Monday, August 18, 2008

And the summer is almost over (and my wallet rejoices)...


Okay, so I pretty much swore off the summer movies after Dark Knight - I mean, it's like eating a steak and then being offered processed cheese slices - just can't compare.

But, my movie obsessed nerd inside couldn't stay aware for too long. Enter: Pineapple Express.

Now, let me preface this by saying I was a Judd Apatow fan long before it was cool to be a Judd Apatow fan (screw you catcher-on-ers!). Back in the day, my family would gather around the telly and scramble every damn week to try and find a little program we loved called "Freaks and Geeks." If you've yet to see this gem, stop what you're doing... I mean it... Put it down... And go buy it. And watch it.

The way I liked to describe it back in the day was "The Wonder Years in the 80s" but that doesn't do it justice. It's an honest, funny, painful look at finding yourself during your teenage years - set during the 80s. The Pilot is still one of my all-time favorite television episodes ever (I can't hear "Come Sail Away" by Styx without getting all warm and fuzzy inside).

Well, this little gem introduced the world to Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segal (as well as Linda Cardelinni and a whole cast of Apatow faces you'll know). It was the best.

Well, flash forward a few years and I'm rolling on the floor laughing while watching Knocked Up. By myself. Yes, I saw it by myself. Then I manipulated my wife into seeing it (who doesn't like vulgar movies, and this was the king of them). And she loved it. LOVED it. Apatow manages to take real life circumstances and pull every bit of excruciating, uncomfortable humor out of it in a college frat boy way, that doesn't manage to alienate the audience.

Okay, so Summer Movies were pretty much over, but Pineapple Express, the stoner action movie came out. I was skeptical, but on recommendation from a colleague, I venture out to see it.

And laughed my ass off the whole time.

Pure genius - two potheads get embroiled in a drug gang war. Basic plot. But, in Apatow/Rogen (who is a fantastic writer on his own), the undercurrent of the story is about friendship and growing up. Maybe I love all these movies because I'm close to the same age as Rogen - and can identify with the things he loves to write about (now, granted, if I smoked as much weed as his characters do, I'd never get anything done - semi-annual blog entries included).

James Franco is hilarious, the slapstick to Rogen's straight-lace, and it would be criminally remiss to not mention Danny McBride - my favorite part of the movie. Best lines and situations. I died when he was on the screen.

Is it perfect? No, not exactly, but if this is your style, you'll love it. I did. I was laughing so hard at points, I missed the second barrage of jokes that always followed the first.

See it. Then buy Freaks and Geeks. You'll not regret it. Grade: A-


Next...

Mamma Mia.

Okay, so, I'll admit, I love musicals. If there's a musical, I'll see it. They just make me smile. I even sat through the dreg of Moulin Rouge (which had it's high points, the least of which was NOT the story) for the music (which, when you've got top-hat'ed old men singing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", how can you not).

Anyways, Mamma Mia is a chick-flick. More so than that, a middle-aged chick flick. It's about a group of 50 something women who rediscover themselves (so to speak). My wife surmised it the best with "I'm tired of 50 year olds acting like their 20."

But, part of that is the charm of the movie. The actors/resses are great - and all but Pierce Brosnan (bless his heart) are surprisingly good singers. The story is cute - there are laughs enough. The music is FANTASTIC (I'm not an ABBA fan, but I loved all the songs), the location is gorgeous. Basically, if you're a woman (middle aged preferred), you'll like it.

I'll give it a B-.


SIDE RAMBLINGS:

Okay, first off I love Amanda Seyfried! She plays Meryll Streep's daughter. If you've never seen Mean Girls - you're missing out on one of the funniest teen movies (and performances from Amanda) you can get. Second off, if you've not seen Veronica Mars - do yourself a favor and throw the first two seasons into your shopping cart when you buy Freaks and Geeks. It's amazing! I doubted the premise, but bought it on word of mouth - and DEVOURED it. Such an amazing, short-lived show. And she's prominent in the first season.

Second rambling aside - what struck me the most about Mamma Mia when the crowd that was there. Like I said, the movie was targeted to a demographic that is always overlooked. When you go look at the summer movies, how many are marketed to middle-aged women? Almost none. But, when they do - what happens? The movies actually makes MONEY. Look at Devil Wears Prada, Sex and the City - these things made bank - 100MM + (so has Mamma Mia). So, it'll be interesting to see if more movies are made like this. Time will tell, and I think nothing will change, but every so often when someone pushes a movie through targeted this way, everyone will be "shocked" to learn that there are other people who see movies that males, aged 16-24.

Rambling done.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Case of the Modest Coverage


Okay, so, back a long time ago (read: last post), I told you that I had submitted my script (A God-Fearing Man*) to Slamdance Feature competition. In addition to doing, I also requested "Coverage." For those of our readers (hi mom!) who don't know what that is, coverage is defined as:

"Wearing clothes that blanket an area of the body deemed inappropriate to a modest degree."

Wait, what the hell? Damn wikipedia, wrong entry. Oh well, anyways, coverage is industry-speak for having a professional reader read your script and write up a basic "What's good, what's not." So, I had a Slamdancer read it and she (I believe it was) wrote up a three page doc.

In my imaginary "I'm famous and have blog readers" world, I'll post it (someday, I promise, when people care and it actually matters) so you can compare the draft sent in with the coverage and see if you agree.

Basically, they gave me thumbs up for the first two acts - saying they were "nearly great." So, for a second real script, I'll take it. They said that the third act seemed somewhat forced and disconnected a bit. They gave a few suggestions to make things connect better (all of which were formulaic, but I can't understand the idea that they're suggesting).

So, we'll see if that influences the outcome of my placement in their competition, but I'm very happy about the positives I received. The negatives (though, surprisingly polite and nice about it - didn't really even seem like that big of a deal) were helpful too. The script, to me and a few others, is very sublime about the way it goes about, and if you don't catch the subtle touches, you miss why it moves a certain way. Those who really examined it, got it instantly.

That aside, I'm not perfect at all, nor do I believe the script was perfect. Perhaps too much stuff was unsaid/unseen - so it did disconnect. Not everyone will be able to read into it and read into my brain. So, I'll pull it out and start to rewrite it at some point and try to make it more apparent (without ruining the cerebral quality I was going for). Tough balancing act, no doubt.

Well, so, we'll see how it fares at the competitions (I'm hoping it'll do well and people will "get" what I'm trying to say and do). Slamdance did push back their announcements for finalists two weeks - so it won't be until September 5th that I hear how I'm doing with it all. Sad. Tear.

Onward and upward. Any readers of the blog interested to read the script, let me know, and I'll see if I can get it to you.

* to previous post

* - I just thought I'd give you a quick recap of what the script was about, because, as evidence, I love to hear myself talk.

A God-Fearing Man is a domestic drama that takes place in a small town, anywhere USA. Elijah and his wife Karen are a middle-aged couple with three kids. They're the ideal for the town. Elijah grew up there and is a pillar in the community. But everything is not as it seems. Karen is unhappy and wary of the possible affair her husband is having with the town's sweetheart - 17 year-old Shelly - and Elijah's strength isn't rooted in the community, but a fragile sense of self-worth.

Elijah and Karen are forced to examine their lives, sense of balance, and everything they hold dear after a town tragedy rocks them to the very core - as individuals and as a couple.

End blurb.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Post Without Movies is like TheSuperficial.com without Topless Pics (or: Kelly Kapowski's Quest)


Luckily, neither, today, are without.


(and, btw, become a regular visitor to http://www.thesuperficial.com/ - if you love trash celebrity gossip, biting/witty commentary, or topless pictures - you'll LOVE the SF (as we cool people refer to it as) - and don't worry, the nips are "starred" out, so it's safe for the kiddies (read: not really))


Endorsements aside, let's talk about life. Tony's life, for that matter...


Okay, so foolish dreaming has been a long-standing facet of Tony's life. In order to compensate for the normal order of his life, thus far, he's spent an instituitional amount of time imagining all sorts of delusions of granduer.




At some point a few months ago, during an experiemental period with mushrooms picked from my backyard, Neil Patrick Harris came to me on a pony - wait, no, that was Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay - no, it was David Bowie, circa 1986 Labyrinth - nope, that was Flight of the Conchords (man, are there any good celebrity hallunications left?)...


Okay, I've got it - motherf@%3C$ing Tiffani Theisen (Kelly Kapowski, baby) appeared me to, clad in clingy, dripping wet celophane and revealed to me that I was to embark on a quest. A quest unlike one I'd embarked - but one I had been preparing for my whole life. Well... parts of it. The dreaming parts... That specifically related to the quest.


Okay, the quest...



Move to LA.



It's not secret that I want to write (well, to the people who know me), I mean, hell, I spend my spare time rattling away at a blog that no one reads just for the sheer pleasure of writing. So, it's been my dream for almost ten years now to write screenplays. Well, okay, so more than just write (cause I have been doing that), but to actually sell them - to have a career in "the biz."



About 18 months ago, I decided that instead of telling people "I've got a degree in finance, but I really want to get into writing" and do nothing about it, I'd actually start writing. Cause, well, you can't be a writer unless you start writing. I mean, I had folders and folders of anything from a basic idea for scripts, to dense outlines (my largest one reached nearly 40 pages, and I still have no actual script to show for it (but about four years of work)), but I hadn't finished a feature length script since I wrote an adaptation of the short story "Horror Weekend" when I was 15 (and, boy, let me tell you - if you want script writing at its best, check that baby out. You'll enjoy endless pages of me, droning on about whatever I felt like (my personal favorite is probably a ten minute scene where two characters discuss Jeph Loeb's "The Witching Hour" and Kevin Smith movies - which, by the way, has nothing to do with the plot or characters)).



It took me a bit to get going, but around the time I graduated (with a business degree - I know, I know, wtf for sure), I was watching "The Faculty" (which didn't age well for me), and I noticed that I had never seen a Teenage Zombie movie. You know, "Breakfast Club" meets "Dawn of the Dead." So, I started writing some teenage stereotypes and tweaking them - the old "The is the perception, this is the reality" and coming up with a situation that would stick them all together for a zombie invasion (perhaps, epidemic is a better term, zombies don't really invade, they spread like herpes - which, by the way, is no fun, so children beware).



I won't get into it (though, someday, when I'm coherent and famous, I'll post it for the mocking pleasure of all those frustrated unpublished/unpaid writers), but it took me about 11 months to write from first word to "final" draft. I say "final" cause I might go back to it and fix it up - it's not perfect by any means, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.



Well, in an effort to do something with my work, I entered it into the Slamdance Horror script competition. There were over 700 entries, and after an agonizing few weeks, I learned that I didn't even place in the top 100. What added insult to injury was the fact that my script ("Graduation Day") placed below such stellar flicks as "Porn Star Zombies" "The Bum, the Witch, and the Whore" and my personal favorite (which I will always remember as a reminder that people thought this was better than mine) "Yact Zombie Christmas: A Lesbian's Worst Nightmare" (swear to dog, that was the full title - and, yes, it beat me).



But, life wouldn't get me down. I was inspired by local events and the effect they had on me, to write my next script "A God-Fearing Man" - a complete departure from "Graduation Day" in every way. I wrote "God-Fearing" out of an emotional reaction and dilemma - and was really close to the material. It wasn't a plot movie, it was a character movie that didn't come with answers, just questions. The script was extremely difficult to write - partly cause it was so different than what I had written, that I didn't know if it was good or awful, I was entirely uncertain of myself. It was exciting and fun and scary all at the same time.



In under six months, I had gone from idea to the draft I submitted to competitions. In the process of rewriting, I got really good reviews from some of my readers - people who had tore everything I'd written up to that point apart. I was astonished, but realized, unless you have an emotional connection and feel for what you're writing, it won't be good. I loved "Graduation Day" but I wrote it for fun, not because it meant something to me.



Well, it was during this process that Tiffani came to visit me. It was a scary visit because it meant I needed to do something more than just sit around (in Utah, not even LA) and wait for my career to find me. It meant I needed to give up what I had (in many ways) and move to where it could happen.



So, faithful, noble reader, here's my plan (and I will update as things don't work out, er, I mean, progress). I took "A God-Fearing Man" and entered it into three competitions:



Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition



Slamdance Feature Writing Contest



Creative Screenwriting AAA Contest



The first announcements for these competitions will be this month, so stay tuned to hear about my crushing defeat (If I get beat by that damn "Yacht Zombie Christmas" again, I'm pulling out the straight razor).



This is my first line. My hopes - highest, will be to win any or all of them, secure representation, get my name out, sell my script, and get an assignment. That's a lot to hope for (almost too much, but where are we, as a race, if we can't dream), so, at the very least - to get recognition. I'd love to just secure representation - or have my script looked at. Living (right now) from a distance, the most I'm hoping is to give me something to jump into when I shortly move to the area.



Onto my second line. During the rewriting phase of "God-Fearing," I, of course, started working on my next script. Inspired by my current job, and the current idiots I have to occasionally work with (don't worry, they're not reading this), I started writing a corporate thriller comedy (I've had multiple titles, but I can't find one I like, I'll let you know).



I'm in the final stages of rewriting it because I'm entering it this week as a writing sample for my application to the Disney Features Writing Fellowship. This bad boy is the beez kneez if I can pull it off (enter: loud, doubting laugh). Disney will hire you as an employee for a year and teach you, network you, and have you develop content for them. I won't hear back until December(ish), but I'll let you know when I do.



So, there are my main plans - as they fall away and crash and burn, I'll fill you in on other ideas. But, basically, we're looking to move in January down to LA. We've looked (online) at Beverly Hills, West Hollywood area, but we're open to wherever is good.



So, that's the quest. I've reported it now, so I'm held accountable to you, faithful reader. Wish me luck and I'll let you know if you're luck has worked for me (or against me). And if I fail, it's all your fault!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Movie Marathon Part... whatever the hell we're up to now...


Okay, so I wondered if we'd ever top Iron Man. The summer has actually been a lot better than last years threepeats of shit (exception being Bourne Ultimatum, which rocked the world), but nothing had really been excellent - just good.

Boy, were my fears put to rest.

Enter: The Dark Knight
Hmm.... what can I say that hasn't been said.

Nothing.

This movie was incredible. Best comic movie ever - and one of the better movies I've ever seen. Let's look at some of the examples of great screenwriting/filmmaking in the movie to be a tad different. (SPOILERS AHEAD - DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN)

Amanda, the aspiring TV writer, already commented on a great character moment where the Joker tells us all we need to know about him without actually giving boring exposition. Joker first tells Michael Jai White that he got his scares when his dad cut open his face. Later, he tells Maggie Gyllenhall that they were self-inflicted. So, in two simple exchanges we learn this about Joker - he's crazy. No only that, but he's a liar - he's out to push people out of their comfort zones and frighten them. He's unreliable.

Another great example is how any time he explains himself - he's lying. He tells Harvey/Two-Face that he's not a man with a plan - just an agent of chaos. That what he did to Dent wasn't personal. But, we know as we watch, he's planned everything to a T. Not only has he planned everything, he has contingencies out the wazoo. And his attack on Dent was inconsequential - it was planned. His goal was to destroy Dent, and thus destroy Gotham's hope.

Dark Knight succeeds on every level because it knows how to up the ante continuously and take all the characters' worst fears - and materialize them. If characters can't at least flirt with the worst thing that could possibly happen - then we're bored. With Batman - it's having to go too far to help - to the point where his actions make the Gotham a worse place - not better. With Dent, it's seeing everything around him get destroyed, except himself (great moment in the beginning that shows Dent's flippancy about himself is when the goon in court pulls a gun on him and he doesn't even flinch). With Gordon, it's that his compromising on the police force will, in fact, hurt everyone around him - that the consequences will outweigh the benefits.

The threefold scene of the attacks on Comissioner Loeb, the judge, and Harvey is fantastic. So is every single climax in that movie (I'm still trying to figure out how many acts there are in the film). And with each attack, Joker puts more and more people in danger - pushing the city into a frenzy. At first it's the mob, Batman, the three previously mentioned, the mayor, the police force, hospitals, and then the whole city (as encapsulated by the boat of normal, scared citizens and the boat of criminals). From beginning to end, the movie just keeps ratcheting up (MAJOR props to Chris & John Nolan with story help from David Goyer).

Not only are the characters put in their worst fears - but they're pushed to the edge of what they will do (and often cross it). Think when Batman pushes Maroni off the building - or when Dent essentially plays Russian roulette with one of Joker's goons in the alleyway - all at these times, you're holding your breath, screaming to yourself "He's not going to go that far, is he!?!?" And, sometimes, they do.

Surprises that are well built-to. See: the death of Rachel Dawes. Wow. Did you see that coming? Okay, maybe you did - I didn't. They built her as the linchpin for both Harvey and Bruce - and what better to destroy them both, than kill her. When Batman busts into the building Harvey is in (thinking it is Rachel) didn't your jaw drop and your heart sink? Oh man, still get chills thinking of Harvey screaming "No!" cause he knows that means Rachel will die.

Okay, so I'll wrap it up and finish with just a note about the actors.
We all can agree that Heath Ledger's Joker was the performance of a lifetime - regardless of the length of his life. There was no Heath Ledger on that screen - there was only the Joker. Simply astonishing. I could rave for pages. But I'll stop.
The one downside to that is that I think Aaron Eckhart will get overlooked. His Dent was everything and more. He's a great actor and was so committed to that role, every time he got mad or yelled, I got chills. There was no Aaron - there was Dent. And Gary Oldman was fantastic. Same for Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Maggie G. Some people may dissent on that, but I thought she brought a maturity and emotional weight to the role that Katie Holmes could only have hoped to have done.
Hats off to Christopher Nolan - my new favorite filmmaker. If you have not seen all his movies, just go buy them. When they're not amazing (Memento, The Prestige), they're still very good (The Following, Insomnia).
Grade: A. A sold "A"

Movie Quickies...




Okay, good lord, taking too effing long to write reviews for all 853 movies I've seen this summer (were you to casually stumble upon this blog during an earnest search for woman and ferret porn, you would swear all I do is watch movies - which you're not far off). So, let me see if I can bang these 4 out real quick before getting to the big one.
(big breath in)

Strangers. Again with the Liv Tyler. Okay, simple setup. A couple, in a house, out in the middle of BFE nowhere, gets a knock at the door at four in the morning. Soon they're attacked by three strangers wearing masks who say nothing. Creepy. Scary. Disturbing. Though the end left some to be desired, it still topped my list as scariest of the year so far. It's a good testament to the film that when it ended, my stomach hurt from being clenched for the whole 90 minutes. B


Wanted. Love it. Love it, love it, love it. And that's not cause it was a terribly great movie - it had problems, but it was funner 'n hell. From the opening shot to the end, I was smiling. Though the Voice-Overs were a tad apparent and tried a bit too hard to get you to like Wesley, it still worked for me. James McAvoy has been the man for a long time (see the Amazing Atonement for a testament), and he continues to shine. Jolie is awesome. Freeman was great. Unexpected twists accompany this unexpected movie. See it. Great stuff. You won't be bored. Wins award for best way to shoot people using another person. B+

Hancock. Man, I hit a streak of pretty decent movies. While critics blasted it, I liked it. I like Will Smith. All in all, he makes entertaining, enjoyable movies. Hancock was original and interesting. I wish they had spent more time mining the psyche of a depressed, jaded superhero, but you might have alienated your audience. You don't go into Bad Boys or I Am Legend to have a deeply intellectual experience. You do so to see Will Smith make funny jokes and shoot stuff. Hancock had some turns and twists that worked against itself, but I still liked. I'd hope for a sequel, though it'd have no point. But, yeah, again, if you're wanting entertainment - check it out. B+

Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Okay, in order to review the movie, you have to separate the movie from the comic. The comic is a dark, magical, mythical, alchemical masterpiece. It mines every legend and fairytale for an entirely unique but addictive story. The movie, is entirely different. It's a bright, effects filled, goofy tale. The first one just didn't click - it didn't know what it was - whether apocalyptic/serious or popcorn movie/spectacle. And it failed in that. The second one, however, is much better (and leaves me wanting a third). Hellboy is having relationship problems. He's having problems at work (he's too loud for a secret agency). That and an ancient elf prince has decided to break the pact between humans and magics and revive an ancient mechanical army to destroy their race. Hilarity (kinda) ensues. The second film has found it's groove. In between Hellboy movies, Guillermo Del Toro decided to become an auteur. Pan's Labyrinth was a bleak, wonderful little movie about escapism and heroics. That movie bought him Hellboy 2. Hellboy goes for humor. Perlman is comfortable in his red shoes (as is the rest of the cast), and though it's a tad goofy for itself at times, it makes up in sheer visual wonderment. Check it out for that alone. That artless bastard, George Lucas (still love you George!), could stand to take a lesson fro Del Toro here. You can use makeup and effects to make amazing visual scenes without a computer in sight. And it's even better. So, yeah, much better than number one. Good for the crowd that enjoys a slightly more odd fare of movie. B+

And that, ladies and gentlemen (or, as I like to say it "Mom and... well, that's about the readership"), is a wrap.

Movie Marathon Part 5 - Cashing in on AlGore


Next up, the new Hulk.

Now, admittedly, I was apprehensive about this remake/reboot/sequel. I'll stand by my belief that Ang Lee sucks. I'll take flack for saying Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a load of crap disguised in great cinematography and wire stunts. The first Hulk went to prove my point (most people I know fell asleep during Brokeass Mountain - and no one has ever even seen Lust, Caution - and Sense and Sensibility was about 45 minutes too long). I saw Ang Lee at Comic Con in 2002, at a panel where he narrated PRODUCTION STILLS like an elderly Asian man giving you a travelogue of his trip to Yosemite. This gave me a bad feeling. What was an even worse omen was that he couldn't pronounce the characters' names right. This has nothing to do with his ethnicity - this has everything to do with the fact that he didn't understand his source enough to even get names right!!!


Ugh... Now, I liked what he tried to do with Hulk - a more psychological examination of the protagonist. But it failed miserably... Boring, long, pretentious, and terrible scene transitions.


So, flash forward a few years and Marvel announces the sequel no one wants (them touting that Hulk's popularity is second to only Spiderman, worldwide (which also goes to Marvel's editorial inability to understand reality (see: Brand New Day), but that's another post)). But, they begin to move in a positive direction. No more Eric Bana. Bless his heart, he just kills everything he touches. We should call him Charlie Bana.


Enter: Ed Norton. Nice. Enter: Ed Norton co-writing and producing. Very nice. Enter: return of Liv Tyler. Extra nice. And so on.


The result:


Not bad. A very entertaining action movie. My wife described it, accurately, as a boy's movie. My brother in law, who likes his movies full of explosions and boobies, said it was really good (but, parents of the world, relax, the only boobies in this one are green and manly). All in all, it starts really well, with Bruce Banner, in self-exile for years, trying to master his inner-self (I love the metaphors for Hulk, and the underlying psychology, which I wish they would have explored - Hulk is not a her, Hulk is a normal person who has to deal with the fact that if he loses control for one second, he ruins lives. Very cool stuff that wasn't touched on enough). The government is still after him.


They chase, they fight, they chase, they fight, they chase, big final fight. That's the gist of it. It was fun to watch, performances and effects (including directing) were well-done. I wished for a deeper look at things - which is why I'm praying for a director's cut.


When the movie was edited, the first cut was 20 minutes longer - all with more character development. Marvel rejected that and trimmed it down to be leaner. The movie could have been a little... fatter. If you look at the SUPREME Dark Knight (which we'll get to some day when I have a lot of time and energy to cheer and praise it), it sacrificed action lean-ness for an incredibly dense character story - which made it amazing. Iron Man did the same thing, in a sense.


Props to Marvel for bringing Robert Downey, Jr into Hulk for a brief cameo foreshadowing the togetherness of the upcoming Marvel Films Universe (I get chills thinking about it). All in all - decent. Check it out if you like action movies/comic movies. I'll give it a B.