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.