Monday, October 23, 2006

Here All the Bombs Fade Away: The Decemberists at The Wiltern LG, 10/21/2006

Los Angeles concert-goers are notorious for their lack of enthusiasm. I can't count how many times I've been told that a perfectly good rock and roll show was ruined by a seemingly disinterested crowd of Angelinos who would have been too cool to do more than clap unenthusiastically had John Lennon himself come back from the dead to play during the encore. Somebody must have forgotten to tell the crowd at the Decemberists show what city they were in last night, because I haven't been to many shows in my life in any city where the crowd and the performers were so obviously in love with eachother. In fact, the last time I'd had such a perfect experience at an L.A. show was about a year ago- the last time The Decemberists were in town.

There is something magical about front man Colin Meloy and his merry band. The Decemberists should be one of the most pretentious and boring bands in music. This is a band that favors writing ten minute long songs that retell old Japanese folktales and Irish myths. Almost every critic who writes about them is quick to point out that their lyrics are much more literate than almost every other rock song ever written. Musically, the band likes to experiment with tons of bizarre instruments and various styles, never sticking to one sound for long. Their songs are usually period narratives, telling tales of Mariners seeking revenge, suicide pacts, and Chinese Trapeze artists. In theory, it should be really lame and indulgent. Yet somehow, The Decemberists more than pull off what could have been annoying and precious- in fact, they are one of the most fun, entertaining, engaging, inventive, catchy, and insanely listenable bands around.

Playing at the Wiltern last night, one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles, the band rocked through a lively, fast paced set that lasted almost two hours but passed like lightning. They played almost their entire phenomenal new album, "The Crane Wife," a lot of cuts from their 2005 release, "Picaresque," and a healthy sprinkling of hits from their first two albums. Opening with the first two tracks from "The Crane Wife,” including the mind bending, prog rock epic "The Island" (which has a much longer full title, tells a tale of a mysterious island where a murder occurs, and features a kick ass synth solo- yeah, this band can even pull off synth solos,) Meloy was in full control of the stage from the get go. Joking with the audience, organizing call and responses, and even leading us in "vocal warm-ups" so we could sing along, Meloy clearly loves being in front of a crowd, and we loved him back. This is the rare rock star who lets you see how much he enjoys being a rock star- there is no snobby, too cool to be there attitude that many front-men favor. For two hours, Meloy kept the energy up, making it clear just how much fun he was having.

When he launched into live staple "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," the crowd erupted. Meloy's love/ hate letter to the city summed up the contradictory feelings many of residents feel to the city of Angels, and we sang along lyrics like: "How I abhor this place/Its sweet and bitter taste/ Has left me wretched, retching on all fours /Los Angeles, I’m yours" with gusto and abandon. The new, Smiths and Talking Heads influenced track "The Perfect Crime 2" had the crowd on the floor dancing wildly (another thing that apparently Los Angeles crowds don't ever do,) while the gorgeous "Sons and Daughters" turned into a beautiful sing along that felt like a giant group hug.

The encore was even better. After letting the crowd go crazy for a few minutes, screaming and stomping for more, the band came back out. Meloy, for the first time all night, didn't pick up a guitar and the band launched into a terrific new song. Just singing, Meloy was free to launch into an all out Morrissey impression, reaching out to an adoring crowd, gyrating wildly, singing on his knees melodramatically, grabbing an audience member's cell phone and dialing a random number and singing the new songs awesome, slightly creepy lyrics (Cut 'im up, boy,") into the phone, while whipping the mike chord with abandon. I don't know what this song is called, but I can't wait to hear the next album if it's as good as the new track they played last night. They closed the set with a rousing, extended version of "16 Military Wives," with Meloy splitting the crowd in two for the sing along, getting us to follow his every command. This is a performer who is confident and in command of his audience, and clearly loves it. The audience was going nuts, and Meloy couldn't stop smiling through the whole show. At the end of the night, he admitted (ambiguous lyrics to his ode the city aside,) how much fun he has every time he comes out to L.A.

The feeling was more than mutual.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Project Runway: Assholes Finish First

I wanted to do a short post on "Project Runway's" finale tonight. Anyone who makes fun of me for watching the show, by the way- you just haven't seen it. I thought that a show about designing fashion would blow too- but man is that shit compelling viewing. And it's funny to take a step back and look at yourself critiquing the clothes that the designers make- what the shit do I know about clothes? Not much.

Will my total lack of fashion knowledge (all I ever wear are a small group of T-Shirts and two pairs of jeans that I wear for two weeks straight until I finally do the laundry) stop me from bitching about the winner of Season 3?

You bet your ass it won't. They created the art form of blogs so that uninformed people could state their opinions, and state them loudly.

Jeffrey is the winner?

The asshole with the neck tattoo? With the ugly "rock and roll" clothing? The guy who may very well have cheated on his final clothing line (when he was accused, he seemed nervous and annoyed- but if somebody had accused me of cheating on something and I hadn't, I know I'd be pissed off, not act fake surprised.) The guy who made another designer's mom cry? Who was pissed off every time one of his ugly designs didn't win a competition? Who badmouthed everybody else to no end? That guy won?

His final line was better than anything he'd done all season- but still had some turds in it. And the guy is just such a creep, he's impossible to root for. I wanted Michael to win, but clearly the youngster blew it with his ugly line. I wouldn't have minded if Uli, the crazy German who just loves colorful prints, had won with her line, which actually looked different than every piece she made all season. I would have even been fine with Laura winning, the Cruella De Vil of the group (when the designers were all given the task of creating an outfit for a dog, I thought she was going to make it out of the dog.) Anyway, enough about the clothes- I don't really know anything about them in the first place. But I've watched every episode this season, and hated Jeffery for every minute of it.

The guy is an arrogant putz- and not even an entertaining one, like last season's hilarious Santino. The guy made someone's mother cry- because she had the audacity to say she didn't like the clothes he made for her.

Shouldn't the fact that he possibly cheated have hurt his chances? And if not, shouldn't he lose some points for that fucking stupid neck tattoo?

When did I start to care about a fashion design reality show so much?

Shit, I can't wait for season 4.

Lost Watch: Polar Bears, Visions, and Naked Psychics

Episode 3 of Season 3 of "Lost" sees the show regaining it's status as one of the most out there shows on television. I mean, this episode was loopy...and I loved it for that reason.

We finally find out what happened to Locke- he's relatively unscathed after the Hatch meltdown at the end of season 2- except he can't speak...not until he talks to The Island. Yes, we're back to Locke's first season obsession with the idea that the island is trying to talk to him...and who should show up in his vision but Boone, the first major character to die on "Lost" (and I'm sure the actor who played him was glad to get a bit of work after being fired from one of the hottest shows on TV, which films in Hawaii...basically the best job in the world) who shows him a crazy vision set in a dream world airport. After having his bizarre vision, Locke realizes he must save the missing Mr. Ecco and "clean up his own mess." Charley, everyone's favorite burn out from an Oasis wanna be band, joins him on his quest...basically because the writers needed to give Locke someone to talk to.

And they end up tracking a polar bear.

As we learned early in season one, there are frigging polar bears on mystery island. Apparently one of them has got himself a cave, and he's a mean as fuck CG monster. Locke has to crawl into the creepy bear cave out in the jungle, (and I expected him to fight Darth Vader- only to reveal that he is fighting himself) to save the bruised and injured Ecco. Using a clever hair spray flame thrower, Locke sends the big ol' bear running.

On their way back to the main camp, Charlie runs off to fetch water just in time for Ecco to speak to Locke, telling him he can go after their captured friends at the Others' resort- because he's a hunter. By the time Charlie gets back, Ecco is passed out again. So the island is definitely on speaking terms with Locke again. After his long, drawn out love affair with the hatch last season, the island has taken him back. It was inevitable- the island and Locke are like Ross and Rachel. They may not always get along, but those two crazy kids are meant for each other.

The flashbacks for Locke were semi-interesting as well. Locke picks up a hitchhiker on his way to a hippie commune, played by Justin Chatwin- Tom Cruise's son from "War of the Worlds," who turns out to be an undercover cop who will probably end up busting his friend's for growing pot- lots and lots of it. Chatwin was fine, but it woulda been kinda sweet had it been the other Cruise kid from that creepy Spielberg alien epic- Dakota Fanning, undercover agent. Anyway, Locke tells his pissed off friends that he can deal with it, taking the cop on a hunting trip. Locke points his gun at him, telling him he's ready to kill him- but is unable to pull the trigger. That Locke, a good man even in the worst of situations.

The whole idea for the flashback is that Locke wanted to "clean up his mess" since he brought the cop to the commune in the first place. But really, when you are hippies growing that much weed, can you blame Locke for getting caught? Letting the numbers run down, after Desmond and Ecco tell you that it will doom you all is kinda a lot more "his bad" then accidentally busting a bunch of hippies who encourage you to murder cops. But anyway, Locke comes through, kicking a bear's ass and reminding us why he was a badass in the first place. It's nice to see hunter Locke back, and this episode confirmed that he was back with a vengeance.

Oh yeah...and Hurley returned. Poor Hurley looks a bit worse for the wear after his terrible trip to bring back the message that Jack, Kate, and Sayid have been kidnapped. On his way back to camp, he runs into Desmond, who is naked and confused after pulling the fail safe in the hatch, which caused it to implode. But somehow he's fine- though naked and unsure of what happened to his clothes. When Hurley tells him his message that the Others have got their friends, Desmond tells him it's okay- because Locke made a speech vowing to go after them. A speech that Locke did not make.

Until the end of the episode. Hurley, listening to Locke talk about going after their friends and finding the Others, rallies the demoralized troops after they've been told their friends have been kidnapped. Charlie, Claire, and a couple random islanders (there are so many things going on with the main characters that they needed to grab a couple randoms to make Locke's speech seem a little more dramatic- though where are Rose and Bernard?) Hurley is stunned as he hears the speech, looking over at a still dazed Desmond. So now Desmond can see the future- even though he can't remember what happened to him in the last few days?

More mysteries and weirdness than you can shake a stick at were thrown our way in this hour of "Lost." It's good to see the mystical weirdness returning to the show- I dig the Others and Dharma initiative stuff, but season 2 focused on that way too much, sorta forgetting all the weird magic voodoo that season one did so well. I mean, this is a show with a weird cloud monster that can see your fears. I'm glad that we're getting back to that- and will hopefully see how it connects with the Dharma stuff. It's also nice to see that Locke and the Island are speaking again- the Hatch was never gonna love him the way he loved it, anyway. And it’s just good to see Locke as his old self again- knife wielding, tracking through the jungle, being more badass than bears- you know, just getting out more.

So far, the season has felt oddly disjointed, focusing on the main group this week, Sayid's crew last week, and the captive love triangle the first week and a bit last week. There is so much going on, the show can't hope to cut between everyone this season. But it's clear that all these stories are going to connect somehow, and very soon. Hopefully we'll see some resolution to this whole thing before the long hiatus- though don't be surprised, "Losties," if we're left with a cliffhanger so gripping that we'll all end up regretting ABC's decision to split the season in two.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lost Watch: I Miss Hurley

The second episode of season 3 of "Lost" didn't blow my nuts off the way the season premiere did. It wasn't a bad episode, but the main problem was that it was a Sun and Jin centered story. It was probably the best Sun and Jin episode since season one, but to me, they are the least compelling characters among the main survivors. Maybe I just feel that way after last season's group of Sun and Jin stories that did nothing to advance what we understood about them. Episode 2 certainly filled in some questions we have about them- but honestly, Sun and Jin's issues are probably the questions I'm least eager to find answers to. Plus, I'm starting to miss the other survivors. I'm glad that episode three is supposedly about the main group. I just miss poor ol' Hurley.

That said, there was plenty of good stuff in this episode. Sayid's hard-ass yet ill conceived plan to wait for the Others and "kill all of them but two," using one of the two to show the other why he should cooperate showed just how far off the rails ol' Sayid has gone. I love Sayid, and want more from him this season. I feel like he became a lost character for all of season 2, moping around about the loss of Shannon. Maybe I'm being harsh, because he supposedly loved her. But while I was celebrating the death of the most annoying character in the history of the show, a death that was basically demanded by the show's audience (as opposed to her brother in law's death, which Locke creepily described as "demanded by the island,") Sayid was moping. If he could have, he would have locked himself in the hatch with some Elliot Smith records and drank whiskey, crying himself to sleep. Anyway, I'm just trying to say I wanna see more Sayid this year, and see Sayid kick some serious ass again.

The stuff with Jack, Kate, and Sawyer hanging out in Other-town was interesting too. Kate and Sawyer were forced to do hard labor, moving giant rocks around. Clearly, what they were doing probably had no purpose other than giving the Others something hard for their prisoners to do. Sawyers sudden kiss of Kate followed by his bad ass yet failed escape attempt was probably all part of the Others'' designs- they are certainly manipulating them psychologically, but it's not yet clear to what end. When Kate and Sawyer are thrown into their cells later that night, they discuss the fact that Sawyer thinks he can take the guards, the next time he has a chance. Then the rug is ripped right from under us again when we realize that Ben- the head Other, or at least highest ranking among them that we know of so far- is watching them through a monitor, and hearing their every word. Spooky.

The best scene in the episode is the very last one. Ben comes into Jack's cell, and finally introduces himself properly. He tells him that he's lived on the island his whole life, and by choice. Jack doesn't believe him, telling him that he would have left if he could. Ben then rattles off a group of facts that happened in the outside world recently- remember, the plane crashed in 2004, and the survivors have been their only 69 days. When Jack doesn't believe that the Red Sox won the world series, he plays a tape of the last game for him. It's the first evidence Jack has seen of the real world in over two months, and it kind of overwhelms him. So a few fan theories are smashed- that the island exists in some kind of bubble, like a giant snow globe, and the theory that there has been some sort of apocalyptic event, and that the people on the island are the only left on Earth. Or are these theories really dead? Those clever writers- and Others- could spin things around again. But for now, it seems that there is an outside world, and Ben promises Jack that he will send him home if he cooperates "when the time comes." When you see Jack's face staring at the last out of the Red Sox World Series, you can tell that Ben has got him.

Just what is he going to ask him to do? Whatever it is, it'll probably be totally fucked, but we'll just have to wait to find out- hopefully we'll have an answer before the show's long hiatus.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Scorsece Schools Em All

"The Departed" is the cinematic equivalent of a nice, perfectly cooked steak, in a year when you've been eating nothing but fast food hamburgers. It's meaty and satisfying, and it makes you wonder why you've been wasting your time on hamburgers for so long. This is a movie that brings the pain, and brings it hard.

I'm going to make this entry short and sweet. Martin Scorsece's "The Departed" rocks harder than any other movie released this year. It's a joy to see Marty firing on all cylinders again, after the messy and unfocused "Gangs of New York" and the well made yet un-involving "The Aviator." Scorsece revisits the world that he has defined and redefined cinematically many times over the years- the gangster picture- and breathes new life into it again. I can't overstate how much I love this movie- if you are a true fan of movies, this is the film you've been waiting for all year.

A remake of the equally awesome yet more slick and action driven Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs," "The Departed" stars Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a cop working deep undercover with Boston's most notorious criminal, Frank Costello (a out of his mind Jack Nicholson.) On the other side of the law, Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, a Costello loyalist who is a mole within the state Police Special Investigation Unit- the very unit who hired Costigan. The two men enter into a desperate cat and mouse game, trying to ferret each other’s identities out in order to survive. That's all I'm gonna say about the plot- if you have not seen it yet, I don't want to ruin any of the twists along the way. And by the way, if you haven't seen it yet, what the hell are you doing reading this for? See the damned movie already.

Every performance is right on. DiCaprio has finally come into his own, playing Billy as a paranoid and sometimes violent badass. Yes, folks, Leonardo DiCaprio kicks some serious ass in this movie. The guy from "Titanic." The retarded kid from "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." The cousin from "Growing Pains." That guy. After seeing this movie, you'll never bring up the fact that he seemed like a sissy in any of those roles, because you'll believe that he could probably kick your ass after you watch him brutally beat up a couple of Italian gangsters in a liquor store, or smash a glass across a guy's head for making fun of him for drinking cranberry juice in a bar. Matt Damon is equally impressive, playing Colin as with icy intelligence, methodically working his way up within the police force even as he helps the crime boss his bosses are obsessed with catching.

As for that elusive crime boss- Nicholson's Costello is an insane, off the rails beast of a performance. Nicholson plays Costello huge, acting all the way to the edge of madness but never falling off. Jack clearly relishes his role, adding bizarre character touches that will make the performance one that is hard to forget. Nicholson's performance is so out there, it's as if it came from Mars. He eats a bug, plays around with a severed hand while talking about John Lennon, tosses cocaine around his bedroom with opera music playing, and even wields a dildo to scare one of the main characters. It's a thoroughly unhinged, deranged, scary, hilarious performance that will surely be remembered when Oscar nominations come out.

The rest of the cast is right on the money as well. Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are hilarious as a tough talking cops looking to finally catch Costello and prove they have the biggest dick in the room at the same time. Ray Winstone is quietly intimidating as Costello's second in command, and Vera Farmiga is impressive as a police psychologist with connections to both Billy and Colin, holding her own as the only major female role in a movie dripping with testosterone. Screenwriter William Monahan should be nominated for an Oscar for his brilliant screenplay, which weaves this complex tale tightly, while providing the brilliant cast with some of the best dialogue to come out of a Hollywood movie in a long time.

But Scorsece is the real star here. His camera dips and glides, his music choices are impeccable and witty as always, his editing choices (with longtime cutter Thelma Schoonmaker) are brilliant, and all his directorial choices add up, creating a movie that absolutely pulses with energy. "The Departed" is paced like a locomotive, never feeling nearly as long as it's two and a half hour running time, moving from moments of laugh out loud comedy to shocking and horrific violence without skipping a beat. This movie feels like the effortless work of a true master who is cutting loose and having fun with the material. "The Departed" is a rollercoaster in the truest sense of the word, taking you for a ride that will leave you exhausted and exhilarated. This is the type of movie that reminds you why you love the art form, restoring your faith in the very power of movies. It will kick you ass and leave you gasping for more. This is by far the best, most exciting, most kinetic, and most flat out entertaining movie so far this year. Scorsece has raised the bar for this year's movies, and by letting go of loftier ambitions, by making a such pure piece of pop entertainment instead of grasping for Oscars, he might just find himself walking away with a statue at the Kodak Theatre early next year afterall.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lost Watch: Boom! And We're Back

This one goes out to Drew, by request.

Spoiler warnings are in effect as always. You've been warned, all of you folk out there who don't watch the show. And for all of you folk out there who don't- get on it. No excuses. The show rocks, and after the stunner of a season opener, it looks like it's gonna rock harder than ever.

"Lost" is back with a mothereffin' vengeance. After a sophomore season that stumbled when it should have soared, the creators of the top rated mind fuck of a show seem to have figured out what we hungry Lost heads have been missing since the excellent first season- a sense that this story is moving forward and is actually heading in some direction, while at the same time knocking us off our collective feet by turning the same story in a whole new direction.

The first three minutes of season three are as good as any of the best moments of season two. The scene starts with a meeting of a book club of all things in a normal looking suburban neighborhood. A woman we do not recognize is being chewed out by a member of the club for choosing a trashy book instead of artsy literature (a Stephen King novel, and knowing what a huge Lostie Mr. King is, I'm sure he was pleased as punch to see one of his novels featured in such a key scene.) The snob makes a snide remark about somebody named Ben not approving. The woman gets angry, claiming she doesn't care what Ben thinks, that last time she checked "we still have free will." In the middle of their argument, the ground begins to shake- so we, as an audience, think we've been clued in. This is probably a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles. We- being the geeks we are- know that this is an episode that is going to deal with Jack during the flashback portions. This scene is clearly a flashback, and this woman must know Jack somehow, right? Then the woman and her book club run outside.

Oceanic Flight 815 is splitting apart right above their heads.


The suburban neighborhood is on the fucking island.

Ben steps out of the shadows- it's the captured "Other" from last season (one of the actually interesting subplots that got dragged out for far too long last season,) who called himself Henry Gale. He barks some orders to the group, including the "Other" who pretended to be a passenger all the way back in season one, kidnapping Claire's baby.

A series of wider and wider shots shows us just where this normal looking neighborhood is- right smack in the middle of "mystery island."

Bam. Welcome to season three of "Lost."

The rest of the episode brings us back to the "present" in our story. I put that word in parentheses because we're not really sure when this whole thing takes place for sure. In theory, after the full two seasons of the show, the castaways have only been on the island for a few months- but that's only in theory.

Jack, Kate, and Sawyer have been kidnapped by los Others and separated, Jack is kept in a creepy, windowless basement and locked in a room, ala the "Saw" movies. Sawyer is thrown into a weird cage that is clearly a psychological experiment for animals. Kate is pulled from her cell and told to put on a nice dress, then is taken to a nice breakfast on the beach with the artist formerly known as Henry Gale, who we now know is named Ben.

As stated above, most of this episode is about Jack. The girl from the book club talks to him, communicating through a glass wall. Jack is defiant at first, stubbornly attempting to escape even as he is told his attempts are futile and could get him killed. He is able to get out of his cell, but when he tries to open a door down the hall, a wall of water comes rushing in. Turns out they are in an underwater hatch called the Hydra. An underwater hatch is like ten thousand times cooler than "the Swan" hatch that we spent almost all season hanging out in. Locke would be totally jealous. He refuses to stand down to accept food from her, doing his best hero act to try and defy his captors. The flashbacks are actually interesting as well for the first time in a long time for this character- we flash back to after Jack's wife has left him, as he goes on an obsessive quest to find out who she was sleeping with when his marriage ended. Inside his cell, Jack is slowly broken down by the woman, who tells him that she knows everything about him- and his wife. Jack is finally able to let go, and when he is given the opportunity to ask her anything about him, he just asks if she is happy. It seems like a triumphant moment for Jack, as he is finally able to let go and stop obsessing, But then Ben tells the mystery woman "good job," while smiling creepily. They've just manipulated him, broken him down. But we're not sure to what end yet.

Overall, it was pretty classic "Lost." We are given a few great nuggets of info, but just enough to create a hundred more questions in our obsessive little fanboy and girl minds. And, like I said, there actually feels like there is some sort of narrative momentum finally winding up in the show. Things are actually building to...something. We can't be sure what they are actually building to...but that's the fun of the show.

It's nice to know that the show is finally moving in the right direction...or any direction at all, after the frustratingly looping narrative of season 2. We'll see where things develop from here, but things are looking very good, since series co-creator and Hollywood it-guy JJ Abrams has returned to the show.

And man, those first three minutes were amazing.

So far, the fall TV season has proved disappointing- “Studio 60” continues to waver, maintaining a pretty boring streak of episodes without, you know, compelling conflict, while “Friday Night Lights” the most kickass show of the season so far, floundered in the ratings and probably won’t make it more than a few more episodes- it’s nice to have “Lost” back, and kicking ass the way it should be.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Armchair Quarterback

Last night, I watched the best pilot I've seen all season- and it's a sports show. "Friday Night Lights" kicks ass on just about every level. The show, which was inspired by the movie that was adapted from the book of the same title, tells the story of a small Texas town and their obsession with high school football. Adopting the handheld camera and choppy editing style of the movie, the show has a lot more grit and realism than the typical high school drama. This is by no means "The O.C.-" the characters of "Friday Night Lights" are poor people living in rural Texas. Football is not just a past time for them- for the kids on the field, it is the only way out of their tiny little town. The adults in of Odessa, Texas live vicariously through their team, pinning their hopes on group of high school kids. It's pretty compelling stuff.
Watch it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sorkin It In

I have not blogged in awhile. I've been feeling creatively spent and unsure of what to do next for awhile, which happens. One week you bang out a screenplay in four days, the next you spend staring at the television, trying to mine the depths of your Tivo, the Band of Brothers DVDs you've just gotten from Netflix, and the features on the Quantum Leap box set your girlfriend got you for your birthday. The muse is a fickle thing, and really, have you seen the episode where Sam leaps back into himself as a teenager? Seriously, it will make you weep and give up on writing for awhile, tearing your hair out in the knowledge that you'll never write anything so beautiful and perfect and moving despite it's corniness. The guy sings "Imagine" to his little sister, a good decade before it's written, making her, and us, cry.

Speaking of television...the new fall shows have started to trickle out, none of them grabbing viewer's or critic's attention very dramatically the way something like "Lost" did a couple years ago. There's a show that grabbed you by the balls and pulled you in for the ride from the first frame. But I digress- there will be plenty of "Lost" to talk about when it comes back next week.

The season's most hyped new show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," is not getting off to the kind of start that a cultural phenomenon like "Lost" achieved a few years ago, ratings or quality wise (and how's that for a transition?) Aaron Sorkin's new drama has gotten tons of attention and some pretty damned good reviews. It was, by far, on the top of my "must watch" list for new fall TV (full disclosure- I don't have a "must watch" list. I wonder if any critics who use that term actually compile "must watch" lists for themselves.) I was pretty excited for this show. I loved "Sports Night." In fact, before my job at Disney came to an end, I checked out the DVD box set from the library there and went on a total "Sports Night" binge, watching the whole run of the series in a week. I was not a "West Wing" guy- never really watched it, wasn't interested in political grandstanding and Sorkin jumping on a soapbox every week. I agree with the guy's politics, but seriously, those speeches get a bit pompous sometimes. But what really got me excited for "Studio 60" was the subject. I am a huge fan of SNL, but clearly not the current era of SNL. I am a fan of the history of the show, of the people who made it great over it's long life on television. I read the awesome "Live From New York" book about a year ago, inhaling it like the cocaine Sorkin got busted for possessing a few years back. I mean, for a long time, SNL was the breeding ground for the greatest comedians of the last three decades. Murray. Belushi. Akroyd. Murphy. Hartman. Myers. Carvey. Rock. Farley. Ferrell. And I don't want to fail to mention a few of the great performers of the current era- Amy Pohler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, and the great Tina Fey (whose new sitcom, 30 Rock, looks very promising- even though it's about a very similar subject to Studio 60- confusing.) I knew that Sorkin was interested in bringing us "Studio 60" because of the same reasons I love SNL and it's history- here’s a guy who knows the history of the show, loves the stories and myths associated with it, and sees the potential for it to be great again.

Which is what the show is about, basically. In the pilot, Wes Mondell, played by Judd Hirsch as an obvious nod to SNL's Lorne Michaels, stops a live broadcast after network execs force him to cut a sketch. He steps in front of the live audience and delivers a speech about "candy assed network execs" who push idiotic TV onto viewers, appealing to the lowest common denominator with shows about people eating bugs and trying to be like Donald Trump. And there it is, in the first few minutes of the pilot- one of those grandstanding Sorkin speeches. But Wes is quickly fired, and replaced by the main characters of the show- Matt Albee (Matt Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford.) After being dropped from the show a few years before, Matt and Danny stuck together, with Matt writing and Danny directing a film that Matt is receiving an award for as we first meet them. The duo is about to launch into their next project, except for one problem- Danny has tested positive for cocaine, and won't be able to be bonded to make the movie until he has eighteen months of clean drug tests. Enter Jordan McDeer (Amanda Peet,) the new president of NBS (the fake stand in for NBC) who sees Danny's drug test failure as an opportunity. She approaches Danny and Matt about running the sketch comedy show now that their mentor has been fired, which will get the show a lot of attention and prestige, something it sorely needs after the show's legendary creator himself has gone on the air to declare that "it's not going to be a very good show tonight." Matt and Danny deliberate on the idea of taking "Studio 60" over, one of the issues being the fact that Matt just broke up with one of the show's biggest stars, Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson,) a brilliant comic talent and devout Christian. When Matt and Harriett confront each other, it is revealed that they broke up because of her appearance on Pat Robertson's "700 Club."

The pilot was okay. It's very well written, but it's also a huge pile of exposition and character introductions. I read the pilot months ago, and it honestly worked better on the page. A lot of the action takes place in network board rooms, not exactly the sexiest or most exciting of locations. But through it all, Sorkin is able to introduce a lot of characters that will surely become more developed as the show goes on.

The second episode, which aired last night, was a big improvement. Freed of the burden of introducing dozens of characters, the show actually got to be what it was supposed to be- a behind the scenes look at the making of a live comedy show. Most of the drama came from the fact that Matt was having trouble coming up with an idea to open the show- he knows that after all the drama surrounding Wes's dismissal and his and Danny's hiring, the "cold opening" needs to be show stopper, which causes is the crux of the episode. The final moments of "Studio 60" actually show the skit that Matt eventually comes up with- a no holds barred musical number with a full orchestra. Problem is, it's not very funny. And that's where a lot of the show's flaws come from so far.

"Studio 60" is supposed to be about the making of a comedy program, but the show takes itself far too seriously. I'm not saying that the most brilliant comedic minds in television don't take their jobs seriously- they do. But they're also, ya know, funny. Some of Sorkin's dialogue is mildly amusing, but not even as much as "Sports Night," which wasn't really a sitcom in the first place. Worst so far is Paulson's Harriet Hayes- she's a good actress who has been funny before, but here she doesn't come off as nearly as funny as Matt and Danny rave that she is. Maybe the contradictions of the character- that she's supposed to be one of the sharpest comic minds in the world yet also a devout Christian- are too much for Paulson to wrap her acting talent around. On paper, the idea for the character is great- in practice, everything about Harriet's character feels forced and contrived.

Paulson's character is a glaring example of the main problems with the entire show so far. Just as Matt and Danny talk endlessly of Harriett's talent while we never see any evidence of it, Sorkin and his team have talked at length about how smart the show is going to be, how one of it's main topics is intelligent art in a time of lowered standards, we're being told about it so far, not shown it. It seems like, after the phenomenal success of "The West Wing," that Sorkin and company are trying a bit too hard to make the most intelligent show on TV. Just because a show deals with issues like religion doesn't make it intelligent- it needs to deal with these issues intelligently. So far, "Studio 60" has taken a pretty cartoonish and one note view of Christians and "700 Club" viewers. Harriett calls Matt on it when he pigeonholes all of Robertson's viewers as bigots, yet even she thinks that Matt's skit called "Crazy Christians” is brilliant. I dunno, but the title "Crazy Christians" doesn't sound like intelligent, nuanced cultural satire. It just sounds like a one sided, red state baiting attack. I may agree with a lot of Sorkin's politics, but sometimes the show creates an easy target for anybody who says that Hollywood is out of touch with real people. Sorkin better add some depth to Harriett's religious character, or the whole thing will just come off gimmicky and one sided. For "Studio 60" to gel into the home run it has so much potential to become, it needs to actually and effortlessly be as smart and funny as the creators tell us it is.

With that said, there is plenty to like about "Studio 60." Perry and Whitford have a natural chemistry as Matt and Danny. Steven Weber, as Jordan's boss Jack, brings a lot of charm and more depth to what could have been a one-note smarmy exec role. Timothy Busfield rocks so far as the show's long time director, getting some of the best moments in both episodes so far. Peet is growing into her character nicely, though the pilot did feature a few too many self-conscious close ups of her smiling face as she dealt with the crisis around her. If the supporting cast, especially the people playing the cast of the show within a show, can become a bit more developed and become more believably funny, than Sorkin will have another classic on his hands.

Really, Sorkin needs to step back and take a deep breath, and let his characters do the same. Matt, Danny, and Sorkin need to stop worrying about saving the entire medium of television and just worry about making one great show. That's the only way TV will be saved anyway- one great show at a time.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 15: Snakes in a Mediocre Indie Comedy

I know, you think the title is lazy, right?

Remember me? I've been busy for most of August, finally writing some screenplay. It's been awesome, but that story is for another post.

I know you've been eagerly awaiting my take on any and all summer movies I've that summer is basically over. I am finally gonna check out "Miami Vice" next week and write up my thoughts on the summer movie season (here's a little preview- it's totally sucked.)

Anyway, here are a few mini reviews, before I get back to work on my ridiculous B-Movie.


I know that the internet hasn't really covered this title very well, and it's especially under-represented within the blog community, so I figured I right that wrong and throw in my two cents.

The entire "Snakes on a Plane" experience has been a fun once since I first heard about the movie concept. It's been fodder for countless jokes for over a year now, and the internet coverage has been fun and entertaining. It's become somewhat of a communal experience overall. Almost two weeks after seeing the movie, I remember the best moments fondly and chuckle to myself. Unfortunately, the worst part of the whole phenomenon was...watching the actual movie.

Sure, it has plenty of moments. And sure, I was plenty drunk. The crowd was loud and getting really into it. But ultimately, once the snakes get onto the plane- it's just too much mayhem. The best snake gags happen in the first few minutes, and the movie kinda blows it's load too early.

I don't regret my year long love affair with "Snakes on a Plane" at all. Ultimately, it disappointed, couldn't live up to everything I'd hoped. But how many things in life truly do?


This quirky indie family comedy drama is completely tedious. Not one of the characters behaved like realistic human beings- in fact, they all behaved like- characters in a quirky indie family comedy drama. This is the sort of movie that came out of Sundance by the dozen during the mid nineties, along with all the lesbians on heroin movies that were so popular back then. I could not ever get into the movie- it was one contrived situation with dishonest human behavior after another. I love Steve Carrell, feel he was robbed at the Emmys this year (though "24"did win- oh fuck yes) but he didn't really have a character written for him to play- nor did the rest of the cast.

Sure, each of them had broad and eccentric problems- Greg Kinnear is trying to become a bigtime motivational speaker, Carrell is a gay professor who tried to off himself, Alan Arkin snorts heroin (seriously, that's how forced the character traits are- an old man on heroin. Hardy fucking har.) The son has taken a vow of silence because of Nieztche. Or because he wants to get in the air force academy. Or something. The young daughter (who is adorable in the movie) wants to be a beauty queen, and the entire movie's plot is a road movie about this oh so charmingly quirky clan driving cross country to get to the titular beauty pageant. Oh yeah, and Toni Collette smokes. That's about all the development the character is allowed. It's a credit to her as an actress that she probably gives the movie's best performance.

I stopped trying to care pretty early in the film- it's just the absolute worst kind of indie movie. Carell's "40 Year Old Virgin," had more laughs, brains, and heart in one scene than in this entire movie. I'd rather take a flight with snakes on it then spend any more time on the road with the insufferably "eccentric" family.


An awesome family movie that's actually scary, I totally dug "Monster House" from beginning to end. The movie looked great in 3D, which added to the eye popping fun. The story is basic but pretty much the greatest kids movie premise ever- the mean old neighbor across the street has a house that isn't just haunted- the house itself is, well, a monster.

This is the kind of kid's movie that they made when I was a kid- mostly because the two lead kids are total losers. Most kids movies today feature perfect looking little aryan clones who are always popular and beautiful- kids can't relate to that. The kind of kids who see Monster House- they'll be able to relate to our fat and nerdy heroes.

It's everything a summer movie should be. It's fast, it's funny, it's exciting, and in the evil house, it has a great, terrifying, and really well designed villain. Too bad Hollywood couldn't pull a few more movies like "Monster House" this summer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 14: Fear in the Dark

It's been another long delay between posts- I'm sure many people are on pins and needles waiting for my latest entry.
I went to see "The Descent" last week, and now I'm finally writing about it. Part of the reason I've waited so long is probably because the movie was so traumatizingly scary that I neded a few days break before revisiting it again.

This is simply one of the scariest horror movies I've seen in years. It takes itself dead seriously, not resorting to forced humor or pop culture references that have plauged modern horror films for the last ten years. The movie made me jump out of my seat and yell out in terror a few times. Which may make me a wimp, but I think having that reaction is exactly what makes a horror movie so fun and visceral. If, by the end, the movie is imperfect, I'll forgive the flaws- because it was one of the most effectivley scary movies I've seen in so long.

Horror is one of the most purely cinematic of genres, and "The Descent" is no exception to the rule. The basic story is about a group of women who go on an adventure trip to explore a deep, unmarked cave system and find more than they bargained for. Deep caves are such a scary environment, it's shocking that there haven't been more scary movies set inside them. I don't want to reveal much of what happens, because that would ruin the pleasure in the shocks and scares. The ladies find something they didn't expect, something terrifying, get split up, and begin to fall apart- and, of course, die, one by one. The simple story is well paced and directed, keeping us on the edges of our seat at every moment.

Honestly, that's all I really have to say about the movie. I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it. Is that a cop out? Sure, maybe. It's a damn goood movie, and fans of horror should rejoice at something so scary, atmospheric, and actually intelligent coming out in the genre in this day and age.

"The Descent" is an artfully crafted nightmare that plays on our deepest childhood fears of things that lurk in the dark. See it, but don't say I didn't warn you when you have nightmares about being stuck in a cave with...something awful.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 13: Here's to Woody

Woody Allen's new movie, "Scoop," is a film that has been widley described as a minor work from a major director. But as minor works go, the movie is pleasant, enjoyable, and even a bit touching. In the end, I liked it a whole lot more than the extremely overrated, stiff and awkward "Match Point," which was hailed as Woody’s “return to form” last winter. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think a return to form and an inferior reworking of a filmmaker’s previous work (“Crimes and Misdemeanors,”) are the same thing. But I digress- we’re talking about “Scoop.”

Ian McShane plays Joe Strombel, a famous reporter who may have discovered the story of the year- that dashing socialite Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman,) may be “The Tarot Card Killer,” a serial murderer who has been killing London’s prostitutes. The story has everything- sex, scandal, murder, rich socialites with dirty secrets, and Strombel can’t wait to break it to the world. There’s only one problem- Strombel is dead. Being the tenacious reporter he is, he finds the nearest journalist in order to deliver the story from the grave- and he ends of finding college student Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson,) as she is appearing onstage as a volunteer in magician Sid Waterman’s (Woody Allen) act. Sondra begins her own investigation, bringing Sid along to help and pose as her father. The only problem is, she begins to fall for Lyman even as she becomes more and more convinced that he is the murderer.

The story is cute and well told, and the performances are decent all around. Jackman is especially good as the charming and possibly dangerous Lyman, while Johansson is adorable and goofy, recalling Diane Keaton's wonderful work with Woody in the 70's, and it seems as though comedic roles suit her better as an actress. She is looser here than she is in most of her dramatic roles. Woody is, as always, Woody. If you’re not a fan of his screen persona, he’s not going to win you over here. But as a huge fan of his work, I enjoyed his low-key performance as the stuttering and awkward Sid, sweating desperately as he lies his way through the Lyman estate to help Sondra.

The movie moves better than many of Woody’s recent movies (including the woodenly mounted “Match Point,”) and he seems to really be having a good time with this movie. The pacing is nice, the performances are relaxed, and the dialogue is breezy. It’s a pleasant enough movie that I hardly cared that I wasn’t laughing too much throughout- I just hope it’s not true as reported that this is his last comedy.

For years, Woody Allen has talked about how he doesn’t just want to make comedies, and it’s always been clear that he wanted to have a career like Bergman or Fellinni. But for my money, he has never made a drama that I’ve loved. Woody is one of the geniuses of comedy, and I’d like to see him make a few more movies that make me laugh as much as they make me think and feel. Woody has made some of my favorite movies- “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” are among my top ten of all time- and his work is the best when drama springs out surprisingly from the comedy. As he continues to make a movie every year despite his age, I’ll be curious to see where he takes his most loyal fans next. “Scoop” might not be his funniest movie, but if it his last comedy, it’s a fine addition to his filmography. It might be “minor” Woody, it might be a movie that I can only really recommend to Woody-philes- but for those who love his work as much as I do, the movie is a tasty little treat. After a few dissapointing films in the last few years (though I did enjoy "Melinda and Melinda," and liked aspects of "Anything Else,") a minor work that is so pleasurable is something to celebrate.

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 12: Nascar State of Mind

Will Ferrell can always make me laugh. I’m talking deep, guffawing belly laughs. His latest movie, the Nascar themed “Talladega Nights,” is no exception.

Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, a racing superstar who lives to win. He has a huge house, a sexy wife, and two bratty kids name "Walker" and "Texas Ranger." When French Formula-One Racing champion Jean Girard arrives in the United States to challenge him, our hero gets into a horrible wreck that sends his career and personal life into a downward spiral, leaving him without a racing sponsor or a wife. A shadow of his arrogant former self, Ricky Bobby must learn to get rid of “the fear,” regain his edge, and retake his mantle as a champion. That’s pretty much all the plot there is, but it’s enough to pull us along for Ferrell’s ridiculous ride.

As always, Ferrell has surrounded himself with a stellar cast. John C. Reily, one of my favorite actors, plays Bobby’s best friend, Cal Naughton Jr. The scenes between Ferrell and Reily are largely improvised and completely hilarious, and I’m excited to hear that they’ll be working together again in Ferrell’s next big comedy. Ferrell consistently plays dumb American machismo better than anybody else (the USC graduate was a frat member, and as a former Trojan myself, it's easy to see where he got the inspiration for the loud, sexist bores he plays so well,) and Reily adds a nice twist as his devoted sidekick who lets him win every race at his own expense- and “buries the hurt deep inside.” Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as Ali G, is equally hilarious as the pompous, gay, and very French Girard, and Gary Cole is terrific as Ricky’s irresponsible father, who helps his son get his groove back after his downfall.

Just like “Anchorman,” the movie is a total mess. It’s clear that a lot of story bits were cut in favor of pacing, so when the wonderful Amy Adams, as Ricky’s former assistant, approaches him in a bar and gives an impassioned speech for him to get back in the game (set to one of Journey’s greatest hits,) it hasn’t been established why her behavior is so out of character for her. The direction, by Adam McKay, is just barley competent. Most of the “mise en scene,” as they say in film school, consists of garishly bright product placements (which is accurate to the world of Nascar, and the movie does take the opportunity to make light of it- but still.) These criticisms would bug me a lot more in most movies, but I was laughing too hard most of the time to pay attention to them.

Like most Ferrell vehicles, the comedy is broad, the filmmaking is messy, the screenplay seems half-finished, and there are three times as many big laughs as every other movie in theatres. I’m excited to see Ferrell branch out this year into riskier, more subtle territory in this fall’s “Stranger than Fiction.” But for now, I’m just glad to enjoy another lap around the track with Will Ferrell’s so dumb it’s smart style of comedy.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 11: Meryl Makes It Work

“The Devil Wears Prada” is a pleasing and entertaining Hollywood concoction, and it’s good to see something (slightly) intelligent and (very) female driven can do so well commercially in today’s entertainment industry.

Anne Hathaway plays Andy Sachs, who wants desperately to be a serious journalist but can only get an interview at Runway Magazine, where she accepts a job as the second assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep,) the magazine’s notoriously steely editor in chief. The movie has a predictable arc that works despite the fact that we’ve seen it ten million times- Andy takes the job, hoping it will help her get another job in publishing, gets sucked into the world of fashion (and sports a ton of fabulous outfits, while the movie never explains how she can afford them- but, then again, it’s a fairy tale,) loses her friends and boyfriend, then realizes the error of her ways. It’s trite and obvious, but it works.

What elevates the film and makes it more than just another chick flick is the brilliant Meryl Streep. She owns every scene she appears in, outclassing her young co-star with even the subtlest gestures- when she raises an eyebrow, she can move mountains. Streep makes the movie more than worth seeing, and will probably be nominated for best supporting actress for both “Prada” and her stellar work in “A Prairie Home Companion.”

What makes Streep’s performance as Miranda Priestly work is the fact that she never once goes over the top. She doesn’t raise her voice once in the entire film. I’ve interned at places with notorious bosses who treat their assistants like dirt (and throw computers at them,) and expected the comedy to come from her outrageous behavior. But Streep never plays Priestly as an angry maniac- she’s always calm and composed- the better to seduce poor old Andy to the dark side. Streep is always sympathetic, and one of the movie’s most honest moments comes when Andy tells another character that Priestly doesn’t deserve her bad reputation- if a man acted the way she did, people would just say he was doing a good job.

By the end, Priestly does live up to her “dragon lady” reputation, destroying the careers of others to save her own, prompting Andy to walk away and redeem herself. She saves herself from corruption and decides to do something with integrity, not get stuck in the glamorous yet empty life that Priestly leads, and so on and so forth, blah blah blah. All of that is well and good, but honestly, I just wanted more Meryl. I’d rather see a movie all about Priestly any day- “the devil” is just more interesting than Hathaway’s angelic Andy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Blog

I’m writing this as I watch Shark Week on The Discovery Channel. As mentioned in my previous post, this awesome week of shark related programming is making me feel better about anything in my life that’s been bothering me. I am currently watching a documentary called “Sharks: Are They Hunting Us?” which seems like a silly question to dedicate a full hour of programming to after most documentaries that have aired on the same network this week have hammered home the point that “no, they don’t hunt us, but if they mistake a person for a seal, then that individual is pretty well fucked.” This documentary is structured around the host, an animal behaviorist and all around nut job named Dave Salmoni, preparing- and working up the nerve- to do a free dive with Great White Sharks, hoping to prove that if he is not eaten by them, then he will have answer to his program’s titular question. He has already “proven” that lions are not man eaters by hanging out in Africa and getting as close as five feet away from them with nothing but a stick to defend himself, and, well…not getting eaten. Seems dubiously scientific, but makes for great television.

MythBusters is up next, in a two hour episode dealing with all kinds of shark myths depicted in “Jaws.” The prospect of Jamie and Adam taking apart the coolest parts of one of my favorite movies has me conflicted- I don’t love the movie for it’s realism- but seeing the guys build stuff to test scenes from the movie in the real world will be pretty badass. I just hope that the next time I watch “Jaws,” I’m not taken out of it by the thought “well, Jamie and Adam already busted the myth that a Great White could pull a dock off it’s moorings and out into the ocean.” But the one thing they won’t be taking into account is if a super shark like the one from the movie could do all the things they will be testing. Because the shark from the movie isn’t just any old Great White- he’s Jaws. Also, I hope next year Adam and Jamie test myths from the Jaws sequels, such as would a shark ever have a personal vendetta against specific humans, like the shark in “Jaws: The Revenge.”

My favorite Shark factoid I’ve learned this week was from the program “Sharks: What You Need to Know,” a random collection of Shark trivia that is kinda like the Discovery Channel version of “pop-up video.” It turns out that Sharks are predators even in the womb- fetal Sharks will actually eat their siblings to survive. The program showed footage from a shark womb-cam, with a baby shark eating a smaller shark fetus. It was one of the most horrifying images I’d seen since the guy in my film class brought in a video of his illegal piranhas, whom he had decided to starve because he wanted to get rid of them, eating each other alive in desperation. This is a true story.

Anyway, in a time when I’m feeling insecure, scared, and unsure about my future, as the second month of my unemployment is slipping by, and as global events seem to speed us closer to World War 3 and rising oceans caused by global warming, it’s nice to have Shark Week to make me feel better, to re-assure me that, no matter how bad it may get out there…at least I’m not a fetal Shark.

And tomorrow night is “Prehistoric Shark Night.” That should be badass.

Monday, July 31, 2006

An Animatronic Pirate's Life For Me

I went to Disneyland today and finally got to check out the renovations they’ve done to “Pirates of the Caribbean” in conjunction with the release of the new movie. The “Pirates” ride is just about one of my favorite things in the world, and I was pretty incredulous about Disney’s decision to change the ride. The first movie was based on the ride, and now they were changing the ride to tie in with the movie. Disney’s lust for synergistic opportunities clearly knows no bounds. I suspect most Disney executives would kill their mothers if it created an opportunity to “synergize.” They are obsessed with it- when I worked for them in Glendale, they actually had a “Synergy Lab,” the concept of which terrified me. I had visions of mad scientists working hard to figure out how to exploit “High School Musical” as a theme park ride, leaving many lab rats dead in their insane experiments. It turned out the “Synergy Lab” was just a place where the company showed off their latest and sexiest consumer products gizmos, but still- it’s a key buzzword at Disney that I heard so many times, I thought I was going to go insane.
All of which made me worry about their plans to change the rise.

My worries were basically realized. Some of the new effects are cool, and the Jack Sparrow animatronics are well crafted. But the whole thing seems pretty forced, and the story the ride is telling doesn’t make a lick of sense (kinda like the convoluted movie sequel.) In an early scene, the villainous Captain Barbosa from the first film attacks a town and demands that they “surrender Jack Sparrow.” Yet it turns out Captain Jack is in the town in trying to steal the key to the town treasury. Doesn’t really make sense, and clearly feels like the people who planned the changes just forced the characters from the movie into the ride where they didn’t belong. Worse yet, lots of the audio of the ride constantly reiterates the idea that Jack is around- most of the characters are asking where he is, yelling out for him, or talking to themselves about how Jack won’t find the key or map he’s protecting. The name “Captain Jack Sparrow” is repeated so many times, I almost stood up in my boat and yelled “WE GET IT ALREADY FOR FUCKS SAKE! HE’S A POPULAR CHARACTER AND YOU WANT US ALL TO KNOW HE’S PART OF THIS RIDE NOW, JUST STOP SAYING HIS NAME BEFORE I DRILL A HOLE IN MY HEAD” But I’m pretty sure I would have been dragged away in a straight jacket if I had yelled at an animatronic pirate, dragging me to the Synergy Lab where they would have used my body for scientific research that would result in another crappy direct to DVD sequel to “Lilo and Stitch.”

The fact that our ride broke down, and our boat was stuck in a scene where the name “CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW” was repeated for almost a full half hour on a loop, didn’t help things. For some reason the ride has apparently been getting backed up a lot, even though the track that the boats travel on hasn’t changed a bit. Clearly, the changes have caused a curse.

I was pretty disappointed by the clumsy execution of the changes to my all time favorite ride. I hope they eventually smoothe over some of it, and at least take out a few of the blatant and repetitive references to Cap’n Jack to try and make the new additions and story a little more subtle. There really is no other way to explain the changes than to take advantage of the film franchises current insane popularity. But these rides are supposed to be built to last. In ten years, are people really going to care about Jack Sparrow like they do now?

It was disheartening, but at least I can take solace in the fact that Shark Week is starting tonight on The Discovery Channel.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Raveheart- (Sorry I Got Nothin')

So I promised to start blogging again, but then took almost a week to even write up my thoughts on the last couple summer movies I saw for my continuing Summer Movie Olympics. Clearly, I’ve been less than heroic in my quest to see all popcorn fare Hollywood has to offer- I haven’t even seen decent looking flicks like “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Monster House” yet let alone the kind of crap I promised to view so you wouldn’t have to- if I had kept my promise and truly been a summer movie Olympian, I would have shared my snarky thoughts on “The Ant Bully” and “Little Man” by now. But I have decided to post something new, in honor of Josh Friedman’s long overdue return to blogging.

The subject I want to talk about right now is Mad Mel Gibson. Gibson was charged with a DUI in Malibu on Thursday night, and apparently went apeshit at the officer who arrested him, hearling F-Bombs liberally before descending into a bizarre rant about “fucking Jews.” The rumor swirling around out on the information superhighway is that the Malibu PD wanted to bury the story, fearing it would cause a rise in anti-Semitism if released- especially after the firestorm of controversy Gibson ignited with “The Passion of the Christ.”

Despite efforts to cover up the story, Gibson himself does not seem to be denying the allegations. He released a statement yesterday, which read:

"After drinking alcohol on Thursday night, I did a number of things that were very wrong and for which I am ashamed. I drove a car when I should not have, and was stopped by the LA County Sheriffs. The arresting officer was just doing his job and I feel fortunate that I was apprehended before I caused injury to any other person. I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said. Also, I take this opportunity to apologize to the deputies involved for my belligerent behavior. They have always been there for me in my community and indeed probably saved me from myself. I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry. I have battled with the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health."

The incident is the latest chapter in Gibson’s increasingly bizarre behavior. When I saw “The Passion,” I didn’t see why there was so much debate about wether or not the film’s depiction of Jews was Anti-Semitic- to me it was clear as day that Gibson was representing the Jews with every stereotype in the book. And now he’s shouting about “Jews starting all wars” in the back of a Police car?

Not to be too lenient on a guy who is being such a flagrant dick to my people, but Mel is clearly a disturbed person who needs some sort of help. Honestly, if you look at this guy’s work, there is plenty of bizarre and creepy psychology to pick apart- Gibson long running obsession with bodily torture is the thing that made “The Passion” most offensive to me. Here was guy trying to tell the story of Christ, and all he can do is show him get the shit beat out of him for two hours? It was like a snuff film in slow motion, and a repetitive and boring one at that. And damn, I got sick of all that slo-mo photography. But I digress.

It’s been strange to watch Gibson fall apart in the last few years. As one of the most consistently charming Hollywood superstars, he always seemed to be having a blast at living life. So what went wrong? Has he been this volatile all along? Was the gap between the image of the Mel Gibson the world knew and loved and the real Mel Gibson really that huge?

Clearly he had an alcohol problem long before the world knew it. And it seems that he turned to religion to help him deal with his demons-which clearly only magnified the problems, resulting in the twisted mutant fetus that was “The Passion.”

Whatever the case, I hope he gets some help and really figures his shit out. With all the shit going down in Israel today, I don’t think an international superstar like Gibson ranting about the “fucking Jews” is the most positive thing to put out in the world right now. The arresting officers trying to cover his behavior up is appalling, but their desire to do so illustrates just how difficult this whole situation has become.

It’s always weird to see these very public meltdowns from mega-celebrities. Tom Cruise has been pulling his own slow-motion train wreck that you just can’t look away from for the last year (well, I guess enough people could look away enough to not see “Mission: Impossible 3.”) As alienating and despicable as the behavior of these guys has become, it also makes me feel kind of sad for them- these are insecure people who just have no sense of connection to the real world anymore. Their downfall and the ensuing media circus illustrates just how much of a snakepit Hollywood really can be.

And here I go, trying to jump right into the biz. The best thing to do is take these awful downfall tales and try to learn from them. And hope that Mel pulls it together, if only for selfish reason- I’d really like to see another “Mad Max” movie one day.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 10: The Man With His Head Up His Own Ass

M. Night Shyamlan has gone stark raving mad. The talented filmmaker behind “The Sixth Sense,” with each successive film, has clearly let his early success go to his head. It has become obvious to anyone paying attention that he no longer takes input from anyone, believing that any idea that comes from his mind is clearly genius. Case in point is his latest film “Lady in the Water,” which he claims is based on a bedtime story he made up for his daughters. It’s not too hard to believe his claim, because the movie seems like it was made up on the fly, and when he sat down to write and rewrite the screenplay to turn into a major feature film, he didn’t change the tale he had spun off the top of his head one bit- because everything that comes out of his head is GOLD. Or so he’d like to think. Like any other bedtime story created by a parent to put their child to bed, it doesn’t make an ounce of narrative sense. When you are a child and mom or dad is telling you these stories, it doesn’t matter if they make sense as you drift off into slumber-land. Night clearly wants his audience to respond to the movie in the same manner- he even has a scene where his hero must act like a child in order to have the fairy tale told to him, as if he is instructing the audience on how exactly we are supposed to receive and react to the movie. Furthering this notion is the FILM CRITIC CHARACTER he includes in the story- who is killed off because he is the only sourpuss nonbeliever in the entire film. Sorry, Mr. Shyamalan- you don’t get to tell people how to react to your movies and then scold them if they don’t watch them as children- you are clearly stacking cards in your favor if we react to your movie negatively.

I’m not a cynic- I cry at “E.T.” every friggin’ time I watch him “phone home.” Because I didn’t care about your mess of a movie doesn’t reflect poorly on me as a filmgoer or critic- it reflects poorly on the storyteller. It’s impossible to emotionally connect to anything in this mess of a movie.

Paul Giamatti, one of my absolute favorite actors, plays Cleveland Heep, superintendent of The Cove Apartment complex in Philadelphia. A quiet man with a stutter and a haunted past (like all the lead character’s in Shyamalan’s movies,) Cleveland discovers a girl swimming in his pool late one night. The girl is named Story (no, I’m not kidding,) and she turns out to be a Narf, or sea Nymph, from the “Blue World.” Story has a message to deliver, because Narfs can see the future and must deliver messages to man, who has slowly lost the “ability to listen” over the years. Cleveland learns all this from the shrill Korean student and her mother who live in the building, as Night piles on the Asian stereotypes aggressively. Night has said this movie is “funnier” than his previous movies. If Night’s idea of comedy is to play right into every stereotype he can find among the diverse residents of The Cove, then I’ll take the boring blandness of “The Village,” his last disasterous snoozer, any day.

Cleveland finds out that Story is supposed to deliver a message to a writer whose work will change the world for the better. The writer is played by none other than M. NIGHT SHYMALAN. Story ends up telling Night’s character that the will be killed because his ideas are too powerful, and it’s a wonder that the movie wasn’t titled “The Passion of M. Night Shyamalan.”

It gets more bizarre and pretentious. I’ll warn you that I’m going to head into SPOILER territory…but honestly. Just read this paragraph and you’ll understand why you’ll be glad you didn’t bother with this movie.

So, anyway…SPOILERS ahead.

It turns out that Narfs have natural enemies called Scrunts, which are basically wolves with grass growing out of their backs. Scrunts want to kill Narfs, but must follow certain rules, or the Turtuic- which are giant tree monkey…things…will kill them. But if the Narf the Scrunt is trying to kill is a Madame Narf…which, gasp, Story turns out to be…then the Scrunt will break the rules to kill her. The only way for a Narf to escape this fate is for a Giant Eagle to swoop down and fly her back to The Blue World. We learn all this in fractions from the Korean stereotypes. Are you still following me? Good, because it also turns out that when a Narf visits a place, people who will be important to helping it get home are drawn to the place she will arrive. Many of the Residents of the Cove turn out to be those people- Story needs help from The Healer, The Protector, The Interpreter, and The Guild. If anybody plays a lot of RPG video games and those terms sound familiar…maybe it’s just that Night has been playing a lot of Final Fantasy Games as he wrote the movie.

Most of the movie’s running time involves figuring out the bizarre rules for helping Story get home. When Cleveland finds out who he needs to gather to keep the Scrunt away, he asks for help from the sourpuss film critic, who uses his knowledge of movies to guess who in the apartment would fulfill the roles he’s described. After the critic is eaten by the Scrunt and his assumptions turn out to be wrong, one of The Cove’s tenants (all of whom buy into the idea of the Narf, Scrunt, and Tartuic without questioning the reality for a moment,) asks “who could be so arrogant as to think they could know the intentions of another person?” To which I say “How could someone be so arrogant as to tell an audience member that the reason they didn’t like a movie is because they watched it wrong?” Personally I had sympathy for the critic- who wouldn’t be a little incredulous if somebody told you there was a Narf living in your apartment, and that a Scrunt was trying to eat it?

The whole mess is totally incoherent, and Shyamalan’s attempts at commenting on storytelling itself come off as hopelessly self indulgent, while also serving the purpose of responding to criticisms towards the film before it’s come out. But the smoke and mirrors don’t work- the critic is right, victim of a Scrunt or not. “Lady in the Water” is incoherent, pretentious, and totally un-engaging.

All of Night’s collaborators do wonderful work- James Newton Howard’s score is one of his most gorgeous, and Giamatti proves how good he is by infusing his terribly underwritten character with real soul. But the whole thing is the M. Night Shyamalan show- he wants you to know how brilliant he is, that he is a “master storyteller.” Too bad he’s too far up his own ass to tell the difference good and bad choices- at this point, he seems to think, if he thought of them, they’re all brilliant. By the end of the film, when the Giant Tree Monkeys start dragging away the Grass Wolf, and then the giant eagle swoops down to pick up the wide-eyed Narf you can do nothing but stare at the screen in utter disbelief.

At least he didn’t force another twist ending down our throats.

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 9: Counter Revolution

I have a long, tortured past with Kevin Smith and his work. I, like most of my friends in film school, loved his early movies in my formative middle school and high school years.

The first “Clerks” was like a revelation for me when I was 15- an indie movie that wasn’t pretentious and slow; it was vulgar and hilarious, with characters I could relate to. I quoted bits from it obsessively, watching it with my best friends late at night, and turning it off if my mom walked in- I didn’t want her hearing the language that Dante and Randal, Smith’s two alter egos, were spitting out. It was a big step for me in appreciating all independent film, and still has a place in my heart. “Mallrats” is still one of Kevin’s dumbest movies, but also one of his funniest, and had the bonus of introducing Jason Lee to the world. When “Chasing Amy” came out, I thought it was brutally honest and emotional while remaining funny as fuck. I’ve since cooled to that movie in the ensuing years- sure a lot of it is still honest, but a good bit of it is also too self conscious for it’s own good. “Dogma” is meandering mess, but at least Smith was trying to be a bit ambitious and explore bigger themes on a bigger canvas. The summer between high school graduation and my freshmen year at college “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” came out, which was supposed to be a fond farewell to the “View Askewniverse” Smith had created. It was nice to see all those characters one last time as I began my four years of film school and I looked forward to Smith growing as my own taste in films began to mature and expand. When “Jersey Girl” came out, Smith clearly wanted to grow as an artist and do something different. But his movie about fatherhood was forced and awkward, and way too sappy to stomach. The movie flopped badly and Smith began to point fingers for the box office failure. It was because Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez broke up before it came out, he protested. His fans didn’t want to see him leave his old universe, he cried. It seemed he was protesting too much- the movie was bad, and that was the long and short of it. The next thing you know, he was badmouthing his own film, joining the fans who had ridiculed it in hopes of winning them back. He got involved in flame wars all over the internet. Was this guy insecure enough to really let a few idiots on the internet (myself not included- I’m sure he cares what is said about him on this ol’ blog,) get to him? Worse yet, when I went back and watched some of his movies that I had so loved, their flaws seemed so much bigger than their merits once had. Sadly, i thought I was done with Kevin Smith forever.

Cut to a year or so ago, when Kevin announced he was going to return to the Quik Stop where he had made his name for “Clerks 2.” I was more than a little incredulous. Here is a filmmaker who had a strong and unique voice when he burst onto the indie scene in 1994, but has since failed to really develop or mature as an artist, and right when his career is stagnating he announces his next project is a return to the exact characters he made his name on? Sure “Jersey Girl” had been an artistic and financial failure, but at least he was trying something new. After the promise that “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was the end of the Askewniverse, it just seemed like he was retreating in desperation.

It turns out those very insecurities are exactly what “Clerks 2” is about- and they are why I kind of loved the movie, much to my surprise.

The movie picks up a decade after the first film, except nothing has really changed for Dante and Randal. The Quik-Stop burns down in the opening of the film, and our heroes are forced to get new jobs- at a Mooby’s Burger Franchise, the restaurant chain Smith invented for a memorable scene in “Dogma.” Ever present comic sidekicks Jay and Silent Bob end up hanging out in front of the Mooby’s as well, furthering the theme that nothing has changed at all.

For the first few minutes of the movies, things looked bleak. After the initial Quik Stop burning scene, Smith cuts to a montage set to a great Talking Heads track. Honestly, the Talking Heads are far too good a band for Smith to include in one of his movies- when David Byrne sings “This was Once a Wendy’s” Smith cuts to…a Wedny’s. Subtle. The first scenes in Mooby’s are awkward- we meet Elias, a geeky co-worker who feels just a little too over the top. Worse yet, Dante is engaged to be married to Emily, a gorgeous and rich woman whose father promises Dante a job once they movie to Florida. Emily is played by Smith’s wife, and I don’t want to be mean about this- but she just simply can’t act. It’s a very nice thought to want to keep it in the family. But please Kevin, spare us her presence next time.

But then things begin to warm up. The incredibley gorgeous Rosario Dawson shows up as Becky, the manager of the Mooby’s. Turns out Becky and Dante hooked up recently, and have a thing for eachother. Dawson is clearly a star- she has real charisma and brings a lot to her role, really lifting the material. But the real heart of the movie is Randal- Jeff Anderson really steps up his game in this one, and his sarcastic asshole becomes more soulful this time around. This guy is angry and lonely, and with Dante leaving, he realizes he is gonna lose the one person who understands him.

When Jason Lee shows up as a former classmate of Dante and Randal, the movie really has found it’s momentum. Even though Randal calls him “pickle fucker,” Lee’s character, a successful internet tycoon, gets the best of them for calling them on their status as counter jockeys at the age of 33. His words really get to Randal, and the two friends pull one of their signature stunts from the original movie and abandon their post- for the go-kart tracks. The scene is actually really joyous and sweet. Randal is an immature, angry man who hasn’t grown up one bit in the last decade, and he’s just finally realizing and accepting it- but the trip to the go kart track “centers him.”

The movie is far from perfect- but so are all of Smith’s films. A long discussion comparing the merits of “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” feels particularly strained (Smith claims the scene is meant to illustrate that Randal is out of touch with the world and hasn’t moved on- whatever, it’s lame and doesn’t hold a candle to the discussions of labor politics in “Return of the Jedi” from the first “Clerks.) But overall, Smith makes this film about being in your mid-thirties and not growing up work- mostly because that’s where he clearly is in his life.

Kevin Smith went from Quik-Stop clerk to Sundance sensation in 1994. But in a way, he hasn’t grown as an artist from that moment- with “Clerks 2,” he is literally stuck behind the counter again, having not figured out what to do as an artist beyond what he was doing a decade ago. It’s a little sad to see him and his characters struggle with that realization, but by the end, Kevin Smith, Dante, and Randal have found a way to accept and make peace with who they are, and it worked for me. Maybe Smith will eventually find a way to move on, grow up, stop being beaten down by his own insecurities and stun us with something new- but for now, “Clerks 2” is a nice reflection on those very things. It’s a very personal movie.

“Clerks 2” didn’t make me laugh as much as Kevin Smith’s films used to. But it did make me smile, and that’s enough for now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 8: Yo Ho Ho Hum

Is this really what people want? “Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest” is a bloated mess without a coherent story or one compelling character. Despite these problems, it has broken every record Hollywood has in it’s first week of release. In it’s opening weekend, it grossed $135 million- smashing “Spiderman’s” previous record by far. It grossed over $100 million in just two days- the first movie to ever do so. It has continued to pile up it’s grosses throughout the week, staying strong even as people have gone back to work. By Friday, the movie will probably cross the $200 million mark-which will inevitably break another record.

I get why everyone went out to see it opening weekend. I wanted to like this movie as much as everyone else did. The first “Pirates” was a surprise blast- a movie based on a theme park ride that actually was a lot of fun, largely due to Johnny Depp’s unhinged performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. But the original was a bit too long, wearing out it’s welcome by a good half hour.

The sequel commits the same sins as the original, to a far worse degree. “Dead Man’s Chest” is longer than the first movie, and ten thousand times more boring. Depp is back as Sparrow, but he seems just as bored as I was while watching the movie, and just as lost as to what the fuck is actually going on in the story. The script is the main failure with this movie. Disney saw that they had a hit franchise and (smartly, considering the grosses) decided to make two sequels at once. Unfortunately, that meant they decided to attempt to pump up a fun adventure franchise into a “Lord of the Rings” size epic. Yet the story the filmmakers are telling is not an epic or grand- only the running time feels epic length.

The “story,” or what there is of it, is some mumbo jumbo about the search for Davey Jones’s chest, in which the undead pirate’s heart is locked away. But to open the chest, someone must steal the key that Jones has with him at all times. That is all there really is to it, and it takes the movie over 150 minutes to tell the simple story. Sure, the movie tries to explore the theme that Cap’n Jack is a scoundrel who is really a good man at heart- but didn’t we cover that territory in the last movie? And really, I personally cannot for the life of me give a shit about Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightley’s relationship. It’s supposed to be the heart of the movie, but they are both so damned boring.

There are a few pleasures to be had throughout the movie. Davey Jones is a scary villain, and he is realized through some amazing special effects coupled with a great performance by the always wonderful Bill Nighy. A few of the action sequences are entertaining and well staged, but they are surprisingly few and far between, while the endless, pointless scenes between set pieces are unendurably boring. There are some good moments in Depp’s performance, but only a few this time. Where is the spark of life and mischief that made everyone fall in love with Captain Jack in the first movie?

“Dead Man’s Chest” is shockingly dull. Just when it begins to feel like it’s never going to end, something interesting finally begins to develop and the movie actually begins to tell a story. So of course that means it’s time for the picture to fade and the lights to go up. To be continued, see you next year, let’s break another record next time. Maybe the third movie will redeem this film, maybe the second film was just a stumbling block to get us to Part 3- but I don’t have much faith in the franchise after watching “Dead Man’s Chest.”

Monday, July 03, 2006

Summer Movie Olympics, Part 7: Exploitation At It's Best

I went up to the bay area for the fourth of July and had a pretty great weekend with my family. My little sister is taking a sign language class for summer school (and I'll stop you right there before you think she's doing it selflessly- if she takes two years of sign language, she can pass out of all language classes through college.) As a requirement for her class, she had to attend a movie with open captioning- as it turned out, the weekend we were in town a local theatre was showing "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" on Sunday morning with captions for the hearing impaired. I jumped at the chance to see the latest "F&F" film, as I had seen the first two before it. Though "2 Fast, 2 Furious" is a boring and lame sequel, I loved the over the top ridiculousity of the first movie. And who could resist seeing "Tokyo Drift" in such a surreal screening environment? But captioning a movie like this does make a certain amount of sense- the dialouge doesn't exactly matter in these movies anyway, so why not show this for hearing impaired audiences? Maybe "Fast and the Furious 4" will not have any dialouge at all. The kids who flock to these movies on their opening weekends (and flock they do- "Tokyo Drift" made $24 million on it's first weekend- not bad for a movie with no sequel without the original stars, or any name actors at all,) won't even realize they've seen an experimental film.

Nobody in the audience for these movies gives a shit that the stars of the first two "F&F" films are totally absent, (except for a surprise cameo at the end of the movie.) The movies are all about fast cars, dangerous races, insane crashes, hot girls, and all around cheap thrills. The franchise has developed into a series of B-Movies put out by an A-List studio- this is the kind of thing Roger Corman used to thrive at. "Tokyo Drift" is loud, stupid, and features an actor who probably has less charisma than the boring as a brick Paul Walker (who starred in the firs two "Fast and the Furious" films,) and the storyline is beyond generic. But I'll be damned if I didn't love almost every minute of this movie.

The story really is of minimal importance in a movie like this- Lucas Black plays Sean, a troubled American kid who is shipped off to live with his strict millitarry father. He gets involved in an underground racing scene, falls in love with the girlfriend of a wanna-be Yakuza member, befriends a small time criminal, and becomes an expert at "drift" style racing in order to beat his rival and win the girl. A conflict that could have ended in violence is, as customary in these movies, settled with a race. The script is silly and riddled with cliches, but in a knowing enough way that it's easy to laugh along with it and just enjoy the ride. Sometimes the movie is funny on purpose, and sometimes it's unintentionally hillarious- but either way I was laughing and having a good time, and that's more than I can say for a lot of the big, bloated Hollywood offering this summer.

Despite the fact that Black is an unbelievabley wooden leading man, and that the rest of the cast (including the artist formerly known as Lil' Bow Wow,) can't act their way out of paper bags, the movie still zips along entertainingly. The real stars of the film are not the people anyway- the cars in "Fast and the Furious" movies are framed as lovingly as the lead characters of a certain recent animated movie about talking automobiles.

I had a blast for most of this movie- the races were stylish and fun for the most part, and it's just in my DNA as a guy to watch those cars drift around impossible curves and just think "wow, that was fucking cool." My only real complaint is that the movie does wear out it's welcome a bit before the big final race. With such a who gives a fuck story being told, why did it still take almost a full two hours to tell it?

Other than the ten minutes that could have been cut out to make it a bit leaner, "Tokyo Drift" pretty much delivers the goods. Sometimes all a summer movie needs is a few good races and a bunch of cool crashes to satisfy that summer movie itch.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Adventures In Unemployment: Chapter 1

I’m going to try and get back in the habit of blogging, because it’s a good mental writing exercise. So if there is anyone out there who missed my posts, I’m here to serve you. For the rest of you out there, I’m sorry. I am going to have a lot of time on my hands in the next weeks, so you’ll be hearing from me a lot.

I signed up for unemployment tonight. My first check should be arriving in about ten days. It’s kind of a strange feeling, and one I’m hoping I don’t get too used to. I’ve basically spent most of June trying to get a script done for the Disney Writing Fellowship I am hoping to be chosen for (which is less than likely, but who knows?) and working on putting together hundreds of graduation DVDs for anxious private school parents. Every year since I was a junior in high school, I have filmed the graduation ceremonies at my former high school and middle school. I usually pull in a nice haul of cash, and this year was no exception. The only problem is that this year, the grad video money is not going to be additional fun money which I can blow in Vegas or, like last year, put directly into the budget of a film I am trying to make. This year, that grad video money is my whole net worth. So the government is gonna help me pay my bills for a bit.

Now that the grad DVDs are almost done and out the door, now that the spec script has been sent off to the Disney Writing Fellowship Judges, I’m just about free to start working on some other stuff.

If I am going to be getting unemployment, I’m going to make the most of it and try to have a nice period of productivity. I plan on starting work on a couple more spec TV scripts, putting together a few TV show pitch packets, both live action and animated, starting to fiddle around with a couple feature screenplay ideas I’ve been toying with for awhile, and finishing the cut of my damned film. Anybody who reads this blog who was involved in the film- which we shot over a year ago now- please don’t give up on it yet. July should be a good time to really get the editing finished, do a day or two of pick up shots, get a score laid down, and do a lot of work to improve the sound. If all goes as planned, I’ll have a finished film to send off to Sundance, which will kick off the movie’s round of festival submissions. All of this will be happening while I search for the right job, one that will actually point me in a good direction career-wise.

If I can keep my eye on the ball, hopefully I’ll be able to get some meetings and maybe, just maybe, find some sort of representation. The plan is to really stay focused, set schedules for myself for working on all these projects as they were a real paid job- that the government happens to be paying for.

That’s the somewhat ambitious plan for my the terrifying period of unemployment, which I am already a month into. The main problem, of course, is that I still have a TIVO, a PS2, and a stack of summer reading books piled high on my end table. All in all, a very dangerous group of potential distractions. Stay tuned to find out if I give into temptation or if I triumph and conquer Hollywood- actually, I think I set the TIVO to record a Quantam Leap marathon. And Project Runway starts in like a week.

This is gonna be hard.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Little Bit More About Me...

So I had to write an "autobiographical summary" for an application to a writing fellowhip program at Disney. There was very little direction as to what that meant, but since I have not been updating the ol' blog latley, cause I have been burning DVDs on my computer as well as playing too many video games, I figure I'd post the longer, unedited version for all the people out there who read this blog but don't know me...that being, well, probably nobody. Don't worry, the one I sent to the fellowship people was much shorter, after being edited by my girlfriend, who is much smarter than me.


My love of stories probably grew out of a desire to escape to a world better than the one I was living in as I grew up an awkward kid and teenager. The nerdy Jewish son of a Lesbian couple living in a redneck town in the Bay Area (the bullies who beat me up for having two moms up didn’t seem to care that we lived a mere half hour drive from progressive meccas of Berkeley and San Francisco,) I felt like I had a lot to escape from. Movies and books provided that escape. I remember sitting in a darkened theatre in 1993, watching Jurassic Park, and walking out changed. I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life- I wanted to dream up worlds that were as astonishing as the one I had just witnessed.

At the age of ten, I attempted to write my first novel, which was, unsurprisingly, a pastiche (or to put it more bluntly, a “rip-off”) of Jurassic Park. The story of hubristic scientists playing god by combining human and reptile DNA to create lizard-men and snake-beasts who (you never would have guessed it) escape and wreck havoc on humanity scared even me as I wrote it. I was sure that I was working on the next best selling hit, and confident that Hollywood was destined to come knocking on my door for the adaptation rights (a precocious kid with an unhealthy interest in the movie and television industry, I was reading the box office charts and Variety articles before my Bar Mitzvah.) Maybe all my dreams would have come true had I gotten past writing Chapter Three before I moved on to my next preoccupation, but somehow I doubt it. I began to make comic books (despite the fact that I could not draw,) write plays for my friends and I to perform, and shoot short movies on my parents’ camcorder. I was hooked on storytelling.

Things did not get much better for me socially in middle school- as they tend not to for most people. I still think that Junior High is one of the most awful times in anybody’s life. If you can survive sixth through eighth grade, you can survive almost anything. In sixth grade, I was beat up for my lunch money (an assault that felt like something out of a bad movie and made me ask my assailants, “are you actually beating me up for my lunch money?” Being sarcastic probably not wise when three guys are pushing you to the ground.) That incident was enough to motivate my over-protective Jewish mothers to enroll me in a private school that I attended from seventh grade through high school. Despite the school’s brochure, which promised a progressive “community,” the students at my new middle school were just as cruel as the students at my former public school.

But I survived middle school, as everyone does. I made it through by keeping my head down, reading tons of books and spending my weekends at movie theatres. By the time I was in high school, things began to change- the kids around me had grown up, and I grew a little more confident, a bit more comfortable in my own skin. I got more ambitious in my “pastiches” than I had been when I was ten. I co-wrote, co-directed, and co-starred in an epic length Indiana Jones movie with my best friend, complete with a car chase, an airplane, and seventeen year old kids running around with plastic guns and fake Nazi uniforms. We were lucky that the police only stopped us one time during our entire production. We premiered the movie in front of the whole school, wearing tuxedos and rolling out a red carpet. It was an indescribable feeling when we got a standing ovation from our whole school as a couple of seventeen year olds who had just spent two years of our lives making a rip off of another person’s hit movies.

I was accepted into the USC School of Cinema and Television in the production department, where I met a group of aspiring writer/ directors who had similar high school experiences to my own. I quickly realized I had gone from a big fish in a small pond and become a little fish in a very large pond. My four years in film school passed faster than I had ever expected. I’ve been out of school for a year and I’m still trying to take into account all that I learned and all that I wish I had learned. I did find out what the word “pastiche” means. The thing I regretted most about film school was that I didn’t get picked to make a “480” film, which was the production department’s highest honor. Almost every student attempts to make one, while ten filmmakers are picked to pitch to the faculty, who then select four students a semester to make a film. It’s a very competitive process, and I regretted missing the opportunity to make a 480 Film myself.

I had been working on a script for a year about a close friend from high school who had died recently in a freak car accident. The script I was writing was my attempt to make some sort of sense out of the tragedy. Just a month after graduating, I decided to stop complaining about not being chosen to make the film- and decided to make it myself. I directed the film last summer, right after I graduated. I’m still working on a final edit a year later. I’m afraid I made something a little too earnest and mopey (and a little bit too much like “Garden State,” a film I loathe for it’s dishonesty and pretentiousness.) Hopefully, I will finish it this summer and be at peace with it- and maybe get it into a few festivals.

A couple months after I finished shooting my film, I got an amazing job at Disney’s Video Game Division, Buena Vista Games. I was hired as a writer in a think tank, where I was paid to dream up ideas all day for new video games, to create worlds and characters for gamers to play with. I was elated- most people don’t get paid writing gigs right out of college. I was lucky enough to get a creative job instead of landing behind a desk, answering phones for an uncaring producer or executive. It was a lot of fun, and I am proud of everything I did during my time there, but it couldn’t last forever. It was an internship with a set timeline, and it just ended recently.

Now I’m back at square one, where I was right after graduation. It’s a frightening place to be, but I’m ready to face unemployment and try my best to keep writing until something sticks, and I’m able to do what I love for a living.