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!