Thursday, July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
The more I read about The Hurt Locker the more I feel like I’m the only person who left the theatre disappointed. My disappointment turns into confusion when I read about people praising Kathryn Bigelow’s film as “a near perfect movie.” I just don't get it. God knows that when I first saw the trailer, I wanted this film to be near perfect. I wanted it to be the summer gem that you remember for all the right reasons. I’ll remember The Hurt Locker for a long time, but not for its cinematography or fresh angle on the modern war experience. I’m going to remember a frustratingly one dimensional protagonist, an out of focus narrative, and too many key moments lacking realism in a film that's strongest when grounded in reality.
The Hurt Locker follows a three man bomb squad operating during the Iraq War. Jeremy Renner plays William James, the “new guy” on the team and the one who gets to put his hands on the dreaded IEDs that litter the streets of Iraq. I really enjoyed seeing the war through the eyes of a bomb technician. It wasn’t that this fresh perspective shed new insight on the war (the Iraq War still sucks here) but more that it provided a new vehicle to show us how the war is terrible and how it puts an awful mental and physical strain on the men and women who participate in it. Every soldier has a role in the field, some more exciting than others, and some more suspenseful than others. You might think that bomb squad technician gives you a healthy combination of the two, but I found that it was heavy on suspense, leaving the film searching for excitement in other ways.
In the beginning of the movie somebody other than Jeremy Renner is wearing the protective bomb suit, and seeing that Renner is nowhere to be found everyone knows that the film is going to start with a bang. You know exactly what’s coming, yet Bigelow and company manage to create one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen in recent memory. The very nature of a bomb is suspenseful. They’re relatively small inanimate objects, but in the blink of an eye they can literally change the face of the world around them. You know what will happen, but you ask yourself when and how will it come to be. It’s equally impressive in later scenes when the suspense is maintained in moments where you know the bomb won’t detonate. If the bomb that can take out a city block goes off in front of William James, movie over, but we never lose that fear. I personally think it would have been excellent to have a dream sequence where the entire team gets annihilated. It’s a curveball nobody would have seen coming.
In order to keep its excitement on par with its suspense, The Hurt Locker abandons what it does best and floats off into the realm of unrealistic and illogical action scenes. One sequence has James sneaking away from the safety of his base to track down answers in the middle of Iraq, completely alone and armed only with a pistol. On another occasion the three man bomb squad decides to turn into an assault force and go hunt down terrorists in the middle of the night and without back up. All of this happens on a hunch, and why even bother with the other 100,000 soldiers that are there to help you get the job done? Moments like this find the film stretching for the sort of Hollywood action that betrays the nature of the film.
I’d be curious to see what real soldiers think of William James. He’s a rebel, a man who needs the adrenaline from having a bomb in his face much more than he needs authority. William James doesn’t care about his life and he continuously demonstrates that he doesn’t care about the lives of those surrounding him. In one scene his teammates toil with the idea of killing him and having it look like an accident. It’s the most realistic scene in my mind, because all I could think about is how terrible a soldier James is. But that’s his character and some would say that the film nailed that. Sure, but how are we supposed to care about this guy? I found that I cared about his teammates much more, and any tension I was feeling was out of concern for their safety and not James’. It’s possible that I might accept someone like James for a protagonist, but he has to be well developed and we have to understand him. The film’s lack of an antagonist makes it episodic and we often lose the sense of building action. This all makes deep characters that much more important, but the film gives you no depth and no way to understand James. In one of the scenes James’ teammate openly asks him why he was wired the way he was. Why does he take so many risks? Why is he not afraid? My ears perked up at the prospect of understanding this guy, but all he does is shrug and say something along the lines of “I don’t know, I just don’t think about it.” Great, thanks Mark Boal.
I’d say the film is a good presentation of the Iraq War. It's consistent with the theory that it sucks big time over there. Soldiers plod along, mission after mission, often not knowing who the enemy is, never truly knowing how to win. That’s exactly how The Hurt Locker felt, chapter after chapter of men struggling to survive and stay sane, but never really working towards anything. If a clear, traditional narrative isn’t that important to you, The Hurt Locker will be far more tolerable. Last I checked though, everyone needs well developed, likeable characters. I’m still trying to understand how the film managed to satisfy so many viewers (or movie critics at least) in that regard.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Title: Sacred Prey
Logline: A loan shark kills a man he believes duped him, only to wake up and find himself in the body of that man three days before the murder. He then must undertake a furious effort to prevent the murder he committed.
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
More: To be adapted from Vivian Schilling's novel. Room 101's Steven Schneider and Energy's Brooklyn Weaver will produce. Warner's Matt Reilly & Niija Kuykendall will oversee.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I write every day, for most of the day, so it’s just about turning into metaphor whatever’s going on in my life, in the world, and in my head. Every nightmare, every moment of grief or joy or failure, is a moment I can convert into cash via words. I use everything. Turning life into stories is how I make sense of my experience. No matter how weird or disturbing or upsetting to me personally, it all finds its way in there. I’ve been close to nervous breakdown, sheer exhaustion, or profound existential crisis several times doing this stuff, and somehow, I always bounce back refreshed with new ideas. “Bend, son,” my mother told me when I was young, “bend and you won’t break!” - Grant MorrisonThe full interview is here.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
It feels like it was just a couple months ago that I was sitting down and writing about my goals for 23. Here I am now at 24, an age that has nothing going for it except that it's almost 25. We can choose any day of our lives to reflect on progress and set goals, but I like to check in for a life analysis on my birthday. It’s our personal new year’s day. Looking back at the goals I set for myself a year ago, I can’t say that I’m satisfied with the recent past. But I’m very excited for the future, and a good deal of it has to with the fact that I finally want lots of other things to be great in my life aside from my writing.
The first goal I remember setting for myself at 23 was placing in a screenplay competition. The year before, I had done well and made it to the semi-finals in a competition with my thesis script from NYU. This time around I had finished an action/horror spec. It was a ton of fun to write and I still think it’s got some of my best material to date. It’s the only script I entered into a competition and I didn’t advance one round. Some of these competitions sure make you wait a long time for disappointment. I haven’t given up on the competition circuit yet, and don’t expect that I will anytime soon.
The second goal was to have conversations with three people I've never met before who work in a relevant corner of the industry. I did pretty well with this goal, although today I wish I hadn’t phrased it as someone in a “relevant” corner of the industry. At this point any corner of the industry is relevant. The top tier LA set designer I met at a party is going to be able to help me with my pursuit of being a Hollywood screenwriter a lot better than the LA/NY screenwriter I never met. Luckily I did have a chance encounter with a working screenwriter who lives in New York and continues to work with some big names in the industry. I hope to pick his brain further soon. I also had a great conversation with a screenwriter who took a major Hollywood studio to court over claims they stole his material. He eventually won at the end of an ordeal that spanned many years. That encounter was more cautionary than inspiring, but it can never hurt to understand the potential dangers that lurk in the industry.
The last goal was to have six scripts polished to the point where I wouldn’t hesitate showing them to somebody in the industry. I failed miserably here, but I think part of the reason was that some of my previously valued ideas suddenly didn't seem as movie worthy, or I realized they were a really tough sell for a beginning screenwriter. I have to be honest though, the previous year has been plagued by lack of motivation as well as stubbornness. I got notes from an established LA manager on where my action/horror spec needed to go, and I haven’t acted on those notes in any way. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year not being happy and fulfilled by my writing. It's hard to press on when your therapy starts feeling like torture.
I’m a writer and that’s how I want to make a living. Everyone in my life knows that, and when people want to check in on me, especially those I'm not in regular contact with, they ask me how the writing is coming. But these days I want people to ask about more than the writing. Some people say life is long, others say life is short. I haven't decided for myself yet, but I do know we have the capacity to be great at so many different things. I plan on being a better writer by 25, but I'm going to accomplish that by being great at other things. When the writing slump hits, I'm not going to wait it out by watching movies and playing video games. I'm going to practice other skills and take on new hobbies. I'm convinced that if I can be fulfilled through other endeavors, then I can afford to wait for the words to return to me. When the words do return, I'll have the positive energy from other facets of my life propelling me back into my craft. The first two new endeavors that I've taken on are Kendo, which I've been doing for a few months now and studying spencerian penmanship seeing that I never learned cursive. I don't have any goals for 24 directly related to screenwriting, but I know this will be one of my most pivotal years of screenwriting to date.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Monday, July 06, 2009
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Because we're the last remaining blog not to post about Michael Jackson: the Thriller video remade in Legos.
Something else Hollywood is putting money into that's NOT your spec script: Asteroids: The Movie, based on the gripping Atari video game.