Category Archives: Film

picture start (or, wil rambles on and on about movies he’s recently seen)

My writing muscles have atrophied over the last three weeks, and they need to be warmed up so I can get back to work.

Please enjoy this rambling braindump about movies which I hope will start knocking some of the cobwebs off:

I watched a ton of movies in the last three weeks, including a ton of Academy screeners, provided to me by my vast underground network of Big Hollywood Super Players. My thoughts, let me show you them:

I loved everything about Juno, from the casting to the dialog to the photography to the soundtrack (which I bought the moment the credits began to roll) and I was surprised at how much I liked There Will Be Blood. I loved Boogie Nights, but I feel like everything Paul Thomas Anderson has done since then has been one big, "My jerking off! Let me show you it!"  Daniel Day Lewis made this movie for me, and I spent a lot of hazy hours thinking about what a gift it is — and how much dedication and hard work is required — to transform an idea and words into a living, breathing character.

The Orphanage was enjoyable, and if you liked The Ring and The Others, I think you’d like it, as well. Maybe it was the drugs, but I felt a step ahead the whole time, so I was forced to just enjoy the photography and MILFiness of Belén Rueda.

I gave up on 3:10 to Yuma after 35 minutes. I felt like I missed the first reel, or something, and didn’t know who the characters were, or why I should care about them. Bummer, because I really like westerns.

I thought No Country for Old Men was beautifully shot and brilliantly performed, but it didn’t shake the Earth for me like it apparently has for everyone else who’s seen it. I thought it ended abruptly, and it wasn’t until hours later that I realized, "Oh, they wanted it to be Tommy Lee Jones’ story, not Josh Brolin’s." I understand the Sheriff is a richer character in the book, and I probably would have
felt more satisfied with the whole thing if the Coen Brothers had included more of his backstory. Bummer, because I really like westerns.

I thought Control was okay, but your enjoyment of the film is going to be directly proportional to how much you love Joy Division, I think. It’s not deep enough for casual audiences, and felt a little long to me. I wanted to see more of Ian and Deborah’s relationship, and I was surprised that I didn’t, since it was based on her book and she was one of the producers. I loved the music, I loved the photography, and I thought it was cool that they shot it in color and processed it down to black and white. The actors sound great as Joy Division, much better than those modern bands who are stealing their sound. She Wants Revenge and Interpol, I’m looking in your direction.

I watched lots of older movies, too: Breach was okay, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Ryan Philippe totally hold his own with Chris Cooper. I’d skip it unless you’re a Chris Cooper fan. Or a Laura Linney fan. Which I am. But two MILF comments in one post may give you all the impression that I’m some kind of weirdo, so let’s just move on . . .

I tried — twice — to watch The Zodiac. I read books about this guy like crazy when I was a teenager (growing up in Richard Ramirez’ Nightstalker Los Angeles gave me an insatiable curiosity about serial killers) so I was really looking forward to this movie. I can’t point to one factor, but it never grabbed me.

The Last Picture Show goes in my top ten of all time, meaning I’ll have to knock something off to make room, but I don’t know what. I couldn’t help but feel like Lucas tried — and failed — to copy it with American Graffiti. It made me want to watch The Grapes of Wrath again.

I watched Chinatown for the first time since I was 19 or 20, and I’m really glad I did. For all the time I spent in my 20s worrying about being in my 30s, I remember something someone told me when I was 29 (paraphrased): "Your 20s are about gathering information and experience, and your 30s are about putting it to use." I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I feel more sure of who I am — way more sure of who I am than I did when I was younger — and I don’t know what relevance this rambling tangent had when I started talking about it, but watching Chinatown in my 30s was a profoundly different and much more rewarding experience than it was when I was younger. "Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown."

The same thing goes for The Natural. I forgot that The Natural really isn’t about baseball, and have to admit that "Pick me out a winner, Bobby," nails me in my weepy manbits the same way "Hey, dad . . .  want to have a catch?" does. I would have found this movie overly sentimental and too magical when I was a cynical 24 year-old with a copy of Howl in his pocket. Hell, I probably did. I’m glad I watched it without the baggage of being young and cocksure.

28 Weeks Later didn’t do for 28 Days Later what Dawn of the Dead did for Night of the Living Dead, but I like Robert Carlyle and can think of worse things to do with 90 minutes than watch The Infected do their thing.

I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t seen Spirited Away until this month. I loved every single thing about it, and I think it may edge out Akira in my top 5 Anime of all time. I know, blasphemy, but I responded to it on a level that I never have with Akira. It’s similar to the way Blade Runner moves me in ways that Star Wars does not. And we all know how much I love Star Wars. Oh, fucking hell, I guess I should just get this over with: if I had to choose, entirely on their individual merits, and took out the nostalgia, toys, and significance in my childhood, and look at them in a vacuum, Blade Runner resonates much more powerfully with me. I think it’s a better film. Hey, maybe I’ll watch that Final Ultimate Really We Mean It director’s cut in a little bit. I’m supposed to ramp up to normal activity slowly, so maybe I can justify it.

I’m sure I watched other stuff, but it’s not coming straight to mind, so I guess it’s safe to say that whatever else I saw didn’t make much of an impression.

Heh. There was a time when I’d look at all of this, say out loud, "who gives a fuck what you think about movies?" and delete the whole thing because it’s not that interesting to anyone but me. Maybe it’s residual drugs in my system, or part of that thing I mentioned earlier about being in my mid-30s (yipe), but I needed to write this because thinking about all of it has taken up cycles in my brains that I need for other stuff. So here it is, and if you’re reading this, I guess it’s safe to assume that you found something worthwhile in it, so at least I haven’t wasted your time.

Back in the days when Tony Pierce wasn’t spending his time trolling his own commenters and generating controversy for the sake of building page views, he wrote a fantastic post about avoiding blogging burn out, which was something we were all talking about in those days when we were all sort of defining what blogging was and wasn’t, making it up as we went along (but not admitting that we were.) I forget exactly what the advice was (and it’s all massively awesome advice that should be required reading for everyone — including Tony, today — who aspires to do more than talk about their cats with their blog) but it can be distilled down to a couple of things: write what you want to, write what’s on your mind, and don’t worry about who is reading it. It’s such simple and logical advice, but clearly isn’t easy to absorb and put into practice, because I need to remind myself about it at least twice a year. I used to worry a lot about wasting people’s time with my blog, but now I save that obsessing for my books.

Oh, totally unrelated to movies, but because I’m thinking about it: I bought the remastered Joshua Tree last week, because my original CD, which I bought at Tower Records in 1987, had a scratch across Running To Stand Still right when he sings "Cry without weeping." This scratched copy of Joshua Tree was one of the first CDs I ever bought for myself, and I couldn’t bring myself to replace it, so I’ve been listening to it this way, with the clicks and pops, for at least 15 years. It made me feel a little sad to replace it, like I was letting something go that I wanted or needed to keep around, but I haven’t been listening to the physical CD for years, and I figured it was okay to replace the music with a pristine version, while saving the original CD for keeping in The Vault of Memories.

Whew. This is the most I’ve written in a month, and it is ram-buh-ling. I’m tired, now. I think I’ll go for a walk.

A fistful of reviews

While I ramp up for writing more original fiction in 2008, I’ve been making an effort to read more books and watch more movies. Here’s a brief look at some of the things I’ve come across recently that I think are worth your time and money.

Books

Hammered

This is Elizabeth Bear’s first novel, and it kicks off the Jenny Casey trilogy that’s continued in Scardown and concluded in Worldwired. It takes place in a dystopian world that was plausible enough to give me chills, and is the first book I’ve read that I’d admiringly call post-cyberpunk.

Jenny Casey is a cybernetically enhanced former soldier living in post-war Connecticut, dealing with the ghosts of her past. When those ghosts come back to life, they ensnare not only her, but some of her closest friends, as well.

It took me longer than usual to get into the narrative, because the story changes point of view a lot in the beginning, but once I got all the characters straight, I was on board and it was difficult to put down.

This was one of those books where the main character is compelling, but the supporting characters are magnificent. I just loved it, and as soon as I finish Atrocity Archives, I think I’m going to finish the trilogy.

Coraline

Coraline lives in a boring house with uninteresting parents surrounded by strange people. But when she goes through a forbidden door and finds herself trapped on the other side with her Other Mother, her life suddenly becomes very interesting. It’s not quite horror, it’s not quite fantasy . . . I guess I’d call it a "dark fantasy," sort of the way Neverwhere was a dark fantasy. It’s a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read.

I wish this had been written when my kids were still young enough for me to read to them. I have number 238 of the limited Subterranean printing.

After Halloween

I got this book from Daniel Davis when I spent the weekend next to his
Steam Crow booth at Phoenix Comicon. It’s a children’s alphabet book
about what the monsters do to make a living after Halloween. ("E is for Ealwatte, a mage
of the dead / Now he crafts hats to adorn your bald head.")  It’s all
rhyming, it’s charming and funny, and the illustrations are ridiculously awesome. In a world
where everything — especially children’s books and stories — are so
mindnumbingly banal and similar, After Halloween is unique and
wonderful. It’s another one that made me wish my kids were little
enough to enjoy it.

Graphic Novels

WE3

Grant Morrison is with Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore on the list of authors I’ll buy anything from without even reading the back cover, so it’s weird that I just got around to reading WE3 now. (Actually, I started it when I was working on NUMB3RS, and just finished it on Friday. I got distracted, I guess.)

WE3 is about three domestic animals — a dog, a cat, and a rabbit — who are kidnapped by the military and turned into cyborgs to be used as weapons. When the project is going to be terminated and the animals destroyed, they’re set free by a well-meaning researcher. Much of the story is about them trying to survive outside of the lab, while they’re hunted by their former masters. I found it sad and touching. It’s also a story that, I think, only works as a graphic novel, making it pretty unique.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

A new take on the introduction of The Joker into the Batman universe, this is set right after Batman: Year One, and could be a companion to The Killing Joke. I loved the writing, the shift in narrative between Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne, and the artwork was perfectly unsettling, without being disturbing. I’m a lifelong Batman geek, so it takes a lot to impress me with a Batman story. This impressed the hell out of me.

Fell Volume One: Feral City

Richard Fell is a detective sent over the bridge from a city that feels like New York to a totally fucked up place called Snowtown. In Snowtown, everyone has something to hide . . . including him. It’s classic detective stories, filtered through Warren’s sublimely twisted lens. I liked it so much, Fell could be the fourth comic to make it onto my single-issue list.

Movies

A Scanner, Darkly

My expectations were really low for this movie, after talking to some
friends about it, so I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the
acting, music, and animation combined very effectively, and I thought they did a better than usual job of
staying true to PKD’s story. Admittedly, this isn’t saying much, but it shouldn’t be misconstrued as a back-handed compliment. I genuinely enjoyed this film.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

One of the most engrossing documentaries I’ve seen in years. On the surface, it’s the story of two men trying to achieve the highest score on Donkey Kong, but the story ends up being about much, much more than the quest for a high score on a video game; it’s about a group of petty sycophants doing everything they can to protect a cowardly tyrant whose tiny fiefdom is threatened by an honorable man. I lost a lot of respect for Twin Galaxies by the time the film was over. I also wanted to go spend a hundred dollars in an arcade.

Cloverfield

I saw Cloverfield yesterday afternoon, early enough so I could avoid a theater filled with douchebags. I understand that this was a good thing, because people I know who saw it at night with the aforementioned douchebags were so annoyed by them, and so pulled out of the movie by them, it seriously fucked with their ability to enjoy the film.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. I gave it 3 out of 5, but only because the first-person shaky camera stuff made me violently seasick, causing me to look away from the screen more frequently than I did with Blair Witch (a movie, by the way, that I enjoyed as much as "meh" can be enjoyed, and which doesn’t deserve to be compared to Cloverfield, IMHO.) On story and effectiveness, I give it a 4.6 out of 5but the camera stuff really messed with me, and I suspect it will mess with other viewers, as well.

Assume there will be spoilers in comments, because I’m starting the comments off with my extended commentary on the film, which you should not read if you haven’t seen it yet.

The Bad Astronomer (who I owned in a Techonobabbloff yesterday) has some nitpicks and a review that I agreed with pretty much all the way, too.

The Return of MST3K

I was twenty years-old the first time I saw MST3K. I was sitting on the couch with a friend of mine, looking for something to watch on a Sunday morning, when she stopped on some crappy old horror movie.

"What’s this?" I said.

"You’ve never seen this before?"

"No," I said, "That’s why I asked ‘what’s this.’"

"It’s a show about this guy who is trapped in space with robots, and is forced to watch horrible movies. So he and the robots talk back to the screen."

It reminded me of this show I first watched on KDOC here in Los Angeles when I was a freshman in high school, called Mad Movies. I became a fan for life in a matter of minutes, and developed a list of favorites just as fast: Manos, the Hands of Fate, Rocketship XM and Lost Continent are a few that come instantly to mind.

MST3K’s Joel Hodgson once said, "We don’t ask ourselves, ‘will anyone get this?’ We tell each other, ‘the right people will get this.’" I was inspired by that philosophy, and when I wrote sketch comedy or did improv (both pursuits inspired by MST3K and the British Whose Line?) I used it, and I still use it today, even when I’m not writing comedy.

So now that there’s some context for how much I love MST3K, you’ll understand how excited I was when I saw that most of the original crew has reunited for Cinematic Titanic, which I believe can be safely called The Return of MST3K:

Cinematic Titanic is a feature length movie riffing show and is an
artist owned and operated venture created by Joel Hodgson, the creator
of the Peabody award-winning Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Cinematic
Titanic features the original cast and writers of MST3K, which is
Hodgson (Joel Robinson), Trace Beaulieu (Crow), and J. Elvis Weinstein
(Tom Servo). Filling out the ensemble is Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester)
and Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank).

While this is exciting to me as a fan, it’s also inspiring and validating to me as a creative person who lives on the Long Tail. Instead of waiting for a network to give them the opportunity to bring their show to viewers, they’re distributing the show on DVD themselves. Between this and Riff Trax, we Misties have a lot to celebrate these days.
 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some rock climbing to do.

MY PRECIOUS!

I just saw, via Propeller, that Peter Jackson has signed on to produce The Hobbit.

Director Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc said on Tuesday they have agreed to make two movies based on the book “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, ending months of legal wrangling.

Jackson, the director of the smash hit “Lord of the Rings” movies, and producer Fran Walsh will executive produce both a “Hobbit” movie and a sequel, but no decision has been made about who will direct the films, Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, co-chairmen and co-CEOs of New Line told Reuters.

The good news is, it’s going to take two whole films to contain its awesomeness. The (potential) bad news is, he won’t be directing. That’s offset by the (potential) good news that it will make its way into theaters before 2011.

King Kong showed that Peter Jackson isn’t infallible, but it’s clear that he loves and respects Tolkien’s work, so I’m sure I’m not the only geek who would be willing to wait until 2011 or 2012 if that’s what it takes to get someone who loves it as much as we do behind the camera. I mean, we’ve waited for decades for this; what’s a few more years to get it right?

Can media conglomerates afford to pay the writers?

As someone who hopes to be in the WGA one day, and as a current SAG member (and former member of the Board of Directors) I am in complete and total solidarity with the Writer’s Guild. It’s quite heartening to me, also,  to see that so many people refuse to be fooled by the lies that the six companies who control all of the media have been trying to spread.

The AMPTP has been successful (and helped by the news media they own) in spreading FUD about the things the writers are asking for. This post at United Hollywood puts some important numbers into perspective:

"But can the corporations really afford to pay you what you’re asking for?"

Let’s
set aside for the moment the issue of what the congloms say in their
press releases to us (which is basically "There’s no money! Ever! And
if there was, we spent it all on other projects that lost money so it’s
gone! Forever! We’re broke! We’re having to rent our yachts!") and focus on some hard numbers thoughtfully provided by Jonathan Handel on the Huffington Post yesterday.

He
writes an excellent (I think) and even-handed analysis that takes into
account the effect pattern bargaining will have in calculating real
numbers of what we’re asking for, and what it will cost the companies,
individually, to pay us.

It comes, by his calculation, to $125 million per conglomerate per year — if we got every single thing we’re asking for.

That, by the way, is less than the $140 million Disney spent to fire Michael Ovitz for 15 months of work.

Also, Carson Daly is still an epic douche.

Also, also:

And finally, a meager contribution from the actor half of me:

Speechless

oh my fucking god pictures from the set of watchmen

Who_watches_the_watchmen
Apparently, I’m the last Watchmen geek on the planet to hear that Zack Snyder is keeping a rarely-updated blog during the film’s production.

I discovered the blog on a good day, though, because today he posted some pictures from the set that gave me a serious geekgasm.

I have a lot of hope for this film, though I seriously doubt it’s possible to make it into anything less than 12 hours long and truly do the book justice, because Zack Snyder managed to turn 300 into something not only watchable, but something that was a faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. When I saw these pictures this morning — especially the ones that are almost 1:1 recreations of panels in the book — I upgraded my condition from guarded to cautiously optimistic.

However, I am putting the studio on notice: if you pull any studiofuckery with Watchmen, you will see a rampaging horde of geek rage that will make The Phantom Menace look like a Fred Thompson campaign rally.

what’s wrong with gordie?

Picture_1_3
A few months ago, remixed movie trailers started showing up all over the place, the best of them being The Shining redone as a romantic comedy.

This morning, I saw a trailer for Stand By Me, which remixes it into something rather different than the film we made twenty years ago.

(Thanks to everyone who sent me the link.)

roll another number for the road

A lot of people have asked me about Americanizing Shelly, the film I worked on last year as director Alan Smithee.

I haven’t said much about it, because I didn’t know what I could talk
about and what I had to keep on the down-low, but I just read this story from the swnewsherald about the production:

The film tells the story of a wannabe Hollywood talent manager’s quest
to Americanize an Indian girl from the Himalayas. As he teaches her
about the “American way of life,” they begin to see the world through
each other’s eyes.

I didn’t know this when I worked on it, but one of the co-producers was
just seventeen years-old! I’m totally blown away; we only spoke on the
phone and via e-mail, but if I hadn’t read this article, I would have
thought she was a typical, experienced film-maker
.[1] Good on ya, Natasha!

I also just discovered that the film has a website, which currently features a teaser trailer that includes me, in all my "incompetent director" glory. Right on.

[1] Oops. Mistaken identity. We never spoke with each other. However, it’s still incredibly cool that a seventeen year-old got involved with the making of a movie (which I’ve just found out looks great and is cracking up all the people who have seen it during editing.)

on poker and acting

Last week, Otis asked me if I’d write a few words for the PokerStars newsletter about how acting and poker mix together, and if I’d discuss how acting has helped my poker game.

I tried to answer intelligently and keep it brief, but since it takes
me 200 words to say hello to someone, it shouldn’t be a big surprise
that I ended up sending Otis a little over 2800 words about acting,
poker, and Almost Famous. I was so long-winded, in fact, that Otis ended up using the power of the fully-operational PokerStars blog to handle the Alderaan-destroying mountain of words I sent.

If you’re interested in the poker stuff, or want to know how I’ve been able to combine my acting experience with my poker game, you can read the whole thing at the PokerStars blog.

For the rest of you, here’s a little bit about acting that you don’t have to be a poker geek to follow:

As an actor:
1) I have to be completely connected to the other
actors in the scene, so my character understands what the other
characters are doing, why they are doing it, and I (as the actor) can
allow my character to react naturally and realistically. rather than
"acting."
2) I have to completely commit to everything that my
character does, and allow my character’s memories, beliefs, and prior
experiences (that I have made up) to truly _live_ in me, like they are
real, so that all the unconscious physical signals that come with
different emotions happen naturally, rather than as a result of
"acting."

For an actor, getting caught "acting" is worse than a
poker player getting caught bluffing; it’s more like getting caught
cheating. So we actors work very hard to make sure it never happens.

[. . .]

One of my favorite examples of this is from Almost Famous. Kate
Hudson, as Penny Lane, asks Patrick Fugit, as William Miller, if he’ll
go with her to Morocco.

When she asks him, they’ve been running
around a park together, and it’s clear to the audience that they’re
falling in love. It’s really charming to watch, and unless you’re
deeply cynical, it’s tough to not smile with them, recalling the first
time you fell in love.

"I’ve made a decision, I’m gonna live in Morocco for one year. I need a new crowd. Do you wanna come?" She says.

"Yes!" He says.

"Are you sure?" She says.

He looks at her, like he was completely lost in her, and says, "Ask me again."

She flushes, and she says, more intently, "Do you want to come?"

"Yes! Yes!" He says, as some seventies power ballad starts to play.

According
to director Cameron Crowe, Patrick asked Kate to ask him again, because
he’d been staring at her, and just got lost in that moment, so he
missed his line. But he was still in the scene, so he asked her exactly
the way he would have if it had been real. Kate stayed focused on him,
stayed in the scene, and asked him again, so we have this incredibly
wonderful moment of two people falling in love that probably has many
of you running to Netflix to queue it up right now. If either one of
them hadn’t been completely focused on each other, that moment (which
would have been impossible to script) never would have happened. If
we’d caught them "acting," it would have ruined that moment, and the
whole movie would have suffered as a result.

Did I pique your interest? Heh. So go on, read the whole thing. You know you want to.