1) big trucks, 2) beer, and 3) women holding beer. Jim Carrey making goofy faces while shilling for Red Bull isn't anywhere on that list.

Jim Carrey, please, you're better than this.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Place for History?

When I went to the Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screening, the producers stuck around to do a Q&A with the audience after. One of the things that they spoke about was the place that historical movies, in particular "historical epics," which they called Button, have in Hollywood today. Onyx, as our resident historical drama writer, you might want to cover your ears now.

The outlook was grim, to say the least. There was general consensus that historical films are now one of the hardest to make. This is due to a number of things, probably, including the immense budgets they demand, the often limited ability to compete at the box office (hmm... Victorian era couples playing "who gets who" or Batman 7?), and their often limited audiences - you know, because who wants to hear people talking funny and wearing weird clothes? (all my speculation). On top of all of that, many historical films, dare I say more than half?, are also long. Really long. BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR are both long, but they're filled with action and blow my mind every time I watch them. But there are a number of other, tamer, more subtle historical dramas that are nearly as long as those, yet much quieter and about people and not fighting.

While the producers of Button were hopeful that their film could remind Hollywood not to drop this genre from future slates, I think I might have to disagree slightly that historical pieces are completely disappearing. There have been a number of celebrity driven epics tat take place before, say, 1900 recently. (How many times have you seen Orlando Bloom not dressed in something that you could only get at a costume shop? Once?) Historical epics are crowd pleasers, especially if current times are less than stellar. Not only can you escape to see people whose lives are far more difficult, but they also whack at one another with swords, and how great is that? The key is to keep the language contemporary enough, the action (if it's there) big enough, and the film star-studded enough. Can you make the argument that those "requirements" taint the genre? Yeah, probably, and you're welcome to do it in the comments section below.

But I don't think either audiences or filmmakers want to see the genre disappear totally yet.

MSPaint Movie Review: Wendy and Lucy

Girl loses dog.

Sometimes a film's premise can just be that simple and still knock you over with its depth. It's not that I'm oversimplifying all that much - sure, you could boil Lord of the Rings down to "Dwarf discards ring" but that hardly describes the story, does it? What makes Wendy and Lucy different is that you'd be hard pressed to find much else to say about the film's setup if you were being quizzed about it. That's really all it is.

A girl loses a dog and it's engaging as hell. Ah, the beauty of simplicity.

From the film's website:

Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy. When her car breaks down in Oregon, however, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, with far-ranging repercussions for herself and Lucy. "Wendy and Lucy" addresses issues of sympathy and generosity at the edges of American life, revealing the limits and depths of people's duty to each other in tough times.

Director Kelly Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond (who also wrote the short story the film was based upon) are able to work magic with what amounts to one girl, a dog, and only a few other, minor characters. The key is in the emotional realism that's brought into the film, both from excellent performances all around and the slow but natural pacing of the film. It's like an artist painting a masterpiece with only a basic watercolor kit - they were able to build something amazing with so very little.

Bresson made films like this. Vittorio De Sica, too - but that was roughly five decades ago. It's so nice to see someone approach film in that style in this day and age.

Because this is what you're REALLY here for, my MSPaint Review of Wendy and Lucy:

Go check it out. In the meantime, add her last film, Old Joy, to your queue.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Writers' Warning - WGA Script Registration


(Writers' Warning is a new section we're debuting here on where we post about suspicious and potentially risky services and companies. Not all practices mentioned are necessarily dangerous for writers - some might be completely legit and just sound fishy at first. We only report the facts and encourage comments from people who know better and can speak on behalf of the situations/companies.)

I recently had cause to call a number of entertainment lawyers, soliciting advice on something where I could. One of the things I spoke about with one of them was WGA script registration versus U.S. Copyright. (You'll remember we discussed this a bit before.) Well, the discussion, at least if you speak with this particular lawyer, is over.

When the lawyer asked if I had gotten my script copyrighted, I told him that I had done the WGA registration. He literally laughed. "That's absolutely worthless," he said. "I don't know why people even bother doing it."

I asked for clarification, and he explained that it offered zero legal protection on the material or, more importantly, the idea. Obtaining a copyright alone will potentially save a writer loads of headache (and heartache), according to him. for just $35 (compared to $22 for the WGA registration), a writer can apply for a U.S. Copyright. The whole thing can be done online, as it is with the WGA. It takes about 45 minutes - I did this yesterday - and is really pretty simple. There's a lot of filling in easy blanks (i.e. name, title of material, type of work, etc.). I've heard that it can take up to 6 months to receive the certificate of copyright, but the lawyer informed me that doesn't matter. "The date is retroactive form the day you register," he said, so though it might be June 2009 before I receive that certificate, to the best of my knowledge, it will have been effective beginning December 15th, 2008.

I'm no legal expert. (Don't take this post as solid legal advice - always get a lawyer of your own to look anything over or get advice.) Nonetheless, from now on, I'm at least urging each League member to get that copyright. I'm not going to say abandon the WGA registration (couldn't hurt, right?), but I'm certainly not going to rely on it as my only crutch from here on out.

Verbum Sap Sat, y'all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Writing Week part 50 - Know Your Characters

Last week, I'd written a page of a brand new screenplay because of an idea I had. I knew how to kick it off, I knew the basic premise, and I knew I wanted to get the ball rolling on it. But I didn't know something very important; I didn't know who I was writing about.

When writing action specs, it's easy to throw in a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, a lot of naked women (sometimes for no reason), and a lot of tough guys. At the end of the day, though, we writers have to remember something very fundamental: every character (OK, at least every protagonist) must have a goal. Even if it's a Bruce Willis type goal - i.e. keeping your crumbling family together while you kill 300 people - there has to be something the character is working toward. (Don't get me wrong, I dig a lot of Bruce's work. However, if you look at 95% of his movies, I can guarantee you that not only will he be a rogue or former cop, but his marriage or relationship with his children (usually a daughter) will be on the rocks. Somehow, his family life ties into his need to shoot a dozen terrorists every five minutes.) Even the most basic of action movies has a character with some story line, however crappy it may be, and some need, however ridiculous it might seem in context.

My mistake with the script is that I hadn't bothered to think that through clearly enough. I was so eager to write that first scene, to lay everything out, that I wasn't prepared to follow up with what had to come next, namely the introduction of my pro- and antagonists. Rookie mistake? Probably. One I won't make again? Probably not. The thing is, sometimes as writers, we also need that jolt, that first spark of creativity to get us working steadily again. I might not be set to work on the pages to this spec yet, but it allowed me to do something else entirely, something just as important, if not more so. It allowed me to see what I really wanted to write.

After that night of page-length success followed by realization of 99 page impotence, I knew that I wasn't yet ready to work on that project. I popped open Word and set to work on another outline for another script (got a first page for that one, too). The difference? I knew my characters. They weren't running around blowing crap up or racking up body counts that Braveheart would be jealous of. They were just being themselves. And I knew them well. I was ready to write.

Sometimes if you run into a wall in your writing, the best thing isn't actually to bust your fists knocking it down, but to turn around and find another road around it.

40 Inspirational Speeches in two minutes

This has been bouncing around the internet lately, and it 100% rules.

40 inspirational speeches in two minutes:

Thanks for sending this, Joe!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trailer Trash XXIV: Old Dracula (1975)

"Count Dracula is having a bloody good time with the year's juiciest playmates!"

I've got a joke for you, kids! Alrighty, y'all! Gather 'round!

Q: What do you get... when you cross a vampire... with a pimp??

::snicker, giggle::

A: This lump of shit!

Old Dracula is a comedy from 1975 that seems to be trying to play to both the horror and blaxploitation audiences and gets both of them terribly, terribly wrong. Dracula is kinda like a pimp, but he's white. How does this movie fall into the blaxploitation realm of cinema? Regardez le plot: Dracula's (white) wife gets a blood transfusion from one of Drac's Playboy Playmate friends, and that turns her into a sassy black woman! Let the wacky, racist hijinks ensue!

Seriously. If it weren't for movies like Soul Plane, I'd say that movies like this couldn't be made anymore. Most of the plot involves Dracula trying to turn his wife white again. I'm not kidding! Even Al Jolson had to have cringed a little in his grave when this movie came out.

But, according to the poster, if you loved Young Frankenstein, you'll love Old Dracula!

Okay, enough chit-chat. Trailer time.

At 0:14 - Who is doing this narration?
At 0:25 - Back when David Niven was a household name.
At 0:36 - Oh, no. Are they rapping?
At 0:40 - I used to rap like that, but I was a seven year-old white kid from Ohio that only knew what rap was from Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
At 0:42 - Burrrrp!

Seriously, who asked the Cowsills to record a rap song?

"Save some for the kiddies, ol' Drac-baby!"

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, December 12, 2008

The Writing Wire for 12/12: Zombie icons, Ellroy on HBO and 'Che' potty breaks

Happy Friday, all. Let's roll.

• IO9 asks: Is sci fi getting too mainstream? Also -- and Zombie will appreciate this -- how would major cultural icons look if they were zombie-fied? Check out Ronnie Reagan above.

• Have you lied about reading a good book lately? It's OK if you have.

• The Underwire has the verdict on The Day The Earth Stood Still remake: Not so good.

• More importantly, when should you take a pee break during Steve Soderbergh's four-hour Che biopic?

• Topless Robot thinks Heroes might stop sucking soon. Did it ever not suck?

• Measure for Measure, the great songwriting blog from The New York Times discusses writing confessional songs.

Could Gran Torino be Clint's best work in years?

• And, in the "Only King Suckerman Cares/Delay of Game" category, I just realized that HBO is working on a series adapting James Ellroy's "American Underworld" novels, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. Extra cool? It's by the team that did the critically-acclaimed John Adams mini.

What Are You Reading Week 8: Finishing up the "L.A. Quartet"

I know, I know. Where the hell have I been? No concrete excuses here, faithful reader. One thing I can say about my time away, though, I have been reading. Reading Ellroy. Can't you tell, from my stop-start sentence structure and use of words like "shitbird" and "feature this"? No? Fine.

Last time we chatted, I was midway through James Ellroy's "L.A. Quartet," a loosely-connected series of novels set in -- you guessed it! -- Los Angeles, starting around the time of WWII and ending at the dawn of the 1960s.

Specifically, I was about a third of the way through L.A. Confidential, which tells the tale of three cops: up-and-coming brown-noser Ed Exley, lovable bruiser Wendell "Bud" White and smooth operator Jack Vincennes. Most of you, I'm sure, are familiar with the film version, starring Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. While the movie is fairly faithful to the source material, if we've learned anything about Ellroy thusfar, it's that he packs his novels with so much information and so many characters, that oftentimes, you find yourself flipping backwards just to re-learn who some of these people are. Confidential, seemingly the longest of the four novels, is honestly, sometimes pretty hard to follow. Ellroy mixes in a slew of characters, newspaper-style vignettes and three different viewpoints. While it takes at least half the novel (or, it did for me, at least) to get into the groove Ellroy is belting out, once you start to feel it, you really become immersed in the world the author's created. Meticulously researched, from the historical facts surrounding the story (The "Bloody Christmas" and veiled Walt Disney parody) to the word choice and lingo of the characters from that time period, you close the book feeling like you just spent a month or two in Los Angeles, circa 1954.

Unlike The Big Nowhere, which seemed to be more of a mish-mash of viewpoints and facts swirling together with a Communist witch hunt and a serial killer backdrop, L.A. Confidential takes the three-character formula and synthesizes it into something more cohesive. Whereas Nowhere started with three characters, seemingly unrelated, working on their own cases/problems and then eventually gravitating toward each other, L.A. Confidential starts with the three main characters already close together and slightly overlapping and with a much stronger conflict -- specifically with the straight arrow Exley and the devil-with-a-heart White.

There were points while reading Nowhere that I pondered giving up, before hitting the final act which kicked the entire book into high gear. L.A. Confidential is smooth from the get-go, with a few slower chapters but overall a consistent and engaging pace. You begin to sympathize with all three of Ellroy's stars -- the duty-bound Exley, the brutish but loyal White and the slimeball with a soul, Vincennes. Whereas with Nowhere, you could argue that Mal Considine was really the only relatable character. The closeted Detective Upshaw and scurrilous Meeks were a little too far gone for this reader to really root for or appreciate. But I'll get to that a bit more later on, when we enter the final chapter of the Quartet, in Ellroy's White Jazz.

Plot-wise, like most of Ellroy's latter-day work, L.A. Confidential is ultra-detailed and at times confusing. But the style raises the substance more often than not, making the book an experience not to be missed, even if you're not really sure what just happened, exactly. Still, it's a literary work, and it elevates the crime genre beyond the staid trappings of private eye stories and serial killer adventures. While I have a soft-spot for the more linear and emotional stuff produced by Pelecanos and once produced by Lehane, Ellroy's a totally different -- and disturbing -- flavor that's worth trying.

White Jazz, which closes out the four-piece masterwork, goes back to Ellroy's roots. Specifically, the first-person narration of The Black Dahlia. This time, though, the viewpoint character is not nearly as likeable as young Bucky Bleichert was. Instead, we're handed Dave Klein, a corrupt cop who's part slumlord, part bagman and all rotten. Set a few months after the end of L.A. Confidential, we find Klein heading up the LA Administrative Vice division -- well, when he's not killing people for the mob or having strange, incestuous fantasies involving his younger sister. Yeah. Klein is not your typical lead.

Just as Klein takes on a side job trailing a wannabe movie starlet for mogul Howard Hughes, his world begins to crumble. The State's Attorney has begun a deep probe into corruption in the LAPD, former mob head honcho Mickey Cohen is becoming a parody of himself and Kein's been assigned to solve a home invasion that seems admittedly creepy but irrelevant, on the surface. I won't spoil the specifics here, but Jazz does resolve plot threads and character arcs from the last novel, in a much clearer and effective way than Confidential did for Nowhere (strangely enough, the movie version of L.A. Confidential finds a way to integrate Buzz Meeks into the main plot much more cohesively than Ellroy did, with a slapshod prologue). If you closed the book on L.A. Confidential wondering what happened to X and Y, White Jazz answers those questions for you.

But beyond just closing down plot threads and concluding stories for previously introduced characters, Jazz is a riveting and disturbing look at a totally corrupt and despicable individual. I found it hard to get few the first chapters of the book because I found Klein impossible to like. He was a liar, a cheat, a scumbag and a murderer. But once you keep reading you realize he's one of many, and, as was pointed out to me earlier today, why do you have to like the main character to like a book anyway? Maybe I just grew into the habit. After a while, I figured out what Ellroy was striving for, or, what I thought he was going for. He wants you to hate Klein. He wants you to find him to be a disturbing creature you'd never want to cross in real life. That's what makes his story so interesting -- this is a cop tale from the other side of the coin, where the "hero" isn't a stalwart white knight but a black knight in sheep's clothing. That's the crux of White Jazz, and everything else that injects Ellroy's fiction starting with his literary rebirth in the pages of The Black Dahlia. Even the way the sentences and thoughts are structured give the reader a glimpse into the frenzied, fractured mind of Klein.

There's an unconfirmed rumor that Ellroy turned in a 900-page first draft for Jazz. When his publisher balked, Ellroy cut the book down to size by excising most of the verbs, articles, adjectives and unnecessary words, pruning it down to a more manageable 350-or-so pages. Crazy, huh?

The final product is a benzadrine fueled sprint through the creepy underbelly of Los Angeles in the late 50s, before the dawn of Camelot, doused in piles of murder, greed, corruption, double-crosses and lies. And there's more.

"Well, fine. But do I have to read the entire four-novel series to enjoy the experience?"

Not really. I think each novel stands (and falls) on its own merits and failures. Do you get a better, more organic and overall complete story by reading all four? Yes. The perfect example is when you read L.A. Confidential and realize two of the most important characters in the book are left dangling after the main plot is resolved. Or, when you finish The Big Nowhere and you're not really sure what's going to happen to Buzz Meeks. If, like myself, you're already inherently inclined to enjoy serialized fiction, you'll want to read all four. There's also the geeky payoff, which Ellroy uses carefully, that comes when you see a character from an earlier book showing up later in the series, like The Black Dahlia's Russ Millard taking a more central role in L.A. Confidential.

While not perfect by any means, Ellroy's "L.A. Quartet" offers up a layered, organic and exhilarating picture of a city in different stages of evolution with real history as a backdrop you can sense and see, instead of just having it inserted to suit the needs of story. These characters could have easily existed in the times they've been placed, and the ones that did sound perfectly in tune with their real life doppelgangers. Highly reccommended.

What's next for me? More Ellroy. Specifically, part one of Ellroy's "American Underworld" trilogy, American Tabloid.

But enough of that. What are you reading?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Wendy and Lucy, Gran Torino, Doubt, The Day the Earth Stood Still

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

- Kelly Reichardt is at Film Forum talking about Wendy and Lucy tonight and Friday...

- Fellini's classic Amarcord is wrapping up its run at Film Forum...

- ...while Bergman's five-plus hour masterpiece Fanny and Alexander is opening for a limited time at the IFC Center. Each half requires a ticket, but it's well worth it just to see this on the big screen.

- Read the Black List yet?

Opening this week...

WENDY AND LUCY, written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, dir. by Kelly Reichardt

Premise: A woman's life is derailed en route to a potentially lucrative summer job. When her car breaks down, and her dog is taken to the pound, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she is led through a series of increasingly dire economic decisions.

Playing: Film Forum

I've been hyped about this one for months - still hyped. See me shaking with excitement here and here.

DOUBT, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley

Premise: Set in 1964, Doubt centers on a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him abusing a black student. He denies the charges, and much of the play's quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality and authority.

GRAN TORINO, written by Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson, dir. by Clint Eastwood

Premise: Disgruntled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski's prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino.

Playing: All over.

This could possibly be Eastwood's last film as an actor? That's hard to imagine. Either way, I'll stand by his directing work. Film School Rejects has their review over here.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, written by David Scarpa, dir. by Scott Derrickson

Premise: A remake of the 1951 classic sci-fi film about an alien visitor and his giant robot counterpart who visit Earth.

Playing: All over.