Friday, July 10, 2009

I've Moved!

Hi all! I'm packing up and moving to a nice new home over at I'd love to have you visit! This blog will be sticking around for a while, but I'll be doing all future updates over at the new place, so stop on over if you feel so inclined (and I hope you do!).

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Art of War: Act Two vs. the Screenwriter

(via i can read)

As my friend Joselyn so eloquently and amusingly expressed earlier this week, this screenwriting business is hard work. I am, once again, in the doldrums of Act Two. Whenever I get to Act Two, I suffer that common delusion that the time I've allotted to write is the perfect and absolutely necessary time to do laundry, clean the kitchen, bake, go to the grocery store, play with my dogs, or "do research" for various other projects. I am pleased to report that all of my clothes are now clean except for what I'm currently wearing.

Tonight I made my plea to Act Two on twitter, and Act Two seems to have listened -- at least for tonight. I got a perfectly acceptable seven pages done. My goal is to have this baby finished by the end of July at the very latest. It's completely doable. And it's necessary. I've got too many unpolished specs lying in wait and too many new ideas bouncing around in my brain. Averaging three pages a day is not too much to ask of myself, even during my busiest weeks.

And the truth is, if being a screenwriter is a priority in my life, then I need to treat it as such. In short, "Do your work. Don't be stupid." Besides, with my laundry done and my kitchen clean, Act Two is running out of battle tactics with which to distract me.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Moving Movies

Earlier this week, Julie Gray over at The Rouge Wave wrote a post about films that move you. You know the ones: they make your tears well up (or spill over), or they give you that tingling feeling, or that swelling sensation in your chest that makes you proud to be a human being. Roger Ebert calls it Elevation or Transcendence.

It's something I've felt in all of my 5-star films this year. It's not always a joyous feeling, mind you. Sometimes, it's as simple as the feeling of camaraderie with a character who's making a difficult decision. It doesn't feel good, but you're right there with them. So, with that being said, here's a shortlist (in no particular order) of movies that move me. What movies move you?

Joyeux Noël
This film tackles some pretty heavy subject matter. On one Christmas Eve during World War II, troops from three different countries (two were allies but not fond of each other; the third was Germany), called a truce, got to know one another as humans instead of soldiers.

* * *
Waking Ned Devine
This fun, little screwball comedy has one of the most heart-swelling moments I can remember seeing on film. Forced to give a eulogy on the spot for a dead man he didn't really know, the main character proceeds to instead deliver a tribute to his underappreciated best friend, who's sitting in the front row of the wake. The friend is moved, along with those attending; and we're all reminded to appreciate those who mean the most to us while they're here.

* * *
This is the story of a man learning that he is a worthwhile human being who deserves to be loved — not just by others, but also by himself. In the scene where Angela forces the man to look in the mirror and tell his reflection that he loves him, the man (understandably) feels incredibly silly. But Angela's not one to be trifled with, and she forces him to stick with it. What he's saying to himself eventually breaks through, both to him and to the audience.

* * *
This is the story of a man who's best friend is an invisible giant rabbit. Despite his ability to live a completely normal life with the exception of his best friend, everyone has pretty much given him up as insane. He knows this, accepts it, and it doesn't seem to bother him. It's a movie about accepting who we are and who others are. In the movie, Elwood delivers some words of wisdom imparted to him by his mother: "'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me."

* * *
Dead Poets Society
I've already made my love for this movie perfectly clear here, so I won't expound further except to say this is the cream of the crop when it comes to the Inspiring Teacher genre, in my opinion.

* * *
This movie splits the crowd, critically speaking, but I adore it. There's a lot of thematic material, most of it linked to the concepts of success versus greatness. What do you do when the life you'd envisioned for yourself comes crashing down around you? What happens when, having striven for greatness, you find yourself in the midst of a fantastic failure? Is it better to play it safe to ensure success, or is it worth it to risk failure in order to achieve greatness? Well, as Drew puts it, "No true fiasco ever began as a quest for mere adequacy." It's a movie that inspires us to risk, to go all out, and to let the chips fall where they may.

* * *
Benny & Joon
This is the story of two oddballs who, despite the odds, find love and acceptance. In some of the same ways as Harvey, the movie also tackles the issue of the dignity we afford people who are different than we are. The moment when Johnny Depp as Sam swings in front of the window, bringing Joon out of her funk — and inspiring her to believe in herself again — is absolutely iconic.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Recap: 29 June 2009

So far, 2009 has been a pretty fantastic year for movies, in my opinion. Granted, that's speaking from a more indie-based scene than the average moviegoer. But it just goes to show you that, if you're not satisfied with the blockbusters out there, there are plenty of wonderful, smaller films for the choosing.

To put this in perspective, last year, I only had two five-star movies the entire year, and it's only June and I already have 5 (those are Star Trek, The Brothers Bloom, Up, Easy Virtue, and Away We Go).

What I Watched
  • Some Kind of Wonderful (4 stars): I can't believe I'd never heard of this movie until Gigi's mention of it in He's Just Not That Into You. My sister and I love that movie, so, of course, we had to check this one out, too. And it was funny and charming and sweet without being too saccharine. I think it's pretty underrated as far as '80s romcoms go.
  • Away We Go (5 stars): I was really interested to see what Sam Mendes could do with a quirky comedy/dramedy that tackles some of the same themes as a couple of his other films, the much darker American Beauty and entirely depressing Revolutionary Road. As much as I love American Beauty, I'm thinking maybe he should stick to this sort of thing. It was absolutely wonderful. If I thought I was in love with John Krasinski before, I most certainly am now. And Maya Rudolph was beautiful and complex and, well, just great. I'd recommend making an effort to check this one out, folks.
  • Hope Springs (3 stars): Sister and I needed a Colin Firth fix, so we picked this little-seen romcom from 2003. It wasn't bad, wasn't great. Firth was absolutely charming, though, as we expected. Interestingly enough, this movie is based on a book by the same author who wrote the book upon which The Graduate was based. A little trivia for you there.
Other Goings-On
Joselyn and I are likely going to participate in the 48-Hour Film Project, which is happening the last weekend in July. We haven't yet decided whether to join a team or to try and form one of our own. So, if you're in the Kansas City area and would be interested in joining our dynamic duo for one crazy weekend of filmmaking, drop me a comment or shoot me an e-mail at izzi [dot] ditty [at] gmail [dot] com.

Have a lovely week, everyone!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The True Story of the Gingerbread Man

So, I've been taking this children's book class, right? Well, in addition to what I'm working on with Kate, I'm also revising a story I wrote in the 4th grade. We were assigned the task of doing our own version of classic fairytales, and, inspired by The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.

I've scanned the complete book and posted it here for your viewing pleasure. I've even left the incomplete "About the Author" page and the back cover with little snippets of reviews. Enjoy.

(Also, that's going to be the future location of my blog, so, if anyone has any good tips on how to migrate from blogger to wordpress without ripping your hair out, I'd appreciate you sharing them!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Recap: 22 June 2009

Not too much to cover today, but here goes anyway.

What I Watched
  • Adaptation. (4 stars): I'd watched this a number of years ago and totally didn't get it. At all. I was urged by a friend (Writer-Nurse-Student-Comedienne-Extraordinaire, Joselyn) to give it another shot. I did. And I loved it this time. Maybe it's the whole, now I'm an aspiring artist bit, but I thought it was hilarious and sweet and par-for-the-course-Kaufman-style-crazy.
  • Easy Virtue (5 stars): Seeing this on the big screen instead of a dinky computer monitor has caused me to up my star assessment. I adore this movie. It's sort of Meet the Parents meets Farce of BBC Films. Everything about it is gorgeous (the cinematography, the scenery, the sets, the music, the actors and actresses), except the characters' psyches, which makes them entirely interesting. It's a dark, dry comedy with some dramatic twists along the way, but it's packaged a charming and wacky box that you leave feeling energized rather than moody. Or at least I did. Anyway, point is, this is one worth putting a little extra effort into seeing. Besides, a trip out to your local indie/arthouse theatre is good for the soul.
  • The Proposal (3½ stars): This romcom is pretty standard, but still enjoyable. It serves up a lot of typical clichés, but it also adds a little biting wit you don't often see in these sorts of typical fare. Honestly, without the casting of Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, I think this film would have had a hard time ekeing out that extra ½ star. But, as it is, the two leads' chemistry makes the film work much better than it would have otherwise.

What I'm Writing

My sister and I started a children's book class last week, which was pretty interesting. I've got an old idea I actually wrote in the 4th grade that I was planning on using as my workshop piece. But then my Sister the Artiste was having trouble coming up with a narrative. She knew the sorts of images she was interested in doing, so I started thinking along those lines and managed to come up with an idea for a story. I wrote it out the next day, and she liked it. So I guess we're going with that now.

In a way, children's books and screenwriting (and graphic novels/comics, I'd imagine) are sort of like distant cousins. Both deal with using words to evoke images that eventually manifest either on screen or on the page of a book. Both require attention to pacing, to the rhythm of language in regards to a scene. I may post some images here once we have them and if my Sister the Artiste gives permission, of course.

Beyond that, I'm working on a dark comedy script called 'TIL DEATH PARTS US while still trying to work out the story for the doppelgänger script. I had a potential breakthrough of sorts on that one during my morning drive today. Hopefully my subconscious will continue working on it while I'm focused on TDPU. It's much easier when the muses do the work for me. :-)

That's all for now, folks. Have a lovely week!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Recap: 16 June 2009 + Good news!

Wow, has it really been two-plus weeks since I've done a post? Sorry about that! I've been on vacation the past eight days, but now I'm back in the saddle (literally starting Sunday).

What I Watched
  • The Hangover (4 stars): This movie is, in my opinion, what Pineapple Express should have been. It was hilarious and outrageous, and my sister and I both had a fantastic time. It's surprisingly tame as far as sex and nudity goes until the closing credits. What really makes the movie work beyond the gags and jokes and shock-value moments is the fact that the movie has heart. In the end, it's really a story of four guys who care a lot about one another; it's just wrapped in the most ridiculous and loud package ever.
  • His Girl Friday (3½ stars): This movie starts as a fairly typical screwball comedy but evolves into something that tackles some fairly serious subject matter before ending up back in screwball. And it works pretty well. Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant shine, as would be expected. This was apparently one of the first movies where actors talked over one another in order to better mimic natural speech. The technique might have been used a little excessively, but watching Russell and Grant spar was still fun.
  • I Love You to Death (3 stars): This is a dark comedy starring Kevin Kline as a philandering Italian husband who finally gets caught cheating by his wife. His wife proceeds to try to kill him, but things do not go according to plan. This wasn't a fantastic movie, but Kevin Kline as an over-the-top first-gen Italian New Yorker was pretty hilarious. Worth checking out if you're in the mood for something silly and/or Kevin Kline.
  • Benny & Joon (5 stars): I adore this movie. Seriously. So, so, so much. Sweet, funny, heartwrenching at times, and, ultimately, completely and utterly heartwarming. Johnny Depp, per usual, is fantastic, and Mary Stuart Masterson and Aidan Quinn are also great. I can't believe this has a below-7 rating on IMDB. Highly, highly underrated, and equally recommended by me.
  • December Boys (3 stars): Full disclosure: I watched this on a smaller-than-I'm-used-to TV with mediocre-at-best sound in a condo with plenty of distractions. That being said, the movie didn't really do much to keep my attention. The exception being when Daniel Radcliffe was on screen, and I don't mean that in a cradle-robbing sort of way. The kid gives a very good performance, and his character struck me as by far the most interesting. I think the main problem was that there were just too many different storylines to keep track of in the movie; perhaps it would have made a better miniseries.

What I Read
I finished The Romance Readers' Book Club. I don't like to do negative reviews of books (or of movies, really) because who's to say what someone else will enjoy? That being said, I didn't really like it, but I'd never tell anyone NOT to read a book. I'll leave it at that; if you want more details on my opinion, you can ask me in a more private forum. :-)

I left American Gods at the condo when we went on my sister's college visit, so I picked up The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella (author of the Confessions of a Shopaholic series) at a Target for the drive back. It was a frothy, delightful and quick read, perfect for the beach or a summer's afternoon or a day when you just need to focus on something not-so-serious for a while.

The Good News
Last night, after trying very hard all day not to think (i.e., worry) about the BlueCat quarterfinalists being posted, I finally allowed myself to pull up the Web site around 10:15 p.m. only to find that the results had not been posted. My muse at that point started laughing at me because I was supposed to be touching up my outline for the screenplay I'm starting today.

So, I trudged back to my outline and did a few lines, but, about 15 minutes later, I could take it no longer and pulled up the site again. This time, the results were up. In reaction, I immediately tensed, and then I told myself it didn't matter whether I was on that list or not because it doesn't change what I do next, which is keep working.

So, after several nervous, catch-my-breath pauses whilst scrolling down the list, I finally came to the Ms, and then to the Mos, and then to the Mus. I took a deep breath, and then I moved my scroll wheel one more click. There it was! "Mute by Elizabeth Ditty."

After jumping around (and removing the last bit of water from my ear from swimming laps earlier), I called my family and told them the news, to which they replied, "We didn't understand you. Less squealy." So I told them again, and they were pleased for me. So, that's the good news. And, in case you couldn't tell, I'm pretty excited about it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Recap: 31 May 2009

In this entry:
  1. Movies: Hooray!
  2. Writing: Blurg + a small hooray!
  3. Reading: I <3>
  4. Dreams Do Come True

1. What I Watched
  • Night at the Museum 2 (2½ stars): There are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of hours in a movie theatre, but the sequel to 2006's surprisingly amusing NatM was a pretty big letdown. I wasn't expecting much, but it seemed like every single joke went on about 5 to 10 seconds too long. There is one exchange between Ben Stiller and Hank Azaria that is absolutely hilarious, but that's about it. It's not terrible, and kids will like it, but, overall, kind of disappointing.
  • YPF (4 stars): I first read about this movie over at Roger Ebert's blog last year, and so, when it showed up on Netflix's Instant Player, I decided to give it a shot. Full disclosure (no pun intended): Y stands for Young, and P stands for People, and I'll let you infer the F from there. The movie follows several couples through the act of, well, coupling. What transpires is at times hilarious, at other times heartbreaking, and pretty much all emotions in between. It's also worth noting that, despite it being a movie about sex, it's surprisingly chaste. Sure, there are boobs and butts, but they're very rarely gratuitous (only The Roomates toes the line, in my opinion). So, if you're open-minded, check it out. I, like Ebert, was pleasantly surprised.
  • [Guilty Pleasure Movie Night] Kingdom of Heaven [director's cut] (4 stars): If you've only ever seen the theatrical version of this movie, you haven't seen the movie. There's so much that makes absolutely no sense in the theatrical release because they cut out HUGE chunks of character development. Seriously huge. The director's cut is definitely epic at 3 hours and 19 minutes, but it's totally worth it.
  • Harold & Maude (3½ stars): It took me a while to get into this movie because I didn't like Harold. Normally in a movie, even when the protag isn't a very good person, there's still some clue given to the audience that you're supposed to root for him. I didn't see that. But eventually Maude won me over, kind of like she won Harold over. Five adjectives for this film: quirky, dark, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming. There you go.
  • Up (5 stars): Best Movie of the Year (so far). I doubt anything's going to beat it, frankly. I was in substantial tears twice (thanks in part to the fact that protag Carl looks a lot like my grandpa), and was laughing heartily throughout. Truly fantastic. Disney-Pixar continues to raise the bar. In my opinion, this is their best yet.
  • Duck Soup (2 stars): I know this is supposed to be a classic movie and all, but I just didn't get it. I thought it was lazy. The comedy didn't mesh at all with the few threads of a story. It should have been either a simple sketch comedy show, or they should have worked a lot harder on creating an actual story in which the comedy could be organic. As it was, it was like the opposite of synergy.
  • Cassandra's Dream (3 stars): Another foray into Woody Allen territory. Frankly, this 2007 thriller didn't strike me as his best work, despite fine performances by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell. It took a very long time to actually get started, but, once it did, it trotted along nicely enough. I think it's a movie that will grow on me in hindsight, thanks to my sister pointing out the theme (when is loyalty right?). Still, it's not as slick as some of his other thrillers, like Match Point.
  • Mostly Martha (4 stars): I loved this movie. It was remade in 2007 as a Catherine Zeta-Jones vehicle called No Reservations. I haven't seen that version, but I imagine it'd be hard to beat this one. It's the story of a Type A, German chef who's life is disrupted when her niece comes to live with her after her sister's sudden death in a car accident. Throw in an Italian chef who comes to work in her restaurant? Lots of fun, and maybe the best "leaves you wanting more" scene I've seen in years. (Bit of trivia: the Italian chef is played by Sergio Castellitto, who also played Mraz in Prince Caspian; he was much nicer in this.)
2. What I Read
A week ago, I found myself absolutely compelled to read The Picture of Dorian Gray again. Couldn't help myself. I read it slowly this time: trying to absorb every word, attempting to wrap my head around each of Lord Henry's epigrams, letting the imagery and the feelings sink in. And I still devoured it in a week's time. It was exactly what I needed for the emotions I've been dealing with lately, and I've now admitted to myself that it's become my favorite novel of all time, usurping the position that was held by Les Misérables since 1996.

I'm also reading a fluffy little novel called The Romance Readers' Book Club. Not really my usual type of stuff, but the back cover and the title intrigued me, and it was on clearance at Borders.

3. What I'm Writing
Ugh. Do we have to talk about this? OK, fine. I'm still muddling through The Sound of Silence. It's like pulling teeth, and it's still coming out way too short this time around. So annoying.

I've also started outlining hardcore for the rewrite of my Doppelgänger script. I'm going back to basics on this one, doing the 40-scene with the conflict and emotion change factors, hoping to break out of my screenwriting rut.

The silver lining is I wrote a short story last week that got a lot of very nice feedback on twitter. Being compared to both The Twilight Zone and Neil Gaiman was definitely a writing career highlight. It was also one of those rare occurrences when you're writing and suddenly things just click, with no effort of your own. True magic, I think: rare and to be savored when it happens.

Speaking of Neil Gaiman...

4. My Conversation with Neil Gaiman
The scene: Twitter
The time: The afternoon of May 22nd
Me: Had dream that @neilhimself tweeted at me, which caused me to let forth a joyful yawp, which woke me up. But at least I woke up smiling.
And then:

That's right, people. Neil Gaiman makes dreams come true. Literally. How awesome is that? I still get a little thrill of excitement thinking about that moment, which did indeed include a yawp of joy and also a little dance and lots of jumping around a bit of screaming and a phone call to my mother in which she became concerned that her eldest daughter had finally dropped off the deep end. All of which seems like a completely reasonable reaction to having a conversation (yes, I'm calling it a conversation!) with Neil Freaking Gaiman.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recap: 17 May 2009

Not much to report, so let's get straight to...

What I Watched
  • Intolerable Cruelty (3½ stars): Amusing and quirky; pretty much what you'd expect from a Coen Brothers romantic comedy. Nice chemistry between the leads (George Clooney & Catherine Zeta-Jones), fun dialog. I enjoyed it.
  • Star Trek (5 stars): As for the Star Trek canon, I thought they found a way to make this film fit perfectly. My mom, a very devoted TOS trekkie, disagreed wholeheartedly. So, take from that what you will. Outside of the Trek canon, there's not much to say about this one that hasn't already been said. I absolutely loved it. It's not perfect, but, in my opinion, it blew last year's The Dark Knight out of the water. Heart-wrenching at times, heart-warming in others, thrilling in its fair share of moments and funny in the others, it may just be a perfect summer movie.
  • The Soloist (3 stars): Sweet story of friendship and of the art of acceptance. Some things (like the orchestra filling in when Ayers was playing a cello solo, and the weird, potentially seizure-inducing light show during their trip to the orchestra rehearsal) took away from the impact of what should have been really moving scenes. There were also some issues with the definition of relationships outside of that between Lopez and Ayers. Still, very solid performances all around.
  • Chinatown (3½ stars): I'm still sort of processing this movie, to be honest. It was a bit meandering at times, and I'm still not quite sure what the true motive of the villain was. That being said, the great performances and interesting storytelling certainly made it compelling.
  • Teeth (3½ stars): Ah, what to say about this movie. It's a very, very dark horror comedy. And it's pretty graphic without being overly gory. Certainly not something you want to watch with kids around. I had a great time watching it. My main complaint is that every single guy turned out to be a douche, but, hey, I didn't expect this movie to be perfect. Bottom line: it's loads of fun, and you should check it out if you're in the mood for a very, very dark horror comedy (though, guys be warned, there are a number of scenes designed to make you very, very uncomfortable).
  • Taken (4 stars): Luc Besson (who co-wrote the screenplay) delivers another solid action flick. There are a few moments where you've got to suspend disbelief, but nothing jarring enough to make you care. Liam Neeson is fantastic and, in my opinion, totally believable. Truly, it's his movie to make or break, and he sells it with no problem.
  • Angels & Demons (3 stars): I realize it's the popular thing to hate on this movie, but I actually thought it was a perfectly acceptable summer popcorn thriller. It's entertaining, the acting is fine enough, and I was never bored. Plus Ewan McGregor. I didn't like The DaVinci Code, but Angels & Demons delivers a couple of hours of solid entertainment.
  • [Guilty Pleasure Movie Night] Lethal Weapon (4 stars): The movie that shot screenwriter Shane Black into the big leagues. I hadn't seen the first installment in this series in a long while, but it really holds up quite well. Riggs and Murtaugh are... well, they're awesome. The banter, the teamwork, the balance, and, well, the love. They're great. Watching the film in this Age of the Bromance, it's easy to see how they've served as the basis for many an archetypal buddy flick since.

That's it for now. Have a good week, folks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The BlueCat 10-Page Workshop: Lessons Learned

I attended one of Gordy Hoffman's BlueCat 10-Page Screenwriting workshops this past Saturday in Kansas City. For those unfamiliar, these workshops involve exchanging the first 10 pages of a screenplay with nine other writers in preparation for reading them aloud and commenting at the workshop.

I came away with a number of lessons.
  1. Sometimes it's impossible to judge the potential of a script by its first 10 pages.
  2. People will do it anyway, so you'd better do everything you can to make sure those first 10 pages are good.
  3. Writers who appear to be beginners can still offer excellent advice to writers who have been at it a bit longer.
  4. As an aspiring writer (in addition to many other time in life), writing people off before you've fully heard and understood what they have to say is a mistake.
  5. As Gordy himself said, all the how-to guides out there are simply solutions to the problem of how to tell a compelling story. There's really not a wrong way to do that, per se. If you're keeping people interested, you're on the right track.
Now, with those four lessons, I also have a confession. It's not an easy one because I really strive to have humility regarding my writing and myself in general. But the fact remains that, when you work very hard at learning a craft, the ins, the outs, the technical aspects, the theoretical aspects, all of it... Well, you're bound to develop a bit of an ego, even if it's a realistic one in which you know you don't know everything but you know you do know a little because you've worked and are working your tail off to learn everything you can. And sometimes that little bit of ego is all the reward you have in a given moment: the knowledge that you are doing everything you can. And by "you," I mean "me." So, that being said and perhaps unnecessarily justified, here is my confession.

After receiving the nine other screenplays, I was highly skeptical about how the workshop was going to go.

There was some solid stuff, but there was also some stuff I deemed not so solid. I don't need to go into detail here about any specific thoughts, but what I will say is that I was ridiculously impressed by Gordy's ability to dig out the potential -- and offer suggestions on how to start down the path to reaching that potential -- in each of the 10-page samples. It's a quality that I always considered to be one of my own strengths, but, I must say, whatever ability I have in that area pales in comparison to what Gordy showcased.

I do realize that this presents a certain caveat venditor, though: If someone who actually strives to be open-minded and seek out potential is thrown off by nonstandard formatting, spelling and grammar issues, and nontraditional structure, then think how much more turned off an industry reader who must sift through any number of scripts a day will be. So, it's probably wise to do your research regarding those things.

Here are a few resources I've found wildly helpful:
I really enjoyed the BlueCat workshop, and I'd highly recommend attending one if the opportunity is available to you. Gordy is realistic without being harsh, and he played a big part in making everyone feel at ease throughout the day. We all shared a lot of laughs and a lot of great advice, and I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with my fellow workshoppers.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Recap: 3 May 2009

Hey, look! It's May! Is it just me, or is this year flying by incredibly fast? Well, the good news is, despite April disappearing, I've come out of it with a not-completely-horrible-but-still-very-rough first draft of a new screenplay thanks to ScriptFrenzy.

Other highlights:
  • I've started taking horseback riding lessons.
  • I got to attend a screening at the new AMC Mainstreet here in Kansas City the week before it opened (they hosted the KC FilmFest). The six-screen theatre's super cool, and you should check it out, too.
  • I'm starting an intermediate French class next week.
  • I've signed up to take a class from the Kansas City Art Institute about creating a children's book starting in June.
  • I've declared that Sunday night is now Guilty Pleasure Movie Night, in which I need no justification to watch a movie other than I just plain feel like it.
  • I'm going solo to the Lord of the Rings Symphony next Friday at the Music Hall because that's how I roll, yo.
  • There's a Narnia exhibition coming to Union Station here in Kansas City May 22 through August 23, and I want to go. Want to come with me?
Now that we're up to date on that, let's look at...

What I Watched
  • Brick (3½ stars): This is a noir detective film set in a high school. The tone starts out kind of satirical but quickly turns very, very serious. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a strong and deep performance, which seems to be par for the course for him post-3rd Rock. Also very interesting visual style. All the more impressive is that this is the first feature effort from writer-director Rian Johnson.
  • Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!! (3 stars): I checked out Rian Johnson's short film prior to seeing The Brothers Bloom at the AMC Mainstreet theatre. It's sort of a comedic, modern take on Poe's The Tell-tale Heart. You can watch it here.
  • The Brothers Bloom (5 stars): First five-star film of the year! This is one of those movies that has everything you want: comedy, romance, drama, suspense, action... It's all there, and it all works together. Rachel Weisz plays one of the most unique and fascinating female characters I've seen in recent memory. Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play the titular brothers in this "fairytale about conmen," as Rian Johnson himself put it before the screening. It's getting wide release at the end of this month; if you have the opportunity to see it, I highly, highly recommend it.
  • Match Point (3½ stars): My Woody Allen education continues. This is the movie that people say ushered in a new era for Woody Allen, and, I must say, I wasn't super crazy impressed. I had some issues with the character development, but overall it was entertaining, and I enjoyed the theme.
  • Earth (3 stars): Let's start with the negative: as far as weaving a narrative goes, Earth didn't do such a great job. It didn't focus on the "three families" it proclaimed to in the trailer. They were more like bookends to the movie than the heart of it. And the stories they did show? Pretty much all total downers. If you're going to cast animals as "villains" in a nature story, sometimes you have to show the underdog getting away. Now, the positives? Gorgeous. Informative. A solid first effort for DisneyNature, and enough to make me look forward to next year's Oceans.
  • [Guilty Pleasure Movie Night] The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (4 stars): I named this one of my favorite movies of 2008 (and anticipated it would be such back in September 2008, and I think I've made my adoration for this movie clear.
  • Across the Universe (3½ stars): This film is sort of an impressionist portrait of the '60s. Some odd sequences in the middle, but overall a stunning piece of work that's worth seeing just for the creative challenge of taking the Beatles body of work and cobbling together a narrative out of it.
  • Wolverine (2½ stars): Hm. Well. Hugh Jackman looked good, eh? Important lesson here, folks: set pieces do not make a movie!
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (3½ stars): I was really disappointed in this movie when I saw it in theatres. I grew up watching this version, and so I had some very specific ideas about what I wanted to see. And there were some things they took in a different direction. I still think the movie would have been more effective with a greater visual transformation for the White Witch when winter starts to end. In the animated version, it's like she's practically melting herself. But having a deeper understanding of the characters thanks to a little more character development in Prince Caspian, I gained a better appreciation for this movie the second time around.
  • Mona Lisa Smile (3½ stars): This is a fairly typical venture into the Inspiring Professor Genre. And, while it's not the strongest one out there, it's still a solid and enjoyable movie.
  • [Guilty Pleasure Movie Night] Stardust (4 stars): Like Prince Caspian, I wasn't all that impressed the first time I saw this movie, but, also like Prince Caspian, it's grown into one of my favorites. It was mismarketed when it came out, so, if you discounted it as a boring fantasy epic (which is how the trailers made it look), give it a shot. It's more in the vein of The Princess Bride in that it's a love story wrapped in an fantastical adventure story.

What I'm Writing

This week's going to be spent preparing my Screnzy effort for the BlueCat 10-Page Workshop this coming Saturday. Additionally, I'll probably start doing a bit of work on incorporating the changes I've marked for Monsieur Valentine this past week as well as outlining my next spec script 'Til Death Parts Us. Sort of a transitory week for the writing gig, but those are necessary sometimes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recap: 19 April 2009

It's funny how life seems to hit all at once sometimes. Here's what I've dealt with in the past week:
1) Work insanity (more so than usual), culminating in a 10-hour work day on Friday.
2) The death of my last grandparent, which, in addition to the emotional fall-out, led to:
- An unexpected daylong road trip to Joplin, Mo., where I spent all major holidays and the occasional weekend for the first 21 years of my life.
- Eating way too much food at Casa Montez, the best Mexican restaurant in the history of the world.
- Meeting my great aunt and uncle and hearing soap-operatic stories from my family history that struck me as both tragic and captivating.
- Seeing what happens after everyone leaves the burial site.
- Feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me after seeing childhood memories distorted by time, "progress," and a lack of care.
- A lovely day spent on the road with my mom, during which we talked about many subjects, both trivial and serious (and a few in between).
3) Receiving my first Make-A-Wish assignment and subsequently having to miss the first meeting due to sheer exhaustion and the hint of a cold (thus not wanting to pass anything along to the Make-A-Wish family).
4) Tax Day!
5) ScriptFrenzy!

And despite all that, I'm still going to stay up late and do my movie recap because I didn't do one last week, and three weeks is just too long to go without one. So, off we go!

What I Watched
  • Sunshine Cleaning (3½ stars): Even with solid performances from a great cast (Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, etc.), I didn't think this movie quite lived up to what it could have been. Don't get me wrong; obviously with a 3½-star rating, I still thought it was pretty good. The movie could have used another half-hour to tie everything up a little more smoothly, but overall, it was a good character study with an amusing premise.
  • Hot Fuzz (4 stars): Loved this movie. Great fun. It got a bit whacked out at the end, but I was mightily impressed with Simon Pegg. I'd only ever seen him play the bumbling idiot role, so this was a nice (and totally convincing) change of pace.
  • Jane Austen Book Club (3½ stars): A solid (if sometimes cheesy) ensemble romantic comedy. This is the movie that made both my sister and me fall in love with Hugh Dancy. I haven't read the book, but the film does a nice job weaving in the themes of the Austen novels with the lives of the characters in the book club. Writer/Director Robin Swicord also does a lovely job of keeping the story moving, which must have been a challenge in a film about a group of people getting together to talk about novels. Definitely a chick flick, but one of the better ones out there.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens (3 stars): This was a lot better than I thought it would be. My mom dragged us to see it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it featured some interesting characters, funny jokes (and not too many in the category of Toilet Humor). The villain was pretty bland, but, all in all, not a terrible way to spend a couple of hours. Also of note, it was great to hear the voice cast actually acting. In a lot of animated films, actors just use their normal voices, but the cast went to the trouble here to actually create voices for their characters, which was much appreciated.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (4 stars): I'm still not sure how Disney managed to make this such a great movie, but they nailed it. Perfect casting all around, groundbreaking effects, and, most importantly a completely charming story that didn't take itself too seriously all lift this movie much higher than it had any right in going. So much fun.
  • Husbands and Wives (4 stars): My fifth venture into the Woody Allen canon, and I'm becoming more and more of a fan. Filmed quasi-documentary-style, this film tackles the subjects of love vs. passion and how they affect marriage. It hits all the emotional notes you'd hope to find in a movie about such a topic.
  • The Phantom of the Opera [2004] (3 stars): I'd love to see this story in the hands of Baz Luhrmann or Tim Burton. I've never seen the staged version, but it appeared that the film version was extremely faithful -- to a fault. A few of the songs, most notably "Phantom of the Opera," lost their impact in this version, whether due to strength of vocals or arrangement, I'm not sure. Truly, if it weren't for the last 30 minutes or so, I probably would have rated it lower. It was at that point that I truly felt for the characters involved. At a runtime of 2 hours and 23 minutes, it really could have benefitted from cutting some of the songs (or at least shortening them). Still, it's a visually beautiful film and an interesting story if you can get through the bloat.
  • 17 Again (3½ stars): This movie was really better than it had any right to be. The dialog was average for the most part, and some of the film editing choices bugged me, but the cast, especially Zac Efron, was so darn charming, I just couldn't help but enjoy myself. Granted, since I harbor an admittedly crable-robbing crush on Mr. Efron, I went in expecting to enjoy myself, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I didn't have to do so as shamefully as I expected.
  • Jules et Jim (4 stars): It's hard to really describe this story. It's about the unusually enduring friendship of two men. It's about the woman around which their lives revolve. It's about the nature of love. I was taken in by it. Also worth noting, if you're in the mood for a double feature about crazy but captivating woman, check out this one with Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
  • Elizabethtown (4 stars): This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Now, I realize that this is not a perfect movie, and you can complain about Orlando Bloom's imperfect American accent all you want (which I find totally charming, by the way). But I adore this film. The themes never fail to strike a chord with me, whether it's dealing with success vs. failure, focusing on yourself vs. taking the time to see the world around you, family discord, or life and death. (As Chuck would say, "Death and life, and death and life... right next door to each other?!") It's also got arguably the best use of the song "Freebird" in a movie ever. If you've been skeptical about giving this movie a chance, I'd suggest you do. You may not love it as much as I do, but it deserves a lot more respect than it generally gets.

What I Wrote

Still hammering away on my ScriptFrenzy screenplay. Hit 81 pages tonight. As I tweeted, I think this may end up being the longest script I've written since my horrible, terrible, no good, very bad first attempt at ever writing a screenplay. (That monstrosity ballooned to 145 pages for no good reason.) I usually run short, between 90 and 100 pages, and I think this one might come close to 120 before I'm done.

I also know that this one's going to need a LOT of work on second draft. It's not very cinematic right now, but I still love the story and think it has plenty of potential to be cinematic. And since it's the first draft, it's totally fine that it's not perfect. First drafts are for potential, not perfection. 10 days left to go in this roller coaster month. Assuming I don't have another week as insane as the last one, I think I just may make it out alive.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Best Character Introductions in Film

The introduction of a character has the ability to set the stage for an entire movie. Character introductions create icons. The best ones survey a place in our brains, set up camp, and never leave. These are a few of the ones that have done that for me.

Manhattan (youtube): Isaac Davis

It opens simply with Isaac's voice over stop-and-start attempt to write the introduction to his book. The images are nothing more than stock footage of New York. But the music! Need I say more than Gershwin? Woody Allen's intro isn't just an intro to his character, but to his entire body of work, to himself as an artist, to the city he loves. However you feel about the rest of the movie, there's no denying this intro is absolutely classic.

Elizabethtown: Drew Baylor

Drew Baylor. The weight of the downfall of an entire company rests on his shoulders. He's fine. Everybody knows. He's fine. She knows. He's fine.

Beauty & the Beast (youtube): Belle

The song tells us everything we need to know about Belle: she's beautiful, she's intelligent, she's meant for more than the life she's living and she knows it.

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (youtube): Amélie

We see the world as Amélie sees it: full of happenstance, whimsy and magic. We see her as an infant, a child, a teenager, a young adult. We see what makes her who she is. We understand her, we're captivated by her, and we want to see the world like she does.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Captain Jack Sparrow

When I think of iconic character intros -- and really iconic scenes in general -- this is the first one that jumps to mind. Salty, stoic, and rugged, Captain Jack Sparrow sails into shore. Fearless. Even in the face of his fellow pirates hanging from the gallows, he is brave and respectful, doffing his cap to his fallen comrades. Adventure awaits. Even as he steps onto the dock, perfectly timed to the sinking of his ship, he exudes easy confidence. Before he's even spoken a word or flashed that mischievous grin, we're in love.

For more favorite scenes in a variety of categories from others, visit Kate and Matt. And feel free to weigh in!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Recap: 5 April 2009

I feel I must start off this week's recap with an impassioned plea/open letter to January. So, here it is.
Dear January,

Please go away and let April come back.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get on to...

What I Watched
  • I've Loved You So Long (5 stars): Kristen Scott Thomas stars in this French-language film about two sisters reuniting after the elder is released from prison after 15 years. In my opinion, Kristen Scott Thomas gave the best female performance of 2008 in this film. The film is ultimately a character study; it's not full of twists and turns and surprises. It's simply about human beings, but it's a prime example of how a character study film should be crafted.
  • I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (3 stars): I was a bit disappointed in this one, to be honest. I expect some low-brow humor from Adam Sandler comedies, but some of the gags here were just plain stupid at best and extremely offensive at worst. That being said, it does have its fair share of funny moments, and, while it doesn't always execute well, the movie seemed to have its heart in the right place.
  • Rachel Getting Married (2½ stars): I think I know what this movie was trying to be about. But truly odd direction prevented it from ever getting to the core of its message. At times I almost felt as if I was watching an unedited home video of a wedding, which, if you've ever seen one, is full of dull, uninteresting and pointless bits of life. For instance, I kept waiting for some sort of subtext in the neverending string of toasts, but it was either far too buried (or I am far too dense, I suppose) or it simply wasn't there. Same with the reception dance montage. I'm actually planning on reading the script this week to see if something was lost in the translation to screen. All this being said, there is one absolutely fantastic and heartbreaking scene worth seeing. The performances are all great; I just wish the film had been a vehicle for some sort of message more than just performances.
  • Adventureland (3½ stars): This was a solid coming-of-age story, sort of Nick & Norah-esque in tone. My only real complaint is that I wish they'd amped up the humor a bit more. It was interesting and good to see a story about people in that weird limbo between college and adulthood. Also worth noting, I loved the last image of the film. It was unexpected and simple and... yeah. It was just really great.

What I Read

I finished reading Gods Behaving Badly, which was a fun little novel by Marie Phillips. I was slightly heartbroken to find that Ben Stiller's production company optioned the novel back in 2007 to develop into a TV comedy series, as I'd set my heart on some day finagling the opportunity to adapt it for a feature. Right now, IMDB has 2009 as the date attached for the series, but I haven't heard anything about it, so maybe there's still hope for me yet!

What I Wrote

I've come out of the first weekend of ScriptFrenzy relatively unscathed. Tonight's been the toughest so far; I only managed to write a measly 1½ pages. But that's OK. I'm ahead of schedule, and I think I know where I'm going next.

I've been battling this story a bit because my main character seems to want to take a lot of fictionalized pages from my own life. I've never wanted to be the sort of writer who writes herself. But, then again, I need to let my story go down a natural path, even if that means there are some parallels with my own life, I guess. And truly, any story is going to have pieces of me in it. I know the stories I've written that I love best certainly have. They've just seemed a little more well-veiled.

It all goes back to writing without inhibitions, I guess. Mystery Man on Film had a piece of art in his latest blog post that I think I'm going to print and frame. It says, "Kill your timid notion." Which I take to mean, stop being afraid of where your story wants to go, of hurting your characters (or yourself), of digging too deep. Kill your timidity. Serve your story, and do it justice. So that's what I'm going to try to do this week. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? :-)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

And so it begins: ScriptFrenzy 2009

So, remember how I said in my last post I was going to write a stage musical for ScriptFrenzy? I lied. Not intentionally, mind you. In fact, until about 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, March 31, I had every intention of writing my stage musical. But, as it turns out, whatever force that drives me to write had other plans.

I woke up feeling really distressed about what I was planning to write for Screnzy. It was a fun idea, but I just wasn't feeling it, you know? I'd been having a mini-existential crisis for a few days, as I do from time to time, so I chalked it up to that. And I felt better. For about 20 minutes. So, on the drive to work, I said to no one in particular, "All right, if you want me to write something else, you'd better give me an idea and quick."

That morning I spent some time link-jumping, digging through my idea box, and soul-searching. I'd been thinking for a while that I really wanted to write something about women. And I wanted to do a story about women that wasn't really a story about men (e.g., wedding-themed movies, most romantic comedies, etc.). Not that there's anything wrong with those sorts of stories. I enjoy them a lot of the time. But I wanted to write a story about women and their relationships with one another.

Whilst searching Billy Mernit's fabulous blog for inspiration, I stumbled across a post of his about memento mori votives. Memento mori translates roughly to "Remember you will die." I was checking out the wiki on it, which then led me to some other Latin phrases.
And I was intrigued by these phrases. So then I started going through my Idea Box. I'd made a note about an old PostSecret card from someone having an existential crisis and a note about doppelgängers and vardøgrs.

And then I thought, "BAM! Comedy!" What? Isn't that how your brain works?

So I jotted down notes in between work tasks the rest of the day, and then I wrote up half a beat sheet that night whilst watching American Idol. And the rest is history. I wrote my first 5 pages tonight, and so far, so good. We'll see how the rest of the month goes, but I'm cautiously optimistic so far, despite the disturbing lack of preparation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Recap: 29 March 2009

I'm not quite sure where last week went. Did I really only manage to watch three movies? Weird.

What I Watched
  • I Love You, Man (3½ stars): While not as sharp as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this movie about a guy with no guy friends showcases the sort of humor with heart that's become the calling card for the emerging "bromance" genre. It's not a perfect movie, but it's the most I've laughed in a theatre in a long time. It's also pretty low on raunch for this sort of movie, if that sort of thing bothers you.
  • Easy Virtue (4 stars): This film came out in the UK in November 2008, and I was highly anticipating it for a few months prior to that. Sadly, it's currently scheduled only for limited release to the States, and not until May 22. So, (through perhaps legally gray means) I procured myself a sneak preview of this quirky gem of a film. It speaks to the quality of the movie that I'm already committing myself to seeing it at least once in theatres (if it gets wide release), buying it on DVD, and purchasing the soundtrack. On the surface, it's a lighthearted, comic romp through prim British film. But it's really the dark undercurrent themes that make the movie. It's a bit uneven: I'd say the first two-thirds of the film is perfectly delightful, but it's the last third that really grabs you. Or at least me. So, all that being said, if you get the chance to see this film, I encourage you take the opportunity. It's well worth your time.
  • The White Sheik (3½ stars): I began my Fellini education with one of his earlier films. The term Fellini-esque is more in reference to his later films, like 8½ (which I was told by many fine folks on twitter is a must-see movie but not the place to begin). I thought this film had some really funny parts and also some truly heart-wrenching scenes. The only thing that kept it from getting 4 stars was that I didn't think the ending was quite as solid as it could have been.

What I Wrote

Just tonight I finished up the first draft of the rewrite of M. Valentine. Feels good to have that out of the way. I'm planning on taking the first 10 pages to the Kansas City BlueCat workshop that's coming up in May, so I'll be revisiting it after ScriptFrenzy.

Have I mentioned I'm attempting a stage musical for ScriptFrenzy? No? Well, I am. Since I churn out most of my first drafts in a month anyway, I wanted to take on something that's truly a challenge for me. And this will definitely fit the bill. I've got two more days to get myself a good foundation of planning, and then we're off to the races. April should be an interesting month!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recap: 22 March 2009

Been a while, so let's get to it, shall we?

What I Watched
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (3 stars): I got about halfway through this movie and realized I didn't really have any clue what was going on. To clarify, I understood what was happening, but I guess I missed the meaning of it somewhere along the way. The last third of the film seemed to get to the core of the message, and that's when I got interested. So, with a 2-star first half and a 4-star second half, it's seeing Hugo Weaving in drag that bumps this up to 3 stars instead of 2½ for me.
  • Watchmen (4 stars): Having recently read the graphic novel and having enjoyed it immensely, I was pretty excited for this movie. Happily, it lived up to my expectations. It's not a perfect movie, of course, but it's faithful to the tone of the graphic novel in most places, and it's as visually stimulating as I'd hoped it would be. (And no, that was not a reference to the post-rescue scene in Archimedes.) Whether you've read the graphic novel or not, the film is certainly worth seeing for the epic storytelling and different take on the superhero genre. Truly, though, if you've been against reading the graphic novel because you "don't read comics," then do yourself a favor and get over that prejudice. There's more depth to Watchmen than half the "traditional" novels out there.
  • Peter's Friends (3½ stars): This is a charming little picture about nothing more than a group of friends and how the ways they relate to one another both change and remain the same through the years. It's got all the sorts of moments you'd hope for in a film like this: funny ones, poignant ones, heartbreaking ones, and sweet ones, too.
  • Annie Hall (3½ stars): Continuing my Woody Allen education, I was pleasantly surprised that this movie lived up to most of the hype, unlike Manhattan. Neurotic Woody at his best employing film devices that have been used numerous times (and usually less effectively) since. Highly quotable, highly memorable, and worth your time.
  • Waking Ned Devine (4 stars): It's extremely rare that a movie makes me cry out of sweetness instead of tragedy. This is one such gem. It plays as sort of an elderly, Irish buddy comedy. Laugh-out-loud funny in a lot of parts, and it leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy. Time well spent.
  • Let the Right One In (3½ stars): No offense to Twilight, but this is a REAL vampire movie. That being said, it's not exactly traditional either. It's part love story, part coming of age tale, with a side of horror thrown in for good measure. Make sure you choose the subtitles because the DVD defaults to the absolutely horrendous English dubbing. Also worth noting, Lina Leandersson, the girl who plays Eli, is one of the most captivating young actresses I've seen in a long time.
  • Duplicity (3 stars): I'm still not sure why people seem to think Julia Roberts needs some sort of comeback, but I suppose this is as good a way to do it as any. I feel a bit blasé about nonlinear storytelling these days, but it works well enough in Tony Gilroy's follow-up to Michael Clayton. It's a fun, heist sort of movie, and it's fun to see Roberts and Clive Owen paired up on screen again (their first outing being the interesting if lacking-in-point Closer). That being said, part of the fun of a heist movie is being able to potentially guess where the crosses, double-crosses and triple-crosses are happening. Duplicity doesn't always do the best job of that, but it's still the smartest romantic comedy so far this year.
  • Happy-Go-Lucky (2½ stars): Despite Sally Hawkins' great performance, this movie left me feeling a little cold. It plays like a bit like Amélie without the whimsy or hopeful undercurrent. The theme instead seems to be, "Life is what it is, and a lot of the time it's kind of crappy, but you might as well make the best of it because it's what we've got."

In Other News

ScriptFrenzy is only eight days away! If you're at all interested in writing a script (TV, film, stage, comic book, whatever your heart desires), then get over the Web site and sign up! If you're in the Kansas City area, stop by the regional lounge and say hello. I'm the Municipal Liaison for Missouri, and I'll be holding write-ins on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the state line. So, even if you're not officially participating, you're welcome to join in the write-ins anyway. You can view the Screnzy KC calendar here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Miss me?

I've been rather neglectful of my poor little blog here this month. Truth be told, my life sort of exploded the first week of March. (Yes, that's a bit dramatic. But I'm a screenwriter. What do you expect?) And I haven't had too many movies to recap despite my two-week absence. And until nine days ago, I didn't have much to tell by way of my own writing either.

I still don't have much to tell, but there is this. Nine days ago, I allowed myself to stop slogging through a story I just couldn't wrap my heart around. And nine days ago, I picked back up a story I used to love but knew needed a huge amount of work, starting at page 1.

I spent the first few days rewriting the set-up completely (a few times). I was sort of approaching the rewrite with what I shall henceforth call The Spaghetti Method, meaning, throw stuff at the page and see what sticks. Eventually, I recaptured the tone I was going for, found my theme, and was able to move on past those first 10 pages. Tonight, nine days after starting, I'm 43 pages in. And it feels AWESOME.

I haven't felt this sort of fire since I finished MUTE, and I was beginning to fear I'd never feel it again. Turns out I just needed to get back to the stories and, most importantly, the characters I loved so much. So, despite the fact that I haven't accomplished much (compared to last year anyway) since November, I have learned an important lesson about what grabs me as a writer. It's characters. Premises and concepts are great, but if I can't attach a character I adore, then I have an extremely difficult time telling the story.

I know I can churn out a draft if I have to (see TEA, for example, which has gone through 2.5 major drafts to date), and I think that's an important skill to have as well. But one of the benefits of being an aspiring screenwriter and not an assignment screenwriter is that I get to focus all my time and energy on projects and characters I do love. (How's that for glass-half-full thinking, huh?) So that's what I'm doing.

I've got 13 days to finish this page-one rewrite of THE AFFAIR OF MONSIEUR VALENTINE, and then it's off to the races for ScriptFrenzy. I've got a premise I think is fun for Screnzy, and I'm planning on doing some development here soon that'll hopefully give me a chance to fall in love with the characters as well. If that doesn't happen, I'll still finish it because it's Screnzy and that's what I do. Either way, it'll be a great learning experience because I'm trying my hand at writing a stage musical. That's right. You heard it here first.

It's late and I'm starting to ramble, so I'm going to cut it off here. I'll try not to disappear for another 16 days, just in case someone out there missed me. :-)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Recap: 1 March 2009

Was a bit blogged out after churning out my Oscar predictions, but I'm back now (for the two or three of you who may have missed me). :-)

What I Watched
  • Changeling (4 stars): I think it's easy for a lot of people to forget exactly how talented an actress Angelina Jolie is. She's the rare sort of person who actually suffers from being strikingly beautiful. While the woman she plays in Changeling is just as beautiful, she's so different (in the beginning) from the type of woman I consider Jolie to be: she's timid, oppressed, plays by the rules, etc. And Jolie is utterly convincing. Her Oscar nomination for this role was well-deserved. The rest of the movie holds up well, too, so it's worth seeing even if you're not generally an Angelina fan.
  • An Ideal Husband (3 stars): Not as good as director Oliver Parker's adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, but still generally amusing. I'd recommend reading the play over seeing the movie, though.
  • Frozen River (3½ stars): This is the story of a woman willing to do just about anything to provide for her family. Melissa Leo was nominated for an Oscar for her performance and understandably so. The film was an eye-opening look at both immigration and Native American territories and their relationship with the U.S. law enforcement. It's not an issues movie, but it does open your eyes to some issues without preaching, all through the lens of two women trying to make the best of the cards dealt them.
  • La Maison en petits cubes (4 stars): This year's Oscar winner for Best Animated Short. Melancholy story with a sweet ending. Creative animation. Viewable online, too: Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Oktapodi (3 stars): An Oscar nominee for Best Animated Short. It's a cute story about two octopi fighting for their love, more or less. I actually enjoyed this more than "La Maison," but it's not groundbreaking. View it here.
  • Lavatory Lovestory (3 stars): Another Oscar nominee for Best Animated Short. Simple but sweet story of a woman trying to find out who her secret admirer is. View it here.
  • The Professional (5 stars): Fantastic movie, written and directed by Luc Besson, starring a very young and exceptionally adorable Natalie Portman. The story of a hitman who takes on a girl whose family is murdered by corrupt law enforcement officers. Sounds a bit dreary, I know, but it's actually quite amusing throughout. Highly recommended.
  • Dumplings (3 stars): Part of "Three... Extremes," a compilation of three short films by different Asian directors. Not really my thing, but my friend Matt said it reminded him vaguely of the script I'm working on, so I checked it out. It was certainly interesting, especially from a film studies perspective in the manner of how different cultures communicate. Definitely not for the faint of heart, though.
  • Starz Inside: Fantastic Flesh (4 stars): Really interesting documentary on film make-up interviewing some of the pioneers and best known artists in the field. It covered range of films, from classic horror to modern fantasy.
  • Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (3 stars): Not nearly as good as the first one, but still enjoyable. The story was a little bit more out there, which took away from the movie, I think, but that's OK. It's Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. I'm not going to complain.
  • That Funny Feeling (2½ stars): Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee star in this fairly typical rom-com. If you're in the mood for Bobby & Sandra, I'd go with If a Man Answers instead. This had some laughs but was otherwise pretty weak.
  • Sita Sings the Blues (4 stars): I've been hearing about this for what seems like ages, and it's now available to view in its entirety here. I'm not even sure how to begin describing this animated film. It tells the story of both Sita and Nina, one a goddess separated from her Lord and husband, the other an modern-day animator shunned by her husband via e-mail. It's narrated off the cuff by three shadow puppets. And on top of all this, Sita sings out her emotions in the voice of '20s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw. It really shouldn't work, but somehow, it all manages to come together to create something pretty charming.
  • When Did You Last See Your Father? (3½ stars): The story of a man seeking to reconcile his feelings about his dying father. Great performances and a touching story about how neither life nor people are perfect.

What I Read

I finished reading Persepolis, an autobiographical graphic novel about a girl (and then woman) growing up, first in Iran and then as an immigrant in Austria. Extremely funny, extremely touching, and extremely eye-opening. Hard to ask for more than that. I have yet to see the film adaptation, co-written and directed by Marjane Satrapi herself, but you can definitely expect to see it in a recap soon.

I also made it through Good in a Room, which is a guide on how to communicate your ideas effectively and with poise. A lot of it is common sense, but I found it really helpful to have the concepts laid out succinctly and honestly. I read it with my writing aspirations in mind, but it's given me some insight into how to better conduct myself at my day job, too.

What I'm Writing

And finally, I've decided to give up on EARNEST for now. It just wasn't working, and I'm not a fan of beating my head against a wall. I'll save the idea for the future when I'm better equipped to tackle it.

So, that means I'm moving on to a rewrite of the screenplay I wrote last year during ScriptFrenzy, TEA. It's already been through one rewrite, but I've learned a lot since then. I realized my main character had no flaw, which makes it hard for him to have any meaningful arc. So, that's what I'm working on. It's reading better so far, and there's still a lot of work to do, but it should keep me busy until it's time to start planning for this year's Screnzy in a couple of weeks.

Whew, that was a lot of movies. That's it for now. Hope everyone's March is off to a good start!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Oscars 2009: Predictions in Best Films

And finally and barely in under the wire, Part V of my Oscar predictions.

Best Live Action Short Film, Best Animated Short Film, & Best Documentary Short
I haven't actually seen any of the films nominated in these categories (with the exception of Pixar's animated short, Presto, thanks to their inclusion of shorts on DVDs or with their theatrical releases). Don't get me wrong. I'd love to see them, but I wouldn't have the first clue how to without the benefit of being an Academy member. I always just pick based on the names I like best. Which, in these cases are:
  • Live Action Short: "Manon on the Asphalt” (La Luna Productions), A La Luna Production, Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
  • Best Animated Short: “Presto” (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Doug Sweetland
  • Best Documentary Short: “Smile Pinki” A Principe Production, Megan Mylan
Best Documentary Feature
  • “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” (Cinema Guild), A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
  • “Encounters at the End of the World” (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
  • “The Garden” A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
  • “Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
  • “Trouble the Water” (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal
Predicted Winner: “Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
People love this film. It even beat out Slumdog Millionaire at the BAFTAs for Outstanding British Film. It's the only one of the documentaries I was able to see prior to the ceremony, and I thought it was pretty great, too. The "characters" were really interesting, and the story was well-told (avoiding that "dry" feeling a lot of docs have). If you haven't seen it, it's well worth checking out.

Best Animated Film
  • “Bolt” (Walt Disney), Chris Williams and Byron Howard
  • “Kung Fu Panda” (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount), John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
  • “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Andrew Stanton
Predicted Winner: “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Andrew Stanton
Only one of these films has people upset (including me) that it didn't get nominated for Best Picture, and that's Wall-E. I thought Kung Fu Panda was surprisingly delightful, but it feels like it belongs in this category. If this is the closest Wall-E can get to Best Picture, I guess it'll have to do.

Best Foreign Film

  • “The Baader Meinhof Complex” A Constantin Film Production, Germany
  • “The Class” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Haut et Court Production, France
  • “Departures” (Regent Releasing), A Departures Film Partners Production, Japan
  • “Revanche” (Janus Films), A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production, Austria
  • “Waltz with Bashir” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production, Israel
Predicted Winner: “Waltz with Bashir” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production, Israel
Sadly, I haven't gotten the chance to see any of these either. Animated drama Waltz with Bashir seems to have the most buzz going in, though The Class could be a dark horse.

Best Picture

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), A Kennedy/Marshall Production, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
  • “Frost/Nixon” (Universal), A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production,Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
  • "Milk" (Focus Features), A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
  • “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production, Nominees to be determined
  • “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production,Christian Colson, Producer
Predicted Winner: “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production,Christian Colson, Producer
I'm still flummoxed that The Reader made it onto this list instead of Wall-E, The Dark Knight, or even Revolutionary Road if the Academy wanted to stick with Oscar bait. But that's how the cookie crumbles. Out of the five nominees, only Frost/Nixon scored my oh-so-coveted five-star rating. That being said, if I'd gone into Slumdog Millionaire without such high expectations thanks to all the buzz, it might have garnered a fifth star, too. I'll be perfectly content with another Slumdog victory.

That sums it all up, folks! And just in time! I meant to do these at a more evenly staggered pace, but work and life have a way of throwing off the best-laid plans. :-) The Oscars air tomorrow night (Sunday) at 8 Eastern/7 Central/5 Pacific on ABC.