So I’m still kind of rambling here because I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this blog thing. I’d ask for suggestions, but since I know no one’s reading it, that probably won’t help. I would really like to post stories and news about screenwriters, but I don’t run across them very much, which is either my fault or a sign that the auteur theory has really won the day in film criticism (or both).
Last night, I finished watching a profile on Woody Allen on TMC On Demand. It was absolutely fascinating and way too short. He had a habit of never looking at the camera and always looking down or to the side which probably suggests he probably is being honest when he says that he doesn’t think he’s nearly as talented as people say he is and that his career is probably a combination of luck and conning enough people. He comes across as more down to earth here, like someone you could actually talk to. The most surprising commentary is on Stardust Memories, which he loves (and I like very much), where he says he just doesn’t understand why people think the central character was him (though he does blame himself for that). He also says that everything is suppose to be a fantasy after a certain point, but I’m not sure this is clearly communicated in the movie. But it’s a fascinating profile and I would highly recommend it.
In following up on the Academy Award decision to have ten nominations, I ran across this site that suggests what might have happened if this had started ten years ago. The selections are quite clever and insightful:
And there’s controversy over who’s not getting credit for The Hangover script (which I still haven’t reviewed on my site):
That’s enough ranting today, I got to get back to work.

Michael Jackson, Academy Awards

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks lately. I do coverage and read scripts for Regent Entertainment/Here! Networks, Slamdance Screenplay Competition and Final Draft Screenplay Competition and they’ve been inundating me. It’s been overwhelming at times, but it means money. But it also means I haven’t added anything here lately.

I’m not sure what to add or talk about. I haven’t figured out what to do with this blog. It’s been a great place to store a lot of information in one place, but beyond that, it’s a bit of a puzzlement. I don’t really have an audience yet. If I did, then that might help guide me, but it’s still all a bit vague.

I was shocked, as everybody was, at the one two punch of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. It just sort of felt like time stopped for awhile. There’s nothing like death, especially of someone dying of cancer at 62 and someone just suddenly dying out of nowhere, with no warning, to bring out all the existential questions in life. You know, all the old chestnuts like what is the point if all we’re going to do is die? What is the meaning of life? Is there a god and if so, then why is his telephone number unlisted (sorry, but where would existential questions be without a Woody Allen type joke). There was nothing surprising about all the television coverage (like the kind that was used for 9/11 and Princess Diana), but there was something humorously incongruous about watching Keith Olbermann holding court for quite a few hours on MSNBC, waxing news like over Jackson’s death as if he were covering the Kennedy assassination. I’m not saying it was wrong of him to do it, it just seemed odd.

It’s almost insulting to go to any other subjects after that, but this is a blog. The Academy came out with the idea of nominating ten movies instead of five like they use to do during the Depression (hmmm, do you think there’s a connection). I have no problem with the idea. After all, I do a top ten list every year and none of my movies, or almost none of my movies, get nominated, so I’m quite prepared to see that none of my top ten matches the top ten of the Academy. It’s a good idea as any to try to boost ratings, but the Academy is going to get as many complaints as they use to anyway. They also made an announcement that special awards will be done at a different ceremony (the Jean Hersholt, special awards to people like Alfred Hitchcock). This is a terrible idea and I predict it will be scrapped as more people complain. They should take a list of the “minor” categories and draw out a certain number at random each year and do those at a special ceremony. But of course, I can’t even get a movie made so why should the Academy care what the hell I think.

More later, I hope.

END OF DAYS: Reviews of O’Horton, Summer Hours, The Boys, Up

A series of films opened with the subject matter of people getting older and/or time passing. Never the most cheerful of subjects, but one of the most avoidable ones.

The first is O’Horton, a character study of a man who is forced to retire as a train conductor. He doesn’t really take it well, becoming lost in a haze of ennui and not knowing what to do with his life. He’s the sort of central character that writing teachers and authors of screenwriting tomes will tell you it’s against the rules to create, the passive observer of life whose main goal is to survive whatever is thrown at him. O’Horton goes through a series of adventures he has little control over until he finally decides to take a leap of faith (both metaphorical and literal) and realizes that just because he’s retired that doesn’t mean life has to end. Sorry, screenwriting 101, O’Horton, written and directed by Bent Hamer, is a fascinating movie, a deeply moving meditation over what to do when one has to start over late in life. It’s quirky and slightly off kilter, a film made by someone with his own personal take on life.

Summer Hours is about a family that has to decide what to do with an inheritance. Only one of the children wants to hold on to everything; the others have gone their own ways and have little use for the great house and what’s inside it that their mothers left them when she died. In many films, the set up would be an excuse for the author to have the various characters go at each other, yelling and screaming about their awful lives, with secrets and crisscrossing accusations tumbling out of their mouths like the contents of Fibber McGee’s closet. Writer and director Olivier Assayas takes a different turn. Everyone here acts very adult and very reasonable, demonstrating that even when everyone acts the way they should, life is still tragic and sad. I saw Summer Hours last year at a film festival and considered it one of the best films of 2008.
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story is about the songwriting team of Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman who were the only songwriters on under contract at Disney and gave the such well known songs as the peripatetic It’s A Small, Small World. The movie is strongest when it is a character study of these two men who for some reason, reasons even they don’t understand, become estranged. The main cause was probably just a difference in temperament and background (one was a serious man who was one of the first Americans to enter a concentration camp—the Sherman’s are Jewish; the other a happy go lucky guy who never saw action). The movie is weakest when directors Gregory V. and Jeff Sherman try to make these men out to be songwriting geniuses. The Sherman’s were good, reaching their apotheosis in the movie Mary Poppins. But please, they were no Stephen Soundheim, Cole Porter, Bob Dylan or Jacques Brel.
Up is a fun story with that old chestnut of a plot, an older person and a kid bonding (it dates at least as far back as Little Lord Fountleroy and Shirley Temple movies). It’s a beautifully told story and a beautiful to look at movie. Ed Asner gets to reprise his Lou Grant curmudgeon with a heart of gold role as the old geezer, though he finds his geezerized match in Christopher Plummer. The talking dogs are a riot. And it’s all in 3D.

MEN AT WAR: Reviews of Star Trek and The Hurt Locker

Star Trek 2009 is probably the best interpretation of that sic-fi concept to date, including the original series (and I was there for the very first one with Shatner and Nimoy, so there). The writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, achieved this through very simple means: they make Kirk a rebel without a cause with daddy issues and Spock an uptight nerd with mommy issues (you know, a variation of the character Sheldon Cooper as played Jim Parsons on the Big Bang Theory). Who knew creating back stories could be so fun? But when all is said and done, the most brilliant addition to the Star Trek mythology is to make Uhura and Spock an item; this alone will earn Orci and Kurtzman their place in sci-fi history. The movie is entertaining and moves at a good pace, except whenever Leonard Nimoy is on board. The poor guy is saddled with what seems a ton of exposition; in addition, he speaks as slowly as David Carradine did in Kill Bill, II, not a good role model. Eric Bana’s also on board in a role he seems to think is one of those bad guys that can change the course of an actor’s career; he’s perfectly fine, but no one’s going to remember him here.

The Hurt Locker is probably Kathryn Bigelow’s best film since Near Dark mainly because she doesn’t over direct in an effort to distract everyone from the silliness of the screenplays she usually has to deal with (End of Days or Point Blank anyone?). Though the story by Mark Boal takes place in Iraq, it’s not about Iraq. It’s a character study of an adrenaline junky played frighteningly well by Jeremy Renner. It has all the intensity of waiting for a bomb to go off, which is probably appropriate given the subject matter. The structure’s a tad off; it begins with one central character (played by Anthony Mackie), but then switches horses to focus on Renner. But outside of that, it’s perhaps the best American made film of the year so far.

O, THE HORROR, THE HORROR: Reviews of A Dark and Stormy Night and Drag Me to Hell

A Dark and Stormy Night is a satire of those old locked room murder mysteries, the ones where people are trapped in some remote location, which means that when someone turns up dead, the murderer has to be among them (Agatha Christie is the true master of this type of plotting). It was written and directed by Larry Blamire, who also made the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and I must first state that I turned off that movie about ten minutes into it. Lost Skeleton… was supposed to be a satire of 1950’s sci-fi when in reality it was just a satire of bad writing (not the same thing). This one works much, much better because the satiric targets are more accurate. It takes place in an isolated mansion (constantly shown in beautiful miniature) during a rain storm that has destroyed the only roads out. It’s all a lot of fun, though the funniest bit goes to Betty Garrett, that nonagerian and alumnus of such films as On the Town, who plays an elderly woman who seems to have wandered into the wrong isolated mansion. In the end, it’s only an extended Monty Python or Carol Burnett skit and it never really rises to the level of Young Frankenstein or Shawn of the Dead, but it’s still a very diverting time in the theater.

Though the critics will try and tell you that Drag Me to Hell is not a jump and go boo movie, in the end, that’s all it really is. So in the end, it’s probably best to say that if you like this sort of thing, it’s just the sort of thing you’ll like. The heroine, played by Alison Lohman, is a loan officer who lives in a house that for some reason has an anvil tied to the ceiling in her garage (just in case you want to drop it on someone, I guess). She is approached by an elderly woman wanting an extension on her mortgage. When Lohman refuses the loan, the woman curses her. It then becomes clear that the woman is one of those characters one only sees in movies, someone who has ultimate power that enables her to do anything except, conveniently for the author, pay her mortgage (sort of like that joke about psychics who have a “going out of business” sign in their window—didn’t they know?). The script is written by Sam and Ivan Raimi and directed by Sam Raimi, who seem to have an odd oral fixation that says more about them that I want to know and definitely makes me want to pass the next time I’m invited to their house for dinner. In the end, what’s really wrong with the movie is that the authors can’t seem to decide whether Lohman’s character is someone who has no one to blame but herself or is someone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time stuck in an existentially cruel universe that will punish you for the littlest infraction. The authors either want it to both ways, or more likely, just don’t care, the better to jump and go boo you. For a much better film with a similar structure and idea, see Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon.


The Five Greatest of Something: an occasional entry when I don’t have anything else to report and just want to put something on line.

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(JPEG Image, 230 × 161 pixels)The Rapture





the-passion-of-joan-of-arc_moc_press-still-2The Passion of Joan of Arc