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.