Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Top 5 Movies of 2006

April 11, 2007

So 2006 ended a while ago, but I never got around to doing this:

1. United 93 – far from being the exploitative, propagandistic garbage I was expecting, this is brutally emotional, informative, thought provoking stuff. Easily the best of the year.

2. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – while not as revealing about American character as the hype suggested, it’s still very, very funny, which is enough.

3. The Queen – It’s easy for a movie to titillate, harder to be emotionally involving, harder still to be worthy of argument once the lights come back up. Like Quiz Show, The Queen asks its audience to stop judging celebrities long enough to question what we’d do in their place, and indeed if conventional wisdom is as moral as it might seem.

4. Thank You For Smoking – the second funniest movie of the year. The cigarette industry seems too easy of a target, but Jason Reitman gets around this by making the movie more about the kind of person who would choose to be a lobbyist. It works.

5. The Departed – A big fun chaotic mess.

Other good ones: The Last King of Scotland, Pursuit of Happyness, Blood Diamond, Babel, Brick, Idiocracy

Things that weren’t as good as I wanted them to be: Little Miss Sunshine, Casino Royale, Pan’s Labyrinth, A Scanner Darkly

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New Beverly’s Grindhouse series

March 12, 2007

The New Beverly Cinema (Beverly and La Brea) is giving Quentin Tarantino a chance to show off his influences for the next two months. He’s showcasing dozens of old grindhouse flicks from his personal collection: silly kung-fu, titty-flapping sex comedies, badasssss blaxploitation, and 70s revengers (sorry, no Joe Don Baker).

Went to my first tonight, a double bill of Rolling Thunder and The Town that Dreaded Sundown. The first is a fairly simple, slow-building revenge flick in which a POW (William Devane) returns home after 7 years in a Vietnamese prison and can’t quite get back into the swing of things, that is, until someone close to him is killed. Not the type of thing that usually excites me, but it was more interesting than Death Wish, and Tommy Lee Jones brought down the house.

The second film is a semi-competent crime thriller in which a tall guy with a sack over his head kills a bunch of teenagers while cops fail to catch him. It has similarities with Zodiac and Halloween, but isn’t nearly as good as either. A few moments of unintentional laughter, along with the party atmosphere in the theater, made it an enjoyable experience nonetheless.

Included with the show were dozens of old trailers, from Chinese Hercules to Straw Dogs. The cheesy, old style voiceovers and bizarre clip choices made them worth the price of admission alone.

It is a little awkward to have some of the filmmakers there at the screenings. Do they know that for each person who came with sincere enthusiasm, another came for the camp value? Do those in attendance even make a distinction? Where does homage end and mockery begin? I’m going to attend a few more of these things and see if I can figure it out.

Theater etiquette

March 6, 2007

A tip for those of you still considerate enough at theaters to remember there are other people in the room: never wear a button-up, short-sleeve shirt to a packed house.  The starchy sleeves will flare out and tickle the arms of the people sitting next to you.  It will almost certainly lead to discomfort and awkward glances, and it probably isn’t as good of a way to meet a potential sexual partner as it might sound.

So close, so farawhatthehell?

February 20, 2007

I remarked to a friend recently that because of the way the movie business is structured, what with its exclusionary practices and disdain for new talent, I actually feel further from my goals here in LA than I did living in Jersey.

And then LA does something completely out of character. I called a production comapny today…

Me: “Hi, my name’s Roger Taylor. I’m calling to see if you have any freelance script reading jobs available?”

Woman who picks up: “Reading… hang on.”

(I sit on hold for 30 seconds.)

“No, it looks like we have 7 readers already, so we’re pretty well full.”

“Oh. Well thanks for checking.”

“Are you a writer?”

“A writer? Yeah.”

“Do you have anything interesting?”

(clearly stalling) “Um…”

“Call me when you do.”

(click.)

Okay, seriously? Seriously? I can’t get a simple reading job, I have to struggle and scrape just to get cast as one of 250 extras for some MTV film no one cares about, none of my writer friends can manage to get an agent, but apparently production companies are so starved for material that they’ll ask random schlubs on the phone if they have any good scripts?

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever

February 1, 2007

It has come to my attention that Corey Feldman’s masterpiece, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever, has not been released on DVD.  A sequel to the Ramones movie of a similar name, Forever retains one original cast member, two original characters, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Ramones, and doesn’t make a lick of sense.  It’s a classic.

There was a laserdisc release, back when people were simple enough to buy into that sort of thing, but still no DVD.  This needs to be rectified.

These are random thoughts

January 26, 2007

Just read Dave Eggers’ most enjoyable A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and thought the following:

He got there first. Like me, like my writing, what it was supposed to be, but with a more interesting story and more aggression, a manic streak at least twice as manic and flights of fancy gooier in their fanaticism and looser grammar, oh how I’d kill for that looser grammar and– How the hell did he have sex with 34 women? I haven’t had sex with 34 women. If I’d been born in my proper damn generation I could have had a bestselling memoir and lots of tragedy and sex.

Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky… it’s sort of about old people. There should be more things about old people. They’re neat.

On the set of Las Vegas two days ago:

Girl: “So, you have myspace, right?”
Me: “Uh.. yeah.”
“Headshots?”
“What?”
“Do you have your headshots up.”
“Oh. No. I’m not an actor.”
“Well what are you?”
“What am I?”
“What?”
“I’m a writer.”
“You’re too young to be a writer.”
“Well…”
“And too handsome.”
“Oh. Thanks.”
“You should be in front of the camera.”
“All writers have leprosy.”
“What? Can you write a part for me? Like a short?”

The History Boys

January 14, 2007

About 2/3 of the way through The History Boys, there’s a scene where the boys in question — a group of talented British schoolchildren on the brink of making it to Oxford or Cambridge — are being tested by three teachers on their admissions interview skills. A few minutes in, without any kind of reasonable provocation, one of the teachers (played by Frances de la Tour) stands up and begins talking about women’s place in history. I think it’s meant to be something of a rousing, feel-good moment, but I was left unroused, being too busy trying to figure out what it had to do with the rest of the scene.

Of course, it didn’t. The History Boys, a film about education, adolescence, and a snuggly sort of pedophilia, started out as a play and it shows through almost every piece of celluloid. That isn’t always a bad thing. The Big Kahuna was one of the stagiest flicks ever and was all the more focused and interesting because of it. But that story also had a linear logic to it conducive to cinema. The History Boys is the sort of play where people can break out into song or monologue or jump through time all within a scene. Which is fantastic. In person, that sort of thing is very exciting for its immediacy and because we understand the limitations of the theater. On film it feels unnatural. I don’t know if it’s the acoustics of movie theaters or what, but I am simply never, ever excited by actors reading poetry or singing songs on screen. Rarely is making speeches any better.

While an out of place monologue or two could be forgiven, the language itself appears to be the glue holding the play together (not having seen it, I’m giving the original the benefit of the doubt), and when the language fails, we’re left with a thin story with no narrative drive. Someday I might like to see the invigorating debate over education, the poetry recitation, and the snappy one-liners in person. But as a film, The History Boys is dull.

**

On TV writing

January 7, 2007

“The feature world, which I remain involved in, is not a medium, generally, where you’re able to write about character in the depth I like to write about character.  There are characters now on ER whose growth I’ve been writing about for years. … And subject matter is different in television.  The kinds of things we can write about seriously are more appealing than most of what you’re offered to do in features.” — John Wells, ER, The West Wing.  From Pamela Douglas’ “Writing the TV Drama Series.”

Ms. Douglas, former writer for Ghostwriter and Star Trek: TNG among others, expresses much the same opinion in her book.  On the surface, it makes perfect sense.  Movies usually don’t run much longer than two hours, while television shows can last, in some cases, hundreds of hours, so of course we get to know TV characters better.  It’s logical.  Almost obvious.  Except it’s false.

Do I know Jack Shephard from Lost or George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life better?  George Bailey, easily.  Which titular character has more depth: Veronica Mars or Annie Hall?  Tough call; one could argue either convincingly, but I would side with the latter.

Most enlightened people have by now acknowledged that TV is pretty great and getting better.  But for TV writers to argue that television is all about character and real life and Important Social Issues while film is about masturbatory fantasies for 12-year old boys is self-serving, dishonest, and requires extreme selective memory.

Yes, TV shows have more time to work with.  But they also lack a captive audience, and can’t risk losing viewers.  With a traditional four act structure (3 commercial breaks), shows must build to climaxes or major story turns every 10 to 15 minutes, assuming there’s no tag or teaser.  Some modern shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Lost have a full six acts, so that none last for much more than 8 minutes.  When you’re trying to cram 5 major turns into every episode, who has time for characterization?  And, indeed, when characters are being forced to make all these Big Decisions several times a week, how can they maintain coherence?  (HBO shows may not have this problem, but the six or so Sopranos episodes I’ve watched have shown such a complete lack of dramatic structure that the freedom, in that case, is actually a hindrance.)

There’s also the issue of stopping points.  Feature writers know they only have about 120 pages to work with, so they select only those moments most integral to their characters’ personalities.  TV series last as long as they can.  While a handful of great shows were cancelled before fulfilling their potential (Firefly, Freaks and Geeks), most drag on longer than they perhaps should.  Veronica Mars explored its characters pretty fully in its first season and had to awkwardly create more mysteries to continue.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to its logical conclusion at the end of season three.  Gilmore Girls managed a great four year run before it started recycling old arguments and was forced to have Rory and Lorelai act out of character to keep the drama fresh.  That’s not to say any of these series turned bad, necessarily; rather, exploring the growth of Veronica, Buffy and Lorelai wasn’t the writers’ main concern when certain choices were made.  Keeping the series alive comes first.

In the end, arguing about depth of character seems a bit ridiculous, because a good story, no matter what its length, will reveal as much character as necessary.  The play ‘night, Mother lasts only 90 minutes and takes place in real time.  How much could we possibly learn about Jessie and Thelma in that time?  Exactly as much as we need to know.